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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Phil AndersonPhil Anderson has a background in electronics hardware design and software engineering, he has spent the last few decades engaged in various Internet-related entrepreneurial activities. An epiphany that occurred in 2007 when trying to model the process of evolutionary emergence using engineering control theory concepts led Phil to the idea of Holons, Holarchies and Wilber's Integral theory, although because of how Phil arrived at Integral thinking, he retains his own unique holonic Integral perspective.

Legitimising Eros in Evolution

Phil Anderson


  • Introduction
  • Is Eros a necessary aspect of Darwinian evolution?
  • Does Eros provide its own evolutionary mechanism?
  • Can the Eros evolutionary mechanism be reduced to a Darwinian perspective?
  • Is Eros a fundamental aspect of the universe?
  • Eros as a separate qualitative dimension
  • Hiding in plain sight


I would argue that we should not privilege either 1st, 2nd or 3rd person perspectives in an absolute sense.

Ken Wilber's claims on the role “Eros” plays in evolution have provoked lively debate on this website and since most of the comments of Wilber's ideas are critical, I intend here to add some balance and argue for the legitimacy of the basic claim that Eros is both a necessary aspect of Darwinian evolution and a separate evolutionary mechanism in its own right. This is something I intend to do in the most down to earth possible terms because it seems to me that with all the heady, hyper-abstract and intangible concepts that Integralists love to throw around, the simple is often sidelined, the obvious is frequently overlooked leading to unnecessary controversy about the most straightforward and fundamental of Integral subjects.

To surface my perspective, here are some tenets I will be holding:

  1. No magic: No mysterious forces and no guiding spirits will form any part of my argument.
  2. No anti-science: The established ideas and theories of scientific materialism are all held as true, nothing which violates the laws of physics or Darwin's theory of evolution will form any part of my argument.
  3. Verifiable claims: I will base my argument on nothing more than the reader is able to easily verify in his/her own experience, all you need is an empty stomach and a healthy sex drive.

Feel free to hold me to account if you think I have broken any of these tenets, however, please double-check your perspective and ensure you correctly understand my writing on its own terms before doing so.

It is not my intention to defend Wilber's specific words, I agree with Frank Vissar that some of Ken Wilber's claims go beyond what is reasonable, to the unhelpful extent of denying established science[5]. Rather, I simply intend to defend the basic proposition of asserting the existence and necessity of Eros in evolution which I shall do in the most down to earth, uncontroversial way possible.

Is Eros a necessary aspect of Darwinian evolution?

Eros depicted as an adult male (Wikipedia)

In Freudian theory, “Eros” is defined as “the life instinct”, I suggest this shows up in our direct experience as our 1st person will. We all experience an internal will, whenever we are hungry and desire food and act on the urge, we experience our will directing us. When we are feeling our mortality in a dangerous situation and experience a desire to live, our will directs our actions. Likewise, whenever we are tired and desire sleep, feeling aroused and desire sex, these are all examples of the experience of will showing up in our experience of reality as part of realty. We are part of reality, so will is an aspect of reality.

For example, all our fellow humans also have will, and there's reason to believe that the same sort of thing shows up in the reality of all animals, because (regarding the above topics around food, sleep, sex and survival), they behave in similar ways to us and make broadly similar choices. Will is a source of fun and pleasure when we are indulging in our desires, so the presence of will is part of what makes our lives meaningful. Since will is the faculty by which we decide upon and initiate action, will shows up in our thinking as our 1st person perspective—we are known to ourselves and others through our desires and behaviors.

When reflecting on “will”, I ask the reader to reflect on the actual 1st person experience of will itself, not your interpretations of will. E.g. instead of thinking about what will is and why it is there, just explore how it actually feels to be really hungry, and how it actually feels to eat a hearty meal when you are really hungry. There's a reality to both experiences—it's a subjective experience but it is a real experience.

Is “will” a necessary aspect of Darwinian evolution? Clearly yes—this subjective aspect of being plays a necessary supporting role to natural selection since without the will to survive, life stops struggling to survive and the process of natural selection and Darwinian evolution therefore ceases because the process is predicated on life struggling to survive. And my argument really is that simple. “Eros as will”, the actual 1st person experience of it, drives and predicates Darwinian evolution, without “will” the process of evolution through natural selection described by Darwin would not exist.

Will, therefore, plays a necessary supporting role to Darwinian evolution. The place of will is even more fundamental than that, though. Without will, we'd have no reason to get out of bed and eat, since it is our hunger and enjoyment of food that drives us to do so. If will suddenly vanished from the universe, life would vanish too.

Conclusion: “Eros as will” is a required aspect both of Darwinian evolution and of life itself.

Does Eros provide its own evolutionary mechanism?

As described, “Eros as will” is necessary to support Darwinian evolution and indeed, the very existence of life itself, however—does Eros have its own separate evolutionary mechanism?

The key idea of Darwin's theory is that an organism's survivability is tested by objective reality and only those who survive get to pass their genes on to the next generation, thereby creating an evolutionary mechanism that selects for survivability. However, in addition to this mechanism, a parallel selection mechanism does exist in the form of sexual desire and desirability. In this selection mechanism, an organism's desirability is tested subjectively by a prospective mate.

Considering Eros and Darwin as similar evolutionary mechanisms, sexual desirability as a selection attribute in the Eros evolutionary mechanism is an attribute that maps to survivability in Darwin's evolutionary mechanism. While in Darwin's mechanism, survivability is tested in the objective 3rd person universe, desirability is tested in the subjective 1st person perspective of a prospective mate.

However, both survivability and desirability act to have the same effect in terms of determining the likelihood of our genes being passed to the next generation, both can be considered in terms of evolutionary selection mechanisms.

Conclusion: Eros as sexual desire creates a 1st person evolutionary mechanism that selects for desirability, this attribute is equivalent to survivability in Darwin's 3rd person theory.

Can the Eros evolutionary mechanism be reduced to a Darwinian perspective?

Sexual desirability (Eros) is determined in the 1st person, whereas survivability (Darwin) is determined in 3rd person objective reality. Sexual attractiveness and objective survivability are qualitatively different yardsticks.

However, they are obviously related, because physical attributes we find erotic are typically related to survivability (e.g. athletic muscular males) so might it, in fact, be valid to reduce the Eros evolutionary mechanism to just another aspect or attribute of Darwinian evolution?

From discussions of the matter in Darwinian circles, there is good evidence this is not the case. From [1]

"The origin of sexually reproducing organisms from asexually reproducing ancestors is a profound mystery which has baffled many an evolutionary biologist. The origin and subsequent maintenance of sex and recombination is a phenomenon not easily explained by Darwinian evolution.”

"Sex is the queen of problems in evolutionary biology. Perhaps no other natural phenomenon has aroused so much interest; certainly none has sowed as much confusion. The insights of Darwin and Mendel, which have illuminated so many mysteries, have so far failed to shed more than a dim and wavering light on the central mystery of sexuality, emphasising its obscurity by its very isolation.” ~ Graham Bell (emphasis added by me).

Two key points: Firstly, as previously described, sexual desirability provides a subjective 1st person selection mechanism which parallels that provided by 3rd person (Darwinian) objective survivability. And secondly, 3rd person Darwinism has been unable to find a good explanation for sexuality.

Both these points relate to Integral holon theory, particularly as described by myself[2]. The first point relates to the fact that 1st person reality is in a sense a structural reflection of 3rd person reality. Holon structure that shows up in objective reality in some ways has complementary holon structure in subjective (and intersubjective) reality. Evidence for this shows up in the fact that the selection criteria of Eros and Darwin are qualitatively different, but nevertheless both form selection mechanisms that select the genes that make it into the next generation. So the evolutionary systems of Eros and Darwin are qualitatively different but structurally similar.

The second point (connected to the bold text in the above Graham Bell quote) relates to the tenet of holon theory that none of the primary domains or dimensions of a holon (which are I, WE and IT) may be reduced to any of the other dimensions. And here we see evidence of this tenet in the form of a 1st person “I” (Eros) based evolutionary process (sexuality) that cannot be adequately explained by 3rd person “IT” Darwinian perspectives.

In modern Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory, I would argue that 1st person and 3rd person perspectives of evolution are still waiting to be differentiated and therefore currently still confusingly conflated and merged. Effort therefore needs to be made to clearly differentiate 1st and 3rd person evolutionary perspectives to ensure that neither perspective over-extends its truth claims.

To offer an integrating principle between Eros and Darwin, I would argue that evolution itself is a holon. With, therefore, a dimension of “I” (described by the Eros selection mechanism) and a dimension of “IT” (described by Darwin's theory). As an aside, if it is valid to consider evolution as a holon, a third intersubjective evolutionary selection mechanism is to be expected around the principle of Agape, or Goodness. This would perhaps be mediated intersubjectivity by the community and might be a discernment of how “good” a member of the community someone is. A secure place in the community is known to confer a survival advantage, in nature ostracization from the group often leads to the death of the individual, this may form part of the basis for a 3rd evolutionary selection mechanism around Goodness that is qualitatively different to Eros or objective Darwinian evolution.

Conclusion: the 1st person evolutionary mechanism of Eros cannot be reduced to a 3rd person Darwinian description, and should therefore be held as a primary category in evolution theory.

Is Eros a fundamental aspect of the universe?

Eros: God of attraction (Wikipedia)

I have argued above that Eros is both a necessary aspect of Darwinian evolution and an evolutionary mechanism in its own right. However, since my argument is specific to the evolution of life, it is reasonable to question if there is evidence for Eros outside of the domain of life and biology. Is Eros an aspect of all matter, or is it reasonably restricted to living process?

Since I am essentially arguing that Eros relates to subjectivity and the 1st person perspective, is it reasonable to suppose that an atom has, in some sort of elemental proto-sense, a 1st person dimension to it, an atomistic subjectivity?

Firstly, it is important to correctly scale our expectations. The human brain is complex, our human 1st person experience is the product of a hundred trillion connections between a hundred billion neurons, each consisting of 100 trillion atoms. If we are to consider the 1st person “experience” of a single atom, therefore, it is important we scale our expectations appropriately—if an atom has a first-person dimension or an aspect of subjectivity, I would argue that it is vanishingly small and perhaps negligible for all practical intents and purposes.

Nevertheless—is there evidence of a 1st person dimension to elemental matter located below life on the holarchy?

In Spiral Dynamics, the “Red” stage[3] is a stage in human development where the 1st person becomes reflectively self-aware, so the stage represents an emergence of agency and will. And in fact, as noted by Spiral Dynamics, objective structure forms around this emergence in the form of dominator hierarchies as principles of human organisation. A dominator hierarchy is a naturally emergent organisational structure in the situation where people's mode of relationship is primarily about attempts to assert their will over that of others, e.g. contains a bias towards 1st person expression.

If we can accept that dominator hierarchies, or hierarchical organisations of matter around a single dominant monad are 3rd person evidence of a bias towards 1st person expression as per the evidence in Spiral Dynamics, then evidence for 1st person expression does exist at the atomic scale in the form of hierarchical organisations of elemental matter, as argued in my own holon theory[2], to which I refer the reader for further consideration.

Conclusion: despite the scale of the challenge of proving a 1st person aspect to prebiotic matter, some objective evidence nevertheless exists for a 1st person dimension to elemental matter.

Note: the idea that the 1st person is a fundamental dimension of the universe is no more than standard Integral dogma since this is what is depicted in the UL quadrant of Wilber's 4 quadrant AQAL map.

Eros as a separate qualitative dimension

A key aspect to understanding Eros in evolution is to understand that 1st person reality is a separate qualitative dimension to 3rd person reality. As described further in my own holon theory[2], expressed in terms of geometry, 1st person reality is qualitatively orthogonal to 3rd person reality, creating a fundamentally different truth-space. Truth, as it exists in the 1st person, is a separate paradigm to truth as it exists in the 3rd person, so 1st and 3rd person truth claims may sound contradictory if one fails to consider the root perspective, but in fact, cannot contradict because they are talking from fundamentally different and orthogonal perspectives. I feel this issue may have shown up in at least some of the criticism of Wilber, where Wilber claims which were essentially being made about the 1st person dimension of reality may have been construed as 3rd person objective claims, and therefore seen as contradicting science. At very least, I think some double-checking of Wilber's intended perspective would be generous.

Hiding in plain sight

Since we all eat and walk down the street eyeing each other up, why has 1st person Eros been overlooked in evolution theory when it is hiding in plain sight? My argument here is that the reality we experience is at least in part a projection of our psychological reality, and in the modern world (and this applies to most of the Integral community, regardless of where they might place themselves) large parts of our perspective remain anchored in SD Orange[4] rational worldview perceptions of reality.

It is important to be aware that our human experience of the universe is always to some extent a subjective construction, we can never fully separate what we experience as the universe from our own mind's biases and ways of looking at the universe. Humans effectively live inside a reconstructed representation of the universe created inside our brain from sensory data, so our experience of the universe is always mediated by a perspective that our own mind creates. Attempts to claim pure objectivity are nothing more than evidence that the claimant lacks full awareness of his/her own situation living inside perspective. Even the 3rd person “objective” view of the world is a subjective human construction.

As described in my own holon theory[2], Orange as a developmental stage privileges objectivity and 3rd person enquiry, it necessarily does this to step away from the previous Blue worldview, which privileges subjective perspectives.

By privileging the 3rd person perspective at Orange, to an extent we repress our 1st and 2nd person perspectives. Because 3rd person emergence happens in antithesis to previous stages, we deny the validity of subjectivity in order to perceive and think objectively. And since they are repressed in the act of emergence, the 1st and 2nd person aspects of reality are depreciated in our subjective experience as having little significance as fundamental descriptions of reality. Inside an Orange perspective, we have an experience in which 3rd person objective reality appears “real” and 1st and 2nd person dimensions appear to be no more than products of 3rd person reality rather than primary categories of reality in their own right. When looking at the universe, we see 1st and 2nd person perceptions as part of us rather than part of the universe we are looking at, unfortunately failing to notice the fact that we ourselves are part of the universe and that there are billions of beings, also part of the universe, all with 1st and 2nd person aspects to them. We ignore huge swathes of qualitatively real attributes of the universe when we look at the universe purely through a 3rd person lens while holding the 1st and 2nd person perspectives to be unimportant.

Nevertheless - if we wish to develop a good theory of reality, is there a good philosophical argument for privileging 3rd person perspectives in our endeavor?

Whilst I see a very good relative argument for privileging the 3rd person during the European Enlightenment as a necessary dialectical move away from the religious worldview, I see no philosophical argument for privileging the 3rd person in an absolute sense. For example, any 3rd person argument for privileging the 3rd person perspective in an absolute sense is nothing more than a circular argument, whereas any 1st or 2nd person argument for privileging the 3rd person perspective in an absolute sense contains performative contradiction.

Regarding the question posed previously: Can the Eros evolutionary mechanism be reduced to a Darwinian perspective? I expect this idea to sound extremely plausible from an Orange bias and perspective, which is why I took time earlier in this writing to refute it. However, what about the reverse? Could it be that the Darwinian objective perspective of evolution is just an aspect of 1st person Eros evolution? Is Eros primary, with Darwinian evolution just a secondary attribute, playing a minor supporting evolutionary role to Eros? Such an idea will sound ridiculous from an Orange viewpoint, and I myself would certainly not argue for the idea because I believe it to be incorrect. However, I feel that to do so is no more than the exact same baseless privileging of perspective as the reverse, namely privileging Darwin over Eros, and I suggest it here merely to surface any remaining bias and prejudice in the perspective of the reader (please therefore consider and reflect on the foundations for any reactions you may have had to either of the biased views I have outlined in this paragraph).

To be clear here though—I would argue that we should not privilege either 1st, 2nd or 3rd person perspectives in an absolute sense, rather that we treat each of them as primary categories and integrate them.

The underlying analysis for this writing has been based on looking at evolution through the lens of my own holonic meta-theory listed in the references below.


  1. Jonathan M., Sex, the Queen of Problems in Evolutionary Biology,, July 13, 2011.
  2. A fully holonic meta-theory for the heart of integral,
  3. Characteristics Red Value System,
  4. Characteristics Orange Value System,
  5. Ken Wilber has at various times denied the 2nd law of thermodynamics, e.g. from A Theory of Everything (2000). “The second law of thermodynamics tells us that, in the real world, disorder always increases. Yet simple observation tells us that, in the real world, life creates order everywhere: the universe is winding up, not down.”


At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night (Nyx), Darkness (Erebus), and the Abyss (Tartarus). Earth, the Air and Heaven had no existence. Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in the deep Abyss with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light. (Aristophanes, c. 400 BC)

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