Kurt Johnson and David Sloan Wilson
Both of us, as arguably well-positioned “mainstream” academics and also social and cultural leaders, have for some years been part of the further dissemination and dialogue concerning the “integral vision and message”. Advertently or inadvertently we have found ourselves bringing the work of writers like Ken Wilber, Don Beck, Chris Cowan, Steve McIntosh, Dustin DiPerna and others into the wider mainstreams of our media, academia, and public discourse. As well known as “integral” views are to many worldwide, and translated widely into many languages, it is surprising how many leaders and influencers across our globe, in multiple arenas of expertise and engagement, are still unaware of the nature and work of the integral community.
During this time both of us have been privileged to work personally with, and produce educational products with, most of the integral writers we’ve noted just above. A review of a number of these activities will portray both (1) the arenas of our own work and, in that, (2) the range across which we have been participating in this further dissemination and dialogue concerning the integral vision. Reporting in this way is also appropriate to the format of this blog: “Notes from the Field”. So we have welcomed the opportunity.
One of us, David Sloan Wilson, has been part of a revolution in mainstream science leading to the “multilevel” understanding of natural selection. [i] Whereas, the old view of post-Darwinian science was that natural selection always selects for the best competitor— and this view of “survival of the fittest” (“Social Darwinism”) came to dominate global economics, business, and politics– mainstream science now holds that selection for the best competitor happens only at the lower levels of complexity in nature and, among groups or among hierarchies, natural selection selects the best cooperator.
At the academic level, this revolution resulted from evolutionary science accepting the reality of “group selection” and “multilevel selection” in nature. The view that at higher levels of complexity, natural selection favors the best cooperators, implies not only a sea-change in views of how politics, economics, and business should actually be working but is a powerful indictment against the ethical and moral excesses that have gone on globally for nearly two centuries under the name of “Social Darwinism”. The result has been a global tragedy—organizational principles that don’t work (compared to ones that might) and, we could argue, a result of global dystopia, not utopia.
It is across these areas of engagement that David has become engaged in the integral discussion. He has met in depth with Ken Wilber and participated in the 2015 Denver conference with Ken that resulted in the video on YouTube (now called “An Introduction to Integral Spirituality”) which has over 160,000 views online.
Another of us, Dr. Kurt Johnson was the organizer of that conference, and since has produced, in cooperation with Ken Wilber’s integral community, ten e-magazine special issues and five special programs on VoiceAmerica internet radio (or related videos) that have further engaged, elaborated, and disseminated numerous aspects of the integral worldview. These undertakings, which have engaged some 200,000 readers and 100,000 listeners, have been reviewed and linked recently at page 5.
The activities resulted from programs created by both of us that, in 2016-2017, featured the online discussion “Steering Toward the Omega Point” through The Evolution Institute, and a series of video’d roundtables (now, among other sites online, at YouTube’s Altruism Channel). Each of these programs included participation of the integral view and various of the integral leaders and writers we noted in our first paragraph.
Elements of the Dialogue
During this process, David engaged further with Ken Wilber for a long audio dialogue disseminated through Integral Life entitled Evolving a Multi-cellular Society. It is relevant to emphasize this discussion between Wilber and Wilson because one of its conclusions was that there is tremendous value, for both the integral community and “mainstream academia”, to develop this discussion, especially if it can be “updated” (as David Sloan Wilson said in the conversation) to include as many of the current elements of contemporary academic, scientific, and philosophical discussion as possible. Wilber and Wilson gave several examples of how this “updating” can be beneficial both for the integral community and many in the more conventional academic community. They particularly emphasized current studies in cognitive science and cognitive behavioral science which would influence views and understandings of cultural behavior and cultural evolution—all relevant to any developmental view of process and history.
As is well known, Ken Wilber has been a long-term colleague of Kurt Johnson and the “Interspiritual Movement” because of Wilber’s long friendship, and many activities with, Br. Wayne Teasdale, who named “interspirituality” and authored several of its foundational books. These were followed later by publications of Johnson. As noted, there followed some ten projects, events, initiatives and publications where the interspiritual community and integral community worked in concert p. 5.
Kurt and David discovered each other after Kurt’s 2013 book The Coming Interspiritual Age, about which David observed that the interspiritual movement was precisely the kind of cultural movement that would be predicted by modern group and multi-level selection theory and its relationship to cooperative cultural interrelations.
Kurt’s 2013 book having been based on an integral framework, Kurt then introduced David to Ken Wilber and arranged their initial meetings. Then Kurt wrote in Kosmos Journal an account of the synchronicities between Dr. Wilson’s work and the Interspiritual/ Integral Discussions that Wilber and Br. Wayne Teasdale had engaged in before Teasdale’s death (Article: Interspirituality—Evolving Toward Cooperation).
So, we are now some five years into the dialogical relationship of Ken Wilber (and other Integral writers) with the new evolutionary paradigm championed by David Sloan Wilson and diverse colleagues across the mainstream academic community.
Recent Growth of The Dialogue, and Implications
Numerous shared writings by us encapsulate the implications of this recent revolution in evolutionary science. These include the understanding of spirituality as the profound experience of interconnection, the recognition that humans are “wired” for both the deepest of subjective (spiritual) and objective (scientific) ways of knowing, the connection of altruistic behaviors to nature’s choices favoring cooperation, how to address the thorny predicament of how embedded “the myth of Social Darwinism” [quoting Wilson] has become worldwide, and the search for and study of organizational and design principles that reflect the current views of modern science. Overall they suggest that world polity cannot wisely proceed without its actual policies and praxis being in concrete alignment with the realities of evolutionary process.
As the work of David and his diverse colleagues has become better known, it was inevitable that broadening and proliferation of this dialogue would occur. Wilson was joined by renowned Harvard scholar, E. O. Wilson, in revising the field of Sociobiology with regard to cooperation. D. S. Wilson has also joined prominent voices in the cooperation-centered global humanist, interfaith and conscious business communities in numerous series of conferences and other media proffering these central and vital new views (see Conscious Business, 2019-2020, Light on Light and Global Oneness Summit).
So, it was not surprising that in 2019 David was contacted by the Mind & Life Institute of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to come to Dharamshala, India, for dialogue and exchange at His Holiness’s residence. This conference, which also included Kurt Johnson, occurred from late October to early November in 2019.
This was a fascinating set of discussions emphasizing the clear alignment between the moral, ethical, and ideals-related visions of David’s Prosocial Movement, the Interspiritual, and Integral movements and the work and vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. If one listens to available recordings from these sessions this will be readily apparent. In fact, the dedication on the frontis of David’s most recent book aptly echoes the essential message of His Holiness:
“To all who are reaching for an ethics for the whole world”
Kurt has reported, including in direct reporting back to Ken Wilber that the elements of His Holiness’s observations of world patterns and their ethical and moral implications directly reflected the principles of integral theory, including for instance the patterns Integral calls “quadrants”, “zones”, “states and stages” and “developmental levels”. As Kurt reported in a report-back on the Dharamshala meeting at the United Nations Church Center on Dec. 10, 2019, this was quite startling to him, but also well understood as the result of many persons now finely observing patterns in nature and culture. Joining Kurt at this UN session was Richard Bowell, an Englishman living in Greece, who independently derived much of integral theory, and whose books Ken Wilber has recently offered an endorsement. Pattern observation is a keystone of science and it should not surprise us that the integral principles of so many pioneer integral writers are now being discovered, even independently, by many around the world.
We have found the ongoing unfolding of our relationships with the integral community not surprising. “Everything that rises must converge” is famously attributed to Teilhard de Chardin, especially through the reflections of writer Flannery O’Connor. David Sloan Wilson’s current book This View of Life states that it is a modern restatement of Teilhard’s cosmology:
This book can be seen as an updated version of the Phenomenon of Man. It is fully scientific, based on the best of our current knowledge about evolution, which has grown vastly more sophisticated since Teilhard’s day. It also unabashedly goes beyond what is to provide a blueprint for what ought to become. Modern evolutionary theory shows that what Teilhard meant by the Omega Point is achievable in the foreseeable future. However, the same theory shows that its achievement is by no means certain. The reason is that evolution is both the solution and the problem. The harmony and order that we associate with the word “organism” is indeed a movable boundary that can be expanded to include biological eco- systems, human societies, and conceivably the entire earth. Special conditions are required, however, and when these conditions are not met, then evolution takes us where we don’t want to go. There is no master navigator for our journey. We must be the navigators, consciously evolving our collective future, and without the compass provided by evolutionary theory, we will surely be lost. (TVOL, p. xiv]
Given all that we have reported above, indeed, the question arises whether there is sufficient time now to reverse the perverse results of the predicament our world finds itself in today. If there is any good news, it is that every person, leader and constituency mentioned and discussed in our report here in “Notes from the Field” firmly believe in the human, adaptive, potential residing in both the inner and outer nature of our species Homo sapiens. One goes away from gatherings and activities like those reported above firm at least in the assurance that “this view of life” (the one to which Darwin accorded the word “grandeur” in his final paragraph in On the Origin of Species) has an abundance of capable champions across our planet.
[i] 2015: Does Altruism Exist: Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others (Yale/Templeton); 2019: This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution (Pantheon) (“TVOL”).
About the Authors
Dr. David Sloan Wilson has made foundational contributions to evolutionary science and its applications to human affairs, including business and economics. He is SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University, president of the Evolution Institute, the first think tank to formulate public policy from a modern evolutionary perspective. He is the author of two pivotal books in cultural evolution: Does Altruism Exist—Culture, Genes and the Welfare of Others and This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution. Economics and business has been a focus of the Evolution Institute and the Prosocial Movement of which David is also a co-founder, including collaboration with economics Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom. David is also the author of Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society. Among many other associations, David is a member of The Evolutionary Leaders (www.evolutionaryleaders.net). His article includes reference to his recent discussions on world change with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Also see www.evolution-institute.org
Dr. Kurt Johnson (www.unity.earth, www.interspirituaity.com) has worked in professional science and comparative religion over 40 years. A prominent figure on international committees, particularly at the United Nations, he is author of the influential book The Coming Interspiritual Age (2013) and two award-winning books in science: Nabokov’s Blues (2000) and Fine Lines (2015) (Brian Boyd Prize for scholarly writing, 2019). Kurt has served on the faculty of New York’s Interfaith Seminary for 12 years and, for 25 years was associated there with the American Museum of Natural History. He is host for the Convergence radio series on VoiceAmerica, a series featuring global change-makers, and an editor of three magazines: The Convergence, Light on Light, and Conscious Business. Ordained or certified in five religious traditions. Kurt has a PhD in Evolution and Ecology and is author of over 200 scientific articles and seven books. Among many other associations he is a founder of the UN NGO Forum 21 Institute, is President of the Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and a member of the Evolutionary Leaders (www.evolutionaryleaders.net).