Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ken Wilber's Mysterianism

In a recent members-only video on Integral Life, titled "Can Evolutionary Science Explain Evolution Itself? / The Mystery of Evolution", Ken Wilber reiterates his view on evolution before a group of students. (Though the larger part of the video is about first-person consciousness, and the inability of science to explain it—or does science perhaps just say consciousness is not what we think it is? We will focus here on evolution proper).

In this video, Wilber clarifies his position: science is helpful with phenomena "once they have arisen", but is unable to explain phenomena "when they appear for the first time". For this, something else is needed, Wilber calls it in his writings and talks: Eros, Spirit-in-Action, or let's just call it God. Consequently, such a spiritual view of evolution generates feelings of awe, as testified by one of his students and approved by Wilber.

I consider this view to be the result of lazy thinking and in the end harmful. It does not explain anything. It is anti-science. It makes an easy division in on the on hand reductionistic science, which does its own job of clarifying the details of nature, and on the other hand, evolutionary spirituality, which "explains" evolution and provides an inspiring wordview of growth.

Read more:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank, it may or may not be lazy, but I don't think it is meant to conform to science as explanatory and predictive. That's the point, we don't yet have any idea why, at root, novelty occurs. I don't find Ken's view harmful at all, I think for those who understand the limit problem posed by this issue actually can hold both the awesome role of science and the interesting mystery that all limit problems represent. This humility is both useful and awesome, to quote the student you mention. Or, thank God he's not obvious.

4:26 PM  
Blogger DGA said...


Come to the United States and I'll show you how this kind of ideology can be harmful. Are you familiar with intelligent design theory?

Put another way: insisting on an ultimate answer for the arising of phenomena, a prime mover, and insisting that you have the means to make positive claims about it, is hardly a position of humility. It is a prophetic position. Presenting oneself as even an adequate spokesmodel for God is hardly a humble gesture, much less the Most Advanced Model.

3:01 PM  
Blogger DGA said...

I can't help it, I'm coming back for more.

I have argued elsewhere that integral theory would do well to think in a rigorously postmetaphysical way. Wilber has also made this claim but, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment, he does not actually do it. If you read Habermas and Rorty on the subject (the people who invented the concept of the postmetaphysical), you see that the imperative is not to produce some kind of Providential model from which Spirit can be articulated as an a priori to all tangibility. Instead it is a political gesture: a critical life predicated on *no* positive theological or metaphysical statements.

This means that Wilber's insistence that Nagarjunian emptiness is conflatable with, say, the nonduality of the Vedas or with Hegelian philosophy of right (it is not, but that is another set of problems Wilber has introduced) is hardly postmetaphysical. It is actually metaphysical. It is not scientific, to echo Visser's comment from before.

My position is that adherence to a doctrine or to the person of one who articulates a doctrine is a really poor measure of whether a theory is "integral" or not. The only thing this kind of "adherence measures is the degree to which one is a true believer. So you see critics dismissed a priori as "Wilber-bashers" (and some of them probably are); but authentic criticism in this case often involves pointing out the mistakes and contradictions that are in plain sight in Wilber's work.

I persist in pursuing this line of argument because I am committed to transformational practice. One might say that I, like Darko Suvin, see integral theory as a kind of "cognitive" science fiction that can help break things open. But also, like Stanislaw Lem, I see an untoward tendency *against* critical rigor and in favor of what sells.

In America, what sells is feel-good, emotive "values" and appeals to authority that are wrapped in theological language. A postmetaphysical society is impossible if one predicates it on these kinds of "value"-oriented gestures, but not impossible if one thinks of another way to do it. So, I persist in thinking of other ways, outside of the "right" and "left" political dichotomy that is a false dichotomy anyway. Ask Salvador Allende.

You can find disciplined defenses of these positions in my own recent stuff at the Integral Review, or you can just read Karel Kosik's _Dialectics of the Concrete_.


7:50 AM  
Anonymous Patrick said...

Hi, I found this conversation with Wilber and a new author, I thought it might be interesting for your readers. I bought the novel, I will let you know what I think once it arrives.



9:26 PM  
Blogger masterymistery said...

I think there is a framework in which apparently opposing views can be reconciled, not precisely in the way that Wilbur describes, but in a tighter, more logical, mysticism-free, non-gnostic way based on interlocking gestalts (similar to the way Wilber discusses the Great Chain of Being). I think a lot if not all apparent differences are due to the inadequacies of language. And due to the (largely unrecognised) fact that all language statements are metaphors, not ultimate reality. And in fact, reality itself is the ultimate metaphor. I discuss this in more detail at:

my big TOE (theory of everything)

I hope you will stop by and have a read.

masterymistery at cosmic rapture

5:25 PM  
Blogger SHUBHAJIT said...

Science, spiritualism are not separate..everything is in our mind..we unnecessarily complicate things because of our inherent ego..and ego is the cause of our past impressions..so we are actually guided and we thing we guide ourselves..it is a perfect calculation.

11:33 PM  
Blogger progschorsch said...

In order to be able to enter "the path", it is necesarry to receive trasmission or direct introducion, as I suppose Wilber has received. If not, one is just a talker (which he admits). But if one is just a talker, builds up a huge theory around actually nothing, because language is not the experience itself, one even goes agaist true teachings. That´s why Wilber is not a master, but he even holds people back in developping. His fans remain fans, and as his theory is nothing more than an object, his fans make an object around their fantasies about him. Anyway Wilber denies any possibility of final realization, for example siddhis or even material realization of the ground (he´ll know what is spoken of). He would call me a mythic of course, I know. But he´s just untrue to himself, he´s untrue to what he received from such great masters from tibetan tradition, especially from Great Perfection teachers. Mr. Wilber may have had experiences though, finally his making-a-mental-object-out-of-my-experiences is not the result of bad purpose, but it hinders him to become realized himself, what hinders him to be really a guide, a living light for sentient beings suffering from the ilusion of separation. It would be wise if he stopped conceptualizing and go the final steps he´s gotta go. He would really help saving the world, not just pretending to do so. He´s like a little wannabe Nagarjuna: With the big difference of Nagarjuna being a realized being helping sentient beings, not hindering them.

This is sad.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous UniSol said...

1. Making up BIG PICTURES on stage 7(Integral) is different then on lower stages. Integral consciousnes recognizes that there is ALWAYS a paradigmatic big picture in the back of your mind, a WHOLEWORLDIDEA. OPtherwise, your different thoughts would not be consistent with each other.(we are talking about the mind here. If you think mind is bullshit, you dont need to read on)

So from an Integral point of view, the question is not AllIntegrating picture, yes or no, but: are you consciously and responsibly choosing your big picture or not. if you say yes to existing and love eversything, you have the drive to have a big picture that includes everything as good as possible, conscious about the fact that the all-integrative theory theory of tomorrow will necessarily be different from the one that you have today.

If you are enlightened beyond ego(which not every enlightenend person is)and have the interest to serve the world and the awakening of everyone(remember the buddhist saying: You are not enlightened unless everybody is) you might want to have the most integrative picture you can have. The criticism concerning the science debate is coming from orange(dont want to reduce anybody here, we all have different memes we are fixated on a little, which is very good because we must assure to do the best we can) but not everybody cares about this. It would be good to see this and understand that different people have different need and stop to imperialize "the truth", without stopping to gather more and more information.

2. Concerning spiritual development: Integral activists are not necessarily on the integral stage, they can be higher. This is truly important. We need to realize that what we are doing is to help build up structures for the collective to find its way into integral, but this must not hinder us as seekers to go beyond stage 7.

This is really important and must definitly sweep through the scene.

Here in the german speaking countries this inner discussion is beginning right now, and I am very happy because of it.

I Can remember one year ago, lying in my bed, getting really mad at INTEGRAL INTEGRAL INTEGRAL. I am leading a salon and am generally active, and started to get fixed to this stage and and its mental concentration. Throught the thought posted above(working for the rise of integral culture rising without limiting myself to it) i completely harmonised my relationship to integralism, and now my integral activism is perfectly embedded once again and I am a very happy member of this movement

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Asehpe said...

"Embrace and transcend" should imply that biological, Darwinian evolution also has a part to play in the theory. But even in Wilber's new model, it would seem all that happens is that Darwinism is "proven inadequate".

If all that can be done is point to "irreducible complexity" without responding to all the cricism the ideas of Behe and Dembsky have already had, then what is the point for the whole Wilberian endeavor?

Do Wilberians really not consider the arguments put forth to explain "irreducible complexity"? Do they at least consider, say, computer simulations of how complexity can arise out of a system guided only by the laws of Darwinian evolution (from Dawkins' original biomorphs to much more sophisticated systems in statistical evolutionary theory)?

One is left to agree with Meyerhoff's analysis: one's reasons for believing in one's beliefs go way beyond the validity of said beliefs. The only way to explain how Wilberians can so casually dismiss evolution theory is that a Wilberian worldview -- in which Everything ends up Embraced and Transcended, so Nothing Is Lost -- is so soothing, so uplifting, so Pollyanna-like that one cannot really part ways with it without a broken heart.

2:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home