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".
David 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).
The Oracle of Unknowing
The "High Priest" of Huntington Beach
Responds to Brad Reynolds
Those whom I have called the “high priesthood” of Integral World (since they post the most articles and react most strongly to the spiritual perspective)David Christopher Lane and Frank Visserhave both immediately responded to a new essay posted by author John White titled “Evolution: An Enlightened View.” Both are smart and excellent writers, well-versed in source literature, and provocative. Yet both, sadly, are reductionistic materialists: i.e., they firmly believe that only the realm of matter-energy and biology as being real (as do most scientists). Brad Reynolds
I realize that Brad Reynolds has coupled Frank and I together in his John White inspired rejoinder, but I think it is best for me to respond individually and let Frank provide his own response. Though I enjoyed reading “Unenlightened Science: A View on Things, Not God,” I found too much of it had the earmarks of theological apologetics. The following focuses on those parts that deal directly with me and I have tended to skip over the long sections where Brad Reynolds sermonizes about his Adi Da influenced teachings and provides us with a set of New Age homilies.
In the very first paragraph, Reynolds makes an inaccurate assessment of my philosophical outlook when he alleges that “they [which in this context, includes me] believe that only the realm of matter-energy and biology as being real (as do most scientists).” No, this is not correct. I think that there are many levels of information that appear real to us, such as mathematics, logic, emotional states, meditative explorations, sociological data, and the list goes on. The issue of what is “real” is an ontological one and far beyond my current informational salary to know for sure. Instead, I see science as a practical and explanatory endeavor that doesn't have to sink into queries about final ultimacies. Take the very word matter, for instance. What is it finally? Ah, we simply don't know. Yes, we know various aspects of how certain physical phenomena behave, but as I pointed out in the little film, What is Matter? The Magic of Physics, everything that we see around us is a composite structure and even if we start to understand how many of the parts are put together and how they cohere, when we explore the very small (our quantum world) or the very large (our multiverse) we end up dumbfounded by what it portends. So, simply put, championing a scientific outlook doesn't thereby mean that we have to believe that “only the realm of matter-energy and biology” are real. That is false caricature of what I think and therefore acts a vacuous strawman by which to present a counter-argument. In other words, Brad is arguing against his own illusory projection of my beliefs, not what I, myself, hold.
Brad then extends his criticism to the real issue that goes to the jugular, “They downplay or dismiss that the interior evolution of consciousness is also a process of transcend-and-include (until ultimate transcendence). “
Here Brad Reynolds does what I call a lump and jump that betrays his own reasoning, not mine. First, I think it is wonderful to explore the interior recesses of our own consciousness and I have written a number of articles championing deep meditative voyages. [See for example, "Why I Meditate".] But instead of acknowledging that, Brad then adds his own Wilberish spin with “also a process of transcend-and-include (until ultimate transcendence),” which is his own theological purview and has nothing to do with correctly ascertaining my own views on the subject.
Brad then writes,
“Neither [Visser or Lane] are professional scientists, however, though highly educated with advanced university degrees, yet both are deeply committed to science as being the ultimate arbitrator in determining 'truth; (or what is most real). They do not merely accept the facts of science, but make it into a philosophyas if science is a philosophy, but it's not; it's a method of investigation. Therefore, they profess the modern reductionistic 'philosophy' of scientific materialism or scientism ('only science is true'), thus, immediately took issue with White's spiritual perspective on evolution (while admiring his clarifying writing skills).”
Huh? I should spell out right from the beginning that science is not the sole province of “professionals” as if only those who get graduate degrees in physics or chemistry “do” science. No, as Thomas Henry Huxley, famously wrote nearly one hundred and sixty years ago “We Are All Scientists” to some measure. It was penned in 1863 and we republished it (along with several of his other essays) in a book entitled, A Scientific Education: Essays from a Naturalist. The following is a pertinent quote from it:
“The method of scientific investigation is nothing but the expression of the necessary mode of working of the human mind. It is simply the mode at which all phenomena are reasoned about, rendered precise and exact. There is no more difference, between the mental operations of a man of science and those of an ordinary person, than there is between the operations and methods of a baker or of a butcher weighing out his goods in common scales, and the operations of a chemist in performing a difficult and complex analysis by means of his balance and finely graduated weights. It is not that the action of the scales in the one case, and the balance in the other, differ in the principles of their construction or manner of working; but the beam of one is set on an infinitely finer axis than the other, and of course turns by the addition of a much smaller weight. . . . Do not allow yourselves to be misled by the common notion that an hypothesis is untrustworthy simply because it is an hypothesis. It is often urged, in respect to some scientific conclusion, that, after all, it is only an hypothesis. But what more have we to guide us in nine-tenths of the most important affairs of daily life than hypotheses, and often very ill-based ones? So that in science, where the evidence of a hypothesis is subjected to the most rigid examination, we may rightly pursue the same course. You may have hypotheses and hypotheses. A man may say, if he likes, that the moon is made of green cheese: that is an hypothesis. But another man, who has devoted a great deal of time and attention to the subject, and availed himself of the most powerful telescopes and the results of the observations of others, declares that in his opinion it is probably composed of materials very similar to those of which our own earth is made up: and that is also only an hypothesis. But I need not tell you that there is an enormous difference in the value of the two hypotheses. That one which is based on sound scientific knowledge is sure to have a corresponding value; and that which is a mere hasty random guess is likely to have but little value. Every great step in our progress in discovering causes has been made in exactly the same way as that which I have detailed to you. A person observing the occurrence of certain facts and phenomena asks, naturally enough, what process, what kind of operation known to occur in Nature applied to the particular case, will unravel and explain the mystery? Hence you have the scientific hypothesis; and its value will be proportionate to the care and completeness with which its basis has been tested and verified. It is in these matters as in the commonest affairs of practical life: the guess of the fool will be folly, while the guess of the wise man will contain wisdom. In all cases, you see that the value of the result depends on the patience and faithfulness with which the investigator applies to his hypothesis every possible kind of verification.”
Thus, it is a question of how well our varying explanations hold up to rational scrutiny. This isn't a partitioned game, since everyone one of us (professional or amateur) do some sort of science daily. Science is indeed a method, but one which allows any and all to test out their ideas against others to see which ones provide the best explanation or predictive models at the present time, with the necessary caveat that they may be altered or falsified in a future time. Therefore, Brad is mistaken when he reifies science as if it were a thing apart from human activity. Hence, his claim that I am “deeply committed to science as being the ultimate arbitrator in determining 'truth' (or what is most real),” is once again a distortion of his own making. No, I see science as one of many ways of engaging the world and accumulating knowledge. Undoubtedly, it is a wonderful procedure of acknowledging our own limitations and allowing for our guesses to move beyond mere hunches when we hypothesize, experiment, test, and attempt to verify what we presume. Interestingly, what makes science progressive is not that it proves this or that (it doesn't) but because it a critical way of finding out what works better or worse over time. Science, as such, doesn't have a finality and therefore to say that “it” is the final arbitrator is to confuse how it operates.
But Brad goes on to say,
“They do not merely accept the facts of science, but make it into a philosophyas if science is a philosophy, but it's not; it's a method of investigation. Therefore, they profess the modern reductionistic 'philosophy' of scientific materialism or scientism ('only science is true”), thus, immediately took issue with White's spiritual perspective on evolution (while admiring his clarifying writing skills).”
Once again Brad indulges in creating fictions about me and what I believe. First, science is indeed a human method of investigation and I have repeatedly said the same in a number of articles, but that doesn't then mean by extension that I think everything must be reduced down to only scientific discourse. To the contrary, there are many ways of approaching the cosmos and science is just one tool in our intellectual shed. I don't subscribe to a philosophy of “scientific materialism” as if that were a creed. No, I take a much simpler approach which is quite practical and useful: try to explain things by what is known first before jumping levels. So, if I break a tooth, I go to the dentist who is an expert in that area. I don't go to my local priest. When I go on an airplane, I like my pilots trained in aviation. I could care less if they knew nothing about Shamanism. Now, as I pointed out in the "Remainder Conjecture" (following the lead of Edward O. Wilson in his book Consilence), doing intertheoretic reductionism does not mean that only physics can explain everything. No, it is just a very practical way of trying to explain varying phenomena and their respective behavior. So, naturally, when our car breaks down, we go to an auto mechanic, and not to a psychologist (unless, of course, he fixes cars as a side job).
Being practical doesn't then by extension mean that only matter and matter only exists and becomes some sort of core philosophy which is inviolate. No, rather, one goes to get the best results, given what we currently know. That is why science has grounded itself in physics, chemistry, and biology. There may well be much beyond the ken of these disciplines and that is why new fields of endeavor have blossomed forth, from neuroscience to sociology to big data and onwards.
It is at this juncture that Brad then proceeds to perform is own pseudo-psychologizing (with a unique Adi Da influenced twist) when he writes,
“From my perspective, both Visser and Lane live mostly in the mind, not the Heartwhere Divine Spirit is found and revealed most fullyin purporting their 'philosophy' (though I am sure, as good men, they use their heart to love others, just not to make very good philosophy). Technically, they don't do philosophia or “love of wisdom,” but prefer the love (or appreciation) of science above all else.”
I can appreciate that Brad believes what he does about me (and Frank), but as usual he has a quite mistaken view of what I think. First, I don't have a “love of science” above all else. That's just silly. I love my wife and kids beyond what I can express. I love my brother and sister. I love Charan and lots of friends. I love surfing. I love books. I love boating. I love golf. I love much that has nothing to do with science. I find it funny that Brad argues against wholesale reductionism, but employs it when he wants to create a thumbnail sketch of our respective philosophies. He then pontificates that we live mostly in the mind and not our Heart (watch Brad's capitalizations, as they are theological pointers). I don't know if Brad or Frank or anyone else “lives mostly in their mind or their heart,” especially when I have never met them in person or interacted with them on a day to day basis. Having a love of wisdom and a love of science are not mutually exclusive; in fact, one may argue that to have the former, one should be grounded in the latter. In any case, I have never argued or written that “only science is true.” Why does Brad resort to making things up? It would be much wiser (watch the definition of that word) to actually engage in what I do say than in making up things that I have never written.
Brad then proceeds,
“Thus, to my mind, they are caught in the realm of rational ideas, perpetual thinking, and endless doubt. In fact, Professor Lane subscribes to a philosophy he calls 'Unknowing,' as one of his book's title confesses. At least he recognizes that the mind itself can never know it all, thus preferring to marvel at the new discoveries of science which should be an unending enterprise of entertainment, since science is perpetually in the mode of discovery. Indeed, this is why science is such an effective 'method' of investigation, but, also, why it's such a poor philosophy of life in discovering the real truth of our reality as a whole. You don't need to know science, in other words, to be Enlightened or realize God. This is why we need mysticism and Enlightened Teachings, as White proposes, as well as science. Science, we believe, does not directly deny the mystical or enlightened view for it lies outside its purview.”
I have long noticed that some devotees who are committed to a particular religion or a spiritual path tend to believe that they have found the “truth” or the “light” and anyone who doesn't hold the same belief system are as Brad proclaims, “caught in the realm of rational ideas, perpetual thinking, and endless doubt.” It is a typical of an in/out mentality and one which speaks volumes about the person who proclaims to know the inside road to God.
I am fairly sure that when Frank goes sailing he has other things on his mind than being caught in “endless doubt”. I know for myself that when I am in the ocean I tend to be focused on surfing the incoming wave, not some logical debate between Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Brad confuses my fondness for science as somehow forming the basis of my entire philosophical outlook. My position is that there many ways to live in this world and I tend to enjoy a number of options, including meditation, eating vegan food, and playing with my son Kelly in virtual reality. The list is pretty exhaustive and writing about science is but a very small part of it. Yet Brad wants us to know that we don't need science since what he really wants to pontificate about is God and “why we need mysticism and Enlightened Teachings (watch the capitalizations).”
He then goes on to suggest that Frank and I are somehow clueless about God and why he cannot be proven. It is right here that Brad begins to go into his Adi Da preaching mode and starts to posit varying axioms that he believes are somehow beyond intellectual inspection, such as when he writes, “God cannot be proven! God or the spiritual nature of reality can only be doubted or denied by the intellectual advances of the mind.”
Brad then proceeds to provide us with one his perennial sermons which is clearly his prerogative, even if he forgets in the process that he has done this many times before without any effect. Why? Because what he says about God and ultimate spiritual truths reflects his own particular Theopneustos-like leanings. That is all well and good, but I don't find his preaching convincing, at least not in the way he presents it. I have said this prior to Brad in previous essays, and it needs repeating again: what he writes is no different than what I hear a born-again Christian preach at the entrance of Huntington Beach pier. “Find Jesus and you will be saved.” Or, what followers of ISKCON used to do at various airports in the 1970s when chanting about the greatness of Lord Krishna, as they handed out free copies of Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabupada's version of the Bhagavad Gita. Nice and sweet. But persuasive? Not to me.
I am all for inquiring into the depths of one's own consciousness. I do it myself daily. I love meditation. I love visiting India and meeting with spiritual personages. I love reading spiritual books by such luminaries as Ramana Maharshi, Baba Faqir Chand, Sawan Singh, and a host of others. But I don't for a nano-second believe that I have somehow discovered the “truth” or that my way is the highway to absolute realization. No, it is just a voyage and where it will lead I leave to the sagacity of the multiverse at large to determine.
Brad seems to take umbrage at my critical stance to the over-hype of gurus, particularly Adi Da, who was once the subject of a little book I wrote with Professor Scott Lowe (University of Wisconsin) entitled: DA: The Strange Case of Franklin Jones. But he once again overstates his case when he alleges that I “tend to uniformly dismiss” all such teachers. To the contrary, I have written extensively on how some of these gurus are quite insightful and have championed their cause in several books which the MSAC Philosophy Group was proud to publish, including mostly recently three new titles, To Evaporate in the Universe: The Autobiography of Professor Bhagat Ram Kamal; The Enlightened Successor, and The Soldier Sage of Beas. As anyone who knows me can attest, I am particularly fond of the words of Ramana Maharshi and Faqir Chand, though even here I don't agree with everything they said or did.
No, I think we need lots of discriminating intelligence when appraising these spiritual masters and I see no need to over eulogize their accomplishments. In this regard, I think the buyer should beware of gurus who often do more harm than good, as we recently saw with the downfall of Andrew Cohen.
For the next several pages in his essay, Brad Reynolds outlines his religious-spiritual beliefs and writes as if he somehow discovered something that Frank and I are too blind to see. I have no argument with Brad's personal belief system. I am glad it floats his boat. But, perhaps to his consternation, I find it to be more of the same: theological sloganeering.
Later in the same essay, however, Brad says something that needs unpacking,
“Yet, by admitting their preference for a philosophy of “unknowing,” Lane-Visser claim it's best to be inquisitive in a constant and endless search for knowledge. Thus, they NEVER claim they know it ALL, like mystics tend to do, since for them there is no final knowledge… especially about God (or matters of ultimate importance).”
Yes, I certainly don't claim to know it all. Geez, I know very very little in the ultimate scheme of things. There is much about my own boat's engine that I don't understand. There is much about Donald Trump that baffles my mind. And, according to certain studies in psychology, I can only hold four to seven thoughts at a single time. So, given my limited cranial capacity I often feel like a cow mooing at the moon. But many mystics also say the same thing. They don't perceive God as “known” in his/her/it entirety, but rather as an infinite expanse completely beyond comprehension. Nicholas of Cusa sums it up beautifully when he speaks of how infinity cannot be encompassed by a finite creature. A drop may be part and parcel of the ocean, but even as it blends into that sea, it is an expanse beyond its containment.
Yet, Reynolds proceeds and then claims,
“Apparently, the truth of Spirit-in-action eludes them since they do not first recognize the reality of Spirit, other than as some idea someone uses to tinker with science. They prefer we accept their claims there is no God (or ultimate purpose to Reality) nor is there any Spirit (or Eros) creating and “driving” everything forward to realizing God Itself as our Ultimate Condition.”
Well, first I have never said there is no God, so Brad yet again is making up things to drive along his argument. I often tell my students that I am too stupid to be an atheist, since it would presuppose I know what is absent when I don't. Second, I am not a priori against a theory that counters Darwinian evolution. I think it is perfectly fine to propose an intelligent designer to the universe, but here is the caveat: it should be evidentially convincing. I don't find Wilber's or White's or Behe's theories on the origin and the development of the cosmos persuasive and have written extensively about why I balk at their conjectures. Provide the necessary evidence, the necessary protocols, the necessary predictive power, and I think even a Richard Dawkins would change his mind since it is the explanatory range of Darwin's argument that holds sway, not some appeal to a dead authority.
Yes, Wilber can believe in his Eros driven cosmology. But that doesn't make it so because he quotes this or that ancient philosopher or philosophy. It is just another theology dressed up on pseudo-scientific garb as Frank Visser has gone to great lengths to show. But, hey, if Wilber or whomever does come up with some overwhelming evidence, then I am quite open to it. So, should we all be.
By the way, Carl Sagan, that famous critic of all things paranormal, once wrote a very intriguing novel, Contact, which showed how science could be dead wrong about the lack of intelligent design in the universe. Sadly, the movie version of the book left out the great ending which was quite a nice shocker. I won't give it away since it is instructive on how human scientists can and do change their perspective given enough data.
As for John White and Ken Wilber, I think Brad Reynolds misreads me about why I spent the time analyzing their writings. I happen to like Ken a lot. He was very personable to me and I have long enjoyed his books. Yes, I have become more critical of his work in later years, but that in itself is not surprising since one learns more as one matures. The best compliment any writer can get is when a reader takes the time to engage in his or her argument and show where and when they disagree. Otherwise, how else can any discussion evolve over time? I don't see critics of my work in a harsh and dark light, but rather as providing me with wonderful opportunities to either clarify my views better or correct them where I made blunders. Quite honestly, I think Wilber should be extremely grateful to Frank Visser for spending so much time on his books and illustrating where he thinks he has gone off track. I know for myself that I write better and more consistently when a critic takes exception on what I write, forcing me to reconsider or alternate my modes of expression.
The fact remains that I happened to have enjoyed White's essay, even if I disagree with much of it. Such is the philosophical enterprise, such is education, and such is learning. Perhaps a famous quote from Omar Khayyam, as rendered into English by Edward Fitzgerald, is fitting here:
“Myself when young did eagerly frequent doctor and saint, and heard great argument about it and about: but evermore came out by the same door as in I went.”
Comments containing links will be moderated first, to avoid spam.