Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Martin Erdmann is a German writer, poet, retired lecturer of Heidelberg University. He completed studies of English, French, and of legal science, both at the University of Heidelberg. He wrote several books in German focusing on the illusion of the I or Ego. As a cofounder of the German Spiritual Emergence Network (S. E. N) he provided counseling to people undergoing spiritual crises. For several years now he has conducted seminars on Advaita-Vedanta. (email: email@example.com Homepage: www.satsa.de)
A self-absorbed Ken Wilber tells his integral story as if it were simply the case
Scott Parker in the opening remark of his essay Ken Wilber and Intellectual Humility: Narcissism, Insularity, and Tragedy, February 2017 writes (italics in all quotes added): “A few pages into the introduction to Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995) lies the most important sentence in all of Ken Wilber's writing: 'I will be telling the story as if it were simply the case (because telling it that way makes for much better reading), but not a sentence that follows is not open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate. (p. ix-x).” Like Scott Parker I firmly believe that this is the “most important sentence in all of Ken Wilber's writing”, as it lays open the fundamental approach underlying his oeuvre. In this article I will first turn to Parker's appraisal of Wilber's basic affirmation, to then present my own evaluation of this major assertion. In the ongoing exposition I would like to show that Wilber's most important statement is built on a crucial incongruity which he does not see. He does not realize this, so the article concludes, because in his unconsciousness he has become inundated by his own narcissistic self-absorption.
Table of Contents
1. How A Theory of Everything in its absoluteness dissolves in itself
In his essay Scott Parker substantially states: In portraying his oeuvre as a 'story', which is 'open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate' lies Ken Wilber's “intellectual humility”. By 'telling the story as if it were simply the case (because telling it that way makes for much better reading)', Wilber shows himself entrapped in “narcissism” and “insularity”. For both the devout reader and the highly acclaimed Ken Wilber himself, this is a tragedy, as Parker already indicated in his essay's title Ken Wilber and Intellectual Humility: Narcissism, Insularity, and Tragedy.
The tragedy underlying Wilber's writing, so I would like to argue now, is essentially this. The renowned author aspires to establish A Theory of Everything, as laid open in the title of his oeuvre, 2001. Now a theory, as all thought, is of a relative nature. Thus it can only be understood as compared to what it is not, which would be another theory. A Theory of Everything presents itself as a Theory, which includes everything. So there is nothing left to be included in another Theory. Thus we have this one Theory of Everything only. So there is no other Theory (of Everything) to compare it with.
All theory, all thought is of a relative order. Wilber's Theory of Everything is not of a relative quality. With no other theory to compare it with it is an absolute theory. This means: It is a theory, which as such does not exist. So Wilber's Theory of Everything dissolves in itself. It has become extinct, only to survive as the all-embracing story Wilber tells. A story that is, which reveals itself as a myth, in which an unconscious Ken Wilber has become immersed together with his community of the adequate.
The absolute can be seen with the eye of contemplation only, to draw on Ken Wilber's own classification. It cannot be seen with Wilber's eye of mind, which is confined to a relative realm. Wilber, however, by employing the eye of mind wishes to reveal the absolute. This he does in an approach, in which he addresses his community of the adequate.
2. The Wilberite who abandons all judgment to believe in a Wilberish science
We have to ask ourselves who the adequate are Wilber is concerned with. The answer is given in the first part of Wilber's statement. The adequate, so we are informed, belong to a community of those, who take everything Wilber says, “as if it were simply the case”. At the same time “the community of the adequate”, so the second part of his assertion, is engaged in a scientific enterprise, in which everything Wilber states is “open to confirmation or rejection”.
This shows that Wilber and his Wilberites have fallen prey to an inner contradiction. They have become immersed in a deep-seated incongruity, built on a scientific theory presenting everything “as if it were simply the case”. It is a scientific story revolving around A Theory of Everything, which the Wilberites trust to be absolutely true. While doing so they are firmly persuaded that they are engaged in an impeccable scientific enterprise.
The 'adequate' reader holds on to an absolute theory, which as such does not exist. Not taking everything 'as if it were simply the case' means doubting the purported truth underlying Wilber's writing. This means that one has stepped outside 'the community of the adequate'. This is what the devout reader wants to avert under all circumstances.
'The community of the adequate' is what he dearly embraces. So he accepts 'the story' Wilber tells 'as if it were simply the case'. Yes, taking 'it that way makes for much better reading'. A comforting reading that is for the Wilberite, who wishes to be firmly embedded in his “community of the adequate”, which gives him the undoubted sense of an undisturbed security.
To illustrate above exposition I would like to take myself as an example. I stated that A Theory of Everything is a contradiction in terms, so that it dissolves in itself. Seen this way Wilber's entire oeuvre falls to the ground. Now Wilber is free to repudiate my own statement by affirming that I do not belong to the “community of the adequate”. So the statement itself is rejected as being inadequate. Thus the matter has been resolved for a Ken Wilber and his devout followers. So they may nonchalantly continue in their self-styled scientific pursuit.
Wilber presents his integral Theory of Everything as a scientific enterprise. A science that is which he sees characterized by three steps. (1) First, so he says, you have to specify an experiment. (2) Then you perform the experiment and observe the results. (3) Next you check the results with others who have efficiently conducted the same experiment.
These are the three steps, which Wilber defined as the “three strands of valid knowledge”, so in Part III of The Marriage of Sense and Soul.
Wilber's three steps, taken as such, are in accord with what is generally understood by science. It is an approach, which expresses itself by way of a scientific method, the main features of which are: (1) An experiment is specified by scientists. (2) They perform the experiment and examine the outcome. (3) They check the results at which they have arrived with others who have competently performed the same experiment.
Not all questions can be answered directly. So scientists suggest ideas and test them out. For this they conduct experiments and collect data. Eventually they figure out what they think is a good answer to the problem. Other scientists may agree or not agree. In case they do not approve of the results obtained they may suggest another answer. For this they will engage in further experiments. If the previous solution was not good enough it will be revised.
So every answer arrived at is naturally “open to confirmation and rejection by a community of the adequate”, which here is a community of real scientists. This must necessarily be so. If the solution obtained were not open to approval or repudiation by other scientists the undertaking would undoubtedly fail to qualify as a scientific enterprise.
Science is a way to get knowledge by discarding what is not true. So scientists try to arrive at explanations that fit accurately with what they observe and measure. They compete to provide better explanations. An explanation may be pleasing and comforting. If it does not agree with the results of a well-grounded scientific research it will unalterably be discarded.
This means: It goes without saying that all research undertaken by scientists is “open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate”, which here is composed of real scientists. That is why a book or article purporting to be of a scientific nature would not contain such an assertion in the first place. It would not, because the statement is inherently implied in what is uniformly understood by science.
3. A Ken Wilber who does not see the basic conflict underlying his Theory
Ken Wilber makes his affirmation, because “the adequate” he addresses are the Wilberian adequate. These are not the adequate represented in a community of scientists. Wilber's books and articles have a reader in mind who reads “the story” he tells, “as if it were simply the case”, because this “makes for much better reading”.
The cherished reader does not look for a well-grounded scientific answer. It is a reader who wants an explanation, which for him is pleasing and comforting, because it suits his own psychological needs. So Wilber's undertaking is by no means in accord with what is defined as scientific research. It is indeed diametrically opposed to the agreed upon standards upheld by a scientific community.
Before a scientific article is published it is presented to other scientists, who decide whether the answers given in the article make sense from the data. This is called peer review. It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified scientists within the relevant field. So peer review is used to determine an academic paper's, a book's suitability for publication.
Now imagine a Ken Wilber who on his own initiative wants to see his Sex, Ecology, Spirituality inspected by peers engaged in his domain of exploration. So for the intended peer review to be made he presents his SES built on the introductory remark that he, as the author, “will be telling the story as if it were simply the case, because telling it that way makes for much better reading”. With such a fundamental assertion made Wilber's whole oeuvre would fall to the ground. As a matter of fact he would make himself the laughing stock of all peers reviewing his opus. A mere glance at the introductory statement would be enough to have his SES rejected from the very beginning. With a proper peer review made there would be no chance for a publication of a book, document or article built on such a preposterous introductory statement.
Wilber, however, is persuaded he is engaged in a well-grounded scientific enterprise. It is a conviction shared by his Wilberites, who firmly believe in A Theory of Everything, which contains everything as coherent in itself. So deeply they have become deluded.
Wilber says: 'I will be telling the story as if it were simply the case (because telling it that way makes for much better reading)'. In this, so Parker, lies Wilber's “narcissism”. Stating that 'not a sentence that follows is not open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate” reveals, so Parker, Wilber's “intellectual humility”.
Rightly considered the second part of his assertion must be seen in the context of the first part of his utterance. In the second part he affirms that everything he says is “open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate”. The “adequate” Wilber has in mind, are not the adequate of a scientific community. They are the adequate readers who accept everything he says “as if it were simply the case”, so the first part of his assertion. This they do in order to rely on Wilber's all-encompassing Theory of Everything as grounded in an unquestionable scientific enterprise.
Thus Wilber's narcissism already reveals itself in the “community of the adequate” he addresses in his visionary scientific exploration. A community that is, which in Wilber's scheme has risen to a higher second or third tiers development. So it consists of highly evolved critics only, who alone are adequate to the august task of evaluating his writing. Critics like myself, for example, are first tiers only, thus not capable of rightly assessing Wilber's lofty vision.
”As has long been documented on Integral World, critics are dismissed, ridiculed, and mocked, but never engaged. Narcissism of this order leads to anyone who does not belong to the faithful being instructed to 'suck my dick', which is only a way station on the road to real tragedy”, writes Scott Parker in his article.
This shows a self-absorption on Wilber's side, which is of a highly narcissistic nature. A tragic “narcissism” that is, which does not only reveal itself in the first part of his statement. It is a narcissism which also shows itself in the second part of his utterance. In this no intellectual humility can be found, as Parker believes, who has artificially separated the second part of the phrase from the first. With the first and second part interlaced in a single phrase Wilber's narcissism has become exposed in Wilber's declaration as a whole. It is a narcissistic affirmation built on a blatant contradiction which the highly acclaimed author does not see.
In the first part of his statement Wilber wishes everything he says to be accepted 'as if it were simply the case'. The only way to comply with this request is to abandon one's own judgement. In the second part of his affirmation everything is 'open to confirmation or rejection'. Here you have to make use of your own power of discernment. This means: Wilber targets a reader who blindly believes in what he says, while being persuaded that he makes use of his own reasoning. He focusses on a reader, who has abandoned all power of discrimination while trusting that he pursues an unquestionable scientific enterprise. A blind belief that is amounting to a mystery mongering dressed in a scientific disguise.
4. The liberating message of Swami Vivekananda
This is a disposition, which has been severely reprimanded by Vivekananda, disciple of Ramakrishna, who at the end of the 19th century spread an eastern Advaita Vedanta in the west. In The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel Romain Rolland quotes Vivekananda who plainly affirms
Discard everything that weakens you. Mystery-mongering weakens the human brain… lt is wrong to believe blindly.
Romain Rolland alluding to further statements delivered by Vivekananda states
Nobody condemns more categorically the slightest abdication of self-mastery, however partial or transient, into the hands of others. And it is this that makes him protest so violently against all kinds of suggestion however honest and well-intentioned.
Romain Rolland then more extensively quotes Vivekananda who asserts
The so-called hypnotic suggestion can only act upon a weak mind... lt is, as it were stunning the person's mind for the time being by sudden blows which another's will delivers to it... Every attempt at control which is not voluntary, is disastrous, it only rivets one link more to the already existing heavy chain of bondage... Therefore beware how you let yourselves be acted upon by others, even if they succeed in doing good for a time... use your own minds, control body and mind yourselves, remember that until you are a diseased person, no extraneous will can work upon you; avoid everyone, however great and good he may be, who asks you to believe blindly. lt is healthier for the individual or the race to remain wicked than to be made apparently good by such morbid extraneous control... Beware of everything that takes away your freedom.'
Ken Wilber in his hypnotic suggestion wants his readers to imbibe everything he says, “as if it were simply the case.” So he takes away the readers' freedom to have them blindly believe in the scientific validity of the assertions he makes. This is an approach, which has been so rigorously admonished by Vivekananda.
5. The Wilberite who for his own security clings to Wilber's authority
We have to ask ourselves how well educated people can fall prey to a self-contradictory enterprise as dreamt up by Wilber in his introduction to Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. I believe that Scott Parker's exposition in Winning the Integral Game? serves as an explanation by throwing light on the psychological disposition of a Wilberish reader.
In his exposition Parker openly reveals that at one time he himself was a devout follower, closely identified with a Ken Wilber and his Theory of Everything. Later, so he says, he liberated himself from his identification, as he found out that it stemmed from an unconscious process he had become immersed in. So he believes he emancipated himself from the authority of a Ken Wilber whom he had deemed to be the “world's greatest philosopher.” He writes
What drew me in was the possibility of a comprehensive worldview. I was unaware that I craved such a view, but once I had it, it became enormously helpful. After my initial acceptance of Wilber's view, I clung to it, and in a sense staked my identity on it. This is how I knew the world to be, and if I was wrong about the world, I could be wrong about me. I did this because it made my life so much more navigable when I knew with certainty how the world was. It gave me a context in which to orient everything I came across in my studies. It became a lens through which to see the world. In university, I brought Wilber into discussions and defended him in all cases, without pausing to consider my interlocutors' points. I started seeing dangerous green-memes all around me. I began to see these bogeymen not only in my sociology classes (where they may have in fact been), but also in my English, philosophy, and even psychology and biology classes. It was a convenient strategy to know what my professors would say before they said it. It saved me the trouble of having to listen to them. I see this now as a moronic approach, but at the time I was justified in my arrogant sophia by Wilber's authority. He was the world's greatest philosopher. If he said it, it had to be true. I was a fan.
Now, by the very fact of having written these words, I will have transformed myself, in the eyes of fans, in my old eyes, into that other thing, the abhorrent, the critic. And I will have done so regardless of what value I still see in Wilber's work. I have admitted doubt and am cast from the faithful.
These are the faithful who belong to “the community of the adequate” as envisaged by Wilber. In the eyes of the faithful Scott Parker is the abhorrent, the critic now who has thrown dust on the 'community of the adequate'. He is not willing to accept “the story” Wilber tells “as if it were simply the case”. In perusing his oeuvre he wants to use his own judgement to find out what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected in Wilber's story.
This is too much for the “community of the adequate”, which Wilber addresses in his writing. So the 'adequate' have expelled Parker from their immaculate alliance, while washing their hands in Wilberish innocence.
Now Scott Parker affirms that Wilber's assertion that everything he says is “open to confirmation and rejection” shows his “intellectual humility”. The scientific process as such requires that all results obtained are open to approval and repudiation. Even if - in line with Scott Parker's view - we take the second part of Wilber's assertion as distinct from the first part, there lies no modesty in this part of his affirmation. It is simply in accord with what is generally understood as a scientific method. So we have to ask ourselves how Parker can see an “intellectual humility” in Wilber's declaration?
If above statement had been made by a regular scientist Parker would not see any modesty in this. Now the assertion has not been made by a common scientist. It has been proclaimed by a Ken Wilber, who for him was “the world's greatest philosopher. If he said it, it had to be true.” So believed Parker. Now Wilber states that everything he says is “open to confirmation or rejection”. So he admits that his scientific exploration may not be faultless. If a philosopher of Wilber's supreme status concedes that also he is not infallible, for Parker now this reveals an “intellectual humility”. This shows that Parker has become so deeply imbued with his belief in Wilber's greatness that even after his conversion subconsciously he still holds on to it. So he has not really emancipated himself from a Wilberish authority.
6. Ken Wilber's self-deception unconsciously passed on to his followers
Now Ken Wilber has not consciously deceived his adherents. Like his followers he has fallen prey to a subconscious process. If he had wanted to deliberately betray his readers he would have confined himself to the second part of his statement affirming that everything he says is 'open to confirmation or rejection'. He would not have declared that he was telling a story “as if it were simply the case”. This would be a way to lay open an undertaking which is apt to deceive the reader. So a Wilber who consciously wanted to betray his readers would by all means have abstained from making such a revelation.
If Wilber had seen the blatant contradiction involved in his statement, he would not have made such a declaration in the first place. The very fact that he avowedly presents everything “as if it were simply the case”, while at the same leaving everything “open to confirmation and rejection” shows that he has become involved in a double-dealing, which he does not see. On the one hand he wants to be acclaimed as a renowned scientist, who has gone mainstream. On the other hand he wants blind followers who accept everything he says, “as if it were simply the case”. This shows a Ken Wilber who has fallen prey to conflicting emotions, which in his inner strife he does not see. So he has subconsciously deceived himself. A self-deception that is, which he has passed on to his followers. So they have become immersed in a deceptive myth born from Wilber's fanciful imagination.
 Wilber Ken, A Theory of Everything, 2001, Shambhala
 Wilber Ken, The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion, 1998, page 155/156, Random House Publishing Group
 Rolland Romain, The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel, 1987, page 188, Advaita Ashrama