Notes: Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber – chapters 3 and 4

This post is about the chapters 3 All too Human and 4 Great Postmodern revolution.

Previous chapters covered evolution up to the emergence of human beings (evolution from physiospher to biosphere to noosphere). This chapter starts to discuss the evolution of human consciousness (noosphere). By this Wilber means evolution in “worldviews”.

Wilber outlines predominant “worldviews” in epochs of human development and correlates them with major stages of technological/economic development. Wilber defines worldview as a way of looking at the world. Later in the book: “A worldview, as we were saying, is what the Kosmos looks like from a particular rung of consciousness. ”

He argues and carefully states that there is not a single pregiven world, and we simply look at it differently but actually as worldviews change and emerge actually new worlds are created:

“This might seem to be splitting hairs, but it really is very important: it’s not that there is a single, pregiven world, and we simply look at it differently. Rather, as the Kosmos comes to know itself more fully, different worlds emerge. It’s like an acorn growing to an oak. An oak isn’t a different picture of the same unchanging world present in the acorn. The oak has components in its own being that are quite new and different from anything found in the acorn. The oak has leaves, branches, roots, and so on, none of which are present in the acorn’s actual “worldview” or “worldspace.” Different worldviews create different worlds, enact different worlds, they aren’t just the same world seen differently. “

I like this point. It emphasizes evolution, development or change in noosphere (or in the realm of ideas) in addition to physiosphere and biosphere. It points to the evolution in interior reality, conciousness, realm of experiences, shared realities and culture (left-hand quadrants in AQAL model).

worldview ”rung” of consciousness Economic/technological stage of society
archaic Sensations and impulses foraging: hunting and gathering, small foraging tribes


magic Images and symbols horticultural: farming culture based on hoe/simple digging stick


mythic rules and roles agrarian: farming culture based on animal-drawn plow, 4000-2000BCE onwards, some specialization


rational formal operational thinking industrial
existential “vision-logic” informational

I find value in the Wilber’s assesment of development of worldviews. It is harder to assess the validity of the various claims about the correlation to “rungs” of consciousness or stages of economic/technological development. My hunch at this point would be that they are overarching generalizations painted with a broad brush which have some value.

Wilber writes about the fundamental paradigm in Enlightment which he states is the representation paradigm which has basically two axioms

  1. Separation between self/subject and empirical/sensory world
  2. All valid knowledge consists in making maps of the empirical/sensory/objective world

Wilber argues this is very limited because the paradigm leaves out the mapmaker. Post-enlightenment or postmodern scholars (Heidigger, Focault, Derrida etc) were the ones who assaulted the representation paradigm. According to Wilber, mapmaker is important to take in to account because it has own characteristics and history affect the mapmaking (what is seen, can be seen). Mapmaker/subject is situated in contexts and currents of its own development, its history. The map depends as much on the “empirical world” as much on this history.

The representation paradigm underlies scientific method. Three most important general principles of scientific method are 1) systematic empiricism or structured observations, 2) knowledge is publicly verifiable, replication, peer review (community of mapmakers, not just one individual and one history) and 3) seek problems that are empirically solvable and that yield testable theories, i.e. theories must be falsifiable (study only maps that can be tested by empirical observation). [1]

I am not sure how the mapmaker affects research in hard sciences, for example in physics. I would imagine an alien species would develop very much the same theories of physics as us. In qualitative research, the mapmaker has a more important role I think. The fact that there is a community of mapmakers (the scientific community) decreases the effect of single mapmaker history/perspective to the map. But community history and context still affects the research: how research is done, the results of research and what is researched.

“Yes. And the overall idea that worldviews develop—that neither the world nor the self is simply pregiven—that is the great postmodern discovery. ”

“And at each stage of development the world looks different because the world is different—and there is the great postmodern revelation. “

In my understanding ,the advance from representation paradigm (neutral mapmaker makes maps out of empirical world) is that mapmaker with a perspective and history (worldview) maps out the empirical world.

There is development both in maps and perspectives. Map is affected by the perspective and perspective is affected by the map. Also what is mapped is greatly influenced by the history and the perspective of the mapmaker.

Wilber notes that in growth, in transcendence there is a possibility of repression of earlier levels of development, earlier truths instead of inclusion:

“Wherever there is the possibility of transcendence, there is, by the very same token, the possibility of repression. The higher might not just transcend and include, it might transcend and repress, exclude, alienate, dissociate. “

Wilber’s example is that in our rational-industrial societies many of us have become dissociated from or repressed the truths of earlier worldviews, like the fact that we are part of the biosphere and part of the nature on Earth which was more evident in earlier societies (e.g archaic-foraging).

[1] How to Think Straight About Psychology, Keith Stanovich

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