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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY BRAD REYNOLDS
PART 1 | PART 2
Re-Uniting The One
and the Many
or Learning to BE INTEGRAL, Part Two
“Absolutely One, it has never known measure and stands outside number. (V.5.11)
…while it is nowhere, nowhere is it not. (V.5.8)
— Plotinus, The Enneads
Plato points up to The One - Aristotle points out to the Many
Raphael's The School of Athens (modified by author)
n the great Renaissance painter Raphael Sanzio's (1483-1520) famous and magnificent painting, The School of Athens, created during the High Renaissance on the walls of the Stanza della Segnatura of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, located in the heart of Rome (down the hallway from Michelangelo's famous ceiling), there are pictured two of the greatest philosophers in the Western world, Plato and Aristotle. This undisputed masterpiece of rational perspective shows the Academy alive with a sea of ancient philosophers and inquisitive scientists engaged in intellectual activities and lively discussions. The vanishing point takes the eye directly to the central standing figures portrayed with upright yet opposing bodily gestures, looking at one another. Their gestures represent the dynamic tension between idealism and realism, between mysticism and empiricism, between spiritual religion and materialistic science, even somehow pitting The One (God) against the Many (God's Creation), the deadly dualism lying at the heart of the Western mind's passion. It also seems to be at the root of our debate here at Integral World (specifically between myself, Reynolds versus Visser-Lane; see my Part 1 essay).
Plato (429-347 BCE), on the left, the elder long-haired man (gracefully modeled after the face of Leonardo Da Vinci) is pointing skyward to the “other-world” (the invisible heavens)—epitomized as The One—thus representing his Platonic Forms and the transcendent beyond. Aristotle (384-322 BCE), on the right, is the middle-aged man with an open hand gesturing toward the ground indicating our attention should be directed more to “this world” (the visible earth)—manifested as the Many—thus representing his scientific concerns and naturalistic categories. Philosophy professor Bryan Magee captures the moment in The Story of Philosophy (1998) by explaining: “Plato and Aristotle—philosophy's two worlds. Plato on the left holds the Timaeus, a work of abstract metaphysics, and points to higher things. Aristotle clutches his Ethics, and says by his gesture that we should keep our feet on the ground. These two opposing tendencies in philosophy have been in conflict throughout its history,” and are still alive and well here at Integral World.
“Two Faces” of One Divine: The One (Ascended) - the Many (Descended)
n the Timaeus, arguably the most influential book on Western cosmology, Plato identifies these “two faces” of God: The One, the Absolute or “That which IS,” or Being, and the Many, the relative phenomena, or Becoming, or that which is evolving and changing. The One versus the Many: absolute unchanging stillness or constant flux was a debate that began with Parmenides (“What IS”) and Heraclitus (panta rhei or “everything flows”), a contradiction that plagued Greek philosophers for generations as the “Parmenides' problem” or how to relate the unchanging One with the Many endless changes, the Absolute with the relative (the “two truths”). While speaking through the voice of his dear friend Timaeus (echoing Plato's Pythagorean teacher, Archytas), the Master explains: “We must, in my opinion, begin by distinguishing between that which always is and never becomes [Being] from that which is always Becoming but never is.” (Timaeus 3.28) From the plentitude of Being, or The One, arises (or evolves) all that is Becoming, or the Many. As I previously explained (in Part 1), I believe this division between Being and Becoming captures the debate over The One and the Many, which also ensnares us here at Integral World, a clash over mysticism and science, between spirituality and biological evolution, between a Divinely-ordered Kosmos or a mechanistic-driven universe. The Integral Vision intends to overcome or heal this fractured division.
Under the classic high arches and blue sky of Raphael's School of Athens, under the statuesque gaze of Apollo, on the left, Sun God of Reason, and on the right, Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom and Justice, Plato and Aristotle are strolling along surrounded by their fellow philosophers and students, gesturing to “this world” and the “other world” while clutching their two world-renowned books in the other hand. Thus, they personify this disastrous dualistic split in human thinking, between empiricism and mysticism, science and religion, that's been debated now for nearly twenty-five centuries. This archetypal image, therefore, symbolically captures two of the basic modes of philosophical and ontological understanding appearing throughout human history. By following Ken Wilber (in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality), we'll identify these two “currents” or perspectives as that of “Ascent” (aka Plato) and “Descent” (aka Aristotle). As we'll see (in Part 3), these two forces also correspond to the “Circle” of the descending-inhalation and ascending-exhalation currents in our own body-mind, the cycle of the breath (or conductivity). Professor Herman, in his brilliant The Cave and the Light (2013), nicely summarizes:
Today we see that as a painting, The School of Athens not only sums up the legacy of Plato and Aristotle as the progenitors of ancient philosophy and Western thought, it also captures the dual character of Western culture almost from its start.
On the one side there is Plato the idealist, who became the guiding spirit of Western idealism and religious thought. In Plato's arm Raphael has put his famous dialogue the Timaeus, which inspired a thousand years of theologians, mystics, and students of the occult.
On the other side stands Aristotle, the man of science and common sense, who points earthward in contrast with Plato's gesture toward the heavens. In Aristotle's arms Raphael put Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, which St. Thomas Aquinas used to rewrite the Catholic Church's understanding of morality and which Cicero believed was the finest guide on how to live free in a free society. Twenty-five hundred years later, Aristotle's Ethics may still be the single most decisive influence on our modern understanding of politics, morals, and society just as Aristotle remains the father of modern science.
These two gestures, painted into world history by the twenty-seven-year-old Raphael in 1510, nearly two-thousand years after these philosophical giants reigned, reflects the general mood of each philosopher as they're commonly perceived by the general public, that is, with Plato pointing up to the “other world” (above and within), while Aristotle gestures down toward “this world” (below and without). Centuries before Raphael's fresco painting, the Franciscan mystic Saint Bonaventure accorded this common Neoplatonic “reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle,” respectively, as “one gazing at higher and the other at lower things” (or sermo sapientiae and sermo scientiae). Thus, the frescoed mural poetically pictures this seemingly contradictory expression of philosophic concerns that have contributed mightily to the dualistic stance of the Western worldview, and even to that of humans in general, from the days of shamanism to the great world religions. Obviously, mysticism (and religion) looks upward beyond this world to spiritual things, which makes this world even more beautiful (though potentially deceiving), while science (and economics) looks outward to this earth for material things, dismissing (or reducing) concern for other levels of existence (especially interior ones). These two major streams of human thought and aspirations are, simply put, the “two faces” of the One Divine.
Plato's emphasis is on transcendence (otherworldly)—The One (or Being)—is a view that became the roots for such philosophical trends as idealism and rationalism, while Aristotle's emphasis on immanence (this-worldly)—the Many (or Becoming)—became the roots for materialism and empiricism. Consequently, as Raphael's painting indicates, these two famous Greek philosophers become doubly instructive since they metaphorically represent the dominant currents of dualism running throughout Western history right up to the present day. This schism is epitomized in the current “war of worldviews” between science and religion, between reductionism and mysticism (and, in a certain sense, between Reynolds and Visser-Lane). Thus, if an Integral Philosophy can solve these inherent dilemmas, overcome their divisions and dualism, or better, integrate their “true but partial” solutions, then perhaps we'll be able to see a genuine integration of science and religion as being a real possibility. This is why it is important to persistently emphasize the necessity to use ALL the Eyes of Knowing in our integral investigation (and appreciation) of the exteriors and interiors of the universe (or “all levels in all four quadrants,” as Wilber's says). Only the Eye of Spirit unites The One and the Many in a dance of nondual harmony and Divine Realization.
Aristotle points up to the Prime Mover -
Plato points out to the “visble, sensible god”
Raphael's The School of Athens faces flipped (modified by author)
Fractured Footnotes to Plato
n a nod to Whiteheads famous comment about Plato—“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”—Ken Wilber went on to wisely note: “If Western civilization is a series of footnotes to Plato, then the footnotes are fractured.” This fracture is the disaster of dualism, the separation of The One from the Many, splitting the relative from the Absolute, severing the interior subject from exterior objects, separating mind and body, soul and Nature, God and matter, etc., that we today have inherited from the Western philosophical and religious traditions, and which Integral Philosophy seeks to overcome and heal. We wish to “marry” sense and soul, science and religion, or Freud and Buddha, as Wilber has reminded us since his very first books.
The first fracture, so to speak, begins with Aristotle, the student who studied with Plato for twenty years at the Academy in Athens (367-347 BCE), arriving in his late teens, leaving when he was nearly forty (after Plato's death). However, unlike Raphael's great portrait, it was actually Aristotle's God—the “Primer Mover”—who totally transcends this world, while Plato's “Demiurge”—the Creator or “craftsman” and “artisan” (Designer)—overflowed into Creation (and all its creatures) as “a single, divine world.” (Timaeus, 22.56) Plato, in other words, was actually nondual (“not-two”) in his outlook, though most often is pictured as transcendent due to his emphasis on archetypal Forms (eidos) lying behind this world, the ideal patterns creating all the forms in this world. Aristotle, on the other hand, while mostly concerned with observing and cataloguing the many forms of Nature (and in doing so, established many of the natural sciences), pictured his God as separate from the world; a Prime Mover and Final Cause, it is true, but otherwise not present in the world or knowable. Both of these concepts of the Divine would go on to influence not only succeeding generations of philosophers, but theologians from Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (among others, such as the Gnostics). Once again, Wilber's astute reading of philosophy from a nondual perspective allows him to clarify:
Aristotle, quite apart from his extraordinary contributions to “this-worldly” understanding, was at root the West's archetypal Ascender. And thus the first great fractured footnote to Plato [italics added]. Plato championed both Ascent and Descent, Summit and Source. These two currents—Plato's God both in the world and beyond it, Aristotle's God only beyond it—would enter the currents of Western civilization with two diametrically opposed agendas: befriend the world, begrudge the world.
A fractured Plato could be called on to support either view; Aristotle could be called on only for the latter. The weight of opinion, then, was already precariously tipped in favor of the Ascenders. If the whole Plato was not evoked, there was precious little left to hold anybody on earth. And such precisely was the platform—wobbling now between “this world” [Descenders] and the “other world” [Ascenders]—upon which Western culture was about to be built.
Raphael's masterpiece, therefore, perfectly captures the fracturing footnotes to Plato, the breaking of his nondual philosophy into one of either Ascent or one of Descent, is still currently cracking a deep fissure of dualism between God and the Creation, between body and mind, and finally between religion and science. Western philosophy and theology would wrestle with this split for over two thousand years… and we're still in the middle of it right now, since science and religion, or better, science and mysticism, cannot see eye to eye.
Indeed, this fracture is at the heart of today's cultural wars: moderns versus traditionalists, scientists versus fundamentalists, left against right, and so on. This is precisely what Integral Philosophy is attempting to heal, and this website, so-called “Integral” World, typifies the inherent difficulty, not the solution (which is a shame, in my opinion). Again, let's allow our integral pandit (subject to so much criticism on this site), explain the integral view:
This dualism between the Absolute [The One] and the relative [the Many]—and their relation, if any—would split the entire tradition of Western philosophy and theology into two warring and utterly irreconcilable camps: those who saw God strongly (or even totally) in this world versus those who saw God strongly (or even totally) out of this world: this-worldly versus other-worldly, the Descenders versus Ascenders, the immanentists versus the transcendentalists, empiricists versus rationalists, [scientists versus mystics], one flavor or another….
This intractable dualism, I maintain, is the central dualism in the Western tradition, and it would appear and reappear in numerous disguises: it would show up as the dualism between noumenon [Spirit] and phenomena [Nature], between mind and body, between free will and determinism, morals and nature, transcendent and immanent, subject and object, ascending and descending.
And that, in essence, is where we still stand today, entering the third millennium. Isn't it obvious that the divisive nature of world politics is manifesting as the fight between these apparently opposing forces? However, by BEING INTEGRAL, by using ALL the Eyes of Knowing, by recognizing again there is a “hierarchy” (not the Medieval one) or holarchy of interconnected parts making up the whole (as Darwin also affirmed as being the descent from a common ancestor), then there is a way out. Evolution is the Great Nest of Spirit temporalized, as Wilber likes to say. We do not need to separate Spirit and Nature, God and the Creation, for they are already one and the same (although the Divine is, ultimately, transcendent of all changes and conditions in the cosmos). The cosmic domain exists in the Divine Doman, you just have to recognize (or realize) it. Wilber again clarifies the Integral Project (reasserting his entire work's primary thesis):
What I want to emphasize here is simply that, buried in the Western tradition—and in the Eastern—is a radical and compelling solution to these massive dualisms, a literal solution in the West's most intractable philosophical problems, from the absolute/relative [One versus Many] to the mind/body problem. But this solution—appropriately known as “nondualism”—has an unbelievable awkward characteristic, namely, its utterly compelling answer [satori] cannot be captured in words, a type of metaphysical catch-22 that absolutely guarantees to solve your problems as long as you don't ask.
And that solution is simple (yet impossible to gain): satori or Enlightenment, also known as God-Realization and Nondual Mysticism. The difficulty (or catch-22) is that it takes utter self-transcendence (or ego-death), going beyond the perspectives of the separate ego-I (or science's observing self); the simplicity, however, is that it is always already the case. It is our “Original Face” (as Zen might say) or Supreme Identity (so say the Sufis) we all had before the Big Bang.
This tension or dualistic confusion is, obviously, why there is this on-going debate here on Integral World between myself and Visser-Lane in my opposition to scientific materialism: I vouch for mysticism via Enlightenment as “proving” Spirit-in-action as evolution is a verifiable fact, and therefore it must be accounted for in our “theories” and philosophical speculations (as Wilber has attempted to do). My debaters apparently do not know or acknowledge Spirit (or at least not yet), so they simply say I am unconvincing (nor is Wilber), from their point of view. But, again, this understanding goes beyond words or ideas or measurement of facts; it must be realized (via self-transcendence). Plato: “It is not something that can be put into words like other branches of learning.” (Seventh Epistle) It really is Divine Ignorance (not an object of knowledge or of mind alone), the wisdom of the Heart. They would rather dismiss Wilber by saying his science is bad or doesn't fit their picture of reality, thus preferring other scientific materialists, like Dawkins and Dennett, and, well, the list is long (for we live in the scientific age). Unless a person opens and sees with the Eye of Spirit, they will not know that our universe or Kosmos is in fact The One (or God) overflowing (or evolving) to create the Many: Spirit-in-action. This is BEING INTEGRAL.
Evolution is Spirit-in-action, Eros-in-motion (by whatever name), formless Godhead (Nothing) manifesting the Many forms (Something). We are all capable of knowing this Divine Paradox when we see with the Eye of Spirit, which has its own injunctions (practices), data apprehensions, and community verification, like any good “science,” thus solving the problem of proof. But those who fail to know this, to engage the injunctions, do the yoga—to see through the “telescope” of meditation, to study under the Guru-Professors—who fail to transcend their own subject/object duality (or sense of “I”), to ecstatically stand outside the fracture of self and world (the root of the scientific perspective), then the solution simply escapes them… like mist evaporating on a sunny morning. But anyone, via the interior evolution of consciousness, built upon the exterior evolution of bodies (and brain)—the esoteric anatomy of the human being—can re-discover or remember this truth for themselves, as Plato and Socrates (and all the great mystics) teach.
Let's look at the situation a little further (in my future essays), starting with those two Greek giants who set the tenor of Western history, to see if we can get a little further outside the dark cave of shadowy illusions and see deeper into the Light of reality (as a whole). If so, we are BEING INTEGRAL
- Plotinus, The Enneads (1992), Stephen MacKenna translation.
- See: Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (1991).
- Bryan Magee, The Story of Philosophy (1998), p. 32.
- Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light (2013), pp. xx-xxi.
- John Pope-Hennessy, Raphael (1970), p. 139, noting St. Bonaventure's Reductio Artium ad Theologiam.
- Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929, 1978), p. 39.
- Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995), p. 320.
- Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995), p. 350.
- Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit (1997), pp. 82-83.
- Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit (1997), p. 84.
- See: Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye (1983, 2001); The Eye of Spirit (1997, 2001); The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998, 2000), plus other of his writings.