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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe 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].
The Great Attractor in the Great Debate
If there is indeed a Great Attractor built into the universe surely it resides in the sleep cycle so vital to life and so deeply embedded in consciousness.
One of the great debates within the integral community, and indeed within the larger scientific and philosophical community, has been whether there is any meaning and purpose to the universe. Where is this vast emptiness of galaxies, stars, planets, and life all going, if anywhere at all? We might begin by limiting the argument to where life is headed. Does life have a purpose?
Standard evolutionary theory says that life definitely does not have a purpose. Human beings and all of life are the result of random molecular accidents that have been selected for their energy efficiency and functional fit within a larger environment, all explainable by natural laws and processes. Any meaning and purpose to life is derivative from the role it plays in the survival of the organism. Even religion can be explained as serving the role of consoling humans in the face of an awareness of their own mortality, and providing a unifying belief system for cooperative behavior.
Spiritual accounts of meaning and purpose, on the other hand, say in various forms that life is heading somewhere, to an ultimate end-point, or Omega point, that will fulfill the meaning and purposive of everything that has come before. Whether that is by redemption, or enlightenment, or ultimate release from physical form and suffering, the spiritual view of life seems to include a happy ending (no pun intended) for life as a whole. Whatever form it takes, spiritual meaning and purpose seems to entail a return to the Source, a reunion with the (oceanic, heavenly) Oneness from which we, and all of creation, emerged like a newborn from the Mother's womb.
What the spiritual account of life therefore seems to suggest is that the evolution of life as a whole is headed in the direction of its Source (the oceans? the heavens?). Just as the ultimate achievement of the individual is developing wisdom and enlightenment from knowledge of Divinity, or the archetypal Perfection of Being, so the ultimate achievement of life would be evolution toward and into the very form which is the Source of all life and the universe. So what might that Source be, and what form (oceanic? heavenly?) might it take?
In chaos theory, an attractor is the state or form towards which a system tends to evolve over time. An example would be the spontaneous emergence of convection currents in boiling liquids, or the patterns in weather systems. Such state-forms are highly sensitive to initial conditions, and since there is nearly an infinite set of initial conditions the variability in attractor state-forms can be nearly infinite. The universe at large is also a system whose forms have evolved based on highly specific initial conditions, commonly referred to as the “fine tuning” of its laws and parameters. Is there an attractor (or attractors) that serves as the driving force for life back to its Source, in effect providing the engine for evolution? And if so, what could it be?
The Great Attractor (or Kosmic attractors) would be the forms, states, or patterns toward which the universe tends to evolve. This would be the fractal foam structure that we see at the largest cosmic scale of galactic distribution on the scaffolding of dark matter, and at the smallest scale of quantum fluctuations in the vacuum of space-time. But also at the intermediate scale we see fractal structures in the form of branching rivers, trees, neural networks, and the veins coursing through our body which serve vital biological functions. Interspersed within these structures are the galactic whirlpools, the spiralling star-n-planetary merry-go-rounds, and the atomic nuclei-electron dust devils, all together constituting the cells, cities, and centralized command and control centers of the strictly physical universe. Who could have known that Kings evolved to serve the same function as black holes, stars, and nuclei to give the universe an axis mundi of order?
These are fractal layers of the Great Attractor, the major form-structures towards which the universe evolves. However there is another attractor towards which we evolve in the universe, and it is the more important one when it comes to the discussion of the Source towards which we evolve for meaning and purpose as well as for biological and social functioning. And that is the state-structure attractor of consciousness itself in the form of gross waking, subtle dreaming, and causal deep sleep. This state-structure is the scaffolding for the development and evolution of consciousness from body to mind to soul to spirit, the Great Chain of Being, which represents the creation (involution) and return (evolution) to the Source in spiritual traditions, the cyclical pulse, oscillation, or vibration of life.
Every night we pass into and out of this structure, coursing through its terrain in sleep cycles, as if lost and searching for something we left behind on distant shores, attempting to reclaim a past we have forgotten. Any organism that defies this exploratory pilgrimage will receive the death sentence in short order, so it is vital to living things, integral to their very being. From present tense wakefulness (the gross manifest world of the UR) we enter into a luminous and shifting reality (UL), a quantum realm of early star formation where there were no gross planetesimal bodies yet, but only a subtle luminosity as shape-shifting and transformative of matter itself as a psychedelic trip. Here we encounter the active phase of archetypal forms (deities and symbols of meaning), the formations and complexes that will come to rule our waking world. But these archetypes do not reside in the subtle realm of the personal unconscious (UL) where they are active. Instead we must go deeper, into the causal realm of the collective unconscious (LL) to find the home of the archetypes, the attractors of the manifest world, the patterns of meaning that give our lives purpose.
In deep formless sleep there are no luminous images, no star formation to shed light on archetypal forms. Instead there are only the patterns of interaction within and between atoms and particles that will lay the foundation for all that is to come. The habits and memories of the universe are forged here first, in the chaos of attractor formation, in the collective self-organization of atoms and particles themselves without the large centralized governing bodies that will only later take shape under the influence of gravity. And since all particle interactions are mediated by virtual particle-antiparticle pairs (the eyes of Spirit), the patterns that are forged in this formless causal phase are subquantum, which is to say that they do not exist on the same manifest level as the particles themselves but are recorded as traces within a deeper implicate order of unmanifest existence (dark matter, or subquantum field) where the virtual particles themselves are from.
We know that memory is shaped and consolidated in deep sleep, just as the archetypal patterns of the universe were also shaped and consolidated in the chaotic formless dark phase of its existence. When we go to sleep at night what we are doing is cyclically retracing the steps taken by the universe in its own evolution, from the present gross manifest world from which creatures begin their evolutionary ascent from archaic survival, to the subtle luminous mind phase of early star formation and the magical transformation of matter, to the earliest causal dark phase of chaotic and formless particles laying the foundational patterns of Kosmic habits and memories. The final phase of pure luminous light which is the inflationary big bang itself we do not enter during sleep. That phase will be reserved for the light seen at the end of the tunnel during death, or upon fully awakening at the end of our journey to the Source within this waking life.
If there is indeed a Great Attractor built into the universe in such a way that it provides the driving force, or underlying hidden structure, for both evolution and spiritual development, surely it resides in the sleep cycle so vital to life and so deeply embedded in consciousness. The structure-states of gross, subtle, and causal are to be found not only within us as indispensable structure-functions, but also within the very structure and evolution of the Kosmos itself.