“A Brief History of Everything”

(starting with the Gender Divide and Spiritual Divide)

M. David Bradshaw
5 min readAug 6, 2018

Book Review by David Bradshaw, Myideafactory.net

“A work of unparalleled scope and integrative vision.” — Michael Murphy

“A clarion call for seeing the world as a whole.” — SF Chronicle


Widely acclaimed as the most influential American philosopher of our time, Ken Wilbur greatly expands the meaning of the familiar words of Jesus; “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

Among the many and diverse levels of truth Ken Wilbur unveils for readers are his four key “quandrants” of human and societal development (see image below) and “nine spheres” of consciousness — which form an integral vision of how to achieve “unity of body, mind, soul and spirit in self, culture and nature.”

It would be hard to imagine any possible bigger picture than the one painted by Wilbur, which incorporates his vast, interconnected “theory of everything”.

“Never before in history has this type of all-level, all-quadrant approach been possible, because never before were all the pieces of the puzzle available,” writes Wilbur.

As comprehensive and potentially complex as Wilbur’s levels, spheres and quadrants at first appear, only a true genius could draw such an all-encompassing philosophical, cultural, economic and spiritual map with such amazing simplicity and clarity.

Healing the Great Gender Divide

Wilbur kicks off his book’s Introduction by offering readers a fresh angle on how to bridge our understanding of the causes and solutions to today’s gender gap.

“Nature did not split the human race into two sexes for no reason,” says Wilbur. “Males are saddled with two major survival drives; mating and killing, thanks to Testosterone…The female drive toward attachment, relationship and nurturing is a result of Oxytocin, the female equivalent hormone.”

According to Wilbur, today “Both men and women are struggling for ways to transcend their old roles without simply erasing them.” This leads to Wilbur’s first major axiom, “Evolution always transcends and includes, incorporates and goes beyond.”

The good news, writes Wilbur, “We are at the point of evolution where the primary sex roles — hyperautonomy for men and hyperrelationship for women — are both being transcended to some degree, with men learning to embrace relational being and women learning to embrace autonomy…This is why kindness on both sides is so important.”

Wilbur writes, “It appears there were certain inescapable circumstances that made “patriarchy” an unavoidable arrangement for an important part of human development, which is no longer necessary, so we can and are beginning to deconstruct patriarchy, more charitably balancing the books between the male and female value spheres…But this is not the undoing of a brutal state of affairs that could easily have been otherwise; it is rather the outgrowing of a state of affairs no longer necessary.”

Rather than allowing men to complain about the women’s liberation movement, or women to complain about their victimization at the hands of the male patriarchy, Ken offers a peaceful pathway out of the patriarchal abuses of the past — as well as insight toward greater understanding and embracing of the LGBT movement.

Ken presents an optimistic outlook about the future trajectory of male/female relationships, teaching readers how to value sexuality with a more inclusivity and equal emphasis.

Healing The Great Spiritual Divide

Wilbur next offers readers an olive branch to help heal the great spiritual divide. He boils down the world’s great spiritual traditions and human attempts to comprehend the Divine into two basic categories; “Ascending” and “Descending” — seeking God above the earth and seeking God in the earth.

“The Ascending path is transcendental and otherworldly, usually puritanical and ascetic, yogic, tends to devalue or deny the body, the senses, sexuality, the Earth, the flesh, seeking salvation in a kingdom not of this world. The Ascending path glorifies the One, not the Many; Emptiness, not Form; Heaven, not Earth,” explains Wilbur.

The Descending path seeks just the opposite. “It glorifies the Many, not the One, it celebrates Earth, the body, senses and sexuality. In the West, from the time of Augustine (400 AD) to the time of Copernicus (1450 AD) we have a purely Ascending ideal, otherworldly to the core…But with the rise of modernity (1500 to late-1800s) and postmodernity (mid-20th Century to present) we see a complete and profound reversal. The Ascenders were out, the Descenders were in.”

Wilbur proposes that the great challenge and goal of our generation is to integrate and include the best of both the Ascending and Descending worldviews. To balance both transcendence and immanence, the One and the Many, Emptiness and Form, Heaven and Earth…”this requires integration and Nonduality.”

Nonduality is a key buzzword in the modern “Contemplative” movement toward a more “unitive” worldview by such leaders as; Fr. Richard Rohr, Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Wm Paul Young and Brian McLaren, just to name a few. As Rohr simply puts it, “Truth is not either/or, but both/and.”

Wilber views religion as having two primary functions. The first is to create “meaning for the separate self.” The second and mature function of religion is to help individuals transcend that very self. Moving from the small “false” self to the larger “True” self.

“It is in this union of Ascending and Descending currents that harmony is found…it seems that only when both are united that both can be saved…If you and I do not contribute to this union, then it is very possible we will destroy the only Earth we have and forfeit the only Heaven we might otherwise embrace,” He concludes.

We find examples of this type of inclusive worldview in Christ’s prayer for a new kingdom, “On Earth, as it is in Heaven.” Saint Francis of Assisi emphasized this same perspective of seeing God in every single corner of Creation. Spiritual inclusion appears to be the shape of things to come, which is increasingly found in all religions and cultures and is expressed in the universal agreement of “The Golden Rule.”
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Read more about Ken’s four stages of spiritual growth … Meanwhile, this simple chart of Wilbur’s 4 Quadrants which illustrates why fundamental change begins internally (mind, soul, spirit) then works its way to external action, then moves from the individual to the collective beliefs and then to the collective behavior.