Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


Materialist Delusions
and Integral Evolution

Joe Corbett

If any sense can be made of evolution it is only because the Kosmos has an interior that can explain what we see happening in the mechanics of its exteriors.

A typical argument from a materialist on evolution says that molecules randomly slosh around and combine along energy gradients that are then selected by trial and error as functionally fit within a larger system of molecules within and between cells, such that the exquisite coordination and self-organization of complex living systems is, given enough time, entirely explainable by these (exterior) physical means. They believe that because molecular biology can sometimes make the mechanical linkage between molecule A and molecule B and their physical consequences, they have “explained” what is happening, when in fact they have merely described a mechanics that in no way substantively explains how it came to be a functional mechanism, without having to take a leap of faith into astronomical statistical improbabilities.

Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon[1]

Anyone (many scientists among them) who is familiar with the complexity of cell biology as the basis of life can tell you that there is intentional (UL) and purposive (LL) behavior at the molecular level, and that such complexity cannot possibly or reasonably be explained as the exclusive result of fortuitous accidents that were selected over time, as if a room full of monkeys tapping the keys of their typewriters would eventually compose a single work of Shakespeare, and even if they had an editor to “select” the most fortuitous combinations they came up with to build upon in subsequent typings. Such thinking as the latter can only come from the magical thinking of deluded materialists so confidant in the power of physical explanations that they must invoke the god of chance to fill in the gap their methods fail to explain.

But the delusions of materialist science aren't just a psychological disturbance that comes from egotistical overconfidence (which includes the cultural and institutional dominance of materialism within modern societies), or as an historical relic of counter-belief in the battle against superstition and religion, or even from magical thinking for that matter, for it comes from simplistic binary thinking as well. This can be seen in how materialists will often accuse those who don't buy-in to their god of chance as being creationists, as if there was only two choices in explanation. That someone who disagrees with the 'lucky universe' hypothesis might be a creationist, or a panpsychist, or a non-dual materialist, or any number of other alternative perspectives simply doesn't occur to them. To them there is only two alternatives, the god of chance or the god of childhood fantasy.

From an integral point of view, the interior dimensions of reality are just as important as the exterior dimensions. Variation in individual traits (UR) and environmental selection (LR) have their place in evolution, but these in no way provide a complete explanation of evolution. Instead, the possibilities or potentialities of form, including random and non-random mutations (UL) and the resonate mobilizations and stabilizations of form (LL) also have a place in evolution. Previously I have listed mutations as UR phenomenon, as in the case of the printing press. But this is not technically correct, for while the UR is the domain of individual traits, including genotypes and phenotypes (or individual technologies such as the printing press), which then get selected as functionally fit by the LR environmental system, the printing press itself first existed as a potentiality in the mind of its inventor (and in the case of genes, as a potentiality or adjacent possible in the genome), which is an UL phenomena.

What this tells us is that mutations are not part of the physical realm per se, but exist as potential states of the quantum realm of fluctuations and chance occurrences. In other words, fluctuations or mutations always happen within an existing set of possibilities, and therefore they are not, strictly speaking, random at all, but directed, guided, or limited by the the already existing landscape of possibilities present within the genome (or the socio-historical conditions), within which the fluctuation or mutation occurs. “Random chance” does not happen in a vacuum, but is guided by the possibilities inherent within previously emergent structures.

Moreover, such mutations into alternative potentialities do not always arise out of nowhere from the creative (or random) depths of the UL quantum (or subtle mental) realm, but are subject to direction or guidance into their potential forms by pressures originating in other quadrants. As in the example of the printing press, there were a number of factors going into its invention, but primary among them was the emergence of a reading culture (LL) among monks and the wider public, which were collective habits of practice that mobilized the creative necessity (UL) that resulted in the printing press (UR) as a way to supply the cultural practice with cheaper and more widely available books. The printing press was selected as an enduring and influential invention because it met the criteria for this demand by stabilizing the tension (or fulfilling the potential) the cultural practice of reading was creating, and so it gained functional fit within western civilization (LR).

We can look at biological evolution at the molecular level in much the same way as this historical example, and in the process fill in the gaps that materialist explanations miss. Biological traits (UR) come from mutations within a set of already existing potentialities (UL) that become selected as functionally fit (LR) based on their ability to either mobilize and/or stabilize a collective set of molecular habits and patterns (LL) that resonate in all four quadrants, and hence allow the system as a whole (AQAL) to flourish in dynamical non-equilibrium.

This picture of integral evolution is still simplistic and far from complete (especially concerning the role of the resonant mobilizing and stabilizing patterns of morphological and archetypal forms in the LL), and there can be many variations on the interpretation and articulation of its details. But it is far better than the exterior reductionism of flatland materialism, and its delusions of explanatory adequacy and completeness. If any sense can be made of evolution it is only because the Kosmos has an interior that can explain what we see happening in the mechanics of its exteriors.

Quantum potentials
Physical Traits
Archetypal forms
Environmental selection


[1] Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is considered to be the founding father of the modern scientific method and advocate of a materialist philosophy, the idea that all of natural phenomenon can be explained by physical interactions observable by the senses. Nevertheless, Bacon retained an alchemical notion of matter in which spirits were mixed into matter, giving matter an active and formative component.

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