Notes: Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber – Chapter 1 “Pattern that connects”

This post is only about the chapter 1 Pattern that connects.


Wilber divides the reality, in his words Kosmos (as opposed to cosmos which refers only to the physical reality), to physiosphere (cosmos, i.e physical matter), biosphere (i think this everything living), noosphere (domain of the mind, thoughts,concepts, etc) and theosphere (divine domain).

My question is: what about software etc. , i.e. silicon-based “constructs”? I think there is an analogy between: biological life (biosphere) gives rise to mind (noosphere) and hardware gives rise software.

First tenet: Kosmos is composed of holons

In the book, Wilber introduces some of his tenets, rules etc, about how the Kosmos works. First tenet is: Kosmos is composed of holons. Holons is a concept created by Arthur Koestler. Holon is something that is at the same time a whole in itself and a part (whole/part examples: atom/molecule, human individual/ community). Wilber writes

“So the first tenet says that reality is composed neither of things nor processes, neither wholes nor parts, but whole/parts, or holons—all the way up, all the way down. “

I really like the concept of holon, and the perspective it opens: instead of just looking at a thing, always look at the whole it is a part of. I like the concept because this pertains not only to the physical universe but also for example to our experiences, thoughts and concepts.

How would one go about proving or falsifying the Tenet 1? A counter-example would suffice to falsify the tenet. How about for example, the Planck lenght in quantum theory (smallest unit of length, in some quantum theories at least). It is not established that Planck lenght is the smallest unit of length because it is not clear which theory is right. However, concepts like Planck length point to the possiblity that there is a smallest physical size that cannot be divided (nobody believed that there is an upper limit to speed but there is as Einstein proved).

In any case, I find tenet 1 fruitful way to look at things.

Second tenet: Each holon has four tendencies or capacities or drives (Wilber uses all of these terms): drive for agency, communion, transcendence and dissolution

Drive for agency and communion
Wilber calls drives for agency and communion vertical drives. These drives are motivated by the fact that every holon is a whole/part: to “survive” it needs to maintain both its wholeness and partness. Drive for agency means that every holon seeks to maintain its own wholeness, identity, autonomy, agency. Drive for communion means that holons seeks to remain a part of whole, i.e. to fit in in its community or surroundings.

I think these are both sort of abstract survival drives. Holon seeks to maintain itself as a separate entity, failure would mean it ceases to exist. Holon seeks to be succesfully a part of whole, to fit in because it needs to fit in to survive.

It is not clear for me these drives actually exist. What it means to have a drive? Does a coffee cup have a drive to be coffee cup, or a drive to be a part of a serving or whatever whole we look at?

Drive for transcendence and dissolution
Two other drives, drive for transcendence and dissolution, are what Wilber calls vertical drives. Drive for dissolulution means drive of a holon to break down to its subholons. In the book, Wilber uses the term “capacity” for dissolution instead of drive. So is it a drive or a capacity? Isn’t a drive for dissolution contradictory to drives for agency and communion (the “survival” drives)? What sense does it make to postulate a drive for maintaining itself and a drive for self-destruction at the same time?

Drive for transcendence means drive to build up new more complex holons (like molecules forming living cells). I am not sure why holons would have this drive. Wilber argues basically that because evolution produces minds out of life and life out of matter, “drive for self-transcendence seems to be built on the very fabric of Kosmos itself”.

In particular, Wilber argues that something almost miraculous needed to happen for wings or eyeballs to evolve. This is then used to support the drive of holons to self-transcend. The view that something nearly miraculous needs to happen for complex adaptations like wings or eyeballs to evolve seems fallacious to me. It is just “normal evolution”. For instance, eye has evolved independently 50-100 times.

In his article, Frank Visser clearly shows that Wilbers understanding of Darwinian evolution is deeply flawed.

I am not convinced that holons have innate drive for transcendence.

Tenet 3: holons emerge

This tenet simply says that new holons creatively emerge.

Wilber argues chance cannot explain what is going on in the Kosmos/universe because in 12 billion years only so man chance mutations can take place:

“Calculations done by scientists from Fred Hoyle to F. B. Salisbury consistently show that twelve billion years isn’t even enough to produce a single enzyme by chance. “

This seems to be weak argument against traditional Darwinian evolution refuted by Dawkins and others. See for example Frank Visser’s article

Tenet 4: holons emerge holarchically

Holarchy is Koestler’s term for natural hierarchy composed of holons. Whole of a lower level comes a part of another:

“A natural hierarchy is simply an order of increasing wholeness, such as: particles to atoms to cells to organisms, or letters to words to sentences to paragraphs. The whole of one level becomes a part of the whole of the next.”

I like the concept of holarchy. And I think assuming that everything is composed of holons (tenet 1), it means everything is organized to holarchies. I.e everything is composed of parts, everything is a part of a whole and a whole unto itself.

Wilber equates the terms holarchy and natural hierarchy [in other places growth hierarchy] and contrasts them with dominator hierarchies. In dominator hierarchies, one holon tries to dominate the whole or other holons at the same level, i.e rise above its position. Dominator hierarchy is based on oppression (example caste system), holarchy or growth hierarchy are based on inclusion and transcendence.

Tenet 5: each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessor(s)

This means holon includes all its parts but in itself is more than just its parts, i.e. it transcends its parts:

“The point is that since all holons are whole/parts, the wholeness transcends but the parts are included. In this transcendence, heaps are converted into wholes; in the inclusion, the parts are equally embraced and cherished, linked in a commonality and a shared space that relieves each of the burden of being a fragment. And so yes, evolution is a process of transcend and include, transcend and include. And this begins to open onto the very heart of Spirit-in-action, the very secret of the evolutionary impulse.”

I very much like the idea of evolution/growth as process of transcend and include (or include and transcend). Everything new is built on something that came before. Point I get here myself is that sustainable growth can happen when the predecessors, that which came before, is included (not rejected) and embraced in the novelty that was born (transcendence).

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