Moby-Dick Opera - San Diego -29.jpg

Frank Visser

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
December 2017
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031
Archives
Politics, Culture, Philosophy
  • Rachel Maddow
  • Frank Schaeffer
  • Roberto Ruiz

Doug Jones built no-holds-barred campaignRachel Maddow points out that in addition to other factors like African-American turnout and women v [...]

Steve Bannon will find someone to blame for Roy Moore lossJoy-Ann Reid and Rachel Maddow discuss what Roy Moore's loss means to the political power of St [...]

Jones campaign leaves Alabama Democrats energizedAlabama State Representative Merika Coleman talks with Rachel Maddow about the enthusiasm she saw fo [...]

Breaking down turnout so far in key Alabama countiesNBC’s Steve Kornacki looks at statistics from majority black counties as results continue to come in [...]

Senator Booker: We cannot allow Roy Moore to serve in the SenateSenator Cory Booker talks with Rachel Maddow about the effort by the Doug Jones campaign to motivate [...]

Archibald: 'Roy Moore does not like to serve in government'John Archibald, columnist for the Birmingham News, talks with Rachel Maddow about the contours of th [...]

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.12.17Today's edition of quick hits. [...]

Rachel Maddow 12/12/17Watch the full episode of Tuesday night's The Rachel Maddow Show. [...]

Rachel Maddow 12/12/17Watch the full episode of Tuesday night's The Rachel Maddow Show. [...]

GOP lawmakers prioritize tax cuts over children's health programTax breaks for the wealthy are on Congress' front-burner; the Children's Health Insurance [...]

Can anyone have a reasonable discussion with white Evangelicals who voted for Trump and who offer no [...]

I recently had a chance to sit down with Sam Jammal, a former Obama Commerce Department appointee an [...]

In case you missed it, here is the video of my appearance this morning on AM Joy. We discussed how T [...]

Dear Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, In the 1980s both of your fathers would have been shocke [...]

Alabama makes us uncomfortable, because it’s an accurate mirror of what lurks nationwide. Let’s than [...]

All in the name of “religious freedom”…and Trump’s judicial picks will be the sole arbiters. A GOP t [...]

His recent racist re-tweets have a basis in Theology I was part of in the 1970s-80s. The president o [...]

I’d like for you to take a little tour with me inside my new book Letter to Lucy: A Manifesto of Cre [...]

Trump’s Alt-“Americans” freely fantasize in print and on YouTube about their desire to execute liber [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]

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

Rod Meade Sperry invites you to consider how a repeal of Net Neutrality rules could stifle independe [...]

We review "Old Demons, New Deities: Twenty-One Short Stories from Tibet," edited by Tenzin [...]

Shangpa Karmaling has had three suspected arson attempts in one month — the last of which destroyed [...]

Wabi sabi — a philosophy with roots in Zen tea ceremonies — posits that beauty lies in what is flawe [...]

While scientific methods are useful, says the Dalai Lama, mind should also be studied through rigoro [...]

We review "Beyond the Self: Conversations Between Buddhism and Neuroscience" by Matthieu R [...]

What is the connection between Buddhism and secular mindfulness? Some people say mindfulness is just [...]

What do we know about the historical Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama? And who are these other Buddhas we [...]

My father was a caring and somewhat charismatic minister turned therapist. He was also a sexual pred [...]

The cause of the fire at Shangpa Karma Ling has not yet been determined, but a police investigation [...]

(Natural News) Chemotherapy is a pretty scary prospect, but a lot of people are convinced by their d [...]

(Natural News) Cinnamon may be the spice you need this holiday season as a new study finds that it c [...]

(Natural News) The agri giant Monsanto, commonly known as the world’s most evil corporation, is now [...]

(Natural News) Physical contact between babies and their caregivers doesn’t just foster emotional bo [...]

(Natural News) As wildfires continue to rage in Southern California, Gov. Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown and [...]

(Natural News) The popularity of organic produce has grown exponentially in recent years. There are [...]

(Natural News) Think you live in a free country? Think again: If you really lived in a free country, [...]

(Natural News) Fervent belief in global warming and man-made climate change is motivating some to pr [...]

One thing you can rely on about tobacco: It’s bound to give you cancer if you put it in your body. M [...]

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

The IAU just approved the names of 86 new stars, the majority of which are derived from Chinese, Hin [...]

What is the most wonderful time of the year? In my opinion, it is when the new Year In Space Calenda [...]

This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Brian Wang at his Next Big Future blog. Click here to rea [...]

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

An international team of astronomers has created the largest map of the movements of galaxies within [...]

Using the Greenbank Radio Telescope, Breakthrough Listen plans to "listen" to 'Oumuam [...]

An international team of astronomers, using multiple observatories, have found the youngest and most [...]

A new study lays out why Venus doiesn't have a magnetic field like Earth's. Basically, it [...]

Massachusetts-based engineering company Draper recently filed a patent for a navigation system that [...]

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) aboard the International Space Station is allowing scientists to chara [...]

Pedro Vieira wins Sackler PrizeTuesday Dec 12, 2017 Quantum field theorist shares $100,000 award for [...]

Myers makes "most influential" list for fourth timeFriday Dec 08, 2017 Perimeter Faculty C [...]

Perimeter cosmologist shares in Breakthrough PrizeMonday Dec 04, 2017 Perimeter cosmologist Kendrick [...]

Lieutenant Governor champions empowerment through scienceThursday Nov 16, 2017 Ontario Lieutenant Go [...]

Award honours Perimeter's impact on high-skills labour marketThursday Nov 16, 2017 Toronto’s Cr [...]

New research centre at Perimeter to probe universe's deepest questionsMonday Nov 13, 2017 Perim [...]

Subir Sachdev wins Lars Onsager PrizeMonday Oct 30, 2017 Subir Sachdev has won the Lars Onsager Priz [...]

Luke Santi Award winner lauded for service and scienceThursday Oct 26, 2017 Graeme Ko, a first-year [...]

PI physicist wins major grant to see if evolution can be predictedThursday Oct 26, 2017 As one of si [...]

New faculty to advance quantum matter researchMonday Oct 02, 2017 The research pursued by three new [...]

Electrical and chemical coupling between Saturn and its ringsA Langmuir probe, flown to Saturn on the Cassini spacecraft, has made exciting discoveries in the at [...]

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportationScientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for dire [...]

Life's building blocks observed in spacelike environmentWhere do the molecules required for life originate? It may be that small organic molecules first app [...]

Suburban ponds are a septic buffetHuman waste accounts for a high percentage of nutrients consumed by some animals and plants in subur [...]

3-D printed microfibers could provide structure for artificially grown body partsMuch as a frame provides structural support for a house and the chassis provides strength and shape [...]

Action games expand the brain's cognitive abilities, study suggestsThe human brain learns and adapts. Numerous research studies have focused on the impact of action vi [...]

Telescopes team up to study giant galaxyAstronomers have used two Australian radio telescopes and several optical telescopes to study comple [...]

Common psychological traits in group of Italians aged 90 to 101In remote Italian villages nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and mountains lives a group of seve [...]

Forest resilience declines in face of wildfires, climate changeThe forests you see today are not what you will see in the future. That's the overarching findi [...]

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wakeEngineers have developed a realistic proposition for creating a water cloak that moves water around [...]

NASA’s Juno spacecraft peeked under the clouds of the most iconic weather feature in the solar syste [...]

The habitability of distant exoplanets is dependent upon many factors — one of which is the activity [...]

The post Bright Geminid, 12th December 2017 appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

If it’s clear Wednesday night and Thursday before dawn, keep a lookout high overhead for the "s [...]

The post Full Moons in 2017 appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

Mark the date: December 13th. That's the night the Geminid meteor shower peaks. Highlighted by [...]

Good weather for imaging is about more than just the clouds! Even if it's cloud-free, you' [...]

The post IC443 SHO appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]

The post Asteroid 3200 Phaethon about 13 Million Miles from Earth appeared first on Sky & Telesc [...]

The post IC417 SHO-RGB appeared first on Sky & Telescope. [...]