A Brief History of Everything – Ken Wilber (1996)

A Brief History of Everything

I found this book while poking around the Amsterdam airport, looking for something interesting; A Brief History of Everything fit the bill. I’d browsed Wilber before, but never read anything; this mass market edition looked inviting enough, with its Q&A format and promise of an overview of his thinking.

While some of the book gets into some pretty abstruse philosophical territory, I’ll try to highlight what I found to be the main points (obviously greatly simplifying). Wilber is trying to integrate a lot of ideas, looking for the overarching patterns and lessons from philosophy and science. An overriding idea is that the interior/subjective is just as important as the exterior/objective (aka Science), and that by concentrating too heavily on one or the other you wind up with a very unbalanced approach. He applies this concept at all levels, so if we think of ourselves, the interior is mind/consciousness, while the exterior is the brain/body. The exterior can be measured and monitored from the outside, while the interior can only be approached through dialog and interpretation.

Wilber's quadrants

Wilber also makes a critical distinction between the individual and the collective; acknowledging that we are social beings, there is interior and exterior to the group as well; the interior may be labeled as the cultural. The cultural is also about values and is subject to interpretation. The diagram above is a simple visual representing what Wilber refers to as the ‘quadrants’. Each quadrant has its own levels and forms of truth.

The third big idea is that evolution occurs in each quadrant, and that evolution creates greater depth with less span, or in other words smaller numbers of more complex things; humans, societies, science, levels of understanding. As evolution proceeds on individuals and groups, interior and exterior, there is greater depth.

This summary may make it all seem a bit trivial, but I’m obviously just scratching the surface. I like the fact that he does not throw out science while insisting on the importance of the interior. At the same time, he feels that the modern condition of denying transcendence leads to a ‘flatland’ that is impoverished and unbalanced.

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