Moby-Dick Opera - San Diego -29.jpg

AQAL model

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.”

Share
Calendar
April 2018
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  
Archives
Politics, Culture, Philosophy
  • Rachel Maddow
  • Frank Schaeffer
  • Roberto Ruiz

Monday's Mini-Report, 4.23.18Today's edition of quick hits. [...]

Cotton is the wrong guy to give lectures on 'shameful political behavior'Tom Cotton wants to have a conversation about "shameful political behavior" on the part of [...]

Senate poised to make history with Pompeo's Secretary of State nominationNo nominee for secretary of state has ever been rejected by a Senate committee, at least not since 1 [...]

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.23.18Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country. [...]

Playing a risky game, Trump predicts Cohen won't 'flip' on himTrump seems awfully nervous about the investigation into his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. There [...]

Trump does himself no favors ahead of North Korea talksAhead of talks with Kim Jong-un, Trump weakening his negotiating posture -- for no apparent reason o [...]

In Trump's White House, even the policy guys aren't policy guysIn Donald Trump's White House, one of the top policy guys "is not a policy guy." [...]

Corker can't bring himself to praise his would-be GOP successorSen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has had plenty of positive things to say about the Democrat running to rep [...]

EPA's Scott Pruitt haunted by corruption allegations, old and newScott Pruitt's current scandals echo his previous ones -- up to and including a questionable li [...]

Trump's bold new idea: suing the Democratic National CommitteeThe DNC is suing Russia and Donald Trump's campaign over its alleged cooperation in 2016. The p [...]

Yes, it was white evangelical preachers who ran the KKK in the 1920s. Nothing’s changed. Now they lo [...]

Evangelical leaders are meeting this week at Wheaton College to try and figure out post-Trump how to [...]

A visitor from another planet – or perhaps an angel sent by the Lord to check in on the church – whe [...]

Trump has a lifetime of criminal activity to hide. The dumbest thing he ever did was run for preside [...]

Evangelicals who won’t hold Trump the mobster accountable for the way he has lived, brutalized women [...]

An authentic Christian democracy would be just what its label says: a form of democratic politics in [...]

ICYMI, here’s my appearance this morning on AM Joy on MSNBC. Joy and I discussed how Stormy Daniels’ [...]

Was Laura Ingraham always a crass bully or did she get that way by imitating the crass bully who fak [...]

Why do evangelicals support Trump instead of the evolution of empathy that is best represented by th [...]

Trump embodies the worst of male sexual entitlement and rank misogyny. And white evangelicals put hi [...]

The Philosophy of Christopher NolanEver since I first watched Memento and its fascinating exploration of the philosophical question of [...]

Voltaire - CandideThe philosophical problem of evil—the question of how the existence of unnecessary suffering is poss [...]

Arrow - A Celebration of LoveLife is hard enough as it is. Existence, in many ways, is suffering. Obviously, some have it much wo [...]

If 'Despacito' Were Written by an Evo-Devo BiologistIf you are a geek, you are likely to get excited over things others might find boring, laughable, la [...]

James Baldwin Debates William F. BuckleyJames Baldwin, the great essayist, poet, civil rights activist, writer and orator, would have turned [...]

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 [...]

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

"How can I give my children hope for the future when it looks bleak?" Sylvia Boorstein on [...]

His Holiness the Dalai Lama takes us step by step through the famed logic of Madhyamika, the Middle [...]

Pot use is having its moment, finding new acceptance across America. So why, after a long love affai [...]

The simple act of stopping, says Pema Chödrön, is the best way to cultivate our good qualities. Here [...]

Karen Maezen Miller on how meditation helps her bring "doing nothing" into everything she [...]

Lama Willa Miller talks to Lion's Roar deputy editor Andrea Miller about how to build a movemen [...]

Guo Gu offers a practical four-step process for integrating the Yogacara teachings in your practice [...]

The newly-formed union is the first organization speaking on behalf of Irish Buddhists. The post Iri [...]

Hamill was known for his devotion to Zen Buddhist teachings, his vivid poetry, his dedication to pub [...]

From a young age, Cameron Conaway was trained to channel rage into violence. Many years later, he le [...]

(Natural News) One of the Left’s biggest knocks on guns is their claim that very few Americans actua [...]

(Natural News) Taking care of your own health can seem like an arduous task some days, so if you are [...]

(Natural News) If chemical warfare were to be unleashed into the atmosphere, how would we know it wa [...]

(Natural News) California-based researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are proud [...]

(Natural News) Most people are quick to dismiss certain plants as weeds, just because they seem unsi [...]

(Natural News) Virtually every adult in America is aware of the disaster in Flint, Michigan, in whic [...]

(Natural News) Tired of eating yogurt to improve your gut health? Researchers are now working on fet [...]

(Natural News) Would you want to eat superfoods grown in a lab? For many people, the latest developm [...]

(Natural News) Cannabis’s health benefits have helped it gain approval for medicinal use in several [...]

(Natural News) If you want to live longer, eat more nuts and seeds. According to a study, eating the [...]

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

The ESA's Swarm satellites recently began monitoring Earth's oceans to determine how they [...]

According to two new papers submitted by a Harvard Professor and an independent scientists, extra-te [...]

A new study provides evidence of a so-called lost planet that was formed in the early days of the So [...]

Elon Musks hints in a tweet that SpaceX wants to use "giant party balloons" to retrieve up [...]

Hosts: Fraser Cain (universetoday.com / @fcain) Dr. Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter) [...]

A pair of scientists who were part of the first gravitational wave discovery have developed a way to [...]

Next year, Randy Chung and Sean League of Space Fab will be launching the world's first space t [...]

Aurora Station will be the first luxury hotel in space. The station will be open for business in 202 [...]

This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Gadi Eidelheit at his The Venus Transit blog. Click here [...]

According to a new study by a team of researchers, it is possible that we might find evidence of ano [...]

Three new appointments bolster mathematics, cosmology at PerimeterMonday Apr 09, 2018 Cosmologist Wi [...]

Emmy Noether Fellowships to expand, six new fellows announcedWednesday Mar 21, 2018 Perimeter’s flag [...]

Perimeter Institute mourns the passing of friend and colleague Stephen HawkingWednesday Mar 14, 2018 [...]

Researcher explores the universe's roughest neighbourhoodsTuesday Mar 13, 2018 Astrophysicist W [...]

Perimeter partners with Chapman University to conduct collaborative researchThursday Mar 01, 2018 Pe [...]

Perimeter welcomes cosmologist Neal Dalal to facultyWednesday Jan 31, 2018 New Faculty member Neal D [...]

Perimeter hosts international planning session for G7 SummitTuesday Jan 30, 2018 Representatives fro [...]

“Big bounce” work earns cosmology award for Turok and GielenTuesday Jan 09, 2018 With second- and th [...]

Perimeter Founding Faculty member named to Order of CanadaTuesday Jan 02, 2018 Raymond Laflamme, a f [...]

2017: Perimeter’s scientific year in reviewTuesday Dec 19, 2017 Science typically advances in increm [...]

Found: A new form of DNA in our cellsIn a world first, researchers have identified a new DNA structure -- called the i-motif -- inside ce [...]

Paint job transforms walls into sensors, interactive surfacesWalls are what they are -- big, dull dividers. With a few applications of conductive paint and some [...]

Face recognition for galaxies: Artificial intelligence brings new tools to astronomyA machine learning method called 'deep learning,' which has been widely used in face recog [...]

Climate change intensifies droughts in EuropeGlobal warming will exacerbate soil droughts in Europe - droughts will last longer, affect greater a [...]

Organic solar cells reach record efficiency, benchmark for commercializationIn an advance that makes a more flexible, inexpensive type of solar cell commercially viable, resear [...]

Human-like walking mechanics evolved before the genus HomoA close examination of 3.6-million-year-old hominin footprints discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, sugg [...]

First genetic evidence of ongoing mating between 2 distinct species of guenon monkeysA new study of guenon monkeys in Gombe National Park is the first to provide genetic evidence of ong [...]

Dodo's violent death revealedThe famous Oxford Dodo died after being shot in the back of the head, according to new research. Usi [...]

Path to a new era of microelectronicsA new microchip technology capable of optically transferring data could solve a severe bottleneck in [...]

Bottlenose dolphins recorded for the first time in Canadian Pacific watersA large group of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have been spotted in Canadian Pacif [...]

The editors of Sky & Telescope report experiences from last weekend's Northeast Astronomy F [...]

The International Astronomical Union has approved names for features on Pluto's largest moon, C [...]

  NAME monajembashi qom ADDRESS moallem St, Ruhollah Sq, qom 37156-14551 Iran CONTACT matin najarzad [...]

QHYCCD announces another addition to its COLDMOS camera series, the QHY367C ($4,399), a 14-bit, full [...]

The post Jupiter with GRS appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post Comet 37P/Forbes GIF appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post Comet 37P/Forbes appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post M83 Southern Pinwheel Galaxy appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post The Leo Quadruplet of Galaxies appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

A mini-satellite demonstrates exoplanet-hunting technology, a superconducting camera tests its abili [...]