Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wilber Assessment vs. Advertising

The Integral Vision, the latest product of the Integral marketing machine, is a rehash of material from Integral Spirituality, most notably its Introduction. It would have been fine to warn readers that they bought nothing new, except a lot of flashy techno-erotic illustrations, and a couple of "1-minute excercises" included in Integral Life Practice. The overall tone is: we are an organization that has truth on its side, has a method that is the most effective, and above all: you can join us. Not a shadow of doubt falls over these pages. Marketing has won over arguments. Advertising has won over assessment.

Very few people seem to be interested in Wilber assessment. Just how strong is the evidence Wilber claims for his theories? "Staggering" as he claims, or debatable, even shaky? How trustworthy is he when he reports about science, be it evolutionary theory, cultural studies or psychology?

Two recent publications on Integral World raise pertinent questions. Jim Chamberlains long awaited analysis of Wilber's statements regarding science, "Whither Ken Wilber", is worthy of close reading. Where does Wilber actually stand in debates about science and religion?

"My interest in getting a clearer sense of Ken Wilber's philosophical stance on certain open questions about the origin and evolution of life, the relationship between psychological events and physical events, and the relation of science and religion was piqued when I began to notice that more than a few Wilberians seemed to use terms such as "flatland materialism," "quadrant absolutism," and "gross reductionism" to characterize and thereby dismiss from serious consideration just about anything they didn't happen to agree with."

Recenty another critical piece has been added: a review of Integral Spirituality by Jaap Schaveling, a Dutch programme manager of the prestigious Nyenrode Business University, who has a deep interest in spirituality and psychotherapy. He writes about Wilber's inadequate referencing of scientific research:

"Occasionally the book refers readers to www.kenwilber.com for additional footnotes, but it is impossible to locate them in the site. An investigative email message to the publisher received no reply. His literature references and research bases contain barely any new material in comparison with his previous books. His references are far too general and a bit too thin on the ground. This makes it very difficult to check whether one of his propositions has indeed been properly supported by good research." One of his conclusions: "AQAL is a Story, No More, No Less. It is a pity that Wilber seems to have lost the ability to keep that perspective himself."

These sober and sobering assessments of Wilber's latest writings are few and far between. I ended my review of Integral Spirituality a few months ago by expressing the wish "Hopefully other critical assessments of the merits of this book will be written, for it will most likely remain Wilber's take on spirituality for years to come." This invitations still stands!

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commend you for your efforts to focus attention behind the mythical curtain. I've been a long time critic of Ken's flawed, egotistical approach to Intergal Theory and have said for some time he was ultimately linking up with, modeling himself after, and attempting to market himself up as spiritual authority who can judge others, which he has now made obvious. Much like his early hero Alan Watts whose style he emulated early on, and whose fame and commentary reflected insights that were not reflected in his actual lifestyle, Ken also likes to be a pundit and incorporate ideas as his own, but lacks personal integration. Thus he misjudges so called spiritual authorities and sees sound criticism through egoic eyes as a personal attack. A friend of Kazlev's, I agree with him that Ken's dismissal of metaphysics based on his own prejudices (when he has not a clue what he is talking about) not only prevents him from understanding critical aspects of spirituality from the sources he admires who are not so limited, but from seeing how in his desire for fame he has fallen into the error of confusing limited states of mind and the ability to influence others with deep insight and attainment. As Kazlev has pointed out so well, Ken is actually trodding well traveled and recognizable ground despite his claims of giving us a modern evolution. Those of us familiar with metaphysics who recognize risky practices, and the far older intermediate zone model as a more accurate assessment of the ground Ken insists on treading, see him and his assertions as just another case in point.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"AQAL is a Story, No More, No Less" --- wouldn't this make Wilber just a very popular fiction author? And if so, shouldn't we instead evaluate his work in terms of theme, narrative power, plot, character, etc? I think he would do his readers a grave disservice if he continued having them believe this fantasy of him as an academic...

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilber still doesn't get it

See this recent blog posting by Wilber:

http://kenwilber.com/blog/show/390

He is still simply, or should I shout, "SIMPLY!" simply quoting favorites instead of arguing with research-based authors.

Sincerely,
Yet Another Disappointed Former Wilber Fan

8:06 AM  
Blogger Stuart said...

On the fundamental questions of religion and science, I feel a critical point is the one you quoted from Wilber a couple of posts ago:

To Schelling's burning question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?," there have always been two general answers. The first might be called the philosophy of "oops." The universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it's all ultimately accidental or random, it just is, it just happens--oops!

The most serious "general answer" is "don't know." What is that original thing out of which thinking (most critically the thought "I") arises? How and why does it arise? Any serious scientific or mystical exploration brings us to a clear "don't know."

When we examine, understand, and make peace with this "don't know," we can perceive each moment and respond; we can use what we DO know in a clear and compassionate way.

How in the world did Wilber move from the crystal clarity of "don't know" to the dismissive "oops"? It's not that the universe is an accident, that there's nothing behind it. It's that, by the very nature of existing as a human, we don't know what's behind it, why it and we are here.

It of course takes a tiny bit of humility to realize this. Without this humility, there's only fear of the mystery. There's only a desire to construct any sort of ideas and speculations that allow us to pretend to know what we really don't.

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

11:34 AM  
Blogger Stuart said...

I've just read the blog posting that anony commenter #3 points to, this one:

http://kenwilber.com/blog/show/390

In it, Wilber writes:

... my point lies in a different direction, which is what these critics miss: the necessity of a self-organizing force (or Eros) intrinsic to the universe.

Is Wilber saying anything here? Or is he just playing with words? That is: "self-organizing force intrinsic to the universe" means that there's something that causes this experience we're having. That has no meaning unless we examine what that "something" is. Do we know?

Metaphorically: if you're drinking water, it doesn't matter whether you call it "water" or "aqua" or "H-two-O." Those are just different names that don't touch its nature. What is "Eros" other than a name?

Scientists will say that this "something" is "randomness." That's a name meaning we don't know the first cause. A true mystic will say exactly the same thing, that the fundamental cause is a complete mystery. If the mystic calls it "God" and the scientist calls it "randomness," that's no real difference.

For Wilber to call it "Eros" makes no difference either... except that he claims that "Eros" is something he *does* understand. He has ideas, his "theory of everything," that he claims *does* capture the fundamental cause with his thinking.

So that's the real point. Do we believe that Wilber's thinking mind has really captured a knowledge or understanding of why there's something rather than nothing? Or is he just too arrogant or too frightened to face the mystery, and instead (like a religious fundamentalist) opts to grasp some speculation and pretend that he knows what he really doesn't?

As Socrates told us long ago, the mark of true wisdom is to understand that you don't know.

Like myself, I believe Wilber has done some serious Zen practice, and for at least one moment, experienced immersion in that unknowable thing. After such an experience, the true direction of the Zen tradition is to recognize that it's not a thing that can be held by thoughts, knowledge, understanding.

Rather, it's something to be recognized fresh in each moment, in this moment, in our just-now experience, before-thinking. And we can also lose it at any moment when we miss that experience in favor of some idea, some "theory" about it. Isn't that what Wilber is making a career out of doing?

Stuart
http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheers to the author of this article!

... curious about the buzz around Wilber (but bored by the sweeping abstractions of his Integral Psychology book), I recently picked up a copy of The Integral Vision.
To speak in my best 'Jackal': it's SIMPLY the most pretentious, self-congratulatory bullshit I've ever tasted. Wilber skillfully obscures whatever merit his work might have with condescending rhetoric and flashy advertising.
Sad, really - it looks like he's got some interesting ideas, and now I hate them. Back to my good old fashioned mythic-rational stage!

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say it and I do not say it with malice, but I wonder if Ken Wilber is heading for a breakdown. I just listened to his recent interview with Rupert Sheldrake and looked over the three free chapters online of The Integral Vision, and it does seem to me that he is going way overboard with self-marketing, which seems to have be more a preoccupation now than ever. I do respect some of Mr. Wilber's ideas though I have not studied him, and though I agree with some of the criticisms of work, not from a dogmatic rationalist or scientific materialist perspective but in terms of shoe-horning. It would be wrong to question the man's genius, but there seems to be some kind of deep-seated personal weakness or flaw behind the aspects of his character that so many people seem to instinctively dislike, which perhaps he is running from in trying to market himself so frenetically. Whatever it is about, I hope that he pulls through it alright.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Argon said...

If you invitation stand then why didn't you takethem up on it to speak your concerns at an academic conference?

http://in.integralinstitute.org/kw/TheAcademicEmergenceofIntegralTheory.pdf

That doesn't really make sense to give up that opportunity to express your views unless there are different motivations for them

3:25 PM  
Blogger DGA said...

Anonymous says:

""AQAL is a Story, No More, No Less" --- wouldn't this make Wilber just a very popular fiction author? And if so, shouldn't we instead evaluate his work in terms of theme, narrative power, plot, character, etc? I think he would do his readers a grave disservice if he continued having them believe this fantasy of him as an academic..."

Yes, of course. It also means that cultural critics are those who are best positioned to do the work of unpacking Wilberianism, showing the political and social consequences of the positions Wilber takes (many of which are nauseating in my view)... and interestingly enough, humanities disciplines and cultural studies in general have been particular targets for Wilber's rather juvenile polemics against strawman "postmodern poststructuralists" in SES (see Boomeritis for other instances). It is as if he seeks to push away precisely those who are prepared methodologically to pull the rug out from under his self-fashioning.

9:41 AM  

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