Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Jean-Pierre Legros is a rheumatologist physician born in 1960 in Paris, currently practicing in Noumea, New Caledonia. He created Rhumatopratique, a reference website on rheumatology, and several blogs on the humanities. He developed a Theory of Everything, embracing all our observations and concepts, explaining their diversity, predicting their increasing complexity. This is the subject of the book "Diversium".

Reposted from the Surimposium blog (January 2, 2024)

Understanding Surimposium

The Integral Theory of Reality

Jean-Pierre Legros

Abstract: The introduction sets the scene for a Theory of Everything (ToE): the observable, the provable, the root concepts, the limits, the author. Part 1 presents the transcendental thread, the TD principle (soliTary vs soliDary, whole vs part). From this principle is deduced the fundamental framework of reality, the complex variety, endowed with two dimensions, horizontal (systems) and vertical (complex depth). Part 2 presents a universal epistemic method based on this framework. The aim is to verify that the method can encompass all our competing ways of observing, philosophical as well as scientific, and make them coincide on the chosen ToE. Part 3 takes a closer look at the workings of the ToE: what is a level of emergence, physically speaking? The key lies in the convergence of probabilities in an integrated information system. Emergence is physically the stabilization of the distribution of these probabilities, which is in itself deterministic. Part 4 confronts the ToE with major unresolved questions: consciousness (= deepening into complex verticality), free will (increasing as conscious approximation expands its field of criteria), time (returned to the property of each complex level). Conclusion on spirituality, direction shown by rise in complexity, predictions possible, but field cluttered with inherited beliefs. Proselytism comes from the self, not from the whole.


No Theory of Everything (ToE) has yet been able to account for everything we observe and experience, let alone what others besides ourselves might also observe and experience. All ToE essays are handicapped from the outset by the author's obedience: religious, philosopher, scientist, whale, elephant, arcturian? We are what surrounds us, we are a set of representations of a world that has not been conceived at random. So the first point to judge in a ToE is: Who designed it? With subsidiary questions: What was the author's primary motivation, his influences, the context of his life and thought?

The author is a point of departure as well as a point of arrival. This is not the only paradox we'll encounter. A ToE is a relational theory. To observe is to interact. To experience is to be the seat of an intrinsic relationship. There is exchange, not separation, between process and result. The '=' sign readily conceals emergences. A result is a transformation. The initial elements are not necessarily modified, but are now in a particular configuration. Their information is integrated, and together they form a specific emergence, an additional level of information.


Is emergence part of the ontology of things, of their being? This is the subject of epistemological discord. Our methods of knowledge cling to this subject but emergences, on the other hand, occupy most of everyday life. Our teleology as observers constantly relies on it. The slightest of our intentions is nourished by the emergent appearances of processes which are themselves mostly ignored. By finely reproducing the process, we reproduce the appearance, to which we associate 'properties'. Micromechanisms and properties seem indissoluble. Yet they retain a relative independence: if we set in motion a mechanism we've never tried before, we can't predict with certainty what its properties will be. The overall appearance is not already contained in the elements of the mechanism. It's their relationships that create it.

Root concepts

In just a few paragraphs, I've already introduced many concepts: observer, relationship, information, emergence, process, independence, element, set… A deluge? Of course, it's not intended to drown you, dear reader, but to arouse your curiosity for this journey. Nevertheless, it's true that we'd have to assume that we understand these concepts both in the same way, and that we haven't harvested the same wobbly, lousy concept from a similar upbringing. It is all of humanity that sometimes allows concepts to sediment in the language that require updating. For example, the most widespread notion of time is incorrect. The 2nd essential point in a ToE is to look at our most basic concepts and check their solidity.

This is no easy task. Concepts are made up of sub-concepts. Some are lucky enough to correspond to a real object and seem to be well concretized. But what about the abstract concepts? Not all images are made up of sensory inputs. If we go down to the root of abstractions, we come across indecomposable root concepts, such as individuation, totality, information, time, unfolding, order, origin, impression, etc. To explain one of these concepts to a child, we have to resort to a never-ending discourse in which we always use the concept itself, in a beautiful tĂŞte-Ă -queue. At the same time, we discover that the child knows very well, somewhere inside, what it's all about. The concept is pre-inscribed; it's just a question of extracting it, of presenting it to one's own consciousness.

The human amphitheatre

This highlights our intimate programming. We are born with predetermined concepts. Language is an infinite composition of these, but decomposition is arduous and ends up in a vacuum. At least in a language vacuum, because language remains a mask over the ontology of things. We can assume that behind the insufficiency of language there remains an ontology to be decomposed, if the notion of decomposition retains any meaning. This insurmountable limit separates us from the essence of things. Mathematical language is a remarkably fine-tuned mask, but it doesn't cross the boundary any better. It remains a system of acronyms proprietary to our mind in relation to the intimacy of things. A mask.

Humility is the order of the day, and the collection of our epistemologies appears to be one big shambles filled with these baroque, shimmering masks elaborated over the course of history, the more recent ones somewhat robotic in appearance. Which panoply should we choose? None, of course. The ToE runner wanders around the store, very interested in the talent of the craftsmen. But he's more interested in understanding the art than appreciating the result. He wants to install each mask in its place, in a general organization that will be his ToE, their places preferably being consensual. The ToE, however perfectly structured, will remain an amphitheater of human construction, suspended in the essence of things. It's impossible to get out of it, because of the impassable limits inherent in the very nature of the mind.

And outside the amphitheatre?

Which doesn't mean we can't speculate on what might exist beyond. Hope rests on the notion of a common thread. Let's suppose we've found a ToE that's valid from one end of the world to the other, that our mind can encompass, and that a transcendental principle flawlessly connects the front door to the back door. It's reasonable to believe that the principle continues in exteriors that escape us…

Part 1 — The TD principle/conflict

Searching for a fundamental driver of reality is no easy task. Simple enough to be at the origin of everything, but complicated enough to generate all complexity? Quite a challenge, isn't it? An examination of the candidate principles reveals just one thing in common: they all have their antithesis. Why should I prefer the thesis to the antithesis, if I want to give birth to a theory independent of my preferences? My first move is to keep the couple. The principle will be thesis versus antithesis. A synthesis is then necessary: the principle is a conflict, the conflict. Which thesis should I choose now, to get as close as possible to the origin? 'To be', in conflict with 'not to be'?

Being is the root of ontology, of existence, but with it we are not yet at the bottom of the conceptual edifice. Being is about individuation, relative independence in the midst of something larger. Relative independence? Yes, this oxymoron is awkward, but it perfectly describes the ambivalence of being individuated within something. The individual alone would be everything, and the concept of individu-ation would be meaningless. This brings us to our fundamental, indissoluble pairing: “to individuate” vs. “to be part of”, which I symbolize in the T of soliTary vs. the D of soliDary.

The interesting thing about this conflict is that it's not fixed, as in most conceptual oppositions, but graduated: anything can be measured as a dynamic adjustment between soliTary and soliDary, a TD adjustment. Better still, it can be experienced more as T or D. Measuring and experiencing. The principle contains both the quantitative and the qualitative.

Let's be clear: The TD principle is not the conflict between elements of a whole, but the tension between each element and the whole formed by it and the others.

How can we be sure that this is the right principle?

It's tempting to look for historical references. Arthur Koestler used this principle in the holon (a whole/part), the fundamental element of a reality seen as a holarchy (hierarchy of holons). Even more encouragingly, TD can be found in one form or another in all scientific disciplines. When a researcher realizes its importance, it inevitably leads to a rich theoretical production. Take, for example, Carlo Rovelli's 1996 reconstruction of quantum theory:

Rovelli starts from two axioms:

A1: There is a maximum amount of relevant information that can be extracted from a system.

A2: It is always possible to obtain new information from a system.

A1 and A2 seem contradictory at first glance, but they're not: note the adjective 'relevant' attached to the maximum amount of information in the 1st axiom. It traces a limit to the information that can be recovered… for an observer. For Rovelli, as for Shannon, information is observer-dependent. It is impossible to separate the two. No information is intrinsically objective, entirely defined by itself. Information is only individuated in relation to the whole.

Our TD principle has just appeared. Let's use it to translate Rovelli's axioms: A1 is stated by the T; there is a maximum quantity of information relevant to a soliTary observer. A2 is stated by the D; it is always possible to obtain new information for the soliDary set of observers. The amount of information obtained from the system, in practice, is positioned between that obtained by the T(s) in isolation and the D, between limited and unlimited. This is an example of the TD setting mentioned earlier. This reformulation of the TD principle enables Rovelli to reconstruct quantum mechanics, albeit with a few additional choices —which leads us to think that the pair of axioms is a derivation of the TD, but deciding on the maths about it is an interpretation, i.e. we've probably already crossed bifurcations in the complexity and choices appear.

TD: versatility and ambivalence

I've deliberately chosen Rovelli's somewhat arduous example, because it shows how to rediscover a fundamental physical theory using TD, but it's easy to find more obvious applications in all disciplines, and even in everyday life. Aren't we constantly torn between the need to satisfy an ego and the need to respect the interests of a collective —family, corporation, nation, religion? These two tendencies simultaneously define us. In the human sciences, the T is written ““I have the right to” and the D “I serve to”. Other names for the TD conflict: liberty vs. equality, speaking in the first person vs. the third.

This ambivalence, like that of information as defined by Shannon and Rovelli, indicates that the T (soliTary, individuation) never exists in isolation, but always in reference to the D (soliDary, globality). What exactly does “globality” mean? Is it “everything that exists”, or just a whole that is significant for the individual in relation to it? Is it a smaller part, the fraction of the context that concerns an eventual observer? Globality is in fact a series of nested whole(s), of observations housed in contexts themselves housed in larger frameworks. We don't know how many boxes make up the series, or even if there is an ultimately large box and an ultimately small one.

The system, the horizontal axis of complexity

A system is classically defined as a set of elements coordinated by laws. Where do these laws come from? Scientists have taken to reducing them down to a few fundamental forces in physics, though we can't be sure they're the floor. Reducing is easy enough, with the theory/experiment pairing: just cast the right theoretical hook, and if the elements recognize themselves in it, they recreate the expected system.

Recreating is more random, but is that any surprise? Even a slight theoretical error can sometimes lead to a completely unexpected system, or even chaos. Conclusion: we cannot predict with certainty the expected properties of a new model. Elements related in a certain context define their own rules. Ownership of local laws is returned to the system.

A whole as real as its parts

But how does the system legislate, without going to law school? Law, model, context, all these notions seem conditional on the presence of a human observer. The elements don't have that much brains! But they all respect the TD principle. By establishing a network of relationships, they are individuated within a whole. A TD conflict specific to this relationship appears, in the form of the weight represented by the presence of each element within the network/whole. Each element is both a soliTary pole that remains individuated, and a soliDary pole that merges with those of the others to create a holistic entity, “the system”, the true location of the laws. Any intrusion of an additional element changes the whole, and can therefore reconfigure the holistic entity and its laws. Elements are both bound to the laws by their T and owners by their D.

The concrete reality of the system as a global entity is as established as the reality of the elements. The TD principle does not make the T more real than the D. As human beings, we are individuals as well as globalities. Nevertheless, elements and systems do not belong to the same plane of reality. They are two facets of the same thing, without being able to substitute one for the other. Together, they create a layer of reality. We'll see later how this can be translated into physics.

The complex dimensional variety

With this thickness comes a new dimension to reality. Until now, we could say that the system's relationships were on a “horizontal” plane —without reference to the spatial dimensions involved in these relationships; by “horizontal” I mean interactions between elements with similar properties. The D formed by the integration of the T's is a new thickness, adding a vertical dimension to complexity.

Where do we stand? Starting directly from the TD, our root principle, and without adding any reference that might be anthropomorphic in preference, we already have a backdrop that appears: complex variety, endowed with two axes or dimensions, horizontal (systems) and vertical (the elements/whole shift). This is reality, with expanse (specific to each system) and depth.

A minimalist backdrop reconciles incompatible frameworks

Staying minimalist, not letting our beliefs take over, means not imposing any additional framework, either spatio-temporal or esoteric. No space-time, no Hell or Heaven, no world of Ideals. Which in no way denigrates the existence of these frameworks. Let's simply leave their ownership to the information systems that exploit them. Let's not clothe reality in them just to make it fit better with our desires. I admit that a ToE is a voyeur's work: I want to see reality naked.

The freedom of thought offered by this approach is significant. Compare continuous relativistic space-time with quantum mechanics and its separate, discontinuous spatial and temporal frameworks. Incompatible, they say… in a horizontal vision that flattens the complexity of the cosmos. By straightening it out and granting quantum and relativistic models the property of separate levels of complexity, they could perhaps cohabit without difficulty. Yes, it's even possible to reconcile the continuous and the discontinuous, as is inherent in the TD principle, which is by nature a continuous confluence of discontinuities.

Dynamics of the complex variety

In the horizontal axis, systems expand or shrink (integrate or disintegrate). On the vertical axis, complex entities gain or lose depth (surimposition or underimposition —I'll redefine these terms later).

Part 2 — Universal epistemic method

Here's our ToE with a physiological motor, the TD, and a two-dimensional skeleton, horizontal and vertical complexities. Can it already stand up on its own? No. All this remains the representation of a mind, my own, which must be included in the discussion. It's impossible to escape the accusation of circular reasoning, for a ToE, but at least we can weaken it by analyzing the steps in the circuit. How does my mind represent?

And above all, how am I going to answer this question without immediately introducing a host of preconceived ideas, suspect even if they claim to be neuroscientific? Indeed, the history of science is littered with revolutions. I'd prefer to continue with the purified skeleton and use the TD tool to give it a mind of its own. However, I'm imposing an additional constraint on myself: I'd like my ToE, going back so far, to coincide with what I experience as this mind. I don't intend to eliminate my experience, to turn it into an illusion, as some neuroscientists suggest when grappling with the “hard problem” of consciousness.

Reality cut into complex sections

Climbing up to the mind, starting with quantons, means crossing a multitude of successive levels of organization. I'll avoid any shortcuts such as quantum consciousness. My conscious experience doesn't resemble a quantum mess any more than it does synchronous neural excitations, which are the best physical correlation neuroscience has found. The walk along the complex vertical axis promises to be longer and more detailed. I make a map of the sections I pass through and give them names, as in a subway: Quantum (provisional terminus of the line) Materium (so-called inanimate matter) Biologicum (replicating biomolecules) Vivarium (simple monocellular and multicellular), Organum (plants and animals made of associated organs), Cerebrum (cerebral animals), Societarium (functions dealing with social life). The whole of reality is called Diversium, and my ToE describing it is called Surimposium.

Did you notice that in crossing the sections, we never changed trains? No quantum>macroscopic transfer, or inanimate>living, or even neural>mental. The TD principle keeps us on the same vertical axis from one end of the line to the other. How is this possible? The magic of structuralism: all the levels we pass through can be described in a common way, as information systems.

Information skeleton

Reducing everything we pass through to information instantly leads to an unpopular reductionism, because it overlooks the phenomena, emotions and qualities observed. But complex verticality formally forbids this kind of obliteration. On the contrary, each level is a space housing its own laws and associated phenomena. Describing them as information means using a universal language without reducing them to that language. Their qualities are nested and protected on each level. I've arbitrarily named seven sections, but the number of levels is much greater, probably several hundred or thousands for the mind.

The neural>mental leap is the most mysterious, and for a while neuroscientists stopped at correlations between the two, giving the impression that it's a single leap in complexity. On the contrary, the number of micro-jumps is immense, from sensory input to conscious workspace. So impressive, in fact, that classical thinkers have turned this gulf into a tenacious dualism: the mind/body divide. Let's cross it.

A stack of neural graphs

With each micro-jump, the physical medium remains the same: neurons discharging in sync. However, the information plane changes: neurons belong to different, nested graphs. The higher the information level, the more sophisticated the conceptual symbol becomes, perched on top of the previous ones. Complexity rises rapidly, virtually, without changing the material support. If everything can be described by information, what difference is there between the real and the virtual?

At the top of this impressive stack of neural graphs sits the conscious workspace. This is where our most evolved concepts are formed, our personas (behavioral aspects), our narratives, our abstractions. The conscious workspace aggregates the underlying organization into a mental scene that constitutes the reality observed by our senses and abstract models. This is where my ToE is quivering. It's pink with confusion, at the center of your attention. Who wouldn't be intimidated by the prospect of being called an illusion?

Representations, complex little segments

No matter how broad a theory claims to be, it's still a representation. So how do we integrate representations into the skeleton of our ToE? Now that its material is information, the task is easy. A representation is a mimetic of the information contained in what is represented. But be careful! No hasty analogy with photographs or digital storage. Such memorized images only make sense to an observer who possesses their language. Here, the mind is the observer, is its own language.

Information gathered about a thing always has a certain depth of complexity. To possess it, the mind superimposes its own conceptual depth. Thus, mimicry concerns small segments of complex verticality, not horizontal systems —the latter provide information without any qualitative character. For example, we are unable to recognize a person photographed in infrared light, as other criteria must make the image more complex. We are unaware of the deep processing because it takes place in the unconscious. The representations proposed to consciousness are “flattened” into simple words, 'apple', 'my room', 'the president'… They are in fact big segments of complexity paired with their real counterpart.

Economical mimicry

The pairing is partial. The mind simply integrates a sufficiently discriminating number of criteria. It doesn't independently name all the leaves of a tree, limiting itself to the generic 'leaf', but does so for the people closest to us, whose differences are far more fascinating. The matching is crude, adding up the approximations made at each stage of the complex segment reproduced. The more deeply the stage has been processed in the unconscious, the less aware the conscious mind is of any defects. In particular, it is very difficult to modify conceptual errors established in childhood, as they are subsequently covered by multiple layers of complexity.

Our brain is thus a personalized representative device, by nature thrifty and approximate to reality. It improves and becomes serialized through learning and shared epistemic methods. Some of these are widespread —science, pragmatism, divine beliefs— but none has proven sufficiently universal to encompass everything. Is it possible to do better, by taking the direct path we've followed so far?

Two very different ends

To return to the analogy of the train line, we have started from a common station, the Quantum, and encountered forks in complexity. However, the path to human consciousness remains the same for a time —our physiology and anatomy are very similar. It's when we arrive in the Cerebrum that the pathways multiply towards eight billion termini, all different conscious spaces, each with its own mimicry of reality. Each with its own “theory of everything” —and none of them is right! Always too partial, lacking in certain knowledge, peppered with inconsistencies —fortunately! otherwise we'd have no more questions to ask.

We're dealing with two extremes of complex verticality, one homogeneous, the other incredibly heterogeneous and diverse. That's why I call reality the Diversium, a diversification machine. The astonishing complexity of the conscious space at the top manages without difficulty to mimic the information in the other segments. The mimicries are unreliable, but if we consider them as a cloud of errors, they surround the real information quite well, collectively. Methods exist to reduce the field of errors. Science is the most effective, and all the more so the closer it gets to the foundations of reality, where there are still few interlocking levels of information.

The scientific method in a nutshell

How does the scientific method work? It launches its mimetizations, called “hypotheses”, into the depths of complexity. Once it reaches the desired level, and if the context is right, the hypothesis becomes a “model”. It's an anchor from which the verifications, or 'experiments', start. Does reality respond as expected? If so, the model becomes a 'theory'; if not, another hypothesis is launched.

Science, then, is not a truly ontological method, one that allows the being of things to speak directly. No such method exists. Science provides things with a language that our minds can grasp. A theory remains a representation, not the thing itself. Science is pseudo-ontological —it couldn't be better.

Monological discourse on reality

This hasn't stopped science from earning its stripes. It has established itself as the best ontological simulation. For we have an imperative need for such a tool, for a look starting from the origin of things and ending up in our conscious space. This is the discourse of the non-self, the world's view of itself, the one that takes us out of solipsism. Given its base>summit direction in complex verticality, I call it the “upward look”. Remember, it's pseudo-ontological. If it were truly ontological, it would be unique and entirely shared. But as it arises from personalized concepts in our minds, it is actually multiple, assembled only by the great currents of thought, and I encourage you to follow that of science, which wants to make the discourse of reality monological.

In our minds, the upward look is the one lent to the world. It largely dominates the mind of the materialist, who includes himself personally in its matter. This type of mental scene is very precise, and everything easily fits into it. The spiritualist, on the other hand, tends to see the world through the eyes of a constituted self, independent of matter. Here, the self is the starting point, a soul parachuted into the world, which can sometimes seem very foreign to it. This is the downward look, that of the summit of complexity towards the base, that of a summit that posits itself as the origin.

Neither view can subrogate the other

Both perspectives are, of course, equally valid and indispensable. For both ends of complexity are equally real and independent. Neither can subrogate the other. What's the biggest handicap to completing your personal ToE? Certainly to focus exclusively on one look and neglect the other. To approach ideal personal coherence, on the other hand, is to make both perspectives coincide in most circumstances. Reality appears full and complete.

What, then, is the relationship between these two looks in a complex verticality? Each direction has its own causality —the base builds the top, and the top can retroact on the base. Our ToE needs to follow events in both directions. But a genuine (truly ontological) base>top view is impossible. We have to make do with the pseudo-ontological upward look, and among the methods it can select, science has come to the fore.

The downward look is authentic. It truly corresponds to what the conscious summit experiences, since it is the origin of that experience. But it's multiple, as multiple as the number of brains. It's a large bundle of heterogeneous looks descending, trying to meet a more homogeneous upward look when it's scientific. A good Theory of Everything is born of a successful encounter in the vast majority of circumstances, and above all that it withstands confrontation with other viewpoints. This is how a ToE escapes from solipsism to become truly universal.

The looks exchanged by self and non-self

Last but not least, how does the mind deal with the contradictions between the two looks? How is it organized neurologically to make these two views independent? As the principle of conflict TD applies to the mind, it spontaneously creates this type of separation. The TD in the mind takes the form of self/non-self.

Pole T, the self, is organized around intrinsic (visceral) sensory information, and pole D, the non-self, is gradually fleshed out with information from the extrinsic senses, whose inexhaustible richness and complexity constructs the image of the world. This image becomes a materialistic scene, more precise and detailed than the self. The clear separation between the two spaces produces the sensation of being a body in the world, a rather imprecise and silent “volume” (when the body is well) but one that is very much pregnant, within an exuberant, extremely “realistic” visual and aural universe.

Double look and double vocabulary

This 'double look' will be our universal epistemic method, because it includes all the others, especially the multitude of individual downward looks. Our only encouragement is to match our own with a reliable upward look, preferably a scientific one. The double look is a versatile tool for everyday observation. Each of the two directions has its own vocabulary to designate the same thing. Caught between these terms, the meaning of the thing becomes clearer, for example in the pairs law/force, heat/agitation, emotion/pulsion, etc.

With the double look, we can fix things on the complex skeleton and understand how they got there, including the self-image. Thanks to the precision of this projector, consciousness can finally wander through the complexity of things without getting lost.

Part 3 — The complex attractor

The first thing the double look tells us is that things only exist in half. Right? Well, yes, our downward look clearly identifies things, gives them substance through their contrasting properties; but the upward look doesn't see them. It essentially contemplates emptiness, fields dotted with excitation, interacting forces. Its counterpart, the downward look, condenses all this into particles, elements, objects and living beings. Every individual entity is semi-transparent, as evidenced by the double vocabulary used to describe it: particle/field excitation, chromosome/purine molecular chain, organ/cellular cluster, etc.

On one side, the thing seems material —atom, pebble, bacterium, elephant— on the other, it's abstract —field variation, ensemble, grouping, society. How, then, can we save the idea of substance, which is so useful to us? A ToE is supposed to consolidate our representation of reality, not disintegrate it. I've always thought that the disembodiment wrought by reductionism explains the widespread reluctance to endorse the discourse of science. Materialists are no longer who we think they are. Hardened physicalists find themselves today with an illusory matter, while the more spiritualist common people remain attached to the idea of matter. What will the mind operate on if it's taken away? Dualism dictates that both matter and spirit must remain strong.

Three movements of thought

Our ToE is not exactly monistic, but multidualistic, a mille-feuilles firmly welded together by the unbreakable TD principle. Three movements of thought are necessary to make it solid and digestible. The first, as I've already mentioned, is to think of the whole (the D) as being as concrete as its elements (the T). This isn't so difficult, since the elements are themselves semi-transparent, and the 'whole' in turn becomes an 'element'. Note that a whole is not just any set; a set becomes D (soliDary) when the information of the T(s) is integrated. The Internet or Gaia are interactive spaces, but they are not D. On the other hand, the medical profession or the practice of a religion are indeed D (called social circles), through the partial mental integration (to be a doctor or be a worshiper) they provoke in their members.

The second way of thinking is to rediscover the material substance of things in the thickness of complexity that constitutes them. What makes them solid, in fact, is the stability of certain levels of this complexity. That of the atom, itself based on that of hadrons, is so strong as to seem eternal. Nothing is so solid in the upper layers; which is why the inanimate has a reputation for immutability and the animate for fragility. The stability of a complex level is seen as much from the bottom up as from the top down. It is the concept closest to that of substance.

A level is not a boundary, but a blur around an attractor

Finally, we need a third movement of thought, because as my attentive readers may have already noticed, the term 'level' also belongs to the downward look, and its reality is in half-tone. It's convenient to create a horizontal level to define a system and apply a model to it, but in reality these splits are much more blurred. Several levels interact simultaneously, and elements that we would classify at one level interact at other levels, e.g. a small molecule interacts with a much more organized macromolecule.

'Level' is therefore a pseudo-ontological term, but if we abandon it without replacing it, not only does ToE collapse, but so does structuralism, back to the chaos that existed before it. Fortunately, the third movement of thinking is simple. All we have to do is stop seeing the complex dimension as made up of classical discontinuities. Indeed, our dimensions are usually of two kinds: either discontinuous, made of abruptly juxtaposed units with nothing at the junctions, or continuous, with each unit separated from any other by an infinity of them. But the TD principle is by nature both continuous in its D and discontinuous in its T. Its units cannot be accommodated in a classical dimension. The complex variety is a coalescence of two inseparable dimensional axes, the horizontal and the vertical, producing this curious mix of levels that are both independent and intertwined. We had to find a term for them that would reflect this strangeness, and that would belong neither to the downward nor the upward look. I chose the term “complex attractor“. Complexity is an entanglement of complex attractors.

Reconstructing the concept of emergence

A complex attractor condenses objects under the downward look and appears as stability to the upward look. But what does it physically represent? What trace do we have of it in the equations, in the imperturbable unfolding of processes? What lies between stability and materialization, for those who are not satisfied with simple correlation? Or to put it in philosophical terms: what, in concrete terms, is an emergence?

To keep the thread of our ToE going, we need to reconstruct the concept of emergence from the TD principle. In Part 1, I deliberately skipped over an intermediate step because it's a difficult one, but it needs to be taken up again here: How exactly do we define information, the elementary brick in the skeleton of reality, on the basis of the TD principle? Information is any event that alters the TD setting in a system of related elements. However, as we now know from part 2 of the ToE, there are two ways of looking at this change: from the elements to the whole (T>D), and the reverse (D>T).

Wiener and Shannon information

These two directions for defining information correspond to the two ways used respectively by Wiener and Shannon. Wiener's is the most intuitive and classic: information is that which arouses in us a specific mental state. This definition is positively linked to meaning. Such and such information points to such and such a thing. Shannon, on the other hand, used a negative, counter-intuitive link. The strength of information is not that it points to something, but that it gives us a choice between all possible things. Shannon's information acts as a freedom for the observer, while Wiener's operates as a constraint. Putting it this way relativizes the terms 'positive' and 'negative'. There is no “best” way of defining information.

Wiener's way is the T>D direction. It's an individual pole looking for itself in the whole, in this case for the mind it's a mental representation looking for itself in sensory data. Information is the positive degree to which it finds itself there. Wiener's way closes the field of possibilities (the D) on a precise representation (the T). Shannon's way is the D>T direction. Information is what opens up the field of possibilities, multiplying the number of T(s) within the D, in a way that is negative for the importance of each T but positive for the D. The two statements are not contradictory. They complement each other.

A discrepancy between two perceptions of information

“Information is that which modifies the TD setting” is an inclusive way of defining information directly from our root principle, but it should not obscure the dual direction shown by Wiener and Shannon: there are two ways of perceiving information, and you can guess how important this duality is for understanding phenomena and consciousness.

The notion of emergence is now very simple to define: it is the gap between the two ways of perceiving information, that of the constituted whole and that of the constituent elements. Emergence is intrinsic to any integrated information system.

Data and meaning

To highlight the gap between these two perceptions of information, we'll give them different names. That perceived by the higher level, the constituted whole, is “meaning”; that perceived by the lower level, the constituent elements, is “data”. The plural form of data expresses the multiplicity of elementary T(s), while the singular form of signification expresses the fusion of the global D.

But why is the information at the top level significant, when at the bottom it isn't? The heart of “meaningful” is that the information is discriminating, it is the decided choice among the possibilities, or in statistical terminology: it is the stabilized distribution of the system's possible states. The transformation of data into meaning is the stabilization of the best probability distribution of all the possible states of the system that the data could produce. Significance, a phenomenon powerfully experienced by the downward look, is purely statistical data for the upward look.

Certainty in the distribution of probabilities

Doesn't this mechanism remind you of something? Yes, it's the transformation in quantum physics known as 'wave function collapse'. The multiple aggregated probabilities of a particle's states collapse into a single state when measured. In other words, the multiple possible sTates characterizing the particle system before measurement, manifest themselves as a soliDary whole during a higher-level interaction. Multiple data become meaningful fusion.

The underlying probabilities are always there. The “parts” have not disappeared. The particle has simply reached another step in the complex verticality, having interacted at this level. It has gone from being a set of probabilities/parts to being an element/whole. It is no longer probability itself; as the best distribution of probabilities, it is certainty. The whole is stable and not itself tainted by uncertainty, since it includes all the underlying uncertainties.

At the heart of correlations

I'm getting a little ahead of myself here in Part 4, since this intimate mechanism of increasing complexity explains the problem of measurement in quantum physics. But it also explains all those correlations that are still rather mysterious, such as Boltzmann's formula in thermodynamics, S = log W, whose '=' sign hides a leap in complexity, or the way in which neural networks construct their meaning.

Let's take a closer look at this last example, as it is of course the most significant. Remember that neural networks have to construct their meaning themselves, because there's no programmer to come and interpret it as in your computer or an AI. This isn't quite true, as the higher networks observe the lower ones; but there has to be an apex to this pyramid, in this case the conscious workspace, and it has to be self-signifying. How do neurons manage without a soul or homunculus to pull the strings?

The 'concept', an activated graph

In neural networks, a “whole” is a graph of synchronously activated neurons. Neural graphs are typically a complex architecture. Most neurons have rich but average connections and belong to a limited number of graphs. Their disappearance during vascular or traumatic lesions has little effect on mental functions. A smaller number of neurons are hyper-connected; they are heavily involved in links between graphs of different levels. Their disappearance greatly degrades mental capacity. Brain complexity collapses.

An activated graph is a symbolic concept. The brain builds its thinking by superimposing and integrating information. Sub-concepts are surimposed from graph to graph to form integrations of increasing sophistication up to the conscious workspace. Sophistication? Their meaning expands and becomes more precise through the integration of multiple criteria: sensory, temporal, abstract, emotional and memetic. “Meaning” is a proprietary term of the downward look, natural to the one who experiences meaning. But what does it physically consist of? How can we give it a name acceptable to the upward look, more convincing in any case than “set of sensory data”?

From uncertainty to symbolic certainty

The synaptic configuration of an activated graph, as meaning, is a given distribution of probabilities between all its possible constituent states. Or again: a meaning is formed by 'not being state E1 with probability P1', 'not being state E2 with probability P2'… 'not being state Enwith probability Pn'. As in quantum collapse, the aggregate of these probabilities is a certainty. A concept, at the level of its constituent sub-concepts, is full of uncertainties, and can be easily reworked; but at the higher level, in interaction with graphs of the same level, it becomes a symbolic whole, it becomes certainty.

In the conscious workspace, the last floor where higher-level concepts interact, certainties and uncertainties follow one another, depending on the coherence of the interactions. Our certainties come from a well-defined distribution of probabilities between the different possible versions of the world our mind is simulating at that moment, and our uncertainties from the rapid evolution of this statistical distribution.

The thickness of meaning

The most important thing about this definition of meaning is that it is independent of signifying content. It applies to any subject… or object. There is meaning in a macromolecule stabilizing the probability distribution that its atoms are in this or that configuration, and it is through this meaning that it is recognized in an interaction with another macromolecule. There is meaning in the inanimate as in the animate, but its thickness increases with complexity, spectacularly so with the rapid rise offered by the multitude of nested neural graphs.

Part 4 — Explaining it all?

The anatomy of our ToE is now complete. Fundamental principle, building the elementary cell of information, growing skeleton in the complex dimension. The principle is intimately endowed with the property of transforming interaction into meaning, meaning called will in the chief, at the top of the skeleton. Finally, the chief looks at his feet and wonders, and here we are, discussing an integral theory of reality.

Of course, this ToE deserves the accusation of circular reasoning. The TD principle explains the theorist and the theorist explains the TD principle; or let's go the other way round if you're a spiritualist rather than a physicalist. All ToE is inherently circular, mind you. Nothing can be located on the outside; its observers are also on the inside. The one presented here takes care to place the principle of circularity at the very root of reality. Conflict is intrinsic to it and opens the circular loops to build our reality, raising self-organizing entities on a base that is for the moment a field of quantons. A truly integral ToE is entitled to make the opposite accusation: non-circular reasoning is prematurely interrupted reasoning…

Let's put this ToE to the test on a few thorny problems still unsolved today, from the phenomenon of consciousness to the physics of time. As each one has filled entire libraries with essays, debates and syntheses, I'll keep my comments brief, and apologize in advance if this part seems a little peremptory.


In his integral theory, Ken Wilber had already grasped the equivalence between degree of consciousness and holarchic elevation. My ToE concludes the same thing, identifying the intimate mechanism of consciousness in the very principle of complexity. Since each consciousness is experienced proprietarily by the whole that forms it, no consciousness can experience itself in the place of another. For example, our waking consciousness cannot recognize the less integrated conscious states of our brain during sleep or coma.

The conscious workspace is the pinnacle of mental complexity. It consists essentially of hyper-connected pyramidal neurons and long connections throughout the entire brain. This is not an anatomy that can be easily modified. The rise in mental complexity therefore occurs not at its level, but in the underlying neural graphs, through a mixture of mechanisms, including the pruning of connections (in infants) and the stabilization of synaptic weights, all of which contribute to reinforcing the individuation of graphs and the symbols they represent. A complex skeleton condenses and fleshes out in the vast neural system.

Rising ball and phenomenon

In more poetic terms, waking consciousness “floats” like a ball at the top of a fountain jet. The force of the jet grows stronger as it rises in complexity, lifting the ball to an ever-increasing height. The same conscious “personality” sees its horizon widen. It doesn't feel as if it has changed, in the space that houses it, but its underlying depth has greatly increased. An experience we describes as a gain in “wisdom”, without being able to fully explain it. Some of the changes are accessible, some are not. Most of it is made up of refined unconscious propositions, which consciousness considers far more relevant than before. So much so that consciousness itself may not be much wiser, but actually more satisfied.

The phenomenon of consciousness is no longer too difficult to justify to a philosopher fussy about qualia. Any integrated information system creates a proprietary qualia, directly linked to the presence of a whole surimposed on the parts. But this does not mean that consciousness is simply a global emergence of neural activity. The experience we have in the higher conscious space is the surimposition of a myriad of elementary qualia formed at every step of complexity, from the invisible origin of our constitution. This accounts for both the richness of content and the fusional nature of the phenomenon.

But above all, on a phenomenological level, consciousness is experienced by a turning of the look on one's own being. It's a process intimate to the conscious space, but by no means exclusive to it. Conscious experience is the surimposition of a multitude of these reversals at each complex crossing, a thickening of elementary layers of consciousness, abundantly multiplied in the brain by neural graphs.

Free will

also becomes an easy question. As our certainties aggregate uncertainties, our free will increases with the number and scope of uncertainties that are ultimately condensed in each of our decisions. 'Wisdom' then becomes a handicap in a court of law: the deeper it is, the stronger our free-will, and the greater our responsibility.

Of course, this does not make justice quantifiable or mathematizable. Free will aggregates concepts with specific qualia, which cannot be compared with each other, and the weight of each in our decisions remains an entirely private affair. Social laws are themselves specific qualia in our minds, and the role of justice is to give them a certain weight…


Time is a dimensional variety modulated by complexity, meaning that each complex level owns its own temporal beat. Einsteinian space-time is adapted to the levels of atoms and the stable material assemblies they generate. The small gain in complexity at these levels doesn't allow for free-will or time-beat deviation. But it is inadequate to impose this framework on the whole height of complexity. Temporal gaps become significant from the micro to the macroscopic, in thermodynamic systems, and then especially in mental complexity. Each conscious workspace has its own temporal beat, with adjustment problems when they differ. The fast find the slow tedious, and the slow feel unheard by the fast.

How do you situate a thought in Einsteinian space-time? If a brain were to travel at close to the speed of light, its thoughts would slow down far more than its biological clock, and that clock far more than its atoms. In other words, thoughts would “age” more slowly than the organ, and the organ more slowly than the atoms. How is this possible in a universal space-time framework?

Let's also imagine a thought experiment: an artificial brain is made up of autonomous neurons communicating via waves. We send these neurons in all directions, taking them out of a single frame of reference, but they continue to communicate via waves. Calculate the temporal beat of this brain, i.e. the time between two thoughts. This question makes no sense in a universal temporo-spatial framework. And yet such a brain could function… in its own personal time. Each complex level must be given back the property of its own internal clock.


What about spiritualism? Religious people and followers of elaborate holistic philosophies may feel cheated by this ToE, which seems to give pride of place to physicalism. Why this preference? Because it's harder to make pseudo-ontological concepts coherent than first-person experiences. Science speaks in the third person. It amalgamates with reality itself, but we can never be certain that this is entirely the case. Science is a dialogue that we refine with reality, without being able to put ourselves in its place.

Conscious experience, on the other hand, is a monologue, a direct experience. “I think, I experience myself in this thought”. Experience is not of the same order as the constitution of thought. Container and content. The flavor of experience as a container is so different from the association of content that it seems magical. Poets have tried in vain to put the sensation of love into words. An ethereal phenomenon, one might say. Is it any wonder that this is a world apart, a mystical order? At a time when many phenomena remained incomprehensible, the mystical order was diligently populated by gods, spirits and occult practices. This is our heritage. Today, almost all these phenomena have been repatriated to physical reality, but the strangeness of conscious experience remains. It cannot be denigrated by illusionism or eliminativism, as scientists do when they run out of ideas.

Don't let go of the cause of phenomena

This experience, which can still be called mystical, justifies the resistance of spiritualists and most philosophers to an integral physicalist vision of reality. This vision of pure upward look misses one half of reality. In practice, the most radical physicalists more often uses the half they ignore, using their impressions rather than equations in everyday life. Their logic serves to correct their impressions, not replace them.

Neither view dominates the other. They are not interchangeable. The top-down is clearly spiritualist, since the mind is seen as the origin, while the bottom-up is physicalist, translating the discourse of the origin of the world. Contrary to popular belief, the spiritualist view is the most objective, as it is in direct contact with its object, that is the information occupying conscious space. But it is a multiple objectivity, each consciousness elaborating its own universe. The physicalist view, on the other hand, is the most subjective, because the interposition of theories between it and reality itself makes the latter a subject. But this is a shared subjectivity, consensual among scientists.

Armoured scientific target…

If my ToE tries to convince scientists in particular, it's as a new subjectivity that must bring them together —a difficult task. While spiritualists cannot be dislodged from their individual experience, which is in essence multiple and authentic within their brain. Divinities lie there, with certainty, as the creation of neural networks. To take the mind as origin is also to admit that divine concepts are its creation, a projection of its own strangeness onto the world. Divinities reflect a spiritual necessity. And they do exist, as information structures, like everything else in the Diversium. But do they respond to something else, are they the mimicry of another informational entity? As yet, we have discovered no trace of this. Like the physicalist, the spiritualist must make his two looks coincide to embrace the whole of reality.

…a simple switch to pass again out for believers

What is a belief? It's a mental misdirection that brings a concept supposedly belonging to the non-self into the self. Although the concept has not been confirmed in the outside world, it is nonetheless retained, and becomes part of our identity because it is close to our desires. A mixture of self and non-self that blurs the image of the world, creating an additional one, the false non-self, where beliefs are housed. A false non-self is not necessarily penalizing; in fact, it's often therapeutic, serving as a buffer between self and non-self that are too incompatible. But the role of a good personal ToE is precisely to reduce these incompatibilities, not to widen the buffer of beliefs.

Finally, for the benefit of spiritualists, the top of the complex verticality is as open as its base. At the bottom, physicalists are passionate about openness. The mess known as the “quantum vacuum” is the currently known foundation of reality. What can exist beneath it? Yet nothing prevents theologians, historians and all spiritualists from doing comparable research at the top. Towards what kind of post-humanity or larger, more integrated consciousness can our current brains evolve?

The summit of complexity is a carpet of needles

In this research, we must be careful not to confuse base and summit. The base of complexity is uniform, while the summit is a multitude of extremely diverse peaks. Extending this elevation, it's better to bet on polytheism than monotheism! But should we invest a lot in a gamble whose outcome we'll never see? Living within one's beliefs is an enclosure, whereas living with one's beliefs is an opening.

A ToE can hint at but not include what remains out of sight. Even when the magic of an idea gives the impression of being outside oneself, we're still in our personal Cerebrum, the mental fraction of complex verticality, neurons engaged in circular reasoning. Let them emit pseudopods towards the ultimate origin and end, but let's not turn these fragile hypotheses into rigid links, lest they pull us out of soliDary reality.

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