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

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David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).


If Wilber had been completely accurate in the first place about how evolution by natural selection is viewed by the vast majority of working scientists then he would not have opened the door to be severely critiqued over his misrepresentations of it. —David Christoper Lane

Integral Theory and Its Discontents

On reification, the limits of map making, reductive coloring, axiomatic argumentation, and the dangers of being cross-eyed

David Lane

“Critics are our best friends”—Charan Singh

MIND THE GAPS: The Limits of Knowledge Systems

It is third eye blindness to pontificate about what we must or should ultimately find and how it should be interpreted.

A map by definition is less than the territory to which it points. If such a topographical depiction were exactly the same in detail, size, and description to the area it wished to cover, then it would be superfluous and redundant. Therefore, if we accept this definition of maps, we know that each of them (no matter how sophisticated) will have gaps. Which is another way of saying (perhaps less politely) that all models are in some sense wrong. They will have key pieces and vital information missing.

So, like the recorded warning to oncoming passengers in the underground tube stations in London, England, we are told to “mind the gaps.” In my critical thinking and philosophy classes, on the first day we make the argument that all academic subjects from mathematics to sociology—are to some measure incomplete (including the Professors lecturing on them) because each have their own limitations. In mathematics, for instance, Kurt Friedrich Gödel at the young age of twenty-five published two incompleteness theorems that demonstrated “the limits of provability in formal axiomatic theories” and that “a formal system cannot prove that the system itself is consistent.” He upended Bertrand Russell's and Alfred North Whitehead's magisterial three volume attempt in Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913) “to describe a set of axioms and inference rules in symbolic logic from which all mathematical truths could in principle be proven.” Yes, even math has gaps.

Mind the gap

In 1927 Werner Karl Heisenberg introduced the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics which showed there was a fundamental limit in physics in knowing precisely the position and momentum of any elementary particle. This caused Albert Einstein endless headaches, no doubt, since as he informed his good friend, Max Born, Heisenberg's mentor and collaborator and grandfather to Olivia Newton-John (the famous pop singer of the 1970s and 1980s whose signature song was coincidentally entitled “Let's Get Physical”), that he didn't believe that the ultimate laws of nature were due to probability. Yet, as repeated experiments have shown over the past century, we cannot yet bypass the uncertainty restriction, since chance is indeed at the heart of quantum theory.

In the 1850s Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace provided us with a tremendous insight into how biological forms evolve and adapt over time due to natural selection. One of the great consequences of their pioneering work was the realization that much of what drives human beings and other animals is the result of previous trials and errors of our ancestors trying to do their best to survive long enough to pass on their genetic codes. Because of this winnowing process (which, lest we forget, is predicated on being able to navigate and acclimatize to ever-changing eco-niches), only certain DNA strands were able to make it through evolution's unpredictable maze. We are the living historical result and as such have been shaped and molded by a series of untold journeys. Hence, we are limited creatures not only by circumstance (where and when we are born) but by the very nature of our hardware.

Given this diversity, some have differing cognitive abilities, some have varying physical impairments, and the list goes on. In sum, we are limited creatures by the very nature of our biology.

Perhaps a good way to see this clearly is to imagine that we are squirrels who have the newfound ability to talk about our condition, but with the necessary caveat that we must do so within the limitations of our cranial capacities and our central nervous system. Would anything we thought or said tell us about the universe as it “really is”? Or, would all our speech be more reflective of how bounded we are by our circumscribed anatomies?

In psychology, we are informed that humans on average have the ability to only hold four to seven things in their mind at one time. Given this parameter, is it not the height of hubris to believe (even for a nano-second) that our mind-models of the cosmos and all that it contains are transparently accurate? To the contrary, perhaps the greatest error we make as humans—what some have termed as the “original” sin of humankind—is to confuse our neurology with ontology. Our brain states tell us much, but in comparison to the totality of the multiverse that surrounds and inhabits us, it is but a quantum drop in an almost infinite sea of possibilities.

Nicholas of Cusa in his deeply insightful book, De Docta ignorantia, written in the 15th century C.E., and beautifully translated from the Latin into English in 1981 by Jasper Hopkins under the title On Learned Ignorance, explains that anything which is finite cannot in itself grasp that which is infinite. Using the analogy of comparing a polygon to a circle, Nicholas of Cusa argues that no matter how much we augment the polygon it will not (by definition cannot) become the totality of the circle unless it changes and becomes it. As Nicholas of Cusa brilliantly explains, “Therefore, every inquiry proceeds by means of a comparative relation, whether an easy or a difficult one. Hence, the infinite, qua infinite, is unknown; for it escapes all comparative relation.”

We are nevertheless virtual simulators since it is the one great advantage we have over other species, even if our modeling projections will always be limited in their import. As I have argued in a number of essays on Integral World and elsewhere, in-sourcing varying trajectories (in our own Sherlock Holmes like “mind palaces”) before outsourcing them in a treacherous world, where eat or be eaten is endemic, has tremendous evolutionary benefits, not the least of which is having more options in a world of feeding, fleeing, fighting, and fucking.

Yet, this same asset also contains within it a dangerous downside, where we far too often confuse our imaginations with how things really are. We need look no further than to the plethora of religions that abound to see that one person's key to heaven is another person's ticket to hell.


I mention all of this as a necessary preface to Brad Reynolds' three-part critique, "Real integral vs. Fake Integral". Reynolds' main argument is that Frank Visser and myself “promote a modern-orange scientific worldview, one loudly trumpeting science, not the Integral Vision,” which he defines in the following way:

“This is what the Integral Vision is all about: by integrating the various forms of pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational knowledge into a more comprehensive—integral and inclusive—model of reality, the Kosmos becomes a radiant expression of Divine Spirit, yet still measured via the tools of science and the beauties of the senses.”

While I deeply appreciate the time and energy Brad Reynolds has taken to defend Ken Wilber against Visser and me (because he believes we “often misrepresent Wilber's overall body of work since [we] lack clarity in the Eye of Spirit.”), I, not surprisingly, don't find his overall argument persuasive.

Brad Reynolds
Brad Reynolds

Why? Because the very definition of integral means “necessary to make a whole complete; essential or fundamental,” which etymologically speaking comes from the original word “integer” (whole). Thus, for something to be truly integral each of those component parts, which are essential for the whole to be complete, must by necessity be properly integrated. If, however, we incorporate ideas, facts, and theories, which are incomplete or inaccurate then the integral project is less (not more) than its parts.

Let me provide a silly, but useful analogy here that may clarify why Visser and myself have been so critical of certain aspects of Ken Wilber's work. If you are going to take a long-distance surf trip from Newport Beach to Cuatro Casas down in Baja, California (which is nearly 270 miles) you don't want to drive a car that has a flat tire, even if you think the other three are fine (though not thoroughly inspected or tested).

As Frank Visser has repeatedly pointed out in a number of fine and incisive essays, Integral theory doesn't have much integrity if one of the fundamental spokes in its wheel is completely misaligned. It isn't myopic for a mechanic to fix your tire at the service station if that is the problem, just as it isn't short sightedness to point out Wilber's mistaken understanding of Darwinian evolution and how he presents it. Indeed, focusing on Integral theory's weaknesses is the very best thing one can do to help improve it. If we ignore the obvious (and not so obvious) mistakes and flaws in Wilber's oeuvre then we are doing him and his quadrant model a disservice.

I have learned most from my harshest critics who were not shy or reticent in demanding more evidence and support for the claims I made.

I don't say this glibly since I know from my own experience exposing cults that I have learned most from my harshest critics who were not shy or reticent in demanding more evidence and support for the claims I made against their chosen leader. I can cite three examples off the top of my head.

Back in the 1990s, several devoted followers of Eckankar took me to task for claiming that Paul Twitchell, their movement's founder, had heavily plagiarized many of his writings from Julian P. Johnson and other authors without proper attribution. Despite the fact that I had documented numerable instances of Twitchell's appropriations (particularly in his 1970 book, The Far Country, which has subsequently been removed from circulation by the Eckankar organization), these Eckists wanted me to up my game and show line by line the plagiarized passages. Because of this, I did more research and found even more word by word copying than I at first suspected. Instead of me lambasting these skeptics, I realized that I owed them a deep thank you.

The second example, I can reference, comes from a pointed book review I had done on Jack Hislop's effusive praise of Sathya Sai Baba (see The Shadow of a God-Man for more. After researching the life and work of this famous guru from south India, I wrote a number of scathing reviews on his purported miracles. I went so far as to point out that his numerous manifestations of vibhuti and small necklaces were the result of sleight of hand and that there was nothing paranormal about them. A number of very devoted Sai devotees took umbrage at my debunking and demanded that I show them proof that their guru was doing magic tricks. I welcomed their challenge and found video footage taken by a South Korean documentarian which showed very clearly exactly how Sai Baba used tiny tablets filled with ash that he would break between his fingers and create the illusion that it was coming out of thin air. We also found out that he was palming necklaces and other religious trinkets from the envelopes that he was holding as he was walking among his throng of followers. I then posted the filmed excerpts on my Neuralsurfer website and linked them on a Yahoo forum I had created which was devoted to discussing all things Sai. This, as one can readily imagine, caused a major stir in the Sathya Sai Baba community, especially since several long-time devotees came forward with their own testimonials about how Sai Baba had been caught several times doing bad sleight of hand tricks and alleging instead that they were the result of his divine powers. Add to this unholy mixture that Sai Baba had a proclivity for molesting young male devotees, some of whom posted their first-person narratives of his unwanted actions on my website. Thankfully, a number of news organizations later came forward with their own research findings (including India Today and the BBC which did a documentary expose' in 2004 called “The Secret Swami”) that fully substantiated what I and others had said about Sai Baba for years.

My third example revolves around the robbery of my home in Del Mar, California, on October 5, 1984, by John-Roger Hinkins, the founder of MSIA, who was deeply upset by an article I wrote on him entitled, “The J.R. Controversy: A Critical Analysis of John-Roger Hinkins and M.S.I.A.” Although I had ample evidence that John-Roger along with one of his cohorts had personally robbed my house (he left a note in his own handwriting—see Peter McWilliams very informative and often hilarious book, Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You for fuller details) and documented the same in a small booklet with the not so subtle title, The Criminal Activities of John-Roger Hinkins, not everyone was convinced. I remember walking on Juhu Beach in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) with Professor Andrew Rawlinson, who was then beginning research on gurus and spiritual teachers in North America (later published under the title The Book of Enlightened Masters), and we got into a discussion about John-Roger Hinkins and my allegation that he had personally robbed my house (besides making death threats against my wife and my informants). Rawlinson wasn't convinced and told me so. He felt that my publications didn't provide enough evidence. He was right and that was because much of what I had that indicated John-Roger was the culprit was of such a personal nature (he had stolen my wife's diaries and sent them anonymously to Eckankar, wrongly believing that they would use them against me and I would then think they were responsible for the ransacking) that I held them back from publication. About nine years later, however, when I was approached by Peter McWilliams, a close associate of John-Roger with whom he had co-authored a number of best-selling books, including the Life 101 series, I was able to share with him a slew of documents that had never seen the light of day. Peter McWilliams exposed John-Roger Hinkins and his nefarious activities in a much more convincing way than I ever had.

What is my overall point in detailing all this? Simply put, Frank Visser and his Integral World website, critical as it may be at times, is probably the best compliment Ken Wilber has ever received. Hundreds of authors have spent countless hours writing thousands of articles, pro and con, focusing on Integral theory's strengths and weaknesses, and in the process thinking deeply about all things Wilberian.

Integral theory needs to be severely analyzed, precisely for the reasons that Brad Reynolds himself spells out in his tripartite contribution. Let me highlight them:

Write Reynolds,

  1. “Although they bring up some valid points, at times, most often their plan of attack is to jump all over several statements Wilber has made when he's not at his best.”
  2. “Granted, Wilber's theories aren't perfect, and have some errors—hard not to by proposing a grand “Theory of Everything.”
  3. “Sure, I concede Wilber has been somewhat sloppy (and confusing) in his presentations critiquing Darwinian evolution (i.e., biological evolution). Perhaps Visser (or someone) should help clarify this weakness and improve upon it.”
  4. “Visser likes to resort to some of Wilber's more exaggerated rants from the Internet, instead of his more finely articulated statements; yet being a fine Wilber-scholar Visser can find the word “force” being used to describe Eros. I agree, this is an inaccuracy (or failing) in Wilber's presentation, which Visser has highlighted.”
  5. “To be clear: there is NO “pervasive cosmic force supposedly responsible for evolution or consciousness” (as Visser says).”

One of Reynolds' key theses centers on Ken Wilber's notion of methodological pluralism which he first outlined in a brilliant article called, “Eye to eye: The relationship between science, reason, and religion and its effect on transpersonal psychology”, in ReVision (Winter/Spring, Vol. 2, No. 1.). I loved this essay when it first came out and had a sort of “satori” experience on reading it late into the night in Hayward, California. As I wrote in “Ken Wilber's Eye: Exploring the Dangers of Theological Reifications.”

“I read Wilber's article very closely several times late into the night and into the next morning. It was about 3 or so in the morning when I experienced an intellectual moment of satori, a flash of clarity about the pursuit of knowledge and its many pathways. I immediately became a Wilber convert, since he had by his clarity of thought provided me with an intellectually satisfying way to justify both my scientific and mystical pursuits. They were not, as I originally feared, mutually exclusive.”


In this definitional context, therefore, the real category error is not thoroughly testing and doubting.

In that same article I mentioned how Brad Reynolds had provided us with a clear summation of Wilber's eye of flesh, eye of mind, and eye of spirit. Reynolds believes that Visser (and myself) are stuck in the eye of flesh and mind and because of this are prone to make category errors. As Reynolds elaborates, “The priesthood of Integral World, however, is not comfortable with this integral, semi-spiritual stance, since they're constantly elevating science to superior status. Yet, as Wilber persistently points out, to do so is to commit a category error: 'It is my feeling that the most important thing a transcendental or comprehensive paradigm can do is try to avoid the category errors: confusing the eye of flesh with the eye of mind with the eye of contemplation.'”

It is right at this juncture that I think Reynolds makes a fundamental error since he wrongly believes that Visser and I are trying to “elevate science to a superior status.” First, science is not a “status” but rather a process of comparatively testing out various guesses and models about how certain phenomena arises and why it is so. In this definitional context, therefore, the real category error is not thoroughly testing and doubting what arises in each eye (be it physical, mental, or spiritual).

I quite agree with Ken Wilber that we should employ methodological pluralism, as do many scientists who, ironically, may be counted in the neo-atheist camp such as Sam Harris (see his eminently reasonable and readable book, Waking Up). I am a great advocate of meditation and count myself as lucky to be able to do such a practice three hours a day. I also am strongly supportive of spiritual practices such as self-inquiry as beautifully articulated by Ramana Maharshi, who I have long admired since I was a young teenager. All of this is well and good, but where the rubber meets the road (or is that where the tire goes flat or, worse, comes off its axle?) is when we prematurely abdicate our critical faculties and accept eye of spirit experiences axiomatically and devolve into reifications that are not much more than theological sloganeering, such as when Brad Reynolds (without wincing) can write, “all things, all holons, including subatomic particles, including all matter-energy, is most fundamentally God.”


Much of his argument is theologically tinged and is so full of confidence that he consistently indulges in uninspected reifications.

In going over Reynolds' latest offerings, I find that he sounds very much like fundamentalist Christians I have met throughout the years who have (by dint of their spiritual awakenings) seen the “light” and wish to inform us heathens of lesser ilk about how their souls have been elevated. Often, they quote scripture, usually from Ezekiel, 12:2, “Son of man, you are living in a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear.” Given Brad Reynolds' great love and fondness for Adi Da, I realize that he is thoroughly convinced of his enlightened state and wishes that we could utilize his “profound” insights by opening up our “third” eye, instead of merely wallowing in our own myopia. In doing a meta-analysis of Reynolds' three essays, I noticed that much of his argument is theologically tinged and is so full of confidence that he consistently indulges in uninspected reifications, making abstractions into concrete pontifications. The following are just thirteen illustrative examples of this tendency on Reynolds part and I have not even touched upon his third essay.

  1. If you don't agree (or “see”) that the transpersonal domain of Spirit-God really exists, that the universe is arising from and as an expression of One Divine Reality, then I suppose that's the logical conclusion, but it's not the integral perspective.
  2. God is (but not limited to) the entire universe; or rather the entire universe is a manifestation of God, yet this Divine Reality of Conscious Light (the “luminous emptiness” of shunyata) simultaneously (and paradoxically) transcends all conditions, all processes of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, etc. Simply, God transcends-yet-includes all of Creation or the Kosmos;
  3. This is why we must engage (and practice) the Eye of Contemplation, do the yogas, honor (and serve) the genuine God-Realized Gurus and s, and learn to include-yet-transcend our born limitations of culture and century.
  4. Most important, one learns to see (or know) the Divine Nature of the universe (and of all universes) by accessing the modes of knowing that transcend the physical eyes of science.
  5. Let me repeat: Visser misunderstands what these “spiritual luminaries” are saying, or at least what the more enlightened ones are saying. Therefore, he goes on to criticize his misunderstandings as being “highly problematic”—well, of course they are for someone who has not fully understood the vastly paradoxical Truth of Real God. He fails to see (know or realize) that the Godhead (or Buddha-Nature) is mysteriously immanent or all-pervading the natural gross-physical cosmos, yet while still being utterly transcendent of every thing, every condition, every possibility, ad infinitum. Such a vision (Enlightenment) truly transcends evolution altogether.
  6. Yes, it is a mystery, but it is a mystery not because we have yet to learn how it all works—it is a Mystery because it is Divine!
  7. Nevertheless, the Absolute Truth (or True Self) of the Kosmos cannot be measured, theorized, or published by the mind; it can only be realized in the Heart. I heartily invite everyone to open those sacred pathways if this Divine Vision is not yet clear. There is no greater Happiness or Truth.
  8. For one, this is why we need to access the more advanced (and awakened) Adepts or Enlightened Gurus to inspire us to evolve beyond our current level of mental-egoic adaptation,
  9. But if one doesn't see or understand or realize this deeper truth of the evolving Kosmos-universe, then a person is like the vast majority of us: not yet Enlightened or God-Realized. No harm or foul, of course, since it is our innate condition to be born ignorant of the Real Truth. God-Realization, although ultimately a matter of Grace, takes self-transcending effort and practice (preferably to be studied under competent spiritual authorities who have completed the process for themselves). Enlightenment is the most “advanced degree” any person can receive (which is why it's so rare in human history).
  10. Ultimate Knowledge about Real God, the true (and most fundamental) condition of your very consciousness. Only this Realization is where real Happiness and peace of mind resides, as long taught to us by our most advanced Sages in world history.
  11. I suggest this process of spiritual (transpersonal) development is best done within the embrace of Satsang or genuine Guru Yoga with an authentic Awakened Adept (not a cultic totem-master). To truly open the Eye of Spirit it is best to go study with real Gurus, to examine the Great Wisdom Tradition of humankind more thoroughly.
  12. But from the results evident in his essays, he has not yet dedicated the same degree of devotion to genuine spiritual disciplines at qualified ashrams (or under authentic Gurus)… otherwise the Eye of Spirit becomes a concept, an idea that can be rejected, not adequately known. Then “ideas” about God and Spirit and Eros (or Love) become nothing more than the “Talking School” of fake spirituality, not the authentic integral-yogic “Practicing School” of Real God-Realization (as Adi Da has pointed out). Reading books about spirituality, by the way, is not the way to become Enlightened, as everyone from Buddha to the Upanishads to even Wilber have always pointed out… it's barely opening the door.
  13. By opening (or activating) the Eye of Spirit we realize the true Happiness of the awakened heart and find genuine peace of mind. Then we may lie down on our deathbed having realized and lived the true purpose of Life (of our born existence). Where does science measure this? Unfortunately, at this time, at least, Visser, for one, has failed to do so adequately. Yet, truly, that's not a problem, for everyone and anyone has the potential to further evolve his or her consciousness to God-Realization Itself. Evolution—Eros as Love—has made sure of that. Thank God.

While I can sympathize with Brad Reynolds and his obvious religious fervor, I don't see much difference in his preaching than I do with those televangelists on the Trinity Broadcast Network praising Jesus and shouting out how we all need to be saved. Moreover, Reynolds consistently assumes that his Adi Da infused homilies are pre-given and apparently are not open to severe doubt or debate.

This is precisely why I and Visser balk when we read such religious glop since it is not an open-ended inquiry using the eye of contemplation (which I think is altogether good), but rather presumes to “know” what the ultimate truth is. Such conceit, ironically, should be completely absent in our spiritual quests if we are honest about how very little we actually do know.

I find it quite intriguing that Reynolds and others can lambast the supposed “scientism” of physicists (those with “only” physical and mental eyes operating) when, in actual examples, they have less pretensions than the so-called spiritual masters Ken Wilber and Brad Reynolds' eulogize. As Feynman humbly elucidates,

“When you're thinking about something that you don't understand, you have a terrible, uncomfortable feeling called confusion. It's a very difficult and unhappy business. And so most of the time you're rather unhappy, actually, with this confusion. You can't penetrate this thing. Now, is the confusion's because we're all some kind of apes that are kind of stupid working against this, trying to figure out [how] to put the two sticks together to reach the banana and we can't quite make it, the idea? And I get this feeling all the time that I'm an ape trying to put two sticks together, so I always feel stupid. Once in a while, though, the sticks go together on me and I reach the banana.”

Science is a quest to understand that which we don't. And, as such, starts with unknowingness and then proceeds to ask questions, form hypotheses, and test out and compete varying models and ideas. This voyage isn't restricted to the eye of flesh or the eye of mind, since any deep meditator worth his or her salt must be open minded when following the source from which consciousness or the self arises.

Yet, it is third eye blindness to pontificate about what we must or should ultimately find and how it should be interpreted along certain previously accepted theologies—as is too often the case in certain religious communities.


As I argued previously in anessay devoted to exploring the implications of Ken Wilber's Eye to Eye [" Ken Wilber's Eye: Exploring the Dangers of Theological Reifications"]:

Eye to Eye, Ken Wilber

“We could potentially be wrong about an apple (and indeed this happens more than we realize), but the reason we might be doubly suspicious about a contemplator claiming “I see God” (versus him or her saying “I see an apple”) is that it doesn't generally take a specialized skill for us to recognize an apple or something similar to it. In addition, the commonality of the experience is anything but extraordinary, which is not the case with someone claiming to see God (whatever such a nebulous term might mean and in what context). In addition, the subjective nature of meditation circumscribes how easy it is to share with others the content of what he or she encountered. For Wilber's example to be equatable with seeing an apple necessitates a socially mediated worldview, not a purely subjective one, regardless of how real it may or may not be.

Now this doesn't mean that the contemplator's worldspace is something that isn't valuable or important; it simply means that the experience of an apple which others can see and share in the same time-space referent shouldn't be conflated with what a contemplator sees or hears or experiences in the privacy of his own being.

For instance, you cannot appreciate dreaming unless you too have dreamt. That seems obvious. But that doesn't mean that the dreamer is somehow privileged because of that ability to know the causation or ontological status of that dream. Thus, while I applaud Wilber's insistence that we should explore varying regions of consciousness (via mediation or otherwise), I think it is misleading to then pontificate about the “reality” or “truth-value” of such experiences by trying to equate seeing an apple in the sensorimotor arena with seeing God in contemplation and then lambasting those who argue that there may be a difference between them.

The fundamental problem, I would suggest, is not in the fact that there are many worldspaces (there are), but over how we interpret such experiences. The very reason we have confidence in the relative reality of an apple versus one person's claim of seeing God is that the former can be socially mediated whereas the latter lacks such social verification. It is premature to say the least that such experiences can be properly adjudicated even if we have an idealized Wilber sangat of enlightened beings. David Blaine, the noted street magician, can easily trick onlookers with the most rudimentary of magic and all this even while we are well trained in our five senses. One can only imagine how easy it would be to trick someone into inflating their own meditative experiences into something far grander than it actually is. Furthermore, the term apple is much more specific than the word God which is far too abstract and too generalized a term to be useful in a discussion designed for specificity.

Later on in his essay, Wilber elaborates on the importance of knowing the correct “Kosmic Address” to enter into these worldspaces.

“This is also directly related to what is referred to as the “Kosmic Address” of a phenomenon. In order to locate a referent (e.g., a dog, the square root of a negative one, or Buddha-nature), one has to know the worldspace in which the referent exists. Simply giving a signifier or name to the object or event tells us nothing about whether that object or event is real (what about “unicorns,” or the “tooth fairy,” or “Santa Claus”? Turns out those are real, but only in the mythic worldspace. They cannot be found in the sensorimotor world, the rational world, the holistic world, etc., and are thus usually dismissed as fantasy, overlooking the genuine phenomenological reality those items have for those in the mythic worldspace, where those items are as real as any other object or event that can enter awareness at that level).”

I appreciate Wilber's nice turn of phrase here about Kosmic addresses and how we need to access certain phenomena by correctly entering those domains. Phenomenologically speaking, yes we do live in a multiverse of differing states of awareness. But I think we should be cautious about how we use the word “real” when describing what these experiences ultimately mean and entail.

For instance, I remember as a young kid walking on the beach in Santa Monica and my friends and I would see gold glittering on the wet sand. For part of the day we really thought we were going to be rich since we had discovered a precious metal! Of course, our parents quickly dampened our millionaire dreams when they explained that it was only “fool's” gold since it was simply how the light reflected off the water and sand to give it that unique sparkle.

Okay, so as a kid I had an experience of “gold” but it wasn't really gold at all. What changed? My interpretation of the phenomenon. The thing “itself” remained the same, even though my experience was irrevocably altered.

When it comes to subtler realms of consciousness, the difficulty in determining the relative reality (or permanence? or consensually share inputs?) of what arises is much more fraught with potential missteps, given the paucity of an overwhelming agreement on such matters. I can draw upon my own spiritual tradition to underline this epistemological conundrum. In shabd yoga circles (particularly within Radhasoami branches), it is almost axiomatic that when an initiate goes within during meditation he or she will see the radiant form of their guru who will guide them by light and sound to higher and higher regions of awareness and bliss.

Within Radhasoami Satsang Beas, to give an example from the largest sect of the tradition, meditators almost universally believe that the radiant form is a vision created by their Master's grace from the audible life stream. However, Faqir Chand, a longtime practitioner of shabd yoga and later an acknowledged adept, came to an entirely different realization. Due to a series of now famous events, Faqir realized that inner visions of his guru and other fantastic apparitions were projections of his own mind. I still remember when I gave a copy of Faqir's life story and teachings (see The Unknowing Sage: The Life and Work of Baba Faqir Chand) to my satsangi friend who was also my local mail woman. I caught up with her a few days later and see looked slightly distraught. I inquired about why and she said, “I started crying after I read about Faqir Chand's revelations. It made me doubt all that I believed before concerning meditation and the Master's radiant form.” So let's agree with Wilber that in order to access the inner sound current and explore subtler and subtler realms of consciousness one has to engage in some sort of meditation technique (or something similar to it). But what does that then mean in terms of “reality” or truth value? Isn't the real issue not one of worldspaces (that is an obvious given) and not even Kosmic addresses (don't we already know this from from drugs and dreaming?), but of competing interpretations of what such inner and outer states mean? Wilber does write about this, but I think he assumes far too much in his mandalic way of mapping things out as if the mystical cartography has already been settled upon by earlier pioneers. There is a sort of ontological hubris in Wilber's writing that lacks the open-ended sense of wonder that an adventurer in this field should have, particularly when even in this state of awareness we know so little, what to speak of realms yet to be explored.

This why I hesitate when he says “And Buddha-nature exists in the causal worldspace, and can be easily seen by anybody who develops to that very real dimension of their own state possibilities.”

It would be one thing to say that in certain elevated states one can experience something that MAY be interpreted by contemplators to be akin to what some Buddhists have called Buddha-nature, but it is quite another to reify (as Wilber is prone to do) what a certain state provides. Perhaps if a Faqir Chand entered into that same realm he may doubt that interpretative nexus and argue for something quite different. Simply put, if we can be easily deceived within this world by sleight of hand, neural trickery, and more, then we should be much more wary when it comes to meditative states where deceptive illusions abound as well.

I wish Wilber would stay within the bounds of reasonableness where he makes strong and believable arguments for exploring differing realms of consciousness. Where he loses me and where he sinks into spiritual platitudes is when he then moves beyond open exploration (with the operative word being “open”) and writes theological puffery such as,

“As you approach the causal, your Awareness will begin to profoundly unwind and uncoil in the vast expanse of All Space, and you will be opened to states of increasing Radiance, Freedom, Love, Consciousness, and Bliss or Happiness. Your separate-self sense will begin to dissolve in a pure feeling of I AMness, and your own highest Self will increasingly come to the fore, marked by being grounded in the timeless Now or pure Presence in the Present. As you break through into causal consciousness without an object, or Pure Subjectivity, you will recognize your True Condition as spaceless and infinite, timeless and eternal, Free and Transparent, Unborn and Undying. You will meet your own Original Face, or Divine Spirit itself, naked and spontaneous, all-pervading and all-embracing, a state from which you have never really deviated and could not possibly deviate, but one that has been there all along, in every moment, as the simple Feeling of Being. You will have a profound sense of “coming home,” met often with torrents of grateful tears and gales of endless laughter. You have, after all these painful years, arrived at your Native Condition, which does not recognize the name of suffering, is a stranger to the pain of existence, is alien to weeping, cannot pronounce agony. And then when somebody asks you, “Does God exist?,” you will be able to answer them based on direct personal experience. “Yes, and I have seen It myself.”

The problem with such statements as “I have seen It [God] myself” is that it lacks skepsis and tends by its very language to cut off further discussion or inquiry. Wilber's continued use of such flowery descriptors as “Divine Spirit itself,” “naked and spontaneous, all pervading and all embracing”, “Buddha nature”, etc., suggests that his real goal is to bring us into his theological ballroom, but in order to accomplish this he misleadingly dresses us up with plausible personal and scientific possibilities.

In this regard, I wish I could see eye to eye with Wilber since I agree with him on a number of issues, but when he succumbs to prematurely theologizing the inner quest with unnecessary reifications, I end up cross eyed.

Andy Smith, one of the most articulate and intelligent guides I have ever read on Integral theory, has written a deeply insightful critique to part two of Brad Reynolds' essay and I think it deserves a close reading. Writes Smith,

He assumes he has a well-developed Eye of Spirit, because he sees the universe in this way, whereas others, who don't see this, have a poorly-developed Eye. This is how so many claims of superior spirituality proceed:

1. Argue against science, which has the enormous advantage of being able to describe a world that others—even non-scientists--can to a large extent verify
2. Promote another vision that one claims one can see because of one's spiritual advancement
3. Claim that anyone who can't see or experience this other vision is poorly developed spiritually (“he sees little with the Eye of the Spirit”).

Nowhere is his essays does the author offer any evidence or proof of his vision. No doubt he regards the call for such evidence as being in the thrall of scientism. But sorry, without some kind of evidence, we only have your word for it.

As the author points, out, Wilber has argued that one reaches spiritual insights by the same general process as one reaches scientific or empirical ones: by following a set of instructions. But in the first place, as I noted in 1), it isn't necessary to be a scientist to verify scientific claims. The author is wrong when he says, “our belief in science comes mostly from the mind and trusting scientists' reports, not from conducting the experiments for ourselves.” No, it comes, e.g., from riding in an airplane, using a computer, or being treated with a drug. Everyday, we put our lives in the hands of technology, which we trust because it works. That is the ultimate validation of science.

There is no such evidence for the support of spiritual claims. Neither Wilber, nor the author, nor anyone else claiming to be integral, can produce one single discovery that was previously unknown to humanity, and which was made possible specifically because of their profound spiritual insights. This is a huge difference between the validity claims made by science, and those made by spirit, which Wilber, as far as I know, glosses over.

In the second place, many of us have followed these instructions, and while we certainly agree there are profound insights to be had, we don't all agree that they include the realization that some Godhead is responsible for the universe. We agree that ordinary consciousness is mostly sleep, and that it's possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness. We agree that it's possible, and perhaps even urgent, to see the universe as sacred. We don't all agree that there is a God that “is the inner Source, the True Self, that manifests all of creation”. One can be deeply spiritual and remain entirely agnostic about the origins of the universe, accepting the scientific explanation as the best current one. I would even argue that the more one advances spiritually, the more one is aware of one's profound ignorance, and particularly of our origins.

The author is also wrong when he declares that “No scientist, no physicist or astronomer, for example, will speak of cosmic evolution as a process of transcend-and-include, like Wilber (and other philosophers) do.” About a year ago, we had a debate here between myself and another scientist, both of whom have offered evolutionary models that specifically incorporate the idea of transcending and including. I'll just add there is nothing paradoxical about the phenomena of transcendence and immanence, as the author insists.

Finally, to reiterate a point I've made here before, I think criticism of the limits of science is important. But there are much more sophisticated ways of doing this than simply claiming that one's superior Eye of the Spirit—or as many Wilber followers claim, one's greater progress on the developmental spectrum—provides one with deeper, truer knowledge. I Tom Murray has a very long article in Integral Review this month that discusses the relationship of the rational or scientific view to more encompassing approaches. I think this is a far more sophisticated approach to the question of how to understand not just the limits of science, but also the limits of spirituality, as it's used to make claims about the limits of science or philosophy, or what we can know about an objective reality.


I quite disagree with Reynolds here precisely because the real strawman in the room is entirely of Ken Wilber's making.

Brad Reynolds attempts to eviscerate Frank Visser by alleging that he has created a strawman argument in his take-down of Ken Wilber's views on evolution and other issues. As Reynolds argues, “Visser consistently distorts Wilber's integral view to create a “strawman” so he can then correct it with current views on scientific evolution (see Part I). Yes, I agree Wilber has been somewhat sloppy in calling Eros a “force,” as if it is a law of Nature (like the electromagnetic “force”), but that is not how I read Wilber's overall Integral Message.”

I quite disagree with Reynolds here precisely because the real strawman in the room is entirely of Ken Wilber's making. If Wilber had been completely accurate in the first place about how evolution by natural selection is viewed by the vast majority of working scientists then he would not have opened the door to be severely critiqued over his misrepresentations of it. Wilber, not Visser, has consistently been (to use your own words) “sloppy” in how he explains the modus operandi behind molecular biology. Because of such sloppiness Wilber has unnecessarily crippled one of the key “integral” aspects to his theory. If one understands the implications of Darwin's and Wallace's theory (later greatly augmented and refined in the 1930s in what is called the neo-synthesis) and the great progress made by scientists in the past fifty years, then it behooves Wilber or any would-be Integralist to see how and why a teleological drive is superfluous and unnecessary.

This, of course, reminds me of that famous story which is told about Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace's (1749-1827) witty rejoinder to Napoleon concerning God and the creation of the solar system. As Byron Jennings recounts, “Laplace presented his definitive work on the properties of the solar system to Napoleon. Napoleon, liking to embarrass people, asked Laplace if it was true that there was no mention of the solar system's Creator (i.e., God) in his opus magus. Laplace, on this occasion at least, was not obsequious and replied, 'I had no need of that hypothesis.'”

The essential core of Darwinian evolution is that there is absolutely no need for the “God” hypothesis to explain how humans emerged from less complicated life forms. If Wilber or any other intelligent designer wants to introduce Eros or God or teleology (with third eye insight), then they should give us convincing reasons why and not merely promissory spiritualism, which says “you need to have a spiritual eye” to see the reasons. I don't find Wilber's arguments for Eros convincing in the least, especially given how absolutely cruel and short and rare life is in our own solar system, much less the multiverse at large. Alan Lightman, the distinguished scholar-scientist from M.I.T., entitled one of his more famous books, The Accidental Universe, precisely because so many probabilities are at play. Even our own human development, as the late Stephen Jay Gould was not afraid to remind us repeatedly in his books, is wholly dependent on a set of unforeseen contingencies. Now if Wilber and Integral theory want to supervene what we now know about naturalistic evolution, he needs first to represent the field correctly and comprehensively and then provide us with a compelling narrative for his Eros driven version of intelligent design. He has yet to do that, and thus Visser is right on the mark to call him out for his inability to sufficiently address the many errors in his presentations. Wilber provided the straw and Visser torched it.


In Part Three of his essay, Brad Reynolds makes a few assumptions about me and my work that are inaccurate. I thought it best to number them and see if I could at least correct his mistakes.

1. In a sweeping (and mistaken) generality, Reynolds postulates, “Of course, Lane maintains his view, that of modern science, is actually better than God-Realization for only science provides the proper way of viewing the world.”

I have never written that modern science is better than God-Realization. First, this would assume that I actually know what God-Realization is and that everyone can agree on such a categorical statement. Second, I see science as a human tool, among many, and I champion it precisely because it can help us navigate life better and help us better understand both our exterior and interior worlds. But no one I know, not even the most dedicated of scientists, believes that science is the only way of living or knowing about the cosmos. We are a compound creature and we have many ways of engaging our environment. No doubt, science is a very useful tool in our arsenal, but it isn't the only one at disposal.

2. Reynolds claims, “Hence, he [Lane] doesn't actively support writers on Integral World who profess a more transpersonal worldview, but rather tries to drag them back down to his own level-stage of seeing the world.”

Huh? The best support any writer of any stripe can receive is honest feedback. I have no hidden agenda of trying to drag transpersonalists down. No, if I found the arguments persuasive and evidential I would say so and be happy to do such. I, myself, have long argued for meditation and self-inquiry and have written extensively on the subject (see the book, Why I Meditate). But I think we should be very cautious in interpreting what we see with our “third eye” and not be naïve in prematurely assuming that what we experience has only one valid interpretation. I meditate each morning and night for hours on end and I absolutely love those moments. But it is also wise to be open to alternative explanations for what transpires in those exalted states.

A close reading of the illustrated book (and now visual-film) we did on Baba Faqir Chand and the Tibetan Book of the Dead (see link below) shows that highly advanced mystics become that way by being highly skeptical, otherwise they too would be duped into believing that the visions they see were objectively real and not projections of their own mind (higher or lower).

3. Brad Reynolds continues a few sentences down, “In this case, being the expert he is, Lane dishes up his clever play of words and ideas, yet generally creates a ball of confusion for those who are attempting to become more integral—since for him only science provides the kind of 'mysteries' we need to feel good about life or our human condition.”

Again, Brad Reynolds is mistaken since I have never argued that “only” science provides the kind of mysteries that we need to feel good about our lives. Why make up statements I have never stated? Actually, there are lots of things about this world that can make us happy which have nothing to do with science. My point, which dovetails with Richard Feynman's famous quote about flowers and their beauty, was that science doesn't take away the mystery of the universe, since the more we understand how things operate and manifest the more levels we can appreciate and enjoy. I had a long discussion with an eminent Sanskrit scholar from India, who kindly visited me at my office at Mt. San Antonio College, and he perfectly understood my point about matter and its multi-dimensionality and why much of our confusion about materialist ideas stems from a bad definition of what it actually is. Yes, Brad, matter is light and much much more. No need to opt for unnecessary dualisms when the mystery is right here, right now.

So, can we enjoy this magical show even more by meditating or employing our contemplative eye? Yes, I know that I certainly do. But is this third eye divorced from our material and mental eyes? Nope. They are different ways of knowing and each of them our filtered (for better or worse) through the medium of our own lived through experiences.

4. Brad Reynolds devolves in religious preaching when he writes, “To confirm this point of view, Lane tells us his life philosophy is to remain in a perpetual state of “unknowing,” for he loves the possibility of discovering something new. That's fine in the relative world of changing conditions and as intellectual entertainment, but it is a poor method for gaining true spiritual wisdom with the Eye of Spirit, which is what enriches human life beyond mere knowledge itself. Only spiritual wisdom makes us truly Happy; only genuine Enlightenment liberates the self in its journey through life leading to the realms (or possibilities) awaiting us after death—something science is fully incapable of doing effectively.”

I don't ever recall saying that my philosophy on life is to remain in a “perpetual” state of unknowing. No, what I was pointing out was that I don't know much and that position is not scary for me since I get to be open and learn more. Being in that state makes everything I do much better, including being open to what happens during meditation. Reynolds, on the other hand, wants to preach his gospel of “only spiritual wisdom makes us truly happy,” which again is not dissimilar to what I hear from born-again preachers at the Huntington Beach pier every Sunday. That's fine for him to believe, but there is no need to project such dogmatism on me, especially if we really want to have an open-ended discussion and not sink into religious gobbledygook.


I think Ken Wilber should reach out and thank Visser for doing precisely what was asked of him, which was to go out and catalog critics of his work.

The main thrust of Brad Reynolds' tripartite essay is that Visser and me are not truly integral and because of our contributions we have unnecessarily confused the field since we are attempting to reduce the three eyes of knowing down to one (or two). He even wants Visser to change the name of his website, since he feels it is inaccurate and does a disservice to what Ken Wilber and others in his camp are trying to achieve.

While I understand Reynolds' lament, I have a completely different take on what Frank Visser has accomplished and what he has contributed. I think Ken Wilber should reach out and thank Visser for doing precisely what was asked of him, which was to go out and catalog critics of his work. That Visser has over time also became an insightful critic is to his credit, since he was willing to go the extra mile and see where the weaknesses were in the Integral edifice. Whenever you are going to build a huge skyscraper it is necessary to have several structural engineers inspect it so that its internal and external integrity remains intact.

Frank Visser is to a large degree the structural inspector of Integral Theory and as such should be welcomed (not disdained) for what his website has achieved. If anything, he has made Wilber's work much more widely discussed and debated than it would be otherwise.

Now, as for myself, most of my research work isn't focused on Ken Wilber at all. My area of expertise is on the genealogical history of Sant Mat and Radhasoami in India (see the recent annotated bibliography we co-authored with Professor Mark Juergensmeyer for Oxford University Press) and around the world and thus I have no problem being called an Integral heretic or skeptic or worse.

I happen to like Ken Wilber personally and he has provided us with a wealth of material over the years that I have found to be quite illuminating. I have used many of his books in my philosophy courses over the years and I still keep tabs on his latest offerings. Yet, this doesn't mean that I am immune to the flaws in his writings and I think it is to his benefit not to be surrounded by sycophants who turn a blind eye to his misgivings. Yes, I am critical of Wilber's take on evolution, the irony of his reductionistic colorism, his inability to deal with pertinent criticism, and his naïve association with nefarious gurus. But that is not all surprising, especially for anyone steeped in academia.

We live and breathe with our critics and we welcome the interplay with those who disagree with us most. If we partition ourselves off from those who find fault with our work we are the ones who lose out the most.

I realize that sometimes our disagreements can get personal and emotional, but I hope we don't need to succumb to ad hominin attacks too often, since they don't really progress our discussions but sidetrack them (are you listening Donald Trump?).

For instance, just because Ken Wilber doesn't have a legitimate Ph.D. or someone lacks academic credentials, should we then ignore what they have to say since they didn't attend Harvard or Berkeley? No, their ideas are what matters and not the outer dressing in which they are housed. Whether an author is famous or unknown should have no bearing on how we appraise his or her ideas.

Brad Reynolds near the end of his essay writes, “I assume both Frank Visser and David Lane, after reading these essays, may be shocked (and dismayed) over their content since I'm critical of their views and even assert they're not integral (though good scientists).”

Speaking for myself (and I feel Frank Visser would feel the same), I am not in the least shocked or dismayed by your essays. To the contrary, I enjoyed them immensely because you provided me with a valuable opportunity to think through your ideas and learn more in the process. Yes, we don't see eye to eye (oops, sorry for the pun, it just slipped in there), but that is how it should be when discussing topics of this nature.

I welcome your criticism and I thank you for going through my writings and pointing out where and when you disagree with me.

I know you have a great connection with the late Adi Da, so I thought I would end this with a positive remembrance of some of his books which I found particularly insightful. As you know, I wrote my first article on Baba Faqir Chand for Laughing Man back in 1982 (it is the one with the seven stages in color). They did a wonderful job editing that piece and it was the first widely published essay on Faqir Chand in the United States. Later I wrote a complimentary essay on Ken Wilber's book, Transcendental Sociology, which I still deeply admire. Later, I had the good opportunity of corresponding with the late Georg Feuerstein who was then aligned with Adi Da and who patiently went through my critical essay on his guru line by line and provided me with valuable end notes.

Now of all the Adi Da books, articles, essays, etc., I have read my favorite one is The Paradox of Instruction which is invaluable for anyone wanting to understand the differences between the gross, subtle, and causal yogic practices. I also enjoyed and learned much from his text, The Way That I Teach and Four Fundamental Questions. The latter text has much to offer and I have incorporated variations of those questions on the days that I introduce our philosophy course materials.

So, in conclusion, feel most free to contravene anything I have written. I love, as you rightly point out, “the to and fro.”


1. I have never been called a “high priest” before and given my Catholic upbringing I am pretty sure that is not a compliment. I did find it funny, though. I may now have to start wearing vestments with a neuralsurfer logo on them to play the part better.

2. I am looking forward to your forthcoming book on the 7 stage model as proposed by Adi Da. I am quite familiar with it and back in the day I used to frequent a bookstore (sponsored by the Da community) in Santa Monica, California which organized their books along this 7 stage model, which I found both informative and fun (you could go right to the section that dealt with that specific area of expertise).


The following is a film we recently did on comparing Tibetan Book of the Dead and Faqir Chand's Advaita tinged philosophy:

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