An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Author of “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of 100+ essays on this website.
Layman Pascal is a public speaker, nondual theologian and yoga & meditation teacher based in Victoria, British Columbia. His family has lived in the coastal islands for five generations. He is a writer on themes of cultural philosophy, shamanism and organic spiritual development. Lately he has been active as a board member of the Foundation for Integral Religion and Spirituality and a founder of the Beyond Interfaith project.
Discussing one of the Most
Un-debated Topics in the Integral World:
Is there a universal, spiritual drive towards increasing complexity and consciousness? Is there any place for Eros in evolution?
Frank Visser & Layman Pascal Moderator: Bruce Alderman
Visser: “Eros, is it a theory, is it a meta-theory, is it a metaphor?”
Eros: One of the four main drives of an individual holon…. The vertical drive of the lower to “reach up” towards the higher; self-transcendence. The urge to find higher, deeper, and wider wholeness…. (Integral Life)
So Wilber, instead of having an evolutionary theory he has an evolutionary theology.
FV: I am happy to be on this show, because it has been a long time coming. For the last twenty years I have been following the topic of evolution in the integral literature, and Wilber's take on that topic. And I have taken another route than most integralists. Especially when integral initiatives started to be called "evolutionary" around 2007 or 2008, then I really dropped off. Because I had come to different conclusions about the integral view of evolution. The irony is that it made me study evolutionary theory itself, which was as rewarding to me as the integral project was in the past. So I am not complaining!
LP: Well, I will be here talking on the general relationship between integral thinking and evolution. And a little bit about the perceptions about Frank that may exist. That he is a reductionist, obsessively "orange" [rationalistic] thinker, who is just arguing a strawman version of Ken Wilber. And that is not a very fair position as far as I can tell. But Frank also makes this complaint that Ken Wilber isn't arguing against the strongest version of Darwinism. So I am really interested in this situation, if there is really something there that is useful to the community. Something that the community has to take a look at, to explore further.
Frank is in my view continuing his integral interest in the progressive, evolution oriented, multi-dimensional way of making sense of the world with as much validity and rigor and nuance as possible.
Well, why don't I say what I like and what I don't like about the idea of Eros then maybe Frank can weigh in on what he likes and doesn't like about it, if there are such things.
There's three senses in which I'm very attracted to it. One is as a poetic metaphor for the complexity of the cosmos. It's like, almost like a placeholder for getting me emotionally involved in studying that stuff. I think there's also a possibility that there that we could think towards whether there is or is not some additional energy or some additional way of thinking about energy that might have consequences for organic development. That has a long history and also a dubious history. And I think there's a sense in which we could think about the preconditions of reality as having a slant or a skewing which makes certain kinds of evolutionary trajectories more probable than they otherwise might be. And those three ideas are the different ways that I interpret validate Wilber's commentary on that subject.
So it makes sense for me and I think for me it's got to come a little closer to the evolutionary science story than Wilber usually articulates. I think Wilber's ideas are probably a little bit sharper than his actual articulation but I definitely see his articulation has a penchant for a dismissive or denigrating attitude towards some of the findings of the sciences. And that phraseology makes me a little bit uncomfortable and the sense of imagining a force coming in from outside the system, as if science can't possibly explain it and a special God who loves evolution has to enter the picture and make it happen to make up the difference, I don't like that idea.
No, like I was saying, there are ways that I can validate Eros models in my own mind. That sense that there even is an outside of the system for something to come in to me is a myth or danger to say. It's a kind of nihilism at the level of cognition because that stays outside of reality is non-space. I don't think it should enter cognitive models. So generally that's that kind of when the poetry slants towards a metaphysics in which people are inclined to up the idea as if something was coming in from nowhere, to just make it happen, that makes me very uncomfortable.
FV: So yeah, Eros, is it a metaphor, is it a theory, is it a metatheory? It is unclear what Wilber has in mind, and the way he employs the term Eros, often in the context of scientific debates about what is empirically probable and isn't probable, muddles the waters even more.
FV: So can I respond directly? So yeah, Eros, is it a metaphor, is it a theory, is it a metatheory? It is unclear what Wilber has in mind, and the way he employs the term Eros, often in the context of scientific debates about what is empirically probable and isn't probable, muddles the waters even more. I have nothing against poetry if it's clear from the start that it is meant to be poetry. But if it's mixed with empirical questions then it is basically without meaning to me.
You mentioned the complexity and the diversity of reality and of course that is the challenge for all parties involved to explain that. The particular explanation of Wilber is positing an Eros in the cosmos and that is what I'm questioning. I'm never questioning the complexity or the sequence of going from simple atoms to complex human brains. That is not the issue. It was: do we make any progress in clarifying this process by introducing such an entitywhatever it might be. And my answer is no, because there are in almost all cases which Wilber uses as example so many more interesting scientific,
reductionistic if you want, explanations at hand that it becomes for me a meaningless exercise to repeat again and again there's an Eros in the cosmos.
In fact I see that there's a romantic ideology that is repeated again and again and never challenged, never even reflected
upon. So Wilber, instead of having an evolutionary theory he has an evolutionary theology. And that's basically how I see it now. It has value, and it is what it is, but we should be clear about this and mixing it with empirical questions.
LP: I agree! I think there's a lot of unclarity about the boundaries of what these discussions are. And when the topic of integral theory and the mode of discussing integral metatheory in general, it is such an umbrella concept, it is hard to know what you should focus on and what you shouldn't and to keep things from blending into each other. When you're gonna bring all these disciplines together and look at their correlations it's very easy to get crossover and and get them entangled with each other. So I think we have to do more work in teasing those things apart and seeing what kind of phrasing and what kind of thinking will benefit each area.
That's a real goal which integrative metatheory could have, right, it could be a cultivator a gardener and a custodian of how different domains relate to each other. But in order to do that we have to become more skilled at it than we are now. I think I do think that, you know Wilber, he's an older guy and I don't know that these questions we're discussing are even of
interest to him. Well, definitely if you listen to his dialogue, his popular discourses over the last years, you see a lot of
repetition and you get a lot of confusion about what's science and what's not science. I agree with that.
FV: I tried to spell that out in a paper I presented in 2010, "The Spirit of Evolution Reconsidered". Basically there was zero response on that paper except: one peer reviewer said, yeah, but what is this alternative? That was for me a sign that basically there is no scholarship or expertise within the integral community about this particular topic. That would be okay if evolutionary science was just another science, Ken Wilber in no way needs to be an expert in all the sciences. That is not the issue. The issue is that the central metaphor for integral Theory, evolution, is taken up from a field of science in which he has shown to have almost no expertise. For me that's an odd thing. I could be wrong, I can be right. Now it is definitely something that should be looked at from all sides.
But the lukewarm response to this topic has always puzzled me. Is it because the expertise is missing or the interest or that most integralists are, in fact, psychologists, therapists or consultants, looking for the "next stage" of evolution. Or do they really want to investigate the interface of integral with science? I mean, Wilber has an theory, a theory of everything, it
includes science specifically. In SES he also includes complexity science. Where is the "second reading" that should
be given to all this material? I have not been able to spot it anywhere. When, in the latest book, on Trump, evolution turned out to have even political strategic expertise, that was really the limit for me! That evolution "got stuck" and it had to "remobilize" and "change its course".
Of course we can say, again, that's metaphor and it might even be an enlightening metaphor but then be specific about it and don't claim that this same evolution is a force in the cosmos that is working against entropy and chance, as if it's a real effective energy. I think that's completely mixed up in the rhetoric Wilber uses and the fact that he is not willing to qualify it or specify it, he just repeats it. That is the sign for me that it's an ideology, by definition.
LP: There's a tradition of the idea that there might be some additional energy that is exploited by, or is particularly useful for, organisms and guides them in a particular direction.
LP: I think the concepts of Eros has not been formulated in such a way that they can approach the science yet, right. But the thinking on this subject hasn't formulated nearly enough to even see that it could move toward hypotheses which is what would happen do in order to try to enter in and integrate with the field of science. I think there are ways that might be possible, like depending on what we mean by Eros and Spirit, right? There's a tradition of the idea that there might be some additional energy that is exploited by, or is particularly useful for, organisms and guides them in a particular direction. Now there's a whole bunch of fanciful thinking on that subject. It's not out of the question that that could be a hypothesis that could be verified. It would first have to be formulated in those terms.
Likewise, the idea that the cosmos itself, reality itself, you know, outside of the terrain of biological evolution, contains certain patterns and certain structures that still changes over time in a particular direction. That might be a scientifically verifiable hypothesis. But it would first have to be formulated as such. We would first have to want to formulate it as such and that's where I see the hold-up for a lot of people is. A lot of people are happy with the way it has been phrased, they don't want to do work to clarify it and they don't think they should have to try to formulate it to meet science's requirements. I think there's a potential there. It doesn't have to be left as abstraction and muddled metaphors.
FV: That Wilber explicitly links the concept of Spirit or Erosin fact all of evolution, in The Religion of Tomorrow he says, the very fact that there is a evolution from the atom to the molecule to the human brain is proof of Spirit. I mean there's no mincing of words. It is not like that he says, there might be a subtle energy somewhere and perhaps in the future we can detect it. No, without this Spirit there would be no complexity, we would still be atoms! That's how I read it and in fact every time he repeats this argument it is as if every complexity for him is a mystery. As if he says, hey, there are molecules, and a boundary drops around them and they become cells. He is mystifying every step in the process.
Now compare this to science which doesn't have all the answers but at least there's the humility to say: we break the whole process up in steps and we study how molecules form from atoms or cells form from molecules and then it becomes
interesting and nobody in the field of science says hey wait a minute: you need Spirit to explain all that. That is ridiculous. Same in in biology: there are species, there are eyes and wings. Nobody in the field, as much controversy as there is in the field of biology, nobody says: you need Spiritexcept of course if you're a creationist or an Intelligent Design adherent. Yeah, then you have in the back of your mind the idea that science will never find the answers and my particular God is the explanation.
And Wilber is a creationist as far as I am concerned. The only difference is, his God is different than Jehovah but in terms of logic and argument he is a creationist. He misses science. And he says: Intelligent Design is correct as to the criticism of Darwin. He doesn't even consider that Darwinism might have been expanded into other schools of thought. There are many different streams in the in the domain of biology. There's a huge controversy about how much weight should be given to natural selection. But that's a naturalistic discussion. Wilber says, oh, Intelligent Design has solved that problem for me! Because they point out the huge holes in the theory. The only minor objection he has towards Intelligent Design is
that his idea of God is of course much more sophisticated. But if he could replace Jehova with emptiness the problem
would be solved for him.
Now, that is a sign for me that he has completely missed what science is and what it actually has provided in in terms of insights, solutions, theories. He glosses over all that for he has the answer already in the back of his mind. And that's his religion, and that's fine. I grant everybody his own religion, but don't mix that with science. Well, anyway, don't make me start...
LP: Yeah, it's an interesting thing with evolution, because the word means different things at different scales. A lot of the time, a guy like Wilber, or people in integral life communities get mixed up between those specific views in terms of the evolutionary sciences. A very broad use of the term which could describe the philosophical logic of the fact of all the changes in existence, and anything else that which is like or a specific subset of the evolutionary process and that's one of the things I hear Wilbur a lot is a conflation between a subset of evolution and the general evolution. We can use horizontal and vertical evolution, it doesn't matter. A lot evolution, especially in the neo-Darwinian sense, is adaptation to reproductive niches. That's not necessarily getting any progress in terms of complexity and consciousness in those adaptations. And so when he talks
about this progress, he talks about these holons and he's very interested in the tetra-evolution of these things, he is not necessarily interested in a very narrow subset of the evolutionary process. He speaks of the entire evolutionary process.
FV: We have a shortage of terms for this. How should we call it when planets emerge. And stars. OK, if we call that "evolution", that's fine, as long as he doesn't do what he did with biological evolution, and that is: posit some internal drive towards complexity in nature, and hey there are planets and the stars! That's begging the question big time for me, because there are solid and sound scientific explanations for how planets emerge. I mean, where to begin! But if you paint everything with a broad brush and make it a kind of spiritual philosophy by saying there's an Eros in the cosmos, in fact you can "explain" everything but it gives you the illusion of understanding. It's not really understanding, to me.
I mean, you can wake me up for any scientific problem, but you need to provide clarity instead of pretending that you have an explanation. It becomes more complicated if spiritually minded people say: hey but my third eye has opened and I see that Wilber is right. That's that's a totally different debate, of course. Because it just suggests my third eye is blind, or myopic, or whatever. It doesn't matter what the source of the knowledge is, does it clarify anything? And in all these cases I never see any fresh insight on how a species evolves, wings evolve, to stick to the biology field, so it leaves me pretty neutral if people come
up with these spiritual explanations. They just don't explain.
LP: What's your spiritual orientation? And what's your sense of whether or not there's a subjective correlates to evolutionary processes. You know you relate to that? The idea that there's a subjectivity, that there's a yearning that goes along with dynamism...
FV: Yeah I think the classic example is the giraffe with its long neck. As much as a giraffe wants to have a long neck, trying hard will not give it a long neck, nor pass it on to its offspring. It just so happens that those giraffes that have a long neck give that to their offspring. And so willing and trying and desiring are in itself important enough, but it does notunless you are a Lamarckian, give that characteristic to your offspring. And in fact Wilber is a kind of pre-Darwinian in this respect. In the time of Darwin almost everybody believed in evolution. His grandfather wrote a book on evolution. But they were "transformationists".
That means they thought that species morphed into other species by some transformative or mysterious force in fact nobody understood. This fits Wilber's view pretty well. In contrast, Darwin was a "variationist" (the terms are from Ernst Mayr, the classic evolutionist). A variationist says: it doesn't happen through internal transformations or interiority or wishes, but purely through the variation in nature, which is always a fact, and selection working on that - whatever the sources of these variations are. And that radicality, I believe, Wilber has never accepted. And it's the same radicality that says: you don't need a God to get to species. That's what Darwin said. Wilber re-introduced God, in fact. He says: without Spirit you don't get eyes, you don't get wings.
And this is a bit of a minefield in this discussion because I have challenged him about this many times. Especially when he wrote in A Brief History of Everything about "evolution is Spiri-in-action", and then the example of the eyes and wings came up. And when he was challenged he said: give me a break on this, I know the subject inside-out, I just wanted to say, how complex things are... That is very weak response because everybody knows things are complex. that the whole starting point, but for him it is the end point. Yeah so I see him as a "transformationist", I found the term in Ernst Mayrs work, and I think the term is very apt. And he keeps suggesting there is "transcend-and-include", and that there is "novelty" coming from nowhere, a "creative advance into novelty", to use Whiteheadian terms. And that is his explanation for novelty in evolution. But there is no scientist who would say that. Because it is an unnecessary hypothesis. Things can be explained. The fingers come from the bones in the finns of fishesthey are just re-used. It is not that there is a complete novelty there. Well, again, where to begin!
FV: So there is a vast field of so many theories and insights, and Wilber glosses over it, paints it with a spiritual brush, and sells this as an integration of science and religion.
So there is a vast field of so many theories and insights, and Wilber glosses over it, paints it with a spiritual brush, and sells this as an integration of science and religion. I think it is preposterous.
LP: Yeah, I don't think you need most of these ideas, especially how he is phrasing them, to understand how evolution is operating. The design, I think most of the design... It is hard to get your head around what the statistics are. There is a long history of people saying "this is completely implausible!". But our orientation should be to be parsimonious and try to explain as many things with as few principles as possible.
FV: Everybody starts out as a creationist, because nature is so complex, how could that possibly have evolved? So that initial skepticism is something to overcome, the resistance towards this is immense...
LP: And there's everybody starts off with a kind of condensed view of themselves and organisms. It's much more difficult to start thinking about the other scales they're going on. It turns out that the evolution is most the viral gene packets and not so much the organisms. It's hard to branch out and think in terms of your relationship and that the the idea of the four
quadrants is a useful way of symbolizing the fact that we have to keep all those things in our mind because whether it's
Darwin's idea that the ecosystem is selecting from among the variations or you know Lynn Margulis is kind of ideas
that they we have genetic communities symbiotically unfolding, these are all the relationship oriented, and to me that is something an integral thinker should have in the forefront of their minds. The organism, the relationships, the environmentall these are co-selecting among the variations that are present.
LP: One of the things I like about neo-Darwinism is that it is indifferent as to the sources of these variations. That leaves a lot of room open, right, they could be random mutation, they could be ancient aliens, they would be treated the exact same way.
One of the things I like about neo-Darwinism is that it is indifferent as to the sources of these variations. That leaves a lot of room open, right, they could be random mutation, they could be ancient aliens, they would be treated the exact same way. Sometimes I have this fantasy of spiders that look exactly like leaves on the forest floor and that is one of those things where you look at it and it's it's hard mostly as a human being to take seriously that this is a result of tinkering and selection. And you start thinking about these other options. I can even imagine that there is a spider somewhere that almost prays with its whole being and it wishes that it was unseen to airborn predators and if it survives then maybe it's children today for million generations these spiders indistinguishable as forth. I can see how that might happen right there might be a Lamarckian have an epigenetic effect on how our genes are organized. It modifies their diversity and then that gets selected for.
FV: You don't have to go that far. I have a couple of books by creationists and Intelligent Design authors, because it somehow turns me on to read all this literature. And I have tried to make a classification. If you introduce interiority, or a spiritual factor, you can say it is the organism itself that is a factor. This year I spoke to a creationist, Perry Marshall, who says: organisms can change their own genes, through "natural genetic engineering" as it is called. This is a bit of fringe, but it is scientific.
But the moment you say this spiritual factor is some cosmic, divine, generic "upward drive", then you run into so many questions... First, that drive is far too generic to create specific complexity. Second, why is that drive working on Earth, and only under very specific conditions, and not on the Moon or Pluto? See what I mean? And if it is a God, why did He choose Earth? These are all theological questions, and they are not interesting. For it is just your own fabricated universe of meaning you walk into. But there are much simpler answers to these questions.
LP: I get turned on by the theological and philosophical aspects of it myself, and I don't know, I can't say how much direct
impact it might have on any particular field of science, and maybe not, but I can see if they turn my mind that's a little
bit like Einstein in the sense that Einstein said with gravity you've got something that looks like a force, it seems to be like an energy that's locally but really it's not like that at all, it's a field, it has local effects, it has the opportunity to work, it's built into the geometry of the universe and that geometry at the level of almost purely syntactical mathematical structures lend something like an energy to a local circumstance. An abstract quantity that is exchangeable like it is an energy.
And so I can see a picture in which the universe is slanted in such a way that under certain conditions it gives a force
exchangeable quantity that's like energy, maybe even in tiny amounts, to phenomena that are occurring. So I think
that's something that might be testable down the line. I don't think it's totally impossible but I'm not sure whether it's
needed or not within the general field of evolutionary science. Most of evolutionary science will never go anywhere near that stuff.
FV: OK, you introduced a cosmic solution for a local problem and the economy principle prescribes that you first look at local solutions, and natural selection is so elegant, that without any cosmic governance or supervising deity or impetus or drive,
things get fine-tuned. This is almost an unbelievable simplicity. Of course you be skeptical and say: well yeah, natural selection can do some stuff not all the way, that is of course the skepticism that Wilber also voices. Yeah it's fine to have
some variation, I accept all that, I include itbut not a reductionismand I still need my God and my Spirit.
But in fact if you read Darwin carefully it is exactly the precise fine-tuning and adaptations, that's why it is called
adaptations, these changes are adapted to environments and nobody has to supervise. This is a magnificently simple explanation which does away with all these extra-cosmic extraterrestrial, whatever, unspecified influences. For that belongs to the Flat Earth Society, when the sky above us had some stars and you know everything was simple and also being created. We live in a different universe...
LP: I am not sure. It is easy to get mixed up when people are trying to fit in bigger pictures, especially when you mix that up with prerational of Flat Earth Society kind of stuff. Like if you want to ask purely philosophically if people want to sit down I go why it's been the number four or the number five, these are the extraordinary abstract questions that apply to the whole universe. Now they're relevant sciences because sciences need to be able to draw on them. They're not necessarily pre-rational just because they're cosmic and abstract. I think every philosophy and mathematics is that is to some degree cosmic and totally abstract. It has a role in local circumstance, will be easy to accept that we started thinking of numbers as having agency and trying to throw in the outcomes. So it's a slippery slope back and forth, I think it's easy to be dismissive but it's also easy to get confused everything on those topics, to slide backwards to four quadrants kind of stuff.
FV: I have pretty much lost you now. So instead of saying there might be this or there might be that, what specifically does it clarify, that's always my point of view. We could take Stuart Kauffman as example. Wilber also points to that, he says: I am not alone in criticizing Darwinism, because, like Kauffman says, we also need self-organization. That's true, in fact, that's correct. The thing is, these are not competing ideas. It is not that instead of natural selection creating a giraffe, it is now self-organization creating the giraffe. No! Self-organization works at a much higher taxonomic level. For example, how does a cell form? That is self-organization. The fat bubbles in your soup, that is self-organization. A totally different level of analysis.
That doesn't go against natural selection, in fact it shows how much evolutionary science has progressed since the time of Darwin. Darwin was studying species, the lowest level of taxonomy. There are six, seven, eight levels above it. Lynn Margulis studied the kingdomsplants and animalsand Carl Woese studied bacteria. Life itself is studied by Stuart Kauffman, how does life as a cell form? So all these levels are studied but none of them is a refutation of Darwin. And I think Wilber is very disingenuous here, because he throws around names like Stuart Kauffman, and here you have my Eroscome on people! This needs a whole lot better analysis than Wilber provides even to this very day.
I can also mention Ilya Prigogine, the thermodynamics guy, "order out of chaos". He seems to think that just saying a book title, Order out of Chaos, proves my spiritual universe! Again, come on! These people were naturalists, they were atheists, even Stuart Kauffman is a naturalistic-religious person. He does not need any Spirit, immanent or whatever, inserted in matter to get to complexity. They know better. Don't make me start...
LP: I agree with that in a lot of ways! I think of "sacred naturalism" as I would describe myself, [technical fragment about states]. I think there is a tendency in Wilber's phrasing to move away from naturalism, and we don't need to do that. We can take all these ideas and flesh them out in a kind of Cathedral of the Sciences of naturalism.
FV: I have lost you... Moving away form naturalism...
LP: OK, there's enlightenment of being one with the material universe, and then there's being one with the subtle, and I really don't think of it like that myself. I think there's a tendency to move away from the natural, to move away from the material, these are old-school philosophers tendencies. And I think technically he doesn't think of naturalism being as deep and rich as it could be. The natural environment as where all these dimensions come together, instead of something that has to be transcended in order to incorporate all these dimensions.
FV: A wider view of nature?
LP: Yeah, a richer view of nature.
FV: I like the sentence from Kauffman where he says: mine is not a mysticism, I have in fact a "physics of biology", but "this is God enough for me". And this is where I draw the line, where he only accepts natural reality, but is in admiration of the enormous complexity of this reality. And of course he has is own mind and experience, I don't think he has an explanation for that. Wilber, in turn, makes a lot of internal reality, and how that might correspond to outer reality, the subtle and the causal. I myself, twenty years ago I was fascinated by all that, but at the moment I think is is fine as a description of internal realities, but I have no way of seeing this explains anything in the outside world. So however you interpret this as a separate reality or an internal reality, we should keep this out of the discussion.
LP: Sure. Are there any intersections between science, and especially evolutionary science, and integral thinking? One of the possible intersections is: what does evolution look like when reality is structured the way integral theory says it is structured. We could ask ourselves, if the universe is a four quadrant affair, and if there are these other states, right, if there are these things, that should show up in the adaptation process, when looked at in a richer fashion. These are part of the needs in which any system is adapted. These other dimensions my play a role, or not, or very small, we need to formulate that.
FV: I think we should separate the four quadrants from the notion of Eros, and keep the quadrants and skip Eros. We then would still have a nice way to classify theories.
FV: I think we should separate the four quadrants from the notion of Eros, and keep the quadrants and skip Eros. We then would still have a nice way to classify theories. But the moment you say: now I know the dynamic that turns atoms into human beings, that there is an Eros in the Kosmos, that has nothing to do with the four quadrants, in my opinion. It is an esoteric mythology of involution and evolution. Thirty or forty years ago I believed in all that, I wrote a book about it, Seven Spheres. I liked it immensely, that is, until I started drilling into it and asking questions and asking for specifics. And then it just didn't hold up.
Because, again, evolution is "driven" because there has been an "involution" before it, and it all comes from Spirit and we go back to Spirit, and Spirit "pulls us back home"this is a whole dynamic that we don't need. It is fascinating and uplifting and it gives meaning, no doubt about it, but it does NOT explain evolution. It is an outmoded cosmology, and in my review of The Religion of Tomorrow I have tried to spell that out again. With almost no response or challenges, I don't understand this. Is it all then just a matter of broadcasting and selling an ideology? And letting Wilber explain this until his last day of life? Is that what we want? Or do we, after fourty years of writing by Wilber really take a critical look at it and see if it is all true?
LP: I can't tell. Perhaps people are waiting for him to die before they take the next step.
FV: OK, let other people do it, then. But allow them, invite them. And that is not what I see happening.
LP: I see all these areas where in the community everybody is busy with their own lives and their own thinking and there's not time and energy for everybody to go down in each channel, and check it out. There sees to be two areas in particular where the complaint is there is a weakness, in the righ-hand quadrants so to speak, and there are complaints that it doesn't get into the economic affairs [paraphrasing].
FV: I have compared it to a zeppelin. It is a hugely attractive thing, floating into the air, but there is little grounding in science and society.
LP: And I have the feeling that your critique hasn't been engaged with very well, and I can understand why that hasn't happened but I think that zeppelin-quality has to be counteracted. A better interface with solidity, with things on the ground. A more grounded Integral Theory that is better interfaced with social critique and better interfaced with the material sciences. That's what we need going forward. I think this is very valid and these are areas we have to go into. And it takes time! Obviously it takes time for anybody to work through any little piece and...
FV: Time is running out, a little bit. If you start writing in the 70s, the 70s is a long time ago. And we have had conferences and journals, we have had online Integral Naked, Integral Life, integral this and integral that, and all I see is the promotion of a new religionyeah, the religion of tomorrow probably.
LP: What's your fantasy, Frank? What would you like to see happening? What is your best case scenario?
FV: Well, I think integral has to aspire to the level of being conventional, instead of thinking that it might go down to that level. Because it is nowhere near the conventional levels of being honest with your theories.
FV: I think, an openness, and even an eagerness, to hear challenges and to reflect on them and not to say: oh, this comes from a Green level, or this is Orange. Wilber recently said: I am constantly being criticized by Frank Visser, who is "extremely conventional"... Well, I think integral has to aspire to the level of being conventional, instead of thinking that it might go down to that level. Because it is nowhere near the conventional levels of being honest with your theories and
your critics and in science you cannot do without critics. And we've had the whole Wyatt Earp episode. Well, that is a different story.
What it showed me was that integral has an unhealthy relationship with its critics. That it is fine to dismiss them and ridicule them. And that is great if you want to build a cult, but if you want to be taken seriously b scientists this is not the way to go and certainly not the way to emulate or to glorify or whatever, or take it as an example of good behavior. It's a shamenothing less. Anyway, I was personally involved in this of course, and I was really puzzled how "Wyatt Earp" was experienced in the community, when so many people were against it and so many people were in favor about, but in the end it didn't change anything because we had an Integral Institute with us and advanced forces, we artists as people who joined. That is the bandwagon I have not been part of since the year 2000.
BA: Can I interject here? I have been noticing a few things that I think would be nice to clarify and maybe bring things together also as we continue. So the three basic questions. One is talking about when layman was making his most to like the broader cosmic picture and you're asking what does that explain locally and what's the value of that and one question I have that I'd like to see your perspective on, Frank, something like the claim of Stephen Hawking that if the Big Bang Theory is true, if the universe that expanded one trillionth of a trillionth of 1% faster or slower a universe that would be capable of sustaining stars would not have been possible and without the evolution of stars without the emergence of stars then the heavy elements that provides all of life would not impossible and I don't think it's necessary to describe that in in terms of Spirit, but I think it does point to the fact that you can't really neatly disentangle the global and the local at the ontological level, I think, for science epistemologically the local focus is very useful. There are good reasons possibly to bracket out the global if basically whatever the global delivers can be taken as a given.
FV: Oh, I agree, I fully agree. The thing is in Big History they have analyzed this in a magnificent way. They have reconstructed this whole process. The generation of the heavy elements and the stars and all that. Even in our own bodies we have these
elements that come from star explosions. In that sense we are connected to the cosmos. But at no point is there a transcendental step, and Wilber is tempted at every step with the Transcendental Temptation. Whenever he encounters a complexity, he is tempted to see a mystery!
BA: That brings me to the other point I wanted to bring in, which I would like to ask Layman to clarify. This reframing of the classification of the subtle and the causal and the nondual, and how this might be viewed in a more naturalistic way, which would not necessarily involve some mysterious, extra-worldly transcendental force. It might be more locally as Latour talks about with every emergence being a local transcendence. There's a transcendence that happens at really every step. Bhaskar or Latour would talk about that in a naturalistic way so I want to ask layman if he could fold in what he means by gross subtle and causal and you could bring in module that would possibly give a more naturalistic framing of popular integral terms.
LP: That's right. I mean there's a tendency to think of these as the gates of consciousness experienced eternally by the meditator. There's an old tradition of talking about them in that way Wilber often brings them forth in that sense. Causal
as me as the witness, subtle as my subtle body and things like that and what I think is that's a that's a slice of what the phenomenon is. It looks different when you talk about it outside of a context, right. To me causal dimension for example is something like an immaterial unchanging aspect of how you're looking at things but externally there's something like that is what we call logic or mathematics, right? It doesn't have mass, doesn't have some flavor or color, it can be accessed everywhere so to me that's an external extension of the causal, alright? So I think of the causal as a sort of being visible and
n-dimensional syntactical set of presuppositions which allow any universe to operate.
And I think of the subtle in terms of anything which has a particular character and flavor but which is not quite the same as the syntax or substance and non-duality is the principle of being which allows those different facets to interact with each other. None of them is more primary or transcendental. They're all just things that we need in order to think about any given situation, all right, like if you didn't think that there was some kind of logical structure, which is equivalent to the witness in a sense, the witness is a logical structure type of argument about your consciousness, but you need that and you also need substances and substances a logic need to interact, sometimes there needs to be a principle [inaudible] which which is non-duality sense so that tends to be the way I hold it. And so I think you could you could say of any given instance that you couldn't think about it completely without all those aspects. However. you don't need to think about all those aspects in order to think about that situation clearly from a particular point of view. And so if you're doing evolutionary science is it significant that you need to think about the nature of syntax, where is the justification for logic and number and perception coming from you don't really need to think about that too much or it's unclear if you do or if you don't so I think you can do away
with most of that when you focus on a particular domain of inquiry such as evolutionary biology.
FV: Wilber has somewhere a nice idea, I believe in his response to Critical Realism, where he says: physics has gone through various phases. With the atom theory and the quantum and string theory. The same can be done for biology. You could have an Orange survival of the fittest and a Green cooperative biology and then you get the Tree of Life which has all the genealogy relationships and then you might even have a Turquoise horizontal gene transfer, or what have you, so that complicates the Tree even more. That's fine with me, it's playful, it could be right or wrong. It doesn't detract from the fact that all the significant discoveries in that field have been done by reductionist means. Lynn Margulis peering through a her microscope, saw the cell walls of the bacteria and mitochondria. Carl Woese saw the Archaea, investigating the bacteria he used reductionistic science. I mean all this talk about Orange being reductionistic... What I'm saying is, we might hope to reach that level. And not look down on it.
LP: Right there there was a tremendous jump in knowledge gathering capacity that occurred over the last few hundred years was accompanied by double checking your thinking, that's reason, we double check your evidence, things have to pass through these particular validating criteria, in order to move forward.
LP: I agree! And I think that reductionism a bad name in the integral community because one of the things you're trying to do with the metatheory is to validate a whole bunch of different domains and lenses. When you say "reductionism" you mean; don't throw out this domain like we're looking at this domain. We're against reductionism in that sense but a particular domain reductionism is a very beautiful and powerful thing which we see in the material sciences. Right there there was a tremendous jump in knowledge gathering capacity that occurred over the last few hundred years was accompanied by double checking your thinking, that's reason, we double check your evidence, things have to pass through these particular validating criteria, in order to move forward. So I think that the Orange Revolution which did so much for us in the external material science in the other areas right. I don't see that a lot of people's experience of their own psychology is up to the level of Orange and so I think a lot of people view scientific materialism as reductionist and partly because the other domains that they want to accommodate that standard, yet they don't really know how to get there and they're defensive against the success of scientific materialism. And I think the solution to that is trying to make a similar growth, more rigorous validation process for these other domains, so they can get together and go forward.
FV: But it is science that knows how to get there. Integral doesn't know how to get there.
LP: In principle, science does. And I think the integral argument ought to be: how can we export that into other domain we don't normally associate with the sciences. How can we do a similar form of increased rigor and then see what we have after that. So that's that's what I think integral ought to be looking at. And maybe without being held back by the ongoing argument of Ken Wilber, even if that was really in the past, those were great ideas but somehow we've all got to go forward together.
FV: Yeah, absolutely true.
BA: We need to take an objective stance towards the other domains [paraphrasing]. The third question I'd like it the third question I wanted to add is: we've been using the term "Eros" and we've mentioned that it's whether it's poetic or or whether it's an actual force I would like to ask you, especially Laymen, if you would offer any definition of Eros that you think is valuable and that would allow us to retain the term. Or, as in our previous dialogue, is it a holdover from old metaphysics that we could just as well do without.
FV: I think it's a matter of lazy thinking. Take the example of heavy elements. It was for a long time a mystery how all these elements, that in the 19th century in the periodical system were named, how did they emerge. One could tell a perfectly integral story here, and Wilber has done that in one of the Integral Spiritual Center talks. He says: from Hydrogen to Helium to Lithium to all the other elements you see a process of "transcend-and-include". And every next element brings new characteristics. True, but does that explain how the elements were formed? No. Not at all! Because only by seeing gravity doing its work of compression and star explosions and a lot of heat could it be made understandable. And that is not even all of it, because there were steps in there that could not be explained even by gravity and then you have to resort to
quantum tunneling and what-have-you, until all these steps were explained. Now if I have to choose between a an uplifting, fascinating story about transcend-and-include and the "creative advance into novelty" or a scientific story that has taken decades to be clarified but in the end it was found, the answer was found, then I have no difficulty. See what I mean? This is a very small, of course, of materialistic example. Integral is not specialized in chemistry, I know that, but since Wilber is extending his ideas to a Theory of Everything I do feel justified to take it as an example. And it also shows a huge contrast between the excitement of discoveries in science and the almost, how to say that, hypnotizing quality that the inter story can have. It gives the illusion of insight and understanding but it is none whatsoever a real explanation. It is
descriptive at most.
LP: Yeah I agree. it's primarily used as a descriptive rather than as an explanatory principle. I even know when people talk that shifts and it sounds like you're talking explanatory when they're really describing. As I said at the beginning of the talk, for me there are there are three kinds of Eros, right, one is more as a poetic placeholder for all the interesting and ongoingly explored aspects of complex phenomena. And and that if that's what it is it reminds us, and is evocative, it's emotional, and it directs us toward rigorous exploration. The number one
concept is great if it seals itself off and withdraws from the actual discipline from the yoga of the exploration that it's problematic. The second sense is where there may be Eros and Thanatos, in which Eros is only one of the spirits, so to speak, and not Spirit in general. It's confusing. Because for Wilber, Thanatos a still player for him now, like it was in his books from the 70s, but I can see a situation I can imagine for example that there's a good spectra of massless energy of which some of it interacts with organisms in a way that tends to help them out a little bit and another part of that spectrum to interact with organisms in a way that breaks down and so there could be an Eros in terms of some actual local energy dynamics. I don't know if you need that explanation or not but at the level of subtle energies it is possible. But it's only
possible if we think it through in a scientific way.
But maybe the most interesting part of what Eros could be is whether or not there's a probability skewing to reality in general. And I think this is Wilber's argument. What's really underlying Wilber's argument is his view of probability. Because he also sees it in terms of Sheldrake's morphogenetic field theory, in the sense that certain grooves laid down make the groove more probably over time. And so he's speaking of things that alter probability. It's it's an underlying aspect of this thinking. I'm not sure where I stand on that. I think that in local situations whether it's a form that's been practiced and causes a slight tilt in the direction of that form repeating or whether it's applied to the whole universe or something like the convergence and all the basic parameters of the universe end up pointing in a particular direction and that direction skews chance in that direction a little bit. I see it as possible but we really have to examine this in a bit more rigorous way.
FV: I still don't get what do you actually want to explain. I mean if there is one giraffe its more easy to get more giraffes? Well, there are easier ways to explain this than morphogenetic fields. I am serious.
LP: Well, an easier explanation comes of the discipline of the material sciences. We have to think of all this simultaneously.
FV: You make it so overly complicated. What is the added value?
LP: I will tell you what the added value is. I think when you come up with a possibility, that applies to many different domains, that is a philosophical possibility, initially, or it could be a fantasy. The responsibility is on you to bring it forward and frame it in a way that it can be understood. I think a lot of people who see probably see it maybe see a pattern in vision logic space, as a pattern or energy or something like a polarization, but they see it in their minds. Most of them are not interested in trying to formulate that in a way that it could be a scientific hypothesis. I am aware of the fact that it could be, but I am not sure if it needs to be. I am not sure how you actually add to the science even if that were true. It could be that it's true, but what does it add to the field of material evolutionary science? Probably not very much, except that it resonates with other means of enquiry for people.
FV: OK, but Wilber has made it a point from day one: this Eros is a better explanation than neo-Darwinism is able to give. So it's not a fancy metaphor. Up until The Religion of Tomorrow you can read that he says: at least this give a better
or more reasonable explanation of the origin of complexity and that is the very thing I keep questioning.
LP: I agree! And I don't think I don't think his phrasing does justice to the sciences.
FV: Yeah, but he does this now for 30 years! In Eye to Eye he says; the only problem with evolutionary science is that it doesn't take Spirit into account. As if that would clarify the matter. Nobody has challenged him on this, nobody.
LP: Well, I couldn't say if nobody has challenged him on this...
FV: They say: Frank, we have all these discussions, but "behind closed doors".
LP: Yes, exactly, and that is a detriment to us. And the fact that we are not open to criticism., seeking criticism more, I think that's a detriment to us.
There are things that are of interest, when you think about domains and disciplines.
FV: I am well aware that the whole evolution story is limited. Integral may be just a classification game of theories, in that sense it is a meta-theory. What I don't know if integral can every make pronouncements on empirical matters.
LP: I agree. We should be extremely skeptical of a phraseology that sounds like is pronouncing on empirical matters.
FV: Because if Wilber includes developmental models, he pays very close attention to what the scientists in these fields actually say. When he includes or in fact excludes evolutionary science he does not pay attention to what these people actually say. And this very omission tells me something about how skewed he is in fleshing out his own model. And that's fine because he has his own history and his preference and his experiences but he should not pretend it is integral.
LP: Going forward we want to bring in areas of expertise, so we don't overemphasize or focus exclusively on one domain.
FV: I have tried to do that for evolutionary science, in over a hundred essays. It has become a personal project for me a little bit, which was very rewarding for me, so no complaints here. But I would love to see more expertise in the community and people would just
disagree with me.
BA: We are almost through our time, but I wanted to say what was obscured by what Layman just said, which is thank you, thank you for doing that work. Also I wanted to add, Michael Dowd makes a distinction between day language and night language and I think
at the level of meta theory we can use both day language and night language. To me Eros seems most useful as night languaging for servicing metatheoretical purposes, not for serving domain specific explanatory purposes. We need to clearly differentiate those which I think you
know Layman has also articulated where just because we're close to our are end here I wanted to interject and just ask for any final closing comments from each of you.
FV: OK, you are welcome.
LP: This is great! Frank, I appreciate the work you're doing and I have articulated several times where we should all go in support. I do think there are several areas where the underlying ideas expressed could be scientific hypotheses, if they were formulated more clearly, and people should work on these formulations. We should tease apart the bits of the phrasing that lead us to metaphysical thinking and the bits of the phrasing that open us up to possibilities that we could check on and then find out if they're true or not. Regardless of the value they have for helping us put all the different domains together at our mind.
FV: OK, it looks to me a little bit as a solution looking for a problem, instead of the other way around: first start with the problem and then find a solution.
LP: Yeah, I think so. For individuals it works like that. Science is very different, very disciplined, but in your own life a lot of what you do is a solution looking for a problem.
FV: So the phrase "evolution is Spirit-in-action" is nice as a slogan but it's hopeless as a theory and we don't know what's in the middleif anything issomething in the middle. is that the
LP: That's a good question: is there something in the middle?
FV: This is the integration of science and religion that Wilber is trying to forge, and I have doubts about its feasibility.
LP: There are things I love about his integration but going forward I think the integration has to steer more towards sacred naturalism.
FV: Yeah. I wrote a piece called "Why we need a Secular Integral", not meaning that everything should be flattened at all, because no you could have any experience you want. But we should no longer draw conclusions, metaphysical conclusions based on these experiences. That you can experience emptiness in yourself, for example, is fine but why call it the World Ground? That doesn't follow, for me. We make way too much from all these internal internal experiences. You can visualize, that's subtle, you can stop your thought, causaldone.
What else do you need? In a secular environment that is already common knowledge. Look outside to the cosmos and to a flower, and you see enough! For me, in fact, you could call it "spirituality". But why even call it spirituality? I wouldn't even call it "sacred" as if you have at least
something sacred. Why, it is fine as is. But perhaps, that is already nondual, I don't know.
LP: Probably. We use these words in a lot of different ways and I think a lot is just to say that they find something very valuable. It resonates with them.
FV: Yes, but that can be anything, then.
LP: Yes. What would be a better thing? People experience the richness of science as "sacred". That's a good thing, that's a step forward in the experience of the sacred, from people who just experience folk concepts as sacred, so we
want to keep that trajectory going.
FV: I don't know, in my 20s I went to India and I studied the psychology of religion, but over the years I felt that yearning evaporate. And I am perfectly fine with that. So it is also a disease almost, that you want to find something behind everything. I am now more accepting of what is here.
LP: I agree. The idea that there is something outside everything is a nihilistic problem in cognition, the idea that there's nothing behind everything or that there's something out there that's going to in here, I think in order to make a good philosophical picture, to make a good integral philosophical picture, everything that's real has to be inside already. It has to be part of this system that we're in. It can't come from an imaginary outside place.
FV: Are you an idealist?
LP: It's hard to say! I think realism is ideal.
FV: Do you need an ideality-check or a reality-check?
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