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

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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, a psychologist of religion, founded in 1997 (back then under the name of “The World of Ken Wilber”). He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.


Paper prepared for the 1st Integral European Conference, Budapest, 2014 Due to conference schedule limitations only parts of this text could be presented.


How to Get Rid of Your Wilber Complex

Frank Visser

Above all, let's de-glamorize, de-hype, de-mystify, de-idealize the integral project... Some parts of integral theory are strong, some are weak, and some are just plain wrong.

In past Integral Conferences the question was posed: DOES WILBER = INTEGRAL? Most participants chose the (politically correct) answer: NO. Integral is bigger than Wilber. I have always been content with YES as an answer, since Wilber is the biggest voice in the integral field. For all practical purposes, Wilber = Integral (look at this IEC conference program). But I consider this a secondary question. The primary question should be: DOES WILBER = TRUTH? And where does our loyalty lie: Wilber or Truth? That's an entirely different question. Much more difficult to answer. But much more rewarding. This question has not been posed and answered enough in the integral community. My answer would be: probably yes, probably not and NO—depending on the field we are talking about (I, WE, IT).

Ken Wilber
© Chris Zomer, Bookface, 2013

The title of this paper can easily mislead you. Wilber or Truth?—does that mean there is no truth in the writings of Ken Wilber? Of course not. What I have in mind is that there are two ways to approach the intellectual universe that Ken Wilber has created.

One can completely identify with Wilber's point of view, get inspired by his writings, and proceed to apply his ideas to your life and to the problems of the world. Or, alternatively, one can give Wilber a close, second reading and ask yourself “Is it true?”. Not just “it feels right” or “it sounds true”— truthiness—but truth. Obviously, there's a tension between these two approaches. (One can also call these types the fan and the critic, see Parker, 2007).

It's not difficult to be initially impressed by Wilber's output—even his strongest critics have gone through that phase. But there comes a point in your study of Ken Wilber, that you have to decide for yourself where your loyalties rest: Wilber or Truth?

The first approach can easily lead to a Wilber Complex—the tendency to take him on his word and see criticism as an attack on a beautiful and inspiring intellectual framework. The general attitude towards criticism usually is a pervasive defensiveness, not to say paranoia. How can such a beautiful system of philosophy not be true? After all, we have Truth on our side, or God, or Eros, haven't we? Critics must surely suffer from shadow related problems… Perhaps they are just Wilber wannebee's, trying to get famous by attacking Wilber.

Obviously, I have suffered from such a Wilber Complex in the years when I discovered his work in the early eighties, concluded that here was a man who “understood it all”, and I could not understand why the rest of the academic world wasn't taking any notice of him. They must have been under the influence of some anti-spiritual ideology, reductionism or any other delusion, to not see the brilliance of this man. I suspect many of you resonate with this sentiment.

Ken Wilber's works contain thousands of statements on a multitude of subjects, ranging from the development of individual and cultural consciousness, to mystical states of consciousness, the culture wars and the nature of cosmic evolution. For some he has presented evidence, others he only claims to be true—often with persuasive rhetoric.

Independent validation of these statements by others has been taken up in some cases, but most of this work has yet to be done—if it will be done at all. Life is too short, it seems, to critically deal with all the areas Wilber has covered. Even the collective intelligence of all those who have shown interest in Wilber over the years—psychotherapists, management consultants, spiritual seekers—seems insufficient for this task. Meyerhoff (2010) seems to be the only critic who has covered multiple disciplines in his critical analysis of Wilber's Theory of Everything.

This second approach has a decidedly sobering effect. To get a grip on the truth value of Wilber's integral philosophy we might do well to differentiate between areas where Wilber's statements have been helpful, such as psychology and spirituality (though many have disapproved of his endorsement of controversial gurus, such as Adi Da and Andrew Cohen), and areas where he has shown to be less on solid ground, such as politics or cultural criticism (most notably his crusade against Boomeritis), or even widely off the mark, such as in particle physics or evolutionary theory.

The complication with validating Wilber's model is that it's not a simple theory, but a meta-theory—a “Theory of Everything”, or so it is advertised. A theory is about facts, a meta-theory is about theory, or actually theories, and how they fit together. How to validate such an enterprise? According to metatheoretician Steve Wallis (2010), who takes an interest in Wilber's work, “there is no generally accepted method for evaluating theories and metatheories.” For sure, not a promising prospect.

At the first Integral Theory Conference in 2008 attempts have been made to “decouple” Wilber and Integral by asking Wilber = Integral?. At first sight, this is a reasonable strategy, it would decrease the towering influence of Wilber over the contemporary integral field. Other integral authors, such as Gebser, Aurobindo etc. could be studied. But in my opinion Wilber has already included these in his model, so it would be more appropriate to assess if he has done justice to these sources—and stick to the Wilber-integral model, if only to retain some focus.

At the third Integral Theory Conference (2013) a further step was made to loosen up the bond between Wilber and Integral. By inviting two other integral heavy weights (Roy Baskhar and Edgar Morin), the Wilber monopoly in the integral field could be broken up and his model could be opened up to alternative conceptions. However, exchange between these integral luminaries turned out to be very difficult in practice, since Wilber never attends in person. Also, the framework used (I-We-It) to situate the three philosophers was decidedly Wilberian.

This I-We-It model applied to the integral landscape is illuminating, when applied to these three integral luminaries. Not only did it turn out that each of them had their stronghold in one of the three segments of reality (I = Wilber, We = Bashkar, It = Morin), also they apparently compensated for the weaknesses found in the two others. The result would be a stronger, more integral integral model, than Wilber's model alone. Of course, fleshing this out in more detail would take years of work.

This is the idea of “meta-integral”—promoted by Sean Esbjörn-Hargens' Meta-Integral Foundation—where we are, again, one step further removed from the data of science, making validation even more challenging. No longer are theories compared to theories, this time integral models are compared to integral models, and situated in a new, over-arching meta-integral framework. A meta-meta-theory, so to speak. Where will this tendency towards abstraction end?

Still, comparing Wilber to his integral peers opens up the possibility to have a fresh, new look at Ken Wilber and openly ask yourself where the shortcomings of his model show up most clearly. In his opening talk of this conference, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (2013) distinguished between the “primary”, “secondary” and “tertiary strengths” of the three integral philosophers. Of course, “tertiary strength” is an euphemism for weakness, and we shouldn't be afraid to use these terms, in my opinion.

I have known Wilber's works since the early eighties of the last century, have translated and edited some of his books into the Dutch language, wrote the first monograph about his work—Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, published in 2003 by SUNY Press—and host a the website since 1997 as an online forum for the critical discussion of Ken Wilber's integral philosophy. My major aim in writing Thought as Passion was to summarize his many books, so that a critical debate about the validity of his vision would be facilitated. The major aim in hosting Integral World was to provide a forum for a Wilber debate, free of any promotional or commercial setting.

Over the years, I have taken up this task of stimulating discourse on Wilber by integrally informed authors, often with academic affiliations, who have taken the trouble to study his works and contemplate on their validity from various angles, by giving them a voice on Integral World. Has this effort resulted in a lively exchange between Ken Wilber and these critics, or at least with those of his students who represent his views? On the contrary: the past decade and a half has been characterized by a deafening silence on this front. As justification for this Wall of Silence is often given that critics misrepresent Wilber's ideas (a claim that is almost never substantiated).

Unfortunately, this non-response to criticism is emulated by his epigones. When Tomas Markus (2009) reviewed the book Integral Ecology on Integral World and criticized the author's idealistic treatment of the topic, where Markus defended a Darwinian point of view, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens (2009) found reason to complain about plagiarism and felt the need to warn readers of Integral World of this offense. Rather than engage Markus' critical arguments, he deflected attention to a supposed case of plagiarism of the reviewer.

Ironically, the reviewer's opinion on ecology couldn't have been more different compared to that of the authors of Integral Ecology. Usually, plagiarism means pretending someone else's view is your own, without acknowledging this, but in the case of Markus, nothing could be further from the truth. His crime consisted of presenting the content of Integral Ecology by using fragments from the book, without using the proper quotes. Sadly, again, real debate was aborted and forestalled. Like Wilber, Esbjörn-Hargens promised to get back to the content of the review in a “review of reviews”, but to my knowledge this has never materialized. Unfortunately, Markus died in 2010, so this exchange will not be possible anymore.

For all practical purposes, integral is still Wilberian-integral, as psychoanalysis was for a long time Freudianism—that is, until rival psychoanalytic theorists entered the scene. We haven't yet seen an integral Jung, if you ask me, for no integralist has fundamentally challenged Wilber in that sense—not even Sean Esbjörn-Hargens.

Another tendency among integralists that precludes critical analysis of Wilber's work is saying that most criticism relates to Wilber's older works, esp. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Contrary to this notion, Wilber is never tired of stating that he still stands by his older works, to give the suggestion of internal and chronological coherence. In my opinion, this defense mechanism is irrelevant, for even if the intellectual productive history of an author spans 30 years, it is always relevant to point out inconsistencies or errors in older works, if they haven't been corrected.

Let's go over the wide landscape that Wilber has touched on in his writings, and get a feel of the sturdiness of his many claims. We'll use the convenient tripartite division of I-We-It. Above all, let's de-glamorize, de-hype, de-mystify, de-idealize the integral project and do away with any projected notion of infallibility on the part of Wilber, or superiority of integral approaches to the problems of the world. Some parts of integral theory are strong, some are weak, and some are just plain wrong.

We can call them the good, the bad and the ugly parts of integral theory.[1]


“If all four quotes are correct then the current integral theory of states is in need of some very serious house cleaning.”
—Mark Edwards

Let's start with an area where Wilber is supposed to be most at home, the I-space of consciousness, psychology and spirituality.

In his early works of the 80's and 90's, Wilber was primarily stage-oriented as a developmentalist. His revolutionary contribution was to add to the available conventional stage models extra transpersonal stages, thereby enlarging the spectrum of consciousness from body to mind to soul to Spirit. Transformations of Consciousness (1986) was the culmination of this phase of his work. To be sure, higher stages could be “peeked” as peak experiences, but for a true “adaptation” to be reached, these higher states needed to be consolidated into stages. “States become traits” was the motto in those days.

In his post-00's works, the state concept gained more prominence. States of consciousness were now seen as independent of stages, as visualized in the well-known Wilber-Combs Matrix, which portrays stages and states as independent axes. Now, it was supposed that you could access virtually any state from any stage. Of course, this is an empirical question that cannot be decided from an armchair: are lower stages not more correlated with lower states, and higher stages with higher states, as one would expect from Wilber's earlier model?

Wilber shows himself here to be more a classifier rather than a scientists. He seems content with having postulated 30 or so categories of religious experience. A true scientist would ask: are all state-experiences in the various stages equally likely to happen? Or would lower stages tend to correlate with lower states, and higher stages with higher states—making states and stages not as independent as the Wilber-Combs matrix suggests at face value.

What is more, Wilber (2003a) often suggests that even a child can access the subtle states, “simply because it dreams and sleeps” (for in Wilber's understanding, these are variants of the causal and subtle states):

All individuals have access to the three great realms/states of gross, subtle, and causal, simply because everybody wakes, dreams, and sleeps. Thus, even an infant has access to these three great realms.

Here, the argument seems to be sliding, from the obvious fact that all people (or in fact all higher animals, as far as we can tell) dream and sleep—these are natural states of consciousness—to the unlikely fact that all these organisms have access to spiritual states, which are cultivated and uniquely human states of consciousness (for otherwise cats and cows would be enlightened). If Wilber's intention was just to restrict the meaning of subtle to the dream state in this quote, the statement would become circular—for then he would argue that “all individuals dream simply because they dream”—so that's obviously not the point. But for being able to access spiritual states, being able to experience natural states is obviously not enough. Spiritual practice makes the difference.

These changes of mind on the part of Wilber seem to remain unnoticed by the integral community. New dispensations are accepted without further ado. Does anybody care at all?

Well, Mark Edwards (2003) cared, very early on. He wrote a two-part, 39-page essay on Wilber's new conception of states of consciousness, and started with the following assessment:

This essay begins with four quotes from Ken's writings on infant spirituality. All of the quotes concern the relationship of infants to the experience of transpersonal spirituality. Two of them assert that infants have "authentic" access to those realms and two of them assert that they don't. In the following I simply try to work out which two are valid and which two aren't. If all four of them are correct then the current integral theory of states is in need of some very serious house cleaning.

Edwards covered the following areas in his essay:

  1. logical arguments based on Integral theory itself (Part 1)
  2. studies on childhood spirituality (Part 1)
  3. the authority of the Vedanta and Buddhist traditions (Part 2)
  4. the idea of the "ever present" and pre-existing nature of states (Part 2)
  5. the evidence from dream and deep sleep studies (Part 2)
  6. the evidence from studies of highly advanced meditators (Part 2)

It has always puzzled me that even these elaborate and careful criticisms of central parts of Wilber's model go unnoticed by Wilber and his closest students. It is typical of a certain intellectual anemia on the part of the integral community when it comes to critically assessing the validity of Wilber's often overconfident statements.

Ironically, Edwards later turned out to be one of the very few “good critics” that Wilber acknowledged as faithfully representing his position. When he wrote the states essay (in 2003), this was not yet the case. Even then, this “alternative view on states" still awaits a reply.

Obviously, this goes beyond the facile application of the four quadrant model to any field of life or science one wishes to be clarified. It requires deep study of science and spirituality. It is also beyond the simplistic application of stages (or memes) to complex world problems (more on this later).

Another peculiar inconsistency in the realm of the I-space is the fact that in Wilber's model of development each stage is said to “transcend and include” its predecessors. But apparently that doesn't apply to all stages in equal measure. The centaur stage is defined as an integration of mind and body, but why wouldn't that same qualification be applicable to the preceding mental stage, which is supposed to include all its previous stages, including the body?

In the later Wilberian literature, the stage concept is replaced by the fancier and more colorful meme concept. Here, it is argued, that first-tier memes see their own truth as absolute. Fundamentalists cannot understand modernists. Modernists cannot understand postmodernists. And postmodernists cannot understand both. But what happened to the transcend-and-include dogma? Do stages no longer include their predecessors? I am not saying this should be the case, for if modernism would include premodernism, it would no longer be, well… modern. But there is friction between these ideas that deserves a deeper study.


In our understandable enthusiasm to apply integral concepts to world problems, we might think twice before taking or endorsing any course of action.

Moving to Wilber's supposed secondary strength: the We-space or the dimension of culture, intersubjectivity, relationship, politics etc., we can try to assess how solid Wilber's musings about the world situation have been over the years.

When 9/11 struck, Wilber (2001) reluctantly gave a reasoned response to this global crisis situation, phrased in the literary format of his Boomeritis novel. In his opinion, responses to the WTC disaster could be categorized using meme theory borrowed from Spiral Dynamics, so that all responses were possible or imaginable, from “Let's bomb them back to the Stone Age” (Red), “This is an assault on Western, Christian values” (Blue), “It was an attack on the heart of capitalism” (Orange), to “These terrorists are disadvantaged by Western colonization” (Green). Wilber even suggested spiritual responses to this event, one of them was the lofty and detached “What crisis?”.

Entertaining as these exercises might be, they don't provide insight into the complexities of the world situation and the deeper causes of world problems. If responses are meme-based, then who is right, and what course of action should be taken here?

In a later submission on the potential meanness of all memes, not only the Green one, written specifically for Integral World in response to Bill Moyer's (2002) critique of the blind spots of Spiral Dynamics and Ken Wilber, Wilber (2002) argued that:

Green is generally helpless and hapless in the face of red: all of green's tools and values are clueless in the face of joyous brutality and intentional aggression. Talking, sharing, caring, and dialoging do not impress red. It takes a blue meme to smash red in the face and not blink.

Even if one didn't agree with Bush and his fundamentalist worldview, Wilber implied, an integral view might support the War in Iraq for precisely this reason.

Incidentally, in this reply to Moyer, Wilber called the Mean Orange Meme “the nastiest of the nasty memes”, and claims to have covered its effect in his theory of flatland—but Moyer (2002) had a decidedly more political discussion in mind: the unsustainable US economy about which we hear very little from Wilber.

In a further email communication about the world crisis, Wilber (2003b) pointed to Tony Blair as the only world leader coming close to an integral position:

Like the colossus at Rhodes, Blair has one foot in America and one foot in Europe, and heroically seems the only world leader attempting to keep that integration in existence.

This analysis of the world situation using the concepts of integral theory or Spiral Dynamics—which had become the lingua franca by then—has provoked critical responses on Integral World that are worth considering.

Straight after 9/11, Ray Harris (2001) gave a 4-part series of essays called “The Memes at War” in which he followed Spiral Dynamics closely—his analysis was endorsed by Don Beck as “A brilliant analysis”—by suggesting that Blue Bush and Green Blair could formulate a response to this conflict between Red terrorists and Orange capitalism. Hot colors can only be balanced by cool colors, or something to that effect.

When the US invaded Iraq, Harris (2003b) wrote another Integral World essay, also in response to Wilber's Iraq postings mentioned above, in which he was less enthusiastic about the diagnostic powers of SD, which reduces all complexity to sound bites, especially in the hands of Wilber. He warned that armed intervention in Iraq simply to get rid of Saddam Hussein would not automatically open the door to democracy. In fact, the opposite was more likely: a civil war between the ethnic groups of Kurds, Sunnites (the leading majority) and Shiites. History bears this out.

A further considered response on Integral World came a few years later from Jose Vergara (2007), who focused on the supposed integral leadership qualities of Tony Blair, who had by then stepped down as prime minister. Vergara doesn't put strict demands on the qualification of being an Integral Leader, even coming close would do, given the non-integral nature of current world politics. Vergara comes close to handing over this award to Blair, given his balanced treatment of the external and internal causes of world problems, in their individual and collective aspects, but stops short because of… Iraq:

There are basically three reasons why we cannot end this already too long essay right now and give Blair the award: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq. Yes, and it is such a big deal that I could have said 10 reasons and repeat it ten times.

Among the negative consequences of the US intervention in Iraq Vergara mentions:

  • Around 650.000 Iraqis killed according to The Lancet, around 70.000 according to the Iraq Body Count. Of course, these numbers are increasing rapidly on a daily basis.
  • Almost 4000 coalition soldiers killed
  • Millions of refugees. The UN estimates that nearly 4 million Iraqis have been displaced by violence in their country, the vast majority of which have fled since 2003.
  • State of Civil War in the country.
  • Iraq turned into a great training center for terrorists and extremists from all over the Muslim world.
  • Rather than undermining radical Islam, the Iraq war has legitimized it, in Iraq and beyond (the war has strengthened the religious extremists in Pakistan —a nuclear power— creating an extremely dangerous situation there).
  • Severe degradation of America's moral standing (Abu Ghraib).
  • The war has increased the risks of nuclear proliferation (having the Bomb is seen as insurance policy against possible preemptive attacks by the US —North Korea was not attacked).
  • A cost (according to Stiglitz) ranging from slightly less than a trillion dollars to more than $2 trillion.
  • Key Al-Qaeda leaders are still free. The war diverted efforts away from capturing Bin Laden.
  • Deterioration of America's overall image in the world (Pew survey).

While Blair is of course not responsible for all these negative side effects, Vergara concludes that “there were no good reasons to go to war.” Blair certainly was no Colossus of Rhodes.

The reason I am bringing this up is that in our understandable enthusiasm to apply integral concepts to world problems, including global warming, we might think twice before taking or endorsing any course of action. These things require a deep knowledge of the field—as in any other field of science—and not a simple acquaintance with integral or SD concepts.

As Wilpert (2003) cautioned in a balanced essay on the pros and cons of intervention:

A truly integral approach to the problem would suggest that an integral analysis of the region and how its problems could best be solved is required.

One only needs to watch the award winning documentaries “No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent into Chaos” (2007) and the three part “The Iraq War It's Hell Mr. President” (2013) to see what strategic mistakes have been made with grave consequences (available on YouTube). Where was the integral analysis in all those years? When have major integralists ever been critical about the eagerness of father and son Bush and their neocon friends to go to war?

Other critics (Carlson, 2008) have accused Wilber (and Beck for that matter) of having a bias against left-wing politics and harboring neo-conservative agenda. This of course, was expressed and magnified in their joint doctrine of the Mean Green Meme. But if the next step for the US economy is the Green value system (Dawlabani, 2014), then why continuously bitch on Green's shortcomings? Why not actively strengthen its role in the world? As Harris (2003a) expressed it in 2003: we need to rescue Green from Boomeritis. By not doing this—at least I am not aware of any efforts in that direction—Wilber (and Beck) have the appearances against them. Discussion on this issue has been tough, if not impossible.


Inspiring? Certainly. Convincing? Well, only if you know really nothing about how science actually views these things.

Ken Wilber's tertiary strength relates to the IT-space of external reality: physics, evolutionary theory, or science in general. How strong is Wilber's grounding in science?

This is a subject I have taken up in recent years (Visser 2010, 2011, 2013), and I will quickly give a brief summary.

In an Integral Life video related to the 3rd Integral Spiritual Experience seminar Wilber gave a Whiteheadian picture of how the material particles came about. This fragment gives you the flavor of it (quoted in Visser 2011):

So the universe, in addition to containing quarks or strings or whatever fundamental item we are talking about, in addition to possessing quarks it now possessed protons and neutrons and electrons. And these went on about their moment-to-moment existence, transcending-and-including the previous moment, and at some point the novelty-component, the emergent-component, the evolutionary Eros—the transcendental drive—overcame the merely prehensive or merely including component, and protons and neutrons and electrons came together to form atoms.

And so we started to get Hydrogen, and Helium and Oxygen and Nitrogen, and Potassium and Sodium and so on, starting to populate the universe. And this in itself is really extraordinary, given that none of this really existed with the Big Bang.

And yet the drive, that fundamental drive to creativity—it has been given many names, including self-organization and Eros—but this Eros has this extraordinary capacity to fundamentally govern this "creative advance into novelty".

The overall conception here is that there is a cosmic “tendency towards novelty” that is responsible, not only for the emergence of matter, but also of mind and culture.

Inspiring? Certainly. Convincing? Well, only if you know really nothing about how science actually views these things. Just how, exactly, have the heavier elements Wilber mentions (and many, many more) been formed? Is science in the dark about this question, and would it be helped in any way by the introduction of a spiritual "advance into novelty"?

According to the most elementary physics handbooks, the heavier elements were forged in the core of exploding suns. When stars have run their course, the outward pressure diminishes and gravity takes over, causing the remaining particles to crush together into heavier atoms. When these dying stars explode as super-novae, these heavy elements are sent into space, to be used in future planets as food for higher organisms.

Why does Wilber opt for such a fancy view of the science of physics and chemistry? Is he not aware of how science explains these things? Is this seriously how integral philosophy is trying to make a name in the mainstream world? It is the best way to be its laughing stock, in my opinion.

There's a whole literature called the Epic of Evolution (Chaisson), Big History (Spier), The Universe Story (Green, Swimme) etc., which attempts to cover these cosmological dimensions, ranging from reductionistic to spiritualistic narratives. It would be helpful to assess exactly where Wilber's sparse ideas on this topic fit into these larger pictures.

Same goes for Wilber's more elaborate but still very sketchy dealings with evolutionary theory, which I have commented upon on many occasions on Integral World (Visser 2010). Again, instead of stepping down to the level of details where every science has to operate, and really get to know its subject matter, Wilber tries to solve these things in the abstract way. Biological complexity, he claims, cannot be the result of mere chance, as science supposedly holds true—and who would not agree with this?—so the conclusion seems unavoidable (quoted in Visser 2010):

[S]omething other than chance is pushing the universe. For traditional scientists, chance was their god. Chance would explain it all. Chance—plus unending time—would produce the universe. But they don't have unending time, and so their god fails them miserably. That god is dead. Chance is not what explains the universe; in fact, chance is what that universe is laboring mightily to overcome. Chance is exactly what the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos overcomes.

Again, is this how integral philosophy chooses to present itself to the world of science? Really? A casual reading of popular books on evolution (take Ernst Mayr, Richard Dawkins Jerry Coyne) teaches us that evolutionary theory holds that biological complexity is the result of random chance and non-random selection. Now, one can disagree with this (as creationists do) or find the whole idea ridiculous, but one should present science correctly before criticizing it—isn't that exactly how Wilber (2004) desires to be treated himself when criticized?

The disturbing thing is not that Wilber, who claims to be on top of this field because he (almost) graduated as biochemist, makes these errors, but that he refuses to correct or even to reflect on them, when these are pointed out to him. Again, discussion on this issue has been tough, if not impossible. This has not increased my faith in integral philosophy. Claiming deeper knowledge up front, without actually knowing the details of a complex scientific field can be so off putting.

It is one thing to convince the layman with catchy metaphors and rhetoric, to persuade him or her into an uplifting spiritual philosophy of life, it is something else to stand before the community of specialists and defend your case there.

Wilber seems to have a bias towards growth, development and increasing complexity, at the expense of the opposites: entropy, chaos, death. If there is an Eros in the Kosmos, as Wilber consistently claims, a force that creates larger and larger units of complexity, where does that leave Thanatos, the force of destruction and decay? And which one would win out in the end?

Interestingly, in the field of Big History (Chaisson 2005, Spier 2013, quoted in, Visser 2013) these neglected “negative” concepts take center stage. Ironically, these turn even out to be necessary for their “positive” opposites to arise. Our bodies radiate a lot of heat that needs to be released in cool space, otherwise we would soon get overheated and die. For the moment, it is more accurate to say we only see local pockets of complexity, especially on Earth, in a cosmic sea of entropy, in the coolest space you can imagine. Very few integral authors have dealt with entropy, a notable exception is Michael Zimmerman (2008).

Entropy, or disorder, according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is ever increasing in the universe. Things fall apart. However, on planet Earth we see an apparent increase in complexity, when we review evolution going from bacteria to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and us. So, does that contradict the all-pervasive Second Law, or is there some mysterious Cosmic force at work, pushing us slowly in the direction of higher and more complex states of consciousness and culture—a favorite thesis among integralists?

Again, this is wholly at variance with the common understanding of science. The continuous energy output from the Sun is more than enough to produce complexity on our planet. The Second Law is only true for closed systems, and our earth doesn't qualify as such. (An interesting study of how entropy works for open systems is Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life, written by Schneider & Sagan, 2005). It is revealing—and disturbing—that the word "entropy" does not occur, or at least does not feature prominently as far as I could tell, in the 800+ pages of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.

Integral Theory would do well to catch up with this field of Big History (Voros 2013). Even if it has a lot to tell about the development of interiority or culture in the higher organisms, it fails badly in its view of the material world. Is Integral Theory willing to adjust these shortcomings, so it can really aspire to be a Theory of Everything, with explanatory power in the domains of matter, life and mind/culture? (Visser 2013)

This can only be achieved, in my opinion, if we give Wilber a close, second reading, and no longer take his ideas at face value. It is harder, but in the end more rewarding in our search for truth.


A whole superstructure of "evolutionary anything" has been built upon these shaky foundations. This is not even an irony, it is a travesty.

Differentiating Integral Theory along the lines of I, WE and IT is the best way to get a realistic assessment of the value of Wilbers theoretical proposals. It is strong in the domains of mind (I) and culture (WE), but weak in the domains of matter and life (IT). Big History is a complementary approach here. Integral Theory is not a Theory of Everything if it doesn't fully embrace science. At the moment this is not the case. Wilber misrepresents aspects of physics and biology.

Though the integral approach is now widely called “evolutionary”, Wilber has never engaged evolutionary theory in any depth and has misrepresented its basic tenets. "Evolutionary" has become a popular label in integral circles for its manifold activities. A whole superstructure of "evolutionary anything" has been built upon these shaky foundations. This is not even an irony, it is a travesty. The structure of Wilber's arguments regarding evolution don't differ much from those of Intelligent Design, and are less well researched, though these have been discredited by science on a wide scale. Integralists have produced a lot of “evolutionary fiction” (Cohen, Phipps, McIntosh, Lazlo), which is disconnected with evolutionary theory and never engages it.

The integral community consists mostly of therapists, consultants and coaches, who are largely ignorant of the domain of science. The integral community lacks the expertise and the interest in this fundamental domain of reality. Perhaps other institutions (such as the California Institute of Integral Studies) has more expertise in these fields of study.


[1] Contrary to Ken Wilber's and the integral community's idealistic focus on the Good, the True and the Beautiful, I advocate a more fact-oriented approach, hence the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. See also Zakariyya Ishaq's essay Cowboy Ken Wilber: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.


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