Walden Pond - Concord, MA.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
October 2020
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  
Archives
Politics, Culture, Philosophy
  • Error
  • Frank Schaeffer
  • Roberto Ruiz

RSS Error: A feed could not be found at `http://www.msnbc.com/feeds/rss/hub/234956`; the status code is `404` and content-type is `text/html; charset=utf-8`

So true. It is also sometimes very difficult to get the truth from the research engines. Companies t

"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is th

Amy Coney Barrett is absolutely terrifying. Educated, professional women I come in contact with don’

Frank, I've followed you for a while now and have your "Lucy" book, which I love and

Very informative article. Thank you. My extended family is quite large. Most of them are prosperous,

I don’t know what liberals would do without your guidance Mr. Schaeffer. You give us raw power, thro

It's the evangelical religion that happens to borrow selectively from the Christian religion bu

Dear Frank, Trump's enablers are assortment of less than decent characters as you well know. Zu

I am a Vietnam veteran and that was mentioned to a man with whom I was doing business. He greatly of

I knew men who were professional gamblers and they were all good at their game, but they were also c

After having been unjustly convicted of the bogus charges brought against him in that most infamous

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

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

From "The Pentacle" to Corpse Pose, yoga teacher Cyndi Lee invites you to open up and watc

In order to shed light on the realities of climate change, says Ajahn Sucitto, first we should get m

We’ve been sold on the idea that self-care means chocolates and bubble baths (not that there’s anyth

How do bodhisattvas respond to the greatest crisis of our time? Appropriately, says Buddhist teacher

Richard Gere, Karenna Gore, Robert Thurman, Sharon Salzberg, and Deepak Chopra headline this month

Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, LionsRoar

Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, Buddhist

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Holly Stocking found herself with an inescapable craving for

Their sangha gathered virtually, but it was still real. Rachel Paige King on the loss of an online d

What reveals itself when you do nothing at all? Vanessa Zuisei Goddard on the practice of “just sitt

(Natural News) Hackers linked to the Communist regime in China are once again targeting American mil

(Natural News) Ask yourself right now why the flu shot is almost always free, when all other prevent

(Natural News) In the wake of bombshell reports last week beginning with the New York Post that were

(Natural News) During the final year of Barack Obama’s occupation of the White House, then-Vice Pres

(Natural News) There’s no doubt that the Marxist attorney general in New York, Letitia Jones, hates

(Natural News) Experts in Japan are blaming the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) for an increase

(Natural News) British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has commenced late-stage trials for its CO

(Natural News) A new study reveals that the Wuhan coronavirus can block pain and mask any symptoms i

(Natural News) Health Ranger Mike Adams recently interviewed New York Times best-selling author and

(Natural News) President Trump has suggested Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) should face “arrest for treason

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

A team of researchers has discovered a complex network of filamentary structures in the Milky Way. T

To measure small differences in time, you need a really tiny clock, and researchers in Germany have

The Starship is coming together, literally and figuratively! With its three Raptor engines test fire

“This is where we live. On a Blue Dot.” said Carl Sagan when the now famous Pale Blue Dot photo was

All her life, Laci Shea Brock has needed to be creative and inventive. So, perhaps it’s not complete

A new analysis indicates that 3% of Starlink satellites have failed since they were launched to orbi

As we explore the solar system, we'll need an interplanetary communication network that can kee

Northern Canada has been keeping a secret from the rest of the world. It’s home to “Resurrection,” a

In 2005 astronomers found a dense grouping of stars in the Virgo constellation. It looked like a sta

In September, a team of scientists reported finding phosphine in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Phos

Perimeter Institute launches Clay Riddell Centre for Quantum MatterThursday Oct 15, 2020A new resear

Perimeter congratulates 2020 winners of the Nobel Prize in PhysicsTuesday Oct 06, 2020This year’s wi

CHIME receives Governor General’s Innovation AwardWednesday Jul 15, 2020The CHIME team is recognized

Perimeter participates in #Strike4BlackLivesFriday Jun 26, 2020Perimeter Institute participated in t

Perimeter among top winners at CCAE AwardsTuesday Jun 16, 2020The Canadian Council for the Advanceme

Four new Simons Emmy Noether Fellows announcedMonday Jun 15, 2020The next group of Simons Emmy Noeth

Anna Golubeva earns Borealis AI FellowshipMonday Jun 08, 2020Perimeter PhD student named one of 10 B

Kevin Costello admitted as Honorary Member of the Royal Irish AcademyWednesday May 27, 2020Perimeter

Flash of insight opens new paths for Luke Santi Award winnerThursday Mar 26, 2020Mackenzie Pereira,

PI-NRC partnership to fuel made-in-Canada breakthroughsTuesday Mar 03, 2020A new collaboration betwe

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed, for the first ti

Two days after touching down on asteroid Bennu, NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission team received on Thur

Humans are born with a part of the brain that is prewired to be receptive to seeing words and letter

New radio images from ALMA show for the first time the direct effect of volcanic activity on the atm

Three decades after astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that Voyager 1 snap Earth's picture from bi

The first analysis of a sedimentary drill core representing 1 million years of environmental history

NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (

Researchers have linked a brain region to what they call neural polarization, offering a glimpse int

Thin tissue grafts and flexible electronics have a host of applications for wound healing, regenerat

A pioneering technique which captures precisely how mountains bend to the will of raindrops has help

Astronomers have tallied how star-making material evolved over cosmic time — and they've predic

The Ghost of Summer Suns: Halloween is approaching, and this means that Arcturus, the star sparkling

See images and video from NASA’s Osiris-REX spacecraft as it samples the Nightingale site. The post

The Moon's magnetic field, now long gone, might once have shielded Earth from the young Sun

Comets have been scarce since NEOWISE departed the scene. Not anymore. Suddenly, there are four fres

NASA's Osiris-REX mission has successfully touched down on the asteroid Bennu to collect a samp

New research has shown that the recently-discovered closest black hole to Earth might not be a black

A silver lining to the long year we've had is a renewed interest in the night sky. The post Pan

Mars is edging away a bit now from its close approach to Earth, but on the other hand, it rises high

What "comes off the camera" is remarkably different in astrophotography than most photogra