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May 28, 2023

Unique Self Dialogue: Ken Wilber & Marc Gafni, Part 6

The story of evolution is the story of creativity, which is the story of Unique Self. Marc Gafni and Ken Wilber draw many key connections in this segment of their Unique Self audio dialogue conducted in September 2012. The dialogue begins with Ken Wilber’s storytelling about the nature of creativity from a cosmo-centric perspective. This builds to the amazing insight that Unique Self is actually the creator of the past and the driver of the future. More parallels and equations follow in due course.

This clip is a 24-minute excerpt which follows immediately from Part 5. The transcript below tracks the flow of the conversation on creativity up to the point at which Unique Self is equated to choice.


Marc: Creativity. That’s a big big topic. You and I talked about it a few years back. If we just talk about creativity, how it might relate to Unique Self, and why it is so central in spiritual practice.

Ken: Yeah, sure. The first thing is that creativity itself is… We often think about creativity as confined to humans, and then usually not just humans but only the bright and clever “creative” humans. But it’s actually one of the main intrinsic fundamental forces of the cosmos. It’s on the same footing as strong and weak nuclear force, electromagnetic, and gravitational. There is at least another force: Eros or creativity or self-organization. The universe displays the capacity for that, and has displayed the capacity for that ever since the Big Bang. We know this to be true because if there weren’t some fundamental creativity present right from the Big Bang forward, then the universe would never have changed from the shape that it was in at the Big Bang because there was no natural selection or gene mutation. There weren’t any genes to mutate and be selected. And yet novel forms started appearing instantly.

It was one of Whitehead’s “categories of the ultimate.” There were three things you needed to get the universe running. One, the One. Second, The Many. And the third, the creative advance of novelty. That’s astonishing to see it work. You have this explosion, some fourteen billion years ago where literally all the matter in the universe to this day was created to this day came into existence, so far as we can tell, out of nothing. Pure emptiness. Out of that, you get the original particles – strings, quarks, or whatnot – and they start coming together in unique and creative forms and produce atoms. Atoms are wandering around, individuals, and they start producing molecules. And then you have one of the most mind-boggling creative leaps: You have several dozens of really complex molecules and you can imagine, they all of the sudden come together, a cell wall drops around them, and life appears, a life form, the first cell appears. It’s an absolute miracle. It’s absolutely unbelievable that something like that would happen. But it doesn’t stop there. Those cells hang out for another billion years or so and they pull together and start creating multi-cellular organisms. In each of these cases, we’re seeing creative advance and novelty, creativity, and we’re seeing it operate on its own.

When we get to biological forms… Darwin came up with the whole notion of natural selection because he was watching gardeners select different plant forms to cross-pollinate. They were deriving new forms out of that selection. All that’s fine, we just have to remember that that selection was an intelligent choice that was made to pull these things together. Darwin needed an alternative to that. He did consider God, as did George Wallace who came up with the concept at the same time. Both of them would see evolution as the way that God created a manifest universe, but you have these creative forces operating and they’re just the opposite of randomness. The idea that you can somehow explain all of the emergence of all the psychological and biological forms through random mutation and natural selection is silly. What we see is exactly the opposite of randomness. There’s a force in the universe that runs against randomness and it got us from dirt to Shakespeare. That is not a random process. That is an extraordinary process of creative evolution.

What happens with each of these creative emergences is new qualities, new characteristics, new perspectives, and new degrees of consciousness or awareness come into being. In other words, another divine spark of spirit is struck and emerges and appears in each creatively emergent form, and each of these are, in their own way, unique. Even though all electrons sort of look the same, in a certain sense, none of them ever occupy the same space at the same time, and none of them ever have the same prehensive feel of the universe. Ever. Each of them has a different prehensive feel of the cosmos. It’s a unique holon.

Marc: That’s right.

Ken: And so uniqueness is part of creativity. They go hand in hand, and so as evolution continues and creativity continues and more and more levels of consciousness comes into being, and each time a new level of consciousness come into being new perspectives come into being, new capacities come into being. The universe goes from being close to inert to having sensation and then having perception and then starting to form images with neural nets, and then starting to form proto-emotions with a reptilian brain stem and then full fledge emotions with a limbic system. The universe is becoming more and more sensitive to itself. It’s seeing itself through different eyes with every stage of unfolding, it is knowing itself through different perspectives through every step of evolution, starting to become more and more aware and more and more self-aware. This is Spirit itself starting to wake up.

And as we get into human beings, at some point, human beings and human be-ings, the process of evolution itself becomes conscious of itself, and creativity becomes aware of creativity, and God becomes aware of God. And this is an extraordinary other leap forward. You soft of have to go back to the beginning of life to get something comparable, an enormous leap that this was. What it means is that individuals as they start to awaken to Spirit in themselves and start to awaken to the fact that their self is ultimately one with Spirit and the overall number of spirits is but one, nonetheless still — like electrons, none of them occupying the same place, the same space, at the same time. So every spiritual realization is both identical and unique at the same time. Identical in that it is a realization of the one and only ground of Being. And unique in that it is being seen through one set of eyes with one particular perspective for the first time ever. The first time that this single ground of Being has been seen from this particular angle through these particular eyes, with this particular brain, with these particular interpretations, and these particular thoughts.

So we’re right at the very fundamental edge of evolution itself. Because what we have found as we continued to self-explore is that consciousness is not a product of the brain but the brain is a product of consciousness. Every choice that the human mind makes is transformed into a neural substrate in the brain’s structures. So we have actually evolved to the point where we can actually catch one of the mechanisms of leading edge evolution: which is the choices that human beings at the edge of evolution make become materialized, turn into matter in the brain, and passed on. They are also passed on through culture, and they’re passed on through genetic mutations still. But they are also fundamentally through actual changes in the brain structure. And this happens by the choices, the creative choices, that human beings make at the edge of their own evolution. And that means that the Unique Self is not just a product of the past. It’s a creator of the future.

Marc: Right.

Ken: Whitehead had kind of a similar notion. I don’t want to draw too many parallels here. But he spoke of two dimensions of God. Most of the wisdom traditions do, but this was in a modern form and therefore included evolution. One is the primordial nature of God, which is timeless and unchanging and corresponds for us with emptiness or True Self. And then there’s the consequent nature of God, which is the product of changes In the manifest world that are prehensively unified, drawn into wholeness. As Whitehead put it: the many become one, and are increased by one. In other words, another holon was creatively added to the universe. And that gets laid down in actually new brain structure being created. And so we’re right on the edge of being able to spot that form of evolution. We can spot that it comes from the deepest creative sources of our own self. In other words, from our Unique Self. The Unique Self does have a consequent nature because it has enfolded within it all of our previous stages. But it is also a leading edge where it is laying down the very future of tomorrow. It’s laying down the creative advance into novelty is getting created as we make our choices and convert them into mental choices which are converted into brain structures.

Marc: Right.

Ken: Creativity is part of how human beings fundamentally participate in the cosmic process of evolution itself. Creativity is not just a human force. It is a cosmic force. It goes all the way back to the Big Bang. And when we participate in that creativity, we are participating in that evolutionary force, which in its highest form is issuing straight from the Unique Self. The uniqueness comes with the creativity…

Marc: That’s fantastic. We’ve talked about this any number of times. I think this is just the most clear, elegant, beautiful statement of the whole thing. I’ve completely enjoyed it. Let’s just talk about the aesthetic pleasure. Deep bow in delight. We have to never forget to delight in things. Delight is a function of creativity. So let me just dance a little bit in this elegant unfolding. What you are pointing to is the indivisible nexus between Unique Self and creativity. They are actually at their core one and the same. The matrix of creativity is Unique Self. It is the Unique Perspective of the individual. But in some sense we could view or understand the history of the cosmos as both the evolution of and the awakening of uniqueness…

Ken: …as a spiritual force.

Marc: Precisely. A critical end to the sentence. So the evolution of uniqueness, the awakening of uniqueness, uniqueness moving from what we might call unconscious uniqueness to conscious uniqueness, which then becomes a source of conscious creativity, consciousness in the biggest broadest sense not the tinsel sense. It is actually the unfolding and in some sense the obvious telos of the cosmos. Not the telos from the perspective of an imposed telos, which says this is prescriptively what the cosmos should be doing. But one could describe World Spirituality thought as a move from metaphysics to phenomenology. We are saying prescriptively this is what should be, we’re saying, this is what is. Whether that’s in a phenomenology of sexing or a phenomenology of reality itself, what is happening is that this movement of Eros which equals creativity equals uniqueness. There are those equal signs.

Paradoxically, it equals pleasure. Pleasure not only as a hedonic function, but a eudomonic function. The split between daemon and hedon limits pleasure to the aesthetic line. But when you think about it more deeply there’s the pleasure of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. So there’s this beautiful equation of Eros which equals creativity which equals uniqueness which equals the pleasure of creativity. It’s beautiful. In a schema of levels of pleasure, which we’ve talked about offline never online, you actually begin to understand that pleasure is a function of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and there’s no rate of exchange between pleasures. As you move up the levels of pleasure, you realize the highest pleasure – nothing below it can buy any of it — is Unique Self creativity. There’s Unique Self realization, but all of True Self realization can’t buy you Unique Selfcreativity. It’s its own highest expression of the phenomenological description of what is, where the cosmos is moving. We’re not making a metaphysical move. We’re making a simple move. It’s the duh move. That’s what’s happening. Oh. That’s where it’s moving. And in that sense, Unique Self creativity becomes an ethical obligation. Not a metaphysically imposed obligation of a particular ethnocentric version that claims the world is a particular kind of vending machine that my religion happen to own. Rather it’s a description of the natural telos of the cosmos. In that sense, the prehension – I love that description of the unique prehensive feeling of an electron – while the electron isn’t writing a book about it to the best of our knowledge, not painting a painting. But that prehension explodes into consciousness billions of years later when DaVinci activates his Unique Perspective and produces DaVinci or Shakespeare produces Shakespeare.

What is an artist? An artist is someone… We used to think that an artist is someone who is good at art class. That’s what you pointed out in the beginning. We exiled art not only to the human realm, but to a particular dimension of the human realm: you draw well. Actually creativity is the natural function of perspective, and the more perspectives come online, the more creativity comes online, and the artist, being the unique person living (this is kind of Nietzsche plus emptiness if you will in in the Buddhist sense of emptiness, True Self). Nietzsche + True Self = the evolutionary artist who is actually seeing through their Unique Perspective and offering their unique creativity which becomes an aesthetic expression in the line of the Beautiful, but a moral obligation which is not imposed externally which is a moral obligation which is the very natural nature of who we are. That gives you the Good. That produces newer and newer advancements into Truth. The creative advance into novelty, as you cited Whitehead, reveals deeper truths about the way it is. For the first time, we are seeing at the leading edge how that becomes a neural substrate which begins to give birth to what you have called a cosmic habit.

Now that we understand neuroplasticity a little bit better, we actually begin to understand that choice is identical with Unique Self. We can actually go back to our original equation and say that: Eros = creativity = Uniqueness = the pleasure of creativity = the creativity which changes the nature of the Good, the True, and Beautiful. And the linchpin of the entire thing is choice.

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