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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Response to Lane's
Critique of Ken Wilber
True enough, Wilber is an exaggerator and a misuser of absolutist terms of the highest, perhaps even non-dual, order, but he did forewarn us in BRIEF HISTORY that the style was colloquial rather than rigorous. Still that's no excuse for his exaggerations.
But how firmly established are all of the possible interpretations of the relatively scant physical record across the vast evolutionary time domain? Doesn't the added notion of punctuated equilibria call for additional mechanisms, some Wilber would say are "spiritual" and purposive, operating in tandem with the natural selection process? Even if there were a spiritual component to all this, Wilber has already postulated that it will have scientifically discernible physicalistic correlates and we can at least hold him to that. Rather than tangentiating off into tallying expert opinion or arguing theoretical notions as regards eyes and wings, it might be more constructive to consider what empirical hypotheses would be generated by such a consideration.
But first, let me bring up some of the more basic issues arising from Lane's reaction to Wilber. We have a typical adversarial stance taken up by the two which I guess is the hallmark of Western scholarly dialog. And as in most adversarial discussions, exaggerations occur on both sides, and the mentality of the whole discussion reduces down to about the third grade elementary school level. It's as old as caravan drivers haggling over the price of myrrh with local tradesmen or as recent as the negotiations between the US and the USSR or Israel and the PLO. "You better take that back or I'll beat you up!" Perhaps it is time for humanity to attempt to transcend this form of negotiation just as Jesus supposedly transcended the eye-for-an-eye justice in the Ten Commandments (Yeah right, and give rise to two more millennia of self-righteous supercults!). Let's try for a moment to move up to the next holon of consciousness and look down on the argument at hand. Wilber has absolutized his way off the scale by claiming that ALL modern evolutionary scholars share his views and interpretations of punctuated equilibria of evolution. A plethora of simultaneous mutations are said to occur to get us a wing from a leg, requiring suspension of ordinary natural selection, thereby establishing the grounds for an interpretation that "spirit" is acting on real events. The natural selection process only acts to fine tune, "differentiate and integrate", the wing for use by the various species that use wings. But he loses the point if only ONE evolutionary scholar disagrees, and for this we only need look to Lane himself. So what profiteth a prophet so preposterously to hyperbolate?
Then we have Lane labeling a scholar who has repeatedly espoused his acceptance of evolutionary theory, and of empirical science in general, as "creationist." That's hitting below the holon if you ask me. He comes on guarding his dominion like a good centurion of science with the ultimate academic coup de gras, an F. What are we upper holonions to do with these scrappy gladiators? Let them fight it out, giving a thumbs down when the trident is at the throat of one or the other. Tempting, very tempting. But I think it's time to apply some of the wisdom of Solomon to this problem. We have Wilber, The Exaggerator, who plays both indoors and out, but doesn't know all that much about the out of doors. And we have Lane, The Labeler, who plays outdoors and just can't stomach any of that indoor stuff being left around outside. And he labels anyone who does so a "dumbfomentalist" or such. I say it's time to split the baby. But if we did, which one of these mothers would give up the fight? In this day of gangsta feuds on all levels, I don't think that would even work. So it remains for us high holonics (drop those comments about "high colonics"--we're trying to be post-New Age here!) to come up with our own solution and drop these wads down the . . . er, "integrate and transcend" these fine gentlemen. So here goes.
There a several underlying premises here to consider:
- Why do we expect any individual to take on the responsibility for stating ultimate truths. Most scientists would never consider even the most carefully performed and highly funded project as definitive on a given question. I never take anyone seriously who makes a final statement that is to be considered fact or truth. My cynicism simply does not accept the perfection of human verbal expression. Words and sentences are such poor representatives of what I see in my consciousness that no amount of them will ever suffice as some sort of final truth, or even a fact for that matter. Describe your hand so that another person can visualize exactly what it looks like and what it can do, write instructions for tying a shoe, define the word "is," write down the difference in the odor of Chanel No.5 vs. CK1, for example . . . we can't even verbalize the sensory basics much less the ultimates! Words are absolutely, er almost absolutely, necessary for humanity as we know it, but they are a work in progress. And we haven't been doing much progress lately. They've been worshipped ("In the beginning was the Word and The Word was God . . . ) and there is every indication that they still are. We have vast armies of individuals in our culture--lawyers, legislators, academics, PR firms--whose jobs are nothing more than to find the "right" words. (By "right" I don't necessarily mean the most truthful, just the most manipulative.) One reason we're sitting at this frustrating plateau of human verbal development is that we have not developed a very good theory of our own consciousness, the very substratum of verbal content. Meanwhile, my temporary solution is to consider every word I encounter, I don't care the source or the number of expert adherents to its veracity, just another opinion about the world around and inside me. That goes for my own words as well--I am at least directly aware of their inadequacies. As a corollary to what I have just said, all words lie to a certain extent--they transfer only a part of the meaning, consciousness, that we are trying to convey--even when we do not intend to lie.
- Adversarialism, as we witness every day in Congress, in our legal system, or right here in these debates, to my mind is pitting one lie against another to get at the truth. Look at negative advertising (it works!), look at the OJ trial, look at the flip-floppy public statements in carcinogen research. The real winners in all this are the lawyers, politicians, the media and PR firms. I know, it's the "best system yet devised", right, why tamper with it? Because it's becoming very annoying, that's why. The winning argument is one that supposedly devastates the opponent by providing non sequitur revelations of misstatement or association. The one who can throw out the most convincing negative comment--"he lied about that punctuated equilibrium idea" or "he's one of them creationists" or "that cop is a racist and obviously conned his buddy into strewing OJ's blood all over the crime scenes" or "he's just a flatlander"--is supposed to be the one holding the truth. I thought that I had gotten through to Lane in my earlier discourse regarding Wilber's association with Da Free Whatever. It would be as bad as my saying, "Did you know that Lane is just a dumb surfer dude that practices speaking in tongues when he's not here pretending to be a professor?" It doesn't matter, does it?. My suggestion: offer opinions that can help in understanding of other opinions. Wilber overstates his case with absolutes and exaggerations. Wilber might agree to a restatement by Lane if he removed the absolutes instead of listing them like so many charges in an inquisition. Instead, Lane labels Wilber with the undeserved pejorative "creationist" and would have us totally discount ANY of Wilber's argument as regards evolution. Adversarialism invokes exaggeration on both sides and here we have no exception.
Let's see what the score is so far: Wilber doesn't know what all evolutionists believe about punctuated equilibria and Lane isn't justified in lumping Wilber with the creationists. Still we have to make something out of this punctuated equilibrium problem that creationists have used to challenge natural selection as the primary factor in species origins. Is Lane's argument that a continuum of forms can exist between a leg and a wing--forms that have to be beneficial enough to warrant natural selection--really tenable? Not only do mutations have to occur in the axial, upper body area, but also in the pelvic area so that upright posture is present. There would have to be a long period of time across which these mutations would be happening and the fossil record should be replete with such intermediate forms, shouldn't it? Well while we are waiting for the paleobiologists to dig all these things up, why not entertain some other theories, and I don't mean creationist theories. Is there a physicalistic theory that correlates with Wilber's spirit of evolution? There's only one good way do handle this and it's going to require a resurrection of an old debunked theory (and a straight jacket for Lane).
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck.
He is le chevalier noir, the dark knight, of evolutionary science, and although praised by none other than Charles Darwin himself, he was summarily drummed out of the annals of respectable science by virtue of a series of experiments done early in this century to test his theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. One experimenter chopped the tails off of several generations of laboratory mice to see whether offspring would begin to grow without tails. Other "scientists" ground up rabbit corneas, exchanged guinea pig ovaries, painted salamanders, and mercilessly shocked desperately swimming rats in their attempts to cause transmission of a trait to succeeding generations grown in the laboratory. Experiments that at first appeared to support lamarckism did not hold up when replications were attempted by other researchers. The case of the painted salamanders resulted in discovery of the fraud and disgrace for the perpetrator, Paul Kammerer. But I ask you. How can we really simulate evolutionarily significant environmental pressures in such experiments or any laboratory experiment for that matter. In an attempt to shortcut the thousands or millions of years required in the wild for effects to be produced, extreme, unnaturalistic, even preposterous stimuli have to be introduced. The real environmental pressure in these studies is the experimenter himself and the only adequate response for these poor creatures would be to get the hell out of the lab!
Perhaps they did--in spirit. Lamarck's inheritance of acquired characteristics was accepted by Darwin in "The Origin of Species" as an integral part of his original theory of evolution. In "The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication", he presented his provisional hypothesis called pangenesis in which every part of the body held small particles called 'gemmules' (as waves, we can call them 'spirit') which would travel to the germ cells and modify the next generation according to the acquired traits of the parent generation. Are we to accept a person like Darwin that proposes such cockeyed hypotheses as one of the founders of modern biology? I'll bet Lane wouldn't have.
Evolution science, like astronomy, is an observational science, not an experimental one. Theory is generated in the mind of the scientist (how, the true scientist is not even allowed to consider) after painstaking observations and classifications of the objects discovered. Hypotheses tested are usually existential rather than experimental. You look for missing links, right? Time has come to revisit lamarck with plenty of new knowledge and insights. Wilber notwithstanding, I can't see how evolution could have missed out on such an effective shortcut to natural selection as permitting consciousness to help direct its course. Why have this wasteful epiphenomenon if you're not going to put it to good use? No one would look for Darwin's somatic gemmules or try to establish Lamarck's principle of use-it-or-lose-it, but there may very well be gemmules of a sort found among the communicator proteins produced in the brain. It might not be a bad idea for someone to thoroughly classify any and all brain chemicals that traverse to the germ cells. (Sorry, rabbit, these tricks will kill your kids!) Or how about through the placenta! Yes, now we may have found a sound evolutionary reason for higher species to bathe their offspring in an amniotic bath instead of dumping them out covered by a shell. There may be late breaking developments coming down the pipe. These effects may be very subtle and not show up in just a few generations. And of course, these gemmules, or "telegens" as I would term them, would always result from behavioral responses by the organism under environmental pressure to modify responses and the somatic instruments used in those responses. The proto-giraffe could get his neck elongated, the proto-bird could, with enough striving, produce the telegens necessary for his flight much more readily than with a continuum of stumbling, flightless wonders the current evolutionary defenders have so much faith in, but have found scant evidence of.
And it is real faith, too. Look at the quotes by Dawkins and Berra as quoted by Lane. It is too bad that academic science has so vehemently defended a theory as if it were a proven fact. It is taught as if it were fact, it is presented to the lay public in documentary after documentary as if it were fact, you get an F if you don't regurgitate it back in class as fact. It's the same for Big Bang cosmogenesis, but isn't this really just another form, however time consuming and elaborate, of creationism? We are still left with nothing all of a sudden becoming something--a something that just happens to be so lucky that it becomes us and company. Wilber is just trying to get us to study the pizza maker as well as the pizza. I think the zeitgeist demands it, and I'd much rather have such an inquisition, er inquiry, done by those who accept science as part of the overall picture.
And sorry, Dave, about the Lamarck stuff--remember it's just another opinion. But it's the only way I could see to give evolution the spirit that Wilber needs, the eye of evolution that cannot possibly arrise with just a natural selection model. The eye of evolution is the same eye used to make pizza--every pizza maker knows.
Relax and concentrate on your breathing . . . slowly in . . . now slowly out . . . slowly in . . . slowly out . . . visualize those air molecules bouncing and rolling, bouncing and rolling up and down the nasal passages . . .