While still in the middle of Audio Book month, we are delighted to offer this excerpt from the recording of A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber. Wilber is one of the most compelling philosophical thinkers of our times and credited with developing a unified field of consciousness synthesizing the world's great spiritual, psychological, and philosophical traditions. A Brief History of Everything is part of BetterListen's Shambhala Collection.
Question: Now we were discussing the interior transformations that occur on the way to the global and all of the problems that can prevent the emergence of this global awareness.
Ken Wilber: That’s right. And we had reached the point where there is a paradigm shift from preconventional to conventional or pre-personal to personal modes of awareness, from fulcrum3 to fulcrum4. Which is especially evidenced in the capacity to take the role of “other,” and in this shift, we see a continuing decrease in egocentrism. In fact, the overall direction of development in humans, the telos of human development is toward less and less egocentric states, but this is true in general. The arch battle in the universe is always evolution versus egocentrism. The evolutionary drive to produce greater depth is synonymous with the drive to overcome egocentrism. To find wider and deeper holes. To unfold greater and greater unions. A molecule overcomes the egocentrism of an atom. A cell overcomes the egocentrism of a molecule. And nowhere is this trend more obvious than in human development itself.
Question: So one way of looking at evolution is that it’s a continual decline in egocentrism.
Ken Wilber: That’s right, yes, a continual decentering. Howard Gardner gives a perfect summary of the research in this area, and I want to read a short quote from him because it pretty much says it all. He begins by pointing out that development in general is marked by “The decline of egocentrism.” He reports “The young child is totally egocentric. Meaning not that he thinks selfishly only about himself, but to the contrary, that he is incapable of thinking about himself. The egocentric child is unable to differentiate himself from the rest of the world. He hasn’t separated himself out from others or from objects. Thus he feels that others share his pain or his pleasure. That his mumblings will inevitably be understood, that his perspective is shared by all persons, that even animals and plants partake of his consciousness. In playing hide-and-seek, he will hide in broad view of other persons because his egocentrism prevents him from recognizing that others are aware of his location. The whole course of human development can be viewed as a continuing decline in egocentrism.”
Question: So egocentrism or narcissism is greatest at fulcrum 1 and then steadily declines?
Ken Wilber: Yes, exactly. Because at fulcrum 1 differentiation is at its least. Narcissism is at its worst. This self-centrism lessens some, but as the infant’s identity switches from physio centric to bio centric, from fulcrum 1 to fulcrum 2, that is, the child does not treat the physical world as an extension of itself because physical self and physical world are now differentiated. But the emotional self and the emotional world are not yet differentiated. And so the entire emotional world is an extension of the self. Emotional narcissism is at its peak. The bio centric or ecological self of fulcrum 2 is thus still profoundly egocentric. What it’s feeling, the world is feeling. This narcissism is lessened or declines once again with the emergence of the conceptual self, that’s fulcrum 3. The self is now a conceptual ego, but that ego still cannot yet take the role of other. So the early ego is still largely a narcissistic, preconventional egocentric. This declining narcissism can be summarized as going from physio centric to bio centric to egocentric. All three are egocentric in the general sense but less and less so. And the whole egocentric perspective undergoes yet another radical shift with the emergence of the capacity to take the role of other. At which point egocentric shifts to sociocentric.
Question: In other words fulcrum 4?
Ken Wilber: That’s right. At this stage, what becomes crucially important for me is not how I fit with my biological impulses, but how I fit with my social roles. My group, my peer group, or a bit wider, how I fit with my country, my state, my people. I’m now taking the role of other, and how I fit with the other is crucially important. I have decentered once again, differentiated once again, transcended once again. My ego is not the only ego in the universe. So this sociocentric stance is a major transformation or paradigm shift from the previous and especially egocentric stances of the first 3 fulcrums. But notice, with fulcrum 4, care and concern are expended from me to the group, but no further. If you’re a member of the group, a member of my tribe, my mythology, my ideology, then you are saved as well. But if you belong to a different culture, a different group, a different mythology, a different God, then you’re damned. So this sociocentric or conventional stance tends to be very ethnocentric. Care and concern are expanded from me to my group and there it stops. So I also call this conventional or sociocentric stance by the term, mythic membership. The world view of fulcrum4 is still mythological and so care and concern are extended to believers in the same mythology, the same ideology, the same race, the same creed, the same culture, but no further. If you’re a member of the myth, you are my brother, my sister, if not, you go to hell. In other words, I can decenter from my ego to my group but I cannot not yet decenter my group. My group is the only group in the universe. I cannot yet move from sociocentric and ethnocentric to a truly world centric or universal or global stance. A decentered universal pluralistic stance, but I am getting there slowly.