Rupert Sheldrake on Integral Naked
April 21, 2008 12:54


Integral Evolutionary Biology.  Part 3.  Matter, Consciousness, and Spirituality.


The man behind the theory of morphic resonance shares his drive to explore the evolutionary impulse behind the Kosmos itself. In this discussion, Ken and Rupert Sheldrake discuss Rupert's own spiritual heritage, the relationship between consciousness and matter, and the mysterious process by which a “we” of one level becomes the “I” of the next level….

"When I met Father Bede, he helped me integrate Eastern and Western science and philosophy - so for me that was a hugely integrative teaching and experience that I had with him, and it was exactly what I needed at the time. And through him I came to see that there was a whole mystical strand in Western spirituality as well, and I personally feel more at home, because it's my own tradition...."

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Who: Rupert Sheldrake is a British biologist and author who has developed the theory of morphic resonance, incorporating the insights of early twentieth century morphogenetic fields, and extending the understanding of biological “fields” to entire species—not merely individual groups of embryonic cells—and where evolutionary habits of nature can explain far more than eternal laws of nature.

Summary: There is perhaps no field of human inquiry more fundamentally confused than evolutionary science—especially given its monumental task of trying to essentially account for the entire history of the manifest world, from the Big Bang to this present moment in time, along with every mutation, deviation, and transformation in between.  It is an extraordinary science that requires an equally extraordinary framework, comprehensive enough to make sense of the entire spectrum of evolutionary emergence—especially as it becomes increasingly necessary to explain things like consciousness, hermeneutics, and spirituality in evolutionary terms. 

We see what can happen when this comprehensive framework is not available, simply by looking at one of the most heated debates in popular science today—intelligent design vs. evolution.  Here we have a case of evolutionary science becoming hijacked by the very same culture wars playing themselves out politically, academically, and spiritually throughout the world: in this case, mythic fundamentalism vs. rational materialism.  The scientific materialists are often quick to explain consciousness away, reducing subjectivity to cold calculations and chemical epiphenomena.  Meanwhile, a great number of religious traditionalists feel their spirituality being threatened by such seemingly atheistic conceptions as "natural selection," and tend to respond in one of two ways: either by rigidly defending the cosmology of their particular faith (e.g. creationism), or by accepting some of the fundamental precepts of evolutionary science, but inserting a typically mythic conception of God as the ultimate "designer" of the entire evolutionary process.

An Integral consideration of evolution, however, brings a great deal of much-needed clarity to the fundamental relationships between matter and consciousness, between science and spirit, and between humanity and divinity.  As clarified by an Integral view of evolution, matter and consciousness cannot in any way be reduced to one another, but are both in fact intrinsic to the evolution of the universe—and co-arise together.  Science and spirituality are not inherently in opposition, but instead tend to focus upon different aspects of reality—both of which must be taken into account, or else our evolutionary maps remain woefully incomplete.  Furthermore, evolution does not eliminate God from the universe, despite what many materialists and fundamentalists may believe. Quite the contrary, an Integral survey of our evolutionary potential tells us that all roads ultimately lead to God (Spirit, Brahman, Suchness, Ayin, Tao, etc.)—, that divinity is both an inevitability in our evolutionary future, as well as a constant source of energy, vision, and clarity each step along the way.

In the previous installment of this dialogue, Rupert and Ken took a careful look at the relationship between matter and consciousness in a single entity (a.k.a. holon or morphic unit) explaining that everything that has a coherent objective form also has a subjective interior.  In this section, they continue to tease apart some extremely important distinctions, most notably the difference between individual holons and social holons.  This has been another source of confusion for evolutionary thinkers, many of whom are able to easily grasp the holonic sequence of whole/parts, but often make the mistake of stacking social holons on top of individual holons.  For example, one frequently-used model of evolutionary complexity looks like this:

atoms → molecules → cells → organisms → human beings → families → cities → nations → ecosystems → gaia → solar system → galaxy

To many, this sequence makes immediate intuitive sense, as each piece seems to envelop the previous piece, forming larger and larger magnitudes of existence.  But when we take a closer look, we can see that there are in fact two very different types of hierarchies in play—individual hierarchies and social hierarchies—and these two different dimensions of hierarchical growth do not stack on top of each other, but grow alongside each other, as demonstrated here:

atoms galaxies
molecules planets
cells ecosystems (Gaia)
organisms families
human beings tribes, cities, nations, etc.


As we can see, by simply introducing a collective dimension to our understanding of the universe, we are given a radically different map of our evolutionary origins.  Add to that the differentiation of subjective and objective dimensions of existence, each successive wave of evolution yielding more complexity of form and deeper subjective interiority—and at last a truly comprehensive tapestry of evolutionary potential begins to appear—a genuine "theory of everything" that reveals in a single glance the entirety of our evolutionary heritage, helping us all to predict where we are going as a species by more fully understanding where we came from.


This Four-Quadrant diagram helps one look at our Kosmic existence from a meta-perspective, and in a brief glance, we can see “where we’ve come from” and “where we’re going”—or where we might be lucky enough to end up, should we truly apply ourselves to the vision of what humanity could become, in our livetimes, if we really want it.  So the question is: are you interested in standing the heat of being a living shooting star?  Don’t worry, you won’t be alone.  Among many, many others, the two fine gentlemen in this dialogue will be there right alongside you….


Click here for full dialogue!


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