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

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"Peter Collins is from Ireland and lectures in Economics and Statistics at the Dublin Institute of Technology. His intellectual interests spread over a wide range embracing mathematics, mystical spirituality, philosophy, psychology and physics.

Holistic mathematics - representing a subtle synthesis of reason and intuition - is his unique creation. It is designed to provide an original and precise framework for the scientific integration of diverse fields of knowledge.

This dynamic contemporary interpretation of mathematics is the result of 30 years endeavor." (Taken from his homepage, Read more on this subject of the pre/trans fallacy at:

Pre/Trans Issues 1

Need for an Interactive Perspective

Peter Collins

The pre/trans fallacy - as articulated by Ken Wilber - is badly flawed from a dynamic experiential perspective. The proper appreciation of this problem requires that the nature of integration be properly distinguished from that of differentiation and that distinctive methods of intellectual interpretation be then used to preserve the uniqueness of both aspects throughout development. The combined interactive use of two such appropriate interpretations leads to - what I refer to as - the radial approach (which is designed to offer a more consistent approach to all developmental issues). One important outcome of the radial approach is the clear realisation that unique cognitive translations are associated with each of the major levels (all of which have a well-defined holistic structure). Thus an attempted interpretation of any issue using understanding associated with just one of these levels e.g. vision-logic inevitably distorts overall meaning in a significant manner. Further parts are designed to illustrate these points - with respect to the pre/trans fallacy- in considerable detail. However my real purpose in writing is to demonstrate the urgent need for a radical new perspective that has the capacity to greatly enlarge the potential scope of developmental enquiry.


Though the present interest in Integral Studies owes a great deal to the seminal influence of Ken Wilber, his overall model is - perhaps surprisingly - greatly lacking in holistic consistency.

On a personal note, I have been reading Wilber for about 25 years and have been immensely impressed with both the high quality and comprehensive nature of his work.

Indeed at one stage - when his writings were still unknown in Ireland - I made efforts to get "The Atman Project" more widely distributed. Though in some respects still a fan, I now have strong reservations regarding his overall intellectual approach to development, which - quite simply - I do not consider as properly integral.

The first seeds of doubt regarding the nature of this approach were sown when reading about the pre/trans fallacy in "Eye to Eye". Though initially unable to properly articulate my discomfort, I found his treatment misrepresented the true dynamics of development. The subsequent attempt to solve this difficulty has led to a considerably enlarged perspective for dealing with pre/trans issues (which I will outline in later parts). However this is but a specific - though very significant - example of a much more general problem. Ken Wilber's intellectual interpretation is based on vision-logic (which represents the understanding of the centaur). However there are many further cognitive structures beyond vision-logic with their own distinctive understanding of development. By their very nature these are more properly suited for a consistent integral interpretation of development. Unfortunately I can find remarkably little evidence of these structures in Wilber's work.

As difficulties, which may not appear evident within the context of a writer's own framework, can sometimes become clearer when viewed from an alternative standpoint, let me portray briefly some major features of my own perspective before using them to evaluate Wilber's methodology.

Nature of Differentiation and Integration

Human development (indeed all development) at whatever level entails the two distinct - though necessarily interacting - aspects of differentiation and integration.

At its most fundamental, differentiation entails the separation of polar opposites thereby enabling dualistic type appreciation of reality. Thus for example the identification of an "object" phenomenon, requires separating the exterior from the corresponding interior pole enabling its recognition in a distinct independent manner.

However - whereas differentiation moves towards the separation of opposite poles - integration is concerned with their reconciliation in a nondual manner (i.e. where such opposites no longer have a separate existence). Thus integration implicitly requires recognition of the complementary - and indeed ultimate nondual identity - of what we dualistically distinguish as unambiguous opposites.

For example pre and trans constitute - in dualistic language - opposite poles of development. Thus if we strongly distinguish pre from trans (and trans from pre) in the manner implied by Wilber's pre/trans fallacy, then we are applying an interpretation that is suited for their differentiation.

However if we now approach this issue from the integral perspective, then pre cannot be meaningfully separated from trans (nor trans from pre).

The full appreciation of this integral aspect entails the realisation of a nondual spiritual state.

Indirectly however intellectual interpretation has an extremely important role in providing an explanation of the process that is properly consistent with the nature of such integration.

Clearly the language of differentiation in the making of unambiguous asymmetric distinctions is not adequate as an (indirect) intellectual means of conveying the nature of the integral aspect (where all such distinctions are rendered as paradoxical)!

But when we look at Wilber's overall cognitive approach to development it is strongly based on the making of such asymmetric distinctions. Of course he recognises that the ultimate nature of reality is nondual. Furthermore he frequently communicates the nature of this ineffable state - insofar as this is possible using language - in a beautifully poetic and moving manner.

However to stop with this is to miss the important point that predominantly his intellectual interpretation of development is appropriate solely for appreciation of the differentiated aspect. Thus I would now see Wilber's approach as somewhat reduced in intellectual terms, due to the manner in which the integral aspect of experience is so frequently - misleadingly identified with differentiated interpretation.

This claim might seem gross heresy to those who believe that his integral credentials are beyond question.

However once again this is a matter of perspective. And certainly from my vantage point, I see the most fundamental of construction faults in his edifice. Wilber claims that he writes from the standpoint of vision-logic. Though his overall understanding undoubtedly exceeds this stage (while his manner of expression sometimes fall short of it), I would broadly accept this assertion.

But herein lies the very root of the problem. Vision-logic in its intellectual expression represents the cognitive interpretation of the centaur. However the centaur is but the highest of the middle stages (before authentic spiritual development unfolds in its fullest measure). In our culture, the rational understanding of the middle stages is used in very specialised manner for analytic scientific type understanding of reality. However such understanding - by its nature - is properly geared for appreciation of the differentiated rather than the integral aspect of development.

Though vision-logic represents the highest expression of such understanding and - as with Wilber - can be considerably infused with spiritual awareness, it still remains - in its formal expression an analytic mode that is suited for differentiation of meaning within a multiple series of contexts. Therefore, though his goal is indeed to provide a coherent synthetic viewpoint - applicable to all major features of reality - he attempts to do so through an overall analytic translation that is simply not appropriate for the task.

The interpretation of differentiation and integration respectively operate according to two systems of logic that are not directly compatible with each other. Differentiation - enabling the independent treatment of development variables - requires a linear (either/or) logic of clear unambiguous asymmetric distinction. However integration by contrast - that enables the (indirect) treatment of the interdependence of such variables - requires a circular (both/and) logic of pure paradox. So what might appear quite unambiguous from a differentiated perspective (within a partial asymmetric context) is rendered deeply inconsistent from the corresponding integral standpoint (where complementary opposite poles are recognised).

Thus I would have a considerable problem with Wilber's writings in global integral terms. He never satisfactorily reconciles partial independent analysis (where differentiated asymmetric interpretation is appropriate) with holistic interactive synthesis (where bi-directional integral appreciation of a paradoxical nature is required). In other words his asymmetric approach leads to numerous contradictions that cannot be properly reconciled in terms of his overall interpretative system.

Therefore it is extremely important that we preserve distinct intellectual approaches (based on qualitatively unique logical systems) for both differentiation and integration. Otherwise the one will be confused with the other and Wilber typically reduces - in cognitive terms - the interpretation of integration to that of differentiation.

Vision-logic and Higher Order Interpretations

In fairness, he makes a number of general statements regarding the paradoxical nature of dualistic statements when seen in the context of nondual awareness.

However an integral approach requires a coherent and consistent demonstration of the stages through which asymmetric understanding gradually gives way to pure paradoxical appreciation. This implies for example that a subtle model of development - where cognitive interpretation adequately reflects the understanding of the subtle stages - would lead to a quite distinct appreciation from its vision-logic counterpart.

In direct terms integral interpretation requires the authentic development of ever more refined spiritual contemplative states. However indirectly this entails the corresponding development of circular bi-directional structures (through which dualistic paradox is translated).

And in the dynamics of development both aspects are inextricably related. For purer nondual awareness in spiritual terms as a state indirectly sharpens appreciation of transparent bi-directional structures at the reduced levels of form. Likewise appreciation of such paradox of form facilitates transformation in awareness of more advanced nondual states. 1 So appropriately understood vision-logic (as employed by Wilber) represents the most advanced stage of cognitive interpretation of the (merely) differentiated aspect of development. This is based - in a multi-contextual fashion - on unambiguous asymmetric translation of the relationships between development variables. Such vision-logic corresponds in turn to the highest of the middle stages of development, which are geared for specialised analytic (i.e. differentiated) treatment of reality.

Admittedly with Wilber this treatment is frequently infused with spiritual understanding that goes well beyond the centaur stage. As we know there are many stages beyond the centaur and Wilber drawing on his considerable knowledge of the Eastern mystical traditions conveys them well from the perspective of spiritual states. However what is greatly lacking in his work is any corresponding treatment of these stages in terms of structures of form and then - most importantly - the dynamic manner in which both (formal) structures and (empty) states increasingly interact at the higher levels.

For example though he frequently refers to the psychic, subtle, causal and nondual, we are never given any real indication as to the refined cognitive structures that are appropriate to these levels. He appears to believe that cognitive development culminates with the vision-logic of the centaur beyond which lie only transpersonal states (without corresponding structures of form).

My own perspective would fundamentally diverge here from Wilber's. Not alone are the higher stages associated with increasingly refined cognitive structures, but most importantly these provide the intellectual basis for a consistent holistic treatment of development that is properly integral. Unlike those associated with vision-logic - which are unambiguously linear (one-directional) and asymmetric - the structures associated with the "higher" spiritual stages are circular (bi-directional) and inherently paradoxical. However I can find little evidence of such complementary bi-directional structures in Wilber's writings, which - if properly articulated - would undo all his carefully made asymmetric distinctions.

Now one might respond that the erosion of dualistic attachment is the task of spiritual meditation and that Wilber frequently emphasises the primary importance of such authentic practice. I would agree with this! However one should not divorce meditation practice from the task of interpreting development in a manner appropriate to the stages of such development. Indeed I would go much further by saying that a consistent interpretation of development can greatly facilitate meditation practice.

In other words spiritual growth does not merely represent " higher" levels (as states). It equally represents "higher" levels of form (as structures). And both of these aspects (emptiness and form) are dynamically interdependent. Therefore a balanced treatment of development appropriate to the "higher" levels should maintain continual interaction as between contemplative states and their corresponding structures of form and this is something Wilber's treatment conspicuously fails to do.

Heraclitus and Circular Understanding

To further illustrate the distinction as between linear (differentiated) and circular (integral) understanding let us explore again the famous statement of Heraclitus "the way up is the way down; the way down is the way up". Though this phrase is often quoted its true meaning - I believe - is generally misunderstood.

For example though Wilber attempts to deal with this issue in SES, I would find his treatment somewhat unsure with no clear indication given of the crucial distinction as between linear and circular understanding. Indeed though he may appear to be dealing - as Heraclitus intended - with the paradoxical nature of direction in development, he in fact lapses into merely unambiguous linear interpretation.

"The Path of Ascent thus traces in reverse order the Path of Creation or Descent for as Heraclitus has pointed out The way up is the way down; the way down is the way up. As we said earlier both paths traverse the same dimensions." SES P. 337

Wilber seems here to be treating development in asymmetric terms like the ascent and descent of a ladder. So in linear terms ascent (going up) is the reverse of descent (coming down). However this is not at all what Heraclitus means. What he (Heraclitus) is saying in fact is that - when appreciated from the appropriate dynamic perspective - ascent in development is always simultaneous with descent and likewise descent simultaneous with ascent. However this requires a very distinctive (circular) bi-directional form of understanding with respect to development, which is very much at odds with Wilber's asymmetric distinctions. Furthermore the full appreciation of this circular understanding opens up a vast new range of awareness - based on a more appropriate form of integral interpretation - that carries profound potential implications for every intellectual discipline.

Illustration with respect to Development

Let me further illustrate this vitally important point again with a simple example relating directly to development! Exterior and interior constitute opposite poles of experience. When we consider development with respect to the physical aspect (as stages of reality) it unfolds, with respect to the exterior reference frame, in an asymmetrical forward manner i.e. from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal stages. Likewise when we consider development in relation to the psychological aspect (as stages of self) it likewise unfolds, with respect to this - opposite - interior reference frame, in an asymmetrical forward manner from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal stages. Therefore because development in both Right and Left-Hand quadrants (as polar reference frame) moves in the same direction considered as independent, one may mistakenly conclude that overall development, where these opposite poles are dynamically interdependent, likewise moves in the same forward direction.

However when we understand Heraclitus properly (in bi-directional circular fashion) we realise that the exterior and interior aspects are truly complementary and thereby move in directions that are - relatively - opposite with respect to each other.

Thus progression (forward development) with respect to the exterior aspect of stages necessarily implies regression (backward development) with respect to the interior aspect; likewise progression with respect to the interior necessarily implies regression with respect to the exterior aspect. 2

The linear confusion - whereby the holistic interdependent behaviour of variables is not properly distinguished from their partial independent analysis - lies at the very basis of Ken Wilber's interpretation of the pre/trans fallacy and indeed his overall methodological treatment of development.

To help us see even more clearly what is involved, let us imagine two drivers setting off in opposite directions along our straight road. When we view the drivers separately (within partial reference frames) each will report movement as positive (in a forward direction). So driver A moves forward in one direction; driver B also moves forward in the opposite direction. Thus no ambiguity arises while each driver views his/her journey independently (within a partially distinct reference frame). However when we view both journeys as interdependent (in simultaneous relation to each other) then deep paradox results. Therefore as driver A moves forward (relative to B), B thereby moves backward (relative to A). However when we switch perspective, as driver B now moves forward (relative to A), A thereby moves backward (relative to B). So, depending on which arbitrary perspective we adopt, the drivers can be seen to be moving either forward or backward with respect to each other.

General Interpretation of Development

This illustration has a crucial significance for the general interpretation of development.

The differentiated aspect is appropriately interpreted through partial polar reference frames (that are considered as relatively independent of each other). This leads - in any developmental context - to a one-directional asymmetrical interpretation of direction (which is sequential and unambiguous). The view for example that development moves from pre to trans i.e. prepersonal to transpersonal stages (and thereby not from trans to pre) is based on such a clear asymmetrical notion of direction.

Again this one-directional - or linear - understanding is suited solely for interpretation of the differentiated aspect of development. However the integral aspect - by contrast - is appropriately interpreted in a holistic manner through overall polar reference frames that are considered as - relatively - interdependent with each other.

This leads in all developmental contexts to a bi-directional symmetrical appreciation of direction (which is simultaneous and paradoxical). The alternative view therefore that pre and trans (and trans and pre) are relative terms with a merely arbitrary direction throughout development is based on this latter circular interpretation. Such bi-directional - or circular - understanding is thereby properly suited for interpretation of the integral aspect.

Ken Wilber's intellectual treatment is heavily based on the differentiated perspective of one-directional asymmetric sequences in development. Not only is there no adequate recognition of the nature of the corresponding integral perspective, indeed appropriate dynamic appreciation seems at times even foreign to his very thought processes. 3

Putting it simply, whereas in differentiated terms development unfolds asymmetrically (i.e. in a one-directional sequence), in integral terms it unfolds in a paradoxical manner (simultaneously in both directions). Once again it is this latter integral interpretation that Heraclitus is referring to in the statement "the way up is the way down; the way down is the way up".

The proper distinction - in intellectual terms - of differentiated and integral aspects opens the way for a greatly enriched appreciation of experience. For now - instead of one - we can define three general approaches.

The analytic approach.

This is based on the separation of polar opposites in experience. It results in an asymmetric sequential understanding of development variables, which (directly) is suited for interpretation of the differentiated aspect.

The holistic approach.

This is based on the complementarity (and ultimate identity) of polar opposites. It leads to the bi-directional appreciation of development, which is (directly) suited for interpretation of the integral aspect.

The radial approach.

This is the most comprehensive and closely models the inherently dynamic nature of experience. It combines in a consistent manner both analytic and holistic appreciation therefore enabling appropriate translation of both the differentiated and integrated aspects throughout development.

Twelve Stage Models of Development

In my interpretative model, I subdivide these three general approaches into 12 distinct categories (with the holistic subdivided into complementary mature and confused versions), which are directly related to the understanding of corresponding stages of development.

So in terms of analytic approaches - suited directly to the interpretation of the differentiated aspect of development - we have 3 categories.

Analytic 1 - this is closely related to concrete operational understanding (L0) i.e. rule/role stage in Wilber, and based on the empirical interpretation of asymmetric type sequences within a limited partial context.

Analytic 2 - this is closely related to formal operational understanding (L0. H0) i.e. formal reflexive stage in Wilber, leading to a theoretical interpretation of such asymmetric type sequences within a more general universal context.

Analytic 3 - this is closely connected to the vision-logic understanding of the centaur (H0) i.e. the "highest" of the middle stages. It leads to a more synthetic interpretation of asymmetric type sequences relating to a multiple network of contexts. However though it may indeed appear coherent to one looking at reality from this perspective, it is inappropriate as an integral approach and inevitably leads to considerable unreconciled inconsistency in overall holistic terms.

In terms of integral approaches I again define 3 distinct categories.

Once more, whereas the analytic approaches relate to the unambiguous interpretation of one-directional (linear) asymmetric type sequences in development, by contrast the holistic relate to the paradoxical interpretation of bi-directional (circular) complementary type relationships, which unfold simultaneously in opposite directions with respect to each other.

(Mature) Integral 1 - this is closely related to the cognitive understanding consistent with H1 (the psychic/subtle level). It leads essentially to the integration of bi-directional opposites horizontally i.e. within a given level based on exterior and interior (and interior and exterior) poles.

(Mature) Integral 2 - this is closely related to the more refined cognitive understanding consistent with H2 (the causal level), which allows for the interpretation of both the conscious and unconscious aspects of phenomena. It enables growing integration of bi-directional opposites horizontally and vertically (i.e. separately within and between levels).

(Mature) Integral 3 - this in turn relates to the extremely refined cognitive understanding of H3 (approaching nondual reality), which now entails consistent interpretation of the relationship between conscious, unconscious and spiritual aspects of phenomena. This enables integration horizontally, vertically and diagonally within and between and now simultaneously within and between levels, which is in turn associated with the purest degree of nondual contemplative awareness.

Then corresponding to these three mature approaches are the three corresponding confused counterparts relating to earliest development.

(Confused) Integral 1 this is related to understanding of L1 (mythic) - which complements H1 (psychic/subtle) - where exterior and interior aspects of development are not yet properly differentiated in experience. So we have here a confused bi-directional relationship as between the horizontal polarities.

(Confused) Integral 2 - this is related to understanding of L2 (magic) - which complements H2 (causal), where in addition whole and part aspects are not yet properly differentiation (reflecting in turn the entanglement of unconscious with conscious understanding. So we have here a confused b-directional relationship as between both horizontal and vertical polarities.

(Confused) Integral 3 this is related to understanding of L3 (archaic) - which complements H3 (nondual) where most fundamentally form and emptiness are not yet properly differentiated. So we have here a confused bi-directional relationship as between all three sets of polarities (horizontal, vertical and diagonal).

Perhaps it is a limitation of Eastern mysticism that it over-emphasises the nondual aspect. Though the Western traditions - as for example Christianity - cannot claim the same level of refinement with respect to meditative states, they do however allow for better balance subsequently with respect to both the active (dual) and contemplative (nondual) aspects of development in - what is referred to by Underhill as - "The Unitive Life". Therefore there is an important intellectual task in properly clarifying the precise nature of the dynamic interaction between both aspects. This leads in turn to three further approaches, which provide the most comprehensive framework possible for viewing both the strengths and limitations of the more specialised (linear) analytic and (circular) holistic perspectives.

Radial 1 - this attempts to maintain appropriate balance as between the differentiated and integral aspects of development in a largely global fashion (without however detailed analytic investigation of the various fields of knowledge). I would characterise my recent work - which is largely concerned with the outlining of a proper scientific framework for studying the overall stages of development - as a (preliminary) Radial 1 approach.

Radial 2 - this approach, while maintaining balance as between analytic and holistic aspects of understanding, now enables a much greater specialisation within specific fields e.g. the more detailed outlining of the radial method and its important implications for mathematics, physics, philosophy, psychology, biology, economics etc.

Radial 3 - here the final barriers as between interior and exterior involvement with reality are solved. In would relate to highly active communication though practical immersion in affairs of a balanced radial approach to life. Now it would be no longer possible to compartmentalise experience in any way. It thereby represents the fullest expression - as far as is humanly possible - of both activity and contemplation with respect to their cognitive, affective and spiritual aspects.

Role of Holistic Mathematics

One fascinating implication of this enlarged intellectual perspective on development is that it has the potential to open up vast new terrains of knowledge that have scarcely yet been explored.

Once we accept that this holistic is utterly distinct from its corresponding analytic interpretation, then perhaps we can realise that a radical new scientific approach emerges (consistent with the understanding of the "higher" levels) which is genuinely suited for a truly integral appreciation of reality.

And I am not talking hypothetically here, as for the last 35 years I have been intimately applying this new integral interpretation to mathematics in what I refer to as Holistic Mathematics.

I have repeatedly discovered that every mathematical symbol that is customarily interpreted from the conventional analytic perspective can equally be given a truly distinctive dynamic holistic meaning that provides an immensely powerful scientific tool for the overall integral understanding of development. Indeed all the fundamental structures of development are mathematical in this precise integral sense.

Holistic mathematical understanding can then be likewise applied in a very distinctive manner to provide an entirely new scientific approach (that is properly integral) for all the customary disciplines. In my own work I have concentrated in general terms mainly on philosophy, psychology, physics and economics. But this integral approach - based on more subtle bi-directional understanding - can in principle be extended in great detail to all disciplines.

The radial approach in turn provides the appropriate perspective to properly encompass in a consistent balanced fashion both the - more specialised - analytic and holistic methods. However it also can make a fundamental contribution in its own right. For example there is considerable excitement in Physics regarding the search for a TOE through string theory (and more recently M-theory). However such scientific understanding is confined to mere analytic interpretation that is greatly lacking in providing any real intuition into the ultimate nature of reality.

A more balanced radial TOE would thus be developed with respect to twin aspects (analytic and holistic) enabling the consistent wedding of the scientific interpretation of reality with a coherent overall (intuitively satisfying) philosophic explanation of its inherent nature.


In view of the above, my stated aim is to provide a preliminary radial approach - that is properly scientific - regarding the nature of development using many of the valuable insights provided by Holistic Mathematics.

Just as in analytic terms all information can be potentially encoded using the binary digits (1 and 0), likewise from an integral perspective all transformation processes can be similarly (indirectly) encoded using the holistic appreciation of these same digits (1 and 0). As we have seen in holistic terms, "1" refers to the linear (asymmetrical) interpretation of form; "0" by contrast, refers to the circular (paradoxical) appreciation of form (that in direct spiritual terms is experienced as emptiness).

Therefore from a radial mathematical perspective, the binary system is seen to have two distinctive uses both as a means of encoding all information (analytic), and likewise as a means of encoding all transformation processes (holistic).

Thus in this latter context, the use of the holistic binary system is especially important as a means of interpreting development both with respect to its differentiated (linear) and integral (circular) aspects respectively. A coherent radial model requires that the dynamic interaction as between both differentiated and integral aspects be preserved throughout development.


1. It is important to clarify terminology of structures and states.

As befits the radial approach, I define the stages of development in a dynamic fashion so that each is characterised by the interaction as between an overall (spiritual) state and a holistic structural pattern (which both define the precise nature of the stage).

The state corresponds to a typical general way of "seeing" (that inherently represents the empty aspect) and the structure the phenomenal pattern of what is thereby "seen" (that corresponds to the formal aspect respectively of development).

In this way all stages entail the interaction of emptiness and form (and form and emptiness).

Though Ken Wilber also employs the terms "structures" and "states" he tends to use them in a manner, which I find lacks overall coherence.

For example in terms of the middle band he would recognise its characteristic state as "waking" and would identify structures such as conop, formop, and vision-logic.

I have no problem with this, as it corresponds with my own approach.

However when he tries to maintain that the waking state supports the structures of several levels (e.g. his prepersonal stages) I would disagree.

What he identifies - in discrete terms - as the waking state, in dynamic terms represents in varying degrees the interaction of the states of all levels (for the simple reason that in dynamic terms every stage is in some measure continuous with every other stage).

Of course it is true that at the middle level, the waking mode will normally predominate (as will corresponding rational structures). However due to interaction with other states, prepersonal structures can operate (supported in turn by corresponding earlier prepersonal states). So properly understood, it is not the waking state that is supporting these earlier structures.

Thus though every stage has its own characteristic state (and corresponding structure), Wilber does not seem to properly recognise this (due to the lack of sufficient dynamic emphasis in his overall approach).

Also when it comes to his higher levels i.e. psychic, subtle, causal and nondual, Wilber over-emphasises the state aspect of these stages.

For example when he says that we can have temporary access to these higher stages he characteristically speaks of them in terms of states.

Then he misleadingly identifies the permanent attainment of their states (i.e. enduring traits) as structures.

However we do not convert states into structures through permanent attainment.

For example permanent attainment of the waking state cannot be directly identified with the (phenomenal) structures of the middle level.

Certainly the waking state supports the structures of this level (e.g. conop, formop and vision-logic). Likewise the operation of these structures in turn supports the (conscious) waking state.

However it would be incorrect to directly identify the waking state as these various structures.

However in effect this is what Wilber does in relation to his higher spiritual levels. He has not yet for example identified any coherent cognitive structures for these levels (though I would strongly maintain that they are vital for a proper integral interpretation of development).

2. What this means in effect is that the conscious positing of phenomena with respect to one aspect always implies - in dynamic experiential terms - the unconscious negation of the corresponding aspect.

Thereby we can only (consciously) posit a phenomenon with respect to the exterior, through the corresponding negation (unconsciously) of the interior aspect.

Likewise we can only (consciously) posit a phenomenon with respect to the interior, through the corresponding negation of the exterior aspect.

A typical problem in development arises from the fact that we tend to identify more readily with just one pole.

Therefore if an extrovert - for example - concentrates mainly on the development of the exterior aspect of stages (as stages of reality), this can lead to considerable imbalance with respect to the corresponding interior aspect (as stages of self).

In other words the continued transfer of energy to one conscious aspect is associated with a corresponding (unconscious) repression of its complementary aspect.

As conscious development moves into "higher" levels with respect to one aspect, this unconscious repression moves more deeply into (complementary) "lower" levels with respect to the other.

Therefore progression in development is necessarily associated with regression. This dynamic complementarity becomes especially apparent as authentic spiritual development unfolds. So the "higher" one goes in transpersonal terms, the "lower" one must go in - complementary - prepersonal terms.

This may help to explain for example why the mystical phenomenon of the "dark night" is always initially experienced as a profound regression.

3. I could take many examples from Wilber's writings to illustrate this point.

The following is taken from Integral Psychology P. 142.

While speaking of the Romantic view of the deeper ground or potential he says

"this ground is said to be the same ground one regains in enlightenment , but if so why should anyone ever abandon it? If this ground is regained why does development do something it does in no other system, namely start running backwards? Would a chicken regress to an egg in order to find itself? If the ground is reunited with the ego, so that both together constitute full development, that means that the ground itself is not complete and how could something inherently not complete be the ground of full enlightenment?

Could a part ever be the ground of the whole? This view which incidentally I once embraced seems to be largely inadequate in theory and data."

This passage says a lot to me about Wilber's characteristic lack of a dynamic perspective (where both dual and nondual aspects interact). He seems intent throughout to reduce development to merely linear (i.e. asymmetrical) notions.

"this ground is said to be the same ground one regains in enlightenment , but if so why should anyone ever abandon it?"

Well, from a nondual perspective it is the same ground. However the realisation of its nondual nature requires the dynamics of development to unfold (entailing both dual and nondual aspects).

Therefore in early development - where little differentiation of structures has yet taken place - we also have very little realisation of this nondual ground. However as we keep returning to the ground throughout development (by making Spirit immanent in phenomena), the realisation of its spiritual nature increases.

Though from an absolute nondual perspective it is the same ground (ever present), from the perspective of development, where dual and nondual aspects dynamically interact, the experiential realisation of the ground continually changes.

Thus if we wish to realise the ground in mature integral fashion (through the process of the full development of stages), we need to abandon the merely confused notions of earliest development (before differentiation of structures has occurred).

"If this ground is regained why does development do something it does in no other system, namely start running backwards? Would a chicken regress to an egg in order to find itself?"

Has Wilber forgotten the statement of Heraclitus?

"the way up is the way down; the way down is the way up."

In other words Heraclitus is saying that when properly understood - from a dynamic interactive perspective - all development processes necessarily run backward (as well as forward).

Providing the example of "the chicken and the "egg" that is interpreted in a merely (reduced) linear fashion only further compounds the confusion regarding the dynamic nature of transformation processes.

"If the ground is reunited with the ego, so that both together constitute full development, that means that the ground itself is not complete and how could something inherently not complete be the ground of full enlightenment?"

We have dealt with this point. Again Wilber is offering a reduced asymmetrical form of interpretation that is not appropriate to the dynamics of development (where dual and nondual interact).

So again - whereas from an absolute nondual perspective the nondual ground is necessarily complete in terms of development the nature of its realisation continually changes.

"Could a part ever be the ground of the whole?"

Yes, in the appropriate context!

Once again - in dynamic terms - whole and part (and part and whole) necessarily interact.

Therefore from an appropriate bi-directional perspective, the whole is as much grounded in the part, as the part is in the whole.

The problem here is that Wilber's model over- emphasises the transcendent direction where the part is grounded in the whole.

However when we give equal emphasis - relatively - to the immanent aspect the whole is thereby grounded in the part.

For example this is explicitly stated in Blake's famous line

"To see a whole in a grain of sand"

"This view - which incidentally I once embraced - seems to be largely inadequate in theory and data."

Let me make a couple of comments here. The fact that Wilber once embraced the Romantic position (and then abandoned it) does not mean in itself that the position is wrong. I think we can see that Wilber gives a somewhat distorted version of the Romantic position (based on an undue emphasis on merely asymmetrical distinction) so it is this misinterpretation that he really has abandoned.

However - as is always the case where dualistic argument is used - the alternative position (as exemplified by his pre/trans fallacy) equally suffers distortions from a dynamic perspective.

I think Wilber would have been on more accurate ground vis-a vis the Romantic position if he recognised the dynamic nature of their position but maintained that perhaps they did not sufficiently distinguish the confused notions of early development from the more mature understanding of later years.

As regards the alleged inaccuracy of the data, it is a fact (with all of us) that we tend to see in data what suits our own argument. Also the scientific manner of research (based on asymmetrical distinction) is not really suited to do justice to positions that are based on more dynamic criteria (where dual and nondual aspects of experience interact).

Certainly for example, I find his argument in support of the bardo realms unconvincing. I accept that it has a valid meaning within its spiritual tradition. However a general theory of development should not have to rely on the teaching of a particular tradition (especially when a more acceptable dynamic explanation can easily be provided).


Wilber, K. 1980. The Atman Project: A transpersonal view of human development Wheaton I11. : Quest books

1983. Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm: Anchor Books

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