Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Dr. Michael Winkelman’s teaching and research interests focus on shamanism and psychedelic medicine, applied medical anthropology, and cross-cultural relations. His research on shamanism includes cross-cultural studies, investigations into the origins of shamanism, and contemporary applications of shamanic healing in substance abuse rehabilitation. He has pioneered perspectives on shamanism as humanity’s original neurotheology and studies on the biological bases of religion. See: http://michaelwinkelman.com/
The Evolution of Consciousness
An Essay Review of Up from Eden (Wilber, 1981)
Wilber's theory is found to be lacking because of the structure of his arguments, the accuracy or competency of his selected authorities, and the relevant evidence he fails to consider.
Determination of the stages of the evolution of human consciousness lies at the interface of many scientific disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, biology, psychology, cross-cultural psychology, philosophy and epistemology. One widely cited recent theory of the evolution of human consciousness is Up From Eden by the transpersonal psychologist Ken Wilber, widely acclaimed as the leading theoretician in his field (Grof 1981). His works The Spectrum of Consciousness and The Atman Project provide widely recognized seminal integrations of Western and Eastern psychologies. His models of the evolution of human consciousness are further expounded in Transformations of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development (Wilber, Engler, and Brown 1986) (see Winkelman 1987 for review).
Because of Wilber's success in uniting diverse psychological theories and perspectives within the field of transpersonal psychology (e.g., Wilber 1977,1980), his esteem within the field of transpersonal psychology appears unequaled and his works are widely considered as basic texts. These earlier outstanding achievements have created a context within which Up From Eden has been uncritically accepted. Without an extensive background in paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, and cross-cultural psychology, as well as other fields necessary for a critical evaluation of this work, one is likely to be mislead into accepting Wilber's perspectives. This is reinforced by the fact that widespread ethnocentrisms found among Westerners and within Western psychology itself are found in Wilber's perspectives on the evolution of human consciousness. Wilber's theories expound perspectives central to Euroamerican culture and Western psychology, and contain biases and assumptions which are at variance with contemporary anthropological findings and perspectives on the prehistorical, historical and contemporary cross-cultural conditions of human consciousness and cognitive capacities.
In Up From Eden, Wilber (1981) interprets mythological, anthropological, archaeological, and psychological data to construct a theory of the prehistorical and historical evolution of human consciousness. The theoretical framework is the model of ontogenetic evolution of human consciousness presented in The Atman Project (1980). Up From Eden argues that the consciousness of the human race as a whole began in an undifferentiated state similar to contemporary human infants and evolved through various specific stages of differentiation and intellectual development similar to contemporary psychological and cognitive development. It is suggested that the highest level achieved by broad segments of the human race so far is the stage typical of modern day Westerners at the solar ego/formal operations stage.
Strikingly different reviews of Up From Eden are provided in a 1982 issue of Phoenix by John White and Phillip Staniford. While both reviewers recognize that Wilber has made outstanding contributions to transpersonal psychology, their assessments of Up From Eden differ. White's review extols the virtues of the general view of the evolution of consciousness proposed by Wilber, and repeats the acclaims of other reviewers which suggest that Up From Eden outranks other annals of the intellectual history of Western Civilization such as Darwin's Origin of Species and Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. However, Staniford points out that Wilber's view of human evolution is simplistically unilineal and based on 19th century anthropology while ignoring current anthropological research and points of view.
Wilber's efforts to integrate Western and Eastern psychology have made major contributions to psychology, but Up From Eden has many problems with facticity and interpretation. This review was written to reconcile Wilber's theoretical perspectives on the evolution of human consciousness with current anthropological research and perspectives on early hominids and contemporary variation cross-culturally in cognitive processes. Initially there was no intention to call into question the adequacy of the ontogenetic model in explicating phylogenetic evolution. However, in the process of reviewing materials relevant to the nature of consciousness of hominids and early humans, I was forced to recognize that the ontogenetic model was incapable of accounting for the phylogenetic evolutionary data. During the last century biologists recognized that ontogenetic models were inadequate in accounting for phylogenetic development (Gould 1977).
This review sets forth data which illustrate that phylogenetic evolution of human consciousness does not correspond to the ontogenetic patterns as Wilber argues. The following materials sketch Wilber's ontogenetically based phylogenetic theory of the different stages of evolution of human consciousness as presented in Up From Eden. Anthropological, ethological and cross-cultural cognitive research is reviewed to indicate the actual cognitive capacities and conditions of consciousness of pre-sapien hominids, early Homo sapiens, and contemporary non-Western peoples. Wilber's theoretical perspectives are revised in light of the evidence presented.
The first stage of Wilber's theory of the evolution of human consciousness is called "Uroboric". Uroboric refers to the mythical serpent eating it's own tail and forming or representing an undifferentiated mass, and is used as a characterization of consciousness at this period. Wilber groups at the Uroboric stage Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus, who lived from 3 million to 200,000 years ago. Wilber suggests that these hominids lived without consciousness, in a primitive narcissistic state of embeddedness with nature which was characterized by confusion of self and other, and of inner experiences and the external world. They are said to have been bound up in a participation mystique of unconscious identity: an undifferentiated dreamy autistic state in which they did not know themselves as separate entities, and did not have a self conscious life. He claims that these hominids lacked the capacity for true mental reflection and verbal representation and were ruled by instincts and biological drives.
Wilber points out that his considerations devote little attention to the archaeological record, but instead rely upon discussions of others such as Arieti, Becker, Berdyaev, Cassier, Gebser, Neumann and Whyte. However, these individuals are not paleontologists, archaeologists, nor anthropologists, but other cross-disciplinary synthesizers who are presenting their own evolutionary or psychodynamic theories, derived from Western cultural assumptions. There is no review of anthropological research on the hominids of this era, and many assertions are in direct conflict with widely accepted anthropological research on such issues such as the appearance of language and cultural development.
The primary argument substantiating Wilber's characterization of these early hominids is that serpent symbolism, associated with the early developmental stages within the Kundalini tradition, is also associated with historically ancient peoples. Wilber makes reference to serpent motifs in Egypt, in bronze age Africa, the Coptic peoples, and in the Eden myth. These cultures have no relationship to the hominids that Wilber places in this stage, since these cultures occurred hundreds of thousands to millions of years after the hominids he is considering.
Furthermore, there is no systematic consideration of the distribution of the serpent motif and its relationship to socioeconomic conditions, as would be necessary to link such symbolism to stages of sociocultural evolution or to the evolution of human consciousness. Although such symbolism may provide important clues about the cultural representations of consciousness, they must be studied in a systematic crosscultural fashion and in relationship to social conditions in a representative sample of human cultures. Without such systematic investigations, no causal relationships can be inferred, nor can we control for the worldwide diffusion of serpent worship and symbolism in ancient times (e.g., see Fox 1976).
Instead of presenting evidence about these early hominids, Wilber calls upon what he refers to as circumstantial evidence: the belief that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. He then illustrates by reference to Piaget and other psychologists that human infants have the characteristics that he attributes to these pre-sapien hominids. However, ontogenetic data do not provide evidence about phylogenetic evolution. If we wish to illustrate correspondences of phylogenetic evolution with ontogenetic patterns, we must have evidence about early phylogenetic stages, not theories. Wilber has presented us with no evidence about the hominids in this era and nothing to support the contentions except the discredited notion that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Wilber states that there is no way to prove or disprove his assertions, but in fact archaeological and ethnological research clearly refutes his scenario.
AUSTRALOPITHECUS AND THE GREAT APES
Tobias (1971a) reviews evidence arguing that even Australopithecus exploited a mental, manipulative, and cultural capacity upon which they depended for survival, and "...had a well-developed cultural life based primarily upon the use and modification of bone for survival" (1971a: 132). Needless to say, this characterization would have also applied to later hominids such as Homo habilis, who showed a systematically progressive use of stone tools. Montague (1976) argues that tool use and transmission of such knowledge implies the presence of language among Australopithecus and Homo habilis. Anthropologists generally agree that it is likely that language beyond rudimentary signalling forms was present as long as 2-3 million years ago (e.g., see Jolly and Flog 1979 and Holloway 1976). They argue that the complexity of their hunting activities would have required the use of language to coordinate activities. The paleobiological evidence is also consistent with the assumption that language was present (see section on The Fossil Record and Neural Organization" in Hamad, Steklins, and Lancaster 1976). Isaac (1976) points out that there was the imposition of arbitrary design rules in the construction of some tools during the Middle Pleistocene 0-5 million years ago). This not only indicates symbolic activity in the transmission of knowledge, but suggests the differentiation between different groups on the basis of these arbitrary stylistic differences.
Planning for future hunting activities and the creation and maintenance of a tool use tradition based in the cultural transmission of abstract ideas would have required object permanence, a notion of the future, long term memory, rational planning, and differentiation of self from the environment and others. The use of arbitrary stylistic differences in tools suggest the development of a self concept as a locus for organization of experience.
In his comparative assessment of Australopithecus Tobias suggests (1971a:127) that anything chimpanzees and gorillas can do, Australopithecus and subsequent hominids could have done better since they had larger sized brains. Chevalier- Skolnikoff s (1976) studies show that the great apes complete all of Sensory-Motor Intelligence series in all modalities (tactile/kinesthetic, visual/body, visual/gestural, and visual/ facial) except the verbal mode. "They are able to initiate and effect change in their environment, and can experimentally, or mentally invent new means to accomplish such changes (Chevelier-Skolnikoff 1976:179). Tanner and Zihlman (1976:470) review ethological studies of chimpanzees and suggest: "...an animal's selection among 'conciliatory' gestures, such as presenting, bowing, bobbing, crouching, kissing and grinning as appropriate reaction to another's antagonistic behavior exemplifies an awareness and weighing of the intensity of another animals in tent....Their social interaction and communication appear to reflect an incipient concept of 'other'". Their review of experimental studies suggests that a complementary concept of "self" also exists, as chimps display self recognition in mirrors, which monkeys do not exhibit. They suggest that research indicates that chimpanzees utilize cognitive mapping, least distance strategies, organization and selective use of environmental information, concealment of information, emotional cues and intentions, and crossmodality perception. Cross modality perception involves the ability to recognize a given object regardless of the sense modality employed to receive the information. This ability, considered uniquely human until the 1970's, is considered essential for symbolism and a necessary (but not sufficient) element of human language (see Desmond 1979; Linden 1974; Rumbaugh 1977; Premack 1976; Sebeock and Umiker-Sebeock 1980.)
This research indicates that chimpanzees reach a mental development somewhere between the ages of 2 and 5 with respect to humans, with limitations primarily with respect to verbal, not symbolic abilities. Therefore, mature adult chimpanzees evolve beyond most of the characterizations of the uroboric stage and the subsequent typhonic stage. Early Australopithecus was at least as advanced as chimpanzees; the differences in brain size and the presence of tools make this incontrovertible. The development of chimpanzees make it clear that no normal adult pre-sapien hominids in the past 3 million years were operating at the uroboric level as outlined in Up From Eden or as expanded in The Atman Project.
Wilber's typhonic stage spans the period from 200,000- 10,000 B.P., roughly corresponding to the era from the emergence of Homo sapiens until the beginnings of civilization or history. The typhon is a mythological creature, half human and half animal, representing Wilber's characterization of humans at this stage. Wilber suggests that these early Homo sapiens lacked a body-self differentiation, language, a logical and conceptual mind, and the ability to differentiate the mind from the body (p.41-2). He suggests that they utilized protolinguistic structures, were characterized by subject/object and part/whole confusions, and were incapable of extensive temporal consciousness. The previous discussion on Australopithecus and the great apes directly refutes much of this characterization.
Wilber discusses cave art and totemism to substantiate his characterizations. However, analysis of that material from an anthropological perspective illustrates the very abilities Wilber wants to deny. Wilber suggests that the cave art of the Sorcerer of Trois Freres (a combination of animals parts representing a shaman), was a "self portrait," by a sorcerer who "experienced himself and his world" (p.44) in that way, as a collection of animals. Although typhonic stage humans are characterized by difficulty in distinguishing symbol from reality and as incapable of differentiating self from body or psyche from environment, they are able to represent themselves symbolically by combining animal parts. The cognitive abilities attributed to the artist are not sufficient to account for the activities attributed. Mar shack (1972) further demonstrates that the Trois Freres drawings are lunar calendrical representations, placing the representations still further beyond the abilities attributed to these people by Wilber, since they would require not only the capacity for complex representation, but also an extended sense of time, which Wilber does not attribute to humans until the next stage.
Wilber suggests that totemism is a belief"... which regards a certain animal as an ancestor, a friend or some kind of powerful and providential being" (p.48), and derives from a lack of differentiation or an only partial differentiation of the individual from the natural environment, in particular from animals. Levi-Strauss (1962) provides a widely accepted review and synthesis of the perspectives offered on totemism in the anthropological tradition. The essence of Levi-Strauss's argument (1962:1966) is that totemistic practices are a technique for differentiating human societies by means of analogy. Totemism involves a process of postulation of a homology between differential features existing between species and between human groups; as animal species differ among themselves, so do human groups differ. The differences between human groups become represented by the more obvious and collectively shared perceptions of differences between animal species. Levi-Strauss's demonstrates how totemic practices function as an analogic mode of thought, involving the same processes and level of mental functioning which underlies scientific thought. If early Homo sapiens had totemistic beliefs, Wilber has underestimated their cognitive abilities, since they would have required not only abstract thought but differentiation of self from environment, animals and others. Wilber's description of totemism appears to correspond more closely to the guardian spirit complex. However, even in such a case, ascription of confusion of identity is inappropriate. Any such characterization would also be applicable to presentday trance mediums, who certainly don't evidence general confusion of identity in normal states.
Jolly and Plog's (1979) discussion of tool manufacturing among archaic Homo sapiens (100,000 B.P.) illustrate a cognitive capacity based in symbolic behavior. Archaic Homo sapiens tool builders used a "prepared core technique" involving three entirely separate processes, requiring that: "the whole sequence...be held in the imagination and executed in the right ordernothing resembling the finished tool emerges until the final blow...[Like a person working all week for a Friday paycheck, [the tool maker gets] no results until the very end" (Jolly and Plog 1979:246-7). In the subsequent discussion of the Mousterian tradition (100,000-40,000 B.P.), they suggest that: "each tool type was made to a standard pattern in a way that is eloquent testimony...to the ability of the Mousterian stone worker to hold a pattern in the 'mind's eye" (p. 253).
Not only is symbolic activity and planning for the future clearly established in these early Homo sapiens, but religious activities are present as well. "Among the remains of archaic Homo sapiens...we repeatedly find relics that seem to have a symbolic rather than utilitarian value...religion was clearly established" (Jolly and Plog 1979;258). There is also strong evidence of a widespread bear cult as well as ritual human burials and associated evidence which "seems indisputably]...related to belief in the supernatural" (Jolly and Plog 1979;259). Isaac (1976) points out that burials, grave offerings and cults extend through the Late Acheulan, Mousterian and Middle Stone Age (200,000-45,000 B.P.). Thus, it appears that throughout the typhonic era as specified by Wilber, artifacts suggest that humans had a conception of the afterlife, human physical mortality, and human spiritual survival.
R. White (1982) reviews the archaeological evidence suggesting that regular social aggregations occurred during the Upper Paleolithic (beginning 40,000 B.P.). He points out the probable use of morphological differences in artifacts to symbolize territory or social boundaries (see also Wobst 1974), and the imposition of formal standards in the working of antler and bone to communicate individual and/or corporate (social) identity by means of purposeful stylistic variation (c.f. Conkey 1978). White also points out evidence suggesting the use of personal ornaments capable of communicating individual or corporate identity, as well as the presence of widespread material exchange based upon structured exchange or the approval of groups living in distant locales. In his review of cave art and other non-functional artifacts, Marshack (1972) suggests that we find the beginnings of science. As far back as 30,000 B.C., we find an evolved, complex and sophisticated tradition of astronomical observation and recording which Marshack characterizes as "a cognitive, time-factored and time-factoring technique.... Apparently we have archaeological evidence for the use of the same basic cognitive processes that appear later in science and writing" (1972:57-58, emphasis in original).
Given that the same physical brain capacity and the same basic cognitive processes were present in both archaic and modern Homo sapiens, we must ask the question of whether these temporarily separated peoples had the same structures of mind, or "deep structures" in Wilber's sense. Do the obvious differences involve transformations from one stage of cognitive development to a qualitatively different one, or are the differences merely translationscognitively equivalent structures at the same level of development? Issac's (1976:283) conclusions drawn from the Upper Paleolithic archaeological evidence (40,000 years ago) suggests that the differences be seen as translations, not transformations:'Most archaeologists familiar with the field seem to be convinced that they are dealing with the products of human societies in possession of the full biological capabilities of our species as it exists today." Wilber insists that these earlier humans have different mental structures from those of modern humans, but we see that his characterizations are unfounded. We are forced to recognize the existence of human societies some 40,000-100,000 years ago which were cognitively equivalent to contemporary society in terms of cognitive capabilities, although not content or translations.
MYTHIC MEMBERSHIP STAGE
Wilber suggests that about 12,000 B.P. there was the development of "farming consciousness" which was associated with the development of a new stage of consciousness, the mythic membership stage. Wilber asserts that at this time some humans developed an extended sense of time and that full-fledged language appeared. However, these people are still characterized by part/whole and subject/predicate confusions and lacking true ego development. Verbal membership, or language based conception of self is seen as crucial: "language becomes the predominate vehicle of the separate self... with language, the verbal mind could differentiate itself out of the previous body-self (p. 92-3, emphasis in original). Wilber follows Jaynes (1976) in this discussion, but Jaynes' ideas have been rejected on several points by evidence provided by extant languages, archaeology, and the reconstruction of ancient languages (see Steklis 1976). There is indication of considerable social and economic change around 12,000 B.P. which may have involved an intensification of the use of language, but the other personal changes which Wilber suggests as indicative of this stage clearly occurred before the agriculture revolution.
However, Wilber suggests that the majority of non-Western peoples have remained at the verbal-membership stages, and have not acquired fully developed egos or the development of logical-rational thought. If the majority of the people of the world lack fully developed egos, one wonders why the psychological anthropologists (e.g., see Spindler 1978) have failed to make this discovery. Using the conventional psychoanalytical definition of the ego as a reality principle responsible for keeping the id in check and aligning the individual's behavior with physical and social reality, it should be apparent without argument that all normal contemporary peoples have egos. The archaeological evidence reviewed by R. White (1982; see above) suggests that egoic structures as conventionally conceived existed at least as long as 40,000 years ago, and the comparative ethological evidence suggests that some form of ego structures have probably existed in hominids for millions of years. Wilber's insistence that the majority of non-Western peoples are dominated by instinctual responses to external stimuli and have not reached the solar-ego stage in his schema is untenable. Human societies, especially contemporary ones, are not dependent upon instinctual behavior for their maintenance. As Tobias (1971a, 1971b) points out, even Australopithecus depended more upon cultural adaptation than instinct for survival.
Wilber suggests that a new stage of "Solar Ego" consciousness emerged in 2500 B.C., occurring during the era which Childe (1951) refers to as the Urban Revolution. Wilber suggests that during the solar ego stage we see the beginning of truly rational and logical thought, formal operational thinking, and the emergence of an exclusively egoic structure of consciousness (p. 180-2). Wilber (1980:31-2) suggests that the core of the mental-egoic stage, which provides the ontogenetic model for the solar-ego stage, involves: the development of a self concept; the emergence of an ego which is characterized by the final emergence of the super-ego proper; and the ability to take on abstract roles. Wilber states that the solar ego emerged in the "West (Europe and Near East)", and that the majority of non-Western peoples have remained at the verbal-membership stages instead of reaching the ego levels (footnote p. 187). The above discussions have provided evidence that these abilities were both acquired long ago, and are present cross-culturally.
Wilber's discussion of the solar ego stage depends primarily upon Whyte (1951), who discusses what he calls the "European dissociation...the distinguishing mark of European and Western man" (p. 192). This mentality attained its most marked form in European and Western peoples from 6th century B.C. Greece to the present. This distinguishing mark is the result of the Western ego not merely differentiating from the Great Mother, or from nature, but of severing and dissociating from her. Wilber emphasizes that this is "not merely a differentiation, but a dissociation" (p. 192). "[The emergence of the ego level... in the West... was not just a differentiation of the mind and body- which was a necessary and positive step in evolution- but a dissociation of the mind from the body" (p.191). In the development of the mental-ego, "the ego did not just transform up and out of the typhonic and membership stages, it violently repressed them" (p.181-182, emphasis in original).
However, Wilber informs us in The Atman Project that "repression is not transformation. We might say that repression is one type of failure to clearly transform" (p.42-3). This indicates that the solar ego or mental ego stage as conceived by Wilber is not a transformation, but a degenerative translation which is characteristic of particular social and cultural traditions.
The widespread transcendence to level five among shamans of typhonic cultures and transcendence to the highest levels by sages of cultures at the mythic membership level also suggests that the solar ego stage is a translation, not a transformation. Wilber gives no indication that the shaman must operate at the solar ego level (or even the membership level) in developing from the archaic levels (2) to the lower levels of superconsciousness (level 5). Similarly, the shift from Earth Mother (stage 2) to the Great Goddess (stage 6) which occurred in eastern religions such as Buddhism apparently occurred without a transformation to the mental or solar ego level. If we do not allow for transformations which bypass the solar ego level, then shamanic and yogic sages needed to dissociate mind and body pathologically in the course of their development, since Wilber argues that this is characteristic of the solar ego stage.
CROSS CULTURAL EQUALITY OF COGNITIVE CAPACITIES
Wilber's relegation of non-Westerners to lower stages of cognitive evolution is exemplified in his use of material from extant or recently extant cultures (19th and early 20th century) as examples or reflections of lower stages of development. The belief that contemporary cultures with simple or technologically primitive social structures can be used as exemplifications of lower stages of human evolution is a widespread cultural ethnocentrism and a problem which vitiates Wilber's model and presentations. Several lines of research establish that people from all cultures have and utilize the same range of cognitive abilities.
Wilber suggests that the bulk of contemporary peoples haven't acquired formal operational thought. The 20th century anthropological tradition has generally agreed with Boas (1911), who argued that people in all cultures exhibit the same range of thought processes attributed to the more "civilized" peoples. Boas (1911) argued that valid inferences about thought processes cannot be based upon the content of traditional beliefs and customs. That is, mythic beliefs cannot be taken as evidence about or exemplification of normal thought processes any more than the false beliefs of scientists can be taken as evidence that they lack the cognitive processes to think scientifically.
Cross-cultural psychological researchers on cognitive development (Piagetian) have frequently stated that people in other cultures fail to develop to the same levels as Westerners, but such research is vitiated by biases in method and interpretation (See Cole and Scribner 1974). Culturally relevant cross-cultural research has demonstrated that people in all cultures go through all of Piaget's stages of mental development and reach formal operations stage, although people in some cultures show a lag in acquisition which is directly related to differences in school experiences and other learning experiences associated with urban environments (See Berry and Dasen 1974; Dasen 1977; Cole and Scribner 1974).
Linguistic evidence establishes that all cognitive systems are equally complex. Linguists emphasize the complexity of all language systems and deny that languages can be arranged on a scale from simple to complex. Cole and Scribner (1974:27) argue that Chomsky's theory of grammar establishes that "...thinking processes of an individual cannot be less complex or constructive than the rules required for speech production." Since language acquisition and use is the most complex human cognitive activity, and since there are no qualitative differences in the complexity of language rules, it is impossible to conceive of "simple" or more "advanced" cognitive levels among different cultures with equally complex languages (Cole and Scribner 1974). Although it is possible that such admonitions may not apply to the development of cognitive skills at the higher levels of the evolution of consciousness, they certainly apply to all reasoning abilities as conventionally understood. If different groups of people possess equally complex languages, some can hardly be considered preverbal in their development, although the contexts in which they use language and the extent to which they use it may differ.
The assertion of cognitive equality is based in the recognition that the same range of conventionally recognized cognitive abilities are used by people in all cultural groups, although perhaps manifested only with respect to culturally relevant materials. Thus, while abstract abilities among people in Western industrial societies may be fairly assessed with verbal syllogisms or other formal operations tests, such materials are not culturally free; people from other cultures may not be able to successfully demonstrate their capabilities with such test materials. However, the same abstract capabilities may be demonstrated with other materials, such as in the classification of culturally relevant materials, in making culturally relevant inferences, or in the diagnosis of culturally dependent illness syndromes (See Levi-Strauss 1966, or Cole and Scribner 1974 for review of experimental literature.) The failure of people in any group to solve complex calculus or to order collections of electronic parts on the basis of functional or class principles does not demonstrate the lack of abstract thought abilities; the problems or materials may not be those to which relevant existing capabilities can be immediately generalized.
The main problem with Wilber's scheme is the inappropriateness of an ontogenetic model for phylogenetic data. The recapitulationist position (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) was abandoned within biology during the last century under the overwhelming weight of contrary evidence (Gould 1977). Furthermore, Gould (1977) points out the mainstream recapitulationists at most argued that the stages of ontogeny repeat the adult forms of animals lower down on the scale of organization. Such a model is clearly not appropriate for humans. Although there apparently are stages in human evolution, they are not the ones outlined by Wilber.
Pre-sapien hominids and perhaps Homo sapiens have functioned at levels of cognitive development below the average contemporary human. However, human societies cannot and have not functioned at the uroboric levels or the lower levels of the typhonic stage as outlined ontogenetically and phylogenetically by Wilber. Chimpanzee development and the presence of language, social organization and self perception among Australopithecines indicate that even pre-sapien hominids have always functioned at a level somewhere between Wilber's typhonic and membership levels.
The increase in brain size from Australopithecus to Homo Neanderthalis is accompanied by an increase in cultural complexity. Given the direct relationship between relative brain size and intelligence in lower animals, and recognizing that selective pressures would have favored those hominids whose mental capacities were more adapted to acquiring culture, language and tool use, the increase in brain size must be a central factor in the evolution in human consciousness. The role of physical factors in the evolution of human consciousness from Australopithecus to Homo Neanderthalis makes Wilber's recourse to teleological explanation in terms of return to Spirit unnecessary.
Although physical evolution can provide a basis for explaining the gradual evolution of consciousness and cultural tradition up until about 200,000-300,000 years ago, it seems unlikely that such a mechanism can explain subsequent evolution. During the past 100,000 years brain size has actually slightly decreased; the factors guiding evolution of human behavior and transcendence have been cultural adaptations. The biological potential has been constant during this time; social and cultural factors have been responsible for the different forms and tendencies to seek transcendence.
The accumulated cultural evolution led to the development of peoples at least 40-100,000 years ago which had clearly developed egos, functionally comparable to that of the average Western person today, but without the extreme dissociation which Wilber attributes to moderns. At this point we must recognize the presence of the deep structures (Wilber's sense) or biological and socially learned capacities necessary for seeking transcendence. From this ego level we find many translations, some favoring the achievement of transcendence and transformation, such as the shamanic, yogic, and other mystical schools. Other translations fostered the dissociation between mind and body which blocked the path to transformation, as Wilber suggests in his discussion of the development of the solar ego.
I suggest that throughout the evolution of Homo sapiens, particularly in the past 12,000 years, we find an increasing individual repression of oneself. As Wilber points out "the capacity for repression (defense mechanisms in general) exists to one degree or another at almost every level of the spectrum but it doesn't become really extensive until the verbal membership level, and doesn't become truly 'powerful' until the egoic level" (p. 262). The dates which Wilber assigns to the emergence of the mythic membership and solar ego levels correspond quite closely to the agriculture and urban revolutions, respectively. In these sedentary societies we would expect the need for greater individual self repression because of the greater intensity of interpersonal contact and the inability to escape conflict through fragmentation of the group, which occurs more regularly in hunting and gathering bands. As social interaction becomes more complex, we would also expect the development of additional aspects of the social self, required by diversification of the social world. This repression and the diversification of the self clearly has implications for understanding the development of the solar ego and its inhibition of transformation to the higher state of consciousness.
My point here is not to deny that there are important differences in the cognitive styles of people in different cultures, or to suggest that there are no systematic differences between Western and non-Western cultures. There certainly are considerable cross-cultural differences in personal awareness and typical modes of cognition. Levi-Strauss (1966) suggests differences in cultures which he characterizes as "hot" and "cold," and explores differences in approaches to problem solving which he labels bricoleur (jack-of-all-trades) and engineer. These roughly correspond to some differences between people in non-Western or traditional cultures versus modern cultures, and bear some resemblance to the distinctions which Wilber apparently wants to capture in distinguishing mythic-membership societies from solar ego societies. People in Western societies also tend to show greater field independence, which is defined as the habitual tendency to differentiate self from the environment; however, such tendencies are influenced not only by social and psychological factors, but environmental ones as well (e.g., see Witkin 1974; Berry 1974). People in non-Western cultures have a tendency to use proprioceptive modalities as opposed to verbal modalities in learning (see Parades and Hepburn 1976, and subsequent discussion). Scribner and Cole (1974) have pointed out that learning in Westernized school systems primarily involves learning in the verbal mode, in a system of abstract relations isolated from personal experience. Cohen (1969)has discussed the conflict of cognitive styles, contrasting traditional modalities with those fostered in schooling. Goody (1977) has argued that the development of literacy has profound effects upon the organization of experience (c.f. Alford 1979). However, the qualitative differences in capacities which Wilber suggests do not in fact exist. The suggestion of such differences is the result of the inability of investigators to overcome blocks to communication, understanding, and assessment created by the differences between themselves and people of other cultures they have studied.
Wilber's work is based upon the comparison of material from many cultures, but his data is not taken from a representative sample of human cultures. A representative sample and clear criterion for evaluation of the material are necessary for assessing mythological materials, for establishing crosscultural generalities, and for assessing cross-cultural differences and similarities in stages of evolution of consciousness or perception or perennial truths. Without criteria which ensure that the materials used are representative of all human cultures, we have no basis for asserting that the conclusions we draw are generally valid for human societies. The lack of criteria to ensure a representative sample leads to a selective presentation of data; cases which confirm the theoretical perspective are presented, while the cases which contradict it are left out of the discussion. For instance, Wilber's assessment of creation myths is limited to the Judaeo- Christian tradition, without consideration of other traditions. If a representative sample of creation myths were considered, the similarities between them would provide a more reliable basis for interpreting conditions of early humans, while idiosyncrasies which might fortuitously support a particular theoretical perspective could be eliminated.
Problems which result from the lack of clear criteria for evaluating cross-cultural materials is illustrated in the discussion of beliefs in primitive societies about the interconnectedness of nature. Wilber suggests that magical beliefs about this interconnectedness of nature is a result of the lack of full differentiation of the psyche and the world, and does not reflect the same interconnectedness as perceived by the Eastern consciousness disciplines. Although the basic conclusions are comparable if not essentially identical, Wilber wants to attribute veridical perceptions to those consciousness traditions which form the basis of his theoretical perspective and background, but disallow the apparent occurrence of comparable perceptions among those who are living in more primitive economies and under simpler social conditions and are therefore relegated to the lower levels of his evolutionary scheme.
In spanning the many fields of inquiry necessary for a vast project such as Up From Eden, one expects unavoidable shortcomings, such as the reliance on selected authorities who may not be representative of fields or disciplines, brief presentations of complex positions, as well as omissions and ideological differences with predominate theoretical perspectives. However, Wilber's theory of evolution of human consciousness is found to be lacking not only for these reasons, but also because of the structure of his arguments, the accuracy or competency of his selected authorities, and the relevant evidence he fails to consider. If Wilber had proceeded with the intent of inferring the states and evolution of consciousness of early humans from the somewhat ambiguous and incomplete data, the conclusions drawn would likely have been different. However, the effort to force the phylogenetic facts to fit an ontogenetic model has biased the selection, assessment and interpretation of data. Furthermore, reliance upon 19th century anthropological perspectives (e.g., Tylor and Frazer) rather than contemporary anthropology further undermines the accuracy and relevance of the work.
A highly critical review of anyone's work is scarcely a rewarding task for the critiquer or the critiqued.
A highly critical review of anyone's work is scarcely a rewarding task for the critiquer or the critiqued. However,this review is necessary given Wilber's status in the field and the fact that his work is so highly esteemed among transpersonalists. This review has dealt largely with the physical evidence, and has avoided consideration of the mythological information which provide the data Wilber uses in his discussion of the forms of and substitutes for transcendence. Wilber lacks a cross-culturally representative sample of mythological materials and clear criteria for assessing such materials. Furthermore, his errors in consideration of the physical record require that his assessments of the mood and mode of consciousness be critically assessed and revised.
Acknowledgements. I thank David Jacobs, Roger Walsh and Craig MacAndrew for their encouragement, and Duane Metzger, Stanley Krippner, Bill Andrews and Chris Toresdahl for helpful suggestions. This review was originally written in 1982. It was rejected for publication for Re Vision and Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, journals where Ken Wilber served in an editorial capacity. The paper was scheduled for publication in Phoenix, but the journal was discontinued before publication. The review here is not updated to include relevant literature in the intervening years. Yet it addresses fundamental issues in the interface of anthropology and psychology which remain unaltered by the passage of time.
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