Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Involution and evolution

Wilbers writings are evolutionary from beginning to end. The metaphor that best fits his ideas is the ladder model (although he has refined his views in recent years so much that he prefers the metaphor of the river now).

According to Wilber, evolution has an inner component, that is not easily discovered by conventional science. Science studies the outer forms of live, and concludes evolution basically is a matter of material complexity. Esoteric philosophy adds an inner dimension: evolution is as much a matter of increasing depth or quality. This can be illustrated graphically in the following diagram:

  minerals plants animals humans mystics

Essentially all developmental principles Wilber writes about can be illustrated by this diagram of the kingdoms of nature. Plants transcend minerals, as animals transcend plants, humans transcend animals and mystics transcend humans. But plants also include minerals (they have a physical body), as animals include plants ("vitality"), as humans include animals (have feelings), and mystics include humans (are able to think).

There is nothing about this diagram that suggests the idea of oppression or devaluation, as those opposed to the idea of hierarchical development often think, it is just the way Nature operates. In fact, it is an inspiring view of unfulding life and mind. However, as mind CAN repress the emotions, so humans can abuse animals and nature at large. This is an unfortunate complication, that should be avoided at all costs, but no reason to abandon this overall picture of how things are.

In less well knows doctrine in Wilber's philosophy is the idea of involution. In his view, higher stages may occur AFTER the lower stages, but that does not mean they are fully CAUSED by them. That would in effect be nothing other than materialism. The esoteric philsophy holds that evolution is preceded by involution, the inverse movement from Spirit to matter. Without involution, evolution is a baffling process of ever new "emergent" realities; with involution, it is a comprehensible process of the grand movement of Life.

In the esoteric view, Spirit "involves" itself in matter, and takes on layer after layer of "material" bodies -- this has been beautifully elaborated in Neoplatonism -- until it reaches the Nadir of existence in the material plane. From that moment on, Spirit moves upwards again, transcending layer after layer, untill it returns to it's point of departure in the Divine. This grand view effectively counters the popular view that we lose Spirit somewhere in the early years of our life, when we become rational adults. This romanticism is an example of the pre/trans fallacy.

For Wilber's recent views on involution: see "On the Nature of a Post-Metaphysical Spirituality", an interview I did with him for a German transpersonal journal, the English original is posted on the Shambhala website.

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