Preface to the Russian Edition of A Brief History of Everything

Ken Wilber

I am delighted to see A Brief History of Everything being translated into Russian.  Brief History is still one of my most popular and widely read books, and I’m glad, because it is one of my own personal favorites as well.  It was originally written as a simpler, easier, more accessible version of one of my major works—Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, an 850-page monster of a book that takes considerable fortitude to tackle (the irony is that it is nevertheless one of the easiest-to-read books I’ve written — very clear language, very simple, very straightforward and — people tell me anyway — a real delight to read).  Still, it is definitely longBrief History was meant to remedy that, and it certainly did.  In doing so, it became, as I said, one of the most popular books I’ve written, and gives what I believe is still a wonderful, succinct, and brief summary of the theory it is meant to present: namely, Integral Theory.

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (Russian, 2015)

The cover of the new Russian edition.
(Wilber K. Kratkaya istoriya vsego. — Moscow: Postum, 2015.)

Integral Theory has had many precursors in past history, East and West, from Plotinus to Shankara to Maimonides to Longchenpa to Schelling to Padmasambhava to Peirce to Whitehead, to name just a very few at random.  As a modern and postmodern theory, it is generally associated with my name, although there are indeed a steadily increasingly number of individuals who have gotten bitten by the Integral bug and are writing books on Integral topics themselves, from Integral Medicine to Integral Ecology to Integral Economics to Integral Nursing to Integral Architecture to Integral Psychotherapy to Integral Business and Integral Leadership.  More and more people worldwide are finding in Integral Theory an answer to the broken, fragmented, partial, isolated, torn and tortured Postmodern Theory in all of its shattered forms, and instead a genuine holism, a wholeness, an undividedness, a coherent unity-in-diversity that brings the world together into the patterns that connect and unite, and shows us a world that hangs together, not falls apart.  And thus Integral Theory is a perfect antidote to the fractured, torn, and tormented world in which we of today find ourselves.  In America, the magazine known as The Journal of Integral Theory and Practice—the major, peer‑reviewed journal in the field — has carried articles now on over 50 different human disciplines (medicine, art, business, history, architecture, economics, leadership, psychiatry, etc.) re‑interpreting each of them using the Integral Framework, and in each case, not only has it worked, it has produced a genuinely Inclusive or Comprehensive or Integral version of that discipline (i.e., Integral Medicine, Integral Art, Integral Business, etc.).  So we know the Integral approach works, and it works well.

But it’s not just, or even especially, in academic fields that Integral Theory has important applications.  One of the most common — and the reason this book has been so popular — is that it addresses the simple but often puzzling questions of everyday life.  Integral Theory believably explains how both science and spirituality fit together (and why both are important); it shows how different situations require different types of knowledge in order to be understood (e.g., “What’s the meaning of War and Peace?” requires a different type of knowing than, “How much does one cubic centimeter of water weigh?”); it finds a place for art, and for history, and for spirituality in our day-to-day lives, and shows how and why they are all important — in short, as one reader put it, “A Brief History of Everything makes room for everything!”  And that’s what it does — it will show you how all the various pieces of your life fit together — work, play, relationships, creativity, parenting, partying, spirituality, among so many others — and thus show you a way to find your life more whole, more full, more unified, while “making sense of everything.”  The perpetual arguments that you hear around you everyday, which cause so many people so many problems — what is the relation of God and science, if any?; how can a traditional understanding and set of values (found in church, for example) fit with a modern understanding and set of values (found in business or in science, for instance), and those in turn fit with a postmodern understanding and set of values (multiculturalism, pluralism, sensitivity)?  In America, these three values — traditionalism, modernism, and postmodernism — are constantly at war, a war typically referred to as “the culture wars,” with each of these felt to be either right or wrong, and all the others losing out if it doesn’t win the culture wars — whereas in fact, there is a simple way to fit all three of those together, leaving nothing out, including all — and putting an end to the culture wars.

Integral Theory, in short, is a simple way to fit literally everything together, showing how everything fits with everything else — thus “making sense of everything” at the same time.  People come away from reading Brief History and they feel that the universe makes sense, that they are living in a world that fits together, that is interconnected, interwoven, whole and one.  And their lives, consequently, also start to feel full and whole and undivided, unfragmented, and not broken into a hundred different pieces each going a different direction.  A calm peace tends to descend on them, and they wake up each morning ready to face a day that makes sense to them, that has value, meaning, purpose, aim, and direction — and happiness!  Living in a world that fits together and makes sense — what a joy!

Are there any items about Integral Theory that have changed since this book has been written?  Well, on the one hand, many new items have been added and many others clarified — but all of those are at much more technical and detailed levels of explanation than would make it into this book in any event.  The basics of this book are still sound, and I still fully back them.  There are, as I said, technical advances in Integral Theory, but they don’t change anything in this book, and can be picked up by readers who are interested in them by reading some of the latter books of mine also being translated into Russian.  Items like “zones” — the major “boxes” of experience — things like an “I”-space (your own interior awareness), a “We”-space (the interior shared values and meanings of the various groups you are in), and an “it”-space (the objective world looked by science, for example — physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) — can all be looked at both from within (in a “subjective stance”) and from without (in an “objective” stance), giving not just 4 major boxes but 8, and each of those have a different method of knowing.   But that’s absolutely nothing necessary to know for this book!

Or an item such as “states” and “structures (or stages).”  The topic itself (“states and stages”) is covered in this book, and has to do with how we can understand spiritual or religious experience, among other items.  The world’s Great Spiritual Traditions almost uniformly give 4 or 5 major states of consciousness that all humans have (they have lots of others, but these are the most common and central): waking/physical, dreaming/subtle, deep formless sleep/causal, and nondual/unity.  Now, a person can have a “peak experience” or “altered state” experience in any one of those states — they can, for example, experience being “one” with everything in that state, and when that happens, you get different types of mystical experiences — if you experience being one with everything in the physical or natural world, you have “Nature Mysticism”; if you experience being one with a deity form in the subtle dream state, you have “Deity Mysticism”; if you are one with the formless causal realm, you have “Formless Mysticism”; and if you are one with everything in the nondual (or Totality) realm, you have “Unity Mysticism.”

That is all still true.  And we have abundant examples of people having these types of mystical experiences all the time.  Further, if you look at the world’s Great Contemplative or Meditative Traditions, each of those experiences is also a particular step or stage in an overall practice of meditation.  Thus, Evelyn Underhill, in her massive Mysticism text, gives 4 major steps that all mystics go through: physical purification, subtle illuminationcausal dark night (infinite black Abyss suffused with luminosity, and often the pain of losing that experience before it becomes permanent), and then, finally, nondual unification.  These are those 4 major states experienced as specific steps in an overall meditation practice, and wherever we find these (East or West), they are all variations on those 4 basic states used as steps.

But we also find something that the Great Traditions weren’t aware of.  These “states” can all be experienced directly and immediately and seen by introspecting, or simply “looking within.”  But what the pioneering mystics didn’t know (this was only discovered around 100 years ago) is that the mind has deeply embedded patterns in it with which it uses to interpret, explain, and experience the world and its sensations.  These are called “structures” (or “structures of consciousness,” as opposed to “states of consciousness”), but they too, like states, can (and almost always do) show development — they grow and evolve from one structure to the next to the next, in a fixed order that cannot be altered by social conditioning.  These structures have grown and evolved over time, with each new era in human evolution adding a new major structure (or worldview) through which it viewed the world around it (and its experiences within it).  Using Jean Gebser’s terminology as only one example, these structures (in the order they evolved) are Archaic (ape-like), Magic (tribal), Mythic (traditional religious), Rational (scientific modern), Pluralistic (postmodern multicultural), and the latest, just now emerging, the Integral (which “transcends and includes” ALL of the previous structures and views and makes room for all of them — a major, totally unprecedented event in evolution).

Now, we said that structures are how the mind interprets, explains, and experiences the world (inner and outer) in which it finds itself.  This includes spiritual peak experiences or states.  In other words, structures interpret states.  And you can have virtually any state experience (physical, subtle, causal, or nondual) at virtually any structure (Magic, Mythic, Rational, Pluralistic, or Integral) — but you will interpret the state experience according to the major structure of development you are at (Magic, Mythic, Rational, etc.).  Thus, for example, say you have a subtle/dream experience of a being of light and radiant love; and let’s say you are a believing Christian, so that you tend to interpret this being as Jesus Christ himself.  Now, if you are at the Magic level, you will interpret this being in Magical terms, and since Magic (as used by developmentalists) tends to mean egocentric and narcissistic, you might likely interpret this subtle event as meaning that you yourself are Christ, and nobody else.  If you are at a Mythic level of development, you might likely interpret this being as the savior of the “chosen peoples” (since Mythic tends to be “ethnocentric,” or focused on chosen “in‑groups” vs. infidel “out-groups”).  If you are at a Rational level of development, you will likely not believe much of the “mythological” aspects of the religion (such as Moses parting the Red Sea, or God raining down locusts on the Egyptians, etc.), and not believe in chosen “in-groups” vs. damned “out-groups,” but instead you will treat all people equally regardless of race, color, sex, or creed, so you might likely tend to see this being as a world teacher of great love and wisdom who still has some important teachings for the modern world.  If you are at a Pluralistic stage of development, you will likely tend to see this being as a great Humanistic Teacher, along with many other and equally valuable World Teachers existing now and throughout the ages.  And if you have made it all the way to the Integral stage, you would likely see each of these interpretations as appropriate for the person who has it, with all of them having some merit for at least some people.

So that’s part of the story of structures and states — whatever state experience you have, including spiritual or religious peak experiences (physical, subtle, causal, unity), will be interpreted according to the level of structure development you are at (Magic, Mythic, Rational, Pluralistic, or Integral).  But we also saw that you can be at virtually any of those structures and have a full development of states (from physical to subtle to causal to unity) — but again, you will interpret the particular state experience according to the structure you are at.  So you might be at Mythic.  If so, your meditation stages would be experienced as Mythic physical, Mythic subtle, Mythic causal, and Mythic unity.  Or you might be at Integral structure — and then your meditation will go Integral physical to Integral subtle to Integral causal to Integral unity.  The aim, of course, is to reach the completion stage in both sequences — to fully develop all structures of consciousness (from Archaic to Magic to Mythic to Rational to Pluralistic to Integral — this book includes 9 major structures — called “fulcrums,” explains what each one is, and how you can achieve it.  More on these structures in a moment) and to fully develop all states of consciousness (from physical to subtle to causal to unity).  Only at that point — the point of having fully developed through all structures and all states — can one be said to be “fully” Enlightened or truly Awakened.

The point is, you can find people at every one of those different positions — occupying a given structure plus any of the available states — and that will give them a very different overall “mental map” or “psychograph.”  The discovery of both structures and states has been a major breakthrough in human understanding, and helps explain an enormous amount of information.  The discovery of states shows us — among numerous things — the many different types of genuine mystical experiences individuals can have (nature mysticism, deity mysticism, formless mysticism, and unity mysticism); and the discovery of structures shows us the many different ways that each of them can be interpreted and even experienced (e.g., magic/tribal, mythic/traditional, rational/modern, pluralistic/postmodern, integral/unified).  This, again, is simply part of the “making room for everything” that is Integral.

One other item, briefly, might be mentioned.  That is that, for introductory purposes, we generally now use 12 basic structures or rungs, not just 9 as this book does.  Of course, the number of levels of consciousness used in different models varies enormously, and there is no one “right” way of doing it.  It simply depends on the degree of complexity or comprehensiveness you are looking for in any presentation.  Sometimes I use 16 levels, sometimes 12, sometimes 9 or 10, sometimes 5 or 6, and so on.  But it’s like Celsius or Fahrenheit — the former has 100 degrees between freezing and boiling water (0° to 100°), the latter has 180 degrees (32° to 212°) — which is right?  Well, neither, or both — it simply depends on how much complexity you want.  As long as you specify which you are using, either is fine.

It’s the same with the number of stages or levels of consciousness.  But for introductory purposes, as this text is, we’ve found a few things work a little better.  One is to include, between fulcrum-5 (self-esteem, rational) and fulcrum‑6 (self-actualization, integral) another fulcrum (which becomes the new fulcrum‑6), and is referred to as Pluralistic, green, postmodern, or relativistic — simply because that stage is the basis of Postmodernism around the world, and has such a large hand in the culture wars.  Then we break the previous fulcrum‑6 into two (fulcrum‑7 or holistic and fulcrum‑8 or integral).  Finally, we add one more stage to the higher, transpersonal stages, called “supermind,” simply because that seems to be the highest structure/level of consciousness that has evolved (in a very few) to date, but even though it is rare, it’s best not to leave it out.  The 4 highest structures are listed in this book by the state name of the state that often is integrated at the particular structure (so that the levels the later books would call para‑mind, meta‑mind, overmind, and supermind — referring strictly to the structures — are in this book called “psychic,” “subtle,” “causal,” and “nondual” — the states that are often integrated at these structures).  The descriptions of the levels are still quite similar, and nothing wrong is made by this move, it’s just, if you want a technically super‑accurate version of this, simply remember that there is an important difference between structures and states, and realize that all fulcrums are measures of structures, not states.  State are separate, relatively independent entities that can occur at virtually any of those structures or fulcrums.

Well, the actual material you are about to read is not nearly as dull or academically detailed as any of that!  Rather, what you are about to get, I believe, is a very readable introduction to a Comprehensive Map of the Kosmos, which finds “a place for everything,” and thus shows how it all fits together and makes sense — including science and spirituality, the finite and the infinite, bondage and Awakening, illusion and Enlightenment, the timeless NOW and temporal duration, the spaceless HERE and spatial extension, Spirit and ego, mind and body (or mind and brain), truth and falsity, right and wrong — and how to have fun with it, to take joy in it all, to find happiness coursing through your veins and near-blissful feelings running through your body.  It is a beautiful, wondrous, miraculous, joyful, exuberant, vital, conscious, creative, and alive Kosmos that we find ourselves in, and here — in the book now in your hands — you will find, I hope, a fun account of at least a brief history of all of it.


Ken Wilber
Denver Colorado USA
Winter 2013

Sample publications

Русская версия