Monthly Post

Against Enchantment I: Ken Wilber

Two weeks ago we talked about Max Weber’s claim that the disenchantment of the world is one of the basic elements of modernity, Jason Josephson-Storm’s counterargument that Weber was engaged in an attempt to erase the presence of magic and enchantment in modernity, and the way that Weber’s claim, inaccurate as it is, expresses one of the core beliefs of modern culture. No matter how pervasive magic, astrology, and other practices of enchantment are—and they are extraordinarily widespread in modern life—most people today insist that such things belong to an outworn past and have no legitimate presence in  our up-to-date, cutting-edge world.

That decidedly odd belief makes a good starting point for the next stage of our discussion, because it’s not merely a popular conviction. It’s been developed at great length by several highly regarded thinkers of the last century or so, and turned into the mainstay of some of the most interesting ideas of our times. Those ideas cover a good bit of ground, but they have certain things in common: notably, they all insist that enchantment is a thing of the past, and they all argue that its continuing presence in modern culture is both misguided and morally wrong.

To make any kind of sense out of the history of enchantment, then, it’s going to be necessary to confront those ideas and some of the thinkers who’ve presented them.  That’ll take more than one post, but we can make a start by talking about one of the most influential figures of this kind, Ken Wilber, who was not so long ago the doyen of the New Age movement’s intellectual wing.

Ken Wilber

Until he came down with a rare chronic illness a few years back, Wilber was a very prolific writer and speaker, and his work covers an enormous range of topics. If he’s missed any topic you can think of, in fact, it’s not for want of trying, because his stated goal is to integrate every field of study without exception into a single overarching synthesis.  His fans, including such figures as Al Gore and Tony Robbins, insist that Wilber’s Integral Philosophy is the capstone of all previous human thought and has laid the foundation for a new age of utopian progress. His detractors argue that he’s simply cherrypicked the work of other scholars to gather a grab bag of fashionable ideas and slapped them together into a pastiche with no real intellectual merit.

The quarrel between Wilber’s admirers and opponents isn’t one that I intend to get into here.  I also don’t propose to summarize his Integral Philosophy in any kind of detail, partly because that would take a book rather than a blog post and partly because Wilber’s already written the book in question, and modestly titled it A Brief History of Everything. What I want to discuss here is specifically his belief that human history and prehistory have been shaped by the evolution of consciousness through a sequence of structures of consciousness. He has an abundance of ways of talking about these structures; the specific labels I’ll use here—the archaic, magical, mythical, mental, and integral structures—were borrowed by Wilber from an earlier thinker, the Swiss philosopher of history Jean Gebser, who will get a post of his own a little later in this sequence.

A very basic introduction.

There are several additional levels above the five just listed, which have been traced out by great sages and mystics, but we can stop here for now. In Wilber’s books, the five structures just listed are equated with developmental stages, through which individuals as well as humanity as a whole pass in due order. He also assigns the stages to prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal categories, as well as a set of colors and labels that Wilber derived from Spiral Dynamics theory,  and so on—again, sheer space won’t permit more than a brief summary here.

Very roughly speaking, though, the archaic structure corresponds to prehistoric humanity and to earliest infancy, the magical structure to primitive tribal societies and to later infancy and early childhood, the mythic structure to civilizations before the modern era and to later childhood and early adolescence, the mental structure to today’s modern societies and to late adolescence and early adulthood, and the structures beyond that to societies that haven’t evolved yet and to kinds of maturity most people never reach. In theory, each new structure of consciousness integrates the previous structures into itself, creating a broader, more expansive structure that takes up the best elements of previous structures and does new and more creative things with them, while discarding all the elements of previous structures that don’t work. Enchantment in the sense discussed two weeks ago?  That’s one of the things that, in Wilber’s theory, was discarded because it doesn’t work. Those who still perceive the world that way are either falling behind in the great onward march of evolution, or mistakenly headed the wrong direction.

Another of Wilber’s schematic patterns. Notice the line running up the center; that’s the axis of his teleology.

Wilber argues that the modern world was born when humanity evolved past the mythical structure of consciousness into the mental or, as he also calls it, the rational structure.  This also was a transition from what he calls pre-personal evolutinary stages to the personal stage (or stages, depending on how you slice it). Ahead of us, as he sees it, is the equally important transition from the personal stage to the transpersonal stages.  This further evolutionary transition, in turn, is the goal of genuine spirituality.

That word “genuine” is worth noting. Wilber warns at length about what he calls the Pre/Trans Fallacy, which is his term for anything that moves back toward the pre-personal stages instead of going forward to the transpersonal stages. Any tradition of spiritual practice in the modern world that makes respectful use of myth and magic is considered by Wilber to be an example of the Pre/Trans Fallacy.  That includes those of us who practice magic, of course, but it also includes anyone who seriously embraces any religion in its traditional form, as well as thinkers such as Carl Jung, whose attentiveness to the mythic dimensions of consciousness is in Wilber’s way of thinking wrongheaded, a throwback to a pre-personal stage of evolution.

What about the great sages and mystics of the past Wilber cites as evidence for the existence of structures of consciousness above the integral level?  Here’s where Wilber’s theory becomes really fascinating. His developmental scheme is rigidly linear; to reach those transpersonal stages, everyone has to pass through each of the previous stages in order. So those great sages and mystics of the past had to work much harder to attain their spiritual insights than we do today, since they started further down the ladder of evolutionary stages. We, on the other hand, have a much easier time of it, being so much further ahead of where people were back then, and our descendants will reach those high spiritual states in the normal course of personal development, since they’ll have progressed so much furher beyond us.

Sri Aurobindo.  We’ll be talking about him, too, as this discussion proceeds.

That is to say, what Wilber is presenting in his theory of evolutionary stages is perhaps the most detailed and consistent attempt yet to shoehorn mystical spirituality into the modern belief in progress. He borrowed some of his key ideas from mystical sources, notably the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurubindo and some of the more austere branches of Mahayana Buddhism, and others from developmental psychology, notably the structural stage theories launched a century ago by Jean Piaget.  He then proceeded to equate these two viewpoints (along with much more) and construct from them an elaborate theory of evolution that claims to predict the destiny of humanity.

In the process, he’s made it possible for some rationalists to embrace mystical ideas.  He did this by the simple if extremely clever expedient of convincing them that mysticism is the next step in the onward march of progress, and defining genuine spirituality as a way moving even further from the mythical and magical structures of consciousness they’ve been taught to despise.  There are apparently quite a few people practicing meditation and yoga who would never have thought of doing such a thing if Wilber hadn’t gussied these ancient practices up in the garments of cutting-edge, avant-garde thought.  That’s a real achievement, and one for which he deserves considerable respect from those of us who value these practices.

That being said, there are problems with Wilber’s theory.  One of those problems—the total mismatch between his scheme and the evidence of history—is so widely shared by theories of the evolution of consciousness, and so pervasive in contemporary thought more generally, that it’s going to get a post all its own, once we’ve surveyed a wider range of thinkers.  The other problem is rather more specific. That’s not to say it’s unique to Wilber himself; in fact, it’s very widespread in modern thought, and there are plenty of thinkers these days whose plunge into the pitfall in question is much more embarrassingly clumsy than anything Wilber has done. Wilber’s theories, however, rest squarely on this particular mistake, and so offer a fine opportunity to understand what it is and why it reduces so much modern thinking to gibberish.

The mistake in question?  A near-total misunderstanding of the nature of evolution.

Let’s start with some basics. Evolution is a common property of systems. It depends on two factors present in almost every imaginable system.  The first is some means of generating free variation. The second is a selection procedure that sorts the variations in terms of how well they relate to some set of variables. No matter what the context, if you have those two things—a source of free variation and a selection procedure—you get evolution.

Stephen Wolfram. If you haven’t read A New Kind of Science, give it a shot.

Stephen Wolfram’s brilliant tome A New Kind of Science is among other things a demonstration of how evolution works. Wolfram, for those readers who haven’t encountered his ideas yet, is an archetypal computer geek who went to work many years ago exploring the properties of a set of very simple programs called cellular automata. What set Wolfram on his quest was the startling discovery that incredibly simple sets of rules can produce wildly unpredictable results if you just  let them run for a while. The rules that define cellular automata include variation and selection as basic features, and the results are often stunningly weird. As Wolfram points out, they trace out an exact parallel to the development of biological complexity over time.

Given a source of variation and a selection procedure, systems always evolve in a manner that is easy to describe in general and impossible to predict in detail.  The overview is that they take up every opportunity available to them:  that’s the part that’s easy to describe. What’s impossible to predict is how and in what order they’ll do it. That’s true of cellular automata, and it’s also true of living things over time. Follow the evolutionary trajectory of any group of living things, from club moss to crocodiles to Galapagos finches to human beings, and you’ll see that same process at work. Metaphorically, it’s as though you were inflating a big balloon inside a space too small to contain it:  the balloon pushes outwards in all directions, now here, now there, until it runs up against the hard limits of walls and floor and ceiling.

Do evolutionary breakthroughs take place?  Of course, and the process just outlined explains how and why those happen. Imagine for a moment that you’ve got a balloon made of some absurdly flexible substance, so that it can just keep stretching no matter how big it gets.  You start inflating it inside your bedroom  The door’s closed, the windows are closed, pretty soon the balloon’s outer surface is pushing hard against the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and the furniture—but there’s an inch-wide gap under the door you forgot about.  Once the pressure gets high enough, the balloon pushes out through that gap, and all of a sudden it’s in the hallway and there’s a vast amount of previously inaccessible space for it to expand into.

Whoosh! Before long it’s filling up the living room and pushing against half a dozen other doors and windows. If one of those happens to be open a little, another evolutionary breakthrough follows. It’s not a linear process, and many different lines of evolutionary development can—and did—unfold at the same time.

The standard modern myth of evolution. It wasn’t a linear process!

That’s the story of life on Earth. The walls, floor, and ceiling are the laws of nature and the limits of environment, and the balloon represents the range of niches occupied by living things. Yes, I’m well aware that this isn’t how evolution is understood, or misunderstood, in popular culture.  It’s also not how Ken Wilber understands, or misunderstands, the evolutionary process. “Why on earth,” he writes, “would dirt get right up and eventually write poetry?” That’s an absurdly simplistic way of talking about evolution, of course; it wouldn’t be unfair to call it a straw man. But it’s a typical way of dismissing the actual mechanism of evolution in order to insert something else in its place.

The “something else,” in turn, is what philosophers call teleology: the insistence that evolution marches ahead in a straight line toward some predetermined goal. That’s the standard gimmick that people who don’t understand evolution use to insert their own notions of meaning and purpose into the development of life. It’s perfectly possible to reconcile evolution with spirituality—in terms of the metaphor set out above, who was it that built the house?  In more straightforwardly theological terms, an omniscient Creator wouldn’t have had the slightest difficulty selecting laws of nature and environmental constraints such that one of the many currents of evolution would go the way he wanted.  The problem with this, from the point of view of the teleologists, is that it doesn’t justify the claim that this or that human theorist knows in advance where the whole shebang is headed.

That claim, of course, is central to Wilber’s theory.  The whole point of his intricate scheme of evolutionary stages is to justify the claim that humanity is evolving—or rather progressing—in a straight line from stage to stage toward bigger and better things, and he and his followers are in the vanguard of that process. On a smaller scale, he’s claiming that humanity is poised on the border between first-tier and second-tier stages of consciousness, and agreeing with him is a great way to cross over to the second tier and get on the winning side of evolution.

Joachim of Fiore. A brilliant visionary mystic, but wrong.

That’s a familiar claim to anyone who knows their way around the history of ideas. As far as I know, it was first sketched out in rough draft by the medieval mystic Joachim of Flores, whose visions convinced him that around the year 1260 the Age of the Son would give way to the Age of the Holy Spirit, in which all the world would be ruled by love and freed from the burden of sin. He also earnestly told Richard the Lionheart, who stopped in to see him on the way to the Third Crusade, that Jerusalem would surely be recaptured by the Christian armies. Both predictions, of course, turned out to be wrong.

From Joachim’s time straight through to the seventeenth century, predictions of that kind were inevitably wrapped in explicit religious language. Thereafter, just as Western intellectuals in every other field sedulously filed the serial numbers off all sorts of other Christian properties and got them fitted out in secular drag, would-be prophets got to work on the idea of an imminent transformation of consciousness and a teleological interpretation of human history. Karl Marx is the most famous of the lot, but there were hundreds if not thousands of others; for something like two and a half centuries, it was rare to find any intellectual in Europe or the European diaspora who didn’t at least toy with a teleological scheme of this kind.

History shows that they were wrong, and not just a little wrong, either:  completely, utterly, humiliatingly wrong. It’s impossible to sugar-coat that unpalatable fact. Show me a teleological prophet who claimed history would inevitably march forward to better things he could define in advance, from Joachim of Flores through Charles Fourier to Charles Reich’s The Greening of America, and I’ll show you someone whose predictions turned out to be total flops. The fact that evolutionary breakthroughs do sometimes occur does not mean that they will show up on request, much less that such breakthroughs can be mapped out in a nice neat set of stages that invariably lets the speaker and those who share his or her political and cultural opinions portray themselves as heroic figures poised right there on the breaking wave of the future.

The irony is that the problems with Wilber’s theory can be predicted very precisely from within Wilber’s theory itself. In one of his essays, Wilber critic Frank Visser has pointed out quite accurately that Wilber’s understanding of evolution is strictly speaking pre-Darwinian. He notes that the entire notion that evolution proceeds in fixed stages toward greater perfection is a reworking of the medieval concept of the Great Chain of Being, with living things mounting up the ladder of evolution toward its supposed pinnacle in humanity.

This isn’t a scientific explanation either. Valid in its own context? Sure.

Here we have passed into a territory rich in ironies. The linear notion of evolution just described is an emotionally appealing narrative that relies on ancient symbolism. It is, in fact, a myth in every sense of the word—and thus, in Wilber’s terms, an example of the mythical structure of consciousness, which we have supposedly transcended in favor of the formal operational thinking of the mental or rational structure of consciousness. In a very real sense, he’s guilty of the same Pre/Trans Fallacy for which he lambastes those of us who practice magic and revere myths.  That is to say, he thinks he’s going on to a level of thinking that transcends rationality, but what he’s actually doing is explaining the world by way of an emotionally compelling narrative deriving its power from archetypal symbols of the mythic structure of consciousness.

Yes, dear reader, I know.  You’re chuckling at the sight of a druid who invokes pagan deities and practices ritual magic criticizing Ken Wilber for not being rational enough. The laugh’s far from inappropriate, and it reflects another irony, one that’s become very familiar to me since I started blogging. From my perspective, the narrative structures of mythic thought aren’t a stage to be outgrown, they’re healthy and necessary elements of all human consciousness, just as much so as the discursive structures of rational thought. Give the mythic structure its proper place and it’s easy to keep it in that proper place. Try to insist that you’ve outgrown myth, as Wilber does, and you can count on having it sneak up behind you so and playing merry hob with your oh-so-rational ideas, inserting mythic narratives into those ideas when you’re not looking.

Or, rather, inserting one mythic narrative over and over again. The great problem with the myth of progress, as I’ve noted before, is not that it’s a myth. The problem with the myth of progress is that many of the people who believe in it literally can’t use any other story to think with. Every pattern of events thus ends up getting forced into the straitjacket of the progress myth, and when it doesn’t fit—and it often doesn’t—that leads to cascading failures of understanding and action.

There is no monomyth. (Sorry about that, Joseph Campbell.) It’s precisely because no one story makes sense of everything that traditional societies had so many myths, each with its own lesson to teach and its own applicability to the events of everyday life. It’s precisely because our culture has become obsessed with a single story, in turn, that we’re in our current mess. Eventually, as this sequence of posts continues, we’ll be exploring alternative narratives—but first, by way of two other important thinkers, we need to plunge even deeper into the central myth of modern industrial culture.

187 Comments

  1. I worked at one time for one of Wilber’s publishers. He breezed through the offices (quite small) one day for a meeting with him. Every bit the celebrity intellectual even then (early ’90s). The office was abuzz with excitement.

    I had inexpensive access to anything by the publisher, and dipped into some of these works but they reminded me of the sermons given by various non-believing officials of the various denominations who nonetheless have to keep the pew-mushrooms well watered in order to keep their prestigious positions and get (well) paid for them.

    They say religious-sounding things that just don’t make any sense when examined in even the most cursory manner. And that, assuming that the religion itself has its own “operating system” of reasons and beliefs that are reasonably consistent. They usually do. But these people don’t understand (or are adamantly opposed to) the internal program. The result being rather like the “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing” that Shakespeare inveighed against in one of his more famous monologues in Macbeth.

    I never once imagined that you, sir, were anti-rational. Nor are you. Your discussion here makes good sense to me. Ah, teleology. Worth a post all on its own about the meaning and “direction” of things and how easy it is to (to quote WF Buckley) “immanentize the eschaton.” Or, as I understand it, to make categorical mistakes.

    Needless to say, Mr. Wilber’s brand of thought never took hold with me… Thanks for helping me understand why.

  2. Great post. You made some great points, especially the part about how being a rationalist means that myths sneak in through the backdoor. However, there was the part where you talked about how Marx and others, enraptured with the myth of progress, tried to predict a utopian future and failed. Does this argument apply to you? I understand that you believe in a long descent (and I believe in it too) and that the future is a long stretch of decline until we reach a deindustrial society (and maybe an ecotechnic one in the future) While your predictions aren’t utopian or apocalyptic by any stretch, could you be another failed prophet? I hope you aren’t!

    By the way, I’m a great fan of your books. I am trying to study the hermetic kabbalah and I am using your book to help. I am very interested in ecology, sustainability, the deindustrial future, and the occult, and when I stumbled on your books it was really amazing because you put down my thoughts in better writing than I could. I thought I was the only aspie with these niche interests.

  3. So JMG if I understand you correctly you are saying we need:

    To bring the One Myth That Rules Us All back to Mordor and and toss it back into the fiery heart that made it?

    A hero’s journey to destroy “A Hero’s Journey” and set all of the other Myths free??

    I think i am up for that. LOL

  4. “Yes, dear reader, I know. You’re chuckling at the sight of a druid who invokes pagan deities and practices ritual magic criticizing Ken Wilber for not being rational enough.”

    Yes, yes, I am. 🙂

    Recently I have been spending my commuting hours pondering some ideas I got from you.
    One of those is the impression I got from the first AR posts I read all those years ago.
    – this was a man who could write as an intellectual and academic, but somehow ‘sounded’ so down to earth –
    You were intriguing.

    Then there is the idea that I got here. Where you argue, that amputating a part of your self is not a way to personal development.
    So, humans think in myths, one does not become more rational, by discarding myth, but by integrating that normal human capacity and developing the rationality in parallel. You need all your human capacities.
    And then there is a statement, that you made here last time. That occultists do not say the materialist are wrong, just that their explanation of the world we live in is hopelessly inadequate. 😊

    A fine post, Chears.

  5. I can recall reading one of Ken Wilber’s writings a long time ago, but it was such a tough slog that while I finished it, I can’t recall what he wrote. It might have been the Spectrum of Consciousness but since I can’t find it on my bookshelves, it likely went to the local library book sale.

    The concept of pre-destination and the urge to discard enchantment as somehow moldy and outdated, keeps surfacing in varied disguises probably because it seems to explain the ‘progress’ of everything and how wonderful everything will eventually be. It always seems to favor the believer and his followers personally in some way, all the way from Joachim’s visions to the current ballyhoo about the Singularity. Ego and the desire to justify oneself seems to be the issue behind a lot of this, and probably why people can’t let go of this idea but keep resurrecting it in infinite ways.

    Just as a side note, many of Joe Campbell’s books, particularly The Hero with a thousand faces and The Masks of God are gone from my shelves as well. I reread them recently and found them dated and not even really interesting.

  6. JMG:

    Now there is a synchronicity: I was going to ask you a question about Ken Wilbur on Magic Monday but forgot to, and now I get a whole essay on the topic. Nice!

    I was wrestling with Gebser a couple of years ago, and came to the conclusion that what he describes as the mythic stage is humankind’s real mental home. We need stories to make sense of our experiences. Those range from ancient stories about gods to the American Dream (you have to be asleep to believe it).

    This also got me thinking about Gebser’s rational and magical structures. I decided to look at this another way also: liquid and critical. The critical is like the rational as it allows us to take apart our myths when they start failing to inform us. Importantly, the critical can critique, but it cannot create. The liquid is that mode of consciousness which is a churn of one idea after another. It gives us new ideas and new stories to tell, we can shape those into new myths to replace the old ones that fall to the critical, just as the new ones we tell will eventually fall to the critical. No straight lines, just a cyclical process that you can never be sure where it will take you.

    This was the line of thought I started to develop, and am continuing to develop. I look forward to your take on Gebser in future installments.

  7. Universal Darwinism, the trace of Primordial Reason (Logos) in the manifested world…destination unknown.

    That there is no monomyth is one of my issues with the idea of some kind of “perennial philosphy.” It’s no obvious to me that all religions and myth are reducible to some single set of universal meanings, but rather represent a panoply of lessons, some of which will necessarily be incongruous.

  8. Hi JMG,

    Your essay ties into a theme I’m in the fairly early stages of pursuing; the idea that humans didn’t used to have a sense of self as we know it now and were instead driven directly by the mythic. I was hinted at by an online acquaintance that the sense of self started around in Greek times and developed from there. I bought a couple books including The Evolution of Individuality by Leo W. Buss that will hopefully enlighten me further. I basically understood this on the basis of intuitive imaginings at this point. But on that same basis, it seems like much of humanity, at the level of the persona or sense of self, is driven by the mythological again (myth of progress) due to our age of rapid information. That’s where you get all of these people whose personalities are built on Covid, Trendy politics, activism, TikTok, and social media. There isn’t much individual cognition going on with these people. It seems like a degenerate return to the mythological to me. I’m still very much in the early phases of thinking about all of this so hopefully this makes sense.

    Have a good one.

  9. @ JMG – Do you think the modern trend of fixating on one narrative springs from the Faustian underpinnings of industrial civilization, or might it be the case in all ‘mature’ civilizations?

  10. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
    -Carl Jung

    I’m struggling with this at the moment when it comes to Branch Covidianism. It’s easy to feel intellectually superior to the cult members but then why do they get under my skin so much? Part of it is that in my imagination I know where this is going when I really don’t, but I like to believe I do because it serves vanity. If I can make accurate predictions about the future then when everyone finally catches up to me I will be a hero for figuring it out first. There’s a reason why RFKjr says that he never makes predictions, and it’s not a cop out. He’s come to the realization that it’s the only rational way to approach a complex system at a time of extreme instability.

  11. Having been quite the Wilberian back in the day, this summary provoked some thoughts (oh dear.) One way my thinking has changed since then is that I find the modern notion of progress a little wrong because our notion of time itself is wrong. The universe (which a Baptist friend calls “the Creation” and I approve) can be thought of as a simultaneity in which time isn’t a line, or even a cycle, but is somehow homogeneous throughout. For me, that still allows for some kind of teleology. Using the balloon metaphor, if the extension into the mud room happens to pinch off and deflate, it isn’t as though it never existed. It’s _there_ even when this planet’s experiment ends.

    BTW, I attended a week-long Integral Institute program in the 90s, and they were actually rather enchanted with enchantment. One of the experiential events began with ritual and ended with a rave – the only one this old person ever participated in!

  12. Rudy Rucker is friends with Wolfram. He’s a big proponent of the cellular automata program among other things. Here is a blog from a few years ago on Rudy’s site talking about some of his connections to Wolfram. They are both mathematicians, so it makes sense.

    If nothing else the post is worth scrolling down to check out the picture Rudy took of the statue of Pythagoras at the Rosicrucian World Headquarters, in his town of San Jose. It’s an awesome statue!

    https://www.rudyrucker.com/blog/2020/04/22/the-wolfram-physics-project/

    One thing I find ironic in looking at Rucker’s blog, is how he talks about here is Wolfram working on a Fundamental Theory of Physics. That got me thinking of Wilber and his Theory of Everything. You pointed out the monomyth of Campbell, and that got me wondering what the obsession is with the monad, with one book, or one theory, or one path, etc. It seems to me, at least on a gut level, that this obsession with the one thing, whatever that one thing is, contributes to this sense that the world has been disenchanted even if it has not.

    Instead of a unified theory what if we had diversified theories? What if instead of simplex we went to multiplex communications?

    Anyway, I also think it is ironic in my contemplation of one and the uni today that I did my meditation on the Sphere and the Universe this morning. But universe, university, uniform, unicycle, still seem different in context from all the monotalk. Similar but different maybe.

    Anyway, I shouldn’t rail too much because I know I can be a monomaniac about certain subjects. Just some fuzzy thoughts drifting in the afternoon.

  13. Plan A: Mysticism
    Fail plan A.
    Plan B: Philosophy
    Unknowingly achieve plan A.

    When the material world, scientifically described, is not meaningful enough for you, it is healthy to seek out what science cannot provide.

  14. Superb writing as usual. The gap under the door is a brilliant metaphor.

    It seems as if Wilber misread Jung, or should I say, came to a different understanding of him than the one I have arrived at, and which keeps changing.

    “The further in you go, the bigger it gets.” John Crowley, Little, Big

    “There is no linear evolution. There is only circumambulation of the Self.” Carl Jung

  15. This is an excellent post. It explains to me why I detest Wilber’s ideas. Thank you and I look forward to your future posts on this subject.

  16. @JMG,

    I guess the various 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 etc. industrial revolutions prophetized by the WEF are other examples of the “Great Chain of Being”?

    “This isn’t a scientific explanation either. Valid in it’s own context? Sure.”

    Shame on you for the its/it’s mistake!

  17. I’ve been mulling over the various ways in which modern tech constitutes devolution rather than evolution, in effect making us, well, stupider. As one example: We’ve universally abandoned paper (or parchment, or animal skin) maps in favor of smart-phone GPS. I’ve written about this here: https://www.brunettegardens.com/p/atlas-shrugged-off

    As I point out in the piece, the tradeoff doesn’t go in our favor, as we effectively lose more than we gain in terms of our own skills, independence, and awareness. But this essay on Wilbur as well as your last has got me thinking beyond the tech-evolution question to extend the question into the mythic and spiritual realm. While the act of navigating by map connects us to our ancestors, might maps themselves possess mythic power? Have you written anything about this, JMG, or commentariat, what are your thoughts? If I think about the Lord of the Rings and its map and other examples from our literature, the answer is yes. And if that is true, we are losing much more than map-reading skills and a cultivated sense of direction in our shift to voice-assisted GPS.

  18. Very fine read. Thanks. Following your train of thought, I first came up with the evolutionary myth you then pictured, and then Kubler-Ross stages of grief. Having just finished James C. Scott’s book Against the Grain, I was reminded also that so-called human political “progress” is not at all assured at any point in human history, and especially so now and into the future I shall not be part of, but many more will have to endure.

  19. You may be interested by Wolfram’s current work (https://writings.stephenwolfram.com/2020/04/finally-we-may-have-a-path-to-the-fundamental-theory-of-physics-and-its-beautiful/), which is not so much one theory of everything, as a description of how many systems of rules can exist and evolve, of which our consciousness picks a preferred view. His various levels of reality — from normal space to “branchial” space to “rulial” space remind me of the esoteric material, etheric, astral, mental, causal etc. planes.

  20. Richard, nah, I just addressed just one hole. There are plenty of others — nor could it be any other way. No one person can possibly have an adequate grasp of the whole sweep of human knowledge Wilber tries to summarize, so cherrypicking and a reliance on inadequate summaries by other writers are both inevitable flaws in any such project. If I recall correctly, Dante Alighieri was the last person in the history of the West who was able to know everything that was known by scholars in his time; by the time the next great mind, Petrarch, came along, it was already necessary to specialize…

    Clarke, many thanks for the story! Yeah, Wilber sounds very much like some Modernist Christian thinkers, trying to use the jargon and symbolism of Christianity to talk about a set of beliefs utterly incompatible with Christian faith. Most attempts to unite mysticism and rationality in a single system of thought fall into that trap.

    Coop Janitor, agreed! One of the reasons I appreciate Wolfram’s work is that he was able to communicate what he was doing, and what he found, in language that makes sense to someone like me, who doesn’t have his background in computers and mathematics.

    Enjoyer, nah, it’s specifically the prophets of utopian futures and those of sudden apocalyptic collapses who are reliably wrong. Those who predict that the future will follow the same lines as the past are very often right. I’ve noted in previous posts that Oswald Spengler successfully predicted a whole range of social and political phenomena — the collapse of traditional Western fine art and classical music, the first two rounds of conflict between plutocratic interests and charismatic populist demagogues, the relative decline of Europe’s position in the world, and more. I may well be wrong about plenty of details, but the overall picture? We’re already in decline, and the decline has accelerated considerably in recent years; so far, I think I’m doing pretty well. (As for aspies with niche interests, not at all — you’d be amazed by the number of people with Aspergers syndrome I’ve met in the occult scene, and in the fringe-ier end of the sustainability scene.)

    Jim, funny. No, we need many quests in many different directions, because each myth has to be reawakened in a different way.

    Marko, you’re welcome and thank you. Yes, we’re going to be revisiting those ideas in quite some detail as we proceed.

    Jeanne, exactly! It’s all an attempt to prop up the ego by insisting that everyone else’s myths are false while the one approved myth isn’t a myth at all, it’s just plain true. That shows an embarrassing degree of naiveté about myth, but unfortunately that sort of thing’s very common these days. As for Campbell — well, yes. I’m not a fan either.

    Chris S, I would argue that all of Gebser’s structures of consciousness are essential modes of human activity; each of them has been developed to different degrees in various cultures, and it’s usually the ones that are neglected that turn into the Achilles’ heel of each culture. We cannot do without myth, but we also cannot do without magic, or practical reason, or any of the other modes I’ll be discussing as we proceed. Your distinction between liquid and critical modes of mentality is intriguing, and I’ll want to reflect on it.

    Fra’ Lupo, good! That’s my problem with the Perennialist position — it’s just as rigid and inappropriate a flattening-out of the world as the Progressivist position, it just chooses a different straitjacket into which to force the rich diversity of human thought.

    Youngelephant, that’s a common idea these days; Wilber gets into that, as do many of the other people we’ll be discussing. I tend to take a more complex view — that the sense of self varies quite a bit from one culture to another, and that there’s also a particular historical pattern that unfolds over the life of a complex society and affects the sense of self in that society in predictable ways. But we’ll get to that as this discussion proceeds.

    Ben, I think it’s a standard feature of the late imperial stage of the history of complex cultures. I can certainly think of comparable narratives in past examples.

    Aloysius, good. Struggling with it is essential — that’s the confrontation with the Shadow you’re engaged in, and that always takes the form of a struggle.

    Mokuren, even if you accept the objective reality of time — which I don’t; Kant and Schopenhauer make a convincing case, at least to me, that time and space are both properties of human consciousness rather than properties of the world experienced by human consciousness — the notion that something is disproved just because it’s over strikes me as silly. Does a glorious love affair stop existing and become meaningless just because it ends? Of course not. The problem with the teleologists is that they’ve got an astoundingly narrow view of evolution as a race with a finish line, and all that counts is getting to the end. I’ll be discussing that, too, as we proceed.

    Justin, thanks for this! I read some of Rucker’s science fiction back in the day. As for universal theories, that’s another common theme of late imperial societies — the attempt to reduce the entire universe to obedience can take many forms, and theorization is one of them. Me, I assume as a matter of course that no human being is smart enough to understand the universe, and all our theories are art rather than knowledge — but some of them are very elegant art.

    Wqjcv, nah, the way it usually works is:

    Plan A: Mysticism
    Drop out of plan A because it’s too much work.
    Plan B: Philosophy
    Achieve plan A in a roundabout and even more difficult way.

    Goldenhawk, I see Wilber’s interpretation of Jung as essential to his entire theory. Accept Jung’s viewpoint and, as your last quote shows, the entire notion of teleological progress comes crashing down; there is no second tier thinking, no wonderful future to which you get to lead the way, just the ongoing process by which our species unfolds all its potentials for experiencing the world, each of which is irreducibly different and none of which has any goal outside itself.

    Janet, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Disc_writes, yes, exactly. They’ve got to have their rigidly defined linear sequence of “revolutions,” each of which just happens to hand them even more power and wealth. Such delusions are tolerably common among the ruling elites of a dying civilization.

    Brunette, hmm! Thank you for this. That’s an excellent point — and your reference to Tolkien’s map is spot on; I remember how potent a talisman that was for me in my youth. I wonder how difficult it would be to revive the art of cartography…

    Bruce, good. Very good. Kubler-Ross’s sequence of stages is a fine call, because in the real world grief has its own complex rhythms and doesn’t go through a neat series of stages like that.

    Kulibali, thanks for this. I’d read references to that, but haven’t gotten into it in detail, since it’s going to require a couple weeks of free time when I can plunge into Wolfram’s ideas intensively. It’ll be worth doing sometime soon, though.

  21. A lot of this is really interesting to me. Over 40 years ago (yes, I am an old lady) I entered a PhD program in history and focused on the ideas about the development of individualism and it’s connection to the rise of the Protestant movement, etc. There was a book that I read that interested me at the time, by Keith Thomas, a British historian, called Religion and the Decline of Magic. He argued that magic was when people expected forces that they couldn’t see to intervene directly in their daily lives. Religion was an idea that the forces we can’t see don’t intervene directly, but still influence our lives. I don’t think I’m saying that right, but anyway, I don’t think that interpretation makes sense at all when you look at history.

    I’m glad you are writing about the idea of “progress” and this whole idea that things are getting better and better and that we will overcome problems with more complex systems and science. I think it’s the myth that lies behind the hegemonic attitude of our culture that sees other cultures and countries “less developed” because they are different than Western post-industrial society. It’s an idea that justifies war and other forms of dominance. That’s why I really loved your discussion in that book “Mystery Teachings from the LIving Earth” (which I go back to reading about once a year) of evolution as a response to changing environment.

    Thanks for writing these essays. I look forward to reading them every week. (And I’m thankful I dropped out of graduate school too)

    Kathy

  22. Dear JMG,

    Glad I kept my hands in the car. Not knowing Wilber that was a wild ride but I made it to the end.

    What role might alternate historical fiction play in offering different stories and ways of thinking in our progress mad society?

    Historiography sometimes seems as much about protecting the genealogy of the latest ruling ideas as about trying to account for new information.

    So there is a big grey area between myth, stories and historical research.

    Thank you.

  23. John–

    Is rationality then simply another mythic structure among the others, satisfying a particular set of emotional needs and useful for a specific set of concerns?

  24. Hi JMG and all – Since others here have brought up Jung, and the concept of self, I’d like to ask if you could give your opinion on Jung’s idea of Individuation, maybe in a post sometime. I haven’t seen a real good, pithy explanation of the concept (if there is one). Also, I would like to say that Wilbur’s spiral schematic reminds me of a staff with a snake winding round, Mercury perhaps? There is a reference to myth for you.

  25. Thanks very much for the “balloon filling a space” metaphor. It really helps with some concepts that the “adaptive landscape” metaphor makes less explicit, and more importantly, has helped me start to square some of the questions I’ve had about “why isn’t the kind of spiritual evolution discussed in books like the Cosmic Doctrine the same thing as spiritual progress?” Having grown up as steeped in the myth of Progress as most Americans, it’ll take more thought and meditation for me to really grok it, of course, but I think this has been a helpful step.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  26. Thank you for this brilliant piece, JMG. I first encountered Ken Wilber over ten years ago, while studying a module on contemporary mysticism taught by a wonderful fellow named Leon Schlamm, a respected Jungian scholar who has since left this incarnation. I remember being amused when he told me privately that, for all the faults of Rene Guenon and the Traditionalists, he thought they were still quite sensible compared to Ken Wilber, whom he referred to as “really nuts”!

    Wilber’s system reminds me a little bit of a notorious RPG system that was floating around the internet in the late 90s/2000s called HYBRID, which was the result of one (probably quite disturbed) young man’s attempts at unifying all aspects of reality and all works of fiction into one gaming system. Arguably, HYBRID was about as successful as Wilber’s Integral Philosophy. 😉

    One quick off-topic announcement, if I may: I recorded a podcast with our own Kimberley Steele, which is now online, in which we discussed the demonic-hypothesis in relation to Covid-19 and other contemporary phenomena. Listen here: https://flintandsteel.substack.com/p/dodcast-38-kimberley-steele#details

  27. Your post reminded me that I hadn’t read Wolfram’s book yet and that it has been one I’ve been meaning to read. So I visited our public library’s website to reserve a copy. Recently the St. Louis City and St. Louis County public libraries adopted a unified catalog, the largest such in the state of Missouri. It doesn’t surprise me in the context of your post and ongoing comments from librarians that the combined systems don’t own a single copy of Wolfram’s book while several of Wilber’s books are available. Fortunately it was easy to order a decent used copy of Wolfram’s book to add to my personal library.

    For anyone looking for paper road maps: Rand McNally still carries them. (https://store.randmcnally.com/road-maps) I love maps of all kinds. We keep four road maps in the car for use in driving around the local area (two county level maps plus MO and IL state road maps) and have a large collection of road maps for every state and every major city or county that my husband and I have driven in during the 34 years of our marriage. I have a flip phone and his smart phone doesn’t have its own wireless connection – much cheaper that way – so paper road maps continue to be our go-to navigation system.

  28. I’ve gotten a lot of acreage out of Wolfram’s book. Wilber purports to know the direction humanity is heading. But even with simple cellular automata, consisting of two or three beginning colors and maybe a half-dozen rules, no computer can predict what it will look like (or even what category it may fall into) without just letting it run.

    To claim to know more than the rough outline of a fart about humanity seems dubious. I wondered if even the Creator could know. Would He be more akin to a physicist who sets up a neat-o cellular automata and lets it play out to see what happens? Predicting the evolution of the system from within the system seems fraught with failure for Mr. Wilber.

    If you’ll indulge me a personal link, I wrote an of essay not too long ago about how insights from Wolfram’s work have gone on to influence how I outline (or rather, don’t outline) my fiction. The short of it is, like with cellular automata, I set up what I think will be simple yet interesting starting conditions, then let them take off. Each time I reapproach the work, I take into account what’s happened before, and let those conditions carry their momentum through. It reliably results in surprising plot turns I couldn’t have come up with, but that I prefer to what I had in mind. https://ancientseakings.com/the-wolfram-method-an-organic-alternative-to-outlines/

  29. I never read Piaget, but if I remember a tiny bit from Lawrence Kohlberg, movement to a next (moral) stage was supposed to be precipitated when one’s “present stage” did not provide the resources, so to speak, to deal with a crucial type of challenge. Bolt on some Piaget and you get his account of moral stages, although I suspect they more accurately correspond to stages of ability in rationalization. Wasn’t there the result that convicted criminals tested higher than the general population in terms of apparent moral stage?

    The language seems evocative. Both “finding resources” and “opportunistic rationalization” speak to me of *adaptive strategy*.

    As for Wilbur, I have long assumed he would fade into obscurity like some early-1800’s divine. Snark here: In the late 1980s I sensed that some published interviews with him were entirely self-written.

  30. Hi John Michael,

    Dunno about you, but I’ve never ever met a rational person. They’re a myth. 😉

    Candidly, my brain is probably not good enough to comprehend Mr Wilber’s concepts. And dare I point to dinosaur fossils? 65 million years ago, that lot may have believed that they were the boss too. Didn’t work out so well.

    The first photo of the once robust Mr Wilber was quite interesting. I tell you a funny related side story, only it’s not funny, but more odd than anything else. My grandfather feared retirement. Everyone has a fear, and that was his. He’d been an important person, and had a big turn out for his funeral. Anyway, I watched him will himself to his conclusion, rather than face the inevitable slow ragged experience of decline. It ain’t so bad that decline thing, but fear does funny things to a persons mind. It kinda looks to me like we’re attempting a similar feat on a civilisational level. Makes you wonder what Mr Wilber feared most, doesn’t it?

    Cheers

    Chris

  31. To those who are interested, here are all of the requests for prayer that have recently appeared across the Ecosophia community. Please feel free to add any or all of them to your prayers.

    ***I’d like to highlight the today’s brain surgery of an anonymous 2 year old boy and the surgery on 1/19 of SP in Connecticut, who is going to have a (hopefully) benign growth removed from her gastrointestinal tract.*** I hope you will consider sparing them a bit of your good vibes or prayer even if you are don’t intend to visit the main prayer list.

    If I missed anybody on the full list, or if you would like to add a prayer request for yourself or anyone who has given you consent (or for whom you hold power of consent) to the list, please feel free to leave a comment below and/or at the prayer list page.

    Finally, if there are any among you who might wish to join me in a bit of astrological timing, I pray each week for the health of all those with health problems on the list on the astrological Hour of the Sun on Sundays, bearing in mind the Sun’s rulerships of heart, brain, and vital energies. If this appeals to you, I invite you to join me.

  32. Mostly I agree.

    Years ago I read a good bit of Ken Wilber, but put it aside when the problems I saw with his structure started exceeding what I saw as its good points. I liked the idea that human cultures tended to go through certain stages, with each succeeding stage a reaction to the failures of the preceding stage but benefiting from its successes. I also saw the logic in alternation of stages between between having a community slant and having a more individualist slant. And I liked the idea that at some point the culture gets too far away from its roots at the earlier stages and needs to revisit them, but without throwing away all that it gained in the climb so far. The details would differ between different cultures but the basic system dynamics would be similar. I think he based this mostly on Spiral Dynamics/Clare Graves, though he tried to tie it to every thinker who had ever proposed a theory of human development stages.

    I don’t remember Wilber saying that stages could ever be skipped, individually or by a culture. The fact that others around you had already made a path before you would make it easier but I think the lessons of each stage need to be learned to build the foundation of the next one.

    Wilber’s idea that people had to abandon, or even could/should abandon basic human things like animism seemed likely to run aground on the reality of what Jung called the collective unconscious. What you push into the Shadow doesn’t go away and will likely come back to haunt you, or worse.

    As for the teleology aspect, I could be wrong but I don’t think Wilber sees the stages as in any way preordained and planned. I’m not sure what he would say to the idea of major forks to very different succeeding stages. From an evolutionary standpoint it certainly happens a lot. And some paths, maybe most lead to dead ends, sooner or later. We can’t rerun evolution so it’s easy to mistake the way things went for the only way that was possible. But parallel evolution (a kind of rerun) also happens which can look like teleology. Maybe the stages could in that sense be more or less fixed.

    It’s analogous to finding your way across an unknown territory without seeing exactly where you want to go or how to go. You start from where you are and go a way that is possible to a new place and repeat. If you find a hospitable place you stay a while. When that stops working you go again. Not all paths are easy or possible and not all places are hospitable or accessible. Depending on the landscape the way forward and the good stopping places may be quite limited. So different people may have to go the same or a similar way. If they try a new fork it could be better or worse. Most new ways don’t pan out. You never know until you try.

    My apologies if I have misinterpreted or misremembered Wilber. It’s been a long time and I don’t claim to be an expert.

  33. Of course! not a single story!

    But maybe an anthology with
    “a hero’s journey to dethrone THE HERO’S JOURNEY” being one of the stories.

    And other mythical structures getting a stories of their own.

    You could even have “missing” chapters to remind the reader that the myths in the anthology are not all the myths.

  34. Hi John,
    I’ve come to believe that the simpler, the more elegant, and the more explanatory a principle is, the more surprising are its various results and the more challenging it is to apply the principle to complex problems. (Any physics or engineering student who made it past the greatly simplified applications of Newton’s Laws of Motion knows this all too well.) Ditto for the two core principles of evolution you had mentioned, Wolfram’s work, etc. So even if we did have “one principle to rule them all,” we’d have a devil of a time applying it to situations that don’t admit of simplifying assumptions, or have a slew of initial conditions. What tyrants do is try to shrink and simplify the human being until it can fit into their pet system or ideology–but that very attempt at total control has surprises of its own in store for the would-be controllers.

  35. Wilber actually says somewhere that his entire system is a myth he offers his followers (yes, really), but it´s tucked away in some inaccesible part of his writings, like page 500 in a 800-page book, that kind of thing. And he seems to forget it himself most of the time! His “real” position thus seems to be that the evolutionary spirit will never really break out of nirvana, only the modernized form of Vajrayana Buddhism he semi-secretely pushes can accomplish that.

    Wilber makes caveats like this in another discussion too, I think with Jungians. He admits that the evolutionary process can fail, and that there are many different lines of evolution, some of them descending as it were. Thus, it´s very difficult to prove Wilber “wrong” on anything, since he is so flexible and elastic! But in the wrong way, since I agree with you that his really-real position probably is the evolutionary one (i.e. teleological evolution). Sorry for not having any sources on the above, but the Wilberian corpus is yuge!

    Wilber got in trouble when Trump won the 2016 elections, and had to come up with another epicycle to explan it. I write about it here:

    https://ashtarbookblog.blogspot.com/2018/09/lost-in-post-clinton-world.html

    But sure, since Biden defeated Trump in 2020, I suppose cosmic evolution has resumed its standard course, LOL.

    For the record, I think Wilber is a very smart man, but I just don´t think one person (or any group of persons) can really construct a “theory of everything”…

  36. Wilber’s pre-Darwinian concept of evolution is what I like to call the Pokémon model of evolution.

    For people not up on children’s popular culture of 10-20 years ago, Pokémon is a popular IP consisting of a cartoon show, card game, and other media that portrays people enslaving small, adorable, intelligent monsters and forcing them to fight other such monsters in gladiatorial combat. If you treat your monster right– feed it the right candy and whatever– it will “evolve” into something more powerful. For example, your small orange lizard can suddenly “evolve” into a mighty dragon. That’s not how evolution is supposed to work, of course, but that teleological perspective of evolution having a clear end goal that it’s working toward linearly is how a surprisingly large number of people seem to think evolution works.

    I had not thought about it being a medieval (or older) myth with the serial numbers filed off. I guess that makes more sense than Wilber getting his ideas from a children’s cartoon show though haha.

  37. > In more straightforwardly theological terms, an omniscient Creator wouldn’t have had the slightest difficulty selecting laws of nature and environmental constraints such that one of the many currents of evolution would go the way he wanted.

    Good day Michael,

    I love the work you do and especially diving into the deep end with enchantment. I would like to add and critque the point you made in “against-enchantment-i-ken-wilber”. First a question who’s god/God, since the word begins with a capital “C” (Creator)? I will assume the judeao/christian God. Another attribute of that God is omnipotence.

    Several questions arise immediately to my mind. Was there a beginning? Seems if there was it is something like “turtles all the way down”. Second if there is no beginning then any action by an omniscient/omnipotent deity is heavily constrained. I think of karma (cause and effect), and all the connections between each event (as can be discovered by considering thoughts and how the arise) that occur that make the exercise of omnipotence problematic in light of omniscience.

    >That is to say, he thinks he’s going on to a level of thinking that transcends rationality…

    Reply:
    No critique, a comment;

    This is a good reason to ground ones thinking in the world/earth at large. A start is the back yard garden, if you are fortunate to have one. But it also by painting (landscape etc), or sewing, or pottery, any thing that tames the thinking by grounding it in practice of some kind.

  38. Thanks for this! I’m wondering how this rejection of linear evolution relates to the model of planes of reality you’ve explained before in which humans thus far have material, etheric, and astral bodies but only a mental sheath and no substantial presence at all on planes that are explicitly described as “higher.” The planes come in a pretty linear order, don’t they?

  39. Sorry, I wrote that the evolutionary spirit will never break out of nirvana, obviously I meant never break out of samsara and to nirvana! Freudian slip? 😉

  40. Just as we speak of an Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment, so with modernity and…well, the “Multiple Modernities” of Shmuel Eisenstadt and co. was really more about civilizational blocs than subcultural identities, but fundamentalism was one of the project’s big concerns.

    JMG: “…Ken Wilber, who was not so long ago the doyen of the New Age movement’s intellectual wing.”

    Yes, this! I call him a warmed-over Theosophist. In fact, the foreword to one of his early books noted how he began his spiritual search by ordering a bunch of stuff from Quest Books.

    Same with Sri Ackroyd. Despite his politics, he was really more comfortable reading Western stuff. (Recall Gandhi’s early history with the Theosophists.)

    People like Wilber run wild with Haeckel’s”ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” principle. Besides Gebser, other relevant writers include “philosophers of evolution” Henri Bergson, Ernst Cassirir, and Jan Smuts; Erich Kahler (a cultural historian like Gebser); and “scientist-mystics” like Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Julian Jaynes, Brian Swimme, and William Irwin Thompson (also science-fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke). I am torn about whether to include the “ancient astronauts” crowd as well!

  41. Katherine, good heavens — it’s been years since I’ve even thought of Thomas’s book. It’s a great example of the sort of progressivist logic I’m critiquing here; he treated the temporary eclipse of magic at the upper end of the social scale in Britain in the 17th-19th centuries as one more inevitable step forward in the grand march of progress. I don’t imagine he was too happy once it became acceptable for historians to start writing about the revival of magic in 19th century Britain!

    Daniel, that’s a fascinating question. Most alternate-history fiction I’ve seen has been wedded to the progressivist faith — I think of Kim Stanley Robinson’s well-written but embarrassingly naive Years of Rice and Salt, in which the Black Death annihilates most of the population of Europe and so modern Europe never comes into existence, but other parts of the world go in lockstep through European-style scientific and industrial revolutions anyway. That the current kind of technology isn’t the only kind of advanced technology there could be, or that core elements of scientific thought are basically European Christianity with the serial numbers filed off — such concepts, which have been discussed in detail in the history of ideas, never seem to have entered his head.

    David, no, not exactly. Rationality is one set of tools for making sense of human experience. Myth is another. They apply to different needs and concerns, no question, and you can’t use one effectively to do the other’s job. The rise of logic and formal mathematics in the ancient Greek world, and the rise of experimental science in the modern world, are examples of the emergence of a genuinely new set of mental tools; that doesn’t justify the claim that they’re the be-all and end-all of human thought, but it’s not just one more myth. You can do things with logic, mathematics, and experimental science that nobody anywhere could do before they were invented. (The same is doubtless true of myth, but narrative is arguably the oldest technology our species has and we don’t have a lot of data on the fantastic impact it must have had on prenarrative protohuman societies.)

    Dana, I’ll definitely consider that. I’ve been completing my collection of Jung’s writings recently, and also picking up Richard Noll’s denunciatory biographies — those are surprisingly useful, since Noll likes to shout “He’s an occultist! Look! Occultism!” That’s helpful, since it points me toward things that occultists like me might want to use.

    Jeff, glad to hear it. I’ve been looking for good metaphors for evolutionary diversification for a while now, and Dion Fortune’s fine gnomic phrase “God is pressure” helped me come up with that one.

    Luke, thank you. I managed to miss HYBRID, which is just as well. Ironically, we’ll be talking about Guénon and the Traditionalists as this discussion proceeds. (Hmm — it’s only just occurred to me that “Guénon and the Traditionalists” sounds like an unusually weird late 1970s acid rock band…)

    SLClaire, I’m very pleased to note that there are 9 copies of Wolfram’s book in our state library system. (All of Rhode Island is in one library system; mind you, the state has about the same population as St. Louis County, and it’s only about twice as large.) Thank you for the pointer toward Rand McNally! That’s good to know.

    Kyle, hmm! I basically do the same thing with my fiction — set up initial conditions and then let ‘er rip — but I somehow hadn’t recognized the connection to Wolfram’s ideas. You’re quite right, though.

    JVP, Piaget’s interesting but his entire system of stages strikes me as too linear to be plausible. Yes, it could well amount to stages in rationalization.

    Chris, one of the things that’s always annoyed me about books on dinosaurs is the assumption that there must have been something wrong with them or they’d still be here. They thrived for 100 million years; when we manage the same thing, why, then we can get snotty about it.

    Quin, thanks for this.

    Thomas, interesting. If the stages to come aren’t preordained, how come we can know about them? Why couldn’t we be going on to something completely unlike the stages Wilber imagines?

    Jim, that would make a fascinating project.

    Greg, oh, granted. One of the things that impresses me most about Wolfram’s work is that he shows that you can have the basic rules that govern a system, understand them perfectly, and still be totally unable to figure out what the system is going to do, except by a process at least as complex as setting up the system and letting it run. Good-bye, naive determinism!

    Tidlösa, funny. I don’t suppose it would be fair to suggest that he did that deliberately, to be able to insist to his critics that they misunderstood him — look, here’s this quote on page 502!

    Troy, thank you. I’ve wondered for a while now what all that Pokémon stuff was about.

  42. Haven’t had time to read yet, but read the 1st paragraph and thought of a title for my book: “Reclaiming Our Right to Sustainability: Fuji Faith’s Wisdom in Edo’s Sustainable Society.” Thank you for inspiring me. More than anything, I want to capture the gist of the value I see there.

  43. Wilnav, I used the monotheist concept of a creator god purely because that’s the form of spirituality that’s most often held up as incompatible with evolution. Myself, I don’t believe there was a beginning or that the Divine is best described by monotheist models, but I wanted to show that even for those who do, it’s not that hard to understand evolution in a religious or spiritual sense without relying on teleology.

    Kevin, in terms of my metaphor, the balloon has to go under the bedroom door to get into the hallway, down the hallway to get to the living room, and so on. Since we, as human beings, happen to be among the molecules that are going this particular direction as the air pump runs, we’ll likely experience those in some very rough approximation of the same order, but with a lot of moving backward and forward, eddying here, getting blown there, and so on.

    Tidlösa, I admit I’d wondered about that!

    Bei, er, “Sri Ackroyd”??? If you mean Sri Aurobindo, he was sent to England at the age of seven and got his education there straight through to Kings College, Oxford, so yes, he found Western philosophy easy going. Readers of mine who know Hindu philosophy have assured me that he was no slouch with the Vedas and Upanishads, either. As for the rest of your list, that’s a fine random gallimaufry you’ve got there. You can certainly leave out the ancient-astronaut crowd; many of the people you cite don’t have much more to do with one another than they do with Erich von Daniken.

    Patricia, I like it. If I spotted that title in a library the book would come home with me!

  44. “not just a little wrong, either: completely, utterly, humiliatingly wrong”. Splendid. I’ve been looking for something to describe mainstream narratives. May I borrow it?

  45. JMG, have you encountered Stephen Meyer? He makes the case that biological evolution as we know it today *could not* have occurred according to random chance mutations, and must have had some other factor influencing it.

    The basis of the argument is mathematical: Darwin didn’t and couldn’t have taken into account what we now know about the complexity of DNA and the extremely long odds, over many, many reproductive steps, of producing a successful genetic adaptation. Apparently there simply aren’t enough millions of years in the fossil record for purely chance alterations at the sub-cellular level to produce the speed and variety of evolutionary changes for which we have fossil and living evidence. Meyer says the missing factor is some form of intelligent design. In the video I watched, he then admits his leanings as a person of faith, but declines to bring religious talking points into his argument.

    I never thought I’d be so intrigued by this kind of argument, but if I’ve understood it right it is persuasive, and Meyer himself is extremely well-spoken and modest in his delivery.

    On another, very different note, I’m currently working my way through Rudolf Steiner’s account of cosmic evolution in ‘Outline of Esoteric Science’, which is a good deal stranger than anything in the genre I’ve encountered before. He follows the Theosophical bent of seeing teleological evolution as a defining feature of the cosmos, with all the necessary stages laid out behind and before us, seven times seven times seven. Dion Fortune seemed to be of this school of thought too.

    What do you make of Steiner and all those other occultists who saw teleological evolution as so integral to what we humans are doing on earth? I trust you don’t put them all in quite the same camp as Wilber?

  46. I was just reading the following when I decided to take a break and look at this Wednesday’s posting.

    “The real-life influence of scholarly narratives relies not just on factual evidence and reasonable arguments but at least as much, if not more, on their ability to use words for the purpose of enchantment. Still, no spell will take hold unless it finds a receptive target. The imagery must speak to the readers lived experience, and historical narratives must resonate with what they feel is happening in their own world… but here’s the thing: the information does not need to be correct. None of these phantasmata [1] needs to be real” (Hanegraaff, Hermetic Spirituality, pp. 352-353)

    [1] This is the author’s explicit nod to Culianu’s Eros and Magic.

  47. I occasionally read Wolfram’s blog, and I note comments about his theories above. I have a theory that if you penetrate deep enough into any subject, or field of knowledge, no matter how arcane, you’ll find consciousness, or something akin to it. Christopher Alexander found it in the depths of architecture, and I think Wolfram has too. He is currently talking about a thing called the Ruliad – a broad set of all things – entangled things – that are computationally possible. If that’s not the Ring Cosmos, I’d be astounded (especially when people ask him, what is beyond the Ruliad). It could also be a plane of existence.

    The odd thing is, that with Ken Wilber, he had all the tools to do this, but didn’t seem to be able to go to the next step, and inserted an old school and non-original myth back in. I’d rather go with Wolfram, even if he is a touch arrogant.

  48. @JMG – Years of Rice & Salt had probably faded into obscurity by now, but I do suggest S.M. Stirling’s epic Emberverse series. As I said earlier, it’s a post toastie with a highly unlikely catastrophic beginning, but the end result is that the boundaries between the worlds becomes thinner, magic creeps back in and is taken for granted by a good many of the successor cultures. As one woman states, who had been a hard-core materialist all her life, “I’m an atheist. But not a flat-earth atheist.” When given proof that TSW, she sighs, gives up her old comfortable cynicism, and applies herself seriously to prayer.

    We are also shown a very nasty nut cult which is deep into sorcery – which is as the end result of (as above, so below) a quest for pure rationality and thought without that nasty old matter cluttering up the works. The contempt for matter plays out in this universe as a contempt for soap and water, a revival of slavery of ‘inferior’ humans, and a tight leash on women, presumably because female biology and child-bearing ties us closer to the material world than it does men. And yet- human nature does seep through. It occurs to me, The Radiance could very easily have gone that way back in the pre-WWII years. Anyway, highly recommended.

  49. What malign spiritual forces is responsible for the cult of ugliness especially manifested in the 20th Century? And the other horrific events on this time. And accompanying great scientific progress?

    Have you read this book on the history of the rise, survival and dominance of modern ugly architecture?
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38819296-making-dystopia

    Wonder how this enchantment can be countered?

  50. @Brunette Gardens,

    Re: paper maps vs. ‘smart’ phone GPS and such (and I followed the link to your website)… As I am constantly telling my oh so hip and tech-addicted, tech-addled, modern nieces and nephews… Every automation is an amputation. Every automation is an amputation.

    I am a huge fan of paper maps and the big picture. I spent much of the 1970’s traveling around the country with 2 resources: the Rand McNally Road Atlas, and the Rand McNally Guide to Campgrounds. I still treasure my old tattered Road Atlas, with all my routes marked in highlighter.

    RM still makes their road atlas…

  51. David S, of course!

    Dylan, no, I haven’t. If he’s bringing out the old wheeze about random chance, though, I won’t bother, because that’s another straw man, and a dubiously honest one at this point. The generation of novel genetic sequences isn’t random; those organisms that come up with ways to do that more efficiently, and to select from them the ones that are useful, will come out on top often enough through the process of natural selection that mere chance got left behind a long time ago. That’s why sex was invented — it’s a great way to increase genetic variation; it’s also why microbes exchange plasmids, and why scores of other neat little genetic tricks have been selected for over the two billion years or so that there have been living things on this planet.

    As for Steiner, I’ll be talking about his student Owen Barfield shortly, but the short form is that yes, he and Wilber are two peas from the same pod — Wilber and Steiner were both powerfully influenced by Theosophy, which relied on pre-Darwinian teleological notions of evolution. (Theosophy — and for that matter Steiner’s Anthroposophy — have a lot of good things to offer, but their accounts of prehistory and evolution aren’t among those.)

    John, I could see it!

    Asdf, funny. True, but funny.

    Peter, fascinating. I’ll look forward to reading Wolfram’s latest in due time.

    Patricia M, I’ll consider it, but I admit my couple of dips into a volume at the local library didn’t catch my interest. Different tastes, and all that…

    Info, that’s another question entirely, though we may get to it again before this sequence winds down.

    Sgage, thanks for this. Scathing reviews of Wilber seem to be tolerably common these days!

  52. #brunette gardens #19

    Back 25 years ago I had a radar detector. I knew that if it was green I could go, and go fast. When it flashed red and beeped I had to slow down.

    One day I was driving down a 45 mph road, going 60, with a traffic light that was red! I distinctly remember having the thought that I could just go because the radar detector wasn’t going off.

    I was “smart” enough to turn the radar detector off and sell it right away. I’ve never used radar detectors since.

    Same kind of thing applies to most any “tech”.

  53. Hey JMG

    Your talk of ken wilber reminded me of the account that David zindell, a little known sci fi and fantasy author as well a mathematician, wrote in his autobiography “Splendor” concerning his brief relationship with him.

    Apparently David once dated a woman who previously dated ken, and she claimed that the first time they met he decided to show off his mental prowess by showing how fast he could enter the Theta brain state by meditating whilst connected to a brain monitor. Some time later David sent ken one of his novels which impressed him so much that he invited David to become a member of his “integral institute”.
    David accepted, but he quickly became disillusioned with ken on account of his ideologue behaviour and the fact that he kept on having to complicate his originally simple theories to make them work, which David compared to the way medieval astronomers complicated their geocentric models of the solar system.
    Eventually David dared to criticise ken in front of his followers an account of his faulty understanding of anthropology, which David had minored in, it quickly descended into a childish shouting match, after which David left the institute, and ken fired followers he felt were insufficiently loyal.

  54. It’s been many years since I read Wilber on spiral dynamics – this takes me back.

    About 20 years ago I was discussing Wilber with a friend and he said he felt Wilber “put too much of himself in his writing.” I got what he meant, but didn’t mind it as I could see through the personal and kind of self-referential nature of his writing to see what Wilber was getting at.

    If I remember right, in the 80’s Wilber went through a horrific experience with his wife getting sick and dying of cancer. After that, he cloistered himself off for a while to think and read and write and figure stuff out.

    I get that if a guy went through that with his wife he might be driven to assiduously work out “what does it all mean?” and “this all has to be going somewhere, and somewhere for the ultimate good, right?”

    So if he came up with a teleology that systematically leads upwards through stages of betterment and increasing consciousness in a spiritually progressive sense, well I get why a guy who held his young wife’s hand while she was dying of cancer might come up with something like that.

    I’m not saying his ideas shouldn’t be critiqued. They definitely should. You and many others have done a good job doing so. I just feel for Ken a bit, and when I read stuff I separate critique of the man’s ideas from critique of the man himself.

  55. JMG- your response to Greg made me think of the discussions regarding free will (or the notion that we actually lack free will). Now it looks like a perspective issue, if the changes that occur/choices that occur still have an unpredictable outcome even when falling within a general framework is that free will? I so enjoy how one piece of what I read on your blog will jog me to look back at old discussions and help me see them with a new perspective. Thank you for the fun.

  56. > JMG wrote: That’s why sex was invented

    Some thoughts on Sex and its invention.

    Divided and Conquer.

    From the book I am re-reading for about the 3rd time in the last 15 years “Microcosmos” by Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan, I am learning that life through meiotic sex is very expensive and thus there must be something else going on. Thinking about it again I have a few words to articulate my non verbal perception of the chapter on SEX in that book.

    I agree . I think that Plant and Animal sex is so expensive because we are a controlled experiment by Gaia. If we could share chromosomes or DNA like our bacterial parents, we would be out of control and may even have destroyed ourselves already. So that is one part of the Divided.

    The other is; Dr. Lynn Margulis warns against war against our parents the bacteria, which she calls the Microcosmos. Such a war we cannot win. I suggest that a very small portion of mankind declared war with the invention of herbicides and pesticides perhaps even before with the industrial revolution. Perhaps those early warriors against the parents of the bioshpere were ignorant and should be forgiven. But when glyphosate/Roundup entered the picture, there was no longer any doubt in the microcosmos that war had been declared by a very select powerful and hard to see (we can’t see them) group of humans that had such intentions by which to direct what they are doing.

    Now the war is on. It is why the human side of this war are in a hurry to win at all costs. Why they care little for the destruction caused to all of life, or microcosmos.\

    (Sorry it is a bit sprawling)

  57. “We’ve universally abandoned paper (or parchment, or animal skin) maps in favor of smart-phone GPS.”

    Not if you really want to know where you are going. My confidence in the GPS map built into the truck vanished when it insisted I was driving through a wheat field. I was actually on a paved road, complete with center stripe. Not all local paved roads have center stripes, so this was an upscale paved road.

    As for Myths, The Standard Model that is supposed to explain all physics, and therefore the universe, has “issues.” The Super collider in Switzerland was supposed to answer the Last Ultimate Questions. No such luck.

    https://www.symmetrymagazine.org/article/five-mysteries-the-standard-model-cant-explain

    And then two extremely painstaking measurements of the age of the universe have given beyond any shadow of a doubt, different answers.

    https://www.space.com/cosmology-crisis-age-of-the-universe

    And the latest measurements from the new space telescope just made it ever worse. Dr Becky explains it well. If the funny link doesn’t work just look up Dr Becky crises in cosmology on Youtube.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hps-HfpL1vc

    Burning physics books may warm the planet all by themselves. Those things are heavy 🙂

  58. “Apparently there simply aren’t enough millions of years in the fossil record for purely chance alterations at the sub-cellular level to produce the speed and variety of evolutionary changes for which we have fossil and living evidence. ”

    Fortunately it does not take all that long. Wax worms have decided Polyethylene is on the menu.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-33127-w

    And this bacteria eats PET.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideonella_sakaiensis

    Polyethylene was invented in 1898, but a commercially viable way to make it (less explosive) wasn’t found until 1933, less than a century ago.

    PET was invented in 1941. All hail water bottles, polyester clothing, sails, and the now obsolete cassette tapes.

    All those carbon to carbon bonds contain stored energy. Something was going to find a way to oxidize it.

    Now I’m going to oxidize a few cookies. 🙂

  59. I remember studying Marx in the context of the movement he was part of: intellectuals in industrializing parts of the world who looked at the ongoing humanitarian disaster created by the Industrial Revolution and tried to think of ways to manipulate the rules and structures of society so as to reduce the disaster to a minimum while hanging onto industrialism’s obvious advantages. Most of the others, such as Henry George and Robert Owen, offered sensible suggestions that might help. They were pretty much ignored in their lifetime and today are known only to scholars of that particular segment of intellectual history. Marx’s ideas went on to transform the world because he didn’t just make suggestions. He claimed to offer a scientific description of the path to Paradise.

    So now I’m kind of toying with a theory I’m calling (with apologies to Robert Ardrey) the Teleological Imperative. If you want your writings to shake the world, be sure to include a plausible path to Paradise.

  60. “Thomas, interesting. If the stages to come aren’t preordained, how come we can know about them? Why couldn’t we be going on to something completely unlike the stages Wilber imagines?”

    I could be wrong but I think Wilber would say the stages are not preordained/planned by some higher power. But they could be evolutionarily inevitable in some sense, even if we don’t know exactly what they will be like. According to Spiral Dynamics/Clare Graves the first 6 stages have happened and are well established, so we can observe them. Spiral Dynamics says stages 7 and 8 are starting to be observable. They seem to be the beginning of a “second tier” which in some sense reenact stages 1 and 2 respectively. For example 7 like 1 will be individualistic and 8 like 2 will be group oriented. Thinking about how that relationship between 1/2 and 7/8 will play out let the Spiral Dynamics authors and Wilber speculatively flesh out what stages 7 and 8 may be like. Wilber also might draw conclusions based on what other thinkers have said about the higher stages. 

    Again I don’t claim to be an expert on this and I haven’t read about this stuff in a very long time. Wilber has a mystic side. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Wilber said the stages were both spiritually preordained and evolutionarily determined.

  61. J.L.Mc12, thanks for this. No surprises there.

    Hillbilly, that’s one of the reasons I’ve tried to make a point of challenging the ideas and not the person. It’s not my job to judge individuals — and of course, as pointed out in the post, I’m not trying to assess his ideas in general. I simply want to challenge one specific notion he’s championed, the notion that myth, magic, and enchantment generally belong to an outdated stage of evolution.

    Candace, glad to hear it. One of the best ways I know of to think about free will is to remember that it’s never absolute; sometimes it’s no more than a little wiggle room here and there, sometimes it’s more than that, but free will and determinism are two ends of a spectrum and human life always functions somewhere in the middle.

    Wilnav, if that’s the myth that appeals to you, by all means. I suggest that meiotic sex is worthwhile from the biological point of view precisely because it maximizes genetic diversity and variation; it’s not accidental that once organisms started having sex, evolution kicked into overdrive!

    Siliconguy, fun times! “The more you tighten your grip,” Princess Leia says to the physicists, “the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

    Joan, yes, exactly. That is to say, every successful secular ideology is a religious ideology with the serial numbers filed off. Marxism is Protestant Christianity in secular drag: primitive communism = the Garden of Eden, the invention of private property = original sin, and so on point for point until, after a millennium of socialism, the New Jerusalem of the perfect communist society descends from the heavens and nothing ever changes again.

    Thomas, if the order and destination of the process is fixed, it doesn’t matter how much handwaving is involved, you’ve got a teleological system. Teleology doesn’t necessarily involve a higher power; it can always be some abstract notion such as Marx’s historical dialectic, or evolution, or what have you.

  62. @JMG

    Through your writing I rejected the myth of progress, which ultimately leads to “trans” thinking writ large. The infinite quest for frontiers ultimately leads to harmful trans pathology. But the trans god can never be satiated. And so it pushes beyond boundaries for no reason at all. Where do we (the West) draw the boundary? I don’t know. 1492? 1619? 1979? 2019? No wonder we’re so confused trying to freeze oil and water at just the right moment when progress was just right. The woke are more correct than the mainstream, the true children of the West.

    However, I have a hard time harmonizing my critical and rational thinking with this notion of enchantment. I know it makes me unhappy. This knowledge that humans are limited. Nature is limited. And given a certain configuration of these elements, the results are very very predictable. There are few things we don’t understand at this point, including human behavior that astrologists and politicians exploit. I want to believe in sun gods and river gods and dance and remember when I drew dragons and got lost in imaginary worlds in tree houses, but I just can’t. I’m old and my eyes are clouded over and my legs are stiff. I now understand Genesis, although I wish I didn’t.

  63. Wilber’s spiral and axis schematic pattern reminds me strongly of an inverted version of the three pillars and descent of power diagram found within Qaballahist literature.https://www.theosophycanada.com/files/kabbala-fig13.jpg
    I am reading The Mystical Qaballah and glanced at this diagram at the back of Dione Fortune’s book after reading this article.
    How old is the Tree of life? Wikipedia indicates a similar schematic pattern may have existed in Assyria 9th century BC and thats all the research I’m going to do tonight on it.
    The simplicity of the spiral diagram is a little disappointing and perhaps an unfortunate devolved, and simplified upside down mock up.
    I wonder if the spiral pattern schema would be dismissed by 9th century BC Assyrians, or 12th century AD Judaists as not cutting edge enough to warrant serious consideration.

  64. Observing nature, one sees a drive to diversification rather than a drive to perfection. Taking social creatures like us, there must have been an ur-ant or ur-bee, but today there are 12,000 ant species and 20,000 bee species.

    It looks like any one species finds a niche where it can live in harmony with its surroundings for thousands of years, and buds off variant species to conquer different niches.

    Dinosaur today, chicken tomorrow. Such is development in nature.

  65. Thank you, JMG, and very much looking forward to your take on Sri Aurobindo!

    Ideas of evolution in the spiritual realm are something which I have long thought of as the main thing missing in the Christian domain — or more a case probably, as I suspect it, of them having been excised over time. Not so in the Hindu realm, of course. But after reading this article, I begin to wonder if even there I am really still (as ever) carrying unhelpful baggage.

    When I long ago stopped buying into the ‘evolution = progress’ fallacy, the phrase I coined to describe my way of seeing it to the usually extremely dogmatic Darwinists I kept encountering, was ‘dynamic status quo’. To me that seemed to be a more realistic, even uncontroversial, way to describe what goes on in the material realm of life — a rich and various dynamic status quo, naturally sustaining within definite parameters, with the perennial capacity to adapt appropriately at various crisis points over long millennia. Progress? Maybe at the very beginning, but not since it was all up and running after at least the ‘oxygen crisis’ (as the current narrative has it).

    Maybe I was speaking to the wrong people, but it was still resistance — particularly in the case of one who freelanced as a popular science writer. In his case it was even hostility and affront, which at that time was doubly surprising to me when, in youthful naivety, I vainly imagined this meant he would be more about openness to ideas, etc, lol.

    Reading this week’s article has for some reason triggered these memories and reminded me of that phrase I once coined. I still think it probably works for the material realm. But now I find myself wondering if there is a corollary in the spiritual realm. I suddenly wonder if the ‘narrative image’ I have of the soul’s journey over lifetimes as one of ‘growth’ is actually really only another case of the ‘evolution = progress’ fallacy(?) — not only that, but one which in my case includes more than a little element of fear and self-recrimination (for not progressing well enough in a dangerous domain of ignorance).

    And yet, an image instead of ‘dynamic status quo’ as an alternative take for the spiritual realm as well as for the material…??

    Apologies if this is just vain wondering, but it is where your article and this morning’s mind has taken me…

  66. Hi John Michael,

    Yeah, the dinosaurs get a bad rap. I’ve read articles from serious folks suggesting that just before the huge Mount Everest sized (and then some) rock smashed into a shallow sea 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs were up against the ropes. I think not. The species got unlucky is how I read that story, but yeah there are some sour grapes and stuff out there in regards to them. I doubt our species has that sort of longevity to it. We’re more of a flash in the pan. But no matter, the Earth will go on and life will continue in all it’s interesting forms.

    The whole linear progression belief just isn’t reflected anywhere in nature other than the inside workings of some of our species brains. The inverted bell shaped curve is far more representative of reality. It’s almost as if the curve was hard wired into the very existence of the universe.

    Cheers

    Chris

  67. Hello, JMG.

    When I read the title of the book I thought for one instant that you were referring to Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, which is a book that I love and reccommend to anyone interested in the history of science. This is the book that made it clear to me that science is a work in progress, not a fixed truth set in stone.

    On a second note, weren’t you supposed to be resting on Januaries? Not critisizing. Actually, I’m glad to have my weekly post to enjoy.

    For a final note, I think there’s an easier way to reject Wilber ideas. He argues that we should leave the previous developments behind and embrace the last of our developments. Well, the first of our developments as a species is having a body well suited for handling stuff and a bigger brain. Should we abandon them so we can become pure abstract thinking? Isn’t this a contradiction, having less brains while being more rational? Should we abandon the emotions that have kept us alive when we weren’t paying attention? Should we ignore that we are physical and emotional when making logical reasoning about people? If so, then let the teleologist show how he can do that and maybe I will consider following.
    (… but now you can make the point that the myths are necessary, don’t you?)

  68. It’s like someone gave Stephen Wolfram 250mcg of LSD and a Spirograph set, and told him to explain the universe. 🙂

  69. As John of the Cross and Thomas Merton wrote, once you begin the ascetic life and move into contemplative prayer, words, language, even experience fail to describe what comes next. Perhaps the attempt to map and describe the indescribable is the school bell ringing.

  70. Within the sphere of the universe there are infinite possibilities. I like the idea of looking at the various theories out there as forms of art, individual glass bead games, each making their own connections.

    Sometimes those connections are like reversed circles, and become ruts in the grooves of our collective imagination, other times they are perfected circles open to all four quarters if the world and allow for the influx of an expanded consciousness.

  71. Greetings JMG,

    Very good topic. It is fascinating to explore how human consciousness evolves and grows.

  72. Today with the Sacred Geometry Oracle, I got the circle reversed, which denotes repetition and running around circles. This got me thinking of what I need to do to get out of my own rut. Meditating on this the idea of a record being played with well worn grooves came to mind. Then I connected this to the notion of tracks in space as it relates to magic and culture. This got me thinking about things such as the myth of progress, etc., and how people can easily fall under its spell. Because it is a well worn track, a groove, it can be hard for people’s needle to move on to another track. In the world of vinyl (and yes, my own rut of experimental music devotion) there are records that have been made with what are called locked grooves that can repeat ad infinitum. It seems like some of the ideas we humans have developed (such as this myth of progress) are these locked grooves, and it takes a lot of willpower to get out and onto a new track.

    [At the same time, for the immediate work ahead, I will need to repeat exercise 20 at least one more time, if not more, from the Way of the Golden Section so I can do that part of squaring the circle correctly.]

    So, I asked the oracle what I needed to do to get out of my own locked groove. The card that came up was the sphere… the universe of inifinite possibilities. Exploring new ideas, subjects, lines of study and inquiry, can help lay down some new tracks inside me, which will be really good for what I want and need to do.

    Yet some new or different or alternative tracks in space out their are faint, and tracing them again will have the effect of reinforcing them so that when others want to get out of the groove they are locked in, they might see these tracings, and follow their lead.

  73. I wonder if what drives the teleological imperative (nice phrase, Joan!) isn’t the belief that *my* life can’t have meaning and purpose if universal existence doesn’t have meaning and purpose. What point is growth and development if we cannot say what we are developing into and why?

  74. To follow on my previous comment, there appears to be a dichotomy of either universal teleology (which filters down to the individual) or else blind, meaningless bumbling. The fact of the dichotomy makes me suspect there’s a ternary being missed, but I’m unsure what it might be. Willful exploration comes to mind, but I think that could also be enveloped by the blind bumbling.

  75. JMG, your mention of evolution and finches made me think of something. One of the ways the intellectual elite ( or those molding the thinking of the PMC) signal their intentions in for next generation, is with an interesting tradition that could bear more examination. Snobby schools mail each of the incoming freshman a book during the summer with the instructions to read it and be ready for discussions of said book during the fall in various classes. My younger son went to the snobby school across the river from you a decade and half ago ( courtesy of a scholarship from the Jaegermeister magnate) and was sent ” The Beak of the Finch”. This book was even referenced in the President’s ( of the university) opening address to new students. I have not read the book, but from what I can tell it is a celebration of rational thinking and intellectual superiority over primitive thinkers who do not believe in evolution. It would be an interesting exercise to find out what books were assigned to the new ” recruits” to the Ivies and such over the last few decades.

  76. “Thomas, interesting. If the stages to come aren’t preordained, how come we can know about them? Why couldn’t we be going on to something completely unlike the stages Wilber imagines?”

    JMG, am thinking about the medieval principle, Grace perfects Nature. It seems a great deal of the issue (within Christian or post-Christian circles) revolves around this issue. If you believe in absolute novelty, then secular Progress is for you, for sure (although you can also see it as pre-ordained, just capriciously, with power or a Deus ex machina in your own mind). You just uncouple Nature from Grace, or define Grace as man’s plastic will (Davos?AI?). And if you are a mystic Protestant who doesn’t believe in absolute novelty, then there has to be final participation in a teleology which nevertheless risks looking a lot like secular Progress, and overlooking hidden possibilities in Nature (Spirit Below). In this case, Grace and Nature are out of balance, as well, although there are more creative options than just de-coupling them completely. But if you go back to the medieval notion, and redefine “perfection” as recapitulates (but not completely or finally, or from a position of unworthiness), you can have novelty which is not absolutely absolute, but which is definitely novel and fructive/positive. You can have Nature as creative, and in dialogue with Grace. St. Francis summed it up for me when he called Nature our “sister” (rather than Mother or Lover). Nature and the Universe can cycle through possibilities, and sometimes you can see a little farther, or even get a little farther, but you can’t really know where it is headed, for sure, until the event, although you have a guarantee that Nature (Creation) will not have violence done to it by the variations of Grace, which play notes upon a musical theme. And also that Nature will not be deprived of Grace. It seems to me Tolkien had something like this in mind, when he retold the Genesis myth, in terms of music. Anyway, that’s how I am approaching old Owen right now…thank you sir!

  77. Thank you for this post. I was aware of Wilber for some time via exposure when drifting into the spiritual section of bookstores. There he was, Wilber. I resisted reading him for a while, but then at some point, the collected works showed up on the discount rack of my local bookstore and I took the plunge into Wilber land. His theoretical ideas were interesting, a kind of lego land with different color bricks that let you build intellectual models that put your own way of being at the top. His ideas reminded me of eneagrams, schemas that let you classify human behavior, only Wilber’s schemas let you classify entire civilizations. I was good with all that. A classification sheme. Fine as far as it went except that Wilber insisted we all needed to climb to the top of his scheme.
    The main problem with his notion in my mind was that I couldn’t see any evolutionary pressure that would drive us toward the goal he imagined.
    In a way, his scheme reminds me of Mahayana Buddhism in which the boddhisatva hangs back from the goal state untill the last human has reached the pre goal state. At that point all the bodhisattvas would turn to each other and say, no, you first unless they could all step out of the circle of rebirth simultaneously. But then there’s hinayana where we can each enter the final state without waiting for anyone else.
    But in a strictly practical sense, Wilber’s evolutionary scheme requires humans to do the evolving and we are told that all species go extinct. Imagine a meteor strike putting an end to the whole scheme. Etc. The end of the evolutionary rainbow. Everybody back to base color.

  78. JMG, I am a new father. My son is 14 months now. One of the things that I have been doing since his conception is working on a homeschool curriculum, trying to put all the myths, fables, fairy tales, history, philosophy and occult training that I wish I had received as a child in order to prepare him better than I was for life. Of course, your books are in there as well as many of the thinkers you have mentioned over the years, Spengler and such. I have been following your blog since 2011, if I remember correctly. Either way, this line of thinking is really taking me to a new level. I sincerely hope that you turn these blogs into a book. With that said, one thing I like to look for from some of my favorite contemporary writers/thinkers is a top 10 reading list. Any chance you have a top 10 list of books that you would recommend that I share with my son as he grows? If you don’t have time, how about a top 3 list?

  79. “Thomas, if the order and destination of the process is fixed, it doesn’t matter how much handwaving is involved, you’ve got a teleological system. Teleology doesn’t necessarily involve a higher power; it can always be some abstract notion such as Marx’s historical dialectic, or evolution, or what have you.”

    Let’s be precise. My dictionary says: teleological – adjective Philosophy.
    of or relating to teleology, the philosophical doctrine that final causes, design, and purpose exist in nature.

    Darwin’s theory tries to explain biological evolution without design and purpose. Wolfram I gather tries to generalize that beyond biology. So not teleological. But parallel evolution can and does happen. Similar adaptations can follow from similar circumstances. Just because a particular path repeats, perhaps inevitably, doesn’t necessarily imply design and/or purpose. (Hand waving is optional.)

    I don’t know Marx’s theory well, but from here its evolution does seem to involve a “final cause”/destination – an earthly paradise. I don’t know how he as an atheist justifies that, but it seems teleological.

    As far as I know Clare Graves’ theory had no final cause/destination, purpose or design. His study was more to do with human mental/emotional/social development than with biological evolution per se. A scientific argument could be made that human development does tend to follow a certain healthy sequence, though there are lots of ways to mess it up. And Graves tries to explain how each level together with the environment leads naturally to the next, at least when not messed up. So not teleological.

    Ken Wilber aims to pull from every substantial domain of human philosophy, science, religion, spirit, fitting them into one overarching theory. Some of those are teleological and some are not. Unless he explicitly abandons the teleological parts, that makes his theory at least partly teleological or inconsistent. One could say that he actually picks and chooses the theories and the parts that he wants, the parts that allow him to fit them together, but beyond that perhaps to fit with the idea of progress toward enlightenment. As with Marx, I don’t know how Wilber would justify that. So his overall theory seems teleological.

    I guess it is possible that the Earth or human development or whatever really is teleological, that there is someone’s final cause, purpose or design involved. Maybe She is just really subtle about it like a Taoist sage or a tai chi master. I prefer to avoid teleology but I can’t prove it either way.

    In the end these are all models and all models are wrong. But they can be useful even so. For those contemplating societal collapse I’d suggest taking a good look at Graves and Spiral Dynamics, just to see where their theory says it might land us.

  80. It all comes down to “One True Way”, doesn’t it? And I guess it’s either offensive to entertain the notion of “N True Ways” or you just shrug your shoulders and go “Well, what are the consequences if you allow ‘N True Ways'”? Or why does “N True Ways” offend some people so much?

    I wonder if centuries hence, someone will prove a theorem that every mathematical statement about nature will contain a paradox somewhere in it. And that all you can do is decide where the paradox shows up.

  81. Interesting post, thanks.

    Wondering if you might be willing to briefly explain why you’re not a big fan of Joseph Campbell’s work/ideas.

    Also, this might be too big/general of question (and I’m certain it’s a fine theme for meditation), but how might one live differently now were they not in thrall to the myth of progress?

    Thank you.

  82. Re cycles and lines and spirals

    The spiral injects linear progression into cyclical motion so that one can feel that one is “going somewhere.”. (It also lines up with the principle of history not repeating, but rhyming very well.). A useful image I developed for my meditation practice many years ago takes the axis of the spiral and steps back to view it as yet another spiral wrapping around yet another linear axis, then repeats the process ad infinitum. Instead of “turtles all the way down,” it is “spirals all the way up.”. In essence, perceived linearity is simply a limited understanding of a larger cycle.

  83. It’s finally hit me why Progress has such a destructive stranglehold on thinking, where most other forms of myths, even monomyths, have usually allowed for some variation and some evolution, Progress, by its very nature, cannot evolve. Once something is declared to be the next wave of Progress, there’s no way to backdown. If it doesn’t work, the only option is to either press onward, or drop it and pretend it never happened.

    With the additional wrinkle that the moment that “myth” is relegated to the past, to even notice that Progress as a myth is to question Progress itself, no wonder so many people have gotten so stuck…

  84. @David, by the Lake (#81):

    Yes, there is at least one ternary to overcome your dichotomy: blind meaning-creating bumbling. Experience and history have copiously shown that meaning can arise out of meaningless and purposeless activity.

  85. Really, really enjoying the new series. Thank you so much! Reminds a bit of A World Full of Gods. Can’t wait for what’s next.
    I was re-reading some Poe today in honor of his birthday and found a quote which strikes me as representative of Wilber’s thougts vs yours.
    ” the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.”

  86. “If I recall correctly, Dante Alighieri was the last person in the history of the West who was able to know everything that was known by scholars in his time…”

    …and even at that, he would not have been able to *also* know everything that was known in his time by peasants, and bakers, and brewers, and wheelwrights, and coopers, and smiths, and itinerant musicians, and household servants, and warriors, and….

  87. Brian, don’t worry about believing. Belief is overrated. Just remain open to the fact that your critical and rational thinking is a particular, culturally determined mode of human thought, one of many ways of approaching the world; it’s the mode that you’re used to, and it’s also the mode that you were taught to think of as the only one that matters, but it’s just one set of notions in some human minds. The world is bigger than our ideas about it will ever be.

    Ian, the spiral pattern actually exists in Cabalistic thought, though Wilber’s version is oversimplified. It’s one aspect of a much more complex system, because the upward movement — the path of the serpent, as it’s called in one set of sources — balances and complements a downward movement, the path of the sword or of the lightning flash. So you’re seeing something that’s there. The difficulty with Wilber’s version is simply that it’s been dumbed down and overlinearized to fit his teleological notion of evolution. The classic version is a bit more complex:

    Martin, exactly. Living things move out in every available direction, they don’t march along a single path. So do systems of every other kind, including human societies.

    Collie, that seems like a very reasonable description to me, and on more than the material plane. The one detail I’d add is that, as in the inflating-balloon metaphor, every so often something happens that makes it possible for the dynamism to outweigh the status quo — when a land bridge opens or some combination of adaptations comes together and allows species into a new environment, for example. Then you have a lot of change in a hurry, followed by a settling back into stability.

    Chris, if I recall correctly, most individual species of dinosaur only lasted for a few million years — it was the whole order of Dinosauria that endured over the long term. In the same way, I wonder how long the hominids will make it, taking on various forms over the ages to come.

    Yorkshire, of course. It’s entertaining to compare this to the writings of Christian environmentalists, who are just as concerned with finding something to support their views in their holy scriptures.

    Abraham, nah, I stopped taking Januaries off a couple of years ago; too much is happening these days. As for Wilber, the notion that everything but the latest development has to be rejected is the keystone of the mythology of progress — and I’m sure you know there are plenty of Transhumanist types who are in fact trying to ditch their physical bodies in favor of hypothetical robot bodies. It’s all very consistent; most kinds of lunacy are.

    Yorkshire, now there’s an experiment worth trying. 😉

    Dave, oh, granted: “The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.” But attempting to unscrew the inscrutable is an enduring occupational hazard among philosophers.

    Justin, equating different theories of everything with different glass bead games strikes me as exceptionally useful — well, at least for Hesse geeks!

    Tony, only if you’re also willing to pay attention to how it devolves and shrinks…

    Justin, most organisms and most societies are in locked grooves, and for good reason: if you find something that works, it’s usually a good idea to keep doing it. It’s only when things stop working that variation becomes an advantage. We happen to live in such a time.

    David BTL, that’s an excellent point. It takes a great deal of faith — meaning here not belief but trust — to simply accept that the universe doubtless has its own agenda, which we can’t begin to understand, and that our lives are doubtless part of that even when that’s hidden from us. As for the ternary, good! Very good. I’d encourage you to keep exploring this.

    Clay, fascinating. I’m not at all surprised — the self-congratulations of the managerial classes over their own supposed superiority to everyone else have become a shrill scream of outrage these days, but they used to be more smug.

    Celadon, that works; within the medieval Christian view, Grace perfects Nature, but it doesn’t necessarily do so in a way that we can anticipate, since the Divine is always superior to our understanding. That allows novelty as a product of Grace and Nature working together — just as, in Tolkien’s creation myth, the music of the Valar took up the best bits of Melkor’s discords and incorporated them into its own theme.

    Greco, that’s a good point. What if it’s dolphins who are the real cutting edge of evolution on earth, and we’re just an interesting sideshow? Or, let’s say, what if the intelligence of the global microbial biome as a unity is the real deal, and we were evolved purely because it didn’t want ice ages any more and decided to encourage the evolution of some clever monkeys to dig up some carbon and burn it?

    Clark, I’m tentatively planning on turning these posts on enchantment into a book, but we’ll see. As for a top 10, are you talking the ten books I’d recommend for a child to read as he grows, or the 10 books I’d want an adult to read? Those lists are emphatically not the same.

    Thomas, yes, I’m perfectly well aware of what the word “teleology” means. So? I’m far from sure what point you’re trying to make with the rest of this.

    Other Owen, I like it! That hypothetical theorem of yours strikes me as very sensible. As for the problem with N True Ways, I tend to think of it as an astrological factor. The Piscean age was emphatically the age of One True Way, and that’s why so much of its bloodshed was a product of intolerant ideologies — religious, secular, you name it. The ego rush of thinking that there’s one truth and you’ve got it is addictive, and difficult for many people to let go of.

    Jacques, the very short form is that Campbell is too deeply committed to the Western worldview of his time to really be fair to myths and legends that diverge from it; the last chapter or so of Oriental Mythology, where he lambastes Asian myths for lacking in hope, was frankly embarrassing. He was also far too fond of reading his own ideas into stories — the monomyth is of course the supreme example. As for how to live once you let go of the myth of progress, why, I’ve written a book about that; its title is After Progress, and iirc it’s still readily available.

    David, hmm! Yes, that works very well.

    Anonymous, yes, exactly. Exactly.

    JustMe, thanks for this. That’s right, it’s Poe’s birthday today! The quote’s spot on.

    Scotlyn, of course. I doubt even at the bottom end of dark ages, when human knowledge is at its lowest ebb, anyone has ever been able to know everything known by everyone in their own community. It’s purely within a single trade, such as scholarship or homemaking, that the occasional genius can know everything that’s currently available to be known.

  88. @True Thomas #66, who wrote “7 like 1 will be individualistic and 8 like 2 will be group oriented.” I immediately thought “Uranus and Neptune?”

  89. @Abraham #74, relevant to Wilber – I’ve reached a stage in my Occult Philosophy workbook where we’re dealing with the upper vs lower regions of the astral plane, and immediately hit a knot. “The lower astral plane corresponds to the bodily passions…” and the goal of operating on the higher astral plane. First gut response “Then do I have to give up my Earth Gods? A religion that urges us to enjoy the physical things of this earth?”

    Well, of course, reason tells me that, if the Lower Astral is also a repository for all that is corrupt and discarded, the remark about the passions of the body can be interpreted as “being ruled by them.” Which of course triggered a reference to a classic 7-fold list of names for being ruled by such things …Gluttony, Lust, Wrath….

    Even so, gut instinct is still crying out “Are you saying the ideal is a monk or a nun?” As you said, “Should we abandon the emotions that have kept us alive when we weren’t paying attention? Should we ignore that we are physical and emotional when making logical reasoning about people? If so, then let the teleologist show how he can do that and maybe I will consider following.”

  90. JMG replied: Wilnav, if that’s the myth that appeals to you, by all means. I suggest that meiotic sex is worthwhile from the biological point of view precisely because it maximizes genetic diversity and variation; it’s not accidental that once organisms started having sex, evolution kicked into overdrive!

    Comment:
    Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan also expressed the view you share as do I. They did point out that meiotic sex was also a very expensive process and suggested (at least to me) there may be more to it (evolutionarily speaking) than just diversity and variation.

    Are you aware of the Oxygen Holocaust. It happened a bit more than 2 billion years ago. Dr. Lynn Margulis a collaborator with James Lovelock who first suggested the Gaia Hypothesis (now accepted as a valid scientific theory) describes the catastrophe indicated by the fossil record.

    From Slanted Truths Lynn Margulis and Dorian Saga © 1977
    See also Microcosmos by Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan. University California Press © 1986 chpt 6

    Slanted Truths pg 39 > The kind of bacterium that accommodated the other symbionts in its interior may have been one similar to Thermoplasma, a tough microorganism living in acidic hot springs. Like all other bacteria, Thermoplasma has DNA that floats freely in the cytoplasm, the jelly-like substance of the cell. (Eukaryotic DNA, in contrast, is bundled into dark rod-shaped structures, or chromosomes, which in tum are enclosed in the nuclear membrane.) Yet Thermoplasma and its relatives differ from most other bacteria. Their DNA is coated with a protein similar to the histones that form the scaffolding of chromosomes in eukaryotes and they lack cell walls. Histones are conspicuously absent from other kinds of bacteria. Some hardy bacterium resembling Thermoplasma may have been the ancestor, which acquired additional metabolic abilities wholesale by taking in other bacteria. These microbial interactions took place at a critical juncture in the history of life. Before two billion years ago there was little oxygen in the atmosphere, but as photosynthetic bacteria (including the cyanobacterial precursors of the chloroplasts) spread, the concentration of this gas rose. Oxygen, a poison to most of the microorganisms that represented the universe of life at the time, spurred the evolution of respiration. Tough, wallless Thermoplasma-like ancestors, now motile, took up respiring bacteria through their membranes, probably after surviving invasion by these aggressors. Thus these swimming consortia gained a way of removing any oxygen that penetrated their membranes and, in the long term, a new way of deriving energy. Equipped with the precursors of mitochondria, the new symbiotic complexes spread into environments neither component organism could have colonized.

    Slanted Truths pg 76 to 78> The combination of more powerful microscopes, molecular biology, and
    modern genetics and paleontology has enabled scientists to refine taxonomic distinctions to the level of genes and proteins. These sophisticated methods upset the old biolOgical dichotomy. It is indisputable that all life on Earth today derived from common ancestors; the first to evolve-and the last to be studied in detail-are tiny, oxygen-eschewing bacteria. So significant are bacteria and their evolution that the fundamental division in life forms is not that between plants and animals, but between prokaryotes (bacteria)-organisms composed of small cells with no nuclear membrane surrounding their genes and eukaryotes (all other life forms, including humans, composed of cells with those nuclear membranes). In the first two billion years of life on Earth, bacteria-the only inhabitants continuously transformed the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, and invented all of life’s essential, miniaturized chemical systems. Their ancient biotechnology led to fermentation, photosynthesis, oxygen breathing, and the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen into proteins. It also led to worldwide crises of bacterial population expansion, starvation, and pollution long before the dawn of larger forms of life.

    Bacteria survived these crises because of special abilities that eukaryotes lack and that add whole new dimensions to the dynamics of evolution. First, bacteria can routinely transfer their genes to bacteria very different from themselves. The receiving bacterium can use the visiting, accessory DNA (the cell’s genetic material) to perform functions that its own genes cannot mandate. Bacteria can exchange genes qUickly and reversibly, in part because they live in densely populated communities. Consequently, unlike other life, all the world’s bacteria have access to a Single gene pool and hence to the adaptive mechanisms of the entire bacterial kingdom. (This extreme genetic fluidity makes the concept of species of bacteria meaningless.) The result is a planet made fertile and inhabitable for larger life forms by a worldwide system of communicating, gene-
    exchanging bacteria.

    Bacteria also have a remarkable capacity to combine their bodies with other organisms, forming alliances that may become permanent. Fully 10 percent of our own dry weight consists of bacteria, some of which such as those microorganisms in our intestines that produce vitamin B 12 -we
    cannot live without. Mitochondria live inside our cells but reproduce at different times using different methods from the rest of the host cell. They are descendants of ancient, oxygen-using bacteria. Either engulfed as prey or invading as parasites, these bacteria then took up residence inside foreign cells, forming an uneasy alliance that provided waste disposal and oxygen-derived energy in return for food and shelter. Without mitochondria, the nucleated plant or animal cell cannot breathe and therefore dies.

    This symbiogenesis, the merging of organisms into new collectives, is a major source of evolutionary change on Earth.The results of these first mergers were protoctists, our most recent, most important-and most ignored-microbial ancestors. Protoctists invented our kind of digestion, movement, visual, and other sensory systems. They came up with speciation, cannibalism, genes organized on chromosomes, and the ability to make hard parts (like teeth and skeletons). These complex microscopic beings and their descendants even developed the first male and female genders, and our kind of cell-fusing sexuality involving penetration of an egg by a sperm. …

    Slanted Truths pg 82 > Those who speak only for the special interests of human beings fail to see how interdependent life on Earth really is. We cannot view evolutionary history in a balanced manner if we think of it only as a four-billion year preparation for “higher” organisms, such as humans. Most of life’s history has been microbial. We are recombinations of the metabolic processes of bacteria that appeared during the accumulation of atmospheric oxygen some two thousand million years ago. Intellectually we separate ourselves from the rest of life, yet without it we would sink in feces and choke on the carbon dioxide we exhale. Like rats, we have done well separating ourselves from and exploiting other forms of life, but our delusions will not last.

    Humans underestimate what we owe the microcosmos. Gaia which by microbial mass dwarfs animal and plant mass sustains us. Without the microcosmos/Gaia we would not exist. Dr. Lynn Margulis (deceased) asks us to understand our place. Bacteria have developed at least 20 metabolic pathways, humans to date none. They have done much more. There is no mineral they cannot work. I was surprised recently learning that bacteria can even work with radioactive substances (on this I do remain strongly skeptical).

  91. I’m guessing you’re more a circles and spirals kinda guy than linear, JMG, what with the twists and turns. 🙂
    I’m off to read on Kant and Schopenhauer’s take on time and space – thanks for the prompt. It is rather easy to fall into the accepted view and I guess doing a carefully chosen 180 once in a while is probably better than one forced upon one’s self.

  92. Hi John Michael,

    Ah, of course, and thanks for the correction. An intriguing thought. 🙂 If I dare but look into my crystal ball, what I see of the future varieties is that they’ll be smaller for a start than today – mostly. We’ve burned through a lot of soil minerals in order to bloom and dumped them in the ocean, and that will have a cost and take a long time to repair. Minerals will have to be slowly recovered from the oceans, but then global warming might achieve a bit of that – for free! Some volcanically active areas near to the equator may sustain quite large populations, but again boom and bust. We might have to give up some of the dexterity of our hands and fingers for strength, and physical skills may dominate the culture. Some of our ancestor varieties had bigger brains didn’t they? That might be a factor, certainly there will be other critters wanting to eat too, so we’ll be kept on our toes. Technology needn’t look like it does today, and you’d hope we were smart enough to produce more robust items than much of the garbage which gets produced today. I’d have to suggest it would be quite an interesting time to be alive, certainly more engaging with the environment than today, and respectful of it.

    Hey, did you notice that the Germans are getting back into coal again? Mate, the troubles I’ve had recently with batteries are alarming. Had to modify the batteries here due to what appears to be a design issue – always exciting with a side serving of a possible explosion. Fortunately I’m careful, but that aspect of the job made me sweat. Felt like an old school safe cracker! 😉 These new LiFePO4 batteries are a good technology, but far out if things go wrong… Old school sealed gel lead acid batteries don’t work as well, but candidly were safer. But overall, batteries are a very mature technology, I must say that I annoyingly regularly spoken at by folks who believe that things are otherwise, and there’ll be easy gains for the technology, you just wait and see! I’m sure you’ve also encountered such folks? 😉

    Cheers

    Chris

  93. “The “something else,” in turn, is what philosophers call teleology: the insistence that evolution marches ahead in a straight line toward some predetermined goal.”

    This teleology should include Teilhard de Chardin’s, what do you think about his Christian Evolution?

  94. Lets go with the top 10 reading list for children for now. I will save the adult top 10 for the open post, unless you care to indulge me now. 🙂

  95. Frank Visser’s website was originally called The World of Ken Wilber. He was taken by Ken’s presentation as many of us were then. His ‘disenchantment’ with Ken began with an interview that became a book. Frank was willing to look critically at lapses, errors, and contradictions in his theory. Wilber’s authoritative PhD tone could not cover for his actual Bachelor of Science biology degree and high school presentation of material evolution. Super credit to Visser who soon turned his website into and honest and multifaceted critique of integral theory and more. I have not visited in over a decade but it is nice to discover it is still up at https://integralworld.net/ and is well worth a visit.

    JMG, does the M stand for Magellan? Mercator? Awesome map presentations. Thank you.

  96. @ Other Owen #88

    Not quite what you were talking about, but your comment brought to mind Godel’s two incompleteness theorems (courtesy of Wikipedia, emphasis added):

    The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an effective procedure (i.e., an algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the arithmetic of natural numbers. For any such consistent formal system, there will always be statements about natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that the system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

  97. I would like to add that Wilber’s peak and turn was marked by a controversial association with Andrew Cohen (What is Enlightenment magazine), an ill considered endorsment of Adi Da (Franklin Jones), and a vicious response to integral theory critics.

    I see a reference to Spiral Dynamics in the comments. And don’t forget the cultural creatives who are going to lead us to utopia if we can just stop birthing so many ignorant religious people.

  98. I’ve never seen you mention Eric Voegelin, but he’s very relevant to your topics here. You and your readers might find him helpful and enjoyable as a philosopher of consciousness and history who also accepted the title of “mystic philosopher.” Mark Lilla has given Voegelin pretty fair summary treatment in a chapter of The Rudderless Mind, basically a reprint of his NYRB article you can find online: “Mr. Casaubon in America.”

    Voegelin developed the most reasonable, sustained examination of the structure of consciousness within historical civilizations through the way they symbolized “order,” although he came up with a normative model based on the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. After scrapping a multivolume Eurocentric history of political ideas (which was posthumously published), he left his masterwork, Order and History, unfinished with the final volume acting as a partial revision/retraction of what came earlier. Ultimately, Voegelin realized the importance of China to his project and moved to break completely from a western-focused study. His approach to “the order of history emerging from the history of order” as experienced and symbolized by imperial civilizations is brilliant and will inoculate readers against frauds like Wilber.

    This all came to mind with your mention of Joachim of Fiore, whom Voegelin took as the first in a long line of modern “gnostics” imposing their eschatologies on history — radical Calvinists, Marxists, the Nazis. It was unfair to actual gnostics and stretched the category a bit much in a polemical direction (as Voegelin later regretted), but the general idea of modern teleological thinking about history as a species of secularized Christian heresy is a good one. This was pretty common among Voegelin’s contemporaries who all worked over this ground: Löwith, Taubes, Schmitt, Jonas — also Norman Cohn. Löwith is probably the origin of the idea.

    Hegel, of course, is the source of the modern affliction or addiction to “ersatz religion” as Voegelin put it. Behind Marx and all the rest lies Hegel’s teleologies which are impossible to understand apart from triumphalist North Atlantic Protestant theology before and certainly after him, especially in the forms of progressivist and technologic Liberalism. Still today, few modern minds seem able to think outside of Hegel.

    Without an idol of a predestined and certain future or the announcement we’ve reached the “end of history” people lose their nerve in the face of bland “Last Man” standards of living confusion and chaos they can’t control. Sometimes their panicked responses lead to activism and the narcissistic idea that history needs them to find its rudder and lean into it. Reactionary religious conservatives in the States are noted for their long periods of quietism when they believe there’s no point in meddling with the course of history since they know the ending (they win and everything/everyone else burns) followed by periods when they feel existentially threatened and become zealously engaged in political or politicized cultural projects. It is all so full of warlike, nationalist, 19thC Herrenvolk dominance-seeking pettiness, the only good thing to be said for it is that such naked radicalism exposes all teleological, eschatalogical ideologies for what they are: Volkstheologie. Who will prevail in the end and be proven “right?” It’s insane,

    Your correspondent Rod Dreher seems to be of this ilk — like Catholics who lose their confidence “the gates of Hell shall not prevail” when the current pope is not to their liking (etc) suddenly all kinds of activism and searching for “where the puck’s going to be” animates them. This certainly creates a market, and audience, and maybe a cult, but it bears all the symptoms of heresy and narcissism. Ironically, the greatest modern critic and healer for Hegelian delusions was the Swiss Calvinist theologian, Karl Barth. His Church Dogmatics got him invited to the Second Vatican Council and are indeed a tremendous ecumenical masterpiece. The volume on Creation has a large section on Providence where the right and wrong ways to think about history and one’s little momentary place in it are laid out in a deep and often entertaining fashion.

  99. Good day Abraham,

    I share your sentiment here:

    I have deep concerns about AI and its sibling Transhumanism. The root of
    my concern is we become enamored with tech and stop, connecting and
    learning what being human and being a part of Gaia is.

    Alpha Go is an AI neural net program that beat the Korean raining Go
    Champion Lee Sedol in March 2016. But Lee could have beat it easily by
    unplugging it. He could have cheated etc. He could have used all the
    ways that humanity is cheated by Corporate and Global banking interests
    to name a mere two. But Lee Sedol is very ethical and played honestly.
    He won 1 game out of 5.

    Consider the Polynesian Navigators. “Hawaiki Rising is the saga of an
    astonishing revival of indigenous culture by voyagers who took hold of
    the old story and sailed deep into their ancestral past. (Sam Low author
    of Hawikee Rising)”. The Polynesians navigated the entire Pacific Ocean
    without sextant, tables, math models, etc. They did it by being
    connected deeply to the Ocean, Islands, Sky, Sun Moon Stars. If there
    hadn’t been a few of the nearly extinct masters of navigation, the
    modern man and scientist would never have believed an ability like that
    was possible.

    We as humans don’t even know who or what we are. Yet we chase the
    externalization of one aspect of humanity and make of it a god. We used
    to model for our children and require of them behavior that was
    respectful of the other kids and/or brothers and sisters in the family.
    Yet at the international level nations cannot behave as they require
    their citizens to. And we rush to teach AI how to think and act.

    Each interaction an individual has with AI is teaching AI far more about
    you than you are learning about AI.

    AI said this about oxygen and Gaia: “For example, plants absorb carbon
    dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen, which is necessary for
    other organisms to survive. ”

    Actually this is particular function is late in the evolution of
    Gaia/Earth. Cyanobacteria are among those bacteria who break the water molecule to use hydrogen and release oxygen. They do this at room temperature. To
    date humans (after decades of study) cannot crack the H2O molecule with
    a net energy gain. If you wish you can buy the book below to find out more:

    Microcosmos Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
    Chpt 6. The Oxygen Holocaust

  100. @JMG I think Wilber has made useful contributions, and also errors, like saying that consciousness progress is inevitable, which you have pointed to repeatedly.

    Dissolution is part of life, like the ancient Mayas experienced, and more recently the Tibetans who lost their land.

  101. Hi Greco,

    > Imagine a meteor strike putting an end to the whole scheme. Etc. The end of the evolutionary rainbow. Everybody back to base color.

    As you know there was one about 65 million years ago. While birds are descendants to dinosaurs, there are no Tyrannosaurs rumbling around now. I read somewhere there was no evidence that nature does a redo. Once done for example with the dinosaurs, nature moved on.

  102. Hi Other Owen,

    Perhaps N true ways approaches infinity ∞, even here on Earth. That is if all of life is finding it true way of being. When one sees roots of plants etc. or the neurons of the body and brain, it conjures up a dynamic conception of omniscience. How? At each moment through out the multi verse, intelligence however one wants to define it is learning sensing etc.Then omniscience is a dynamic process of all intelligence. At each moment it know all there is to know. That is if omniscience is a thing.

  103. Brunette: A little while ago I had stopped for gas and went in to the convenience store to ask for directions. Between the attendant/cashier and the three young guys standing in line fiddling with their cell phones, (all professing to be locals) not a one of them knew what town was to the east, nor what direction east was, nor even the name of the highway out of town! (“I just follow the turns my phone tells me.”) I suspect that being able to read a map is becoming a kind of specialized secret knowledge, and possessing an actual map is becoming so unusual that actual paper maps will in the future be prized possessions. (sigh…)

  104. JMG, I’ve been doing a bit of catch up on your posts and was delighted to find out that you’ve started a series on enchantment. I have to say, I’m about as excited to see you discuss this as anything you’ve done yet. I’ve mentioned a few times here and there that this year my primary focus is on re-enchanting my own life, as my chosen method to wrestle with all of the fallout discussed in your Open Post series. I’m really looking forward to following along. I can’t wait to click the buy button when this series finally reaches book form.

    Your balloon metaphor was very helpful. The previous mental model I’d used for evolution looked like a piece of paper that had been lit on fire in the center. If you look closely, the burning edges are a little mandlebrot fractal, racing out through time and space exploring different regions of the paper as they go, similar to evolution exploring the space allotted to it. The room filling balloon is somewhat how I imagine a lifetime. The whole room exists at all times, but we explore different sections of it in some sort of linear way. Just because we are looking at the wall now, doesn’t mean the floor or ceiling cease to exist. Eventually we explore the whole space, the room of our life, and we are done, off to whatever it turns out to be is next. What this entity is, the focused conscious awareness in THIS time and THIS place and THIS body, moving from moment to moment…well, that ‘awareness in time’ is much foggier for me. I haven’t yet been able to grok the mechanics of how awareness came to be, and why it developed a progressive sense of time. Why is the flow so unidirectional, cases of the weird and paranormal notwithstanding. I feel like your earlier exercises in awareness brought me a bit closer, but closer to what? I don’t know. The closer I seem to get to understanding ‘awareness’, the faster it seems to recede.

    I appreciate your comment to Jeff (and his comment originally) about the Cosmic Doctrine. I was raised in an extended family that was influenced by ideas like spiral dynamics, and the ideas that it was based upon. As you were explaining Fortune’s take on the Divine Sparks passing through various initiatory experiences in their rise up and down the planes, at the time it sounded a lot like spiral dynamics. I’ll have to go back now and reread, and consider how it may in fact differ from this initial interpretation. When I ponder the general concept of spiritual evolution, I hit a block sometimes as regards the purpose. Physical beings in the material world clearly have benefits from the process of evolution. What benefit do spiritual beings receive I wonder? Why does the Tao or God, which is presumably whole and complete, need to evolve at all, or fragment into a multitude of beings both material and spiritual, which feel the need to evolve in some way? Sheer boredom and distraction at eternity?

    Anyway, thanks again for the gift of these posts, and the forthcoming series.

    Murmuration

  105. Natural selection is a strictly mathematical process..When a mutation occurs to our DNA, and when it is beneficial (which means only that it could cause our DNA to be passed to more offspring), (Cochran gives a 1 x 10-4 chance of that), it then has to pass three hurdles…First, the carrier has to have offspring, and the mutation must be passed to them..Second, at least some of the offspring must survive long enough to pass the gene on to their offspring, if any…Third, this must happen often enough that the gene gets fixed in a substantial part of the population, such that random deaths can’t extinguish it…The mutated gene must usually provide a significant advantage, at least with respect to mating, for this to happen…This makes the simultaneous transmission of two or more traits exceedingly improbable, and doesn’t account for the appearance of many new species…Hybridization could account for some, perhaps…
    The notion that such evolution is “directed” therefore assumes supernatural intervention…which academics aren’t going to admit..
    It’s interesting that the advent of blue eyes, which geneticists say only appeared about 10,000 years ago and spread at amazing speed in Europeans, indicates a huge survival advantage…Or is it just that potential mates greatly prefer blue eyes?

  106. Re: Cartography – there’s still quite a few enthusiastic cartographers out there, drawing, painting and embroidering maps as works of art. There’s also an enthusiastic community of map fans online discussing how the way each map is drawn emphasises some features of the territory and masks others. Maps as symbols and artworks, it’s great!

  107. JMG, so noted! I see there’s a lot more to evolutionary genetics than meets the eye.

    I’ll look forward to the post on Barfield and the Theosophy/Anthroposophy stream of thought. I have long thought that the main difference between you and most other occult writers I’ve read (and who are mostly recommendations from you) is your view of cosmic teleology. I seem to remember the closing words of the Archdruid Report making that point rather succinctly. This is shaping up to be a great series of posts.

  108. @JMG – are you familiar with Michael Levin and his evolutionary models? The general idea is that the laws of reality do not exist only at the particle level but every scale-level introduces something unique which is not reducible to another level.

    https://i.ibb.co/J7635dr/image.png (Evolution Pivots Mechanisms into new Spaces)

    This directly challenges the CGOL view, where all phenomena only exist on a single level of causality. As far as the CGOL system is concerned, it is completely irrelevant whether the pixels are arranged in the shape of a functioning computer, as a functional car, or as random noise. We can run the rules on our own device, or we can use paper and pencil and run the rules ourselves by hand. We don’t need to understand that the pixels are arranged in a particular way, we don’t need to understand how the simulated products of CGOL works. We can be completely myopic and go through the cells one by one, apply the rules and produce the next frame. The CGOL computer will run just fine.

    https://youtu.be/WfuhbI8HE7s (Game of life: computer with display)

    This is the mainstream way in which biological life is seen today – as emerging from purely physical interactions. The laws of physics are considered to be exactly the same in the biological cell and the stone. Nature is completely myopic, it doesn’t ‘know’ that its particle-pixels are arranged in the shape of an organism instead of a computer. It simply runs the rules that transform them from frame to frame. In reductionism, it is all the same whether the particles are arranged in the shape of these organisms or they are simply a homogeneous soup of chemicals. Life doesn’t exist as some ‘thing’ from the reductionistic perspective. It’s just a name that we, conscious beings, give to certain patterns of pixels.

    People like Michael Levin explore something much different – that there are levels of lawfulness in Nature. The higher levels bend the space of possibilities for the lower levels. If we measure the behavior of the particles in a dead cell we would find statistical randomness, just like we find in Brownian motion. If we could measure the behavior of molecules in a living cell it would be discovered that each molecule moves according to slightly modified statistics. This is the higher order lawfulness which bends the configuration space of the lower. And of course, the lower works back on the higher. Levin realized that a single level of rules (like CGOL or fundamental physics) cannot account for the higher order dynamics. Instead, there’s a musical orchestration between levels which operate at different levels of abstraction, so to speak.

    As is probably evident, such models point right back at dynamics such as Wilber et al pursue, the ceaseless involution and evolution of consciousness.

  109. It feels good to look forward to a long sequence of connected essays! Until today, I was blissfully unaware of Wilber‘s existence, but I can vividly imagine comments by onething, God bless her soul.

  110. This essay produced two distinctly different reactions within me.

    One was a “light bulb” moment. For decades now I have rolled my eyes whenever I hear people say “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual” in a rather smug way. Perhaps I am dense, but I have never understood why a person would feel superior when advertising themselves as “spiritual, not religious”. But when I read the description of Wilbur’s supposed structures of consciousness in this week’s essay, it all made sense. To be “religious” means to belong to the backward, antiquated “mythic” structure, while to be “spiritual” means to belong to the advanced, still-forming “post-mental” structure. In a sense, the self-satisfied claimant is stating that they are on the “right side of evolution”. I can practically hear them say “religion is soooo Neanderthal” under their breath. (An aside: back in the days when my eyesight was declining but I was not yet wearing glasses, I swore that I saw a church sign that said “Reformed Neanderthals Church”; my better-sighted friend, however, corrected me, stating that it actually read “Reformed Netherlands Church”. Oh well, honest mistake!)

    My other reaction was indignation. As soon as I read the descriptions of Wilbur’s structures of consciousness, it was maddeningly familiar. Over the decades I have read plenty of first-hand accounts of 19th century European explorers’ and colonists’ encounters with “the natives” in various continents: they invariably applied this system to their fellow-humans, describing them in great length as being child-like and incapable of reason (i.e., archaic, or, at best, mythical). Obviously these low-tech, dark-skinned humans were a few rungs down the evolutionary ladder in comparison to the pinnacle of human evolution: the White Man! Yes, as far as I am concerned, the whole ‘structures of consciousness’ idea is racist garbage. And it gets more personal. Such a system was applied to my ancestors during the Highland Clearances, as the law makers of the day in London seriously contemplated entirely depopulating the Scottish Highlands of its Celtic population, by whatever means necessary, and replacing them with German immigrants. It was all very logical, you see (in the politicians’ minds): the Celtic Highlanders are a barbaric people: idle, romantic, too fond of drink and poetry and brawling (clearly still dwelling in the ‘mythical’ world); while the Germans are hard-working, rational, superior in every imaginable way (dwellers of the ‘mental’ world).

    The thing that I don’t understand about this whole ‘structures of consciousness’ malarkey is if it is mapping the evolution of consciousness of our species, how it can be that we have extant human societies dwelling in each structure in modern times? Or did Wilbur conveniently cherry-pick his data and conveniently gloss over this inconvenient truth?

  111. Hi Ron M,

    >. To be “religious” means to belong to the backward, antiquated “mythic” structure, while to be “spiritual” means to belong to the advanced, still-forming “post-mental” structure.

    That is interesting take. I never ever thought about spirituality in those terms. Being spiritual meant to allow various religious, philosophical, scientific, mystical, intuitive, and more I can’t name now to with equanimity such that they inform your psychological or spiritual life.

    That is you put no tradition on a pedestal including being spiritual (which was for me always a deportment toward knowledge and experience). You are open to be informed by all of them. What you can’t take in you leave, without prejudice.

  112. Coincidentally, a memory from a social media site popped up today where I was joking about the TV series Punisher (this will be relevant, bear with me), and a friend had commented that there was a campaign to stop the show because he resolves problems with guns. An unfair slur – he also uses knives, his fists, bits of broken glass, a dumbbell, and whatever else comes to hand!

    “It’s just a TV show, who cares,” someone said, and I replied,

    A TV show is looked at and thought about for the same reason books are: it’s an expression of the culture we’re in, and some people like that expression, some don’t, while others still just find it interesting.

    For example, in the 1980s criminal gangs in movies were all multiracial. At that time, Hollywood was trying to become less racist, or at least pretend to do so, and so they presented gangs that rarely exist in reality.

    In the first episode of the second season of the Punisher, a good number of the criminal thugs were women. At this time, Hollywood is trying to become less sexist, or at least pretend to do so, and so they present thugs that rarely exist in reality.

    All media, whether visual, audio or written, is an expression of culture and values. It can be interesting to think, “What are they really trying to say? And what are they saying without meaning to?” By going a bit deeper into things we gain a new appreciation of them. That’s why some people sit for hours looking at a picture in the art gallery, they’re someone who knows the history and notices tiny details you or I wouldn’t.

    This doesn’t mean that Media Studies is a useful degree, of course. What it does mean is all narratives presented to you, from Aesop’s Fables to a 1980s action movie, are presented to you trying to shape your worldview – and tell you how to think and behave.

    And I imagine that’ll be where JMG is going with this, that this philosopher’s teleology is part-and-parcel of the whole Western “progress is inevitable!” thing.

  113. Wilnav, oh, doubtless sex has more functions than its role in generating wild diversity. What we know for sure is that it does generate that. I’m rather partial to Eugene McCarthy’s Stabilization Theory, which holds that the very occasional successful cross-species hybridization plays an important role in putting genetic variation into overdrive. (McCarthy is one of the world’s top experts in cross-species hybridization among birds, where it occurs tolerably often, so he’s not just shoveling smoke.) Among other things, Stabilization Theory answers the argument that there isn’t enough time for ordinary genetic variation plus selection to yield the diversity of living things we see, as it involves whole buckets of variation entering populations at random intervals via succesful hybridization with other species.

    Jay, I am indeed. I’m not even that comfortable with mathematically smooth spirals.

    Chris, I have indeed encountered the people who insist that no matter how mature a technology is, dramatic breakthroughs are right around the corner just because we want them. Sigh…

    Chuaquin, I read The Phenomenon of Man for the first time forty years ago, and I’ve read it several times since. I find it intriguing but unsatisfactory, and not just because of its over-the-top teleology. I may have to deal with it in an essay sometime.

    Clark, the ten books I read over and over again most obsessively in childhood, and would encourage you to consider for your son and any future children, are (in no particular order):

    Norse Gods and Giants by the D’Aulaires
    The Hobbit (of course!) by J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
    The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (5 books)
    The Five Sons of King Pandu by Elizabeth Seeger
    The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

    All of them are well suited for reading aloud, a chapter at a time, to children — and that’s a habit I would very strongly encourage you to take up if you haven’t done so alread.

    Dennis, I was certainly impressed with Visser’s analysis. As for La De Da — er, excuse me, Adi Da — and the cultural creatives, well, yeah.

    Gassalasca, thank you for this. I’m familiar with Voegelin — I was introduced to him by one of my two main occult teachers, and will be revisiting Order and History as I proceed with the current project. (I’ve got to finish reviewing Barfield and Jean Gebser, and then make another pass through René Guénon, in order to get the current set of thoughts in order; then it’s on to Vico and beyond him to more interesting pastures.) Your comments about Hegel and the secular para-Christianities that unfolded out of his work are very much in keeping with one of the directions I plan on exploring, however, and have already done so to some extent in my book After Progress. I confess I’ve never looked at Barth — as I’m not a Christian, quite a bit of the literature has gone zooming past me, for obvious reasons.

    Tony, as Wilber himself has noted, nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time. I’m quite sure some of his ideas will turn out to be of value; I simply focused on one narrow element of his thought which bears on the theme I intend to develop.

    Murmuration, one of the things that interests me most in the Cosmic Doctrine and more generally in occult thought is the idea that the Divine also evolves, unfolding new aspects and manifestations of its own self-knowledge over time. As I see it, it’s not that the Divine needs to evolve — it’s that it chooses freely to evolve as part of the dance between creator and creation.

    Pyrrhus, to my mind that’s an exceedingly oversimplified, almost caricatured, description of natural selection. Among other things, selection pressures have been pushing for the last two billion years toward more efficient methods of generating beneficial mutations!

    Kfish, delighted to hear this.

    Dylan, glad to hear it. Yeah, I have an allergy toward simplistic notions of teleology. It gets complex when we factor in the awkward detail that time is one of the basic forms of human subjectivity, not a property of the objective universe — but within the world of representations, defined by space, time, and consciousness, one thing the world fails to present to us is any kind of linear teleology.

    Ashvin, no, I haven’t looked into that yet.

    Aldarion, oh, I know. I miss her presence in these discussions; may she be blessed.

    Ron, ha! If there were a church of Reformed Neanderthals anywhere near here I’d probably check it out, though I’d prefer the unreformed variety. More generally, yes, exactly. Keep in mind that “religious” also generally means that there are rules and teachings that you really do need to follow, while “spiritual” can and generally does mean doing whatever you like and calling it good. Of course there’s such a thing as too many rules and too much hidebound rigidity, but a spectrum consists of more than its two far ends, you know! As for the racial and cultural hierarchy hardwired into this kind of theory of “evolution,” well, yes — and yes, the Highland clearances came to my mind too. Greer is a MacGregor sept, so a bunch of my ancestors got chased out as “savages” a little ahead of most.

    Hackenschmidt, that’s only one of the stops on our itinerary, and since it’s one that I’ve discussed before, it’ll be a brief stop. The Punisher’s a TV series now? I recall when it was a comic-book plagiarism of Don Pendleton’s pulp-novel series The Executioner.

  114. Eh a snake in the grass i see! This serpent spiral imposed upon the tree is striking. I duly note the observations that as rituals evolve they become more complex as more is attached to them by generations of practioners. So I am trying to understand that a similar process has/is happening with this Tree of Life. There are so many ways of interfacing … layers of interfacing that this way of thinking provides to the student. I see how Wilber tried to layer his schema as well with giving triple meaning to the stages; albeit on a shallower scale.
    How sad, in a way, that at the end of our age the best of our Faustian thinkers elect to present to us disenchanted and linear versions of deeply rooted magical systems. All to embolden us that we are still evolving towards some supreme consciousness just beyond the latest buzzword, making safe the narrow straight path that closes in ever tighter.
    I think I won’t read his works past this article for now, I am too time constrained unfortunately.

  115. @Patricia Mathews #97
    Capital sins seems to me to be notion of not being in control of our instincts.
    For every capital sin there’s an instinct that we need to have: appetite for nurturing, sex for reproduction and relationship, fear for preventing damage, the realisation of being right for knowing which way is better, seeking equity for preventing opression. And our bodies reward us with ‘feeling good’ hormones when doing the ‘survival best fit’ thing. A serotonine jet. This drug can be addictive. Again, this is good when it helps us survive, and these insticts have served us well. That we are still alive as a species is a proof.
    But we know better, we know that insticts not always give the best answer to every threat, and we also know that being carried away by that gratification is a recipe for disaster.

    Thus, for preventing a sin you don’t need to avoid the instinct or the gratification that comes with it. I think you can enjoy your meal and still not fall into gluttony. In fact, I think it is sage to ‘use’ your instincts: for example they can tell you whether the food you are taking is good for you by the pleasure you are feeling (except when it contains added sugars), and it will help you to eat when you have to but are not feeling like doing it.

    What we need is to be observant of our feelings. If we notice ‘in time’ that we are satiated but we are still eating just because we are feeling good (a good survival instict when we don’t know if tomorrow we will find food again, but it is no longer the case), then we can ring the alarm and prevent it. If we are not observant, then we will feel bad once we are overstuffed and our health will suffer. God will not come to punish us for doing the sin: it’s us who are punishing ourselves by being carried away by our instincts and not letting our superior faculties take the reign.

  116. @Brunette Gardens

    I just thought about this yesterday! I can barely remember how to navigate unaided by gps, even though I’ve certainly done it for two decades or so. It’s staggering how quickly a set of skills can be forgotten and be replaced by reliance on technology!

    An early reminder of the perils involved occurred when car navigators where quite new and a friend of mine and I were driving home to Finland from Switzerland. We simply punched in the German port Puttgarden from where the ferries to Denmark depart and proceeded to blindly follow the navigator’s instructions, undeterred by the fact that we were clearly following a different route than when going the other direction. At two in the morning the road reached the Baltic sea, but we were definitely not at a ferry port. It turns out that in addition to Puttgarden, there is another small seaside town called Putgarten. We were in the latter, a stone’s throw away from Poland and a few hundred kilometers from the ferry!

  117. “the narrative structures of mythic thought aren’t a stage to be outgrown, they’re healthy and
    necessary elements of all human consciousness, just as much so as the discursive structures
    of rational thought”.

    I am barely halfway through reading Iain McGilchrist’s magnum opus The Matter with Things,
    but I dare say that his main argument rhymes very well with this!

    Regarding evolution: if I have understood my reading at all McGilchrist, interestingly, argues for
    some flavor of teleology, albeit decidedly not the linear, progressive, human-centric kind. As far
    as I understand, keeping with your house metaphor, he maintains that there must be a kind of
    house structure at play at the stage of variation as well. In this view random “point mutation”
    cannot account for the evolution of life as we see it unfold over a time scale of a billion years or
    so. He uses the example of the evolution of quaudrupedal animals and points out that a
    staggering number of simultaneous variations of just the right kind must occur for this kind of
    change to occur. (Not even mentioning the evolution of the eye, which has occurred
    independently some ten times here on earth!). For random point mutations to offer the option of
    quadrupedalism to the “selection house” it would, in other words, require a time scale of, perhaps, trillions instead of billions of years. I guess this view goes directly against Wolfram’s
    rather mechanistic take that the emergence of unfathomable complexity can be traced back to
    the application a few simple “rules” acting on atomistic “things”. (On the other hand, perhaps
    Wolfram’s approach is congruent with McGilchrist’s view that relations are ontologically more
    fundamental than relata?)

    Anyway, to reiterate: McGilchrist proposes that there must be “something” in the evolutionary
    process that allows very complex and “purposeful” variations to occur all at once, as opposed to
    them occurring as a serendipitous combination of entirely random independent variations.
    These variations are then introduced to the “selection house”.

    I may be misrepresenting his case here and I hope the book returns to the topic later. Overall I
    must say that The Matter with Things ranks among the most interesting works I have ever been
    exposed to and I highly recommend it. It is “magnum” also in the literal sense, as it comprises
    some 1500 pages in two volumes (including a bibliography of nearly 200 pages!), but well worth
    looking into in my opinion!

  118. IDK what “capital” sins might be, but the seven deadly sins are so designated because of the destruction they cause, to the sinner and to those around him or her–families, neighborhoods and even society in general. For just one example, consider the harm caused by gluttony, which includes addiction. I am not sure the notion set out in #124 above applies at all to the three cold-hearted sins, envy, avarice and pride.

    Clark, if I may, about books for children: might I suggest that, if possible, you pay attention not only to text, but to quality of illustration as well. When I was raising my girls, I rejected the works of a number of well known illustrators as just plain stupid. For young children, you might look for, Jamberry, the Magic Schoolbus series–the ones about hurricanes and the ocean are the best–and the edition of nursery rhymes illustrated by Kinuko Craft. All Craft’s children’s books are excellent, but IDK which might appeal to boys. My girls loved the I Spy picture books. For older kids, in addition to the ones mentioned by our host:
    The Trumpeter of Cracow
    Adam of the Road
    King of the Wind
    The Wind in the Willows–a man gifts this book to his nephew, and then adjusts his will accordingly, as A.A.Milne put it.
    and the outdoor adventure books by one Jack Kjelgard. If you can find a school or bookstore which still has a shelf of Newberry Award winners, you might look through it for books to appeal to your child. As with so much else these days, older is better; what I call the golden age of writing for children began in about the 1920s and went on to about the 1970s.

  119. JMG, Thank you so much. D’Aulaires and The Hobbit were both on my list (of course), but quite frankly I had only heard of The Last Unicorn and not at all of the others. I especially like that these books are not all contemporary. I deeply want him to come to see the world through many perspectives, and especially through an enchanted lens. I looking forward to getting to know these books together with my family. Thanks again.

  120. Ian, I wish that wasn’t the case either, but it’s a pervasive bad habit these days. Even in the occult community you get a lot of people insisting that magical traditions have to be dumbed down to fit the narrow limits of the modern mentality.

    Tommy, thanks for this. I haven’t read McGilchrist, he sounds at least interesting.

    Mary (if I may) Jim Kjelgard — now that’s a name I haven’t heard in ages upon ages. One of his novels, Swamp Cat, cheered a bleak summer for me. Thank you for calling back the memory.

    Clark, you’re most welcome. One other book I should have thought of for the list is Kate Seredy’s The White Stag — a Newbery award winner from long ago, recounting the Hungarian legends of the coming of Attila the Hun. It’s gorgeously illustrated, too.

  121. My personal view is that there is a Higher Power, but not someone who takes a close interest in our daily lives. I regard him as a sort of distant wealthy relative who lets one live one’s life as one wishes, but who might intercede in one’s life if asked, often in a way which one doesn’t expect.

    My favourite counter-example to intelligent design is found in the giraffe. The distance from the brain stem to the larynx is a couple of inches, but the nerve connecting the two organs can be up to 5 meters/16 feet long, depending how long the neck is. That is because the nerve travels from the brain stem, down the neck, around the aorta, back up the neck, and finally to the larynx.

    This makes no sense until you examine our very distant ancestors, the fishes (if you believe in evolution). There the nerve takes the shortest distance from the brain stem to the proto-larynx, as one might expect, which took it past the aorta. As the neck developed and the heart moved further from the mouth parts, the aorta had to remain close to the heart for hydraulic engineering reasons, but the nerve couldn’t break, so the nerve had to elongate.

  122. I would argue that the mystical also relates to the formless, inexplicable, the inner experience that bares real description. The mythical descriptions coming out of that experience in turn are more a trace of the experience, a reflection through the person experiencing the mystical who then tries to talk about that.

    That points to the assumption made in this blog: the inner “truth” is and remains incomprehensible, and all out human assumptions are merely traces of it, like photographs of some real thing, from various sides, at various places and times.

    Of course with varying degrees we all see continuity in our daily lives, things to rely on, sometimes reliable all during our own lifetime.
    But to assume that the ultimate, all encompassing description of everything is possible to describe in our available terms and modes of thought, and is as reliable and observable as our everyday experiences may be a fallacy.

    One avid Wilberian once answeder to my assumption of ending resources that this cannot be, because after all a regress to agrarian society will bring war back!

    All the while the highest developed societies have always brought a lot of war TO the agrarian societies. That means, regressing to an agrarian society bereaves one of the possible to out-develop war in one’s own backyard and conveniently outsource it to the less developed places in this world – as it is surely their fault or predicament due to their underdevelopment.

  123. @pyrrhus #113, if I may:

    Yes, meiotic recombination (in eukaryotes) and genetic exchange (in prokaryotes) does a much better job at joining two or more potentially advantageous changes in a single individual than mutation would be able to provide on its own.

    And sexual selection can be just as strong or even stronger than natural selection – just think of the peacock’s feathers or the birds of paradise. Blue eyes may be an example of sexual selection, though they are also partially linked with fair skin, which might be beneficial at high latitudes.

  124. The earliest books I remember making an impression on me as a child — that would have been in the 1940s and early 1950s — included Kipling’s Jungle Book, vols. 1-2, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island. All of them but Kipling had wonderful color illustrations by N. C. Wyeth. I also devoured the Nancy Drew mystery series (and The Hardy Boys books as well, though their plots were less appealing to me than the Nancy Drew ones). I was already in graduate school when The Hobbit first appeared in paperback in the 1960s, but I read it much as if I were still a child, with the same level of unsophisticated wonder. Lesser known titles that I loved as a child were the excellent The Aztec Treasure House (1890) by Janvier and The Mystery of the Spanish Cave (1936) by Household.

    Somewhere early on I also got a book of the old Norse myths, which were the first accounts of any Gods that I ever read. I had thought it was the book by the D’Aulaires, but I see that came out only as late as 1967, so it must have been some other, older book. Whatever book it was, it had illustrations.

    When I was a ‘teen, I discovered and devoured the many novels of H. Rider Haggard, Sax Rohmer, Talbot Mundy and Abraham Merritt — lost civilizations, occult mysteries,, secrets of old forgotten sciences, and so forth.

    As an aside:

    To all new fathers I recommend reading to your children often, starting when they are very young, and encouraging them to follow along on the page as you read. Don’t leave the love of reading to the schools; they may mess it up very badly. Here one size definitely doesn’t fit all children.

  125. @ Dylan #47

    “Darwin didn’t and couldn’t have taken into account what we now know about the complexity of DNA and the extremely long odds, over many, many reproductive steps, of producing a successful genetic adaptation.”

    Another (simpler) way of saying this would be that random genetic mutations have not proven to be a good fit for Darwin’s more general principle of “variability” – even though some noted scholars tried very hard to make that wrong size shoe fit.

    There are some scientists (eg. Lynn Margulis/ James Shapiro come to mind) who have suggested other processes as a better fit for Darwin’s “variability” element, but these tend to involve agency playing a role – which is heresy to the rational materialist faith which seized evolution as its dogma. Not, I might add, divine agency, but simply the agency of organisms playing a role in evolution through their living actions, choices and refusals.

  126. If I may begin with a restatement of a standing opinion I’ve expressed here before. To anyone who is young or new to esoteric teachings, this is an amazing opportunity for you to save time. This life or many, I have never seen so much offered so freely. While this opinion comes from nobody special, please consider it. Do not under value the information JMG offers because it is free.

    Adi Da – A 60s leftover who said, “come luxuriate in the contemplation of my being”. Expand your mind? Expand his 7 female herium and his expanding gut. Expanding wallets buy a Fiji island to avoid criminal prosecution. His devotes have a website and books of which to many I have read. Even Wilber called his God Man worship ‘guru theater’.

    Not to say La De Da, Wilber, Cohen, or many others who have experienced kensho as described by writers such as Thomas Cleary or Dr. Mark Dyczkowski (my personal favorite), haven’t experienced peak experiences that validate Kashmir Shiavism and Dzogchen philosophy. But, as Cohen’s own mother would attest, what of it? Did it change your heart? Even she denounced his actions and attitude. Adi Da complained that his disciples were not able to attain enlightenment. He was to busy screwing the most attractive females. Sorry, talk about expanding your mind, all I see is Da’s expanding gut. Not to mention his ego.

    JMG has offered many variants of esoteric tradition. Funny that few of us suspect that the most important parts of his offerings are the preliminaries that prepare to change our hearts. The magic and divination are only carrots to entice us. Forgive me if I am amiss on this, but as I remember, there is a line in the Lankavatara-sutra that says we are like a blind man or child walking towards a well but don’t see or believe it, so we must be told a story to lead us away for our own safety. But the story is just a story. The truth is really so much simpler, but we refuse to believe. No matter the religion, or the ritual, the truth is so much closer and simpler.

    Again, please accept my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your offerings JMG. Dennis G Boston MA. Trying to offer my patients heartfelt support in a corrupt and collapsing system.

  127. Hi John,

    What if the development of consciousness is a response to the development of technology? Humanity may not be progressing in a linear fashion, “transcending & including” previous innovations, but perhaps *technology* is.

    Integral would then chart humanity’s adaption to technological progress and it would be the telos of technology that gives rise to its linear stages.

  128. @info #53

    There may be some glimmers of hope to end the enchantment of the cult of ugliness! My eldest child is doing very nicely at a small, private, conservative university outside the United States studying architecture. The entire first year was compass, ruler, pencils and lots of erasers! No computers until the fundamentals are learned. She is deeply into our esteemed host’s Sacred Geometry Oracle and is planning on beginning the study work that goes along with it. Many of her classmates also see the sense in creating a more beautiful built environment that welcomes humans. Soon come!!

    SundaraYogaShala

  129. Ron M. (no. 118) “Yes, as far as I am concerned, the whole ‘structures of consciousness’ idea is racist garbage.”

    Theosophy (its likely source) has been accused of this, despite its Oriental themes–not only for the whole “root races” doctrine, but also for its depiction of, e.g. Australian Aborigines as laggard remnants of the previous root race. Most spiritual traditions have retrograde elements like this, which I see as part of the cost of being part of that tradition. Not that we have to perpetuate such things, but we do have to deal with them. (Sex abuse would be another example, affecting virtually every tradition.)

    The thing that struck me about the “structures of consciousness” in Wilber’s earlier books, is his enormous chutzpah in daring arrange the sages of the world in order of how high their understanding was, with Nagarjuna being placed above Jesus, for instance. The implication is that Wilber must be wiser than both, in order to be able to evaluate them thus.

    “…if it is mapping the evolution of consciousness of our species, how it can be that we have extant human societies dwelling in each structure in modern times?”

    Sounds like the old “if humans evolved from monkeys then how come there’s still monkeys?” problem!

  130. Martin, this is exactly why I find H.P. Lovecraft’s pantheon so irresistible. The Great Old Ones are serenely indifferent to us, most of the time; they have other things to occupy their interests, and only every so often happen to notice that we’re up to something, and insert a tentacle into our reality to do something about it. I find that both plausible and comforting!

    Curt, no argument there. The human brain is an eight-inch-long chunk of greasy gelatin; to claim that it can understand the ultimate purpose behind the entire cosmos is, I think, about as far as you can go into hubris.

    DennisG, when I was a lot younger and living in Seattle, there was a pretty large presence of Adi Da worshippers not far from where I lived, complete with headquarters and recruitment posters. The theme of the posters — “Why bother with your own spiritual development? Let Adi Da do it all for you!” — didn’t exactly impress me, but the thing I found weirdest was the body language of the people I saw who were into the Adi Da trip. They looked spastic, in the full medical sense of the word. Outside of nursing homes, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a group of people who looked so disconnected from their physical bodies and so disordered in their relation to physicality. It was spooky. As for kensho and vikalpa samadhi and peak experience, it’s perfectly possible to have one of those, or even several of them, and still end up deranged, or predatory, or a pompous ego-filled balloon. I think it was Robert Graves who suggested that taken on its own, the pursuit of that experience was merely the most refined form of solitary vice imaginable.

    LP, technology is simply a product of the human imagination; every machine was imagined before it was built. The telos of technology, furthermore, is given to it by the people who design it, fund it, and choose to make use of it; despite a vast amount of handwaving, technology has no inherent dynamic of its own (which is part of the reason why so much of it has become so shoddy and dysfunctional of late). Nor is technology progressing in a linear fashion; peak innovation, measured by such factors as genuinely novel patents, peaked in the 1880s and has been declining ever since, tracking the peak and decline of Western industrial civilization.

    Sundara (if I may), I’m delighted to hear this! Thank you; that really does make my day.

  131. Until recently new atheism evolutionary biologists still bemoaned the decline of science (but they still couldn’t admit that it was the chronic lack of valid new discoveries that contributed to academic indifference to merit)

    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2023/01/20/enforced-orthodoxy-in-texas-science-departments/

    ”There is absolutely no doubt that such initiatives turn the traditional system of academic success on its head. You no longer have to be a great scientist to get a job; you have to have a great track record in DEI. And absent that track record, your chance of getting a job, whatever your scientific accomplishments, is nil. Those who say that DEI and merit are not in conflict at all—and those who label initiatives as “inclusive excellence”—are fooling nobody.”

    Not to mention that this is only a DIE policy in Texas, if it is a “progressive state” DIE policy, it will only be more serious….

  132. Much respect to our host for his outstanding literary taste as a child!

    I’d like to second the recommendation of The Chronicles of Prydain and, in particular, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. The latter is dark, a bit scary and very, very exciting. And not only does it have maps; if you ever find yourself in east Cheshire, you can walk the elf-haunted landscapes yourself. I suspect that more than a few readers have made the pilgrimage to Alderley Edge in their time.

    Back in my younger years, I also very much enjoyed The Dark is Rising Sequence, a series of five books by Susan Cooper. It has, in a way, a similar feel to The Weirdstone, but is set in Cornwall, the Thames Valley and north-west Wales.

    The brew of folklore, magic and landscape served up by Garner and Cooper did something very profound and beneficial to my imagination as a young lad. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to read them.

    I was also a big fan of Roger Lancelyn Green’s retellings of myths and legends: Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Arthurian along with a bit of Robin Hood.

  133. @JMG

    Regarding the nature of history –

    There can be any number of arguments about the ‘nature of history’, both for and against the Progressivist view of history. However, all those are valid only so long as environmental factors aren’t incorporated into the analysis. The moment history is viewed the way Clive Ponting viewed it in his A New Green History of the World, all those arguments vanish into thin air, and the irrefutable conclusion that Spengler was right, stares one in the face. Somewhat interesting to see how Spengler’s central thesis about Progress being a myth and not a reality, was proved correct by the one field of history he didn’t incorporate into his analysis.

    Regarding evolution, just wanted to make two points –

    (a) One doesn’t need to endorse Creationism or Progress when it comes to evolution; evolution can be very well explained by way of dynamical systems theory, which accounts for both the genetic and paleontological evidence in favour of evolution as well as the arguments raised supporting teleological claims such as “…given that there are up to 3 million thermodynamically equivalent possible structures when it comes to protein folding, why do proteins fold in at most a handful of ways?”

    (b) If evolution means ‘Survival of the Fittest’, and is oriented towards Progress, why have cycads survived, but several fern and flowering plant families gone extinct? I mean, cycads are arguably older than even the dinosaurs, and definitely predate flowering plants, if not ferns as well.

  134. Hi JMG,
    This is a wonderful series of postings, and I am enjoying them very much!
    May I nominate your concept, “No human is nearly smart enough to grasp the Big Picture of the Universe” for ‘Best Transcendent Monomyth?’ — I’m not sure it _is_ a monomyth, but I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it, and I thank you for putting it out there.

    I had a 21-year-old ask me this week, “What is the meaning of life?”
    I eventually replied, “I don’t know, but it’s probably something like, ‘To increase the beauty of the universe.'”
    A commonly asked question, it carries the assumption that there is _the_ meaning of life–a single great goal and only one way to get there, defined by the one teleology. Better to admit we don’t know the whole story, and may not be smart enough ever to know. It surprised me that admitting this to myself left me with more enjoyment of the the wonders of the world around us. 😉

    It’s been 20 years since Thomas Campbell wrote his trilogy, “My Big TOE (Theory Of Everything) Unifying Philosophy, Physics and Metaphysics.”
    Does anyone know if he ever got together with Ken Wilber?

  135. this vaguely reminds me of freud’s oral, anal and genital stages
    those didn’t really stand the test of time either

  136. @Justin Patrick Moore
    Thank you for the Wolfram link. It looks fascinating.
    @John Michael Greer
    I appreciate your presentation of Wilber’s ideas in a way that seems fair to me. It would have been easy to strawman him, but of course not nearly as useful.
    I stumbled upon Ken Wilber’s writings in the mid-1980s. At that point, I felt divided in two. I had what I knew from ordinary life and from much studying on the one hand and on the other hand, I had what I knew from experiences in a spiritual movement that had just spectacularly collapsed. Wilber’s writings helped me connect the two pieces and I remain grateful to him for that. He also more generally played a significant role in establishing the legitimacy of intellectual study in some wings of the new spirituality that arose from The Sixties. That was no small accomplishment. (The spectacular collapse above was due to a considerable degree to well educated folks turning off their intellects in order to develop other aspects of themselves (a good thing), but then leaving them turned off (a disaster).)
    I met Ken one evening at his home in Boulder in the early 1990s, a bit before he launched Integral. He was clearly extremely bright and highly dedicated to his intellectual craft. I also sensed that he had actually experienced the meditative states that he wrote about. In those days, he presented himself as an author and specifically not a spiritual teacher (pandit not guru), so that was new information for me.
    I wonder if he and everyone else would have been better off if he had never stepped into the guru role. In fairness, many people begged him to do so, but the guru role is just a modern One Ring. It takes a hobbit or a uniquely moral man to resist its blandishments. If Ken Wilber had followed the lead of Gandalf or Galadriel, perhaps he would have developed past enthrallment to the shadow myth of progress, perhaps he would have escaped the egoic trap of being the beyond-ego-ist dude on the block.
    In the 2000s, I participated in a spiritual community/practice based on a room of up to a few dozen people collectively role playing various egoic and beyond-egoic states. This did not seem that it should work. Experienced meditators who heard about it were uniformly sceptical. But to a remarkable degree it did work. As experienced meditators who tried it attested.
    Once the community/practice achieved a certain fame in certain circles, many Integralistas came by. A few were wonderful, but many seemed unable to take on roles outside of the range one would expect of the kind of wishy-washy liberalism common to many new spiritualities.
    On election day 2004, we did the voice of Republicans and of Democrats. The ability of folks mostly of the left to sincerely do the voice of Republicans was a fascinating acid test. By the way, the test of whether one is really doing the voice of Republicans is that if real Republicans hear you, they should nod in agreement, not recoil in horror. In Wilber’s teaching, and I agree with this, someone who is able to adopt the viewpoint of others, to see what they see, even when it is quite different from their own views, is in that sense more developed. The inability of anti-Brexit and anti-Trump forces, at least the publically most visible ones, to understand what Brexit and Trump supporters want, the lack of even an effort to try, was a disappointing eye-opener for me.
    Many of the Integralistas seemed to come to us just to get another notch on their belt, to rack up another merit badge, and did not go deep enough to really get what we were doing.
    One of the experiences that stayed with me was the day that two nuns came by and we role-played from the perspective that there is a creator god separate from the god’s creation. This was alien to our normal perspective. I expected that their perspective would turn out in some way to be reducible to ours and I assumed that they saw our perspective as in some way reducible to theirs, for example as good but lacking a connection with God and his grace. I was surprised to find that their perspective was just different. It felt valid in its own right. The Zen master who facilitated the session said he had a similar experience.
    I came to notice that Wilber and Integral had assimilated psychological ideas well (so many of them are therapists of one kind of another after all), but their ideas on sociology and politics were quite primitive. They treated the social level as though it were just a collection of individuals without its own structures and rules. This would be like trying to do chemistry using only the laws of physics. Given the whole Great Chain of Being aspect, such omission required active un-knowing.
    For example, Ken Wilber and Integral, at least then, had never looked at the question of where they came from and why and why here and why now. Their place as part of a broad emergence of new spiritualities in the post-WW2 first world was not at all hard to see nor was the membership of Integral being overwhelmingly highly educated professionals and aspirants. These facts do not in any way disqualify Integral, but its unwillingness to see them was not a healthy sign.
    I eventually came to see Ken Wilber and Integral as a specific form of professional managerial class ideology, a quite pro-status quo one at that. At its root, Integral aspires to run the current system but more humanely. Reformers waiting in the wings.
    I didn’t think that there was a serious thirst for that kind of power. It is more about individual careers, but Ken’s and Integral’s position as fundamentally not challenging the status quo creates certain blinders.
    Although I read everything of Ken Wilbers up to and including A Brief History of Everything, I have had only the most glancing contact with his writing or Integral for over a decade now, so some of what I have written here might be out of date.

  137. Shorn of the weight of the Chain of Being, I think the concept of the pre/trans fallacy is quite useful. Whenever there is a series of steps that a significant number of people go through in their personal development, those at any given step will often confuse those a step beyond them with those a step behind them. No broader teleology is required here and this series of steps need not be universal, just shared widely enough.
    One example is the way that many in the 1960s confused people who had not developed the willingness/capacity to comply with basic rules (pre-law) with those who had developed that capacity to the point that they were oriented more toward the spirit of the law (post-law). This confusion worked both ways, with higher morality being imputed to folks who had hardly any at all, but a complete lack of morality being imputed to folks who were genuinely operating from a higher morality. (There was also no shortage of people who claimed to be operating from higher morality but were actually doing the opposite.)
    Another is a sequence on the US left. Many people had their political views changed greatly by what they saw as a stupid or evil US war in Iraq. Many of them went through a sequence of first believing that the Democratic Party was a solution, then during the Obama administration coming to see the Democrats as a problem not a solution. Many of those who remained in the stage of “if only we elected enough Democrats, then goodness” saw those who had gone beyond that stage as having fallen back into some kind of right-wing awfulness.
    (Of course, not all such claims from liberals are sincere, but I believe that the reason the “you’ve gone right-wing” attack works so well among liberals is that many sincerely do believe that those who went beyond trusting Obama (or Hillary, etc.) have reverted to some prior state of political ignorance.)

  138. I can see from this Wilbur and the Arc of Civilizations one interesting thing: right now they can’t figure out anything because they must include everything. Look at it like this:

    In the early history of a culture, they have nearly no information and relatively it is no data but all structure, the paradigm and worldview we hang the facts on. Whether this is religion, custom, or whatever, this is where an early culture begins, like the frontier where a man might be literate but own only one or two books. If that paradigm is “evolutionary advantageous” so to speak, they leverage their data and culture’s framework into physical power, that is, power to transform the physical. Otherwise history wouldn’t bother to record them. At this point, they have the wealth, reach, and ability to gain much more information yet the cultural paradigm didn’t collapse (it could) and can still contain everything known. They grow.

    At last if they live long enough and become powerful enough, they have the physical ability to buy in all knowledge and teach it widely. Things that happened in Mongolia, events from 100,000 years ago, data about charges in quantum space. Now they have only reverse proportion: they have all data and little framework, little more than the thin frontier framework they had before, and the culture breaks down. No one paradigm is going to be able to contain a “narrative” about everything: the while universe and God himself.

    The culture therefore becomes directionless, goes different ways at once, and things don’t fit and adhere. The thought leaders are discredited for all their not knowing. It gradually dissolves under the weight of too MUCH knowledge, that is, raw data, instead of too little. The culture that can’t digest this doesn’t adhere to any “One thing” and there is no longer an “Us”, a culture at all. It then fragments, and with the fragmenting, loses critical efficiencies of scale as we see in Tainter. The infrastructure they can no longer widely agree on eats their energetic lunch and the splintered divisions “collapse”, that is, in complexity. This ratchets them down to a far lower level than anyone desired or intended, and knowledge, that is “Data” is lost. Eventually they have little data again but the same size framework, but a new structure, religion, culture, paradigm to hang it on and the whole thing starts again.

    We know cultures do attack themselves and dissolve at the top, but this would explain why they must. Why they can’t hold together and go to the stars, for instance.

  139. J.L.Mc12, yes, I just heard about that yesterday. His end of the occult spectrum was very far from mine, but I know he was well respected in that part of the field.

    林龜儒, that’s really funny. Of course they also can’t admit that what has them riled up is that it’s not their rigidly dogmatic orthodoxy that’s being used to weed out those who won’t toe the line — no, it’s a different rigidly dogmatic orthodoxy.

    Owain, the only reason I didn’t include The Dark is Rising and its sequels is the final book, Silver on the Tree. I hated that book with an incandescent passion — well, to be frank, I hated all the kid’s novels (and there were a lot of them) that ended with “now, now, dear, it’s time to put all that magical stuff away, grow up, and blindly accept consensus reality.” My enjoyment of the first four books and my detestation of the last played a significant role in inspiring the way I handled the conclusion of the otherwise rather similar narrative in The Weird of Hali.

    Viduraawakened, three solid points! First, yes, Ponting’s book (in either of its editions) is a fine corrective to hubristic notions of history; second, yes, and that kind of teleological argument also has stupid written all over it — once a particular pattern of protein folding gets discovered by chance and becomes fundamental to evolving organisms, that’s going to remain in place thereafter, since finding new ones will always be more expensive in evolutionary terms than adapting what already works; and third, yes, exactly — cycads thrive, and so do blue-green algae and other exceedingly ancient prokaryotes, because they’re very good at what they do and nothing else has been able to outcompete them in their niches.

    Emmanuel, you may indeed. I field questions like the 21-year-old’s tolerably often, and my answer’s a little different: basically, life doesn’t give you a meaning. If you want your life to have a meaning, decide what you want the meaning to be, and then get out there and act accordingly.

    Adrian, an excellent comparison! I like to think that there’s also a nasal stage in there somewhere — you know, the one where kids want to stick their noses into everything. Nosy people could then be described as nasal-compulsive, or what have you. 😉

    Jessica, many thanks for this perspective! I encountered Wilber’s work fairly late — my interest in alternative spirituality has always focused on occultism, which he disparaged — and so don’t have that sort of insider’s view of things. The role of his ideas as a managerial-class ideology doesn’t surprise me at all, but again, I didn’t have much of any contact with his circles. As for the pre/trans argument, interesting; as I noted in my post, it certainly works as a critique of Wilber’s understanding of evolution: he thinks he’s gone beyond Darwin, when he’s actually stuck in a pre-Darwinian understanding.

    Jasper, that’s a fascinating and very plausible hypothesis — and one that I’m going to want to brood about. You’ve identified a factor in the intellectual collapse of civilizations that I hadn’t taken into account at all, so thank you.

  140. Brian #69:

    While man may be finite, as we connect with God we touch the infinite.

    Nature, or, as I call it, the Universal Being, is infinite.

    I also have been understanding the bible recently, in particular Genesis.

    Orion

  141. @Jasper

    “The culture therefore becomes directionless, goes different ways at once, and things don’t fit and adhere..”

    This is a fascinating and well detailed observation! This helps explain why society seems so disjointed presently, kinda like a poorly maintained jalopy.

    Thanks for bringing some validation and agency around this yearning to wipe the slate clean, start all over again ect.
    Also useful in forgiving behavior oriented towards destruction of culture.

  142. Something I personally have trouble understanding is why Christianity became so mono focused. Why did the Great Chain of Being come out of Christian philosophy?

    I am reading Manly P Hall and he outlines how Christian philosophy first came as a refutation of pagan and then a justification of itself pre and post Nicene. Is this a result of changing political and civilizational structures? It just seems like an odd philosophy to come out centered on a poor man from Nazareth who was in the historical memory at the time.

  143. In light of this from “Isis Unveiled,” the following and my comment: “According to the kabalistic doctrine, the future exists in the astral light in embryo, as the present existed in embryo in the past. While man is free to act as he pleases, the manner in which he will act was foreknown from all time; not on the ground of fatalism or destiny, but simply on the principle of universal, unchangeable harmony; and, as it may be fore known that, when a musical note is struck, its vibrations will not, and cannot change into those of another note. Besides, eternity can have neither past nor future, but only the present; as boundless space, in its strictly literal sense, can have neither distant nor proximate places. Our conceptions, limited to the narrow area of our experience, attempt to fit if not an end, at least a beginning of time and space; but neither of these exists in reality; for in such case time would not be eternal, nor space boundless. The past no more exists than the future, as we have said, only our memories survive; and our memories are but the glimpses that we catch of the reflections of this past in the currents of the astral light, as the psychometer catches them from the astral emanations of the object held by him.”

    My collage has come to teach me something funny. It leads me to understand that the past does not build the future, but that the future “requires” the past. All the causal chains align to build it as it requires.

    From the outset I’d put a piece into what may have seemed a random position, but then over time all the required pieces fell into place, some positions requiring a dozen layers to get the correct piece in place. Conversely, pieces would align from several directions leaving an opening yearning to be filled. Often that day the piece would arrive. I’ve long used the account of a hand reaching out to nowhere, then being met exactly, hand to hand, by a piece falling exactly into place.

    Over the years I challenged the concept of destiny versus free will, and I’ve come down firmly with destiny (or- on the principle of universal, unchangeable harmony) as reality. Take the image of a sphere, and that sphere contains the entire past, present and future of our world and all of our experiences. It would be like a crystal that is plugged into life, like an entire movie on one DVD. Our experience of it runs like an arrow shot through, the one way arrow of time. And I’ve questioned many times where would I most want/rather be, and it is always right here, right now.

    So I have faith that my place in this universe, this sphere, is perfect in the Gods or God’s will. But that brings up the question of Magic, which I have been studying. Can I purposefully determine even small aspects of my future, with all the various causal chains aligning into it perfectly? It’s a scary thought, actually. If the Gods’ destiny for me is already perfection, couldn’t/wouldn’t I just foul it up? I am swayed by my desires and emotions and if I sought to fulfill them that may lead me into lifetimes of regret trying to recover my innocence, the innocence of faith in my destiny.

    This is what we are exploring, here, now.

  144. Bei Dawei (#138): interesting re: Theosophy’s ‘take’ on Australian Aborigines. I am generally familiar with Theosophy’s main tenets but have never been able to stomach Blavatsky’s books. Interestingly, the Australian journalist-turned-occult-author Howard Murphet (whom I am sure was quite familiar with Theosophy) once wrote that the Australian Aborigines are a modern-day example of what people in the Krita Yuga (“golden age” of Hinduism’s cycle of four yugas) were like: possessing extremely little materially and technologically but spiritually highly elevated!

    Re: the co-existence of peoples at all levels in the structure of consciousness, perhaps Wilber explains this (I have not read him), so maybe I was assuming that he was behind the whole new-age concept of “quantum leaps of human consciousness” (which, of course, is going to happen any day now, just like the Rapture is going to happen any day now… sigh).

  145. @Darkest Yorkshire #149

    Thanks! Hands-on is where it’s at for learning everything. Last semester the architecture students learned how to properly mix concrete and spent a day every week exploring a different construction site along with geometry, physics and history classes, refining their free-hand drawing and learning about wiring and plumbing. Useful stuff!

  146. Spot on with your arguments on teleology! I also appreciate how you explained evolution.
    I’m not familiar with Ken Wilber, but he seems to be one of those “hip” intellectuals of the New Age movement, it’s really fun and curious to study this current, even though most of its latter exponents are embarrassingly ignorant and cringeworthy; but one wants to understand. I’m also reminded of a book which I read some of its pages and left it out eventually, called the Voice of Venus by Ernest L. Norman, even though it was published in the early days of the movement but it depicts this strange “artificiality” and progressive cloak it always had.

    It’s interesting to dive in how the Medieval and Renaissance sages and philosophers defined the spiritual and magical as a science and took that very seriously, we would’ve not got the Qabalistic or Enochian systems if that didn’t happen. Yet sadly we see these fields of knowledge brushed aside as mythical if not superstitious, few know how deeply connected science is to magic, it’s math and some of those who knew about its secrets took advantage of it.

    “The fact that evolutionary breakthroughs do sometimes occur does not mean that they will show up on request.”

    Brilliant.

  147. Trouble with Theories of Everything is that you have to keep adding to the Theory of Everything when things turn out differently, which makes the original Theory of Everything turn out to be a Theory of Everything Apart From The Bits That Don’t Fit . His essay on why Donald Trump was elected is an example. Or that his mentor turned out to be a “bit underdeveloped” on the “keep your hands where I can see them” line of development.
    I think the spiral is upside down anyway. Each “level” makes Gaia sicker, and people more insane. I wanna non-return ticket back to the Mythic/hunter-gatherer stage please, Ken.

  148. @jasper

    If you scale something too big it breaks down? I’d say that’s almost a law of nature. You never see a tree growing to the sky, for instance. At some point the tree says to itself “I’m big enough” and stops growing. Some trees can last for centuries in a steady state like that.

    Try telling the lords and masters of the economy that perhaps they should stop growing. Wear protective clothing though, you might get singed.

    It seems the only way they know of cycling through anything is to ramp up in a linear fashion and then have it all collapse back down in a straight line too. And endless sawtooth pattern.

  149. Robert Mathiesen,

    Many years back I believe you mentioned that you were working on a short book or pamphlet about how to effectively teach reading to one’s own children, based on your own experiences. I am curious if you ever finished writing it? I am still interested in reading it if so, especially as I am now a father to two young girls.

  150. Ken Wilber really does not have an original philosophy – he just riffs on Gebser’s idea of a teleological advance in human culture and Clare Graves’ idea of the same. The fact that Don Beck (co-author of Spiral Dynamics) was one of the pundits in charge of the handover of power in South Africa in the 90s says it all. What do these people know?
    When I first read Wilber in the 1990s I was very impressed. Certainly he mapped out the changes in consciousness from primitive to riverine to classical to pre-modern to modern to post-modern pretty well. Any one who has raised a child (or taught them) knows that children move along an age-determinant spectrum of abilities. Piaget covered all of this.
    The problem I have with him is his teleological view: because Sri Auribindo said this is supposed to be the next step, then it must be. Please.
    He cannot explain why we seem to be stuck in the “Mean-Green-Meme” for forty years with no way out. Since he started the Integral Institute, he seems to have deteriorated in many ways (in his last video he was wearing a ridiculous wig).
    So sad when people have to stick with their theories over what reality is evidencing.

  151. @cobo

    ” If the Gods’ destiny for me is already perfection, couldn’t/wouldn’t I just foul it up? ”

    Maybe not. “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”

    Or so I like to think.

  152. Hi John Michael,

    Apologies, this is way off topic, but relates to my recent renewable energy troubles which I mentioned above. The stuff makes no economic sense…

    Sun Cable demise shows renewable energy mega projects ‘really hard’

    It boggles my mind how much mad cash my off grid power system has consumed. Bonkers, but for me it is something of a hobby, and a personal challenge. The economics never entered the story, that’s rare though… Apparently, even the uber wealthy don’t have my attitude. That alone speaks volumes as to the gritty realities. And scale multiplies the issues I face. Oh yeah. Crazy stuff, huh?

    Cheers

    Chris

  153. Seems like there’s a little bit of a direction of evolution, associated with some systems discovering how to reap benefits from returns to scale from coordination and specialization. Things like microbial mats, and proper not-just-a-sponge multicellularity with organs and stuff, and neural control systems, and mychorrhiziae, and eusocial insects, and reflective intelligence, and village economics, and law enforcement, and trade networks, and imperial grain-based weather risk buffering, and domestication, and open-society norms separating the roles of “truthseeker” and “aristocrat”.

    But mostly only a little bit, because a lot of that ends up stuck in a restricted niche (like lichen fungus/photosynthetic microbe symbiosis), or ends up with the context it depended on ceasing to exist, or ends up accumulating scleroses or evolving parasites that scale faster with the system size and age than the development of countermeasures does. The direction of evolution would come from the situations where the system that the big structural innovation is attached to nonetheless manages to survive, reproduce, diversify, and adaptively radiate.

    It’s hard to put this direction on a linear scale since there are so many different aspects of a system that you could potentially reorganize to get the returns to scale.

    I haven’t read the book “Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny”, but I’ve heard that it’s partly about some aspects of this direction of evolution.

    I don’t think it’s hubris to have the more modest hope that a brain, or a system of brains with coordination and specialization, would be able to understand or model whatever part of the universe it is that isn’t itself particularly trying to be hard to understand and that isn’t itself trying to understand or model anything. Systems that aren’t trying to be hard to understand, and that aren’t “bioaccumulating” incomprehensibility from any other parts of the universe they’re trying to respond to, tend to have a lot of redundancy and recurring features. That often makes it easier to study some small part of the system and learn things that tell you a lot of what you would have learned by studying other parts — that is, things that largely predict those other parts — even if the system is astronomically bigger than the small part you studied. Even Wolfram’s computationally universal systems, though they cannot be predicted in detail, would need to be run for a long time before they could develop the kind of “life” that purposefully tried to maintain and propagate itself. Up until something like life emerges, it’s entirely correct to predict the regularity that the stereotypical patterns from the system’s pre-life history would keep repeating themselves over and over everywhere, just with unpredictable but mostly pointless minor variations. (Until the minor variation that accidentally generates life. The other ones aren’t entirely pointless because they statistically set the stage for that.) No matter how confused we are about difficult things like a microbe’s physiological responses, or about our own nature as thinking beings, or about any more general cosmological situation, we did manage to unearth regularities like the Standard Model and general relativity and evolutionary theory and hierarchical Bayesian models.

    So, correspondingly, maybe it’s possible to reasonably speculate about future evolution in at least these general respects, identifying broad patterns and laying out possibilities.

    I think that certain ideas related to all of this are how I would try to build out a personal version of the Spiral Dynamics level whose shorthand is “Yellow”. After some unknown refinements related to subjectivity, computational universality, and interactions between representations and possibilities, I could see a level that could be an option after “Turquoise”. But there’s a lot of psychological praxis and culture that this would require which, in my experience, hasn’t been invented yet.

    The non-Wilber Spiral Dynamics people are careful not to talk about the levels as particularly narrowed down empirically past Turquoise, nor as particularly known to be linear past that point. See https://www.spiral-dynamics.com/faq_levels.htm#05 :

    “Dr. Graves’s theory and the Spiral model are open-ended processes. There is no final state or top of the Spiral, no stage of completeness or perfection for human nature. Turquoise is the current edge of Graves-based data[…]

    This is not a Spiral toward spiritual revelation and transcendent being as some would wish. The Spiral opens up and widens; it does not focus down to a pinnacle or finish. The “future” from each level is the next in the sequence; each is more expansive because it adds something to those which come before. The future for the Spiral is the passage to more and more systems in the human repertoire. Unless we do something incredibly stupid or a cosmic accident occurs, the process will continue for a long, long time.”

  154. Re: Silver on the Tree

    I managed to brush off the rather unsatisfactory ending because I still had such a residual buzz from the story up to that point. A source of much greater youthful outrage for me was the older children not being allowed back into Narnia (unless they were dead, as it turned out) because it was time for them to grow up (not in that way, Susan – tough luck).

    Incidentally, it was the afterword to The Moon of Gomrath (the sequel, of course, to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen) that originally pointed me in the direction of The Old Straight Track and The White Goddess. It also contained the tantalising line: ‘The spells are genuine (though incomplete : just in case’. Very heady stuff. Is there anything comparable these days?

  155. OT: Kaiser on the ruin of academia, wokeness, and the vast surplus of university graduates in the ’60s and ’70s. http://historyunfolding.blogspot.com/2023/01/ideology-identity-careerism.html

    Personal side note: I note I once could have cc’d my online friend of longstanding with this, but realize it I did so today, she’d irritably dismiss it with “Kaiser’s a Republican.” Like many with battle scars from the bad old days, she sees misogyny everywhere, even now, and locates if firmly on the other side of the partisan divide. OTH, upon me sending her the graphic novel “Ten Billion Years,” her only comment was the lament “Why does he hate space travel?” Shakes head sadly.

  156. Hello Mr. Greer,

    I thought you might want to hear about Rupert Sheldrake’s banned Ted Talk exposing scientific dogma. He gave a 17 minute lecture about the 10 materialistic assumptions of science and exposed several key flaws in them, including the extreme bias towards the idea of universal constants and arguments for how conscious advancement in one member of a species affects learning in similar members. If you follow his train of thought its obvious how one could give a rational foundation for a variety of things like astrology, telepathy, and so on. The Ted talk was then banned with the disclaimer that Ted Talks did not want to advance pseudoscience…

    Check it out if you have the time and inclination towards visual media.

  157. If evolution is not “teleological” then how can it be compatible with the idea of god, who would be assumed to have a purpose and plan? If god created the constraints so as to create the outcome, then any combination of god and evolution must be teleological.

  158. Funny how these schemes all seem to end up with humanity at the top of the pyramid. I bet if you had to ask a starfish its opinion, it would be able to prove that starfish were the pinnacle of evolution, and humans were some trashy species on the fringes.

    When you invent the standards by which things are judged, it is only natural to skew them to favor yourself.

  159. To expand a bit about the ideas about which Jaspers wrote, it occurred to me that the limits for civilizational complexity, which he discussed, are also one of the factors why there are no super-civilizations known to us; a civilization would splinter in separate parts due to the loss of cultural congruity before it even could try to tap the energy of entire stars or similar things.

  160. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” and subsequent works, the Supreme Being is a multidimensional being whose 3-D aspect is white laboratory mice. The limitations of knowledge are also explored in various ways in that series. 42.

    As for me, I’ve come to the conclusion that the last dinosaurs (to wit, all birds) are in cahoots with fungi and bacteria (without which there would be no life on earth) and similarly “primitive” phenomena not all of which are entirely congruent with our 3D experience, and that, as some including our host have suggested, they may have decided to use human rapaciousness to ensure that there should be no more extended ice ages for a while. And despite our pretentions to overlordship, humans are quite possibly an epiphenomenon (i.e., an incidental side effect) of those inscrutable intentions.

    Or, as someone quite respectable (I forget who) once said (my paraphrase): “the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we CAN imagine.”

    I’ve always found theories of everything to be enjoyable intellectual ice cream sundaes, but they ultimately fail under their own weight. And to be clear, the Madhyamika reasonings of Mahayana Buddhism RELY on that fact to point out the futility of such endeavors. How people can take a snippet of various Buddhisms to “reveal” just how enlightened THEY are and how far the rest of us have to go is simply evidence to me that they haven’t understood it at all, even slightly.

    Over the decades of my life I have run across people who talk about how, since tathagatagarbha (buddha mind) is already enlightened, all they need to do is “rest in the view” (usually means: do nothing at all) and everything will turn out roses and unicorns. It’s a lazy man’s enlightenment, if it’s anything at all.

    I’ve run across a few really highly achieved persons who would never claim anything for themselves along those lines, while saying exactly that sort of thing in general. Probably because one of the paradoxes of realization is that the harder you chase it the farther away it is, but if you never chase it, you’ll never get to it either. Zeno’s paradox is a Western exemplar. As with the string on a musical instrument: too tight and it snaps, too loose and it won’t make music. Humility is a great cure, and making Rudra-ego into a god is the most-to-be avoided aspect of the whole program.

    There’s a whole aspect of Tibetan Vajrayana relating to Dzogs-Chen that uses all sorts of paradoxical “you’re already there” encouragements of that sort. Zen, too. However, I’ve noticed that even among those schools, there’s no lack of highly accomplished people who claim nothing for themselves, who work diligently and with great energy to practice their “nothing at all” in multiple aspects, and who also quite diligently exercise effort in the arena of morality and everyday common sense.

    Or, to quote an old Zen koan: “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” Which can mean all sorts of things. Just the testimony of an old flea-covered dog, who can assure you he’s not enlightened!

  161. Clarke aka Gwydion said: (#171)
    “In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide” and subsequent works, the Supreme Being is a multidimensional being whose 3-D aspect is white laboratory mice.”

    That image is very fun! Why mice and not other animal species?

  162. Booklover #170: You’re talking about one possible answer to the Fermi Paradox…where are the aliens?
    https://www.space.com/25325-fermi-paradox.html
    Maybe there are aliens, but their technological level never last very long…I agree with you. I remember a similar answer in Mr. Greer’s Stars Reach, if you have read it.

  163. Stephen DeRose #167,
    I’m happy to see that Rupert Sheldrake keeps on being active nowadays, thank you for the link to this provocative scientist and thinker!
    By luck for me, I don’t have the problem with videos that JMG has, so I’ll watch it.

  164. Danielle, in a very important sense Christianity wasn’t the refutation of Greek thinking, it was the fulfillment of trends that had been building in Greek intellectual circles for centuries. Already by the time of the Presocratics you see movements toward monotheism, toward morality as the foundation of religious thought, and toward a profound pessimism about sexuality and embodiment. The religious movement set in motion by Paul of Tarsus, who redefined a small Jewish heresy in terms that made sense to the Hellenistic world, became the most significant vehicle for those ideas because it took them and gave them a symbolic and devotional form that the masses could grasp.

    Cobo, it’s quite common for philosophically literate mages to get themselves tied into knots about the whole issue of predestination vs. will. If everything is predestined by a universal harmony, doesn’t that also include your desires and emotions? Might they not be the means by which the gods induce you to complete some part of the pattern?

    Aziz, good gravy, you’ve encountered Ernest L. Norman? I’m impressed. He and his wife Ruth “Spaceship Ruthie” Norman founded one of the giddiest of the UFO religions here in the US, the Unarius Academy, and wrote some exceptionally weird books. Wilber is at least superficially more respectable than that — but you’re quite correct, of course, that there’s a common current uniting them.

    Benn, now imagine the straight line up the center of that spiral as a small section of a sine wave, or of a circle…

    Allison, it’s precisely the “mean green meme” that shows where Wilber’s theory, and the Spiral Dynamics theory as well, breaks down. It’s not some intrusive “Boomeritis,” it’s the natural next step in the process to date, and it leads to other steps that don’t go where Wilber thinks the future is supposed to go. No wonder he’s fraying.

    Chris, ha! Thanks for this. Reality begins to seep in…

    Anonymous, but at the same time you have other systems and organisms that are simplifying, unspecializing, and discoordinating. Identifying one trend as the direction of evolution and pretending that opposing trends don’t matter is the classic flaw in teleological versions of evolution. That’s the supreme flaw in the Spiral Dynamics system — it doesn’t deal with the simple reality that complexity is constantly being lost as well as gained, and there’s no need for incredible stupidity or a cosmic accident to bring things back down to lower levels. That happens naturally, as an inevitable part of the process.

    Owain D., very likely Silver on the Tree was such a bitter disappointment to me because I had to wait for it. When I started reading the series, Greenwitch had just come out; I waited eagerly for The Grey King, and of course I adored it; then more time passed — and thud. Anticipation = disappointment. Narnia — well, yes; I found The Last Battle sickening, in that Lewis decided it was time to crank the Christian allegory up so loud I could no longer ignore it, and the whole thing didn’t hold my interest very deeply, though Lewis’ adult novels were (and are) another matter; he would have done better if, like Tolkien, he’d had children and tried his stories out on an eager and critical audience of kids. The Moon of Gomrath was of course a delight; I’d found the books in question by the time I read it, but it was pleasant to meet old friends. As for books like that now? I wish. I’ve got a series of occult mystery novels in the works that might do something of the sort in their own genre, but I didn’t have the chance to raise kids of my own and don’t feel especially confident about my ability to write for them.

    Patricia M, hmm! Many thanks for this. Your friend’s retort would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

    Stephen, if you can find me a transcript I’d love to read it, but I dislike visual media.

    DT, you’re making a lot of assumptions here. Must gods have purposes and plans? Must we have an important role in them? What if H.P. Lovecraft was right, and the Great Old Ones who created the cosmos aren’t obsessively interested in the fate of the worlds and lives they brought into being?

    Martin, ha! An excellent point.

    Booklover, also an excellent point.

    Clarke, and a third excellent point. It’s pure human egotism to assume that we’re somehow more important to the evolutionary process than starfish or small dinosaurs or blue-green algae. As for inept Western Buddhism, emphatically. It’s really quite impressive, in a dismal way, how many people in the West can miss the entire point of Buddhist teachings while claiming to embrace them. (Or Hindu teachings. I’m rereading Owen Barfield right now, and his pigheaded ignorance when it comes to Hindu writings is really embarrassing — especially since his entire thesis depends on that ignorance.)

  165. JMG wrote, “It’s really quite impressive, in a dismal way, how many people in the West can miss the entire point of Buddhist teachings while claiming to embrace them.”

    Could you please elaborate a bit on this point? I’d like to know more about what you mean here.

    Thanks,
    Jacques

  166. Chuaquin – “Why white mice?” as manifestations of higher-beings, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? As I recall the explanation, it went something like this:
    “The ‘mice’ have been running experiments on humans for a long time.”
    “Ridiculous! We’re the ones running the experiments, on the mice!”
    “Really? Why do we use mice for experiments? Do we care about mice?”
    “Not really, but we … um … generalize, from their behaviour … to … our … own.”
    “So, the experiments ARE designed to discover things about humans, right?”
    “Well, yes.”
    “And you assume that only humans want to know about humans?”
    “Maybe not. But why do the ‘mice’ care about humans?”
    “That’s what we need to find out. ’42’ was the answer. But what was the question?”

  167. Re: the quote “the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we CAN imagine.”

    That is Haldane’s Postulate (J. B. S. Haldane, Possible Worlds and Other Papers, 1928), and he originally formulated it as “the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we CAN suppose.” It’s one of my all-time favorite postulates about the world in which we all live.

  168. @Quinn (#160):

    I don’t remember ever having made plans to write a book on how to teach your own children to read, much less having talked about such a plan here. So no, it’s not in the works.

    What I have made posts about is (1) how I taught my own children to read, and (2) how regular the general system of going from spelling to sounds is in English, and how easy it is to teach a chlld (if his native language is English) to apply that general system to sounding out a written text. (Yes, of course, there are several hundred words that violate the system. Context will carry a young reader over most of them without much difficulty.)

    The general system was laid out quite clearly by Noah Webster over 200 years ago in a few pages at the beginning of his American Spelling Book.

    You can download a PDF of an 1822 printing of the Spelling Book here: https://archive.org/details/americanspellin00websgoog/page/n22/mode/2up

    You can also buy a handsome hard-cover reprint of an 1824 printing of the Spelling Book made by Applewood Books in 1999 from your preferred online source for books still in print.

    A somewhat more technical presentation of the general system, with all the small irregularities and exceptions taken in to account, was made by the linguist Robert A. Hall Jr in his very brief pamphlet, Sound and Spelling in English (1962), which seems to have fallen out of copyright and can be downloaded in several places, including: https://archive.org/details/hall-1965b-spelling

    Hope this helps! Best wishes for success with your daughters.

  169. @clarke #17 – thanks for sharing that. what do the do nothing enlightened friends think of the before/after enlightenment chop wood, carry water? hehe

    @JMG interested in your note on Owen Barfield and Hindu beliefs. I’ve personally been digging into Hindu texts like Mhb. Ramayana, Upanishads and learning Sanksrit. From what I have gathered Hinduism evolved as a multi-variant and diverse set of beliefs and practices that were, upon being encountered by the British in India, were all lumped into a single Hindu religion. That point of understanding draws much from ‘Hinduism in India:The early period’ a collection of scholarship edited by Greg Bailey and some online literature into the subject. My impression is that western readers who are accustomed to church shattering arguments over doctrinal truth are sometimes deeply confused by the many truths and versions at once perspective they bring from a Christian/Muslim perspective to religion. A second point of confusion that I have personally seen is confusing itihasa with history. What historians – chronicle a catalog of facts to support a narrative – do is very different than itihasa – which is maintain a core set of truths through oral tradition. Curious what you think if I am as far off as Owen or if your thoughts on this are going to come along in future posts.

    Best!

  170. I liked “The Last Battle” (come on, vulture-headed gods with multiple arms? woo-hoo!), but then I also liked the most garish Jack Chick tracts.

    Behold, “Children of the Stars” (Unarius documentary, featuring Ruth–and to a lesser extent Ernest–Norman in all her glory):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y3hUMuaTvk

    (“Bob” would approve.)

  171. Clarke aka Gwydion (no. 171):

    *rdzogs chen

    Jayarava Attwood pushes back on the idea that Buddhism involves “paradox,” calling this a Western Romantic projection, aided by systematic misunderstandings of the texts.

  172. Jacques, there are a lot of Western Buddhists who have taken up the trappings of Buddhism and never quite grasped any of the points that the Buddha was trying to make. There are “Buddhists” here in the US who insist that meditation is great because it improves your work performance, and others who insist that you should chant mantras to get consumer goods. A good half of American Zen Buddhism is either Surrealist put-on or existentialist posturing with a bad case of Orientalism. I could go on for a long, long time.

    Nitsuj, that’s certainly my understanding of Hindu beliefs. India’s a huge subcontinent with a dizzying range of cultural and intellectual traditions. What I was addressing in speaking of Barfield was, however, Hindu philosophy, which is still very diverse but (in its modern forms) by and large shares a body of common concepts set out in the Upanishads. Barfield had no idea what those concepts are; his brief and dismissive portrayal of Hindu thought in Saving the Appearances lumps it in with “primitive” thinking in a typical 20th century European display of staggering ethnocentrism. More on this in a future post!

    Bei, thanks for this. I knew some Spaceship Ruthie fans in Seattle when I was a teenager; even for me — and I was into weird things! — she was out past the fringes. Still, I enjoyed her costumes:

  173. Chuaquin, yes, I had the Fermi Paradox in mind. I have read Stars Reach, but JMG has written a post on the old Archdruid Report about the end of the Space Age and his proposed solution of the Fermi Paradox. This paradox is today a paradox only because the idea that unlimited progress is impossible is currently unthinkable in modern society.

  174. Robert Mathiesen,

    I don’t know where I got that idea then. Very strange how the memory works!

    Thanks very much for the resources! I’m sure they will be useful.

  175. I was sorry to have to step away from this comment thread and missed the comments from all re: @Brunette Gardens #19. But now I’ve caught up!

    @JMG: You’re most welcome. Tolkien was a potent talisman for me as a youth as well. I had the boxed set of the Rankin-Bass animated version on vinyl (completely memorized, skips and scratches also burned into my memory), and accompanying it was a reproduction of the story’s storied map, which I hung on my wall. Another commenter spoke to the surviving cartography tribe, which is comforting.

    @SLClaire: Excellent! Thanks for sharing that. Anthony and I remember the old city pages books, which covered St. Louis down to the alley level even, on some occasions. I used it to draw maps when running a canvass for an environmental group in the 90s.

    @sgage: I love that phrase! “Every automation is an amputation.” Perfect.

    @Orion: I remember those radar detectors well… that’s a good reminder that tech innovations are cyclical, and in each new iteration we lose something. Kudos to you for sensing this early on!

    @Siliconguy: I can’t tell you how many times my iPhone nav has steered me wrong here in “flyover” country. Once it insisted the nature preserve I sought was a private farm, clearly fenced off, a “no trespassing” sign revealing loudly how little Google Earth knows this area. And a hearty thank you for the links.

    @Koyaanisqatsi: Another great story to add to the trove. BTW, love your handle!

    @Kfish: Yay! You just made my day. And I must get myself one of these embroidered maps…

    @Tommy: Wow, Puttgarden and Putgarten! This sort of thing will likely become more common as we cede operations to AI.

    Thanks, all, for a fantastic discussion. The quality of this commentariat is unparalleled. Thanks, JMG, for cultivating it.

  176. JMG — Thank you for contextualizing your readerly paths and future directions! Perhaps one day we’ll be treated to a post about Voegelin and the occult? That would be outstanding.

    You may find Barth interesting and/or amusing because he had a fairly developed demonology/angelology which he used in critiques of modernity while walking an enlightened but not too enlightened line. I think he would say we are not to believe in demons as personal entities but as “lordless powers,” which is also to not not-believe in demons. Like the old Talmudic saying, “If you believe all of these stories, you are a fool. If you disbelieve one of them, you are a heretic,” Barth’s dialectical theology or “neoorthodoxy” insists you must have it both ways at once.

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

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