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

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Andy SmithAndrew P. Smith, who has a background in molecular biology, neuroscience and pharmacology, is author of e-books Worlds within Worlds and the novel Noosphere II, which are both available online. He has recently self-published "The Dimensions of Experience: A Natural History of Consciousness" (Xlibris, 2008).



A Critical Look at Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality

Andrew P. Smith


Ken Wilber's soon to be published Integral Spirituality incorporates many of his latest ideas, including Spiral Dynamics, Integral Methodological Pluralism and Integral Postmetaphysics, into his well-known four-quadrant model. His major aim is to make the subjective, and more particularly religion and the spiritual, academically respectable, by integrating them with a postmodern understanding of intersubjectivity. However, I think this integration comes at the cost of seriously misrepresenting the nature of higher consciousness. I discuss here problems with 1) studies attempting to identify physiological correlates of higher consciousness and developmental trends of consciousness in the general population; 2) identification of discrete stages of development on the way to higher consciousness; and 3) Wilber's claim that meditation is limited to what he refers to as monological awareness, and therefore cannot understand intersubjectivity. While I fully agree with Wilber that postmodern insights are important knowledge that all of us should be aware of, I do not find at all convincing his arguments that such insights are vital to realizing higher consciousness.

Ken Wilber has spent most of his life developing what he now calls integral theory, but given the scope and complexity of this system, it is probably inevitable that he devotes much of his time, and many of his books, to summarizing and consolidating it, rather than broadening and deepening it. Integral Spirituality[1] is another one of his let's-catch-our-breath efforts. It is intended for, or at least accessible to, people with little familiarity with his work, and it provides an excellent overall summary of his system. Though I found little here that he has not said before, on some internet site or another, there is a lot, I think, that has not appeared in his earlier books. Wilber introduced his now very well known four-quadrant model in Sex Ecology Spirituality about ten years ago, and the version of the model he now presents certainly has numerous elements that were not present then. These include Spiral Dynamics (SD), zones and hori-zones (Integral Methodological Pluralism), subtle energies, the boomeritis phenomenon, intersubjectivity and the role of perspective (Integral Post-metaphysics). Wilber clearly has not rested in recent years, and as far as I know, this is his only work where all of these new concepts are discussed.

The Academonization of Higher Consciousness

Throughout all of Wilber's expanding and refining of his model, however, a fundamental problem remains. In attempting to develop a philosophical system that explicitly recognizes, let alone regards as one of its fundamental anchoring premises, higher consciousness, he confronts a dilemma. On the one hand, his system must be intellectually rigorous enough to enable scientists, philosophers, and other academics to take it seriously. On the other hand, mystical states, by definition, are beyond thought and difficult to describe in words. It would therefore seem to be impossible to construct a system that is completely accessible and transparent to the intellect and that at the same time does justice to the experience of these states. By attempting to do this, Wilber is in effect trying to please everyone, and we all know what generally becomes of attempts to do that.

There are certainly a lot of intellectuals who are not pleased by his system. Though Wilber takes delight in pointing out that Integral Studies programs have now been adopted by a few universities, I think it's fair to say that his work is ignored by most professional philosophers. There are probably several reasons for this, but a major one surely is they remain suspicious of any system that takes mystical states seriously. Wilber himself, in Integral Spirituality, argues that it was the humanities, far more than the hard sciences, that killed academic interest in religion and spirituality in the West. According to him, this was because, first, modern systems of thought (roughly, the first half of the 20th century) placed a taboo on all discussions of subjective matters; and second, because postmodern philosophy (the second half of the 20th century) has discredited all approaches to knowledge ignorant of the intersubjective. Wilber believes that all the great spiritual traditions are included in this ignorance, and as we shall see later, a major aim of this latest book is to make religion/spirituality academically respectable, by combining their subjective insights with a modern understanding of intersubjectivity.

However, I believe the problems created by Wilber's attempt to integrate science, philosophy and mysticism go well beyond the distrust modern academics have for religion or the subjective. As I and several others posting at this site have argued at length elsewhere, there are numerous inconsistencies, oversimplifications and misrepresentations in Wilber's treatment of the work of others, and many of these flaws, I would say, are ultimately rooted in his attempt to integrate these data or ideas smoothly with the notion of higher states of consciousness. This is very evident, to me at least, in his four quadrant model, where human beings of different kinds of societies, such as magic, mythic and rational, are considered to occupy genuinely different levels of existence, levels that have the same relationship to each other—transcend and include--as still higher, trans-rational levels have to them. There is no reason in principle why Wilber could not have theorized that the relationship of higher levels of consciousness to any ordinary level is quite different from that the consciousness of a modern, Western individual has to, say, that of someone of several thousand years ago. But by proposing they are the same, he has been able to incorporate higher levels of consciousness very neatly into his philosophical system. They are basically an extrapolation of the levels of human/social development proposed by Piaget, Gebser and great many others.

With his hierarchy defined in this manner, some conclusions emerge that are completely at odds with scientific and social evidence, not to mention plain common sense. For example, the relationship of a modern, rational human being to a human of the mythic or magic level (or more precisely, the relationship of their brains) is the same as that of an organism to its cells, or of a cell to its molecules. This despite the fact that the all members of Homo sapiens are considered anatomically identical, and that any differences between them must involve very fine structures in the brain, as yet undetectable by science.

The four-quadrant model also regards social holons or societies to be on the same level as their individual members, even though a society is higher by any criteria (including the one Wilber himself prefers) used to define higher/lower relationships. This model classifies some holons, such as planets, stars and other celestial bodies, as social, though they have none of the essential properties of social holons composed of humans or other organisms, while ignoring other holons, such as metabolic networks within cells and biological tissues within organisms, that do have these properties. And nowhere in the entire model is there any mention of an individual organism, the fundamental unit of biology; only brains are depicted.

I briefly cite these as examples of how problems in representing empirical phenomena may be created by the desire to integrate them as smoothly as possible into a single system of thought that also recognizes mystical states. The converse problem associated with Wilber's model, though, has received much less attention from myself and other critics at this site. If in my view he plays somewhat fast and loose with empirical facts to make them fit a model that includes higher states, so does his understanding of the role of these higher states suffer from his need to connect them to empirical phenomena. It is this issue that I want to address here.

This problem—what might be called Wilber's intellectualization or academization of higher states--is also very evident in his four-quadrant model, which makes higher, trans-rational stages a natural extension of the development of lower stages. Not only is the relationship of these higher stages to lower ones, as I just pointed out, the same as the relationship of the latter among themselves, but meditation, the process by which higher consciousness is realized, is even viewed as a way of moving through these lower stages as much as it is a way of moving from them to the higher. Thus Wilber states that “empirical research has consistently demonstrated that meditation can induce vertical transformation in adults”[2], and more specifically claims that “if…people…meditate about an hour a day, then about four years later, they're two [SD] stages higher.”[3] He also reports that 38% of meditators have reached the turquoise level, in the SD spectrum, compared to 2% of non-meditators.[4]

As these and numerous other claims by Wilber indicate, he believes that the process of meditation is open to the same kind of rigorous scientific/academic studies that other phenomena are. These include, for example, identification of the physiological correlates of meditation in the brain, and psychological assessments of the level of consciousness that various segments of the population have realized. Wilber clearly needs to be able to establish that such research is possible in order for his system to have any credibility with scientists and other academics. But in doing so, he is opposing a very long and hallowed tradition that regards meditation as a) profoundly different from any other process that human beings can engage in; b) generally pursued by only a very tiny minority of individuals; and c) impossible to describe in words, and therefore to confirm by someone not actually engaging in the process.

The Water Faucet View of Meditation

The difficulties of conducting scientific research on meditation are highlighted by a recent study of Tibetan Buddhists reported by the neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and his colleagues Eugene D'Aquili and Vince Rause. The goal of this study was to identify physiological correlates in the brain of meditation, that is, to locate areas of the brain that become more active (or inactive) during this process. The Tibetans were brought into a laboratory, with their prayer rugs and other paraphernalia, and asked to meditate while their brains were analyzed by single positron emission computerized tomography, or SPECT. This high tech scanning procedure reveals areas in the brain where the metabolic activity of neurons is changed (increased or decreased). The results of these studies, which are discussed in detail in the book Why God Won't Go Away, indicated that specific areas of the brain were indeed associated with meditation, and the researchers concluded that these areas are involved in the experience of higher consciousness.

Wilber is a champion of such studies as these. While he unfailingly warns us against concluding that higher consciousness can simply be reduced to the activity of some part of the brain, his four-quadrant model implies that higher consciousness must have physiological correlates, and he thus views such studies as Newberg's as helping to fill in details in this model. He is welcoming scientists to the Integral Table. What's wrong with this?

In the first place, these studies violate a cardinal principle of all scientific research: there must be independent validation of the phenomenon being studied. How did the researchers know that the Buddhists were actually realizing higher consciousness? They simply took their word for it. They had no other way of establishing this.

One might argue that in any research where states of mind are being explored, we have no choice but to take this approach. This is certainly scientifically acceptable in some cases. In landmark studies conducted more than half a century ago, the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield mapped areas of the brain involved in various forms of perception, sensation and memory, by stimulating them with electrodes in conscious patients, who then reported to the experimenter what they were experiencing. Penfield's research helped make studies of subjective phenomena scientifically acceptable, and they are quite common today. For example, the same kind of state-of-the-art technology used by Newberg et al. in their study of meditation has also been used to identify physiological correlates of such forms of behavior as memory, word comprehension and face recognition. In all studies of this kind, we must rely on what the subject reports.

However, there is a very big difference between attempting to locate physiological correlates of universal experiences, sensations and perceptions that we are all very familiar with, and using the same approach to explore higher consciousness. We all understand what someone is experiencing, say, when he reports seeing the image of a particular face, or matching two related words. While we still have to make the assumption that the subject is being honest, at least there is no question that any subject is capable of having experiences like these, and of recognizing them and communicating them to others. In contrast, very few people have this kind of familiarity with higher states of consciousness, and even those who do cannot begin to do justice to the experience with verbal descriptions.

Meditation, let us keep in mind, is an exceedingly difficult practice that those who devote themselves to it have a burning desire to master. This is a recipe for delusions, for people convincing themselves as well as others that they have had experiences that they in fact have not had. Anyone seriously interested in meditation has undoubtedly read enough about what one supposedly experiences during this process to know the kinds of things to report. No one who has made great efforts over a long period of time wants to report that he has made no progress.

I think Newberg and his colleagues are at least somewhat aware of this problem. I certainly hope they are. They might argue that since there is no way we can obtain independent validation, for now at least, the next best thing is to study a group of individuals who are known to have had many years of experience in a long-established school devoted to meditative practice. Even a flawed study may be more valuable than no study at all, if we are cognizant of the flaws. After all, Newberg et al. did find physiological changes in the brains of the meditators. If these changes are not specific correlates of meditation, what do they represent?

However, by taking their results seriously enough to write an entire book discussing them, they are, in my view, minimizing the magnitude of this problem, and encouraging others, who may not be scientists, to believe that their results can be interpreted straightforwardly. I am sure that at the very least, they believe any problems of validation will be resolved in the future, as results from more and more studies accumulate. But I specifically claim that this will not happen. I see no way around this problem of validation, now or in the foreseeable future, and I challenge anyone to design a study that satisfactorily addresses this problem.

Moreover, there is a second serious flaw with these studies, a flaw that in fact ought to give us reason to doubt that the changes in brain activity were related to higher consciousness. The evidence that these changes occurred was obtained by comparing the Tibetans before and after they began meditating. Their brains were subjected to a SPECT scan before meditating, which produced what was considered a baseline or control profile of activity. This baseline was in effect subtracted from the SPECT scan obtained during meditation, to provide a difference profile that was specifically correlated with the process of meditation.

This is a standard procedure in many scientific experiments, where some parameter of the subject is compared before and after the procedure that is to be examined. It has the advantage of providing an internal control. The same subject is compared under two different conditions, rather than comparing one subject, in this case a meditator, with another subject, a non-meditator. Thus any differences in individual subjects can be ruled out as contributing to differences in results.

However, an obvious but critical assumption underlies this approach: that detectable changes in the brain could be found within a relatively short time after the Buddhists began meditating. In adopting this assumption, both the scientists as well as their subjects were subscribing to what I sometimes call the “water faucet” fallacy. This is the presumption that meditation can simply be turned on and off like a faucet—that an advanced meditator goes through his everyday life in the same consciousness as everyone else, until he sits down and concentrates. Then, bang! In the space of a few minutes—or in Ken Wilber's well publicized case, apparently only a few seconds—he rapidly ascends to satori or wherever.

It seems that an astonishingly large number of people, including some who present themselves as long experienced experts in the process of meditation, subscribe to this view. I can understand why someone not very familiar with meditation would understand it in this manner. Most if not all ordinary human activities are like this. We are not constantly engaged in them, but rather shift into and out of them. For example, a gifted athlete does not spend all his waking hours hitting a 90 mph fastball, but only a few seconds or minutes during the day. An artist may spend considerably more time creating a painting or sculpture, but at some point she desists and does other things with her life. A writer does not always write, and so on. So we can, in theory, identify the brain correlates of any of these activities, simply by comparing activity when the person is engaged in them with activity when he is not so engaged.

However, meditation, anyone with any experience of it at all ought to appreciate, is not an ordinary activity. In my own experience of more than 30 years (though it took me only a few months to discover this), it is not something one turns on and off, like doing math, writing poetry or riding a bicycle. It's something one must practice all the time, every waking hour of one's life. Believing otherwise—that one only needs to meditate for a short period of say thirty minutes or one hour every day—is one of the great illusions of meditation, marketed especially eagerly by phony teachers who want to persuade prospective students that the practice need not be excessively difficult or time-consuming.

Even if one does meditate all the time, change comes very gradually, with a tiny amount of increased awareness accumulating from day to day. Believing otherwise—that one can realize a higher state of consciousness in a few months or even a few years—is another major illusion that again, is based more on wishful thinking than actual experience. After a very long period of practice, the sum total of this accumulation may be very substantial; the meditator may realize a very advanced level of awareness, relative to a non-meditator or relative to herself before she began the practice. But beyond some relatively small fluctuations (which have well-defined causes in the particular behavior the meditator is engaged in), that level does not and cannot change very much over a period of a few minutes or hours. It is quite stable.

Readers who have not confirmed these claims themselves will naturally ask why they should believe me, instead of a group of Tibetan Buddhists, not to mention Ken Wilber and any number of other published authors on the subject of meditation. Fair enough. So let me try to make the same point by appealing to evidence all of us can respect. Higher stages of experience and existence are, in Wilber's four-quadrant model, extensions of the same developmental processes that occur on lower stages. As I noted earlier, he even believes that meditation can help one move through the lower stages, just as it enables one to move from these lower stages to higher ones. So let's ask, how does development through these lower stages proceed? Suppose someone is moving from the orange level, in the terminology of Spiral Dynamics Wilber often uses, to green, as in fact happened to many of us during the 1960s. Did we, in all our glowing orangeness, sit quietly and concentrate for an hour or so, then rather suddenly, like a chameleon, become a bright, vivid green?

Of course not. What happened is that we gradually, as a result of many influential events in our life, began to experience a shift in our values. This shift occurred much faster for some than others, but for none was it an overnight process. And most significantly and relevantly to our discussion, the shift was not something that we could turn on and off like a faucet. There may well have been ups and downs, we began to adopt green values as we came into contact with other people espousing these values, then maybe did some backsliding as we returned to our old crowd, then shifted back towards green, progressed further, perhaps backtracked again, and so on. I certainly don't mean to portray the process as linear or inevitable. But at any one point in time during this phase of development, we were at some fairly definite position on the SD spectrum between orange and green. We were not capable of a dramatic shift from this position simply by engaging in some meditative process.

The same conclusion is even more apparent from consideration of child development, which in Wilber's model moves or can move through many of the same basic levels as human adults have transversed historically. Child development is a very slow, gradual process that occurs at a more or less fixed rate. Can we accelerate it by forcing children to eat more, or read more, or interact with others more? Not beyond some fairly tight limits. It is a primary feature of almost all forms of development that they take place on their own schedule, not on one we might wish upon them.

My point, in essence, is that meditation works in much the same way.[5] Thus if one accepts Wilber's understanding of stages in SD or in the four-quadrant model, it should not be possible, by the process of meditation, to achieve a dramatic increase in one's level of awareness in a relatively short period of time. If one is a long-experienced meditator he may well already be at a high level of awareness, but if that is the case, he is always at that state; he can't turn it on and off at will. [6] God may be capable of acting like a mortal, but S/He can't become a mortal.[7]

So not only did Newberg et al. have no independent way of validating that the Buddhist meditators were experiencing a higher state of consciousness, but even if they in fact were, it is unlikely that very large changes in brain activity would have occurred. There could have been large changes in their brains relative to activity in non-meditators, but not relative to the state they were in when the experiment began, and when a baseline activity was determined. It seems more likely to me that the changes that were detected were correlated simply with sitting quietly. and perhaps unusual thoughts or images that occurred at this time.

This second flaw in the Newberg study is at least easily remediable. One can compare brain activity of meditators with non-meditators. If a meditator is in a high state of awareness, his brain may exhibit differences that are quite significant when compared to a non-meditator. Many studies of meditation have in fact taken this approach, but they still must contend with the first and more intractable problem of independently validating the experience of higher consciousness.

Other kinds of studies of higher consciousness have problems as well. As mentioned earlier, Wilber often cites studies indicating that meditation can increase the rate at which individuals move from one level of consciousness to another. I would certainly agree that meditation can increase the rate at which individuals can move to a higher, trans-rational level of consciousness, since without meditation there will be no movement in that direction whatsoever. But what is the evidence that meditation can help one move through lower levels, such as red, orange and green? And what is the evidence that nearly 40% of meditators have reached the turquoise level?

Andrews (2005) has examined this research, such as it is (it seems to comprise just two studies), and concludes that it is surprisingly shoddy. In the first place, most of it has been conducted by members of the Maharishi International University (now University of Management) in Fairfield, Iowa. These devoted followers of the late guru I believe very clearly have a vested interest in proving that meditation works, and most of their publications are in-house, not subject to the gold standard of academic research, independent review. Andrews also notes problems—many of them conceded by Wilber himself—in the methodology, criteria for subject selection, and numbers and kinds of subjects employed. For example, one study used prisoners as subjects, and controls and experimentals were not randomly assigned. To assess the subjects' development, the studies employed simple sentence completion tests. While this may be standard procedure in this kind of research, the validity of the findings obviously depends on the ability of the subjects to answer questions honestly and accurately. This potential problem was magnified by the use of a single scorer of the tests.

To this catalogue of deficiencies, let me add a couple more. I have already argued that there is no way of independently validating that someone is meditating properly, so we confront this problem again when we try to assess this research. I would say, moreover, the problem is much worse here than it was in Newberg's study, because at least the latter recruited individuals with a long history associated with a spiritual community. In the Fairfield studies, many of the subjects had no prior experience with meditation, and those who did were practitioners of transcendental meditation (TM), a school that believes only one hour or so a day of meditation is sufficient. As I pointed out earlier, it simply is not possible to access higher states of consciousness in this way.

One might argue that even if I'm correct, meditation might help one move through lower states more quickly. However, here another potential problem arises. The SD classification is one of values. Development through this spectrum features changes in the values that individuals hold. I would argue that anyone who is interested in meditation by definition is already engaged in a process of changing values. One does not become seriously interested in meditation unless one strongly feels the need for change in one's life. So people who turn to meditation are much more likely to be people who are trying to change their lives than non-meditators. Small wonder that some studies find that such people change more rapidly. In one of the Fairfield studies, this problem was made even worse by assigning to the control group individuals who expressly were not interested in learning how to meditate.

In other words, even for long-term meditators, it is premature to conclude that meditation is the cause of rapid movement through the SD spectrum. A reasonable alternative explanation is that the desire to learn how to meditate is simply one manifestation of an individual who is rapidly changing. The rapid change itself may initially be the result of many factors, including the personality of the individual, the kinds of people she associates with, and various life experiences. And simply by seeking out a place to learn how to meditate, such an individual is guaranteeing that she will be surrounded by other people who also wish to change. As anyone who became green during the 1960s should be able to appreciate, it is these interactions with like-minded others—more commonly known as peer pressure--that become the primary driving force of change. It really is unnecessary to postulate any role for meditation at all. The great majority of individuals I knew who changed during this period, including myself, did so very rapidly, and without meditating. Indeed, many of them did not even believe in the validity of meditation.

Are there Way Stations on the Path to Higher Consciousness?

In Wilber's four-quadrant model, any higher level transcends and includes all lower levels. As noted earlier, this implies some relationships among different forms of existence that simply do not square with the evidence. The four-quadrant model also implies that the relationship of a higher, trans-rational level of consciousness to the rational stage is much the same as the latter is to a lower level such as the mythic. That is, what we call higher levels of consciousness, accessible only through meditation, are no higher, relative to the prevailing consciousness in the West today, than the latter is to the consciousness of people a few thousand years ago. This seems to me to greatly underestimate the profound differences between higher consciousness and the modern, Western consciousness. Indeed, it implies that the prevailing consciousness in the West today is as far beyond that of contemporary peoples in many other parts of the world as the insights of mystics are beyond the West.

If this were really so, one would expect it to be much easier to realize these insights than is actually the case. After all, considerable anthropological and sociological data indicate that individuals existing today at what Wilber regards as pre-rational states can, given enough time, realize the rational state if embedded in the corresponding society. Indeed, something akin to this occurs whenever children grow up in the West, because their stages of development follow, in an admittedly crude sense, the stages of human evolution that Wilber recognizes. There is no evidence that simply becoming a member of any kind of society could quickly and effortlessly enable a rational individual to realize a higher state.

To his credit, Wilber seems to have some understanding of this difference. In his discussions of Spiral Dynamics, he has emphasized how individuals at one level in this values spectrum, such as green, are unable to understand individuals at another lower, level, such as red or orange. This results in frequent conflicts between these levels, which Wilber, SD promoter Don Beck, and others have used to explain many political problems in the world today. If each of these levels transcends and includes and preserves the levels below it, this problem should not arise, so the implication is that perhaps they don't transcend and include. Moreover, Wilber does claim that individuals on still higher levels in the SD spectrum, such as teal and turquoise, are able to understand those on all the lower levels. Thus it seems that he in fact does make a distinction in higher/lower relationships, even going so far as to define teal and turquoise levels as constituting a second “tier”, distinct from the first tier composed of beige through green. He also defines a third tier, at which point genuine trans-rational stages are said to begin.

It is not clear to me from my reading of Wilber, though, whether the tier distinctions are simply ways of grouping levels that have some very general features in common, or whether they represent a transition that is more than what occurs from moving from one level to the next within a tier. That is, is the relationship between teal, the lower stage on the second tier, and green, the highest stage in the first tier, the same as that between green and orange? If the relationships are the same, then the tier distinctions are rather arbitrary, and do nothing to address the issue of great variability in higher/lower relationships. If the relationships are different, Wilber needs to specify how. Are tier/tier relationships something more than transcend and include, and if so, what would that be? Or are level within tier relationships less than transcend and include, a position that requires a major modification of his four-quadrant model?

This issue has implications that go well beyond the question of “how much higher” are higher stages of consciousness. For example, it is closely related to what I have called the stage-skipping problem (Smith 2002a). In Wilber's model, it is generally not possible for individuals to skip levels or stages of development. They must develop through the magic, mythic and rational stages in sequence, before they can go on to realize still higher stages of consciousness. This would seem to imply that individuals of earlier, lower societies could not have realized higher consciousness, since they would have had to skip stages such as the rational to reach these higher levels.

To get around this problem, Wilber emphasizes a critical distinction between structures of consciousness, which are closely related to levels in the four quadrant model, and states of consciousness, which are somewhat dissociated from these levels. As a result of a debate over the structure-state relationship with Alan Combs several years ago, he has now produced the Wilber-Combs lattice, in which structures of consciousness are portrayed in one dimension (vertical, like a ladder), while states are portrayed horizontally, at the top of this ladder. The Wilber-Combs lattice is meant to show that an individual at any vertical level structure can realize any horizontally depicted state, without skipping stages in structural development. The realization takes place, speaking very loosely, in another dimension, and so is not constrained by the necessity of an orderly development through the levels of the four quadrant model.

This does not really solve the stage-skipping problem, however, for several reasons. First, while states of consciousness may be realized temporarily, they can also be realized permanently. This of course is the goal of meditation. But to do this, as Wilber freely acknowledges, is to move to a higher level of existence, beyond the rational. This is vertical movement, not simply horizontal, as depicted in the Wilber-Combs lattice.

From this it follows, first, that while individuals in earlier societies regarded by Wilber as lower in the hierarchy than our modern rational ones might have temporarily realized higher states of consciousness, they could not have done so permanently, unless they first went through the intervening stages. So for example, someone living in a mythic society would have had to break through to a modern rational consciousness before permanently realizing say, a higher subtle or “intuitive mind” level of consciousness. It is not immediately obvious to me, based on my own meditative experiences as well as on what literature is available on the subject, that anything in the experience of higher trans-rational states promotes to any significant extent the development of rationality. When I imagine an individual of an earlier, mythic worldview realizing such a higher state, I do not see anything in the process that would lead this person to develop, first, a modern, rational view.[8]

But since I began my practice at the rational level, maybe my imagination of someone starting at another level fails me. In any case, a second problem is that in Wilber's model, indeed, in any believable model of structures and states, any state of consciousness, even one temporarily realized, must be associated with some structure. To say this is basically just to restate a basic premise of the Wilber model, that any interior holon is always correlated with some exterior holon. Even if a state of consciousness is only briefly accessed, its access must involve identification of the individual with a structure different from that identified with when not in this state. Simple logic would presume that this structure would be very similar if not identical to the structure identified with by an individual permanently realizing this state. Perhaps the structure is not as well developed, or perhaps it is as well developed, but something in the individual's makeup hinders permanent access to this well-developed structure. In either case, we are talking about realizing a structure, and its associated level, that is more than one structure/level above the one the individual is ordinarily associated with.

This problem of stage-skipping results, in essence, from the four-quadrant model's monolithic view of higher/lower relationships: they're all transcend and include. To appreciate this, let's assume that Wilber does in fact make a distinction between tiers and levels, with the relationship between two tiers something more than that between two levels within a single tier. Without saying anything more about this difference, we can now see that all trans-rational states are associated with structures in one tier, whereas all rational and lower states are associated with structures in a lower tier. For any individual at any level within the lower tier, realizing a higher state now entails identifying with a structure on the next tier, rather than on several levels above it.[9]

In my one scale model, as I have discussed at length in many other articles (e.g., Smith 2002c), a similar distinction is made, between levels and stages. In this view, the differences between humans today and those of earlier societies comprise (at most) differences in stages on the same level. This is contrasted with the fundamentally different level realized when one experiences higher consciousness. Since, in this view, all humans prior to realization of a higher state are on the same level of consciousness, they are, in some sense, equally close to or distant from the next level. So for a mythical society human to realize higher consciousness does not require much, if any, greater change in consciousness than for a rational society human.

This view makes it possible to dispense with the cumbersome Wilber-Combs lattice, and regard all higher states as closely correlated with higher structures. While leaving open the question of whether the experience of higher consciousness is the same for people of different stages, it makes it clear that some kind of experience is possible without skipping stages. Most importantly, though, it respects the experience of a higher, trans-rational state of consciousness as something profoundly different from anything that has gone before it in human development.

Wilber's model implies that there are discrete stages or what I call “way stations” on the path to higher consciousness. Someone way down at the red level or even lower may, through meditation, eventually realize higher consciousness through a series of discrete steps—orange, green, teal, and so on--each of which results in a stable form of consciousness. The attractiveness of this view to meditators is easy to understand. Realizing higher consciousness is so difficult that one wants to be able to gauge one's progress, and what better way than by being able to say that one is at such-and-such a level? Today I'm at green. In two years, hopefully, I will be at teal, in four years at turquoise, and a few years after that indigo, a truly trans-rational level of consciousness. Wow!

I think this view is also attractive to Wilber, because it helps him with his project to academize higher levels of consciousness.[10] While trans-rational levels may be beyond words, if he can demonstrate that we develop into these levels by passing through lower ones that can be described, then that helps connect these higher states to knowledge that is, or potentially is, academically respectable. We can understand the final stages of meditation as something of an extrapolation of a developmental process that can be exhaustively researched.

In my experience, there are no such way stations; realizing higher consciousness is an all-or-none affair. Once you begin the path, there is no rest, no stability, until you realize the higher stage permanently. This is so regardless of whether you begin at red, orange, green or teal, because in any of these cases, you are moving to a genuinely higher level (or tier, if you wish). Development through stages below this level, from red to turquoise, is not progress towards the trans-rational. In all cases it still involves thinking; it is just that the content of these thoughts becomes increasingly more complex and wider in scope. I don't deny that this sort of development is progress of a kind, and that the population of the world, or at least certain parts of it, may be gradually shifting to higher stages. I do deny that realizing a genuinely trans-rational level is any easier or faster from the higher of these SD stages, or any other stages that Wilber cares to define.

This, again, is a claim based on my own experience, but it shouldn't be controversial. All individuals below the third tier, however great their differences in values (and appealing to the broader developmental pattern implied in Wilber's four quadrant model, their differences in other lines of development), share the fundamental property of thinking. After all, this is what defines our species, Homo sapiens. Thus the main difference between individuals on any of these levels boils down to simply what individuals think of. Different values reflect different ways of thinking about the world. Maybe the differences in values of individuals at different levels of the spectrum are so profound that individuals at one level can't comprehend why individuals at another level believe what they do. But at least they understand what values are. They understand what their differences are all about.

In contrast, individuals on tier 3 (or what I simply call the level beyond the level of humans and societies), no longer think. They have transcended thought. They do not differ from others in the way a certain process is manifested, but in making use of an entirely different kind of process. This is a profoundly greater difference than any difference of thought content. It makes these individuals in a sense a different species.[11] Unlike individuals at lower levels, someone at a trans-rational level can't emerge through the normal human developmental process, because this process specifically involves developing the ability to think. Raise from birth an individual in a society that is, say, predominantly green, and that individual with high probability will become green. All he has to do to become green is learn to think in a certain way, and his brain carries within itself the potential to do this. There is no society in which one can raise an individual to become trans-rational. The brain does not carry the potential to transcend thinking in anything like the sense that it can develop the ability to think.[12]

You Are What We Think

If there is one theme that runs throughout Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality, it is this: if you want to be spiritually complete and realize enlightenment, you must study and understand my system. Maybe I'm being too harsh on him, but this sounds a little bit like a new twist on the age-old con game Wilber says he's trying to avoid: my religion is the one and only true one. To be fair, Wilber is not pushing a particular religion or spiritual practice, but simply a way of improving those that are currently followed. He is not saying others are wrong, just that they are missing something. But his underlying message, repeated again and again and again is: only by using an integral approach (which, however Wilber may attempt to imply otherwise, is his particular philosophical system; he developed it, and while he may invite others to contribute to it, he has made it abundantly clear that they can do so only with his participation and approval), can any meditator avoid certain errors and delusions, and realize enlightenment completely.

You can sit on your meditation mat for decades, and you will NEVER see anything resembling the stages of Spiral Dynamics. And you can study Spiral Dynamics till the cows come home, and you will NEVER have a satori. And the integral point is, if you don't include both, you will likely never understand human beings or their relationship to the Divine. (p. 9)

How lucky we are! It seems that our generation is the first in human history to have a prayer (as it were) of understanding ourselves and the divine.

The missing element, in most cases, is not simply Spiral Dynamics, but rather a form of knowledge that Wilber refers to variously as intersubjective or dialogical or zone-2. This type of knowledge reveals what he calls structures—basically, organizing patterns in phenomena—and is contrasted with the monological or zone-1 approach that he believes is represented by meditation.

Structures can only be discovered by a zone-2 methodology, which is why you cannot discover them using meditation or contemplation of any variety. (p. 37)

To understand what Wilber means by these terms, we need to examine briefly his Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP; see Table 1). Most readers are familiar with Wilber's four quadrant model, that depicts individual interiors (upper left) and exteriors (upper right), and social interiors (lower left) and exteriors (lower right). IMP further subdivides each of these quadrants into an outside and inside, to define eight zones. For example, zone 1 looks at interiors, such as human consciousness, from the inside, as when an individual examines his own thoughts. Zone 2 also examines individual interiors, but does so from the outside, by obtaining reports of individuals engaged in zone 1 activity. Each of these zones, according to Wilber, represents a distinct approach to knowledge, incomplete in itself but essential to an integral understanding (Table 1)

Zone Location in four quadrant model Type of approach
1 Inside of individual interior Phenomenology
2 Outside of individual interior Structuralism
3 Inside of social interior Hermeneutics
4 Outside of social interior Ethnomethodology
5 Inside of individual exterior* Cognitive science
6 Outside of individual exterior Empiricism
7 Inside of social exterior Social autopoiesis
8 Outside of social exterior Systems theory

(* - see footnote 13).

Table 1. The eight zones of Wilber's Integral Methodological Pluralism

In IMP, the outside zones all represent dialogical or intersubjective approaches to knowledge. For example, structuralism (zone 2), which studies the outsides of individual interiors, combines information from phenomenological (zone 1) approaches to create, among other things, developmental models of the mind. Structuralism is a dialogical approach in two senses. First, it must obtain phenomenological information from many subjects, which it can do only by entering into dialogue with them (that is, by listening to or reading their phenomenological reports). Second, to create some model from this information, structuralism must build on the work of other theorists, involving further dialogue. Likewise, empiricism (zone 6) is dialogical because it combines many individual observations of exteriors to create scientific models and theories.[14] The lower quadrant zones 4 (ethnomethodology) and 8 (systems theory) employ similar dialogical methods, applied to social rather than individual interiors and exteriors, respectively.

In contrast, zone 1, an inside zone, involving phenomenology or introspection. is a monological approach, because it involves a single individual examining the contents of his mind. An introspectionist does not interact with others in this process.[15] It is not clear to me that any of the other inside zones in Wilber's IMP are considered by him to be monological. I would not regard cognitive science, which Wilber places in the inside zone in the individual exterior quadrant, to be a monological approach. Most cognitive science involves dialogue, and in fact, Wilber describes it as an outside or objective view.[16] Presumably Wilber does not regard hermeneutics and social autopoiesis, the inside zones in his lower quadrants, as purely monological approaches, either, because there is a heavy dialogical element in them, but the outer zones in these lower quadrants are even more dialogical in their nature.

To summarize, dialogical or intersubjective or outer zone approaches—particularly zone 2 in the context of spirituality—are able, in Wilber's understanding, to access certain forms of knowledge that monological approaches are blind to. This knowledge consists of structures or organizational patterns in phenomena. An example would be any developmental model, such as Spiral Dynamics or indeed Wilber's entire edifice, which reveals stages in the growth and evolution of human beings and their societies. But in fact, most knowledge recognized as such by society today is of this kind;[17] it includes virtually all of science, for example, which also proceeds through dialogical procedures.

Now this structural or intersubjective knowledge, according to Wilber, is not simply interesting and enriching, information or ideas that every educated citizen should be familiar with; it is absolutely vital to spiritual practice. We must be aware of it in order to avoid certain problems we are likely to encounter during meditation. This is because postmodern philosophy has shown that all of us individuals (which Wilber, in typically grandiose style, has expanded to all individual holons) are embedded in an intersubjective matrix which shapes to a large degree our perspective (another new favorite term of Wilber's), or experience of ourselves and the world. Only the dialogical approach is capable of appreciating this:

that [monological] mode of awareness merely cements their ignorance of their cultural embeddedness, their intersubjectivity, and it is that ignorance that allows social and cultural interactions—patriarchal, sexist, ethnocentric, androcentric—to ride undetected into the awareness of a meditator even during satori. (p. 15)

To evaluate this claim, let's begin by asking just what this intersubjective matrix is, or is supposed to be. Despite the enormous importance Wilber places on it, I have not seen him offer a precise definition; he generally refers to it as cultural “contexts” or “networks”. I think we can say that it's more or less identical to society itself, or more precisely, the interior, subjective aspects of it that, in Wilber's model, are in the lower left quadrant. In its basic, universal form, it would be simply language, through which we isolate, define and label all of our experiences. There certainly can be no question that in doing this, language affects considerably the nature of these experiences. For most societies, Wilber would include more specific factors, such as “patriarchal, sexist, ethnocentric, androcentric” ones. These are assumptions that all members of a particular culture make, generally unconsciously, which color the way we understand our experiences.

More basically still, we could define the intersubjective matrix as the sum total of all thoughts of all members of society. These thoughts form a vast, intricately connected network, because what we are thinking at any one moment is the product in part of what we, as well as others, thought in the past; and in turn, many of our thoughts will influence what we as well as others think in the future. Thus all of us are constantly creating the intersubjective matrix as we go on.

Postmoderns often describe the influence that this intersubjectivity has upon us in negative terms, by stating certain views that they consider false precisely because they fail to take into account this matrix. Prime among these is what the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars called the myth of the given, and which is closely related to what is sometimes referred to as the philosophy of the subject or the philosophy of consciousness. This is the notion that an individual can know truth or reality simply through information that comes directly to his consciousness, through the senses—this of course is what Wilber means by monological knowledge.[18] Up until the middle or so of the last century, this was widely assumed to be the case by academics and other intellectuals, but postmoderns specifically deny that this is possible.

Like many modern (or should I say postmodern) concepts, however, the rejection of the myth of the given can be understood in either a loose or soft sense or a strict or hard sense. The loose sense, which is now widely if not universally accepted by intellectuals and academics, goes like this: since we can't know truth or reality through individual experience, it follows that learning the truth is necessarily a social venture, in which we make use of the observations and experiences of many people. This view is particularly clear in science. While individual scientists perform experiments and make observations, these observations do not become facts until other scientists have repeated them. This is not simply because we—the community of observers—do not trust any one individual, though that certainly is part of the reason. More profoundly, it's because there are kinds of knowledge that simply cannot be grasped by the unaided individual consciousness. This is the major point of Wilber's IMP, as discussed earlier. Even a brilliant individual theoretician like Einstein could come to his insights only after extensive study of the work of others, that is to say, through an intersubjective process. His theories of relativity and other contributions did not spring fully formed from his isolated observations of the universe. For experimental scientists, who don't simply think about the subject of their investigations, but join with others to perform manipulations on it, the dependence on others is even greater. Most experimental science today is carried out by large teams of researchers, and these teams constantly interact with many other teams.

This understanding of intersubjectivity is, I think, fairly obvious to most people, at least most educated people, today. The strict understanding of the influence of intersubjectivity, however, takes this point considerably further. It says that not only can the unaided individual consciousness not know truth or reality, but in effect neither can socially interacting individuals. That is to say, the kind of knowledge that we obtain through intersubjective procedures is not final or fixed, in the sense that it reveals a pre-existing world that is independent of us. Rather the world as we know it is created in part by our own social interactions. The philosopher Immanuel Kant is perhaps best known for his arguments that our knowledge of the world, particularly our experience of time and space, is to some extent pre-structured by the nature of the human mind. The postmoderns go even further, and claim that what we know is in addition pre-structured by our social interactions.

In other words, everything that we know is relative (or at any rate transitory), even the so-called facts of hard science. For example, in the strict postmodern view, atoms, molecules, cells, and so on—really, the entire right hand side of Wilber's model--do not exist except as concepts, or as Wilber would say, perspectives, that were created by our species at a certain point in our evolution. In a very profound sense, therefore, these forms of life did not exist before we did. Even something as apparently obvious and fundamental as a mountain, Richard Rorty argues, did not exist in pre-human times as anything like what we today experience when we see a mountain.

Wilber clearly not only accepts this strict version of postmodernism, but believes that it's supported by a strong consensus, that in fact it is no longer seriously questioned in academia. Yet there are some highly respected philosophers, such as John Searle, who do challenge it. Searle asks, if we could be transported back in time several hundred million years, would we not see rocks and trees and organisms? And one might add, if we could transport our scientific equipment with us, could we not determine that these forms of existence were composed of atoms, molecules and cells? I don't think any postmodern would disagree, but simply note that since human beings were not in fact around back then, their perspectives would not exist.

But presumably something must have existed back then, even if there were no advanced forms of life to perceive it as atoms, molecules and so forth. After all, postmodernists, certainly including Wilber, accept that we evolved, and we must have evolved from something that preceded us. I think this creates a problem with the hardline postmodern view, at least for Wilber. His model is hierarchical, with each higher level transcending and including that below it. This model is based to a considerable degree on scientific evidence that shows, for example, that cells transcend and include molecules, and that organisms transcend and include cells. But if molecules, cells, and so on are really perspectives, then so of course is hierarchy, and the entire concept of holons.[19] From there, we could move on to the reductio ad absurdum position, that our understanding of everything in terms of perspectives is itself merely a perspective…

So while the postmodern view of intersubjectivity is highly influential in academia today, the strict version of it that Wilber espouses is not quite as far beyond question as he wants us to believe it is. While many postmoderns may question the reality of atoms, some philosophers and virtually all scientists, not to mention the public at large, continue to have considerably more faith in this reality than in the reality, or lack of it, of the postmodern view. If postmodernism in this form is a consensus, it is a consensus among an academic elite. In the extreme form that regards even scientific “facts” as perspectives, it has not found strong support throughout all of academia, let alone throughout the larger society.

Moreover, even if one does accept this extreme postmodern view, it's important to understand that Wilber takes it much further than any other philosopher associated with this school does. As I mentioned earlier, he claims that all individual holons are embedded in an intersubjective matrix, thus including lower forms of life, as well as individuals realizing higher levels of consciousness. According to him, other mammals, birds, even insects, even individual cells, yes, even atoms and molecules, exist in an intersubjective matrix. He also extends intersubjectivity upwards to include meditators at fairly high levels of awareness. Thus he claims that “even transcendental knowledge is a four-quadrant affair” (p. 13), though elsewhere he does seem to concede that at the very highest level one is beyond it.

I think this a very bold idea, and I fully support Wilber in his efforts to demonstrate that principles or phenomena that exist or may exist on one level may also hold on other levels. Readers of my articles at this site will know that I frequently attempt to do the same thing. But when I attempt to argue for such analogies, I support them on the basis of evidence. For example, my claim that metabolic networks in cells, and tissues within organisms, are social holons analogous to human societies is based in part on studies demonstrating that all three of these types of existence feature a type of organization known as scale-free networks (Smith 2003). In contrast, there is not a shred of evidence I'm aware of to support Wilber's extension of intersubjectivity to any let alone almost levels of the hierarchy other than that of humans. Any lower levels forms of intersubjectivity clearly cannot involve cultural influences in the form of language and its various manifestations, because other organisms and forms of life, with rare exceptions, don't have language in the human sense. Transcendental knowledge, on the other hand, is supposed to be beyond thought and language. So Wilber's assertion that intersubjectivity operates at all levels of existence—interesting and provocative as it is--is pure speculation on his part, and he ought to be honest enough to label it as such.

This is not my main point of contention, however, nor am I going to claim that the intersubjective matrix doesn't exist at all. While I think the hardline form of it adopted by many postmodernists, including Wilber, is at least debatable, and that intersubjectivity is not universally found among all other forms of life, I do accept that our human perceptions or experiences are to a very large degree shaped by culture. I also agree with Wilber that monological procedures are largely blind to this intersubjectivity, that there is a great deal we can know only through dialogue.[20] This is a very important point, and Wilber would have been negligent not to take it into account.

How Meditators Zone Out

To summarize the discussion so far, we have seen that Wilber, closely following postmoderns, distinguishes between two kinds of knowledge or awareness, monological and dialogical. Dialogical awareness involves interactions between people, and creates structural knowledge, which is basically scientific and other academic facts and theories. These structures, as they are created, affect our further experiences, by creating cultural contexts, an intersubjective matrix, within which we have these experiences. Monological awareness, according to Wilber and the postmoderns, cannot access these intersubjective structures, and so is not aware of being embedded in them.

Now at last we come to the key issue for integral spirituality: what relevance this postmodern view has, if any, for spiritual practice. As noted earlier, Wilber claims that meditators can't see the intersubjective matrix that they are embedded in, and that this can create serious problems for their practice. The reason they can't is because meditation, according to Wilber, is just another form of introspection or phenomenology, that indeed it “is the quintessential type of monological awareness” (p. 15).

I am frankly a little astonished at this statement. Equating meditation with introspection or phenomenology is a very common misunderstanding, but one I would have thought a theorist as sophisticated as Wilber would easily see through. Introspection involves thinking about our thoughts, viewing them with other thoughts; in the ordinary level of consciousness, this is the only way in which thoughts can be observed. Meditation involves becoming aware of our thoughts, viewing them with heightened consciousness. The introspectionist thus uses the mind to study the mind, while the meditator uses a level of existence beyond the mind. The introspectionist's goal is to learn what his thoughts are; the meditator's goal is to transcend his thoughts.

As I suggested before, the intersubjective matrix basically consists of all human thoughts. Certainly however one wishes to define it, its ultimate hold on us is through our thoughts. It is our thoughts, according to postmoderns, that are culturally molded, and so we are only embedded within this matrix to the extent that we think. As just noted, however, the meditator doesn't simply examine her thoughts with other thoughts, a process that would keep her fully embedded in intersubjectivity. She takes a position that is literally above the thoughts, where she is capable of not only seeing what her thoughts are, but of transcending them. By transcending her thoughts, the meditator frees herself from them and in the process she must also free herself from the intersubjective matrix that they embed her in. Indeed, I claim that meditation could be defined as engaging in this act of freedom. It is the process by which we extricate ourselves from the web of intersubjective interactions.

Since this conclusion is so at odds with Wilber's view, I don't feel that I can just leave it at that. It raises a host of questions, foremost of which is: does this mean that meditation is actually a dialogical or intersubjective process? My answer is yes and no. It is both monological and dialogical and neither of these.

Let's take the latter first. Meditation is neither monological nor dialogical, because the distinction between these two processes does not exist for the meditator--or more precisely, it does not exist at the level of existence that the meditator is attempting to realize. At this level, awareness is neither monological nor dialogical, but something very different from either.

This is a point I have discussed at length elsewhere.[21] To summarize that discussion briefly: it should be obvious that the dialogical or intersubjective view can only exist for individual holons that are members of social holons. It is this membership that creates intersubjectivity; no social interactions, no intersubjectivity. Less obviously, perhaps, the monological view is also dependent on social membership. What monological really means is the experience of being an individual, separate from other individuals and from the world; thus the introspectionist examining thoughts assumes that all these thoughts are his, as distinct from events that take place outside of him. As I have discussed at length, this experience of separation only emerges in individual holons that are members of social holons (Smith 2002b). You can't be aware of yourself as a self until you are also aware of an other distinct from yourself, and this awareness, at all levels of existence, emerges when individual holons begin to associate into social holons. To repeat, monological awareness, in its essence, is an awareness of self, just as dialogical awareness, in its essence, is an awareness of connection to others.

However, not all individual holons are members of social holons. There are organisms, as well as cells and even atoms, that exist essentially free of social interactions, and these forms of life do not exhibit to a very significant degree either dialogical or monological awareness. Their experience of the world is rather of a type that I call zero-dimensional, because it makes no distinction between self and other (which is a one-dimensional, or higher, form of awareness). This type of experience is characteristic of emerging individual holons on each level of existence—the most primitive atoms, cells and organisms—and also of the next higher level of consciousness.

So to the extent that a meditator has realized a higher level of awareness, she is not aware in either a dialogical or monological sense. She has transcended these forms of awareness, as they exist on our human level. She has adopted a new form of awareness that does not distinguish, on that higher level, between self and other.

On the other hand, to the extent that the meditator has not yet realized a higher level, is still operating in the human world, meditation is both monological and dialogical. How so? Let's begin by observing another major difference between meditation and introspection or any other purely phenomenological approach: meditation is not limited to interiors.[22] Meditation involves just as much observation of exteriors; it is an awareness of both the inner and the outer. Wilber of course recognizes that at a certain level of consciousness, the subject/object duality is transcended, yet here he is describing meditation, the process that takes us to realizing these higher levels, as mainly interior or subjective. Why?

Probably because most of the classic Eastern texts that he relies so heavily on were written by mystics who spent much of their lives sitting in a cave or a monastery with their eyes closed. This results in a very heavy bias toward interior, subjective experience, as is quite apparent in their descriptions of meditative states largely as bright lights and other-worldly images. Indeed, in asserting that meditators are blind to the intersubjective matrix, Wilber gives as an example a Tibetan Buddhist meditating in a cave, unaware that the symbols he sees in his mind are heavily influenced by his culture. I regard it as highly unfortunate that the typical image of a meditator by even someone as informed and sophisticated as Wilber is the lonely hermit in a cave. It doesn't seem to occur to him that a meditator might have any experiences other than such interior images, that such images are basically just a distraction to increased awareness, and that it is quite possible to realize very advanced states of awareness without experiencing them at all.

But there are other traditions, that Wilber I presume is aware of, that recognize that meditation is as much about outer states as inner states. An excellent example is offered by Gurdjieff's teachings, which emphasize self-observation, or meditation in the flow of everyday life (see, e.g., Ouspenksy 1967; deRopp 1968). Students are taught (among many other things) to observe or record their behavior at all times, as well as to make a thorough comparative study of the behavior of others. This practice is described almost perfectly by Wilber's view of the dialogical awareness of zone-2:

But I can also approach this “I” from the outside, in a stance of an objective or “scientific” observer. I can do so in my own awareness (“when I try to be “objective”) about myself, or try to “see myself as others see me”), and I can also attempt to do this with other “I's” as well. (p. 8)

Conventionally, it's thought that individuals can't really observe themselves in this manner, and this is true if one is using a truly phenomenological, zone 1 approach. But the whole point of meditation is that by transcending our thoughts, rather than simply thinking about them, such objectivity is gradually realized.

Does the Gurdjieffian approach have any relevance for Wilber's “meditation mat” folks? I could point out to begin with, as I said earlier, that meditation to be successful must be done all the time. So unless one is going to live on the mat all of one's hours and days, meditation has to mean self-observation under a variety of circumstances. You cannot simply meditate while sitting for a short time, then forget it all while you go about the rest of your life.

But the dialogical process of meditation goes on all the time, even while sitting. Unless you are meditating in an isolation chamber a la John Lilly, you will have some interaction with the outer world, and that is all that is necessary for the dialogue to occur. Under these circumstances, we learn that meditation involves becoming aware of our surroundings as much as it does of our thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the meditator gradually learns that there is no distinction between the interior and the exterior, between what we have been calling our thoughts and what we have been calling the world.

Even while sitting quietly, our thoughts are connected to the world in at least two important ways. First, whenever we sense an event in the external world, we also experience a set of thoughts. It is in fact with these thoughts that we experience the event. We do not in our ordinary state of consciousness see (or hear, touch, etc.) things but think them. We do not see trees and rocks and birds but experience them through a thought process. This thought process is essentially what Wilber means by perspective. It is definitely shaped by culture, and particularly by language.

Second, events occurring in the world that we do not consciously sense also create or evoke thoughts, which may have nothing to do with those events. For example, sounds in the background that an individual is not aware of or paying attention to nonetheless evokes thoughts in that individual. This is because all incoming sensory stimulation is a form of energy, and the brain has to process or deal with this energy; it does so to a large extent by converting that energy into thoughts. So the mental state of an individual is affected by his surroundings; not simply by what he is paying attention to, but also by what he is completely unaware of.

Meditation brings with it an awareness of these connections. The meditator begins to realize that what he has been calling his thoughts are not his. They are part of a vastly larger system. Meditation is often described as a process by which an individual struggles with himself, but in fact the struggle is with something far greater than the individual. This is why meditation is so extraordinarily difficult (and why teachers who claim that it can be relatively fast, easy and painless are not worth the time it takes to name them). The meditator in a profound sense is confronting the entire world. To observe, stop and transcend thoughts is to engage an immensely powerful environment that our thoughts must conform with in certain ways. To challenge our thoughts is to challenge this environment.

To meditate is thus to engage in both a monological and dialogical awareness or understanding. It is monological—zone 1 in Wilber's terminology[23]—because the meditator is observing his thoughts and his experience of the world, and is still to some extent identified with them as a separate individual. But it is also dialogical, because in his heightened awareness the meditator inevitably confronts his interconnectedness with the rest of the world.

This dialogical awareness, though, constitutes an even more radical understanding than that of postmodernism. The postmodern claim is that all of our thoughts are shaped by our interactions with others and with society. The meditator's lesson is that all of our thoughts are shaped by every event in the external world, cultural or otherwise. Moreover, it is not just the content of our thoughts that is affected by these events; the very existence of our thoughts is to a significant extent dependent on them.

If  It Ain't Sick, Don't Cure It

Does this mean that meditation is omniscient or omnipotent, that the meditator can dispense with the vast body of dialogical knowledge acquired by human societies? Does meditation by itself make us familiar with the entire body of work of postmodernists? Of course not. The meditator is a single individual, and no matter how much observation she may make of her connectedness to others, it cannot begin to compare with the collected observations of many people over time.[24] So I agree with Wilber when he says that you can meditate “until the cows come home” (or the oxen and their herders do) and you still won't be aware of Spiral Dynamics. SD, though founded by a single individual, obviously is the ultimate product of many minds, as are almost all forms of modern knowledge. No single individual can develop or discover all of this knowledge on her own.[25]

The key question, though, is so what? The stages of SD are not eternal truths, they are simply one way of organizing human knowledge that is far from universally accepted. There are many people who spend most of their lives intensely engaged in various forms of dialogue, and yet who have never even heard of SD. So not being aware of SD is hardly evidence that one is neglecting this form of awareness. Even concepts that I would regard as far more enduring than those of SD, such as those of science, are not accessible through meditation. Meditation will not reveal that your body is composed of atoms, molecules and cells, and if you should suffer some pathological process at this level, meditation is unlikely to help you either diagnose or cure it. For that you need modern science and medicine. This seems to me quite obvious, and rather trivial to point it out as a limitation of meditation.

Most meditators, I think, understand and accept these physical limitations. The problem, perhaps, is that precisely because of the fallacious belief that meditation is solely an inner, introspective process, many meditators think it is supposed to provide special psychological insights—that meditation is in fact a form of psychotherapy. So there is an expectation—at least in Wilber's reading of the great traditions—that meditation can cure or render irrelevant mental and emotional problems. Wilber comes down very hard on this, providing a simple example of someone who projects his emotion of anger from himself to a third person. The anger is thus perceived as coming from someone else, rather than from the subject, and becomes threatening, now experienced as fear rather than anger. However, since it is still in fact one of his I's or selves who is angry, the subject can never get rid of it:

some of these I's get dissociated as its—as shadow elements in my own awareness…once dissociated, these hidden-subjects or shadow-its show up as an “other” in my awareness (and as painful neurotic symptoms and diseases). (p. 91)

Wilber concludes:

dissolving this I in meditation is not the solution to dis-owning but simply the intensification of our irresponsibility. (pp. 90-91)

I agree with Wilber that there can be psychological problems that are not quickly or easily resolved by meditation. However, I am not so sure that the various forms of psychotherapy he recommends are really that much more helpful. Wilber, naturally, regards psychotherapy as a zone-2 approach, and waxes eloquently about how this represents a major contribution to human understanding by the West that the Eastern mystical tradition never was aware of. He is fond of referring to things like the shadow as “zone 2 pathologies”, which carries the clear implication that only someone thoroughly immersed in intersubjectivity can appreciate them. However, I think he is overestimating the importance of the dialogical here. While the psychiatric concept of a “shadow” personality may be part of our intersubjective knowledge now, it remains a monological phenomenon. This shadow certainly is not a structure in the sense that Spiral Dynamics is. It is not invisible to us in the sense that the rules of a card game—one of Wilber's favorite example of dialogical information—are. It may be very deeply buried, but in principle it is not inaccessible to someone determined to find it. Thus I find his dismissal of meditation as unhelpful because “the attachment to the shadow is unconscious” (p. 88) remarkable. The very purpose of meditation is to reveal unconscious information. Advanced meditators understand that essentially everything people think, feel or do in the ordinary state of awareness is unconscious, and that meditation brings this to light. If Wilber means to imply that the shadow is unconscious in some different sense that makes it impossible for meditation to access, he needs to explain why.

In any case, as I argued earlier, meditation is, among other things, an intersubjective type of awareness, with access to zone 2. While meditation by itself does not bring access to the accumulated knowledge of society, surely understanding the existence of shadow identities does not require intersubjectivity in this sense. It is enough that the meditator “ approach this “I” from the outside, in a stance of an objective or “scientific” observer. I can do so in my own awareness.”. Part of the problem I have with Wilber's concept of zone-2 pathologies is that he does not in fact make the very important distinction between objective observation of oneself and that of others, as shown when he adds: “and I can also attempt to do this with other “I's” as well.” By mixing the two together, he implies that individuals must seek out the large body of social knowledge for a whole raft of problems, which may not always be the case. Be that as it may, a more important question, it seems to me, is whether most meditators need to be overly concerned with their psychological deficiencies. Westerners—again, because of the misunderstanding that meditation is an introspective process—frequently become interested in this practice because of real or perceived psychological problems they want to address. Wilber is certainly correct that many meditators today view the process as at least in part a form of psychotherapy. Any meditator, even a very advanced one, will have what most would consider personality flaws. Even someone who is fairly well integrated will have the cultural biases characteristic of someone embedded in the intersubjective matrix. Shouldn't the meditator address these problems?

I think the proper response to that is the old saying of Gurdjieffians, we work in spite of our hang-ups, not because of them. The point is not to cure our psychological problems, but to transcend them. While it might be desirable to heal or alleviate them, the more urgent issue is whether they interfere with the meditation process. As noted earlier, Wilber seems to think that meditation will generally make these flaws or biases worse, that it will somehow “cement” them into the individual's being. I don't see why. Meditation results in increased inner as well as outer awareness, and I fail to understand how some pathological inner transformation can forever escape this awareness. At some point, all I's are transcended, whether healthy or not. When they are transcended, the meditator no longer identifies with them, so the distinction between “me” and “other” becomes irrelevant, anyway. If Wilber believes differently, he hasn't made his case very cogently.

In other words, meditation ultimately is a cure for these problems. If one realizes enlightenment, it does not matter if his body has developed a cancer, or if he has some anger management problem. By definition, that individual has transcended the level on which those particular problems manifest themselves, and with it, the problems themselves. So when Wilber claims that intersubjective prejudices “ride undetected” into satori, I strongly disagree with him. I do understand that someone might realize satori very briefly, then return to a more ordinary state (though I think the frequency with which this actually happens is vastly overstated; human beings are capable of having very profound experiences that are nowhere remotely close to the level of satori), where his prejudices re-surface. But if satori means anything, it means that the very basis for prejudices of any kind—thoughts and emotions—are no longer operative at that moment.

Of course, for most of us, permanent realization of such a state is a very long way off. I would certainly not recommend that someone not worry at all about possible psychological pathologies, solely on the ground that in the long run they will all be transcended. We have to deal with where we are now, and we should make use of any approaches that we find are helpful. But to repeat: we do so because they provide not a zone 2 approach that meditation is lacking, but the power of an entire society that an individual would be foolish not to take advantage of. All of the advances of modern science as well as psychology, postmodernism and any other currents Wilber believes are needed to realize one's full potential have been made possible through the efforts of huge numbers of people over long periods of time. Of course a single individual meditating can't re-discover all these insights on her own, and there is no need to. What her practice can do is provide greater awareness of this knowledge, and the understanding that it may be able to help her in some way.

I think we need to make a distinction, however, between knowledge that is directly and that which is indirectly helpful or essential for meditation. Knowledge that is indirectly helpful is so because it makes it easier for the meditator to live in the ordinary world, which most of us must do in order to practice. For example, in the modern, Western world, most of us find it essential to know how to use a computer—in order to hold a job, to follow the news, and to communicate with family and friends. A meditator who doesn't have this knowledge is likely to have a more difficult time living in the world, assuming he is not a hermit. Therefore, this knowledge is very valuable to his meditative practice. But it obviously is not essential to this practice in the same way that an understanding, for example, of how different thoughts are experienced during different activities is.

Psychotherapy, in many cases, may be of indirect benefit. It may help the individual integrate himself more smoothly into society, and therefore make it easier for him to practice. But this doesn't mean that it is essential for everyone, or that there is no way the meditator can progress without it. This may be at least part of the reason why the shadow was never appreciated in the East. It was only in modern Western cultures that certain psychological pathologies became serious enough in their consequences for society to believe it worthwhile to spend considerable effort studying them. This is not to say that the greater development of dialogical procedures in the West did not also contribute, but the same could be said about modern science and medicine. The West has discovered many things about the health and pathologies of the body that the East was blind to, and yes, this is a triumph of intersubjectivity. But it does not follow that this knowledge is essential to meditative practice in all times and places.

So I don't deny that some of Wilber's integral insights have value to meditators. Understanding ourselves as embedded in an intersubjective matrix that shapes our thoughts, like understanding ourselves in terms of atoms, molecules and cells, constitutes a powerful way of looking at the world that we all ought to be aware of. If Wilber's point is simply that meditation can't go on in isolation from human society, that we should stay aware of current advances in knowledge, and use them to help our practice whenever possible, I couldn't agree more with him. But meditation is not just another form of knowledge, another zone-specific approach in Wilber's model. For Wilber to view it in this manner makes it much easier for him to incorporate it into his model; he can neatly confine it to zone 1, comparing it with other forms of knowledge that go in the other zones. In my view, this is another example of his attempt to academize meditation, to put it in its place, a place that makes it easier to connect it with academically respected forms of knowledge.

But to do this is to grossly undervalue meditation. This practice is unique among all human activities in that it's consistent with any of these other activities. One can—and must, if one is to be successful—meditate while engaged in any kind of activity whatsoever, physical, emotional and mental, while working alone or with others, while practicing science or developing integral theory. The same can not be said of any of the methodologies of IMP. Meditation is beyond zones, and if the intellectuals Wilber is trying to appeal to can't understand that, that is their problem, it shouldn't be Ken's.


1. Integral Spirituality is scheduled for publication by Shambhala in August, 2006. In the meantime, an earlier, condensed version of the book (about one-third the size of the complete version) was available online at Unless indicated otherwise, all of the quotes taken for this article are from this earlier draft (with page numbers corresponding to the pages in this PDF version). However, I have seen the complete version, and in a few cases I refer to points by Wilber made only in the latter.

2. Wilber (2002), p. 415. These and other claims by Wilber that meditation can accelerate development appear in the complete version of Integral Spirituality, but are not in the condensed version. These claims are examined critically by Andrews (2005). This criticism will be discussed later.

3. In Kosmic Consciousness, CD#7, Track 4.

4. Wilber (2001), Chapter 10.

5. I have said that development through the SD spectrum may occur at different rates, while childhood development occurs at a more or less fixed rate. One reason for this may be because the SD stages are ones of values, or what Wilber calls one developmental line or stream, whereas those of childhood development encompass many such streams. In this respect, childhood development is a more complete process than movement through the SD stages, and I would say a better model of the meditator's transition into trans-rational states. However, as I will discuss later, there are still very substantial differences between transition to a trans-rational level and that between any of the lower levels.

6. I say willfully, because movement from one level to another may be very rapid under some conditions that are not under the individual's control. An unusual, shocking event may precipitate a crisis in which one descends to lower levels. On 9/11, for example, there were probably many people at the green or orange level who moved rather abruptly to the red level or even lower, if only temporarily.

7. To be fair, I have emphasized previously that I don't fully accept Wilber's view of the relationship of lower stages to higher ones. I don't believe, in fact, that the process in moving through the lower stages is very much at all like that involved in moving from them to a higher stage. But in my view, the process of moving to a higher stage is even slower and more difficult than that involved in moving through the lower stages. I will return to this point later.

8. Wilber might logically argue that one could hardly realize a trans-rational state unless one were first rational. But his Wilber-Combs lattice specifically claims that one can indeed temporarily realize such states without being rational. If it can be done temporarily, why not permanently? In fact, I think the term trans-rational is a somewhat empirical one. We call such states trans-rational because they are above the highest states or stages we are ordinarily familiar with, which is rational. But it does not necessarily follow that one has to realize the rational state before realizing this higher state.

9. In Wilber's SD model, there are three tiers, so some of the levels below the trans-rational tier would be more than one tier below. However, the point is that one could, by postulating that tier/tier relationships are different from level/level relationships, avoid the stage skipping problem. This is basically what my one-scale model does, by distinguishing between levels and stages within levels. In this model, all humans and their societies exist within a single level.

10. Another way in which Wilber does this is by defining several different stages he claims occur during the process of meditation, stages that are said to constitute different levels of higher consciousness:

Phenomenal states in many types of meditation are said to unfold from gross phenomena (“I see rocks”) to subtle phenomena (“I see light and bliss, I feel expansive love”) to causal phenomena (“There is only emptiness, an infinite abyss”) to non dual (“Divine emptiness and relative form are not two”) (p. 11)

In my experience, all of these states are or can be experienced simultaneously by the meditator. That is, as one develops the ability to meditate, one a) becomes progressively more aware of the outer world; b) has a greater experience of both light and bliss; c) gradually understands emptiness; and d) experiences no distinction between emptiness and plentitude or form. As one advances in one's practice, each of these experiences deepens, but no one of them necessarily precedes any of the others, and in fact, in my experience the meditator does not even distinguish among them. These four supposed distinct states, I would say, are simply different ways for the intellectual mind to express the same experience.

Wilber claims support for these experiences as sequential states from the literature. To the extent that some mystics have described such an unfolding, I would say it's because they meditated in extreme isolation, intentionally trying to shut out the external world. (I will return to this point later). Under such conditions, a greater awareness of “gross phenomena” is by definition the earliest stage; the mystic is beginning practice by presuming that awareness of the external world is the lowest stage. So to a large extent is the experience of light, since that is also associated with the external world. Such a mystic is also likely to distinguish experience of emptiness before realizing the indistinction of form and emptiness, because again, he is trying to avoid form, which is associated with the external world.

11. I say “in a sense”, because species differences are commonly defined in terms of reproductive barriers, and it appears to be not the case that an individual completely transcending thought could not reproduce with a rational human.

12. Again, let me support this view by appealing to other kinds of evidence. If we look at what I claim are genuinely transcend-and-include relationships in the hierarchy, they always develop in this all-or-none manner. There were no discrete stages in the process by which atoms and molecules developed into cells. During the evolution of the first cells there undoubtedly were transitional forms of existence, proto-cells, but these were not stable. If they had been, they would still be around today. With the exception of infectious agents like prions and viruses—which almost certainly evolved after cells did, not before—there are no forms of life between molecules and cells. Moreover, when new cells are formed today, by reproduction, that, too, is an all-or-none process. Cells reproduce by dividing. Though one can arbitrarily define stages in this process, all of these stages are temporary. There are no stable forms of life consisting of cells somewhere in the process of reproducing.

The same is basically true of organisms. Most of the transitional forms that must have emerged during the evolution of organisms are no longer in existence. There are some very primitive invertebrates that might be considered such transitional forms, but almost all of them are complete organisms, far simpler than species like ourselves to be sure, but still possessing most of the essential elements characteristic of higher organisms: feeding, digestion, circulation, sensation, and so on. Likewise, when organisms reproduce, the stages involved are temporary. An egg or a fetus is not a stable form of life. It either develops into a new organism, within a more-or-less fixed period of time, or it perishes.

This situation stands in sharp contrast to the status of what I regard as stages within a level of existence. Within a cell, these stages include various kinds of molecules, and their interactions with one another. These stages do have stability. Small molecules like amino acids, larger molecules like proteins, and still larger complexes containing many proteins all can have a relatively long-term existence within the cell, as can the metabolic networks they form. It is not necessary that these stages continue to develop into higher stages, nor into a new cell. Likewise, within any organism, there are stable multicellular holons—tissues, organs, and organ systems.

This is another way of understanding the difference between what I call stages and levels. In addition to their very different organization, pure or nested holarchy vs. mixed hierarchy (Smith 2002b), stages develop and can exist for long periods in a graded manner. Levels cannot.

To summarize, if we examine lower forms of existence, we find that while holons can develop gradually, with persisting intermediate forms, through a series of stages, there comes a point when a jump occurs. One form of life becomes a higher form rather abruptly, with a very different kind of organization, and with no intermediate forms surviving to tell the story of how it happened. This kind of jump characterizes what I call evolution of a higher level.

I view the evolution of higher consciousness in much the same way. Like Wilber, I regard the consciousness of individuals as closely correlated with the kind of society they belong to. Thus they realize higher stages of consciousness—magic, mythic, rational--by virtue of their membership in increasingly higher societies. These societies, like stages in lower levels, may have considerable stability, and so individuals associated with a particular society may find a stable identity. To realize trans-rational states, however, individual humans must identify with a higher level of life—a new kind of holon developing from but transcending all human societies. If this develops as lower levels do, it will do so through highly transitional forms. Individual membership in any of these forms is thus transitional, and at some point in future evolution, if a higher level holon emerges, there will be no transitional forms remaining at all.

13. In the condensed manuscript that I am quoting from, only four zones are identified, with zones-1 and 2 corresponding to the inside and outside views, respectively, in both the individual and social interior quadrants, while zones-3 and 4 similarly cover both individual and social exterior quadrants. However, Wilber has since distinguished individual from social by designating the interior social zones as 3 and 4, and the exterior social zones as 7 and 8.

The terminology I have listed in the Table corresponds to these more recent quadrant figures that Wilber provides, where he depicts a circle in each quadrant, with an associated inside and outside view in each case. However, Wilber's textual descriptions of these zones do not always correspond to these diagrams. In fact, there seem to be a major inconsistency in his description of at least one of the zones, which is one of several problems I have with his IMP.

Specifically, although zone-5 should be an inside view of an individual exterior, Wilber describes it as an "outside view of an inside view of an organism". This seems to be inconsistent with his treatment of the interior inside zones, zone-1 and zone-3, which he specifically emphasizes are inside views. That I have not misinterpreted what Wilber is trying to say with his "outside view of an inside view" is shown by an examination of his use of what he calls integral math to designate perspectives. He describes zone 1 as 1-p x 1-p x 1p, that is, the inside (or first-person) view of an interior of an individual, and zone-2 as 3-p x 1-p x 1p, the outside (or third-person) view of an interior of an individual. To make things even more confusing, Wilber sometimes reverses the order of the last two terms, designating a view of an individual interior, rather than an interior of an individual. However, the order as I first described it seems to be his preference. Thus he describes zone-2 as follows (p. 17): "start with an occasion, look at its individual form (a first person or 1p), then look at the interior or first person view of that individual (1-p x 1p), but do so from an objective or scientific or third person stance (3-p x 1-p x 1p)."

This quote makes it very clear that an individual, like an interior or an inside, is to treated as first person or 1p. But he describes zone-5 as 3-p x 1-p x 3p. Since zone-5, like zone-1, is in the upper (individual) half of the four-quadrant diagram, the last term should be 1p, and since it is an inside zone, only one of the three terms used to designate it should differ from zone-1. To be consistent, it should be designated as 1-p x 3-p x 1p, that is, the inside or first-person view of an exterior of an individual.

To get more insight into just what Wilber means by zone-5, we have to look at the examples he gives of approaches in this zone. He spends the most time discussing the work of Maturana and Varela on frog vision. They were, he says, "simply trying to reconstruct what was available in the subjective-cognitive world of the frog, but they were still thinking about it in objective terms. It was the inside view of the frog approached objectively." (p. 76) This quote confirms, as I just pointed out, that he now regards the individual as 3p, in contradiction to the earlier quote describing zone-2. Moreover, it also indicates that he regards as interior not simply mental events, but the frog's view of its external world, that is, exteiors. For Maturana and Varela were not concerned solely, or indeed even primarily, with what the frog was "thinking", but rather with what it was perceiving in its environment. The same is true of cognitive science, which Wilber also provides as an example of a zone-5 approach. Cognitive scientists study humans, rather than frogs, but they also concern themselves with not only mental events, but with our view of exteriors.

Wilber is of course free to define his terms as he wants, but in addition to being inconsistent with his description of other inside zones, his description of zone-5 as an outside view means that approaches in this zone do not bear the same kind of relationship to those in zone-6 as zone-1 approaches do to zone-2 approaches. Zone-2 or structuralist approaches are built from combining the insights of zone-1 or phenomenological approaches. Thus structuralism could not even develop as a form of knowledge until phenomenology in some sense existed. Likewise, zone-6 or empirical approaches should be built from combining the insights of zone-5 approaches. This would be the case if zone-5 were an inside view of an individual exterior, that is, if it described how exteriors appear to a single individual. But empiricism is not built up from combining the insights of cognitive psychology, in the way that structuralism is built up from phenomenology. Empiricism in fact existed long before cognitive science was developed.

Another problem created by Wilber's understanding of zone-5 is that his IMP does not directly engage with the myth of the given. As discussed subsequently in this article, this states that there is an independent truth or reality that we can know directly through our senses. Postmoderns deny that this is possible, and Wilber incorporates this position prominently into his model. However, the myth of the given does not refer primarily to what is usually considered phenomenological or zone 1 awareness, but to sense data, our experience of the exterior world. In the postmodern view, this information is also monological. But Wilber, as we have just seen, does not define zone 5 in this manner, and he apparently does not include such data in zone 1, either (for if he did, he would have to include to some extent cognitive science in zone-2). So though he agrees with other postmodernists that the myth of the given has been discredited, there appears to be nothing in his IMP that actually explains or reflects why this is so. As Goddard (2000) has pointed out, there is in fact no room in the four-quadrant model to represent our view of exteriors as distinct from the exteriors themselves.

Why then does Wilber define zone-5 in the way that he does? I think it's because he wants his four quadrant model to be truly a "theory of everything". Specifically, he wants to demonstrate that every one of the eight fundamental perspectives that he identifies corresponds to a major approach to human knowledge, and conversely, that there is no approach to knowledge that does not fit neatly into one of these zones. This is not the case, though, so Wilber in effect fudges, by defining zone-5 in a way that allows him to incorporate cognitive science and other approaches, though at the expense of consistency.

I believe his integral mathematics can accomodate all these approaches, but to represent these on a quadrant diagram, he needs to expand the number of quadrants,as both Goddard (2000) and Edwards (2002, 2003) have argued. As I noted earlier, Goddard has pointed out the inability of the four quadrant model to handle in a comprehsnsive fashion exteriors, while Edwards regards the four quadrants as a "lens" for viewing phenomena, and thus proposes a separate four quadrant diagram--even multiple ones--for every holon. This notion is obviously close to the way Wilber is using his perspectives. So Wilber's very use of the inside/outside distinction to create eight perspectives actually amounts to an expansion of the model to eight quadrants. The inside/ouside circles he now places in each quadrant are in effect a division of each quadrant into two. I view this as an unacknowledged admission or confession that the four quadrant model is inadequate, and requires additional quadrants. I find additional problems with IMP that will be the subject of another article. See also footnotes 15, 22 and 25, below.

14. But see the previous footnote. The monological observations that are combined by empiricism do not correspond to zone 5 in Wilber's model.

15. Actually, phenomenology is not purely monological. The contents of an individual interior consist of thoughts, feelings, sensations and other inner events. All of our thoughts involve the use of language, something we only know through our interactions with others in society. Every time we think a thought, we are reaffirming our connections with society, and in effect entering in a dialogue with others. This dialogue extends and intensifies when we attempt to describe these thoughts to ourselves and to others, which of course is what an introspectionist or phenomenologist does. Thus zone 1 is not entirely monological, but is partly dialogical in nature.

Wilber might argue that he is defining monological purely in an operational sense, as what goes on in an individual's mind, even if that event is shaped by social interactions. However, if this were the case, much of what he calls dialogical would become monological. For example, any new theory, such as some form of structuralism, may initially exist only within one individual mind, that of its creator. So until that theory is published and transmitted to other minds, it would be just as monological as the thoughts that an introspectionist observes.

The presence in Wilber's zone 1 of social or dialogical aspects in fact reflects a key relation that exists between this zone and zone 2: today's dialogue become tomorrow's monologue. What I mean by this is that much of the socially organized knowledge that Wilber refers to as structuralism, empiricism, and so on, becomes incorporated, over time, into individual minds, where it then shows up as phenomenology. Many of the culturally molded thoughts of people today are a direct consequence of dialogical approaches pursued in the past. Much of what we moderns think was not thought by our ancestors, because they did not have access to much of this cultural knowledge that we have.

So I claim that there is virtually no human form of observation or knowing the world that is purely monological. The very fact that we are embedded in an intersubjective matrix makes it essentially impossible to make any observation that does not have a dialogical aspect. Indeed, this is what being in this matrix means: that we are essentially dialogical creatures. If it were really possible for an individual to pursue a purely monological approach, then that individual would not be embedded in an intersubjective matrix. (As I note below, however, organisms and other individual holons that do not live in societies are largely free of any intersubjective matrix. Their behavior is essentially all monological. This is one reason why I challenge Wilber's claim that all individual holons are embedded in an intersubjective matrix.)

However, this point does not by itself destroy Wilber's main argument, which is that individuals engaged in some form of observation from the inside can't see the intersubjective matrix. Just because all of our thoughts are culturally molded does not mean that we are aware that they are so molded. When the introspectionist examines his thoughts, he is engaged in dialogue with other members of society, but that dialogue is not nearly as extensive as that of a structuralist. The latter, or anyone engaged in some kind of purely dialogical activity, is capable of accessing the (publicly reported) thoughts of anyone, which makes the scope of his knowledge much greater. It is a simple fact that the concept of a intersubjective matrix is not one that ever came to an individual through introspection; rather it was developed through the kind of highly dialogical activities that Wilber places in zone 2 and other outer zones.

16. But see footnote 13.

17. This is because, as briefly noted at the beginning of this article, monological knowledge has been to a large degree discredited by the postmodern school.

18. But see footnote 13. Wilber does not actually define sense data as monological, in fact he does not include these data in his IMP.

19. Here is an interesting paradox or at least quandary for Wilber to mull over: the criterion that he uses to distinguish higher/lower from same level relationships is one of asymmetery. If one eliminates all holons on one level of existence, according to him, one eliminates all higher levels, but not lower levels. He applies this criterion to argue that atoms are more fundamental (lower) than molecules, molecules more fundamental than cells, and so on. But if atoms, molecules and cells only exist because of humans who have perspectives that include these holons, what would actually exist if all humans were eliminated?

20. I think my one-scale model of hierarchy actually makes this point easier to understand. In my model, societies are higher than their individual members, having emergent properties not found in the latter; but individuals, by virtue of their membership in societies, can experience or access to a partial extent many of these social properties. The intersubjective matrix is a social property, and thus only capable of being observed and understood by societies, or by individuals through active membership in the society, which is to say, by interacting with others. Hence, individuals using dialogical approaches can understand or be aware of, to some extent, the intersubjective matrix. Conversely, whenever an individual is engaged in a largely monological process, he is in effect not being an active member of society, and therefore cannot experience social properties. To this kind of individual, the intersubjective matrix is higher in the hierarchy and so not visible to his monological consciousness. This is discussed further in footnote 14.

21. Smith (2002b). See also the preceding footnote. A major weakness of the four quadrant model is that it does not distinguish between different kinds of higher/lower relationships; they are all transcend and include. My hierarchical model recognizes that there are several stages within every level of existence. Stages are composed of social holons of increasing complexity; each stage has emergent properties not found in the stages below it, but these properties do not transcend and include the lower stages. The relationship is one I call transformation.

Individual holons, by virtue of being members of social holons, can acquire to some extent the properties of these social holons. Intersubjectivity is an example of such a property; indeed, intersubjectivity could be defined as all the various social properties that are acquired by their member individual holons. Since individual holons also exist to some degree independently of their social holons, however, they also have individual properties that do not depend on their interactions with other individual holons. These are all monological in nature.

In my model of hierarchy, such forms of life are found at the lowest stage of every level, below all the social holons on that level.. When a new level of existence comes into being, it consists initially of these asocial individual holons. Such holons thus include not only such forms of existence as free atoms, free-swimming micro-organisms and very primitive organisms, but also newly born humans, and adult humans in very early stages of social development. It is my claim, supported by several lines of evidence, that all of these holons to a large extent feature an experience that does not distinguish between self and other.

Note that this view provides a simple explanation for Wilber's pre-trans fallacy: the observation that there are similarities in the experience or worldview of people of very early cultures and individuals realizing a higher state of consciousness. Both types of individuals represent a very low stage on an emerging new level of existence, so both have the zero-dimensional view, which does not distinguish self vs. other. Though Wilber first noted this similarity, his four-quadrant model can provide no explanation for it.

22. Actually, introspection is not limited to interiors, either. By virtue of his reliance on language, the introspectionist must observe exteriors, because language—contra Wilber—is partly an exterior phenomenon. I don't simply mean that to use language we must engage in physical, behavioral activities like gesturing, speaking or writing. Language is associated with certain areas of the brain, and undoubtedly individual words and other linguistic constructions are associated with specific networks of neurons. So while Wilber defines introspection as a form of observation directed at the inside of individual interiors, it is neither wholly inside, wholly individual, nor wholly interior.

23. Meditation also operates in zone-5 by either Wilber's definition as an “outside view of an inside view of an individual” or by the more consistent definition as an inside view of individual exterior.

24. Meditation can, however, provide knowledge about structures and patterns. As the meditator transcends thoughts, he also transcends the flow of time. One kind of experience associated with transcending time's flow is that the individual is able to view as one events that are progressively further apart in time. Thus the events of each day over a period of weeks, months and even years can in effect be experienced as a single mega-event. This makes it possible for the meditator to understand developmental processes, to see patterns or types of changes that occur over time.

25. It is interesting that Wilber, in the previous quote describing zone 2 awareness, does not distinguish between objective observation of oneself and objective observation of many other people. In his IMP, apparently they are both forms of zone-2 knowledge or awareness. Yet there is an enormous difference between the two, simply because the accumulated dialogical knowledge of society is so much greater than that any individual could obtain by self-observation, even in a dialogical mode.


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