Monday, October 05, 2009

Ken Wilber, pseudo-philosopher

For thousands of people in North America, and a surprising number of people in the Antipodes, the great philosopher of our age is Ken Wilber. This fact may surprise many philosophers, because Wilber has never studied philosophy at a university, never published a paper in a refereed academic journal, never had a book accepted by an academic publisher, never had a book reviewed in an important non-academic intellectual forum, like the New York Review of Books or the Times Literary Supplement, and never held a teaching post in a Philosophy Department.

In the twenty-first century, though, the opinions of what some commenters at this blog sneeringly call 'the intellectual elite' tend often to conflict with popular opinion. Despite his lack of training in Mandarin, the self-proclaimed Sinologist Gavin Menzies enjoys better sales and a higher public profile than any of the myriad scholars who contest his claims that fifteenth century Chinese mariners discovered Antarctica and New Zealand and kick-started the Italian Renaissance. New Agers who believe that Einsteinian physics allows us to walk on water and mould reality to our will had a box office hit with What the Bleep do we Know?, despite being condemned as charlatans by real scientists like Richard Dawkins and Simon Singh. In the United States, where Wilber grew up, studied chemistry and biology at undergraduate level, and eventually founded his Integral Movement, only a minority of adults are persuaded by the theories of evolution and plate tectonics.

After growing up in Oklahoma, abandoning a degree in medicine at North Carolina's Duke University, going to the East and sitting at the feet of a series of holy men, and hanging about in the New Age 'scene' on America's West Coast in the 1970s, Wilber began publishing books which promised to bring together 'spirituality and science' in a 'theory of everything'. By 1987 Wilber had gathered enough of a following to found the Integral Institute in Boulder, Colorado and begin to conduct expensive courses there.

According to Wilber, both individuals and societies can be understood in relation to a grand schema of 'stages' of 'consciousness'. Wilber's schema begins with a stage marked by 'archaic consciousness' and culminates in stages of 'pluralist' and 'integral' consciousness. Each of these stages incorporates the best parts of the last, and humans who have reached the latter stages tend to be happier and live more useful lives than those who have gotten 'stuck' on the earlier stages. Indeed, the world's conflicts derive from the fact that many people are stuck at a particular stage of consciousness, which Wilber calls the 'mythic stage'. When they reach a 'higher', 'pluralist' stage of consciousness, humans are able to integrate the different worldviews they encounter, instead of responding to differences of opinion with aggression. According to Wilber, most of the small percentage of humans who have reached the pluralist consciousness live in the 'advanced' Western societies.

The rhetoric of pluralism that Wilber uses is common in New Age thought, and also makes appearances in contemporary political discourse. Leaders of New Zealand's Green Party, for instance, are fond of claiming that their organisation is 'beyond left and right' and that it forsakes the 'politics of conflict'. Few self-proclaimed pluralists are actually willing to tolerate every opinion that they encounter. Anybody who tried to do so would find it impossible to think and act coherently, because it is impossible to advocate one point of view without taking all sorts of negative positions on other points of view. The Greens, for instance, cannot advocate 'clean' forms of power generation without opposing coal mining and nuclear reactors.

The 'pluralists' may claim to adopt a tolerant attitude toward all competing points of view, but they actually use a set of criteria - a sort of meta-worldview - to distinguish between desirable and undesirable opinions. Typically, they justify this meta-worldview by claiming that it embodies a sort of 'ultimate' or 'objective' truth, and is thus beyond contestation. The Greens, for instance, tend to explain their opposition to nuclear power and GE food on the grounds that such things go 'against the interests of the planet', and can thus never be justified. In this very old-fashioned argument, 'the planet' - or 'the ecopshere', or 'gaia' - stands in for God as the ultimate arbiter of what is right and wrong. Left and right alike must submit to its dictates.

Wilber's 'pluralism' rests on a similarly absolutist foundation. He claims that the stages of consciousness that humans and human societies can pass through are part of a system which encompasses the entire universe. Everything in the universe, from the atom 'upward', wants to be part of 'something more than itself'. There is a sort of force which makes one thing want to be incorporated into something 'higher' - that makes an atom 'want' to be part of a molecule, a tree 'want' to be part of a forest, and so on.

Wilber uses the terms 'holon' and 'holarchy' to try to explain these ideas. A holon is a single unit, and a holarchy is a collection of units. Holons 'want' to be part of a 'holarchy'. The universe is a sort of conglomeration of holarchies - a super-holarchy. Everything fits together, because every holon 'wants' it to. We should all therefore 'naturally' want to move to a higher stage of consciousness. If we do not, then we are ignorant of our true nature, and of the true nature of the universe. Ideas and modes of behaviour which belong to 'lower stages' of consciousness should be jettisoned, or at least 'transcended', in the interest of movement 'upwards'. Philosophy is one of the most academicised fields of intellectual endeavour. Plato and his disciples stand at the very beginning of the tradition of the Western university. Historically, many very significant philosophers have worked outside universities but, for the last hundred and twenty years at least, philosophy has by and large taken place within an academic context: students have trained for years in the discipline, have shown their credentials by publishing in journals refereed by their peers, and - if they are intent on being professional philosophers, and are good enough, and (perhaps) intellectually fashionable enough - won teaching positions at universities.

Of course, it might be argued that academia is not the be-all and end-all of intellectual life, and that good work can be done outside the Ivory Tower. It is true that there has been a handful of modern philosophers - Jean-Paul Sartre is a notable example - who have done fine work outside the academy. But these thinkers have generally won recognition inside the academy, as the professionals have scrambled to keep up with them.

By contrast, Wilber has never succeeded in getting a book published by an academic press, and his name is not cited by contributors to refereed journals. On some of the sites run by the man's fans, this failure is explained by the existence of a sort of 'academic conspiracy' against Wilber. According to this view, Wilber's genius goes unappreciated by a narrow-minded, monolithic philosophical 'establishment' which controls the universities and peer-reviewed journals.

Similar complaints, of course, are heard from other marginalised intellectual currents, like Creationist 'scientists' and believers in the sort of 'alternate' histories which have Celts or Chinese landing on New Zealand before Maori. The complaints of Wilber's followers do not seem any more compelling than those of the Creationists or the alternate history crowd.

Academia is not a place of rigorously enforced orthodoxies - instead, it is riven by factions and controversy. One only has to pick up an academic journal to see the extent to which scholars disagree with one another. In the age of 'publish or perish' and cut-throat competition for non-tenured jobs, academics have more reason than ever to contest. Today, any young, job-hungry academic would leap at the chance to embrace and promote a theory that ran counter to the direction of his or her discipline - if that theory were credible.

It is true that JFK 'University', a small, private institution in California, does offer a course in 'Integral Studies', but this course does not appear to be connected to or endorsed by any academic philosophy department. It looks rather like the sort of dubious course of studies which can be created at private 'universities' by religious groups intent on appearing intellectually respectable. It is, after all, possible to 'study' Creationism at various American 'universities'.

The source for the oft-repeated suggestion that Wilber is an acclaimed philosopher is probably Wilber himself. The man's books, which appear to either be self-published or to come from New Age presses, tend systematically to misrepresent his status in the philosophical community. For instance, the back cover of the 1995 volume Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality claims that 'Ken Wilber is one of the most widely read and influential philosophers of our time'.

If Wilber is not part of contemporary philosophical discourse, where does he get his ideas from? Wilber seems to derive some of his ideas and much of his terminology - his talks of 'holons' and a 'holarchy', for instance - from Arthur Koestler, a man who was never a philosopher, and indeed never claimed to be. After suffering at the hands of Stalinists in the Spanish Civil War, Koestler won a reputation for his novels and his journalism, which warned of the dangers of authoritarian politics. As he got older, though, Koestler developed some very strange beliefs, which led to the gradual evaporation of his reputation. After taking large amounts of LSD, Koestler became obsessed with the occult. He wrote about ghosts and spent a lot of time holding glorified seances.

Koestler also developed some inexplicable ideas about history. One of the strangest of the many strange books he wrote in his old age was The Thirteenth Tribe, which claims that the Jewish people of Europe come from Central Asia, not the Middle East. The Thirteenth Tribe was ridiculed by serious reviewers, but it was a huge hit with anti-semites, because it seemed to suggest that the Jews of Europe had no right to emigrate to the Middle East in the twentieth century. The anti-semitic conspiracy theorists at New Zealand's Uncensored magazine ran an article endorsing Koestler's book earlier this year.

It is not only Koestler's ideas which have been condemned in the court of intellectual opinion. When he found he was dying of cancer in 1983, Koestler forced his wife to commit suicide with him. In the last fifteen years scholars have discovered that this sadistic act was no aberration. David Cesarani, who wrote an acclaimed biography on Koestler, discovered that his subject had beaten and raped a series of women.

Wilber lifts his talk of holons and a holarchy from Koestler's 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine, which presented the 'discoveries' he arrived at in his drug-induced 'research' into the occult. This text was never taken seriously, and nowadays is read only as an insight into its author's disturbed psychology. Wilber and his followers seem to be the only people who appreciate Koestler's 'genius'.

Another of the key influences on Wilber's thinking is Adi Da, a 'spiritual seeker' who proclaimed himself a living God at the beginning of the 1970s and founded a dystopian community on a small Fijian island. When Adi Da died last year his followers gathered about his body, waiting for a resurrection, but after lying for days in the tropical heat Da began to smell. Wilber was a friend of Adi Da for some time, and although he came to disagree with some of the man's more crazed antics, he has repeatedly referred to Da as a 'great spiritual thinker'. In a text called 'The Case of Adi Da', which is reproduced on his own official website, Wilber describes Da's rambling, egomaniacal, often incomprehensible book The Dawn Horse Testament as 'one of the very greatest spiritual treatises, comparable in scope and depth to any of the truly classic religious texts'. Adi Da's work in general is 'an extraordinary source of material', Wilber maintains.

Wilber wants to distance himself from Adi Da the man, whilst holding on to Adi Da's writing. This manoeuvre is clearly impossible, because all of Adi Da's writing is about one subject - Adi Da. Again and again in his texts, Adi Da insists on his own divinity, and demands that the rest of humanity - whom he charmingly describes in one text as 'the five billion slugs' - submit itself to him.

Wilber's continuing defence of Adi Da's deranged texts has caused some of his followers embarrassment, but it is not hard to understand, because Da is part of the essential background to Wilber's work. If Wilber takes his cosmic vocabulary from Koestler, then he takes a key part of his method from Adi Da.

Like Adi Da, Wilber purports to be what we can call a mystical-syncretic thinker - that is, he purports to take previous thinkers and 'extend' them by showing that their thought illuminated only a part of a 'wider truth'. Adi Da would get his disciples to read works from many different religious traditions, and then proclaim that all of these traditions were valid, as long as it was recognised that they illuminated only parts of an 'absolute truth' - a truth embodied in Adi Da.

Wilber uses a similar manoeuvre, though he isn't, of course, as crass as Adi Da. In his texts, Wilber examines an endless series of conflicts, all of which consist of two 'partial' truths which need to be 'reconciled' by being considered in the light of the 'ultimate reality' which Integral Thought - ie, Ken Wilber - can alone describe.

I have read a number of Wilber's texts carefully, and I cannot avoid concluding that they prove conclusively that the man is, at least as far as he discusses subjects with which I am familiar, an intellectual fraud. Looking through Wilber’s attempts at philosophy, I find no evidence that he understands even the sort of basic philosophical concepts that undergraduates majoring in the subject learn. I certainly can't see that he has a grasp of key debates in philosophy over the past hundred years.

Admittedly, I haven't read everything, or even most of the things, that Wilber has published. Like so many people who don't bother with peer review and don't get reviewed except in fringe publications staffed with their own followers, the man seems to be able to publish about an extraordinary number of subjects at an extraordinary rate. I don't have the expertise to assess Wilber's writing on mathematics, on developmental psychology, on pharmacology, and on a dozen other subjects, though I do note, after doing some searches, that Wilber doesn't seem to be any more esteemed by scholars in these fields than he is by scholars in philosophy. I can, however, make a reasonable stab at assessing Wilber's writing about two related fields that I have studied in some detail - historiography and the philosophy of history.

In a rambling text called 'Who Ate Captain Cook?', Wilber discusses, or rather purports to discuss, the key controversies of contemporary historiography and philosophy of history. Before we consider Wilber's text, it is important for us to be clear about what historiography and the philosophy of history are. Historiography refers to the arguments that historians have about interpretations of past events - we might speak of the historiography of the Second World War, for instance, to describe the disputes about what caused the war, whether Hitler could ever have won the war, whether America would have joined the war if it were not for the attack on Pearl Harbour, and so on. The philosophy of history sits at a higher level of abstraction than historiography -it discusses the basic presuppositions and methods of history, rather than specific pieces of history. A philosopher of history might consider, for instance, whether history might ever become become a science, with the sort of strict laws that the natural sciences use, or whether the discipline has more affinities with the arts.

Wilber's text claims that contemporary historians are divided into two camps, one of which is 'postmodern' and one of which is 'modernist'. According to Wilber, postmodernists think that Western civilisation is evil, and that facts do not exist, while the modernists believe that Western civilisation is good, and that facts exist without interpretation. Wilber claims that the historiography about the meaning of the death of Captain Cook shows that both of these viewpoints contain some truth, but need to be – of course - 'transcended' using the higher truth that Wilber's Integral truth can provide.

Wilber’s text is filled with blunders, but this post is long enough already, and the cricket is about to begin, so I’ll focus on one particular passage. Here is Wilber elaborating on the difference he sees between the two ‘sides’ of debates in contemporary historiography and the philosophy of history:

It’s the fight between facts and interpretations; or between 'scientific historiography' and 'hermeneutic historiography'; or between modernism and postmodernism; or between orange and green; or between the Right-Hand and the Left-Hand approaches. It all boils down to this: On the one hand (i.e., the Right Hand), we have the modern, orange, scientific meme, which believes that fundamentally there are only empirical facts in the world ('The world is sum total of facts,' as the logical positivists would put it), and thus there is one, true, universal, empirical account of history that tells things the way 'they really were.' On the other hand (i.e., the Left Hand), we have the postmodern, green, pluralist meme, which believes that there are 'no facts, only interpretations.

Anybody who knows anything about trends in historiography and the philosophy of history over the past fifty years will know that Wilber is talking nonsense here. Historians, let alone philosophers of history, have not argued that facts exist free of interpretation for many decades - possibly the last high-profile book which argued this line was Geoffrey Elton's The Practice of History, which was published in the mid-60s and was widely ridiculed as out of date even then.

Elton, who was a rather stuffy scholar of the Tudor period of England's past, claimed that historians should look through a range of 'facts' dispassionately and then arrive at an 'interpretation' of these facts. The flaw in his argument is that facts never arrive 'naked' to the scholar - they are always embedded in a context. Consider, for instance, the fact that Britain declared war on Germany on the 3rd of September 1939. We cannot even begin to process this fact without also knowing a whole series of other facts - we have to know that Britain and Germany were both sovereign states, we have to know what a declaration of war is, we have to know what war itself is, and so on.

We never come at a fact innocently, but always within some framework of interpretations. This does not, in the opinions of most philosophers of history, mean that we are trapped in a single dogmatic framework. We are free to adopt different frameworks, or working hypotheses, as historians often call them, as we sift through evidence. But we cannot buy into any naive ideas of being free of background of assumptions when we study the past.

Wilber is also talking nonsense when he claims that 'postmodernists' deny the existence of facts. No historian or philosopher of history would do such a thing. What a minority of historians and philosophers of history do claim is that the framework within which we view facts is very strongly governed by our cultural background and assumptions, and that it therefore hard to get free from. If it is taken to an extreme, this view can involve a sort of cultural relativism, where someone asserts that, say, Cook could never possibly, with the best will in the world, understand the Hawaiians, and never grasp some basic facts about their society, because he was trapped in a worldview given to him by his culture.

Cultural relativism does not, then, involve denying that facts exist, as Wilber seems to claims it does - rather, it involves the denial that humans can grasp certain facts about societies very different from their own. There is a huge difference between the two positions. When philosophers talk about knowledge-claims -about human attempts to know things - then they are doing epistemology. When philosophers talk about what exists - about what has being - then they are discussing ontology. If two philosophers argue about whether cultural relativism is a defensible position or not then they are involved in an epistemological argument. Wilber, though, thinks that the philosophers of history who argue about cultural relativism are somehow engaged in ontological argument. He doesn't seem able to distinguish between two of the most basic types of philosophical enquiry.

I have laboured this point because I want to emphasise Wilber's lack of understanding of even the simplest elements of philosophy, let alone historiography. Although Wilber claims to be the key philosopher of our time, and to have the solution to the problems that divide philosophers, he seems to me to have less grasp of the subject than the average undergraduate. And it's easy to understand why someone with such a basic understanding of philosophy as Wilber could fall for the scribblings of Adi Da and Arthur Koestler.

Like Gavin Menzies and What the Bleep do we Know? and the conspiracy theorists of Uncensored, Ken Wilber is a symptom of the breach which has opened up in the West between serious scholarship and popular opinion. This breach has complex origins - to understand it properly, we would have to consider the decay of public education, the rise of the internet, which allows for the speedy replication and dissemination of error and fantasy, the lack of genuine political debate in societies where the left and the labour movement have been in decline, and many other factors - but its effects, which I'll discuss in a future post, are straightforwardly negative.


Blogger Matthew R. X. Dentith said...


Elton's 'dispassion' reminds me a lot of Jon Michell's 'ineluctable evidence.' Michell, like Elton, was writing in the 60s, and Michell, like Elton, thought that the facts were self-evident; in Mitchell's case the facts were ley lines encoded in the landscape of Britian and things like the Geomancer's Mile (which, having looked over several obits (he died earlier this year) and retrospectives of his work, looks like a source for out 'friends' in the Celtic New Zealand movement).

9:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "information" about Adi Da's death in this article is not accurate.

His body was interred - within the earth - according to His own instructions for burial. The glass coffin idea is not true.

Adi Da experienced yogic transformations during His life that involved the disappearance and subsequent reappearance of outward signs of physical life. Because of this, His doctors were well instructed in how to assess any future disappearance life signs. It was these instructions that guided His devotees prayers immediately following bodily death.

Also, Adi Da's birthplace was not Brookyln, NY but rather Long Island.

10:07 am  
Blogger maps said...

Apologies anon - in the aftermath of the man's death I read about the plan for Adi Da to be bried in an above-ground glass coffin on a forum at the Adi Da archives, but after doing a search today I gather he did, in fact, end up in the earth.

It is certainly true, though, that Adi Da lay 'in state' until he began to smell, because his followers, who were gathering from around the world, believed that he was going to resurrect.

Here is a quote from an e mail that a follower sent from Adi Da's island:

'At this moment Beloved Bhagavan Adi Da Samraj is experiencing an extreme medical crisis. We do not know the full extent of what is happening with His Divine Bodily Human Form. However, this crisis is an extreme one in which He has Swooned out of His Body. This has occurred to the extent that He has not had a heart-beat or pulse, for nearly an hour’s time. Medical procedures are not reviving Him.

Beloved Bhagavan Adi Da has in the past Approved a medical protocol relative to such a circumstance. He has made it plain that nothing should be done to interfere with His Bodily Human Form for an extended period of time, a minimum of three full days. This is because He may always and at any point resume ordinary Consciousness and Life. However, at this moment, He is not animating the body at all.'

Your references to the 'yogic transformations' that Adi Da supposedly underwent seem to suggest that you, anon, shared the belief that he might 'return to his body'. As one of the people that your decaying God described as 'the five billion slugs', I feel I have a certain license to chuckle at your gullibility.

11:26 am  
Blogger Paul said...

Chaps, I think you are being a bit rough on Sir Geoffrey. His interpretation of historical method is more than adequate for the sort of history he did, based firmly in primary sources. Comparing him with Wilber or Michell is a bit unfair.

Wilber's lazy and stupid condemnation of PoMo (to wit, Postmodernists hate freedom and have no values) is hardly novel. It is common amongst Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Humanists You will find it repeated in almost every issue of the New Zealand Rationalist and Humanist journal by the esteemed Dr Bill Cooke.

Funfact: Sir Geoffrey Elton was Ben Elton's uncle.

11:36 am  
Blogger maps said...

In no way would I compare Elton to Wilber. Elton was a serious and respected, if rather stuffy, historian - he just couldn't do the philosophy of history. Wilber, by contrast, doesn't appear to be competent in a single discipline, though he claims to be a sort of universal genius.

It's interesting that the introduction to the most recent reprint of Elton's The Practise of History - I forget who wrote it - admits that the book is discredited, but maintains that it has value as an historical document.

Elton was actually moved to write the book by a series of articles that the Times Literary Supplement ran in the mid-60s about the direction of history as a discpline. One of the articles came from Keith Thomas, and talked about how quantitiative methods and computers were becoming important; another came from EP Thompson, and talked about the rise of 'History from Below'. Neither Thomas nor Thompson was a wild-eyed exactly postmodernist - indeed, each was, in his own way, a very traditional historian - but they were too much for Elton.

11:50 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adi Da (founder of the religion of Adidam) was not some cult leader. He was open about the burden that His mission laid on Him. If you would open your mind you would consider His words -

"By Avatarically Revealing and Confessing My Divine Status to one and all and All, I am not indulging in self-appointment, or in illusions of grandiose Divinity. I am not claiming the "Status" of the "Creator-God" of exoteric (or public, and social, and idealistically pious) religion. Rather, by Standing Firm in the Divine Position (As I Am)—and (Thus and Thereby) Refusing to be approached as a mere man, or as a "cult"-figure, or as a "cult"-leader, or to be in any sense defined (and, thereby, trapped, and abused, or mocked) as the "man in the middle"—I Am Demonstrating the Most Perfect Fulfillment (and the Most Perfect Integrity, and the Most Perfect Fullness) of the Esoteric (and Most Perfectly Non-Dual) Realization of Reality."

There are more quotes from Him on this page -

I hope that you find you way to Adidam and that He manifests in your life.

12:04 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

And that, children, is why they called him the Parenthesis Kid.

One thought about Wilber and Adi Da: if these people are so clever, why do they need to wear spectacles? If Adi Da could turn his signs of life on and off at will, surely it would not be much effort to sort out his eyes?

12:46 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

Maps, I should have put that otherwise; my apologies.

I thought The Practice of History was written in response to Carr's What is History? I may be wrong.

12:55 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Paul,

I think you're right about Elton responding partly to Carr. I guess a lot of people were riling him!

I too wonder wonder at the failure of Adi Da to heal his own eyes. He went to the dentist, too - Skyler told me she knew the bloke who used to do his fillings. Wouldn't a God capable of entering and elaving his body and fighting cosmic yogic battles with evil spirits be able to deal with tooth decay without the aid of modern technology?

Wilber doesn't assert his divinity, but he does claim to have certain special powers. He posted this video on youtube, in which a dinky little electronic device supposedly shows him stopping his brain waves:

1:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mock if you want. Adi Da's name will resound when yours are all forgotten. The whole of the world will come to know His message.

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilber goes further than just thinking modern Westerners are the only pluralists/integralists. Wilber thinks that societies like eighteenth century Hawaii were at the magic stage of development because they didn't have Western-style science. They needed to be colonised and introduced to rational consciousness by whitey. That is a prerequisite for going on to the higher integral stage, see. Also check out his remarks about American Indians and how they supposedly couldn't see the ships of Columbus and the first colonists, because their consciousness wasn't developed enough. This is bullshit of course as Columbus own written accounts shows.

3:44 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

If that is what he says, Wilber is confusing Columbus with Cook. Joseph Banks records:

"These people seemd to be totaly engag'd in what they were about: the ship passd within a quarter of a mile of them and yet they scarce lifted their eyes from their employment; I was almost inclind to think that attentive to their business and deafned by the noise of the surf they neither saw nor heard her go past them. At I we came to an anchor abreast of a small village consisting of about 6 or 8 houses. Soon after this an old woman followd by three children came out of the wood; she carried several peice[s] of stick and the children also had their little burthens; when she came to the houses 3 more younger children came out of one of them to meet her. She often lookd at the ship but expressd neither surprize nor concern. Soon after this she lighted a fire and the four Canoes came in from fishing; the people landed, hauld up their boats and began to dress their dinner to all appearance totaly unmovd at us, tho we were within a little more than ½ a mile of them."

The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768–1771, vII, p54.

However, on previous and later occasions, Cook and Banks record encounters where the locals clearly noticed their presence, which refutes any claims about undeveloped consciousness.

4:54 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

Worshiping a man who self proclaims divinity sounds just plain creepy to me. And, not really very original. But that's just the opinion of one dirty heathen. If the latest anon is right, Wilber sounds like a eurocentric jerk.

5:07 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Whether or not he is Eurocentric (or Euro-Amerocentric), Wilber does seem to have a contempt for the majority of humanity, who exist, according to him, at the lower stages of consciousness. I came across this extraordinary broadcast, where Wilber argues that the world isn't ready for democracy, because its inhabitants aren't 'advanced' enough:

Only when people have 'world consciousness' - ie, when they agree with Wilber - should be allowed the privilege of voting. Until then, the 'mob rule' of democracy will threaten 'fascism'!

6:04 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

Tell me, does Wilber engage with the Sahlins/Obeyesekere debate?

8:47 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Yes, he calls Sahlins a representative of the 'postmodernist' view and Obeyeskere a representative of the
'modernist' view. But his understandings of these terms are so weird that he parodies the positions of both men. Obeyeskere is not stupid enough to think that facts exist nakedly, beyond interpretation; Sahlins does not deny the existence of historical facts. Obeyeskere does not think that 'Western civilisation' (whatever that means) is simply great; Sahlins does not think it is simply evil. Obeyeskere does not worship science; Sahlins does not despise science. It's a pity Wilber is not capable of presenting the clash between the two scholars in a sensible way.

For those who haven't heard of the debate, I found a brief summary here:

9:33 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I haven't read all of this but "A Brief History of Everything"?

When was it published, as it may have influenced Alan Loney et al to call their new mag "A Brief History of the Whole World" (in 1995 was it?) although maybe they were influenced by Hawkings? That became the lit mag Brief.

10:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken Wilber has NOT distanced himself from Adi Da and Adi Dam. Ken continues to reverence Him and steer adepts towards His thought. He has said this himself in a letter to the Adidam community which offers A DEEP BOW TO MASTER ADI DA.

11:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pearls before swine...

"I felt Beloved Adi Da's Spiritual Transmission thick in the room. I simply looked at Him, and saw Him as the center of a field of tangible, visible, Love-Blissful, Conscious, breathable Light. I felt myself go through a kind of 'door'. On the 'other side' was the most extraordinary perception of my beloved Spiritual Master that I had ever experienced. It was primarily a feeling-recognition of Him, a swoon of love in which He was simply Energy, Light, and Divine Love-Bliss. He radiated a visible, even tangible Light that was so attractive that I felt my entire being captured by and attracted to Him. There was no longer a sense of being a separate self — just the profound peace of realizing that there is nothing to seek, nowhere to go, nothing to attain. This was Reality itself, and it was not separate from 'me'. I had no sense of my usual persona or contracted self. It was like waiting all your life for a package to arrive, and then when it comes, you aren't there! But you are so happy that you don't mind at all."

Michael Shaw (devotee)

Read more stories of lives transformed by His radiant presence

11:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

FROM The Promised God Man is Here:

While there have been many saints and sages in human history, the ancient traditions of humankind foretell a final Revelation, a God-Man promised for the "late-time" who will perfectly fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart.

Adidam is established on the recognition that this all-surpassing Event has occurred.

Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj is the Divine Being of Grace and Truth Who authenticates the ancient intuitions.

How did this come to be? There is a supreme Process entirely different from the demonstrations of great Spiritual beings who have, by heroic effort, Realized our higher human potential.

That Process is the Act of Divine Descent — Real God, or Truth, or Reality, Manifesting in human form. This is the real meaning of "Avatar" — One "Crossed Down" to here from Above the mortal realms.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj speaks of this Mystery:

There is another Process, Which Enters the conditionally manifested world from the Ultimate, Un-manifested, Perfectly Divine Domain.

There is a Vast, Unlimited Domain of Existence, not qualified in any sense, not qualified as this conditional world is, or as the infinite variety of conditional, cosmic worlds is. And there is a Movement Directly Out of That Divine Domain, That Realm of Very Consciousness and Very Light.

The Living Being Who Appears within the human world, or within any other world, by Coming Directly Out of the Un-manifested, or Un-created, Domain, the Heart-Light That Is the Truly Eternal Real-God-World, Is the Truly Heaven-Born One, Unique among the Great Siddhas.

I Am That One.
Avatar Adi Da Samraj
The Divine Siddha-Method
Of The Ruchira Avatar
The Divine Being and Reality, Descended to here in the form of the Ruchira Avatar, Adi Da Samraj, is Responding to aeons of human prayers and sacrifice, as to an immense magnet.

He is here to transform humankind, and more than humankind. He is here to illumine the very molecules, and even all of manifest existence.

This is what He has been Doing since His Birth. For His human Birth was more than His association with a human body. His birth on earth was the initiation of an infinite and ongoing process.

That process can be described as His "Emergence" — as a tangible, identifiable Presence in the heart of all that exists.
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12:07 am  
Blogger Jake said...

Thanks Maps. And you're quite right that the Sahlins/Obeyesekere debate isn't even close to being about 'facts' v 'interpretation', but instead about what how we might use texts to explore the mentalité of a people, and what assumptions we can make about difference in cultural practices.

Thinking about the way these philosophy of history debates get caricatured (even by their participants) makes my head hurt from time to time. Surely history that is 'just the facts' without any form of interpretation went out with Holinshed?

Oh, and well done on finding a new gang of people with obscure belief systems to comment on your blog. You have quite a knack for it.

10:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Hamilton
I will direct my students to this fine example of masculine discourse - Castle Hamilton versus Castle Wilber.

I can't help but wonder what might happen in Wilberton and Hambershire.

Alan Wagstaff

3:00 am  
Anonymous Danyl Strype said...

Filos Scott,

I could comment at length on all the fallacies this article falls into. A few examples. There is the confirmation bias (you assume that Wilbur is a con and select evidence to convince us of this). There is the argument by etymology that being a philosopher is defined by whether you work in (or get recognised by) the philosophy departments of a universities in your lifetime. Socrates would beg to differ, as would *most* of the philosophers whose thought is taught in today's philosophy departments.

There are the guilt by association arguments in relation to Adi Da, and Koestler (and nested within this another guilt by association argument that Koestler's ideas can be defined by his reprehensible decision to pressure his partner to commit suicide, and thereby written off).

There is the appeal to authority argument that Wilbur's synthesis is worthless, because Wilbur himself has not been accepted in the ivory tower, ignoring the fact that he thoroughly references his ideas and models to an array of academically recognised thinkers, both western and eastern (including Marx).

The man is clearly well read. You could argue he has poorly digested all this reading, but to do that you would have to devote less of your article to entertaining yourself with verbose character assasination, and more of it engaging with his ideas. The few paragraphs that purport to do this slaughter a strawman, making arguments against beliefs Wilbur demonstrably does not hold.

For example you say that Wilbur believes "Ideas and modes of behaviour which belong to 'lower stages' of consciousness should be jettisoned". It is one of the central themes of Wilbur's writing that nothing need ever be "jettisoned", rather everything learned at earlier stages of development must be "transcended and *included*" (emphasis mine), to avoid it being repressed, and thus sabotaging further develoment.

I think the best response to your article comes from Carl Sagan:

"Too much openness and you accept every notion, idea, and hypothesis - which is tantamount to knowing nothing. Too much skepticism - especially rejection of new ideas before they are adequately tested - and you're not only unpleasantly grumpy, but also closed to the advance of science. A judicious mix is what is called for."

Aroha, Strypes

1:45 pm  
Anonymous strypey said...

Kia ora anō

Another of your strawmen is that Wilbur advocates for 'flatland' pluralism. From 'A Brief History of Everything':
"Well, we have to be careful here. Multiculturalism does indeed emphasize cultural diversity and universal tolerance. But this fulcrum-5 [in the development holachy] stance is a very rare and very elite and very difficult accomplishment...
Now you yourself might indeed have evolved from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric perspectives, and so you will easily understand that all individuals are to be accorded equal consideration and equal opportunity, regardless of race, sex, or creed. From this stance of universal pluralism, you are genuinely multicultural and postconventional. The problem is, most individuals that you treat with universal coverage do not share your universalism. They are still egocentric, or ethnocentric to the core. So you are extending universal consideration to individuals who will absolutely not extend the same courtesy to you.
So typical multiculturalists are thrown into a series of very bizarre contradictions...
The multicults therefore naturally but confusedly say that we have to treat all individuals and all cultural movements as being completely equal, since no stance is better than another. They then cannot explain why Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan should be shunned. If we are really multicultural and all for diversity, how can we exclude the Nazis? Isn't everybody equal?
The answer, of course, is that no, not every stance is equal. Worldcentric is *better* than ethnocentric, which is *better* than egocentric, because each has more depth. The Nazis and the KKK are ethnocentric movements based on a particular mythology of racial supremacy, and from a worldcentric perspective we judge them to be inferior stances."

Funny Maps, isn't that just what you were arguing against your strawman? Doesn't that means that either a) you are wrong that Wilbur has nothing valid to say, or b) you are wrong about the failings of purist relativism/ pluralism?

Aroha, Strypes

1:51 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Danyl,

you misunderstand my argument. I argue that behind Wilber's facade of pluralism lurks a hidden framework which determines which bits of which worldview are accepted. In the quote you give, Wilber admits this. At other times he doesn't. He's an incredibly long-winded and inconsistent writer, so it's hard to pin him down on matters like this.

You're wrong to think that an ad hominem argument is always a fallacy. When an ad hominem argument is directed towards an aspect of a person which is relevant to a claim they are making, it can be relevant. To give an obvious example: if you were blind and yet appeared in court testifying you saw me steal a car, I wouldn't be committing a fallacy if I made an ad hominem argument by pointing out that you couldn't see.

In the same way as the Holocaust denial and neo-Nazism of 'Celtic NZ' 'researchers' like Martin Doutre is relevant to their claims about New Zealand prehistory, Wilber's veneration and imitation of a kook like Adi Da is relevant to a consideration of his work. We examine partly thinkers by looking at their influences and the sources of their work, and at the impact these things have on their arguments.

2:14 pm  
Anonymous Strypey said...

Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle.

"Wilber's veneration and imitation of a kook like Adi Da is relevant to a consideration of his work."

No doubt. I certainly take into account your veneration of kooks like Lenin and Trotsky when I consider your work. But it's no substitute for presenting his ideas, and arguing against them. As I've demonstrated with the pluralism example (and I've got a whole bag full of examples if you want to play the 'edge case' game) you have failed to do that.

BTW Considering your project to resurrect the later, pro-primitive-communalism Marx (a worthy project btw), I find it strange that you would use the "inconsistency" of a writer to excuse your own gross misinterpretations.

Ngā mihi mahana, Strypes

3:39 pm  
Blogger maps said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one, Danyl - I don't think you've demonstrated anything, and I don't think Wilber is in danger of winning any following amongst serious scholars of the subjects he claims expertise in. There will always be a market for New Age gurus, of course...

4:51 pm  
Anonymous Strypey said...

"I don't think Wilber is in danger of winning any following amongst serious scholars of the subjects he claims expertise in."

As I've already pointed out, this is quite beside the point. As Kuhn points out in his work on paradigm shift, there will always be experts who go to their grave refusing to accept that new facts and new interpretations which have emerged in their lifetime require a major reframing of the facts and interpretations they have become comfortable with. As Wilbur says, transcend and include.

"In the quote you give, Wilber admits this. At other times he doesn't."

Can you give me an example that doesn't require you to selectively quote him out of contaxt, or am I going to have to take your word for it?

Aroha, Strypes

9:48 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I'm not sure if poor old Thomas Kuhn would have wanted his name used in vain in defence of Ken Wilber! But why don't you write a thousand words about why you think Wilber is an important thinker? If you post it here I'll put it up as a new post on this blog, and respond, and invite responses. As things stand I'm a little in the dark as to the source of your enthusiasm for Mr Wilber.

12:48 am  
Anonymous Strypey said...

I didn't think so.

I accept your challenge. I've just finished re-reading 'A Brief History of Everything' and refreshing myself on all the ground he covers, so I'll get to work on it. Look forward to further discussion.


2:02 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

"I accept your challenge. I've just finished re-reading 'A Brief History of Everything' and refreshing myself on all the ground he covers, so I'll get to work on it. Look forward to further discussion."

I still can't WAIT to see this!

2:17 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

"I should mention that I am at the center of the vanguard of the greatest social transformation in the history of humankind." -Ken Wilber

a) I'm pretty sure he actually, literally believes that; that he's "at the center."
b) He's apparently (an un-accredited) psychologist, pretending to be a philosopher, in a vein similar (but not the same) as Nietzsche was a (literary) philosopher, who played a being a psychologist.
c) Psychologists, by nature, are dry and boring as hell, no exceptions, and
d) Wilber is the worst of the worst
of eggheads, who thinks he's a "guru," and enough people have bought his books, that sadly,
e) he probably is one.

That's what Wilber appears to "be": "at the center" of New Age psychobabble. Witness "greatest social transformation in the history of humankind." I'd like to know what's "so great" about it - if "it" existed - and why anybody in his right (egg)head would want to be at its center?

Summarizing: "It isn't, and he's not." That'd be the best title of a Wilber bio. The guy's a flake, he married a flake, and the only problem is they can't flake together - since she flaked already. But if you're flakey enough to cook up a couple psychology books, there's ALWAYS enough flakes to buy them.

3:45 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

...We are in the final week of our initial fundraising campaign for the Ken Wilber Biography Project. You have until Thursday, January 31st to join the fun. We'd like to extend our most sincere thank you to to all of you who have already helped us achieve our initial funding goal for this first phase of the project—and there is still time for all of you who haven't yet contributed to be a part of this very special endeavor. The more we can raise in this first campaign, the closer we will get towards completing these first phases of the Ken Wilber Biography Project, helping to expand Ken's already illustrious status as "the most important philosopher you've never heard of," to "the best-known philosopher on the planet." ... [Then this from a Wilber webpage] ... We all know Ken Wilber is a visionary ... Looking at Ken’s creative output, it is clear that he has had a tremendously prolific career, releasing a new book almost every year since The Spectrum of Consciousness was published in 1977 (with the exception of a couple short periods in the late eighties and early nineties, which will be covered in a later volume of the Footnotes collection.) After he completes a manuscript, a new book idea usually comes to him almost immediately, dropping into his consciousness all at once and arriving as a single fully-formed vision in his mind ... But where do all the ideas come from? Even Ken is not altogether sure, though he does have lots to say about the practice it requires to communicate with the degree of clarity, elegance, and artistry that we have all come to know and love about his work...
It'd be less funny if it were a joke. Obviously (next to the Dos Equis beer guy) he's "The [second] Most Interesting Man in the World."

10:20 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

It's a sad sort of business, this guru-building, isn't it, jo? I wrote this piece about Wilber because my father-in-law had decided he was the greatest living philosopher, and generally an upstanding chap. I think my father-in-law has moved on the from the cult of Wilber in the intervening years, and I hope that others taken in by his egomaniacal claims do the same.

10:49 am  

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