I am helping to put together an internet based seminar featuring Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber and I thought that I would write a blog post explaining how my interest in the work of these men led me to start this blog. I began to get excited about American philosophy through my study of Evolutionary Enlightenment (an evolutionary spiritual philosophy developed by Andrew Cohen) and Integral Theory (a perspective on the development of consciousness developed by Ken Wilber) and realized that the central insight of these two contemporary works is the same primary insight about the nature of reality that American philosophers have been wrestling with for centuries. That insight is the continuity between mind and matter.
One of the central tenets of American philosophy that stands in opposition to many European “idealistic” philosophies is that mind and matter are two aspects of one thing. There is not an “ideal” world of mind and a “real” world of matter – there is one world that includes both mind and matter. American philosophy from one point of view has been a long standing tradition of trying to find a way to understand the “oneness” of these two things that often seem so separate and that have in most philosophies from ancient times been described as separate.
The one intelligible theory of the universe is that of objective idealism, that matter is effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws.
William James dealt with this difficulty by saying that the only thing that was real was experience and that we lived in a universe built by a succession of experience. Sometimes our experience was of matter and the properties of matter. At other times our experience was of mind and the properties of mind. Either way it was all experience and we lived in what he called “a world of pure experience.”
And although Ralph Waldo Emerson was certainly an “Idealist” in belief, his experience of nature emphasized the unity of nature with the inner essence of being human.
Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and Andrew Cohen’s Evolutionary Enlightenment both recognize that the inner and outer dimensions of reality are aspects of a single evolving universe. After years of studying both of these, I was beyond intrigued to see that the history of American philosophy has been a history of this very same understanding.
Even now I am reading the American behaviorist B.F. Skinner and realizing that central to his view is exactly the same realization. He also insisted that there could be no mind separate from matter – but rather than seeing the world as being made up of pure experience as James had, he saw the world made up of pure behavior. I will write more about this fascinating topic as I read more about it.
I sometimes believe that I get a brief glimpse of the reality that these philosophers are trying to describe. I see that the universe as one unfolding event that has an inner and outer dimension. Being a human being is like being a nexus point that is aware of both the inner and outer dimensions simultaneously. We are not individual things that exist “on a planet” and “in the universe.” We are a nexus of perception between the inner and outer dimensions of reality.