Friday, April 25, 2008

Evolutionary Science, Fundamentally Confused?

In the introductory text of a recent Integral Naked audio, a talk between Ken Wilber and Rupert Sheldrake ("Integral Evolutionary Biology"), this astonishing statement can be read:


There is perhaps no field of human inquiry more fundamentally confused than evolutionary science—especially given its monumental task of trying to essentially account for the entire history of the manifest world, from the Big Bang to this present moment in time, along with every mutation, deviation, and transformation in between.

After Wilber has himself given such a thoroughly confused presentation of the status of evolutionary theory (see "The Wilberian Evolution Report"), he still has the guts to present his own theory as a revelation:

It is an extraordinary science that requires an equally extraordinary framework, comprehensive enough to make sense of the entire spectrum of evolutionary emergence—especially as it becomes increasingly necessary to explain things like consciousness, hermeneutics, and spirituality in evolutionary terms.
The talk with Sheldrake, predictably, barely touches on the subject of evolutionary biology, or any of the topics which are debated in this field of science. It is a long monologue of Wilber, endured politely by Sheldrake, trying to convince Sheldrake of his particular take on holons, going back to the old legends of how he discovered his holonic model by comparing all existing evolutionary models.

Talking about confusion. On the vexed question whether natural evolution can produce eyes and wings on its own (i.e. without the assistence of some higher Force, Spirit, Eros, God), Wilber has subsequently stated:

  • "Absolutely not - absolutely nobody believes this anymore."
  • "Evolution can't explain shit, deal with it".
  • "Give me a break on this, I know the subject inside out."
  • "Well, biologists may still believe it, but I know what they are really thinking."
  • "Well, eyes and wings are perhaps possible, but the immune system is not".
  • "Anyways, whatever materialistic biology comes up with, we will include it in our system."
  • "I never meant that statement about eyes and wings to be taken literally, it was just a metaphor for the complexity of evolution."

Yeah, right. And it is precisely this complexity that evolutionary theory tries to unravel, in its own careful way. With metaphors, if necessary, but never with "bad poetry" (see: Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow), which only misleads the reader into thinking that science has found no way of explaining the evolution of eyes and wings. Which is patently false.

An "integral evolutionary biology" could mean so much more: a careful positioning of the various authors (Dawkins, Gould, Mayr, Lewontin, Kaufman, even Sheldrake, etc.) within the landscape of biology. But that requires a lot more then saying: evolutionary biology belongs to the Lower-Right quadrant, so we will include it, but without the reductionism. Bla, bla, bla...

One of Wilber's main poins of criticism is that evolutionary biology (and materialistic science in general) excludes, or explains away, interiority. In this audio, Wilber again makes his habitual statement that transcendental reality should no longer be seen as something that is beyond matter, but as "something within" (which is the hallmark of Wilber-5, his current phase of thinking).

Unfortunately, he has never, in his recent online and published writings, fleshed out this statement, though his very post-metaphysical turn depends on it. If metaphysics speaks of transcendental realities, and post-metaphysics (as generally understood) denies them, where exactly does Wilber's integral post-metaphysics stand? It denies them, but not entirely? Not beyond, but within? Isn't that just a semantic manoeuvre?

Again, bad poetry which deludes the reader into thinking that something has been explained.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilber does not personally write any of this kind of blurb on Integral Naked, Holons News etc. All this stuff is written by a young college drop-out called Corey W. deVos.

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Robert Sandberg said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank

I am increasingly unsure as to the point of all your anti-Wilber stuff. What motivates you to continue this game? We know in detail the strengths and the weaknesses of this man at the twilight of his career when he is not about to produce any stunningly new work. This is getting very repetitive and only goes to show that there is very little original or useful post-Wilber integral that is not based on Wilber-bashing.

What we need from you here is leadership. Where is the community to go now? What can it acheive? What areas can it explore? What is the next generation going to actually acheive with Wilber's legacy...?

3:07 AM  
Blogger Sensei said...

I know this is a useless comment, but I just happen to have the time.

You are ridiculous, all of you.
KW must have an incredible meditation practice, staying this calm since so many years the kids are crying for attention, all of them wanting big daddy all for themselves.
If you have sth to say, write a book. WHy critizice someone else and cry for years about bigbear not hearing you?

Trialectic Neo-Idealism is over your head, so I wont try to explain it to you.

Matter of fact, thats all that I can say after reading the more-orange-than-green reflections on the evolution-debate.

You just dont get the point, because you cant think outside of the current mind-set, you dont understand what it means that subjectivity is an intricate aspect of all of reality, that means, there is a space it takes, that means, there must be something like "happning" in that space.

I only hope youd get some help, some sane selfdoubt so to find the road to go on, and some motivitation to contribute with your own creativity to enrich humanity, instead of trying to harm those who at least try to, live their live and give their best, unable to loose themselves in little stupid details(like your problems).

I guess the II and KW really wonder how many people spend hours aggressively critizicing them on the net while not doing ANYTHING USEFUL on their own.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous M. Alan Kazlev said...

anonymous said:

"This is getting very repetitive and only goes to show that there is very little original or useful post-Wilber integral that is not based on Wilber-bashing."

Incorrect. Check out Integral Praxis and Open Source Integral.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Frank, I deeply appreciate the work that you, Ken and others are doing in the Integral field. I do not have many comments to make of my own, but I have assembled these quotes of yours and Ken Wilber to add something to the dialectic, in response to your latest post.

Says Frank in the recent post, "Unfortunately, he (Wilber) has never, in his recent online and published writings, fleshed out this statement, though his very post-metaphysical turn depends on it. If metaphysics speaks of transcendental realities, and post-metaphysics (as generally understood) denies them, where exactly does Wilber's integral post-metaphysics stand? It denies them, but not entirely? Not beyond, but within? Isn't that just a semantic manoeuvre? Again, bad poetry which deludes the reader into thinking that something has been explained."

From a Shambhala Interview with Ken Wilber, Part II:

"...there is simply so much written material that it is hard for anybody, first or second tier, to grasp it all accurately. I really don't blame the critics here. You have to read at least 6 or 7 books to begin to get the whole picture, and worse, I often put my technically correct views in lengthy, obscure endnotes. No wonder people have a hard time figuring out the finer points.

From the Notes to Excerpt A

26 On the Nature of Involutionary Givens
Are there any givens (other than past inheritances) that determine the nature of this moment's coming-to-be? Put differently, are there any givens that seem to have existed prior to the Big Bang? Among the few theorists who have thought clearly about this issue, the consensus seems to be yes.
(This is the first paragraph of a nearly 3000-word explanation on involutionary givens)

From the Notes to Excerpt G:

4 What we call "involutionary givens" are accepted by Integral Post-Metaphysics, since it is theoretically impossible to do away with all of them; see Excerpt A, posted on this site. The point is to postulate the fewest such "metaphysical" givens in order to get a Kosmos going, because metaphysics hides from validity claims, and thus metaphysics is open to—and almost always infected with—power drives.

3:46 PM  
Blogger cees de groot said...

to me the crosspassing complex of graves wilber arguelles helps to germinate the vision guiding the psi ...

interested - then ...

rinri
may be readable worthwhile to endeavour ...

::*:: s'ace

1:26 AM  
Blogger Fernando Monteiro Correia Pinto said...

I´m a physician, a brazilian one, dealling with Hematology and Homeopathy.
I´ve been an enthusiastic reader and fan of Ken Wilber for more than ten years now, and all the critics against him I´ve been going through in the last months, sound really very strange to me. Since "Spectrum of Consciousness" I felt as if some one had found the way to put down in words, and in very clear words, all the millions of thoughts I had been going through, so that these thoughts became finally clear to myself in many aspects.
No need to say that the very rude answers KW gave (or has been given) to those that criticize him made me quite disappointed: how can a person with so many arguments use such words ?
I´ve been receiving the quotes of Integral World since it was "The World of Ken Wilber", Frank, and I´ve lost the begining of this dispute, this contention.
I would be pleased if you sent me some link or some text, or anything you might thought to be important, so that I could analyse and see for myself, and get my own conclusions.
My best wishes for everyone that came to this point.

Fernando Monteiro Correia Pinto
fmonteiropinto@gmail.com

12:16 PM  
Blogger Frank Visser said...

Hi fernando,

I have collected my critical essays on Wilber here:
http://www.integralworld.net/visser25.html

so you can see them in chronological order.

Hope this helps you find your way in this Wilber jungle /-)

frank

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sensei is right: you "critics" miss the implications of subjectivity to evolution.

Ken has been tracing the "evolution of consciousness." And arguing that consciousness is result of random mutations does not fit his observations of consciousness development.

While indeed sense-modalities differ enormously (human sight vs. e.g. sonar system of bats) the further development of consciousness into symbols (that which sense experiences have in common) concepts (that which symbols have in common) and judgements or thought (combination of concepts) seems to be universal.

I.e. there are very few variations of "thought," namely only ONE. Weird, isnt it? Wouldn you expect some mutations and adaptations? This was puzzling authors like Plato or Kant so much, that the only way the they could make sense of it was to say that "reason" is a universal given.

The real sources Wilber draws from to contextualize evolutionary biology are not Behe, but the tradition of philosophical enlightenment: Descartes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Piaget, Habermas asf. Wilber himself argues that he first started to make sense of teleology after reading Aristotle (see "Odyssey").

The real challange to Dawkins aint Behe but Philosophy. What an interesting debate it would make if someone had delved deep enough into science AND philosophy, to get the discussion going.

Wilber, as far as I can tell, seems to be the only one who at least explicitly states that it would be important to take both approaches into account. His conslusions after doing that is that evolutionary biology as it stands is a mess.

You can well disagree on that one with Wilber. But do you agree with his general premiss, that evolution must also be applied to subjectivity? If not, you should not be puzzled to come to different conclusions about evlution than Wilber...

my constructive suggestion is that we all sit down for three decades, read the sources from ALL THE FIELDS (that are not spooky) Wilber has been drawing from, and then reconsider the issue of evolution from "integral" perspective. This would be integral criticism. Thats whats Im striving for. I dont know about you.

So, see you same time, same place in thirty years of intense studying? Waddya say? But beware that if you do that you might make Wilber happy and against all your intentions become what he calls "integral." If on the other hand you want to keep him sad, just continue ignoring all the disciplines that actually have implications for your own.

see you in thirty years...

3:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan - Sorry but I already did check out thoses sites and my comment still holds. The quality of those sites is kind of my point.

M. Alan Kazlev said...
anonymous said:

"This is getting very repetitive and only goes to show that there is very little original or useful post-Wilber integral that is not based on Wilber-bashing."

Incorrect. Check out Integral Praxis and Open Source Integral.

7:37 PM

4:06 PM  
Blogger DGA said...

Responses to two different anonymous posters (interesting that so few are willing to take responsibility for their ideas in a grownup way by attaching their names to them), and "sensei" too. First:

"I.e. there are very few variations of "thought," namely only ONE. Weird, isnt it? Wouldn you expect some mutations and adaptations? This was puzzling authors like Plato or Kant so much, that the only way the they could make sense of it was to say that "reason" is a universal given."

You claim that the sum total of human thought adds up to a variation on one theme. I invite you to demonstrate that this claim is valid. Prove it. Find a way to prove that Nagarjuna and the Vedas (for instance) agree *without doing violence to Nagarjuna or the Vedas.* When you find that this is impossible to do in good faith, you may well come to the conclusion that this claim that all philosophical doctrines are reducible to evolutionary Providence or whatever telos you like is just another theological system, in this case Wilber's. (I am of the opinion that Wilber's understanding of Continental philosophy is much poorer than it ought to be for someone who makes a living out of his pompous claims Continental philosophy.) Next:

"there is very little original or useful post-Wilber integral that is not based on Wilber-bashing"

I suppose you might read Hegel as Kant-bashing, or Marx as Hegel-bashing, or Lacan as Freud-bashing, or Nagarjuna as Veda-bashing, or Aristotle as Plato-bashing. Dialectical thinking (as opposed to thematic or topical thinking) is predicated on criticism. One takes an object and interacts with it. In this case, the object of analysis is Wilber's theory, which is broken down in pieces like Led Zeppelin albums (Wilber I, Wilber II, Wilber III). Lenin was no Hegelian but what was he studying in 1914, right before he accomplished the October Revolution? Hegel. If you want to take on a positive intellectual or practical task, it helps to be able to think negatively (not this, not this, not this, not this, surely not this). This is why we teach children to read. Not because we think Great Books contain Great Themes, but to get them to think for themselves, like grownups, rather than build up heroes to follow (Ann Coulter comes to mind). This is not to say that Wilber is a writer of Great Books; I do not claim he is or is not.

Check out the Integral Review academic journal. You will find some interesting work that does indeed begin to think through some possibilities for an integral theory after Wilber. My own work, Bonnitta Roy's work, Gary Hampson's work, all attempt this in different ways. You are correct, though, when you suggest that Wilber has basically jumped the shark. Now, onto Sensei:

You claim: "Trialectic Neo-Idealism is over your head, so I wont try to explain it to you." Very good of you to make this assumption about what I am capable of, what I know, and what I do not. I'll return the favor: I am thinking of a number between one and ten. Since you know the contents of my consciousness, I invite you to write it on a postcard and mail it to my work address (you know my name, look up the number). Thanks!

Of course, another possibility is that "trialectic idealism" is an expression of intellectual incompetence rather than the innovation it seems to be. I am not claiming this is so, merely presenting the alternative to your rather cultish claim. Repeated and vehement assertions such as the ones you make here do not validate a truth claim. Patient and disciplined arguments do. This is what separates cultish adherence from principled positions.

Happy reading.

Daniel Gustav Anderson

9:34 AM  
Blogger DGA said...

Another way to put it:

If we don't do the detailed critical work on Wilber, if we fail to do due diligence on this, we may well wind up having a core of adherents ready to crown the man Padishah Emperor Ken Muad'Dib Wilber on the belief that, thirty years from now, his predictions will come true.

Careful, critical analysis is a machine that kills reptiles of the mind. Of course if you mess it up you mess it up, and I don't want to provide cover for those who are indiscriminately bashing this or that thinker. I am not defending "Wilber-bashing" as such but defending what some here call "Wilber-bashing" on the ground that it is actually something else: grownup intellectual work.

10:00 AM  
Blogger cees de groot said...

hi all T..here ...

on top it vibrates here :

"Evolutionary Science, Fundamentally Confused?" - 13 Comments - Show Original Post Collapse comments

which gives 4 anonymi 7 uniQ commentators ... DGA, Frank, Fernando, Eric, Alan, Sensei & cees ...

A GooD idea to Collapse the Comments ... but then to what and what is left ...

What was our functional meaning to have those textures on our path of "what" ...

Fundamentally Confused ... ignites to me the idea a "light" could step forward on in this time-sphere ... and ... i am asked last week to organize a gathering around "a light" ... the GrandSon of M. Gandhi Arun is offered to me as an attraction in the Netherlands (wasn't Ken fond of A'dam all the time ~ maybe even in traumatic terms of properties glue'ed)

anyhow my password her is "logio" ...

i will confirm that ... ;-) s'ace

11:25 AM  

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