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".
Jeff Meyerhoff, M.A., L.S.W. is the author of "Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything" and other essays on integral theory. He majored in economics and sociology and has studied philosophy, psychology, politics and spirituality. He's been employed as a social worker for the last 18 years. His weekly radio show, "The Ruminator," is archived at www.wmfo.org. His blog is www.philosophyautobiography.blogspot.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
DISMISSAL VS. DEBATE
A Reply to Ken Wilber's Audio Rebuttal
It gives the impression that Wilber will just say anything that gives the appearance of justifying what he wants to be true.
Ken Wilber released an audio "conversation" - actually a monologue - with Sean Hargens on his website as a reply to my critique of his work which I entitled "Six Criticisms of Wilber's Integral Theory." His reply has at least two purposes. The ostensive purpose is a rebuttal to my criticisms. The unacknowledged, but main, purpose is to disparage and dismiss my critique so others don't take it seriously.
I will respond to what little intellectual rebuttal Wilber offers, but because that part of his monologue is subordinate to its main purpose, I will also describe and analyze how the main purpose is pursued. The cost to the integrity of the intellectual rebuttal by the larger objective of having his audience dismiss my work will be obvious.
The most substantive part of his reply goes beyond my critique and answers some criticisms he's received from others regarding his use of evolutionary biology. By closely examining his sources and others, I demonstrate the fundamental problems for his integral theory that a confrontation with Darwin and evolutionary biology presents.
THE DIRECT APPROACH TO DISMISSAL
Wilber characterizes my work as a "shrill" "hatchet job" and says that "I don't want to spend a lot of time on this because it is not a lot to spend time on." If a work is thought of as a "shrill" "hatchet job" it follows that it should be dismissed and ignored as a serious critique, accomplishing Wilber's main purpose. But this is a mischaracterization of my work as most any portion of it will demonstrate. Here's a representative sample:
a fundamental poststructural insight is that difference is essential to the way thinking works. While not generally referring to mysticism, what postmodern and poststructural relativism is showing us is that there is a difference rather than a unity at the bottom of reason, thought and language. While Wilber would probably agree that the advanced mystical stages do require leaving rational thought behind, he tries to create in the intellectual sphere a great Whole that preserves the parts; a kind of intellectual Oneness to match the supreme mystical insight into Oneness. His work can be seen as an attempt to unite thinking and mysticism and to create one big unity....
A glance through my "Six Criticisms," or Bald Ambition: A Critique of Wilber's Theory of Everything itself, should satisfy the reader that this reflects the general tone and content of my work. In addition, Andrew Smith, one of the two best students of, and commentators on, Wilber's work, wrote a positive review of my book, which he, a serious and rigorous scholar, would never do if it were a "shrill" "hatchet job." And Mark Edwards, the other best student and commentator on Wilber's work, took my critique seriously enough to assert a thoughtful and useful rebuttal, unlike Wilber. I was able to incorporate some of Edwards' criticisms into my reply to him and, in my mind, continue a fruitful discussion. Why would these two, who between them have published fifty separate pieces on Wilber's work and integral theory, even bother with my work if it was just a "shrill" "hatchet job" that was not worth spending time on?
Is there any sense of proportion here? In Wilber's black-and-white world, you're either with him or again him.
My critique even meets the criteria of "good" criticism described in "Ken Responds to Recent Critics" written by an anonymous author (who sounds suspiciously like Wilber himself). That author explains that there is "good" criticism and "not-so-good" criticism. Mark Edwards is an example of "good" criticism and my "string of shrill disagreements" or "hatchet job" is an example of "not-so-good" criticism. "Good" criticism requires that "(1) you state the material correctly before you agree or disagree with it, and (2) the criticism is at approximately the same altitude as the material being criticized." The first criterion is true of most of the chapters of my book, which usually begin with a neutral description of Wilber's theory. In his review of my book, Andrew Smith wrote:
Whatever Wilber might think of Bald Ambition, if he actually took the trouble to read it, he could not honestly argue, as he does so often with his other online critics, that Meyerhoff misrepresents his views. Meyerhoff has not simply pored over many of Wilber's twenty or so books, but unlike most other Wilber critics, has taken the trouble to check out many of Wilber's original sources.
I contend that the second criterion is problematic and advance arguments against it in my chapter on vision-logic.
The contradictions increase when we recall that Mark Edwards - our "good" critic - was ignored for six years before being chastised by Wilber as recently as March of 2004, for so completely misrepresenting Wilber's work that Wilber recommended that Edwards "not mention me at all" (italics original). Yet now, Edwards is a "good" critic who "state(s) the material correctly" and is a "superb theorist," while I meet 'none of the criteria of "good" criticism.' Is there any sense of proportion here? In Wilber's black-and-white world, you're either with him or again him.
Wilber implies that part of the reason he refers to my work in such a derogatory way is because it merely "strings negatives together." There is some truth in this claim; my work is predominantly about what is wrong with Wilber's theory. Presumably, Wilber has made the best defense of his work. But there is nothing wrong with focusing on what is wrong with someone's work. The important question is: Are the criticisms valid?, whether they make up fifty or ninety percent of the critique. I would love to see a well-argued critique of my work. I agree with Wilber - although I wouldn't phrase it as he does - when he writes, "I FUCKING LIVE FOR GREAT CRITICISM." So why is he complaining about my being too negative?
At the end of his audio piece, in reference to my work, Wilber says that "I'm really sorry I had to waste people's time with this." Yet if there is so little merit in my critique, why talk about it at all, just ignore it. The reason, I think, is to disparage it so that people will not want to read it, because if they did they'd find, at the very least, a stimulating challenge to Wilber's theory of everything.
A MAP OF (EXTREME) MISREADING
The most obvious indicator that Wilber's main purpose is derision and dismissal is when he falsely claims to read from my work. He says he's reading from my "Six Criticisms of Wilber's Integral Theory" when he says I wrote: "Wilber's claim to base himself on all accepted knowledge is contradicted by the fact that some of this knowledge is controversial [like] chaos theory, Sheldrake." A little later he sneers: "To say that I [Wilber] depend on chaos theory and Sheldrake is of course nonsense, it's ridiculous." And he later reads these words assigned to me: "Wilber's account in [A Brief] History of Everything has a bias towards evolution, growth and telos... What about accounts lacking these ingredients [of evolution, growth and telos] such as Daniel Dennett?" He and his sidekick Sean Hargens have a good laugh over these criticisms.
The central problem here is that he's not reading from my work. If it's intentional then he's despicable and if it's unintentional then he's grossly irresponsible. This audio was posted at least a month after my "Six Criticisms" appeared and yet neither he, nor Hargens, nor any of the other careful scholars at the Integral Institute had the conscientiousness to check whether what he was quoting were my words. A search of my "Six Criticisms" will quickly show that there is no mention of Dennett, Sheldrake or chaos theory. I've checked most of what I've written on Wilber and only mention Dennett once in a different context. I never say any of these things he attributes to me. Perhaps they are easier to mock and dismiss and so serve his larger purpose of avoiding my criticisms and convincing his listeners that my work is not worth consideration. The hypocrisy is heightened when we remember Wilber's extreme overreaction to Jim Chamberlain's minor mistake of wrongly asserting that Wilber inserted the word "clearly" into a quote. Here he says he's reading from my work but is attributing to me words I've never said and views I don't hold.
A similar tactic is used in another portion of the audio monologue. Wilber, reading from this mysterious text falsely attributed to me, contends that I claim that Wilber applies "developmental concepts to all fields of psychology." This too makes him chuckle at its simple-mindedness and again I never wrote this and it's not what I claim. What I claim, using the studies of Sheldon White, is that Wilber's view of developmental psychology is the minority position and, by using the work of other developmental psychologists, that Wilber's supposed consensus knowledge is debated by specialists in the field. I show in Bald Ambition that there is great debate over the very aspects of developmental psychology that Wilber says are its orienting generalizations. Wilber gives the impression of a consensus of opinion in developmental psychology that isn't there. I also note that there are prominent psychologists such as Michael Cole and Richard Shweder who don't use developmentalism and offer criticisms of the cross-cultural psychology that Wilber relies upon.
Wilber complains that "Meyerhoff won't give an alternative and say this is what development is really like." But my postmodern position is that development is not "really like" anything. That's the point! This comment reveals Wilber's essentialism: the non-postmodern idea that things are one way or another metaphysically, that they have a persisting essence. Supposedly he's transcended that belief with his new postmodern, post-metaphysical Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP), but he still makes simplistic statements like this. Mr. I've-integrated-all-the valid-points-of-postmodernism can't understand the simple distinction between saying, "development is a value-laden model we use to organize phenomena," and saying, "development is the process by which the real world works." We can certainly go about our business as if the latter were the case, but we should always be cognizant that that belief in development won't stand up to philosophical scrutiny. This was supposed to be what Wilber was arguing in his IMP, yet here he reverts to essentialism.
All of the human sciences, is driven by debate on both fundamental and specialized issues.
The last example of extreme misreading is when Wilber tries to defend himself against my claim that he uses sources selectively or "cherry-picks" them so as to give the reader the impression that a particular field of study backs what he says. Wilber has me contending that "developmental theory is a mess." That may just be his crude gloss on my position or it may be his reference to my citation of two developmental psychologists, Alison Gopnik and Andrew Meltzoff, who wrote that "In the wake of the collapse of Piagetian theory, cognitive development has been a bit of a mess." So Gopnik and Meltzoff's comment that "cognitive development has been a bit of a mess" becomes, in Wilber's hands, my comment that "developmental theory is a mess." The goal of dismissal wins out over the norms of debate. As I've stated several times now, I'm not contending that developmental theory or psychology is a mess; I'm saying that it, like all of the human sciences, is driven by debate on both fundamental and specialized issues. That's the character of the human sciences and it's why an integration like Wilber's does not work. Later in this piece we'll see that even in this audio reply, Wilber is selective in his sources. The evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, a source Wilber says puts Wilber's own idiosyncratic understanding of evolutionary biology "in accord with the most recent mainstream thought in biological evolution," explicitly defines his position against the mainstream of biological evolution.
CLAIMS WITHOUT REASONS
Wilber's supercilious dismissiveness is simply a way of avoiding exposure.
Wilber then uses a different method of dismissal when he claims that his new method of Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) negates his old method of orienting generalizations. He laughs at the very idea that I still attribute the method of orienting generalizations to him. (I responded to this same rebuttal in my earlier piece, "An Intellectual Tragedy".) Here he adds the point that with his IMP he now has at least eight fundamental methodologies. He appears to be saying that where the orienting generalization method was just one method, he now, with IMP, has eight. Yet weren't the orienting generalization's the "agreed-upon," consensus knowledge of the natural, social and spiritual sciences? That knowledge would be the result of many more than eight methodologies.
Wilber then goes on the offensive and says that "he [Meyerhoff] makes orienting generalizations left and right" and that "[Meyerhoff is] stuck in performative contradictions at almost every point he raises." Next, the listener expects some examples to defend these statements, but instead Wilber says nothing more and simply moves on to another topic. Wilber provides no examples or explanations of these statements and expects that his audience will just accept these wholly undefended assertions. What if I were to say that Wilber's Integral Methodological Pluralism is fundamentally flawed? Would the reader simply accept this, or would there be an expectation of a defense of this assertion with explanations and evidence? Wilber acts as if his making the assertions is enough. But this would only be acceptable to the faithful, Wilber's target audience. The charges alone serve the purpose of dismissal, while disserving the demands of debate.
Later in the audio, Wilber responds to my criticism of his view that there is a documented, cross-cultural core of mystical experience across diverse traditions. I've noted and cited sources showing that this "common core-" or perennial philosophy-view is a minority position in academy, in contrast to his contention that it is well-established. Wilber's response to my criticism is: "that can rather be dismissed." But he cites no sources. His supercilious dismissiveness is simply a way of avoiding exposure.
Finally, in response to the extensive discussions and many papers regarding the problems and inconsistencies with his formulation of holons and quadrants that I cite from integralworld.net, Wilber declares that "there are no inconsistencies...no inconsistencies whatsoever" and then quickly spouts a few, short sentences explaining the types of holons and their relationship to the quadrants. He then tells these would-be critics that if "you take a little bit of good will to actually follow the definitions instead of doing a hatchet job you won't have trouble understanding simple little sentences like that." His ire is directed at me, but most of my criticisms of Wilber's holarchy came from Andrew Smith. Smith's work is informed, methodical and fair-minded. He continues his examination of the details of Wilber's use of holons and quadrants and has pointed out both what works and what doesn't in Wilber's latest theory at integralworld.net. It certainly is a mystery why an intelligent and careful scholar like Smith can't understand Wilber's "simple little sentences," or why he keeps concocting imaginary inconsistencies.
Two other attempts at discrediting my critique are similar to the ones already mentioned but differ in that they reveal the narrowness of Wilber's all-embracing thought. Wilber laughs at me for allegedly believing that "there's nothing about humans that is better than worms" because "in 'green' [my lower level of consciousness] they want to say there is no development." In my reply to Wilber's ranting blog entry - "What We Are, That We See" - I explained why it's fine to speak of development as long as we keep in mind it's grounds and limitations, so I won't argue that again. Here, it's interesting to notice Wilber's assumptions. He assumes that because I - who according to him occupies a lower level of development - supposedly deny development, I must believe "there's nothing about humans that is better than worms." Yet most people make valued distinctions between humans and worms all the time without any notion of development. For example, according to the non-developmental criterion of degree of beneficial effect on the earth and other creatures, worms are superior to humans. Humans have had a catastrophic effect on larger mammals, extinct and soon-to-be extinct species and the eco-system in general; while worms are squirming their hearts out to keep our ecology humming. Value-judgments don't require developmental models.
In academia, moral philosophers make judgments and distinctions between living things all the time without citing a developmental model. One can simply start with something one values - such as likeness to our species, or the capacity for compassion, or language-use, or rationality - and construct a value system. This is pretty obvious, yet for Wilber, his opponents' alleged denial of development means they can't make any value judgments whatsoever; a surprising narrowness of vision for an integral theorist who is purported to be able to transcend and include all views.
Yet there are other ways to conceptualize the Kosmos.
In another example, Wilber again reads from a work he attributes to me, but which here, at least, says something I believe: "[Wilber's work] has a bias towards evolution, growth and telos. [Then Wilber comments] 'Well my account of evolution has a bias towards evolution... [laughs]...well, that's what we're talking about.'" Wilber thinks it's funny that I should point out that he has a "bias towards evolution," as if there was no other way to conceptualize the Kosmos. Yet there are other ways to conceptualize the Kosmos. As overall Kosmic entropy increases the universe can be seen as a dissipating giant heading towards a cold death; or the Kosmos can be envisioned as a great dance going nowhere for no purpose other than the dance itself; or the Kosmos can be seen as really just an eternal present in which everything - time, space and evolution - all keep arising and passing away. For Wilber, my pointing out that seeing everything in terms of evolution is a choice seems ludicrous because he's so immersed in that way of looking at everything that there seems to be no other option. For him, it's not a bias or a choice but simply reality. The self-proclaimed aperspectivalist is that deeply mired in his perspective. Like his bias in the previous example, his bias towards evolution blinds him to other ways in which people might conceptualize things.
DEVELOPMENT + COMPLEXITY = ALTITUDE
Then, surprisingly, amidst all these attempts to discredit me by attributing to me crude arguments and things I never wrote, is a good attempt at a justification for his notion of altitude. Wilber doesn't make his argument directly, but by piecing together what he says in this audio rebuttal and what he wrote in his blog entry, "What We Are, That We See," I have discerned a terse argument for the concept of altitude. While he doesn't define it explicitly, altitude seems to mean that there is a developmental hierarchy with higher stages that are more advanced than lower stages according to the criterion of greater complexity. Greater complexity is defined as wider and deeper transcendence and inclusion of more emergent properties that will inevitably lead to the stage of vision-logic or, as it's termed in academia, the postformal stage.
Here Wilber provides two crucial pieces of information essential to the claim he made in "What We Are, That We See" that he can demonstrate the existence of higher or 2nd tier altitude with any developmental model provided. First, unlike what he said in the blog entry, not any developmental model will do; it has to be "a good model." That leaves out models that have bad endpoints, like the fascist and racist ones I described in my first rebuttal. Second, the reason that any good developmental model will do is that any developmental model will be defined by an increase in complexity, so even a model I choose which does not have a stage beyond Wilber's 1st tier or Piaget's formal stage of development, will inevitability, because of the logic of development, lead to vision-logic, the 2nd tier or the postformal stage.
Here's the reasoning Wilber can use: There's a natural or persistent tendency towards development. This development is characterized by an increase in complexity "and most developmentalists would agree that there is increase in degrees of complexity." Complexity means that new, emergent properties arise at a certain point in the developmental process and are integrated into the whole with these new properties transcending and including the previous stages of development. If anyone names a developmental model, even if it does not include the higher stages that Wilber asserts exist, such as vision-logic, the centauric, the 2nd tier or the postformal stage, then the process their model describes will, because of this necessary developmental unfolding of increasing complexity, inevitably result in higher stages on any line of development one's model describes. And, unlike his defense of the developmental models of Piaget, Kohlberg and others, which I've shown to not be the consensus of developmental psychology or to be seriously questioned in the literature, all Wilber has to do is assert the plausible proposition that most developmental psychologists believe that what development means is that there is an increase in complexity as development unfolds. That each later stage adds something to a new whole and integrates or includes what's come before. He may now have the consensus in the field of academic developmental psychology he falsely claimed he had in SES and Integral Psychology.
So that's the argument he could make; is it correct? Perhaps he's wrong that "most developmentalists would agree that there is increase in degrees of complexity." Yet this sounded right to me and when I checked the recently published, Handbook of Child Psychology, I found that it confirms Wilber's generalization of developmental psychologists.
So, is it the case that because increased complexity is understood by a majority of developmental psychologists to be an ever increasing outcome of development, Wilber will eventually get the altitude he needs, because increases in complexity will inexorably result in higher stages of development?
There are a few problems with this reasoning. First, some developmental models that Wilber employs do not demonstrate a transcend-and-include quality, although it could be argued that higher stages are more complex. Andrew Smith has pointed out that Kohlberg's model of moral development does not have a transcend-and-include quality. When we've achieved a higher moral stage, we're not continually enacting lower moral stages because that would be less moral given our higher moral attainment. It's different from Piaget's primary, sensori-motor stage which, once we've mastered it, is used half-consciously as we perform higher cognitive functions. Another example of this is the Spiral Dynamic model which Wilber refers to most when discussing altitude. For all the vMemes up to the 2nd tier there is no transcend-and-include presumed by Wilber (although as Chris Cowan describes Spiral Dynamics there is). In fact, it's a central problem and defining characteristic of all the 1st tier vMemes, according to Wilber, that they don't transcend and include; that's why Wilber's postulated 2nd tier integration is necessary.
The distinction here between more complex and transcend-and-include is subtle. Something can be more complex than something else and even follow it or grow out of it and not transcend and include all that came before. Wilber's developmental model is based on the "embrace" of all lower stages which means that the highest stage is superior because it includes all the others. It has all the emergent properties plus one. Similarly, Wilber thinks his theory of everything is superior because it is most inclusive. Compare this notion of transcend-and-include with the idea of mere increased complexity. In Wilber's version of Spiral Dynamics the Orange/Scientific level is more complex than the Blue/Fundamentalist level, but all of the levels below the 2nd tier do not transcend and include. He's continually berating the Green/Perspectival level for not integrating or embracing the other levels, but contradictorily accepting all levels as equal and implicitly judging itself superior. Green is not continually using previous levels in its functioning as in the Piagetian model where we've integrated the primary, sensori-motor level and proficiently use that mastery to function in cognitively higher ways in everyday life. The Orange level rejects and is at odds with the Blue level, even though Wilber might contend that one cannot achieve Orange without going through Blue; which also is debatable.
Second, why should we assume that any developmental line will develop indefinitely? All of them end at some point. In fact, my point has been that any developmental line is defined and constructed in terms of the endpoint chosen. Take Wilber's example of the acorn developing into an oak. Does it inevitably develop past a full-grown oak and become an uber-oak? No, it becomes a full-grown oak and then eventually dies. So why should our cognitive line of development necessarily go beyond the Piagetian formal stage? Of course, with more research, the postformal or vision-logic stage which Wilber wants to validate could be demonstrated to exist, but it isn't a necessary product of cognitive development. Additionally, dominant views in contemporary Western and ancient Eastern philosophy have shown that Reason - one of the defining characteristics of cognition - has its limits.
When some of the academic literature Wilber makes use of is examined, we find in his own sources what is termed "Nonhierarchical Theories of Adult Growth" According to the editors of the collection entitled Higher Stages of Human Development,
Levinson; Dittmann-Kohli and Baltes; and Gardner, Phelps, and Wolf appear to agree with Piaget that logico-mathematical development in childhood proceeds through hierarchical stages. Although they believe that genuine development also can occur in adulthood, they suggest that it is non-logico-mathematical and non-hierarchical in nature.
Wilber continues to cite Howard Gardner's work (of Gardner, Phelps, and Wolf above) to validate his model of transcend-and-include development. Yet there is a much more complicated and contentious reality in developmental psychology then Wilber will allow.
A recent conceptualization in developmental psychology is the idea that we become simpler, not more complex, through adult development. Michael Levenson et al. argue for "a model of the development of wisdom in adulthood, that incorporates the notion of development through loss." They cite a leading developmental psychologist, Paul Baltes, who argues for a view of wisdom as the "loss of illusion." One suggestive example of this increasing simplicity, cited by Levenson et al., can be found in art: "Rather than increasing complexity, development is seen as simplifying and clarifying. For example, contrast the complexity of rococo art with the simplicity of Zen paintings."
Levenson et al.'s approach is informed by Eastern philosophy, specifically Buddhism. Interestingly for Wilber, the idea that development is constituted by a loss or stripping away is defended in the philosophy of mysticism by the very scholars who Wilber relies upon to argue against the postmodern constructivists in academia who claim that there is no common core of mystical insight among the diverse traditions of mysticism. In his introduction to a collection of essays countering the constructivist approach to mystical experience, Robert Forman outlines a "forgetting model" of mystical development in which the conditioning effects of culture, language and personal experience are eroded in order to realize an ineffable pure consciousness. In a more recent work, also arguing against constructivism, Paul Marshall describes a "deconditioning mysticism" similar to Forman's.
One of the few areas in which Wilber has in-depth knowledge is mysticism and I can imagine ways to incorporate this simplicity model into a complexity model of development, primarily because the words "simplicity" and "complexity" have so many different meanings, but at the very least, there is a debate here about whether mysticism fits the transcend-and-include model.
A different objection to the focus on altitude or developmental advance arises when we ask about obvious, common forms of devolution or what would be called developmental regression if the (so-called) pattern of regression wasn't arguably itself a commonly seen developmental pattern. Where's the developmental model that describes the process by which a typically sensitive, aware, playful, imagination-filled, loving, emotionally connected, curious child becomes a socially inhibited, dreams-forgoing, bored, politically apathetic, hyper-consuming, vocationally narrow, live-for-vacation-and-the-weekend, six-hours-of-TV-watching, in debt, adult American who just needs to lose that last ten (or fifty) lbs. and has settled for an unfulfilling life? That developmental model would more accurately describe what actually happens to the majority of people in contemporary America and be very useful to understand.
In general, development towards ever-increasing complexity is just one tendency observed in organisms over time. Other organisms become simpler and others are static. Wilber's is an idealized vision of development which describes some kinds of development and can be used by some as a yardstick to improve themselves according its particular ideal.
Wilber's central metaphor is evolution, yet there is surprisingly little engagement with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
The latter half of Wilber's audio is only tangentially related to my critique and is Wilber's attempt to come to terms with evolutionary biology; the results create fundamental problems for his theory of which he's not aware. Since I seriously began reading Wilber's works in 2000, I frequently wondered how he would respond to contemporary evolutionary biology and the Neo-Darwinian consensus. Wilber's central metaphor is evolution, yet there is surprisingly little engagement with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, the most well-known and successful theory of evolution. In this audio, Wilber speaks on the subject and claims that the gaps in the Neo-Darwinian explanation of life, and an alleged hidden contentiousness in evolutionary biology, lend validation to his massive evolutionary synthesis. But in bringing up evolutionary biology the central gap in Wilber's reasoning and the pervasive anthropocentric bias in his model is revealed.
Wilber uses two texts to defend his understanding of evolutionary biology: What Evolution Is by the venerable Ernst Mayr and Richard Lewontin's The Triple Helix. Yet a close reading of the two texts, in addition to others, reveals the extent to which Wilber's integral theory struggles against the full weight of the Darwinian revolution in Western thought.
SURVIVABILITY OR INCREASED COMPLEXITY
To validate the fundamental structuring tenet of his system - that there is progress in evolution - Wilber quotes Mayr saying: "What cannot be denied, however, is that in every generation of the evolutionary process, a surviving individual is on the average better adapted than the average of the nonsurvivors. To that extent, evolution clearly is progressive" and then Wilber adds abruptly, "End of that topic."
Mayr says a lot more about evolutionary progress, but even if we don't examine all that Mayr says on the issue, this quote does not support Wilber's notion of progress. For Wilber, progress is not determined, as it is for Mayr, by better survivability; it is determined by increased complexity defined as greater transcendence and inclusion. Just a glace at Wilber's four-quadrant, AQAL model confirms this. It is constructed using concentric circles radiating out from an originary point with each larger encompassing circle indicating a higher stage of development; each stage transcending and including the previous stage. Mayr says (in the very paragraph from which Wilber took the above quote), "among the higher organisms there are lineages...that show many retrogressive and simplifying trends." This means that they found their survival by becoming less, not more, complex. As Stephen J. Gould puts it: "Local adaptation may as well lead to anatomical simplification as to greater complexity."
The entire AQAL model depicts the evolution of the Kosmos as if increasing complexity was its purpose. Yet Mayr observes:
But among the prokaryotes there is no indication of ever increasing complexity in the long period of their existence. Nor does one find any evidence for such a trend among the eukaryotes. To be sure, multicellular organisms are, on the whole, more complex than the protists [unicellular eukaryotes], but at the same time numerous evolutionary lineages are found among both plants and animals that evolved from complexity to greater simplicity....Wherever we look, we find simplifying trends as well as trends toward greater complexity....there is no justification in considering greater complexity to be an indication of evolutionary progress. (italics added)
In another section, Mayr describes the "ideologies opposed to Darwinism" and the ideas Darwin introduced to "refute these erroneous ideas," one of the "ideologies opposed to Darwinism" is central to Wilber's integral theory: finalism. Mayr writes,
Those who adopted finalism assumed that evolution moved necessarily from lower to higher, from primitive to advanced, from simple to complex, from imperfect to perfect.
Just as Wilber believes, in opposition to Darwinism.
Why is greater complexity - defined as greater transcendence and inclusion - better? Wilber shouldn't answer - as he does once in SES and as he, surprisingly, does in this audio - that it is survivability that is the goal. For if survivability is the goal - as in the standard Darwinian story - then increased complexity is not necessarily what should be valued. Humans have had great success so far - at an enormous cost to other species - but their history is very short and they have already come very close to nuclear self-extermination - actually causing the extinction of their species and many others. If survivability is the criterion, then humans are a bad bet for survival. As Stephen J. Gould colorfully put it, "We might do ourselves in by nuclear holocaust, but prokaryotes will probably hang tough until the sun explodes,"
Yet it may just seem obvious that life began with the simplest of organisms and now there is a diverse array of highly complex species, suggesting that there is an overall trend towards greater complexity, with humans, and their exclusive use of language, large brains and complicated social lives, appearing to be the most complicated beings.
Stephen J. Gould's Full House is a sustained examination of the topic of progress in evolution and he argues against this common-sense view. He observes that since life starts with simplicity, any change will generate some complexity (since life cannot evolve to be simpler then the simplest), but that increasing complexity is not a necessary or even common evolutionary occurrence. Many biological organisms find their adaptive success in becoming simpler after a more complex beginning. Regarding the evidence for the "macroevolutionary reformulation of life's history," Gould states that the "initial research has found no departure from the random model, and no overall preference for increase in complexity in studies that tabulate all events of speciation."
When we look at the evolution of all species, increased complexity is one trend, but not the major one. Gould explains that
Claims for progress represent a quintessential example of conventional thinking about trends as entities on the move. From life's infinite variety, we extract some "essential" measure like "average complexity" or "most complex creature" - and we then trace the supposed increase of this entity through time....We label this trend to increase as "progress" - and we are locked into the view that such progress must be the defining thrust of the entire evolutionary process.
His conclusion is that:
life....shows no general thrust to improvement, but just adds an occasional exemplar of complexity in the only region of available anatomical space, while maintaining, for more than 3 billion years, an unvarying bacterial mode...life has always been, and will probably always remain until the sun explodes, in the Age of Bacteria.
One of the foremost specialists on the topic of progress in evolution, whose work Gould uses extensively in his book, Professor Dan McShea, is less emphatic in his views than Gould, but concludes similarly that
historically the principal candidates for evolutionary progress have been features that we often do value, in some senses, at least in ourselves: intelligence, adaptability, ability to modify and control the environment, efficiency, and so on....but no largest-scale trend has yet been demonstrated in any of these...
Finally, in Bald Ambition, I cite Michael Ruse, one of the foremost historians of biology. In his sober and thorough study, subtitled The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology, he concludes that "More recent work, for instance on measures of complexity, simply shows . . . that there is just no good reason to think that complexity is a necessarily ever-increasing product of the evolutionary process." And, more generally, he states that "My key point is that progress is not in evolutionary thinking today because of pure epistemic factors." In other words, the lack of an epistemic criterion for progress is why the idea of progress does not play a role in evolutionary biology.
This is not say that further studies in evolutionary biology, such as McShea's, might not find some way to measure complexity and then find larger trends. Although Mayr is conclusive in his statements denying increased complexity as an evolutionary imperative, he does note that "There is great dissension on this question because the word "progress" has so many different meanings."
So Wilber cannot use survivability as his criterion of progress because then he will have no justification for structuring his entire integral hierarchy around increased complexity. His whole model of universal movement from the Big Bang to the present moment as one of directed evolution towards increased complexity is seriously skewed towards a relatively minor natural phenomenon as Mayr, Gould, McShea and Ruse show. Gould refers to Freud's observation that "all major revolutions in the history of science have as their common theme, amidst such diversity, the successive dethronement of human arrogance from one pillar after another of our previous cosmic assurance." The Copernican, Galilian, Newtonian, Darwinian and Freudian revolutions dislodged humankind from an imagined favored place in the cosmos. Gould attributes this common desire to misread evolution as one of progress through increased complexity culminating in humans to "human arrogance," a trait with which Wilber is quite familiar.
If Wilber wants to embrace survivability as the criterion of evolutionary advance he can enter the mainstream of biology, but the cost will be the abandonment of his AQAL model.
Wilber's model is structured around the idea of an immanent tendency in the Kosmos to an overall increase in complexity. He says that "evolution is self-organization through a self-transcending drive. Call it Eros." This is part of the belief that was referred to earlier as finalism. Mayr writes that
Another non-Darwinian ideology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was finalism....Those who adopted finalism....postulated the existence of some built-in force...Darwin emphatically rejected such obscure forces.
Those who adopt teleological thinking will argue that progress is due to a built-in drive or striving toward perfection. Darwin rejected such a causation and so do modern Darwinians, and indeed no genetic mechanism was ever found that would control such a drive.
Darwinian progress is never teleological.
Mayr concludes that "there is no evidence whatsoever to support any belief in cosmic teleology;" even the non-metaphysical, non-pre-given kind that Wilber now believes in.
Of course it's perfectly legitimate to incorporate the idea of an all-pervading Eros as part of a poetic metaphysics, but the idea won't play a role in evolutionary biology as it is now defined. And if one is envisioning the world in terms of Eros, why not also add the idea of Thanatos, as Freud did, to capture the reality of destruction, decline and death? Regarding the universe as a whole, the pattern can more accurately be described as one of increased entropy or disorder rather than ectropy (negentropy) or increased order.
EYES AND WINGS
If he bothered to read his mainstream authority on evolutionary biology, Wilber's puzzlement concerning the evolution of the eye would be resolved.
Wilber believes that the evolution of eyes and wings are anomalies that throw doubt upon the Neo-Darwinian consensus. Yet his authority, Ernst Mayr, has no problem with those examples. Regarding the evolution of the eyeball, Mayr provides an illuminating description and graphics illustrating how it occurs. As it turns out, like Wilber, "Darwin was puzzled by how such a perfect organ could have evolved gradually." But unlike Darwin, Wilber lives in the 21st century rather than the 19th. If he bothered to read his mainstream authority on evolutionary biology, Wilber's puzzlement concerning the evolution of the eye would be resolved. Mayr, citing his own research, tells the story of how
Photosensitive, eyelike organs have developed in the animal series independently at least 40 times, and all the steps from a light-sensitive spot to the elaborate eyes of vertebrates, cephalopods, and insects are still found in living species of various taxa....They include intermediate stages and refute the claim that the gradual evolution of a complex eye is unthinkable (Salvini-Plawen and Mayr 1977)
Furthermore, we learn that
The origin of eyes in 40 branches of the evolutionary tree was always considered to be an independent convergent development. Molecular biology has now shown that this is not entirely correct. A regulatory master gene (called Pax 6) has recently been discovered that seems to control the development of eyes in the most diverse branches of the tree."
Regarding wings we learn from Mayr that:
Flying was invented by vertebrates three different times, but the wing of each flying taxon - birds, pterosaurs, and bats - is different. Even more different are the wings of different kinds of insects, for instance, dragonflies, butterflies, and beetles, although all of them seem to be derived from a single ancestral flying type.
In all of Mayr's references to birds there's no mention of any difficulty in explaining the evolution of the wing.
Richard Lewontin, who Wilber uses to validate his belief that contemporary evolutionary theory cannot account for the creation of wings and eyeballs, doesn't discuss the creation of the bird wing, as far as I can tell, but he does describe the genetic origin of the development of wings in Drosophila or fruit flies. "A drastic mutation of one of the homeobox genes in Drosophila certainly reveals that the reading of this gene plays a central role in the development of wings in the insect."
LEWONTIN VS. WILBER
Lewontin's partial contradiction of Wilber's view on the evolution of wings is part of a larger discussion in which Lewontin is arguing a view which Wilber rightly attributes to him. This is the view that a purely genetic explanation for variation does not explain enough. Lewontin argues that we must understand the crucial role that both the organism and the environment (as well as the genes) play in evolution. Yet Wilber uses this view in two mistaken ways: one, when he contends that this means that Neo-Darwinism cannot account for variation and two, when he says that in adopting Lewontin's view he's "in accord with the most recent mainstream thought in biological evolution." When Lewontin contends that genes do not explain the whole evolutionary story he's not saying, as Wilber states it, that "the story's over, they [the evolutionary biologists] can't account for this [i.e. variation]." Instead, Lewontin is offering an alternative naturalistic, Neo-Darwinian view which explains the causal interrelations between genes, organisms and environments in contrast to the dominant genetic developmentalism.
Towards that goal, Lewontin asserts the need for an expanded study of biological evolution that includes
genetic differences at many gene loci, each of small effect, and with interactions between gene and environment....We need to determine the norms of reaction and the role of developmental noise...A yet deeper analysis of the interaction between genes and environment requires an understanding of the development of phenotype [the organism] at the cellular and molecular level. There is no easier pathway."
Unless one can be satisfied with Wilber's ideas of "Eros" or the "self-transcending drive," but no real scientist would be.
Wilber is also wrong when he says that Lewontin's view represents "the most recent mainstream account." Lewontin explicitly positions his account as a corrective to "the reigning mode of explanation at present [which] is genetic"; "a view that dominates modern studies of development." There are many - Mayr and Richard Dawkins are two - who feel the "mainstream account" can explain all variation. Lewontin, in contrast to the mainstream, would use an alternative naturalistic account. Wilber cites no mainstream authority that shares his need for an innate, Eros-like force, nor of how eyes and wings occur.
Yet, amidst all these misrepresentations, it's refreshing to see Wilber make a valid point. He does correctly claim that Lewontin's view - that "the relations of genes, organisms, and environments are reciprocal relations in which all three elements are both causes and effects" - is an example of the tetra-enaction of the four aspects of the holon in each present moment. (More on this below.)
In sum, Wilber creates a contradictory stew.
In sum, Wilber creates a contradictory stew. He uses Lewontin to validate his claim that mainstream evolutionary theory can't explain the origin of complex attributes, while claiming that Lewontin's view is the mainstream view. Then, he again uses Lewontin's explanation of the origin of complex attributes as an example and confirmation of the tetra-enaction he describes in his latest theory, while at the same time suggesting that there is something missing in the naturalistic explanation of complex attributes which appears to require the postulation of an immanent force which Lewontin's naturalistic explanation does not need to postulate. He then asserts that his use of Lewontin contradicts my claim that he uses selective or minority views and not mainstream sources, despite Lewontin's explicit statements that he's opposing the "reigning" account. It gives the impression that Wilber will just say anything that gives the appearance of justifying what he wants to be true.
LEWONTIN AS WILBER CRITIC
And yet, amazingly, this is just the beginning of the problems that Lewontin causes Wilber's theory. Wilber effusively lauds Lewontin and The Triple Helix (and rightly so), yet a curious aspect of Lewontin's book is that its first forty pages can be viewed as a cogent critique of a number of Wilber's positions which, when examined closely, yield insight into the problematic lynchpin of Wilber's entire system.
Development as a metaphor
Lewontin begins The Triple Helix by cautioning that in science "there is a great risk of confusing the metaphor with the thing of real interest." He explains that "the term development is a metaphor that carries with it a prior commitment to the nature of the process." In other words, if you choose to see things in terms of development then you are making a commitment to a particular way of viewing things prior to looking at what things are actually like. I have made this point about developmental psychology and Lewontin is now saying it is true for developmental biology too.
What are these "prior commitment[s] to the nature of the process" which the "metaphor" of development entails, and what are its implications for Wilber's developmental model?
Developmental Biology vs. Evolutionary Biology
The first forty pages of The Triple Helix are structured, in part, around an invidious comparison Lewontin draws between developmental biology and evolutionary biology. According to Lewontin, developmental biology is "the reigning mode of explanation at present [which] is genetic" and is "a view that dominates modern studies of development." This view, common in academic biology and popular culture, is that our genes are the main determiners of our traits and behaviors. Lewontin frames his book as a counter to this dominant view. In contrast, Lewontin defends what he terms evolutionary biology; it does not focus so exclusively on how genes determine traits and behaviors, but understands the other factors - the organism and the environment - which cause biological variation.
The tenets of development which Lewontin criticizes are similar to the developmental tenets that Wilber believes in. (Lewontin even notes that the developmental approach in biology can be likened to the approach that "in cognitive and behavioral studies [is called] developmental psychology," an approach crucial to Wilber's theory). But care is needed here because Wilber's latest version of his theory adds non-developmental elements to his earlier, more strongly developmental, theory. It's the developmental portions of Wilber's theory to which Lewontin's critique applies and it shows how problematic is Wilber attempt to integrate developmental and non-developmental aspects. Wilber's theory is not a crude developmentalism, but the developmental elements in Wilber's theory create a contradictory tension with the non-developmental elements.
The opposed developmental and non-developmental ideas can be called, respectively, determinism or karma on the one hand, and randomness or unbridled creativity on the other. They can be thought of as residing on a spectrum that stretches from one pole which marks complete determinism to an opposite pole which marks complete randomness. Complete determinism envisions a world that is causally determined in its entirety; for example, the older notion of the Newtonian, clockwork universe. Given enough information and such a universe, we can predict what things will be like at any future time for any starting conditions. In contrast, complete randomness means that there is no patterning whatsoever; anything could happen next, like a random number generator used for lotteries. In Lewontin's conception, developmental and evolutionary biology fall at different points on this spectrum, with developmentalism leaning towards determinism and evolutionism leaning towards randomness. Developmental genetics focuses more on how the genes determine outcomes, while Lewontin's evolutionary approach focuses on variations and differences of outcome depending upon the contingent interactions of genes, organisms and environments.
Implications for Wilber's theory
In his most recent formulation of his theory - Integral Methodological Pluralism - Wilber has made a greater effort to integrate postmodern concepts which are closer to the random pole of the determinism-randomness spectrum. In doing so, he is emphasizing the creativity of the present moment to "tetra-enact" different possible individual and social arrangements. The four aspects of the holon - the interior, exterior, individual and social - are now thought to tetra-enact or "co-create" or "co-construct" each other in each new arising moment. Each new moment offers new possibilities at the "frothy edge" of creativity. This perspective presents creation as undetermined and un-essentialistic, i.e. what's created does not have a predetermined essence. It follows Lewontin's emphasis on the multiple causal factors in the creation and survivability of the organism and leads to "different developmental outcomes in different environments;" so variation or variability is central.
In contrast to this, however, is Wilber's older emphasis on universal, and so cross-cultural, developmental patterns of individual and social development; what Lewontin describes as "developmental processes that appear to be common to all organisms." Wilber uses the term habits to describe the past patterns that are "laid down" and are 'relatively set and "predetermined."'
Wilber's terms for what I'm calling determinism and randomness are karma and creativity, respectively. Wilber has made a sincere effort in the latest formulation of his theory to incorporate these disparate elements. But the new emphasis on the undetermined, constructivist, creative, tetra-enactment of new possibilities in the present moment has a problematic relationship to his traditional emphasis on the more determined, enduring, universal patterns of development.
Lewontin, development and Wilber
Lewontin observes that in the developmental metaphor
the life history pattern is seen as a regular sequence of stages through which the developing system passes, the successful completion of one stage being the signal and condition for passing on to the next stage. Difference in pattern between species and individuals are then thought of as the result of adding new stages or of 'arrested development' in an earlier stage.
This describes the developmental metaphor that Wilber adopts to construct his AQAL model. Thinking in these terms implies certain assumptions about how the developmental process unfolds. Lewontin identifies the intellectual commitments that are implied by this developmental model:
The concentration on developmental processes that appear to be common to all organisms results in a concentration on these causal elements which are also common. But such common elements must be internal to the organism, part of its fixed essence, rather than coming from the accidental and variable forces of the external milieu.
In other words, in order to maintain the identity of a typical organism's characteristic unfolding, the environment or "milieu" in which the unfolding occurs needs to be held somewhat constant. If the environment is understood to vary, as they do to varying degrees in different environments, cultures and locations, and if these environments affect the organism's developmental unfolding, then we'd see varied unfolding and different developments depending on the organism-in-relation-to-the-environment. This was one of the standard critiques of Piaget's model to which he tried to respond.
Lewontin writes that "For developmental biologists....What is at the center of interest is the set of mechanisms that are common to all individuals and preferably to all species." While Wilber can't be described as looking for the "mechanisms" of Kosmic unfolding, his twenty tenets are his attempt to describe the basic developmental rules and structures of Kosmic evolution. In this audio "conversation," the emphasized "inner program" is Wilber's belief in a "self-transcending drive" or "Eros" inherent in all holons.
Deeper implications for Wilber's theory
Intelligent Design and Wilber's Eros are two different examples of skyhooks.
In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett makes an invidious comparison between "skyhooks" and "cranes." Skyhooks are ideas posited to explain a perplexing natural occurrence when no ordinary or naturalistic explanation can be found. Intelligent Design and Wilber's Eros are two different examples of skyhooks. The ideas appear to descend from on high and save the day as in the use of a deus ex machina or a "god from the machine" which in ancient Greek drama was actually lowered from wires above the stage (skyhooks) to intervene and solve a crisis. In contrast, cranes are planted on the earth and do their heavy lifting from there; they don't descend from up high.
Why does Wilber cling to non-naturalistic skyhooks like the "self-transcending drive" and "Eros" when his own experts rely solely on naturalistic explanations? Why does Wilber fixate on purported gaps in the naturalistic explanation of eyes and wings and tout Lewontin's critique of developmental biology as opening the door to a non-naturalistic explanation of variation? If he believes there are gaps, why doesn't he just say, as scientists have always done, that there are things we don't know and with further study we may discover satisfying naturalistic answers?
In trying to understand this, I recalled the very first page of Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality where he contrasts his view, that there is a meaning and purpose to the Kosmos, to the reigning view that he names the "philosophy of oops." The philosophy of oops is the belief that there is no ultimate explanation for why things exist, where they are going, nor for what reason they are here, as in the standard, naturalistic, Neo-Darwinian account of evolution. Wilber needs to forestall an explanation of variation in purely naturalistic terms because if nature is simply playing out one of its many possible outcomes, it leaves no room for a transcending purpose or destination and so threatens to confirm the philosophy of oops which Wilber said his whole Kosmic synthesis is designed to counter. If variation or difference and not identity is supreme; if nature isn't trying to do anything in its creation; if it is just a dance existing for it's own sake, then Wilber's whole directed, developmental, purposeful, hierarchical, model collapses. And ironically, there is - in the very Eastern spirituality which Wilber takes as his guide - a vision of the universe as a directionless dance, a journey without goal. And this understanding can be adapted to evolutionary biology. There is even an interpretation of the self-organized complexity that Wilber uses that sees the unfolding of all that is, not as driven towards or by a telos but as a dance. Brian Goodwin, who is one of the innovators of the new sciences of complexity, writes that
The "new" biology is biology in the form of an exact science of complex systems concerned with dynamics and emergent order. Then everything in biology changes. Instead of the metaphors of conflict, competition, selfish genes, climbing peaks in fitness landscapes, what you get is evolution as a dance. It has no goal. As Stephen Jay Gould says, it has no purpose, no progress, and no sense of direction. It's a dance through morphospace, the space of the forms of organisms.
Wilber can't have it both ways, he can either preserve his AQAL, evolutionary-developmental map with its universal stages of individual and social growth or he can integrate four (or now eight) growth (and decline?) aspects which will cause holons of even the same kind to change in a variety of ways. As Wilber emphasizes tetra-enactment, "the frothy edge," post-metaphysics and so anti-essentialism, his model will be pulled to describing diversity and difference, but as he moves in the opposite direction and emphasizes habits, what's been "laid down," the "time-tested methodologies" and the universal and cross-cultural developmental stages, he'll be drawn to emphasize unity and identity.
The needs of his theory compel him to maintain some inner identity or commonality among all entities in order to have some sort of uniformity in developmental unfolding. Otherwise, with nothing universally shared among entities he risks a view of a Kosmos of un-purposeful variation and diversity. As Lewontin puts it: "different developmental outcomes in different environments."
Towards the end of my reply to Wilber's ranting blog entry against critics, "An 'Intellectual Tragedy'" I listed the many ways that Wilber avoids dealing with strong criticisms of his integral theory. In this audio monologue, he uses a variety of techniques of dismissal to avoid debate. And just when you think he couldn't come up with any more techniques of avoidance, he surprises us again with his creativity. Following the release of this audio rebuttal to me, and as a reply to Jim Chamberlain's critique of his views on evolution, Wilber posted a statement saying that:
I've noticed that a favorite tactic at that site [i.e. integralworld.net] now is to quote sections from taped conversations at I-I. But we have a strict rule over there that these discussions are NOT to be taken as any discussant's actual or academic views, because as everybody knows, in conversations you don't always state your nuanced views. There can be hyperbole, over-generalization, simplification, and sometimes plain forgetting. So we are not allowed to quote from those conversations in any of our academic papers, because there is some sort of editorial responsibility on this. But at the Visser site, these conversations are quoted all the time;
The lengths he'll go to avoid criticism are astonishing.
The lengths he'll go to avoid criticism are astonishing. If I took this statement seriously then I couldn't use anything he said in his audio about me as his actual views and I couldn't quote him to demonstrate to the reader that what I said were his views were his views. If I accuse him of hyperbole or simplification he's covered. In effect, this statement suggests I can't reply because he can legitimately disavow everything he said simply because it is a taped conversation. What a bizarre defensive act; it actually amounts to his dismissing, not criticism such as mine, but his own stated views posted at his own website. There's a near-paranoic insularity in a move like that. Of course I don't abide by this. While I know it's a blow to his ego, Wilber, like the rest of us mere mortals, is responsible for what he says.
Well, the whole thing is a sorry performance, more representative of a disturbed adolescent than the "Einstein of Consciousness." (Unless that quote was actually referring to Albert's feeble brother Norman.) Wilber is a bizarre mix of imaginative theoretical chutzpah, an astonishingly broad range of intellectual interests and knowledge, mystical insight, audacious and embarrassing self-promotion, inflated self-regard, and a deep insecurity and defensiveness which leads to the cruel acting out which we've seen yet another example of in his audio reply to me.
PERSONAL APPENDIX OR VENTING SPLEEN
When one's ego is inflated like a balloon stretched to its breaking point, any strong criticism looks like a pin.
Given the mocking and derogatory nature of Wilber's audio criticism of me, I think I've shown an admirable restraint. But in this appendix I'd like to switch organs and vent some spleen.
Hargens role in this is particularly loathsome. He plays the sniggering shill, doing his brown-nosing best as the straight man for the master. Has he no self-respect? Frank Visser had the integrity to reject such a compromised role when offered. Hargens doesn't sound compromised. He buys into the whole thing and has no critical distance whatsoever. If I were part of a conversation with my intellectual hero, I'd take up the critic's challenge and question pointedly, not sit there like a stooge mugging for the master.
In a related matter, Wilber published, after his notorious blog entry "What We Are, That We See. Part I," a series of emails he had received after sending the blog entry out for comments before publishing it. One of the emails was from an anonymous source about me and my manuscript (MS) for Bald Ambition. It reads: