An Opinion of Ken Wilber's A Brief History of Everything,
a dialogue on spirituality, science, history, and the future.
The edition used in this opinion piece is the paperback from Shambhala, copyright 1996.
This writer expresses his opinion in dialogue format too,
just because it amuses him to do so.
Q: How did you come across "A Brief History of Everything"?
EB: While looking up information on another book.
I had just finished "God: The Evidence" and was looking in a
certain WWW database
for other people's thoughts on that book. One of the links was to a
university honors course syllabus.
Q: And you found a glowing report on "Brief History"?
EB: No. I e-mailed the prof with my opinions of "God". I
thought the author (Patrick Glynn) had an unjustifiable uncritical
belief in spirits.
He e-mailed me to inform me that I need my epistomological
filters widened. He recommended "Brief History" as the proper tool
for that job.
Q: OK, so you've got the book...initial reaction?
EB: Early on, page 19, the author
corroborates the honors prof's opinion of my opinion of
spirituality: "Many cosmologies have a materialistic bias
and prejudice: the physical cosmos is somehow supposed to
be the most real dimension, and everything else is explained
with ultimate reference to the material plane." Italics mine.
Q: So "Brief History" is about spirituality?
EB: Yes, the question my web page is about, although my
take on the subject is the reverse of his.
Q: Explain his take on spirituality.
EB: The book is a dialogue in which he references
his 20 tenets. The patterns that connect. The basis of
the tenets are spirit-stuff, if you will.
Q: What are these tenets?
EB: I don't know. He uses seven of them. I've been told that there is an appendix in the book listing all 20 but I didn't look for it. The other 13 are
probably expounded upon in the "more than a dozen books" he's authored, as
mentioned on the book cover.
One: Reality is composed of "whole/parts". That is, a
whole is a part of something, which is a whole something
and a part of something else. These are "holons".
Two: Holons, if mapped out, have both
vertical and horizontal lines of communication.
Three: Holons emerge. I get the feeling that the holons
are already there undiscovered, waiting to be exploited.
It's not that emerge means "birth" or "create", but, I
think, his context of emerge means discover.
Q: I think...based on contextual clues?
EB: Yes...the author likes to use the jargon of spirituality.
I like my information flat. I can't be sure I've accurately decoded
Q:You had just given the third tenet. Please go on.
Four: Holons emerge "holarchically". In a hierarchy.
Q: So the new emergent holon, on the map, supercedes
the old holon?
EB: No. The emergent holon, and this is next tenet,
but includes, its predecessors"(p.30).
Q: Transcend and include, not replace?
EB: It sounds like there is no room for the reduction
of theories, or for evolution to leave organs vestigial. They
ought to do something. It
sounds counter-experiential, doesn't it?
Q: Perhaps number six is explanatory?
EB: Perhaps...but it's not listed in this book. The
author goes to another tenet.
Eight: Holon evolution produces greater depth, less span.
Q: Can you explain?
EB: On page 40, our author records: "Spirit, counsciousness,
depth - so many words for the same thing." Evolution of holons
is apparently a spirit enriching event.
Q: OK, that's six. What's the seventh tenet discussed in the book?
EB: Number twelve.
Evolution has a broad and general tendency to move
in the direction of:
Increasing relative autonomy
Q: Increasing differentiation AND increasing integration?
EB: Yes in deed. Again, it sounds counter-experential, but
it goes back to tenet five...transcends and includes.
Q: New holons don't simplify the processes of the old
EB: "As the higher stages of consciuosness..." and the
author has already equated consciousness with Spirit and
with holon depth, see above,"...they themselves include the
basic components of the earlier worldview, then add their own
new and more differentiated perceptions. They transcend and include.
Because they are more inclusive, they are more adequate."(pp. 66-7)
Q: Again, I must say, this runs counter to sense. Every
mistake made in developing an idea or object would have to be
repeated in the replacement idea or object.
EB: I agree. But, the author also says "basic components
of the earlier worldview". I think the author intuits
a need for reductionism, and he covers that.
Q: But what is basic?
EB: I think spirituality is not basic. I think the author,
and the honors prof, would
call this the result of a flatland epistemic filter. How
spirituality fits in the evolution of holons can be described,
by use of a biology-based metaphor: spirituality
is a polar body, if you will, on holoarchy's gametogenesis.
Neccessary for oogenesis but not, ultimately, for new life.
Q: You mentioned you like your information flat, and now,
flatland. Would you explain?
EB: The author considers modernity to be a valuable
event in evolution. No more, nor less, important than
any other developmental event. It has accomplishments, which
he lists (pp. 69 and 125) and failures (p. 70). Among
its failures is the development of flatland.
In flatland, everything is an "it", no "I" or "we".
"...modernity collapsed the big three into the big one".
collapse leaves a shiny monochrome world(p. 129).
Q: The "big one" being it-ness, there are no I's or We's,
and bleakness abounds. Would that sum it up?
EB: I believe it would, yes.
Now, if you accept this worldview, you have to wonder
if the reduction of the big three into the big one isn't
simply a re-integration of "basic components" (pp. 66-7)
that this book indicates are the normal development of
holarchies. He doesn't consider this.
Q: But, you've forgoten, emergent holons have depth, and
depth is Spirit. It-ness isn't spiritual.
EB: You're right. On page 86 he discusses spirits and minds,
let me read that:
The brain physiologist can know every single thing
about my brain...and he still won't know a single thought in my mind.
And if he wants to know what is going on in my mind, there is only one
way that he can find out: he must talk to me. Italics author's.
Q: Talking only, no claims for direct mind/spirit
communications...ESP for example?
EB: I think talking about talking, or talking about ESP, will get us nowhere.
I think the real questions about minds is this: Are minds
a pattern we are cognizant of and call "mind" instead of "brain-activity"?
Are all patterns produced artifically and on purpose, or are some patterns
the result of cognition of randomness? If you see a face in a cracked ceiling
you are perceiving a pattern in a random event. I think
mind is similar.
Brain activity is perceived as a pattern called "mind"
because pattern-recognition is what brain activity does.
Q: But brain-activities aren't random.
EB: No, but that doesn't mean the patterns (of brain activity)
have to be the artifice
of a disembodied mind. The patterns just have to perceived by the brain.
Q: So, your opinion is that "Brief History" relies on a
mind/brain duality for belief in spirits?
EB: Same folklore, new jargon. You want new jargon, how about:
the mind/brain duality is based on the random pattern/artificed pattern identity?
And the random/artificed identity is non-sensical.
Q: That's not very catchy.
EB: I'm not a philosopher.
Q: Please summarize the problems you perceive in the book.
EB*:Tenet 3 is mystical jargon.
Tenets 5 and 12 are counter-intuitive and counter-experiential.
No definite discussion of why flatland shouldn't be
seen as the fulfillment of his re-integration theory (tenet 12).
Reliance on folkwisdom to support the idea of spirits.
The author's view of flatland is jaundiced by his
spiritual prejudgements. That prejudice produces a counter-experiential
description of reality, or of flatland if you'd rather.
The treatment of evolution is glossy, at best.
Q: Would you recommend purchase?
EB: Borrow it from the library if you're curious. You'd be better
off using your money to buy "Candle in the Dark".
Agree or disagree, e-mail me: EB or Q I
played both parts.
*I've been informed that I made a mistake in my criticism of this book in that the 20 tenets are listed in the appendix. Previous to 4/7/2002 this was listed as my first objection:
No 20 tenets. I felt like I was being inducted
into the Masonic Lodge."Ultimate Truth here...bring cash!"
which I suppose could be seen as kinda catty.