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A Theory of Everything

Recently I’ve done a few posts on empathy and inclusivity, so now I thought I’d tackle the science behind it all.  If that makes your eyes glaze over, don’t worry, I’ll explain it as clearly as I can.  Don’t you want to know how science can be integrated with spirituality?  Or is it just me?

My challenge then: to explain something grandiose in simple enough terms (or should I say entertaining enough terms) for everyone to gain a smidgen of truth from it.  Here’s my feeble attempt.

As you may or may not know, the cutting edge theory in physics right now is M-theory (or something alternatively called string theory).  Wake up, wake up, this won’t be as boring as you think.  Heads up.  Eyes open.  Keep reading.

In the late 90s, the physics world began humming with the possibility of a model that would “unite all the known laws of the universe into one all-embracing theory that would be seen in its formulas.”

Wow.  Did you catch that?  And why am I only hearing of it now, you might be saying.  You and me, dear reader!

Back in 2000, Ken Wilber wrote a book called A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality, which attempted to do just that.

I’m going to give a cursory run-through of its basic tenets.  You’ll see, after I’m done, how it all ties together…and what, exactly, it means to YOU.

Let’s start with the picture below.  “Spiral Dynamics sees human development as proceeding through eight general stages, which are also called memes.  ‘Memes’ is a word that is used a lot nowadays, with many different and conflicting meanings…[but a meme] is simply a basic stage of development that can be expressed in any activity.”

These memes are not rigid levels (as steps might be) but flowing waves, with “much overlap and interweaving.”  They are color-coded (as you can see below), so as not to relate to nor refer to skin color.

Here are a few things you need to know about memes.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, starts at the very bottom when he or she is born.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, has to go through each one of the levels.  Each level is vital to the health of the whole, so despite the fact that some have advanced further, it does not mean that the “lower” levels aren’t needed.  If one level were to be abolished, the people coming up through the ranks wouldn’t have anywhere to go (psychologically speaking).  [Ken Wilber’s more detailed definitions of each meme can be found here.]  In addition, each level includes all the levels “beneath” it.  If you’re in blue, you might temporarily revert to beige when you’re in survival mode.  If you’re in green, you might temporarily revert to blue when you’re in church.

Briefly, here’s how it breaks down.  Do you see yourself in here somewhere?  The beige meme would include “first human societies, newborn infants, senile elderly, mentally ill street people” and so on.  Purple would include those who believe in “voodoo-like curses, blood oaths, good-luck charms; strong in third-world settings, gangs, athletic teams.”  Red would include “the ‘terrible twos,’ rebellious youth, feudal kingdoms, New-Age narcissism, wild rock stars.”  Blue would include “Puritan America, Confucian China, Dickensian England, totalitarianism, religious fundamentalism (e.g., Christian and Islamic), Boy and Girl Scouts, ‘moral majority, patriotism.”  Orange would include “The Enlightenment, Wall Street, emerging middle classes around the world, cosmetics industry, trophy hunting, the Cold War, fashion industry, materialism, secular humanism, liberal self-interest.”  Green would include deep ecology, postmodernism, Netherlands idealism, Canadian health care, humanistic psychology, liberation theology, World Council of Churches, Greenpeace, animal rights, ecofeminism, post-colonialism, politically correct, diversity movements, human rights issues, ecopsychology.”  Yellow is where “life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms.  Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority.”  Turquoise has reached a universal holistic system, where feeling is united with knowledge.  It “sometimes involve[s] the emergence of a new spirituality as a meshwork of all existence.”  [Again, if you want further details about each meme, here’s the link again.]

Second-tier thinking incorporates yellow and above, and it includes less than 2 percent of the world’s population.  It’s considered the ‘leading edge’ of collective human evolution.

Wow.  Did you get all that?

Now think of it this way.  You might be a yellow spiritually, but a blue in politics.  You are a multi-faceted individual, and the areas you focus on in your daily life will probably progress faster than the rest.  So to have an integrated Theory of Everything, all the components need to work together.  You need to practice all areas of integration (physical exercise, mental work, spiritual contemplation, and culture involvement) in order to “evolve” your whole being.

And just as you’re “evolving,” the world is, too.  Cultures are going from foraging to agrarian to industrial to informational.  World views are going from archaic to mythic to pluralistic to postmodern to integral.  [Postmodernism, believe it or not, has been left in the dust (although there are still many people at that stage)!]  Even science has changed its mind about the individual, having gained more knowledge about neurotransmitters and brain states.  [It might help to look at Laura Wilson’s illustration of how all of this fits together.]

Progress (or evolution) is happening everywhere.

But let’s look at religion more closely, since it’s near and dear to my heart.

“There is one final requirement.  An integral synthesis, to be truly integral, must find a way that all of the major worldviews are basically true (even though partial).  It is not that the higher levels are giving more accurate views, and the lower levels are giving falsity, superstition, or primitive nonsense.  There must be a sense in which even “childish” magic and Santa Claus myths are true.  For those worldviews are simply the way the world looks at that level, or from that wave, and all of the waves are crucial ingredients of the Kosmos.  At the mythic level, Santa Claus (or Zeus or Apollo or astrology) is a phenomenological reality.  It will do no good to say, “Well, we have evolved beyond that stage, and so now we know that Santa Claus is not real,” because if that is true–and all stages are shown to be primitive and false in light of further evolution–then we will have to admit that our own views, right now, are also false (because future evolution will move beyond them).  But it is not that there is one level of reality, and those other views are all primitive and incorrect versions of that one level.  Each of those views is a correct view of a lower yet fundamentally important level of reality, not an incorrect view of the one real level.  The notion of development allows us to recognize nested truths, not primitive superstitions.”

Here’s why it’s important, to you…to me.  [And if I may interrupt here, briefly, I’ll give a quick illustration of the word he uses in the next paragraph…pluralism…because I think it will help clarify what he’s saying.  You’ve all attended committee meetings where everyone is allowed his or her say, and each viewpoint is validated as correct and good.  It takes forever, obviously!  In the end, the meeting is deemed a success, not because anything was solved, but because everyone was able to voice his or her opinion.  That’s pluralism.  That’s where most businesses are at, currently.]

“I am often asked, why even attempt an integration of the various worldviews?  Isn’t it enough to simply celebrate the rich diversity of various views and not try to integrate them?  Well, recognizing diversity is certainly a noble endeavor, and I heartily support that pluralism.  But if we remain merely at the stage of celebrating diversity, we ultimately are promoting fragmentation, alienation, separation and despair.  You go your way, I go my way, we both fly apart–which is often what has happened under the reign of the pluralistic relativists, who have left us a postmodern Tower of Babel on too many fronts.  It is not enough to recognize the many ways in which we are all different; we need to go further and start recognizing the many ways that we are also similar. Otherwise we simply contribute to heapism, not wholism.  Building on the rich diversity offered by pluralistic relativism, we need to…[move] to universal integralism–we need to keep trying to find the One-in-the-Many….”  [Bold emphasis mine.]

That’s the kicker.  Focus on what we all have in common. That’s the key to moving up through the spiral!

“As for a healthy universalism and World Civilization–an integral Civilization–Huntington concludes, correctly I believe, that ‘if human beings are ever to develop a universal civilization, it will emerge gradually through the exploration and expansion of these commonalities.  Thus…, peoples in all civilizations should search for and attempt to expand the values, institutions, and practices they have in common with peoples of other civilizations.’”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  What do you have in common with people of other faiths (or of no faith)?  Might it be…GOD?

Now, wherever you are spiritually on the spiral, there something you should know.

“A traditional ‘religious’ orientation–purple, red, or blue–is deeply embedded in approximately 70 percent of the world’s population, and thus orange and green policy analysts would do well to adopt a more integral, full-spectrum analysis that takes those stubborn facts into clear account, or their analyses will likely continue to be met with often hackneyed results.  And that refers only to narrow religion.  As for deep religion (or the spirituality of the higher, post-turquoise, transpersonal waves), the frequency of those experiences will become more and more common as the center of gravity of humanity slowly drifts higher and higher.  The prerational religions were dominant in the past, in premodern times, but the transrational religions are on their way, destined to descend on a collective humanity with a global consciousness at their core.”

In English: Expect spirituality to change from what you’re used to.  And that’s a good thing.

Two things to end.

First, a quote by Albert Einstein, used in one of Wilber’s chapter headings:  “A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Second, I’m including a list of book recommendations that Wilber suggests at the end of his book.  I’ve not read any of them, so know that up front.  However, they are books I’m going to start perusing, because, of course, I want to look at the world in a new and fresh way.

Well, did you make it through to the end?  Did you have any “aha” moments, or are you madder than a wet hen?

Either way, you’ve listened very well (psst, you can wake up now).  Do you have any thoughts you want to share?  [Remember to phrase your comments nicely, because we’re all at different memes…meaning, we aren’t all on the same wavelength…and that’s okay!]

You have a whole weekend to chew on it!

[Post image: Detail of Ken Wilbur’s Theory of Everything cover]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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