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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 Structure of
|COSMIC INVOLUTION||GREAT CHAIN OF BEING||HUMAN EVOLUTION|
|unification of forces||nondual-spirit||supra-conventional|
|hot plasma soup||causal-soul||post-conventional|
|formation of atoms||subtle-mind||conventional|
The very first moment of the universe represented the grand unification of forces at about 10-43 seconds, the nondual aspect of the Kosmos in its Suchness. Thereafter, gravity decoupled from quarks at about 10-35 seconds (in my scheme, the body decoupled from the soul, or the external from the internal). The weak and electromagnetic forces decouple a nanosecond later (the mind decoupled from spirit, or the individual from the collective). What we are left with is a hot plasma soup of particles that would jostle back-and-forth, habituating their patterns of interaction into solid foundations for the material universe for the next 400 thousand years in total formless darkness (deep causal sleep) until they became cool enough to settle into atoms of mostly hydrogen and helium, giving birth to the first light of the cosmic background radiation (where the subtle dreaming phase of the universe begins).
As gravity gradually draws together the atomic gases to form the first stars, the fusion of these gases turns the production of new forms of matter into overdrive. The dreaming universe has kicked into high gear, dreaming up forms never before seen or imagined, but now illuminated by the light of the subtle energy (the weak force enabling the strong force fusion of nuclei) at this phase of cosmic involution, starting from nondual unification to formless causal plasma to the luminous subtle light of the first stars. And from the fusion of matter in these stars there would eventually gather gross terrestrial matter, the planetoids on which life could begin its ascent back to its Source (the nondual beginning of the universe) through evolution.
In one sense, the formation of atoms from particles and heavier atoms from lighter ones can be seen as a form of cosmic evolution. But such early evolution of matter only takes place within the subtle phase of cosmic involution, which is itself involving (descending orderliness and increasing disunity) towards its gross phase when terrestrial matter is finally formed. In this case, the evolution of atoms is enfolded within a larger involutionary process towards ever grosser and differentiated states of matter.
In fact, we can see the enfoldment of evolution within involution (as in the above example), and the enfoldment of involution within evolution (as when adjacent possible states of molecules nudge or guide the present into future states of those molecules, as I have outlined in an essay on transdarwinian evolution), and even the enfoldment of evolution within evolution (as in the example below). All of these enfoldments of time (which is in reality just the structure of the Great Chain in self-similar forms) occur at different scales all the way up and down the ladder of manifestation, and in places you might not expect them.
One example of the above, an enfoldment of evolution within evolution, can be seen in human development within its gross evolution, and such development suggests what the next phase of human evolution will be. Humans have developed from the gross pre-conventional, to the subtle conventional, to the causal post-conventional, and now are poised to enter a supra-conventional integral or unity (nondual) stage of development. From the bodily (emotional bound), to the mental (rules bound), to the soulful collective (principles bound), to the collective spirit of humankind (heartfelt-vision bound), the development of humanity has been on the path of the Great Chain all along. And though it is by no means guaranteed, we will complete our gross evolution, going as far as our genetic and neuronal capacities are able, with a physical infrastructure that will allow us to transcend our gross form and begin the subtle phase of our evolution.
Beginning with what might be considered the gross stage of our subtle phase of evolution, we might encounter technologically assisted post-human forms of being that allow us, and here is the real point, to achieve not just physical alterations but bodily forms of mental existence rather than merely mental forms of bodily existence. These would perhaps be the astral bodies of our current mental dreams, but real bodies that could astral travel, angel-fairy and ghost-like. The next stage of this subtle phase of our evolution would be the development of the mental form of mental existence, or what would perhaps be the psychic powers of true siddhis and seers capable of inter-dimensional teleportation and cosmic travel, UFO and alien-like. You can see where this is going, all the way to the causal and nondual stages of the subtle phase of evolution, and there are yet the causal and nondual phases of evolution beyond that!
If there would be any reason for the Kosmos to have self-similar unfoldings and enfoldings of time, surely it would be for the sheer endless fascination of pathways and timelines of manifestation that this could lead to. An endless tapestry of passages from beginning to end weaving in and out of a four-fold structure that echoes across all time—that is the landscape of the Womb within which we all are born and perish countless times and in innumerable forms on our journey.
 The Hindu tradition has a concept of deep time that follows the Great Chain in the notion of the four Yugas. This essay does not draw upon that idea but instead uses known scientific ideas about evolution and development at different levels (cosmological, biological, psychological, societal) to imagine a different patterning that nevertheless has the same fourfold structure as the Great Chain.
 It is disputed whether life and speciation is actually an abrupt emergent phenomenon, or took/takes place gradually such that one can't say there was a first for life or a first for a species, but rather small incremental changes over time would have made it impossible to clearly differentiate where life actually separated from non-life or one species separated from an immediately previous species. This is the “stream of life” theory of evolution, where life and species never really emerge (there was no “first human”) but only come into being over time from moment to moment (or generation to generation), in a kind of continuation of what went before without much drama or episodic event horizons. The deep structure of time in the universe presented in this essay contradicts these “stream of life” assumptions, without however rejecting the role of incremental moment to moment change as being important in the evolutionary process.