Walden Pond - Concord, MA.jpg
Quotable

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridle of the earth and sky:
The dew shall weep thy fall tonight;
For thou must die.
— George Herbert, Virtue (1-4)

Cognitive Science

Henry James: Cognitive Introspector-in-Chief

I look forward to unpacking and reflecting on this passage from Henry James’s The American:

His smile went through two or three curious phases. It felt, apparently, a momentary impulse to broaden; but this it immediately checked. Then it remained for some instants taking counsel with itself, at the end of which it decreed a retreat. It slowly effaced itself and left a look of seriousness modified by the desire not to be rude.

Soon…

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

David J. Linden – The Accidental Mind: Point of Inquiry Interview

David Linden

David Linden

An new interview with neuroscientist David J. Linden provides some physiological context and grounding for reconsidering and thinking anew about what it means to be human.

From the Point of Inquiry introduction:

In this broad discussion with D.J. Grothe, David Linden challenges widespread beliefs about the brain, such as that people only use ten percent of it and that it is amazingly designed, arguing instead that the brain is “accidental.” . . . He discusses the neuron, and how it is a “lousy processor of information,” describing how evolution has nonetheless used it to build “clever us.” He talks about how our brains have constrained us, and may have physically led to the necessity of marriage, family and long childhoods. . . . And he argues that the brain has evolved to make everyone a “believer,” describing the similarities between belief in science and in religion, that both are similar “branches of the same cognitive stream.”

Click here for the complete Point of Inquiry introduction and links to the interview and the iTunes subscription page for P.O.I.

Ken Wilber – The Asimov of Consciousness

The life and career of Ken Wilber is nothing if not interesting. A google search will reveal that episodes and chapters of recent years involve Wilber losing former fans, readers, followers, and promoters. Why? Ken Wilber is a scholar, critic, teacher, observer, and prolific writer who has written extensively and critically about science, psychology, religion, and philosophy–eastern as well as western. But he is not himself a peer of those whose writings and work he reports and critiques. This leaves profoundly disappointed many of those who take him to be or want him to be taken seriously by evolutionary biologists, academic philosophers, and practicing psychologists and neurobiologists. Wilber is an incredibly well-informed critical analyst and popularizer of the subjects he writes about, but he is not a practicing expert in any of them. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Would it be so bad to begin thinking of Wilber as a critical writer whose essential role is to popularize promising lines of thought and research as they appear on the scene. He would make an interesting talking head on MSNBC or CNN. There is a place and a need for someone who can do for philosophy, evolutionary biology, brain research, and consciousness studies what Isaac Asimov did for the subjects he took up. Why not think of Ken Wilber as the Isaac Asimov of consciousness?

During the past 5 years or so, since the founding of his Integral Institute, Wilber left behind his erstwhile reclusive, private lifestyle to take up a very public, visible role in the activities of the Institute and its related enterprises. How it will all turn out remains an open question. Currently there are serious controversies dogging the Institute and Wilber. One of the biggest problems confronting Wilber is his unwillingness to engage his critics (many of them would-be sympathetic colleagues and students) in good faith argument and discussion.

A growing number of those who have been reading Ken Wilber since the mid-1970s have begun to compare his writings with the writings of figures in various other disciplines and subjects–evolution, Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, western philosophy, politics, literature, the arts in general. A growing number of these readers are coming to see that Wilber’s ideas are not all that original. OK. No blame there. Original ideas are hard to come by. But, as noted above, Wilber should not be taken as an exponent of original, cutting edge research and thought. Instead, Wilber writes critically about cutting edge research in science, philosophy, and psychology. Other venues and media Wilber uses to get his material to the public include his Integral Institute and regularly recorded and published interviews available on the internet and the What is Enlightenment magazine quarterly.

Wilber’s originality lies in his having mapped truly vast amounts of content from various philosophical, religious, psychological, and scientific systems of thought. But his claims and assertions for the applicability of his ideas (those of his AQAL model in particular) to not just psychology and philosophy but to politics, religion, education, law, art, business, acting, theatre, film, and ecology belie a premature, grandiose sense of their validity and importance.

In the mid 00s a number of readers and students of Wilber’s writings began to criticize his tone and style, characterizing it as arrogant, pompous, patronizing, and elitist. Some also commented on how annoyingly repetitive his writings had become. And others noted that in his otherwise interesting recorded and published interviews and dialogues, Wilber exhibits an annoying tendency to do his guest or interlocutor the “favor” of explaining what he or she really meant by translating what was just said into the jargon of AQAL.

OK, so Wilber is human, imperfect. But the situation is a bit more bleak and serious than outlined so far. If becoming repetitive and jargon-prone were all that seemed to signal that Wilber had exhausted his potential, well that would have been unfortunate enough. Events of just a few years ago indicate that Wilber apparently thinks his work deserves the same kind of respect and attention given to that done by practicing psychologists, philosophers, and scientists. But Wilber and his work are not taken seriously by most professional psychologists, philosophers, and scientists and anyone pointing out this fact to Wilber, however directly or indirectly, formally or informally, risks–as you will see shortly–making Wilber quite cranky.

In a infamous series of blog postings in June 2006, Wilber viciously attacked his critics, including one erstwhile sympathetic reader and follower, Frank Visser. Wilber could not apparently tolerate the close reading and criticism Visser was publishing on his website, Integral World. In the first of these blog posts, “What We Are, That We See,” dated June 8, 2006, Wilber threw Visser and other unnamed critics “under the bus” with language so offensive that it is now highly unlikely Wilber can ever hope to communicate to the size and type of audience he may have once aspired to inform and educate.

Footnotes in works of cultural histories to be written in the coming years, decades, and centuries will likely include references to Wilber, including references to the infamous June 8, 2006 kenwilber.com blog posting just cited. Towards the end of that post, Wilber lets loose with this spooge of angry, figurative prose that no amount of “context” placement can rescue.

It’s gotten to the point that one critic cringes when I simply use the word “simply” (as in the previous paragraph), because it means something horrible is going to follow. In this case, true; the horrible thing that followed was this critic’s charge. But simply still, I simply cannot stand this simple criticism of simply anything, let alone “simply,” so simply suck my dick, whaddaya say?

Well, enough. Wyatt has got to go back to work now, back to the real world of real problems, problems that beg for integral care and consciousness. And thus. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot to include a violent metaphor. Let me think. Let me think really hard. Okay, Wyatt has got to go back to work now, protecting the true and the good and the beautiful, while slaying partial-ass pervs, ripping their eyes out and pissing in their eye-sockets, using his Zen sword of prajna to cut off the heads of critics so staggeringly little that he has to slow down about 10-fold just to see them . . . and then rip their eyes out and piss in their eye-sockets . . .

In subsequent posts Wilber claimed he was just testing his readers. Apparently anyone unable to see humor in Wilber’s fantasy of murdering, “ripping” the eyes from his slain critics’ eye-sockets, and washing away the blood with his piss is “simply” not evolved enough to appreciate or understand his writings or his mission. Many were not amused. See this page posted by Frank Visser at Integral World for more reactions to Wilber’s June 2006 postings, as well as links to more commentary and criticism.

Wilber started off in the 1970s as a popularizer of the then still relatively little known traditions of eastern thought and philosophy, a la Alan Watts. Like Watts he popularized much important, good stuff. But unlike Watts, in the years subsequent to his early work, Wilber often tries to take credit where none is due. And, as we have just seen, when Wilber doesn’t get the credit, approval, and respect he thinks due him and his work, well–look sharp!

Ken Wilber has been referred to as the Einstein of consciousness. As suggested above, his students, admirers, and those who have yet to discover his writings might be better off–less subject to disappointment and delusion–if they would think of Ken Wilber as the Asimov of consciousness, not its Einstein. Wilber and the fate of his work might fare better as well if he would more modestly assess what he has so far or may yet still accomplish. What follows is suggestive of how Wilber might proceed to more effectively communicate and engage his critics.

An interesting, not often noted fact about Wilber is that he was raised a fundamentalist Christian. A comparison between Wilber’s style of communicating with hostile or unsympathetic readers, listeners, and critics, and the contrasting style and approach of another contemporary writer about science–Edward O. Wilson, might be instructive here. Wilson, like Wilber, was raised a fundamentalist Christian. And, also like Wilber, Wilson often writes with the intention of inspiring and exhorting his readers to behave more responsibly on this small, shared, and very fragile planet.

The CreationHow much more effective Wilber might be if he would in the future adopt something like the approach Wilson uses in his recent The Creation: A Call for Help and an Invitation to Visit the Embattled Natural World in the Company of a Biologist (Norton 2006). Wilson opens The Creation with a chapter entitled “Letter to a Southern Baptist Pastor.” He continues to address this same “Pastor” in subsequent chapters. At the beginning of his “letter,” Wilson acknowledges that he has moved on from believing in a literal interpretation of the creation as found in Genesis to instead believing in the theory of evolution. He then proceeds to condemn the narrow, parochial views of fundamentalist Christianity, especially for its teaching–with little justification that makes sense in the 21st century–that unbelievers are condemned to hell for all eternity, the first “trillion trillion years” of which eternity areenough for the universe to expand to its own, entropic death, time enough for countless universes like it to be born, expand, and likewise die away. And that is just the beginning of how long condemned souls will suffer in hell–all for the mistake they made in the choice of religion during the infinitesmally small time they inhabited Earth.

Who’s more likely to be taken seriously here. Both Wilson and Wilber have moved beyond the fundamentalist beliefs of their youth. Both have spent many years thinking and writing about evolution, and both have devoted years of time and effort to spreading the gospel of evolution. But Wilson is the more effective in his reliance on and devotion to the scientific method and the norms of communicating scientific discoveries to not only his colleagues and peers but the public in general.

Wilber’s story isn’t finished yet. Being compared to Asimov is just a small episode in a much larger story that includes all of us.


This article was originally published on April 25, 2008 on my old, no longer existent, “Narrative Oversight” blog. Shortly after I posted it, Frank Visser wrote to ask me for permission to publish it in the blog section of his “Integral World” website. Six years later (today is August 29, 2014) you can still find it published on “Integral World.”

Calendar
May 2017
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  
Archives
Culture, Philosophy, Humor

Genius of the Ancient World - SocratesFew figures have been more important and influential in the history of civilization than the ancient [...]

The PresocraticsAnyone who's ever contemplated Raphael's celebrated painting The School of Athens knows th [...]

President Obama's Farewell AddressAs his presidency sadly comes to an end, President Obama delivered last night what is sure to become [...]

John Berger - Ways of SeeingArt critic John Berger's recent death has left a huge void in the world of art appreciation. Wh [...]

Some Thoughts and Feelings on the Aftermath of the ElectionWhen I saw that anger, hate and bigotry were going to win two nights ago, I had to unplug for a whil [...]

The Philosophy of Marvel's DaredevilEveryone is familiar with the most obvious tropes of superhero comics: exciting action sequences, sk [...]

How the Republican Party went from Lincoln to Trump, and the Democratic Party went from White Supremacy to ObamaWhen accused of promoting racist beliefs of policies, Republicans usually argue that it was their pa [...]

Simon Blackburn - Plato's RepublicThe term Utopia wasn't invented until 1516, when Thomas More published his now classic renditio [...]

Introduction to Symbolic & Philosophical LogicAlthough almost every activity human beings engage in requires some degree of reasoning, we're [...]

Harry Frankfurt - Bullshit!Bullshit is everywhere. I know it. You know it. And yet, what exactly is bullshit? You might agree w [...]

Right Living, Thinking, Etc
  • Two Truths News
  • Natural Living-Healthy Planet

"Donald Trump has been to all three major sacred places of three major traditions. What is left [...]

A new story from Marvel shows a very different Wolverine, who cultivates non-violence and compassion [...]

One element of Justin Simien’s identity isn’t obvious in his new Netflix hit: Buddhism. But it’s the [...]

After soldiering through his grief, Jaimal Yogis sat down, looked at his mind, and let the floodgate [...]

From InsightLA in Santa Monica, CA, comes the announcement that five of the meditation center's [...]

So much of our suffering—as individuals and as a society—is caused by fear. In fact, according to Bu [...]

Barbet Schroeder's latest documentary on Myanmar's anti-Islam monk, Venerable Wirathu, scr [...]

Representatives from nine faiths have issued a statement condemning Monday's terrorist attack i [...]

Bodhin Kjolhede, JoAnna Harper, and Repa Dorje Odzer answer the question "Should I meditate if [...]

10 Buddhist books everyone should have, as selected by the editors of Lion's Roar. The post 10 [...]

(Natural News) File this under the “I told you so” category: Earlier today, I posted a detailed math [...]

(Natural News) At just 16-years old, Davis Allen Cripe died of cardiac arrythmia, or irregular heart [...]

(Natural News) If  the name “dragon’s breath chili” strikes fear in your mortal heart, that’s becaus [...]

(Natural News) As I promised fans and readers a year ago, a mainstream, peer-reviewed science journa [...]

(Natural News) If you sometimes feel like you and your dog are having actual conversations, you may [...]

(Natural News) A recent study published in the World Journal of Cardiovascular Diseases revealed tha [...]

(Natural News) A batch of contaminated nacho cheese sauce was implicated in the recent botulism outb [...]

(Natural News) Protect your body from the inside by eating healthy. The good news is you don’t have [...]

(Natural News) What do you get when you combine a mainstream media that is out to destroy the conser [...]

Science News
  • The Universe Today
  • Perimeter Institute
  • Science Daily
  • Sky and Telescope

Tabby's Star is dimming again, and two new studies have been released that offer new and intere [...]

I’m getting psyched for Psyche, which is both the name of an asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars [...]

A new study from a team of British and French physicists presents a concept for plasma thrusters tha [...]

In the space of just 3 days, a pair of NASA astronauts conducted an unplanned and rapidly executed c [...]

Under the right conditions, two colliding rocky bodies might form a temporary structure called a [...]

When you think of a robot, you’re probably imagining some kind of human-shaped machine. And until no [...]

A new study by an international team of researchers has revealed information about the surface condi [...]

In a presentation at Breakthrough Discuss, astrophysicist Dr. Berdyugina explained how methods used [...]

A new study by a team of researchers from Monash University argues that gravitational waves may perm [...]

On Monday, August 21, 2017, there’s going to be a total eclipse of the Sun, visible to path that goe [...]

Raymond Laflamme wins CAP-CRM PrizeMonday Apr 24, 2017 IQC Executive Director's work in quantum [...]

Myers Named Among World's Most Influential Scientists for Third Straight YearWednesday Feb 22, [...]

Perimeter achieves double-hat-trick at Buchalter Cosmology PrizeTuesday Jan 17, 2017 For the third t [...]

Inside the Perimeter Magazine: Fall-Winter 2016/17Tuesday Dec 13, 2016 Science is a participatory en [...]

Luke Santi Award Winner Inspired by the Science Behind the FictionTuesday Dec 13, 2016 Joscelyn van [...]

New STEM Resources Banish the BoringTuesday Dec 06, 2016 Supported by Ontario’s Ministry of Educatio [...]

Perimeter Particle Physicist Wins New Horizons PrizeFriday Dec 02, 2016 Asimina Arvanitaki has won t [...]

Power of Ideas Tour Set to Launch Across CanadaMonday Nov 28, 2016 Students, teachers, and families [...]

How Great Scientists Got Hooked on ScienceTuesday Nov 15, 2016 Sometimes it only takes one moment – [...]

Perimeter Director Recognized for Contributions to Science and SocietyThursday Nov 10, 2016 An Honor [...]

Extreme Jupiter weather and magnetic fieldsNew observations about the extreme conditions of Jupiter's weather and magnetic fields by astro [...]

Why the Sumatra earthquake was so severeAn international team of scientists has found evidence suggesting the dehydration of minerals deep b [...]

US nuclear regulators greatly underestimate potential for nuclear disasterThe US Nuclear Regulatory Commission relied on faulty analysis to justify its refusal to adopt a cri [...]

Magnetic switch turns strange quantum property on and offA research team has developed the first switch that turns on and off a quantum behavior called the B [...]

Juno mission to Jupiter delivers first science resultsNASA's Juno mission is rewriting what scientists thought they knew about Jupiter specifically, [...]

The big star that couldn't become a supernovaFor the first time in history, astronomers have been able to watch as a dying star was reborn as a b [...]

New species of bus-sized fossil marine reptile unearthed in RussiaA new species of a fossil pliosaur (large predatory marine reptile from the 'age of dinosaur [...]

Marmoset monkeys learn to call the same way human infants learn to babbleHuman social groups have a strange tendency to share responsibility for taking care of infants; pare [...]

Ancient DNA evidence shows hunter-gatherers and farmers were intimately linkedIn human history, the transition from hunting and gathering to farming is a significant one. As such [...]

Scientists borrow from electronics to build circuits in living cellsSynthetic biology researchers have demonstrated a new method for digital information processing in l [...]

From its dynamic atmosphere to its hidden depths, the Juno spacecraft has Jupiter as never before — [...]

The post Comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson) on 2017 May 25 appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

ASKAP, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder has only had a 3.4-day pilot survey and has [...]

The post Sunset lenticular clouds. appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Expand the limits of your own understanding of neutron stars, refractor telescopes, and observing in [...]

Stay up late and you'll see the return of one of the sky's most familiar asterisms, the Su [...]

Two recent studies suggest that brown dwarfs, or so-called “failed stars,” are nevertheless more lik [...]

The post A night event in a small Provencal village appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post Titan, that would be an acceptable catch! appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post Eta Aquarid Meteor and the Milky Way appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]