Reluctantly Refusing The Kosmic Kool Aid
In a recent interview Ken Wilber (one of my first intellectual heroes) confidently proclaimed that once upon a time Spirit threw itself into being and through the process of Eros/Evolution/Development has been on an epic journey back to wholeness and rediscovery of itself ever since. His clear conviction appears to stem from the fact that over the years the ‘perennial philosophers’ and ‘great traditions’ have all separately arrived at this same singular conclusion. His own advanced contemplative and state based practices may also contribute to his high degree of certainty.
Now if someone put a ray-gun to my head and said 'tell me what you really believe about the nature of reality’ I would likely produce a very similar story to Ken's (he tells it well) as at the end of the day, deep in my bones it somehow feels true to me and it also feels good to believe in. But what confounds me is how Ken can deliver his cosmological assessment with such resounding conviction. While I used to steadfastly believe in such a narrative myself I've since tempered my more zealous proclivities with a healthy side serving of epistemic doubt. As over the last decade I’ve come to see how desperately intense our search for meaning can become. I've noticed that without a grander enveloping creation story we can often feel rudderless and may quickly slide into nihilist despair.
Having experienced my own bouts of Satre infused existential angst I fully support others in their quest to consciously make meaning, even to the point of fantastical private and personal mythologies if doing so will best provide them with solace, motivation and hope. I’m actually in the process of doing something similar myself through the lens of Neotribalism. An endeavour which is partially inspired by Robert Anton Wilsons prescription to be both wildly optimistic but also ultimately agnostic in terms of the creation of our own cosmological reality tunnels.
But along side this ongoing process of making meaning I also try to stay as cognisant as possible of own my biases as I’ve also come to notice that I have a habit of holding on extremely tightly to beliefs I desperately want to be true, even to the point of ignoring stark evidence to the contrary. This tends to result in any sense of doubt around the matter being relegated to the depths of my subconscious, a dynamic I’ve observed which tends to be a fairly universal amongst us humans.
So becoming aware of these patterns of self deception and also learning about the litany of other cognitive biases we tend to indulge in as a species appears to have irrevocably changed me. I've also had direct experience of watching individuals and entire communities become wholly enamoured and rigidly dogmatic around rather questionable new ideologies, narratives or ideas. Such experiences have empowered my inner skeptic to whittle down my Eros infused Wilberian levels of perennial certainty to around 50%. Or more accurately parts of me believe it with 100% surety and other parts of me remain 100% agnostic as to whether Eros or Spirit exists at all. Which in some ways I’m rather sad about because I find it much more invigorating to just go all in on the idea that Spirit actively threw itself outwards in order to know itself in it’s most discrete and infinitesimal form before re-furling back into itself after an epically poetic and cosmic adventure of developmental evolution.
But the fact is I just don’t know and I don’t really understand how Wilber can place so much confidence in his own inclinations. I don’t think I’m an overly cynical internet weaned Millennial as I still hold the mystery of existence to be deeply, deeply sacred. I just feel that perhaps we need to cultivate enough epistemic humility to say ‘I like the idea of A Great Chain Of Being and Morphogenetic fields and even the notion of my face existing before I was born but I’m just not totally sure they’re true’. Or untrue for that matter.
I feel like I want to drink that Great Chain Of Being Kool Aid so badly, like parts of me would gladly take the chalice from Ken's learned hands and sup oh so fully because of just how brilliant and widely read and deeply picked in meditation he is. This is what I did in my early 20’s when I first discovered Ken's work. But fifteen years later returning to him again ultimately I feel like I have to pass up those parts of his teachings and stay here in my slightly less sexy stance of conflicted unsureness, equally believing and disbelieving in the certainty of Eros. Thankfully, despite a vague sense of unease that I'm pitting my own beliefs in opposition to someone as learned as Wilber, I still have the immediacy of IS-ness to fall back on and the quiet sense that whatever we discover, or that I end up believing to be true is likely to be infinitely less mind blowing than the fullness and entirety of what’s really going down in this awe inspiring Cosmos we call home.
Joe Lightfoot is a writer, podcaster and apprentice community weaver. He is the author of A Collective Blooming: The Rise Of The Mutual Aid Community and the host of The Lightfoot Podcast. You can sign up to his newsletter The Lightfoot Letter and find him on Facebook & Twitter.