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 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!