Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution

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by Ken Wilber

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In this tour de force of scholarship and vision, Ken Wilber traces the course of evolution from matter to life to mind and describes the common patterns that evolution takes in all three of these domains. From the emergence of mind, he traces the evolution of human consciousness through its major stages of growth and development. He particularly focuses on


In this tour de force of scholarship and vision, Ken Wilber traces the course of evolution from matter to life to mind and describes the common patterns that evolution takes in all three of these domains. From the emergence of mind, he traces the evolution of human consciousness through its major stages of growth and development. He particularly focuses on modernity and postmodernity: what they mean; how they impact gender issues, psychotherapy, ecological concerns,
and various liberation movements; and how the modern and postmodern world conceive of Spirit. This second edition features forty pages of new material,
new diagrams, and extensively revised notes.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is the first in a projected set of three volumes charting recent thought in the title's interrelated areas, the title itself being a slight misnomer since sex and ecology are the foci of the forthcoming volumes. Here, however, Wilber elaborates at great length several contemporary systematic theories concerned with the biological, psychological, spiritual and metaphysical aspects of life and the various evolutionary stages of each. He then offers an overview of spiritual practices that can lead to an evolved ``omega point'' of consciousness. Wilber, a transpersonal psychologist and the author of No Boundary, among other works, has unfortunately tried too hard to cram everything possible into this massive undertaking. The result is that even the hundreds of pages of notes (sometimes useful, sometimes merely repetitive) become a mass of ideas and names. Wilber is a well-read, sophisticated and energetic thinker; yet his style veers from the discursively expansive to the overly condensed. Those seeking A Theory of Everything will be more than satisfied. For others, the book's sheer length and lack of organization may make this a very frustrating read. (Feb.)
Steve Schroeder
This is a sprawling synthesis of evolutionary and "systems" theory from the Presocratics to Piaget, permeated by the mysticism of Plotinus. Odd as it may seem for a book with more than 500 pages of text and 200 of notes, it suffers from a tendency to make unsubstantiated or inadequately referenced claims, especially in passing references to various feminisms and postmodernisms. But the reader can take this to be one aspect of the book's "oral" character: it reads like a composition dictated and transcribed. That is a strength as well as a weakness, since it imparts a lively and passionate tone to a text that could become simply tedious. The book's greatest strengths are its ambitious scope and its relentless attention to the materialist flattening of evolutionary and developmental theories in Western tradition. Wilber follows earlier devotees of Plotinus in insisting on a world composed not of parts and wholes but of wholes that are also parts and parts that are also wholes--wholes within wholes, remarkably similar to the "monads" of Anne Conway and Leibniz. Given a widespread hunger for spirituality and a widespread misunderstanding of materialist readings of development, even a flawed attempt to deepen developmental perspectives with developmental insights from mysticism is a step in the right direction.

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Read an Excerpt


It is flat-out

strange that something—that
happening at all. There was nothing, then a Big Bang, then here we all are. This is extremely weird.

Schelling's burning question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?", there have always been two general answers. The first might be called the philosophy of "oops." The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it's all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens—oops! The philosophy of oops, no matter how sophisticated and adult it may on occasion appear—its modern names and numbers are legion, from positivism to scientific materialism, from linguistic analysis to historical materialism, from naturalism to empiricism—always comes down to the same basic answer, namely, "Don't ask."

The question itself (Why is anything at all happening? Why am I here?)—the
question itself
is said to be confused, pathological, nonsensical, or infantile. To stop asking such silly or confused questions is, they all maintain, the mark of maturity,
the sign of growing up in this cosmos.

don't think so. I think the "answer" these "modern and mature" disciplines give—namely, oops! (and therefore, "Don't ask!")—is about as infantile a response as the human condition could possibly offer.

The other broad answer that has been tendered is that
something else is going on:
behind the happenstance drama is a deeper or higher or wider pattern, or order, or intelligence. There are, of course, many varieties of this "Deeper
Order": the Tao, God, Geist, Maat, Archetypal Forms, Reason, Li, Mahamaya,
Brahman, Rigpa. And although these different varieties of the Deeper Order certainly disagree with each other at many points, they all agree on this: the universe is not what it appears.
Something else
is going on, something quite other than oops. . . .

This book is about all of that "something other than oops." It is about a possible Deeper Order. It is about evolution, and about religion, and, in a sense, about everything in between. It is a brief history of cosmos, bios,
psyche, theos—a tale told by an idiot, it goes without saying, but a tale that, precisely in signifying Nothing, signifies the All, and there is the sound and the fury.

This is a book about holons—about wholes that are parts of other wholes,
indefinitely. Whole atoms are parts of molecules; whole molecules are parts of cells; whole cells are parts of organisms, and so on. Each
is simultaneously a
a whole/part, a holon. And reality is composed, not of things nor processes nor wholes nor parts, but of whole parts, of holons. We will be looking at holons in the cosmos, in the bios, in the psyche, and in theos; and at the evolutionary thread that connects them all, unfolds them all, embraces them all, endlessly.

The first chapters deal with holons in the physical cosmos (matter) and in the biosphere (life). This is the general area of the natural and ecological sciences, the life sciences, the systems sciences, and we will explore each of them carefully. This is particularly important, given not only the ecological crisis now descending on this planet with a vengeance, but also the large number of movements, from deep ecology to ecofeminism, that have arisen in an attempt to find spirituality and ecology connected, not divorced; and we will look at the meaning of all of that.

The middle chapters explore the emergence of the mind or the psyche or the noosphere, and at the holons that compose the psyche itself (the mind is composed of units that have meaning only in contexts: wholes that are parts of other wholes, endlessly). These psychic holons, like all holons, emerged and evolved—in time and history—and we will look briefly at the historical evolution of the mind and consciousness, and at how these psychic holons relate to the holons in the cosmos and in the bios.

The last chapters deal with theos, with the Divine Domain, with a Deeper Order, and how it might indeed be related to the cosmos, the biosphere, and the noosphere.
And here, I think, some surprises await us.

This book is the first of three volumes (the series itself is simply called
Kosmos Trilogy;
brief summaries of the other two volumes are given throughout this book). Many of the questions raised in this volume are more carefully examined in the other two;
and, in any event, this volume stands more as a broad overview and introduction, rather than a finished conclusion.

As such, the book is built upon what I would call
orienting generalizations.
For example, in the sphere of moral development, not everybody agrees with the details of Lawrence Kohlberg's seven moral stages, nor with the details of
Carol Gilligan's reworking of Kohlberg's scheme. But there is general and ample agreement that human moral development goes through at least three broad stages: the human at birth is not yet socialized into any sort of moral system
(it is "preconventional"); the human then learns, from itself and from others, a general moral scheme that represents the basic values of the society it is raised in (it becomes "conventional"); and with even further growth, the individual may come to reflect on society and thus gain some modest distance from it and gain a capacity to criticize or reform it (the individual is to some degree "post-conventional").

although the actual details and the precise meanings of that developmental sequence are still hotly debated, everybody pretty much agrees that something like those three broad stages do indeed occur, and occur universally. These are
orienting generalizations:
they show us, with a great deal of agreement, where the important forests are located, even if we can't agree on how many trees they contain.

My point is that if we take these types of largely agreed-upon orienting generalizations from the various branches of knowledge (from physics to biology to psychology to theology), and if we string these orienting generalizations together, we will arrive at some astonishing and often profound conclusions,
conclusions that, as extraordinary as they might be, nonetheless embody nothing more than our already agreed-upon knowledge. The beads of knowledge are already accepted: it is only necessary to provide the thread to string them together into a necklace.

These three volumes are one attempt to string together such a necklace; whether it succeeds or not remains to be seen. But if nothing else, I think it is at least a good example of how this type of work can be done in today's postmodern world. In working with broad orienting generalizations, the trilogy delivers up a broad orienting map of the place of men and women in relation to Universe,
Life, and Spirit, the details of which we can all fill in as we like, but the broad outlines of which really have an awful lot of supporting evidence, culled from the orienting generalizations, simple but sturdy, from the various branches of human knowledge.

this broad orienting map is nowhere near fixed and final. In addition to being composed of broad orienting generalizations, I would say this is a book of a thousand hypotheses. I will be telling the story as if it were simply the case
(because telling it that way makes for much better reading), but not a sentence that follows is not open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate. I suppose many readers will insist on calling what I am doing
"metaphysics," but if "metaphysics" means thought without evidence, there is not a metaphysical sentence in this entire book.

Because this book (or this trilogy) offers a broad orienting map of men and women's place in the larger Kosmos (of matter, life, mind, and spirit), it naturally touches on a great number of topics that have recently become "hot,"
from the ecological crisis to feminism, from the meaning of modernity and postmodernity to the nature of "liberation" in relation to sex,
gender, race, class, creed; to the nature of techno-economic developments and their relation to various worldviews; to the various spiritual and wisdom traditions the world over that have offered telling suggestions as to our place in a larger scheme of things.

How can we become more fully human and at the same time be saved from the fate of being merely human? Where is Spirit in this God-forsaken, Goddess-forsaken world of modernity? Why are we destroying Gaia in the very attempt to improve our own condition? Why are so many attempts at salvation suicidal? How do we actually fit into this larger Kosmos? How are we
individuals who are also
of something Larger?

In other words, since human beings, like absolutely everything else in the Kosmos,
what does that mean? How do we fit into that which is forever moving beyond us? Does liberation mean being whole ourselves, or being a part of something Larger—or something else altogether? If history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken, then what exactly is it that I am supposed to awaken

most important, can we not stare into that vast and stunning Kosmos and respond with something more mature than oops?

From those who have already read this book in manuscript come two suggestions for the reader:

skip the endnotes on the first reading, and save them for (and if) a second look. This book was intentionally written on two levels: the main text, which makes every attempt to be as accessible as possible, and the notes (a small book in themselves), meant for serious students. But in both cases, the notes are, for the most part, best reserved for a second reading, as they greatly disrupt the narrative flow. (Alternatively, some have simply read the notes by themselves, as a type of appendix, just for the information, which is fine.)

read the book a second time. People who try to skip around get competely lost.
But pretty much everybody reports that if you simply read each sentence, the text will carry you along, and any problems encountered are usually cleared up down the road. This is a long book, obviously, but apparently it comes in nice,
small, bite-size chunks, and its readers all seem to have a great good time—a bite at a time.

It is often said that in today's modern and postmodern world, the forces of darkness are upon us. But I think not; in the Dark and the Deep there are truths that can always heal. It is not the forces of darkness but of shallowness that everywhere threaten the true, and the good, and the beautiful,
and that ironically announce themselves as deep and profound. It is an exuberant and fearless shallowness that everywhere is the modern danger, the modern threat, and that everywhere nonetheless calls to us as savior.

We might have lost the Light and the Height; but more frightening, we have lost the Mystery and the Deep, the Emptiness and the Abyss, and lost it in a world dedicated to surfaces and shadows, exteriors and shells, whose prophets lovingly exhort us to dive into the shallow end of the pooi head first.

said Emerson, "is an impertinence and an injury if it be anything more than a cheerful apologue or parable of my being and becoming." What follows, then, is a cheerful parable of your being and your becoming, an apologue of that Emptiness which forever issues forth, unfolding and enfolding,
evolving and involving, creating worlds and dissolving them, with each and every breath you take. This is a chronicle of what you have done, a tale of what you have seen, a measure of what we all might yet become.

Meet the Author

Ken Wilber is the author of over twenty books. He is the founder of Integral Institute, a think-tank for studying integral theory and practice, with outreach through local and online communities such as Integral Education Network, Integral Training, and Integral Spiritual Center.

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Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Second Edition 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ken Wilber is probably one of the most brilliant modern thinkers of our time. Among all of the books he has written, this one is 'The One' that really explains it all. What an inspiring piece of work! He brings together work in philosophy, spirituality, psychology, sociology, biology, physics and all other fields of study and convincingly explains that it all fits together if we look at it through this framework that he has developed. If there is a philosophical book you should read, this is the one to pick up. If you are not ready for such a comprehensive detailed discussion, read the other absolutely incredible book called 'The Ever-transcending Spirit' by Toru Sato. The content is very similar but everything is explained in a much simpler (and shorter) way. Both of these books really deserve some mega-awards!