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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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TAMIL NATION LIBRARY:  Unfolding Consciousness

[see also From Matter to Life to Mind... An Unfolding Consciousness]

Nadesan Satyendra
in Reflections on the Gita,
17 May 1981-

"...The mind thinks in sequence in time. The present is a fleeting moment and is then gone forever. Thoughts are so much grist to its mill. Words and concepts are the instruments of its trade. The mind seeks to clarify one concept by having recourse to another. It defines one word with another. There is no end to this process nor is there a starting point.

The mind deals in opposites. There is no idealism without materialism; there are no means without ends; there is no detachment without attachment; there is no free will without determinism; there is no good without bad. If everything was good what would it mean? Presumably, we would stop using the word. The mind speaks of theses, antithesis and synthesis and describes this as the dialectical process. It speaks of dialectical idealism and dialectical materialism.

The need to use opposites is the need of the mind that lives in the duality of I and not I, and the mind extends this duality, extends these seeming opposites, to everything that it deals with. And more often than not, it does not stop to ask: who am 'I'?

The inquiring and inquisitive mind - the restless mind, the monkey mind of man - allows one thought to play with another and ends up with what it then triumphantly describes as a rationalisation. The mind discovers seemingly broader and broader concepts and seemingly more and more general laws. But what is the result?

From the vantage point of each new law, the mind then perceives an increasing area of the unknown and greater and greater areas of the unknown come within the vision of man. The search for fundamental laws, the search for fundamental particles, the search for absolute truths, inside the trap of duality is in the nature of an adventure to possess an ever receding mirage..." more

From a 'Note to the Reader' by the Author

"In Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a massive supercomputer is designed to give the ultimate answer, the absolute answer, the answer that would completely explain "God, life, the universe, and everything." But the computer takes seven and a half million years to do this, and by the time the computer delivers the answer, everybody has forgotten the question. Nobody remembers the ultimate question, but the ultimate answer the computer comes up with is: 42.

This is amazing! Finally, the ultimate answer. So wonderful is the answer that a contest is held to see if anybody can come up with the question. Many profound questions are offered, but the final winner is: How many roads must a man walk down?

"God, life, the universe, and everything" is pretty much what this book is about, although, of course, the answer is not quite as snappy as "42".  It deals with matter, life, mind, and spirit, and the evolutionary patterns that seem to unite them all in a pattern that connects."

From a review at Amazon.com:

"Wilber manages to create a sweeping system for everything in life. He describes our spiritual evolution, and our dominant conceptual concerns: East and West, ancient and modern, individual and collective, physical and metaphysical. Wilber writes in an accessible common-sense style. He deliberately avoids a typical scholarly tone. While not free of some pretense at a monolithic voice, his work promotes rich conceptions of self-reflexiveness, interconnection, spirituality and empathy.

Wilber shows how the major theories of biological, psychological, cognitive and spiritual development describe different versions of how to find "the truth." At the outset, Wilber refers to Douglas Adams's best-selling cult novel Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. We desire final conclusions, just as Adams facetiously proposed the "answer that would completely explain 'God, life, the universe, and everything'" (p. xv). In the novel, that answer was "42," highlighting the absurdity of seeking such a final answer.

Wilber's "answer," instead, is a framework for connecting evolutionary currents. At first, he uses a Socratic dialogue, beginning with "KW" for Wilber and "Q" for the questioner, be s/he reader, fan, or friend. Initially, this appears somewhat contrived. The text pretends to be an interview, when it is clearly the author's own highly controlled construction. Upon further reading, however, the stylistic device helps Wilber engage the reader in a dialogue.

To Wilber, traditions of thought have usually been either "ascending" toward transcendental spirituality, or "descending" to the body, the senses, and sexuality (p. 11). The author suggests that humans must integrate dualities to survive as a species. In fact, we must not merely synthesize but accept the "nonduality" of ascending and descending, mind and body (p. 12).

Wilber's first chapter presents a brief summary of the entire book in the voice of the questioner:

Q: So we'll start with the story of the Big Bang itself, and then trace out the course of evolution from matter to life to mind. And then, with the emergence of mind, or human consciousness, we'll look at the five or six major epochs of human evolution itself. And all of this is set in the context of spirituality-of what spirituality means, of the various forms that it has historically taken, and the forms that it might take tomorrow. Sound right?

KW: Yes, it's sort of a brief history of everything...based on what I call 'orienting generalizations' (p. 17)

"Q" is obviously more highly informed than a first-time reader. Wilber uses Q less to ask questions than to help simplify points [the book summarizes the more complex content of Wilber's massive Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995)]. The "generalizations" he notes are Kohlberg's and Gilligan's moral stages. "Human moral development goes through at least three broad stages" (p. 17). In brief: before the child is socialized, it is "preconventional," as it learns the values of society it becomes "conventional," and eventually it may reflect on its own values critically, becoming increasingly "postconventional."

Wilber goes on to show a number of "tenets" or "patterns that connect." The first of these is that "reality is composed of whole/parts, or 'holons'" (p. 20). A holon is something that is itself "a whole and simultaneously a part of some other whole" (ibid.). Borrowing from Arthur Koestler, Wilber argues that the world is full of "holarchies," as opposed to hierarchies. Where a hierarchy typically separates distinct parts, a holarchy consists of both wholes that are parts, and parts that are wholes. For example, an atom is a whole of its own, but also a part of a whole molecule. A whole molecule is a part of a whole cell, and a whole cell is part of a whole organism. As Wilber says, "Time goes on, and today's wholes are tomorrow's parts" (ibid.).

Wilber uses the ideas of "depth" and "span" to say that whenever we map a territory, something always gets left out. For instance, as we narrow focus with a microscope, "There are fewer organisms than cells; there are fewer cells than molecules; there are fewer molecules than atoms; there are fewer atoms than quarks. Each has a greater depth, but less span" (p. 34). Similarly, if we move from mysticism and psychology, into biology and physics, the progression gives greater depth of specific detail but less span, embrace, or inclusion of levels of reality (pp. 36-38). These dimensions are neither dependent nor independent, but interdependent.

Great shifts in "reality" paradigms were brought by what Wilber calls "the watershed separating the modern and postmodern approaches to knowledge" (p. 58). Postmodernists criticize old paradigms such as "the Enlightenment,... the Newtonian, the Cartesian, the mechanistic, the mirror of nature, the reflection paradigm" (ibid.). In opposition, many postmodernists propose that "all truth is relative and merely culture-bound, there are no universal truths" (pp. 62-63). But as Wilber notes, even Derrida now concedes the elemental point that worldviews are not "'merely constructed' in the sense of totally relative and arbitrary" (p. 62). In Wilber's diagnosis, assertions that "there is no truth in the Kosmos, only those notions that men force on others," are nihilistic, replacing truth with "the ego of the theorist" (p. 63).

As a tool to place different worldviews, Wilber uses "four quadrants of development" (pp. 71-75). The exterior form of development is measured objectively and empirically. The interior dimension is subjective and interpretive, and hence depends on consciousness and introspection. And both interior and exterior occur not just separately but in social or cultural context.

Wilber describes how Foucault summarized the "monological madness" that dominated the eighteenth century and Enlightenment notions of the subject:

"the subjective and intersubjective domains were thus reduced to empirical studies - I and we were reduced to its - and thus humans became 'objects of information, never subjects in communication'" (p. 269).

Treated as objects, people were expected to meet norms of mental health, for instance, while their subjective position in the world was ignored.

Wilber says the whole of his morality aims to "protect and promote the greatest depth for the greatest span" (p. 335). He argues we must use these criteria when we make judgments. Although the spirituality risks opacity, the overall effort suggests deeply researched and grounded ways to structure reality. If we as a society need human empathy for multiple perspectives, then the patterns of thought laid out by Wilber provide a system for integrating such perspectives. Distilling messages of vast ranges of thought, Wilber presents highly differentiated worldviews and multiple points of intervention through which we can, if contingently, take action. 

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