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:


Science, Consciousness,
Spirituality, Evolution

A Confusion of
Integral World Perspectives

Elliot Benjamin

As one starts surveying the multitude of perspectives on evolution and the origin of life and the universe, it is indeed confusing.

I have been reading with interest the diversity of perspectives conveyed on Integral World in regard to understanding the relationships amongst science, consciousness, spirituality, and evolution. The most recent illustration of this diversity of perception can be seen from David Lane's article "The Feynman Imperative: Why Science Works" [1], in which he skillfully describes the differences of opinion along these lines between him and Don Salmon [2].

I have certainly had my share of differences of opinion with David Lane on Integral World, as evidenced by our series of seven back and forth Integral World essays that was initially stimulated by my "License Plate Synchronicity" article [3]. However, if my understanding of what David is conveying in his most recent Integral World article is correct, then I am actually in agreement with him in regard to his view of science. I have written about my perspective of “extended science,” which I also refer to as “experiential science” (see my Integral World essay "Perhaps Science and Spirituality Can Go Together" [4]) along the lines of William James' description of “radical empiricism” [5], which is an all-inclusive perspective of scientific investigation that highlights the importance of the researcher utilizing his/her own experiences and consciousness in his/her research investigations. With the contemporary quantum physics focus upon the relevance of the subjectivity of the researcher in understanding physical phenomena [6], it appears that radical empiricism was a concept that was ahead of its time but is now finding validity in current scientific theory.

Along the lines of my above descriptions of radical empiricism and extended science, David makes his point very well that science can study consciousness without necessitating a limiting narrow perspective about what science is capable of (see [1]). In my own first-person experiential study of consciousness, I have promoted my perspective of extended/experiential science in the context of qualitative research, in my study of the ostensible life after death communications of mediums at a Spiritualist camp in Maine—both in my recent Ph.D. psychology dissertation and in a number of articles that are based upon my dissertation [7].

I began with an open-minded agnostic perspective in regard to the possibility of bona fide life after death communications of mediums at the Spiritualist camp in which I was doing my research. However, based upon my own experiences with these mediums, the conclusion of my research (in the context of qualitative research and my “researcher-based experiential research methodology"—see [7]) moved much closer to the perspectives of skeptics in the way they have described factors such as “cold readings” and “subjective evaluation” [8], although I also left some room open for some kind of “psychic” communications interpretation in the case of a few of the mediums I worked with.

If my understanding of David's perspective of science and consciousness is correct, what I refer to as “psychic” phenomena could eventually be explained in his perspective as what I'll refer to as “physicalistic” phenomena, involving perhaps theories based upon quantum physics. According to David, there is no need to invoke any kind of “spiritual” in the sense of “non-material” explanation to describe even the most profound experiences of consciousness. David frequently quotes Richard Feynman, one of the key developers of quantum physics, to describe the miraculous beauty and splendor of natural world phenomena. I have no disagreement per se with David about this, and yet I must admit that the idea of no guiding force or “plan” to evolution does leave me feeling “deeply unsatisfied.”

As one starts surveying the multitude of perspectives on evolution and the origin of life and the universe, it is indeed confusing. Integral World writers have conveyed ideas about this ranging from David Lane's materialistic (or “physicalistic”) perspective [9] to José Diez Faixat's “musicalistic” perspective [10] to Lexi Neale's “non-material” perspective [11] to Andy Smith's “experiential consciousness” perspective [12] to Dan Salmon's “leaving things open” perspective with a strong leaning to a “spiritual/non-physicalistic” interpretation (see [2]).

When one leaves the Integral World arena and starts reading the big names in the field, the picture becomes even more confusing.

When one leaves the Integral World arena and starts reading the big names in the field, the picture becomes even more confusing. We have the quantum physics physicalistic view that has recently made much headway in developing outrageously complex mathematical theories based on theoretical physics to explain the universe. These theories involve sub-atomic particles such as quarks that are based on string theory, along with the theory that 96% of the universe consists of "invisible" dark matter and dark energy, and the possibility that “something” could indeed come from “nothing,” plus a multiple of possible simultaneous parallel universes that we are immersed in but are not able to perceive [13].

However, on the other hand we have scientists in the public arena describing alternative perspectives to the physicalistic “blind watchmaker” of Richard Dawkins' interpretation of life and the universe [14], invoking some kind of “grand designer” or “archaic consciousness” as well as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution and the standard Big Bang theory [15]. And then we have Ken Wilber's progressive evolution theory of “love” competing with standard contemporary physics theories that say our universe is on its way to eventual total destruction [16].

Trying to understand and make sense of all of this is certainly way beyond my philosophical abilities to accomplish, and I daresay it is beyond anyone else's as well. And putting on my mathematical hat to accomplish this is not the answer either, at least not for me.

I am a pure mathematician—in particular a number theorist, and I only engage myself in applied mathematics when I am teaching math or in my rare playful excursions utilizing number theory and/or other pure mathematics fields such as abstract algebra or topology in a fanciful way to describe consciousness [17]. A few weeks ago Lexi Neale invited me to develop a mathematical theory of consciousness to describe the “collapse of the wave function” from his perspective of non-physical consciousness transforming into physical energy. I played with this intriguing idea for a while, but I eventually realized that to do what Lexi Neale asked me to do, I would need to steep myself in the mathematics of quantum physics, along the lines of the mathematical theories of John Von Neuman and Jean Charon [see [13]). As I started reading through these intricate and exceptionally complicated mathematical theories of quantum physics, I soon realized that I just do not have the interest to immerse myself in any more of applied mathematics than I am currently doing to prepare my online courses in Differential Equations. So mathematics is not going to work as the vehicle for me to understand the universe.

Where do all these philosophical musings leave me? Well I am certainly immersed in the world of mathematics—but it is pure mathematics/number theory. I am currently in the process of working on the perplexing longtime unknown solution to the problem of whether or not it is possible to construct the 5th root of a rational number with marked ruler (i.e. a straightedge with two marks allowed on it) and compass [18]. This certainly is not going to help me figure out the universe—but I am also somehow or other currently in the position of being the director of the transpersonal psychology program at Akamai University. So I suppose that I should at least come up for air now and then from my comfortable pure mathematics home base, especially as I have quite a few psychology students who I'm supposed to be saying something to beyond whether or not it is possible to construct a 5th root of a rational number with marked ruler and compass.

But what can I tell them? Sure there is a lifetime of self-journey and self-development that they can engage in, as I myself have done. But in the end, I do not think that this kind of self-journey and self-development is necessarily going to lead them any closer to understanding the universe. Well in all likelihood this is not the primary thing on their minds anyway—after all it's not much competition to the latest chats on Facebook. Well understanding oneself is good—so I'll continue to teach psychology. And I'll certainly continue to teach mathematics online—teaching Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus is intellectually stimulating to me, and the prospect of eventually teaching Differential Equations is intellectually exciting to me.

My mind is alive and well as I age, and my body is holding its own as I am soon going to Massachusetts to play in the Sectionals competition for my Bangor, Maine tennis team, as we recently won our Division tournament. And I try to take time every day to continue my short daily classical piano playing, to balance my three selves of mathematics, piano/music, and psychology/philosophy, as I have described in my philosophy of “Natural Dimension” [19], and recently I re-immersed myself in dancing around bonfires at a Pagan festival [20]. And love—well I don't know about Ken Wilber's theory of love as the guiding force of the universe, but “love” for me certainly is thriving in a very personal way—in the context of my seven and a half year harmonious love relationship with my “significant other.”

I wish I could bring this essay to some kind of coherent conclusion, but the truth is that I'm just stalling here. I have no conclusion about the origin of the universe or the origin of life. I understand the basic ideas of the physicalistic theories (in a very general sense) in the context of things like the Big Bang, quantum physics, sub-atomic particles, and dark matter and dark energy. And I certainly understand the spiritual/non-physicalistic beliefs that have been inherent in a multitude of religious and spiritual movements for thousands of years and are still very much with us today [21]. Well this essay seems to be returning to the back and forth dialogue between David Lane and Don Salmon as described in David Lane's most recent essay (see [1]) that I began with.

And what is my conclusion to all this never-ending and exasperating confusion? My conclusion is that I'll continue to try to discover if it is possible to construct the 5th root of a rational number with marked ruler and compass.


1) See David Lane (2012). The Feynman Imperative: Why Science Works.

2) See Don Salmon (2011). Shaving Science with Ockham's Razor: What, If Anything, Does Science Tell Us About Reality?; Don Salmon and Jan Maslow (2007). Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity. St. Paul: MN: Paragon House.

3) See Elliot Benjamin (2010). License Plate Synchronicity: An Experiential Account and Analysis.

4) See Elliot Benjamin (2010). Perhaps Science and Spirituality Can Go Together: A Response to the Lanes.

5) See William James (1976). Essays in Radical Empiricism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (original work published 1912).

6) See for example Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow (2010). The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books; Lawrence Krauss (2012). A Universe From Nothing. New York: Free Press; John Mack & Paul Devereux (2007). Mind Before Matter: Visions of a New Science of Consciousness. Winchester, UK: O Books.

7) See Elliot Benjamin (2012). An Experiential Exploration of the Possibility of Life After Death through the Ostensible Communications of Mediums with Deceased Persons. Ph.D. Dissertation: Saybrook University; Elliot Benjamin (2012). 1st Pe;rson/2nd Person/3rd Person Integrated Perspectives on the Alleged Phenomenon of Life After Death.; Elliot Benjamin (2011). An Experiential Exploration of the Possibility of Life After Death. The Searchlight, Vol. 21, No. 3; Elliot Benjamin (2011). Extended Science, Experiential Analysis, and an Experiential exploration of the Possibility of Life After Death through the Ostensible Communications of Mediums with Deceased Persons. Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies: Annual Conference Proceedings: pp. 122-133; Elliot Benjamin (2012). An Experiential Exploration of the Possibility of Life After Death Through the Communications of Mediums. The Journal of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies (to appear in October, 2012); for descriptions of qualitative research in psychology, see P. M. Camic, J. E. Rhodes, & L. Yardley (Eds) (2003). Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design. Washington DC: American Psychological Association; Rosemarie Anderson & William Braud (2011). Transforming Self and Others Through Research: Transpersonal Research Methods and Skills for the Human Sciences and Humanities. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

8) See for example R.T. Carroll (2005). Gary Schwartz's Subjective Evaluation of Mediums: Veritas or Wishful Thinking? The Skeptic's Dictionary:; Ray Hyman (1996). Evaluation of a Program on Anomalous Phenomena. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 10, pp. 31-58. Ray Hyman (2003). How Not To Test Mediums: Critiquing the Afterlife Experiments. Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 20-30; James Randi (1982). Flim-flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.

9) See for example David Lane and Andrea Lane. Mysterium Tremendum: Exploring Why the Conflict Between Science and Spirituality is Trapped in a Linguistic Conundrum.

10) See José Diez Faixat. Bye-Bye, Darwin! The Hidden Rhythm of Evolution.; Frank Visser (2012). Some False Notes: A Response to Faixat's Musicological Musings on Evolution.

11) See Lexi Neale (2012). The AQAL Cube: A Second Tier Differentiation of Ken Wilber's AQAL Square.

12) See Andy Smith (2008). Are Physicists Conscious? A Reply to David and Andrea Lane.; Andy Smith (2011). Two Questions, Four Answers: A Brief Summary of What We Don't Know.

13) In addition to the books listed in Note 6, for explicitly mathematical formulations of quantum physics see John Von Neumann (1955). Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; Jean Charon (1988). Complex Relativity: Unifying All Four Physical Interactions. New York: Paragon.

14) See Richard Dawkins (2008). The God Delusion. New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

15) See for example Henry Stapp (2010. Compatibility of Contemporary Physical Theory with Personality Survival.; Gerrit Teule (2012). The Eon Hypothesis in a Nutshell: A Causal Connection Between Mind and Matter.; Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatteli-Palmarini (2011). What Darwin Got Wrong. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Michael Behe (2007). The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism; New York: The Free Press; William Dembski. The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

16) See Frank Visser's description of Willber's eros/love view of evolution in Frank's response article to Faixat as listed in Note 10, and the physics descriptions of the total destruction our universe is eventually headed for as described by Hawking & Mlodinow, and Kraus, in Note 6.

17) See Elliot Benjamin (2003). A Group Theoretical Mathematical Theory of Shifts into Higher Levels of Consciousness in Ken Wilber's Integral Theory.

18) See Elliot Benjamin (2012). On the Constructibility of Real 5th Roots of Rational Numbers with Marked Ruler and Compass. ISRN Algebra, Vol. 2012.

19) See Elliot Benjamin (2006). My Conception of Integral.

20) See Elliot Benjamin (2010). Neopagan Rituals: An Experiential Account. Coreopsis Journal.

21) See Elliot Benjamin (2011). Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé.

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