An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:




Elliot Benjamin

David Lane has written a most provocative recent Integral World essay (see Is my I-Phone Conscious? [1]), in response to earlier essays by Andy Smith and myself [2] in this rather long winded debate between Smith and Lane that I have recently entered into. I had not intended to continue to pursue this topic in the present context, but there is something in David's suggestion (as I understand it) of science and mysticism keeping their distance from each other with mutual respect, that I feel I must respond to. David's suggestion is certainly well intentioned and noble, as can be seen from the following passage from his article: “Perhaps the evidence we seek is by its nature transcendent and not amenable to empirical test claims? If so, then we are truly not in a Newtonian or Einsteinian world anymore and we should straight up admit it. That is, if mysticism is indeed a 'transpersonal' science then it may just have to go it alone and forget convincing us flatlanders otherwise.” [1]. I admittedly find it rather difficult to determine exactly how David perceives the higher consciousness levels of experience that he seems to both acknowledge and respect, in terms of their relationship to what he refers to as a “transpersonal” science. However, I unhesitatingly view science in an expanded context that includes what I believe to be some of the most profound scientific work that has been done in psychology over the past 125 years.

What initially comes to my mind is the history of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research, which was officially established in England in 1882. The original founders included seminal figures in parapsychology such as Frederick Meyers, Edward Gurney, and Henry Sidgwick [3], and their aim was to engage in the scientific study of paranormal phenomena, which had previously been left to the realm of religion and mysticism. These researchers were exceedingly thorough, disciplined, and prolific in their writings and their quest to extend science to study the realms beyond those that were considered to be respectable scientific activity [4]. Their work was soon endorsed and continued by William James, who is considered by many to be American's greatest psychologist [5]. James authored the tremendously impactful book The Varieties of Religious Experience [6] in which he established his principles of “radical empiricism.” Radical empiricism essentially extends the notion of empirical science to study people's experiences inclusive of their inner worlds, phenomenological journeys, and paranormal claims.

This interest in parapsychology as the study of psychic phenomena was continued throughout the 1900s, most especially in the work of J. B. Rhine and Louisa Rhine, Stanley Krippner, Charles Tart, and many others [7]. The Association of Transpersonal Psychology was established in 1971 as an outgrowth of the Association of Humanistic Psychology [8], for the explicit purpose of studying the “higher” realms of human experience inclusive of altered states of consciousness, mystical experience, psychic phenomena, etc., in a manner of disciplined inquiry. The methods in which these kinds of human phenomena were studied helped pave the way toward “human science” and “qualitative research,” which are at the forefront of a raging debate in psychology today over the legitimacy of scientific method when studying human beings [9].

Thus I find that David Lane's suggestion (as I perceive it) to separate science and mysticism may very well be tempting, but may also be the easy way out. When I think of my own work in psychology, it is even more apparent to me that science and mysticism need not be separated. I am referring to my experiential analysis of cult dangers, and a good illustration is my Integral World article: On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis [10]. I am pleased that Integral World readers have found my article to be of value, as it has consistently been in the Integral World listing of its most widely viewed articles for nearly 3 years. However, it is also true that although my article formulates a quantitative measurement of cult dangers for Integral Institute and alludes to these same kinds of quantitative measurements for nearly 20 other modern spiritual groups [11], I make it very clear in all my cult articles and self-published book [12] that my quantitative measurement scheme is based upon my own subjective experiences. Thus what I have come up with can be described as a qualitative/ quantitative experiential analysis of cults. However, for our present topic, the important question is: But Is It Science? And the answer depends upon your point of view.

Is William James' radical empiricism science? Are the pioneering studies of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research science? Are the contemporary studies of anomalous phenomena science? Of course this all depends upon our definition of science. For me, I believe this is part of science, with the understanding that it is “human science” and requires a different kind of methodology to fully study the depths of human experience than the methodology utilized for natural science. This is what has led to the widespread use of qualitative methodology in psychology, which is becoming increasingly more accepted today in mainstream psychology [9]. I believe that the essential criterion here is “disciplined inquiry.” When I am immersing myself in a spiritual group and assimilating my experiences and eventually writing about them, I am engaging in a disciplined inquiry from an experiential perspective. My inquiry is heuristic in nature [13] and I am completely involved in what I am experiencing; intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I am engaging in my subjective experiences, and studying my subjective experiences in a disciplined and inquiring way. I offer the following description of the heuristic mode of inquiry in what I consider to be an expanded scientific context: “The focus in heuristic research is on re-creation of the lived experience utilizing full and complete depictions of the experience from the frame of reference of the experiencing person. Interviews, narrative descriptions, stories, poems, artwork, journals and diaries, autobiographical logs, and other personal documents are all 'data.'” [14]

Perhaps for me the ultimate testing ground of this kind of disciplined inquiry is in my study of mediums and the phenomena of life after death [15]. This brings me face to face with the founders of the Society for Psychical Research, especially as my mode of inquiry is through my own experiences. The challenge to keep my disciplined inquiry intact is certainly enormous, but I have had much experience in this realm of study and I am well seasoned to undertake this. Perhaps people take my experiential qualitative/

quantitative work more seriously because I have a Ph.D in mathematics, complete with 20 publications in pure mathematics. It is true that I utilize a combination of my logical abilities and my experiential receptivity when engaging in the kind of research that I am describing. But I must admit that I myself also wonder: Is It Science? Well, if it is not science then what is it? It is not religion, because I am certainly not following any firm set of religious beliefs or doctrines; I consider myself to be an agnostic, perhaps a spiritual agnostic in the sense that I do feel some kind of “mystical” sense of spiritual meaning in the world. Thus I am going into my research with a completely open mind, a discriminating mind, but also with an open experiential feeling state of being. Perhaps what I am is a philosopher; in particular an experiential philosopher. But is not an experiential philosopher a radical empiricist in the sense of William James? In other words, I am engaging in a disciplined inquiry based upon my own experiences, and is this not human science in the heuristic sense of Clark Moustakas? [13]

I think that one of Ken Wilber's most noteworthy contributions has been his presentation of the three modes of knowing (described as the three “eyes” by Wilber [16]), in which he discusses the idea that the realm of knowing the spiritual world requires that one have an experience to be able to confirm or disconfirm a claim in this context. Andy Smith discusses this kind of reasoning in regard to the experience of mysticism [17], and although I agree with Andy in the essence of what he says, I think that this kind of knowing can also be construed in the context of a human science. Science has always been probabilistic, in the sense that we have excellent reasons to believe that there are certain explanations for phenomena that we observe. But unlike mathematics, we do not have absolute certainty based upon the logic of mathematical proof, for we are relying on our interpretation of real world phenomena. Scientific theories change over time and as our knowledge increases, and assuming for the moment that we agree there is such a thing as “human science,” this same kind of scientific evolution takes place in the human sphere. But why not study humans in the traditional quantitative experimental scientific mode that is safer and more reliable? The answer is that this kind of research should certainly be included in a complete scientific study of humans, but the truth is that the deepest and I believe most interesting part of being human will inevitably be missed if one is not immersed in the innermost realm of human experience. This kind of immersion in the innermost realm of human experience is the motivation to engage in qualitative research and human science. And I therefore believe that the boundaries of science are wide open; they are as wide open as the human being, and deserving of the full range of disciplined inquiry and experiential study.


1) Lane, D. (2009). Is My I-Phone Conscious? Integral World website. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from

2) Benjamin, E. (2009). Consciousness, Parapsychology, and Evolution. Integral World website. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from

3) Gauld, A. (1968). The Founders of Psychical Research. New York: Shocken.

4) See Gauld's book The Founders of Psychical Research in [3], as well as his 1982 book Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. London: Paladin.

5) Taylor, E. I. (1996). William James on Consciousness Beyond the Margin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

6) James, W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Longmans.

7) Irwin, H., & Watt, C. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology. London: McFarland.

8) See Ryback, D. (1978). Humanistic/Transpersonal: Another Perspective. Association for Humanistic Psychology Newsletter, August, pp. 12-13; and Walsh, R., & Vaughan, F. (1993). On Transpersonal Definitions. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 25(2), pp. 199-207.

9) See Camic, P. M., Rhodes J. E., & Yardley, L. (eds.). (2004). Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; and Polkinghorne, D. (1983). Methodology for the Human Sciences. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

10) Benjamin, E. (2006). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis. Integral World website. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from

11) Benjamin, E. (2005a). Spirituality and the Cults: An Experiential Analysis. The Ground of Faith Journal, April/May, Retrieved March 12, 2009, from www.//

12) Benjamin, E. (2005b). Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis And Exposé´. Swanville, ME: Natural Dimension Publications (available by contacting the author at

13) Moustakas, C. (1990). Heuristic Research: Design, Methodology, and Applications. London: Sage.

14) Lukoff, D., Zanger, R., & Lu, F. (1990). Transpersonal Psychology Research Review: Psychoactive Substances and Transpersonal States. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 22(2), pp. 107-148; quotation on page 138.

15) Benjamin, E. (2009). An Experiential Exploration of Mediums and Life After Death. The Ground of Faith Journal. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from

16) Wilber, K. (1983). Eye to Eye. Boston: Shamhala

17) Smith, A. (2009). On Religious and Scientific Agendas: Reply to Lane. Integral World website. Retrieved March 12, 2009, from

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