Meta-Genius: A Celebration of Ken's Writings (Part 3)
May 31, 2007 08:00
Meta-Genius: A Celebration of Ken’s Writings (Part 3)
Reflections on His Work through Its Many Positive Critical Reviews
This is the third and last installment of a celebration of Ken’s writings through a collection of some of the many incredibly positive review articles and blurbs that Ken’s work has garnished over the years. What started as a bit of a lark for us—it was just fun reading these reviews, especially the really early ones—but the exercise turned into more of a formal fete, a commemoration and thanks to Ken and all the integral pioneers who have worked so hard to advance Integral Studies as far as they have come, often under truly a vicious atmosphere toward anything integral. But persevere they did, often long enough to see ideas for which they were once vilified now have the preponderance of evidence supporting them and vindicating them.
As only one example, there is enough widely respected research and data now available that the retro-Romantic ideal can finally be put to rest, that is, placed in its coffin with a genuine respect but a firm goodbye. Evidence now indicates that, among other things, a regressive U-turn does not occur in all, or even a majority, of people with spiritual awakenings; children do not have a closer tie to nature than adults (in fact, just the opposite, and by a huge margin; recent research shows that only 5% of children report “nature-centric” thinking—and that 5%, which is still narcissistic, occurs just as often in children in urban cities as in the rain forest; and the other 95% exhibit flat-out anthropocentric and egocentric thinking).
And now, the last nail goes in that Romantic coffin: a research review by widely respected MIT teacher Steven Pinker gives a summary of all of the major studies on premodern and modern violence, and the conclusion is unmistakable: the nature, extent, degree, and amount of violence in premodern times is staggeringly larger than in any modern times (including the two World Wars). In fact, as Pinker summarizes the evidence, “If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion [2,000,000,0000] deaths, not 100 million”—that is, about 2000 times greater. In every form of violence known to humans, the modern Western world is, compared to the past, “the most peaceful moment of our species’ time on earth.”
Ken has been maintaining that for almost 3 decades, and he sees the greatest decline in violence (or increase in peace and peaceful ideals) as beginning particularly with the Western Enlightenment, an idea vehemently rejected by postmodernists of every flavor. What does the latest data show? “The decline in violence [during the modern period] is a fractal phenomenon,” meaning that this decline in violence with modernity is “visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years. It applies over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals. And it appears to be a worldwide trend, though not a homogenous one. The leading edge has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century.” In other words, the Western Enlightenment.
That article is appearing in March 19 The New Republic, bastion of Leftist thought, so it can’t be dismissed ideologically. And it still points out that “contra leftist apologists, who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts… suggest that pre-state [premodern] societies were far more violent than our own.” Another study, War before Civilization, showed that your chances of getting killed by homicide in the area now known as Illinois were 70 times higher in tribal times than modern times.
Pinker: “At one time, these facts were widely appreciated. They were the source of notions like progress, civilization, and man’s rise from savagery and barbarism. Recently, however, these ideas have come to sound corny, even dangerous…. But now that social scientists have started to count bodies in different historical periods, they have discovered that the romantic theory gets it backward: Far from causing us to become more violent, something in modernity and its cultural institutions has made us nobler.”
So much for retro-Romanticism. But Ken always gave the Romantic notion its own due (something Pinker doesn’t do), and pointed out the ways that the Romantics were also right (e.g., there is indeed a Ground of Being, and we have become alienated from it, but not in some historical past, but in the involutionary currents prior to manifestation; and further, the Romantics are correct that bad things can indeed happen during development—repression is a reality—and we need to take repression and its cure seriously: but what is getting repressed is not God but id, and every single one of these recent studies supports exactly that. So the Integral model integrates the partial truths of both the growth-to-goodness and the recaptured-goodness views).
Pinker asks the obvious two questions: what is this force of worldwide growth-to-goodness? And how did so many of intelligentsia get it so massively wrong? As for the former, he gives four basic reasons that civilization is a progressive lessening of violence or increase in peace (based on Hobbes, Payne, Wright, and Singer). Ken said that while all of those are likely to contribute, the real and most fundamental reason is simple: Eros. Eros as it appears in all four quadrants of the human holon, and that especially means the drive to take more and more perspectives, because—and Pinker agrees with this part—the more perspectives that humans take, the more precious others’ lives become and therefore the less actual violence is committed. And it is this extraordinary Eros in the Logos of the Kosmos that Ken has devoted his life to elucidating and explaining, and we think it is fair to say that nobody has traced this Eros (with both its extraordinarily developmental ups and horridly repressive downs) better than Ken. In literally dozens of books, he has traced the historical and evolutionary contours of this “self-organization through self-transcendence.” Pinker says that throughout our overall history of progress, “We must have been doing something right. And it would be nice to know what, exactly, it is.”
Might we suggest he read a few of Ken’s books? As part of this celebration, it is fantastic for all of us that as every year goes by, more and more evidence accumulates in favor of ideas that Ken first spotted and elucidated several decades ago. (Try Up from Eden as a starter….)
As for how the leading intellectuals of the last 30 years could get so much of this wrong, Pinker also gives several plausible reasons. The evidence, after all, is and was very hard to miss. As only one example: “Social histories of the West provide evidence of numerous barbaric practices that became obsolete in the last five centuries, such as slavery, amputation, blinding, branding, flaying, disembowelment, burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, and so on. Meanwhile, for another kind of violence—homicide—the data are abundant and striking…. On the scale of decades, comprehensive data again paint a shockingly happy picture: Global violence has fallen steadily….”
How did the intelligentsia miss all that for the last 30 years? Pinker points especially to one item, simple proximity. “As deplorable as they are, the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the lethal injections of a few murderers in Texas are mild by the standards of atrocities in human history.” And yet these proximate examples so upset us (inadvertent proof of the denied progress, because in premodern times, those were pastimes), that we can’t see beyond our own repulsion: that is, our modern sensibilities react to those, proof of what we are trying to deny.
Another reason gets closer to the emotional heart of the matter: “Partly, it’s an intellectual culture that is loath to admit that there could be anything good about the institutions of civilization and Western society. Partly, it’s the incentive structure of activism and opinion markets: No one has ever attracted followers and donations by announcing that things keep getting better and better.”
Given the prevailing academic atmosphere, which penalized the truth, it took not just real brains but real heart to take the stand that Ken did. By sticking to the truth, he was often vilified, his books literally banned in some institutions and classes, papers written on how he lacked all emotions and no compassion at all, and entire PhD theses on how his horrid hierarchies were repressive—whereas that is a pretty good photographic negative of the truth.
Part of the reason Ken was vilified is that he didn’t just point to the evidence, he pointed to the likely reasons that the evidence was being hidden, distorted, or denied altogether. At the bottom of it was a classic pre/post fallacy giving rise to a genuine pathology or dysfunction. These intellectuals nobly wanted to find a genuine ground of Goodness (spiritual for the Romantics, secular for the Leftists), but in confusing pre-rational with post-rational, and then looking to premodern tribal consciousness as a role model for postmodern enlightened society, they opened themselves to every prepersonal impulse imaginable, starting with narcissism and nihilism, and boomeritis (pluralitis) was born. Pluralism is healthy green, pluralitis or boomeritis is unhealthy green, or green post-formal infected with red pre-formal, and in that rampant dysfunction, visible from May ’68 to the present, a truly postmodern nightmare was born (or what Ken called “nihilism and narcissism: a postmodern tag team from hell”). And Ken suffered the results of that nightmare as much as any genuine scholar writing during those dark decades. He was brutalized by scholars and critics so close to their pathology that they couldn’t see the data.
And now, coming straight out of places like MIT and The New Republic—to mention only two—there keeps coming a stream of vindication and justification. We mention all that because it makes all of the following reviews more understandable and more to be appreciated: not just Ken, but the basic claims of these reviews themselves, are essentially vindicated in so many ways (and we’re only mentioning one of them, the nature of premodernity and modernity). It makes it all the easier to join in the celebration when you’re celebrating something that is actually true, and that is exactly what we believe we’re doing.
(And please, of course we recognize that Ken can and does make his share of mistakes and untruths; but in the really big ideas and important issues, Ken has probably the highest batting average of anybody writing today. This is why you can go back and read his Collected Works, and perhaps 90% of what you find there, even material written decades ago, is still basically correct. This in itself is pretty astonishing….)
Past 2 of this celebration covered Grace and Grit; Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; and its popularization, A Brief History of Everything. Part 3 covers the period of the following works (essentially the books after SES, up to the present):
The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad (1997)
The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion (1998)
One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber (1999)
Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy (2000)
Boomeritis: A Novel That Will Set You Free (2002)
A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality (2001)
The Simple Feeling of Being: Visionary, Spiritual, and Poetic Writings (2004)
Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (2006)
As we pointed out in the celebratory introductions to the first two parts, the reviews and blurbs you are about to read are stratospheric: it is hard to find a living writer who has had a larger number of hyperbolic accolades than Ken. If you’ve read the first 2 parts, you know what we mean, and you are likely very tired of hearing comparisons to Hegel, Freud, Plato, William James, Plotinus, etc.…. We’ve already heard a few critics, trying to rain on this celebratory parade, say that some of these quotes come from Ken’s friends, so they don’t count. First, that’s not true for the vast majority of the quotes. But second, even if it were true, think about it: if you were asked by a friend to write a review of his latest book, and you do so merely as a courtesy for your friend, would you stake your academic reputation by then comparing that book to Plato, or Freud, or Hegel? Hmmmm? Okay then. Neither would Ken’s friends… unless they really, deeply, thought they were true.
Why these off-the-wall accolades? We’ve thought about it a lot during the gathering and posting of them. The simple and most obvious possible answer is, well, because they’re true, and Ken’s oeuvre (his body of work as a whole), judged on the scale of integral capacity (or the sheer number of truths—East and West, premodern and modern and postmodern—that are included in his integral model), is indeed right up there with the greatest systematic philosophers of any era, bar none—from Plotinus to Vasubandhu to Hegel (can you think of a present-day model that even attempts to include Freud to Buddha, Marx to Manjushri, Kant to Dogen, Plotinus to Padmasambhava?). It’s what Charles Taylor, winner of the recent Templeton Prize, said of Ken’s books: “I've tremendously appreciated [Ken’s] work. [He’s] managed to integrate so many things, and to keep horizons open, where most of our culture keeps closing them down. Keep up the magnificent work….”
And so at first we thought the reviews were just more-or-less true, and that was that. And we still think that is the case, partly. But Charles Taylor hit on what we think is especially behind the stratospheric accolades: it’s not just Ken’s brain, it’s Ken’s heart. When Michael Murphy called Sex, Ecology, Spirituality an “enormously courageous book from beginning to end,” that gets very close to it. People appreciate the honesty, the guts, the courage, that it took—and takes—for Ken to write books that are not just true and often beautiful, but also good, really good, in the best ethical sense. He is a writer that you can trust to tell the truth (even when all around him are abandoning it), and 9 times out of 10, he’s right. David Deida was correct in both directions: nobody doubts Ken is a great man, but he is a good man, a really good man, and that comes across in his writings. He’s up at 2am every single morning, at significant physical cost, writing or 5 or 6 hours nonstop, an antennae plugged straight into Spirit, a lightning bolt come to earth with more truth and goodness than a human body can contain, sometimes. And yet he keeps going and going and going…. Even if you disagree with him, you’re probably still reading him—because agree with him or not, he enormously clarifies any topic he touches, and even if it just clarifies why you disagree with him, you’re likely getting something out of it. This probably explains his unheard of book sales numbers, as well: Sam Bercholz, publisher of Shambhala Books, said, “Ken’s fans love him, and his enemies love to read him.” That pretty much sums it up.
So, the reviews you are about to read (along with Part 1—posted here—and Part 2—in your email inbox) are probably, taken as a whole, the most breathtakingly positive reviews you can read of any living thinker, and most dead ones. And there’s probably one last reason for that: Ken alone seems to give Eastern cultures as much respect as Western ones: he is the first true world philosopher of our era, and since nothing much was really known about the East until post-WW2, this really means that Ken is the first true world philosopher in history.
So even if you disagree with Ken, please join us in this celebration of somebody who has labored long and hard to deliver the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, as they continue to change shapes and forms at different altitudes of evolutionary unfolding. There is no pregiven world, only interpretations, but there are good and bad interpretations—and good and bad interpreters—and Ken Wilber is arguably the finest Kosmic interpreter alive.
These reviews—which he earned anyway—are a way for us to say thanks, more than we can say…. –The Editors
THE EYE OF SPIRIT (1997)
After Brief History, Ken wrote The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad. In it, you can see Ken battling the retro-Romantics in several chapters, and succeeding gracefully. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Jewish Renewal and arguably the world’s most respected Jewish contemplative, kindly repeated that “The Kabbalah of the future will lean on Ken Wilber’s work.” This book also contains Ken’s first sustained creation of an Integral Art and Literary Theory (an essay reprinted as chaps. 4 and 5)—a theory referred to as “holonic semiotics” or “integral semiotics”—which is updated in volume 2, although all of the ingredients of these two chapters are still included (i.e., transcended and included).
That essay had originally been written at the request of the Wyeth family curators for an art book of newly discovered Andrew Wyeth paintings (M. Severens, Andrew Wyeth: America’s Painter, with an Essay by Ken Wilber), and many critics found it to be one of Ken’s most beautiful pieces of writing. In fact, many of Ken’s finest essays have been written as forewords or prologues to books or showings by major artists (e.g., Ken wrote “To See a World” at the request of Anselm Kiefer, the greatest painter of his generation, for a NY showing—it’s contained in One Taste; the Andrew Wyeth essay, which was originally titled, “How Shall We See Art?”; several wonderful forewords for Alex Grey; a masterpiece essay, “Eyes of the Soul,” for Philip Rubinov-Jacobson, and so on). The book also contains the first Integral Feminism (all quadrants and all levels). Finally, the last chapter (Always Already: The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness) contains what we think are the finest pointing-out instructions for ultimate, timeless, ever-present, Nondual awareness that you’ll ever find.
The book had a very broad appeal. Here is a review by a Christian newsletter (Pathways), just to show the interesting ways that different individuals can legitimately interpret material (we have put two of their reviews together, one after the other, without otherwise editing them in any way, which might account for some repetition):
As many of you know, I am a committed, card-carrying Ken Wilber aficionado--and not just because he endorsed my book, either. (You guys are so cynical.) I have read almost all of his books, I’ve corresponded with him on a couple of occasions, and I’ve talked about his philosophical and theoretical approach to anyone who would listen for more than a decade.
Last year, for example, I reviewed two of his books in this column--The Spectrum of Consciousness and A Brief History of Everything. So far this year, I have taught a fifteen-week class on his life and work at the Center for Contemplative Christianity and have integrated his theories on the evolution of Spirit into a course in law and ethics that I teach at United States International University in San Diego.
So why am I such a devotee of this elusive iconoclast who never gives lectures or leads retreats, rarely grants interviews, and goes out of his way to discourage anyone from considering him a spiritual teacher? Simple. I’m hoping to guilt him into granting us an interview for Pathways.
Seriously, Ken Wilber is one of the most incredible thinkers and writers of our time. As Jack Crittenden has written,“The twenty-first century literally has three choices: Aristotle, Nietzsche, or Ken Wilber.” And Tony Schwartz, New York Times writer and author of What Really Matters, has called Wilber “the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times.”
Wilber does with aplomb what I have always wished I could do--integrate, integrate, integrate! Yes, I intuitively understand that everyone knows something about the Truth. Virtually every scientific paradigm, every serious philosophical system, and every authentic spiritual tradition has something valuable—even essential—to offer us in our quest to understand Spirit’s unfolding in the manifest universe. Unfortunately, the scope of my (and most other writer’s) knowledge and vision has always been too limited and my epistemological methodology far too weak. Thankfully for all of us, Wilber suffers from neither of these limitations.
Ken Wilber has a singular ability to understand and absorb vast stores of seemingly contradictory information and to then synthesize this knowledge into a compelling spiritual perspective of near-epic proportions. And he is able to do this while avoiding the twin errors of monolithic universalism (which misses the trees for the forest) and incoherent pluralism (which misses the forest for the trees). As he says in his introduction to The Eye of Spirit, he has endeavored to create an approach to knowledge that is “a genuinely universal pluralism of commonality-in-difference.” Read more….
A PAUSE FOR SOME OVERVIEWS
Often in Ken’s career, there have appeared overviews which attempt to give a summary of his books to date. We gave two of these in Part 1, which covered books up to around the period of Atman and Eye to Eye. We’re going to pause here and give around a half-dozen reviews covering up to the period of around The Eye of Spirit, plus or minus a few books. Although there are many, we’ll select a sampling from around the world. These are reviews by Brian van der Horst, living in Paris, whose review title is a kick (“A Light in the Wilberness”); A. V. Ashok, from Hyderabad, India, which does a good job of situating Ken’s works alongside the great pandits from India (Shankara, etc.); Michel Bauwens, from Belgium, a restrained but highly laudatory overview from a dialectical perspective, which is most perceptive; Edith Zundel, from Germany, which situates Ken’s work very favorably with regard to the great Idealists (Ken has often been compared to Hegel or Schelling, so what does a “real” German professor have to say?); and finally, Frances Vaughan, from America.
What can you say about a guy who can write a book a year and was called the “Einstein of Consciousness” at the publication of his first book, written at the age of 23?
If you haven’t heard about Ken Wilber yet, you will. His body of work is prodigious. Brilliant. Genius. You could also call him the Darwin, or William James, or Plato of our times. He has written dozens of books, and edited scads more. There are 271 web sites on the internet discussing, eulogizing and criticizing him. Psychological and philosophical masters like Huston Smith, Michael Murphy, Rollo May, Daniel Goleman, Larry Dossey and Roger Walsh variously call him the greatest thinker of our time, or call his magnum opus, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, one of the most important books ever published. Our own Robert Dilts [of Neurolinguistic Programming] often seems to have been influenced by him. And Robert McDonald, who is said to be trying to memorize A Brief History of Everything, has been inspired to create a Wilberian-flavored psychology called “psychoteleology.”
So what’s he got? What can Wilber contribute to our discipline? What is worth knowing? Read more….
A. V. Ashok is from Hyderabad, India, whose university is often called the Harvard of India. He teaches Literature, and is incredibly well-versed in philosophies East and West, and also a published author in this own right.
Down the decades of the twentieth-century, the mystical wisdom of the East has had a hypnotic appeal for many Western minds—like Heinrich Zimmer, Giuseppe Tucci, Alexander David-Neel, Rene Guenon, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Alan Watts, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell and Fr. Bede Griffiths. Today, Ken Wilber is the brightest name in the East-West encounter. A young American (born 1949) of astonishing erudition, profound insight into the mystery of consciousness, and a beautiful prose stylist as well, Wilber has produced a series of books that embody an exceptional understanding of the Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions, and a syncretic sensibility integrating Eastern and Western thought—a pioneer in a truly integral or world philosophy. Read more….
The following is from Michel Bauwens, Belgium, and particularly situates Ken in relation to the dialectical (and Marxist) tradition. Bauwens is a careful and clear thinker, and does not make claims lightly or frivolously, and yet his conclusion is unmistakable (referring to SES): “Never have I come across a better overview of the laws of dialectical logic including examples and also a list of the associated epistemological errors, not even in the works of Hegel and Marx.”
On the back cover of the first book I ever read by Ken Wilber one of the reviewers states: ‘What Freud is to psychology and Einstein is to physics, Ken Wilber is to the study of consciousness.’ On the back cover of the more recent Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Mitch Kapor, co-chairman and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an eminent ‘digerati’, claims: ‘This book changes everything.’ Yet despite the fact that a number of mortals - I amongst them - consider Ken Wilber to be the most important thinker of this century (or even the most important thinker of the next century), he is [still relatively unknown, a situation that appears to be rapidly changing, as both the President and Vice-President of the United States have publicly stated they are reading his work. But he is] largely unknown…in philosophical circles and within the intellectual establishment, certainly in Europe.
Thus this article attempts to explain his work and its significance. I have chosen to present his works in the order in which I discovered them. Read more….
From Bonn, Germany, this by Edith Zundel, from “Vom Tier zu den Gottern” (Herder, 1997):
Ken Wilber doesn’t lecture at any university, he’s not found at congresses, nor does he hold workshops or seminars. He’s a charming recluse, he likes pop music, he’s an excellent cook and has a roguish sense of humour. His home is situated on the outskirts of a university city in the Rocky Mountains; it contains a vast number of books and offers a tremendous panoramic view. And this broad overview is not limited to the external world. Having originally studied biochemistry, Ken Wilber has since personally acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge of humanistic and religious matters. The insights he has committed to paper have made him famous well beyond the USA. Americans call him ‘the brain,’ friends in the field consider him to be brilliant, and Jungian Marie-Louise von Franz has described him as a ‘modern Thomas of Aquinas’ who is able to oversee the sum total of the secular and spiritual knowledge of his era.
In the Middle Ages it might well have been possible to comprehend the knowledge accumulated to date, but is the same kind of overview even remotely possible today? Wilber himself is of the joking opinion that one would have to be a foolhardy American to embark upon such an undertaking. One would also have to have the intellectual capacity, memory and ability to view everything as a whole that Ken Wilber has. In Wilber’s own system of thought this ability to view everything as a whole is called ‘vision-logic’ (translators have used terms such as ‘visionary logic’ or ‘perceptual logic’). In our postmodern information-communication age, vision-logic is becoming increasingly important. However, the most essential component in this undertaking is Wilber’s very earnest search – a search that transcends rational thought and involves a great deal of meditation – for the nondual, and his experience of and anchoring in the nondual. Read more….
Frances Vaughan is a remarkable woman in every way. Among many accomplishments, she is past president of the Association of Humanistic Psychology, past president of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology, author of several books, including the best-selling Awakening Intuition and Shadows of the Sacred. She does not suffer fools gladly; and to virtually everybody who has ever spent time with her, she is the embodiment of the Wise Woman.
The depth and scope of Ken Wilber’s vision is not easy for most of us to encompass. Many of his critics take issue with the details of one small segment or another, but never address his philosophical position as a whole. It seems that there are few people who can challenge the over arching view that integrates so many disciplines and perspectives.
For many years I have told students of…psychology that they must read Ken Wilber if they want to know how transpersonal theory integrates psychology and spiritual teachings from the world’s religions. No one is expected to agree with everything he says, but they need to understand why his perspective is important.
My own acquaintance with Wilber’s work dates back to 1975, when I was an associate editor of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and we had the privilege of being the first to publish his paper, “The Spectrum of Consciousness.” When his book by the same title was published soon afterwards, I realized what a great service he was doing for us all. His ability to articulate in a clear and coherent manner the integral vision that many of us had been attempting to formulate, with limited success, expanded the field of psychological and spiritual inquiry to encompass a truly global view of the spiritual quest.
Wilber is undoubtedly one of the greatest thinkers of our time. His cross-disciplinary syntheses encompass the psychology, philosophy and religion of East and West, as well as sociology, anthropology and post-modern thought. In the last two decades Wilber has been widely recognized as an outstanding philosopher. Some people have compared him to Hegel, but to my mind he is much easier to read! He has been hailed as the Einstein of consciousness studies, and his work offers a healthy antidote to the dogmatic reductive thinking in many disciplines. His contribution to psychology has been compared to that of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and William James. His brilliant and fundamental reformulation of theories of human development and the evolution of consciousness have earned him an international reputation and the respect of scholars in a wide range of fields. I believe he offers a worldview that will, in time, affect all of our academic, social, medical, religious and scientific institutions.
In his work Wilber demonstrates an indomitable warrior spirit that matches any adversary with fearless integrity. His dedication to service is evident in his uncompromising commitment to doing the work that he feels called to do, despite the arduous discipline that it demands. Through it all he remains open to feedback and keeps a cheerful sense of humor about his own human foibles in personal relationships. He has also demonstrated his willingness to revise his ideas in response to new information, as evidenced by the evolution of his own thinking whose phases he calls Wilber I, II and III.
When he responds to critics Wilber often reflects the tone of their own remarks, and this leads some observers to feel that he can be unduly sharp. However, it seems to me that he has demonstrated both wisdom and compassion in his willingness to reply to critics that are familiar with only a small portion of his work. His compassion may seem ruthless at times, but I know his heart is open and he writes from experience as well as a prodigious amount of reading. I have been a student psychology, religion and philosophy for nearly forty years and, with the possible exception of the Dalai Lama, I have yet to meet or read anyone who can match the laser-like quality of his intellect. Read more….
THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL (1998)
The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion is an interesting book for many reasons. One is that Ken, with Shambhala’s blessings, decided to auction the book to other publishers, simply because any seemingly religious affiliation (e.g., Buddhist Shambhala) might hurt acceptance for its intended audiences, one of which was the standard worldcentric atheistic liberal who wanted to believe in Spirit but had nowhere to turn (conventional religion is mythic-membership amber, which classical liberalism was born fighting; and as for postconventional and post-mythic spiritual paths, there aren’t any, at least not widely known, hence most liberals are stuck with no spiritual paths available to them. The book was aimed at them in particular).
So Ken traveled to New York, stayed at the Four Seasons hotel (thanks to Tony Schwartz, author of What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America—whose last chapter deals with Ken—and who also co-authored the biographies of Michael Eisner, head of Disney, and Donald Trump—the Donald—and so knew how to get a few strings pulled). Ironically, the auction came down to a neck-to-neck bidding war between Simon & Schuster and… Random House (the distributor of all Shambhala books). Random House won, and so Ken’s book was distributed by the same largest-and-finest distributor on the planet—just like all his other books with Shambhala, except on the spine it said “Random House” instead. This was basically hilarious.
(Ken’s books have been published by a variety of the finest publishers around, from Quest to Doubleday to McGraw Hill. During the 1980s, as his friendship with Shambhala founder-owner Sam Bercholz continued to grow, Ken transferred all of his books to Shambhala, and now publishes strictly with them, with the rare exception such as Random House. This is a terrific arrangement, because Shambhala is a highly successful small publisher with all the freedoms associated with being an independent, and yet they are distributed by Random House, which, as noted, has the largest and finest sales distribution network of any publisher—the best of both worlds. The only publisher that wouldn’t sell the rights to their Ken-books to Shambhala was Quest, Ken’s first publisher, who had the foresight to pick up Spectrum when over 30 other publishers had rejected it. Spectrum and Atman remain Quest books, which is totally fine with Ken, representing his gratitude for a publisher who gave him his start. Quest, incidentally, was good enough to make an exception for the Collected Works and allow Spectrum and Atman to be reprinted therein. “God bless those good people,” is what Ken says, and we certainly agree. A final factoid: During the period that Ken was practicing Zen in a particularly intense fashion, he gave 50% of his royalties from No Boundary to the Zen Center of Los Angeles, whose teacher was Maezumi Roshi, with whom Ken had a special connection and gratitude. Among Maezumi’s students at the time were Bernie Glassman, Dennis Merzel, and John Loori. John took the exquisite photo on the cover. Dennis went on to become the creator of Big Mind process. Bernie went on to become founder of Peacemakers, and Maezumi’s first fully transmitted Zen teacher. All three of them became fully transmitted Zen teachers with their own large sanghas. See John, Dennis, Bernie. Bernie Roshi was the first to be the lineage holder of the White Plum lineage of Maezumi, the largest Zen lineage outside of Japan, then passed that on to Dennis Genpo Roshi, who now holds it. Bernie Roshi and Genpo Roshi formed Vast Sky Institute with Ken Wilber, to promote an understanding of Buddhism in America.)
Back to The Marriage of Sense and Soul: having it published by a “safe” publisher such as Random House did allow politicians to approach it more openly. Bill Clinton read it and wrote a 4-page handwritten letter about it. He gave the book to Al Gore (they were both in office then, and Gore was gearing up to run). Al Gore read it and called it “one of my favorite new books.” He told this to the New Yorker magazine, which was then obliged to carry a column-long summary of the book (and a pretty good one at that).
What is amazing to us is that, right after SES, you might expect an author to either rest a bit, or even to start sliding downhill in terms of creativity and significance. But as the quotes and reviews attest, Ken just kept climbing, with some sort of weird overmind afterburner turned on all the time.
On the cover of the book is a quote from Deepak Chopra. You may like Deepak or not, but he rarely says things like:
“Ken Wilber is one of the most important pioneers in the field of consciousness in this century. I regard him as my mentor. He is a source of inspiration and insight to all of us. Read everything he writes—it will change your life.”
“Nobody is integrating the sciences and spiritual knowledge with Wilber’s scope and integrative power. The Marriage of Sense and Soul is certainly the best treatment I have seen of this topic, and, like the other of Wilber’s books, promises to be history-making.”
--Michael Murphy, cofounder Esalen, author The Future of the Body and Golf in the Kingdom
“The Marriage of Sense and Soul handles this difficult topic as well as anything I’ve seen. At one and the same time, it offers the reader philosophy with a tender heart and spirituality with analytical rigor. After reading Wilber, it is impossible to imagine looking at the world the same way again.”
--Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus and Second Life
“No one—not even Jung—has done as much as Wilber to open up Western psychology to the durable insights of the world’s wisdom traditions. Slowly, surely, book by book, Ken Wilber is laying the foundations for a genuine East/West integration.”
--Huston Smith, author, The World’s Religions
That quote from Huston Smith was on the cover of Sense and Soul, but Ken says he thinks it was given about an earlier book, but either way doesn’t matter. It’s an extraordinary comment by the world’s greatest authority on world religions. What is so sad is how quickly America seems to have dropped its real interest in East/West integration since the seventies and eighties. Certainly all the teachers at Integral Institute and Integral Spiritual Center are pursuing it, but precious few others.
Ken, of course, has not ceased his pioneering and incredibly energetic efforts in this regard. “You do surface patterns and deep patterns,” Ken said. “For deep patterns, every sentence you craft has to be potentially true for all people, not just a chosen few—must be worldcentric, not ethnocentric. Otherwise you’re just describing what you see in the mirror each morning. We don’t need more of that micro-sociology right now, we’ve had 3 decades of it. Of course it needs to be included—it gives you the surface patterns—but it needs to be transcended-and-included in order to move from the era of micro-analysis, as Jeffrey Alexander puts it, to the era of integration. Alexander also words it: we need to move from doing just macro (grand theories)—which happened during the 1950s and 1960s—to doing just micro (no metanarratives at all)—which defined the 1970s to 2000—to doing macro-micro (or syntheses of both deep, grand metanarratives and detailed surface pattern analyses)—which is just starting to emerge. But we still have too many people doing just macro, or just micro, or just Western, or just Eastern work, and the world continues to fall apart, big time….”
We asked Ken what he liked most about Sense and Soul, and he said, “I like a lot of that book; it was personally very important to me, what with auctioning it and everything. It was a real stepping out for me, going to New York and all. But as for the book, if forced to pick one item, I’d say that Part II of the book, an overview of the previous attempts at integration, gives as good summaries as you’ll find of Idealism, Romanticism, and especially Postmodernism. So many people are confused by poststructural postmodernism—and with a name like that, who wouldn’t be? But I recommend the book for that section alone.”
What bothered him most about any of the negative criticisms? “Oh, that’s easy. When I write a book, I always make the assumption that the reader has not read any of my previous books and thus basically doesn’t know my work at all. And so the first third of almost every post-SES book I do contains a summary of the Integral or AQAL model. This is a courtesy, of course, and I don’t like doing it any more than people who know my work like being dragged through what seems to them to be a mere ‘repetition’ of previous work. Often those critics stop reading some time during that first third, and then write blistering criticisms about how I am just repeating myself. Even a well-known theoretical reporter like Albanese says that I have been writing the same book since Spectrum (!), which is the only book she apparently has actually read! Talk about shallow research. But I’m referring to even the more competent critics who have followed my work up to SES and beyond, but I don’t think they realize how important it is that I give first-time readers the courtesy of explaining the model before I start using it. If those critics would just hang in there, and read more than the first half of the book, they will find what I think is some truly original and important ideas in the last half—as demonstrated by the positive quotes y’all are posting. If you look on Amazon with Integral Spirituality, for example, about half the quotes go on and on about ‘He’s repeating himself’—and this is the book with the Kosmic address material, which is so new it smells like the inside of a car that’s never been driven. But this is just punishing me for extending that courtesy to new readers, I have to say. So that’s my major complaint. Most of the other complaints are actually pretty minor, and have to do with critics reading only one book and then criticizing the whole model. Usually their criticisms are actually handled in other books—or at least addressed ;-) But what often happens is that then another critic will quote that critic, and then off you go creating urban myths that have little to do with me or my work. This is just fun with trolls and troglodytes! [laughing] Serious criticism, positive and negative, is always welcomed, and contrary to another urban myth, I get a lot of that and I take it very seriously—that’s how and why I went from phase-1 to phase-2 to phase-3 to phase-4 to phase-5, and I hope to knock off a few more phases before I go bardosville.”
Where did the title come from? “Oh, that’s from Oscar Wilde. Loosely paraphrasing: ‘The only thing that will cure the soul is the senses. And the only thing that will cure the senses is the soul.’”
Here’s a good, restrained, but very positive review of The Marriage of Sense and Soul by Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, founder of Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). Because it’s fairly short (3 pages) and succinct, we’ll include it all here:
The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion
Reviewed by Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, founder of Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS)…
“I enthusiastically endorse Ken Wilber’s formulation….”
A brilliant work by a gifted scholar, The Marriage of Sense and Soul traces the tides, currents, and cross-currents of Western thought as the philosophers of each era make their contribution to the evolution (and sometimes de-evolution) of human knowledge. The fundamental enigma, of course, was and is reconciling the knowledge gained from the senses with that from the more ephemeral reaches of soul and spirit. Though laced by necessity with the technical language of the philosophers that Wilber cites, this is a “must read” for anyone who seriously questions human origins and our place in the cosmos.
Wilber uses “perennial wisdom” and the “Great Chain of Being” (GCOB) as the starting point of knowing in pre-modern cultures. (Perennial wisdom is the structure of enduring values, precepts, and morality found at the core of traditional beliefs; the GCOB is a concept which expresses the idea that existence manifests itself in a continuum from inanimate matter at one end to the godhead at the other.) Wilber then devastatingly delivers the message that Western civilization is the only major social order in history to have abandoned these concepts for a dualism that consists of modern materialist science, which denies spirituality, plus a premodern patriarchal deism, which denies significant meaning to experiences of the flesh. For the sake of brevity and simplicity, many contemporary writers (including myself) sometimes look to Descartes and Newton as the point where modern science began to sweep aside many of the mythological claims of religion. Wilber correctly inserts the seventeenth century into the larger context. By doing this, he convincingly shows how premodern, modern, and postmodern thought can be brought together to synthesize new approaches to ancient questions.
A major contribution of Wilber’s work is the recognition that the GCOB is too unidimensional for the complexity of modern inquiry, and the perennial wisdom is too inwardly derived to contain the findings of modern science. Wilber proposes that the GCOB be differentiated and expanded to recognize domains of the internal and the external--as well as the individual and collective--thereby providing four related groupings of human experience. These groupings are ways to map experience, which must be properly accommodated in order to unify and relate the totality of inquiry, both intuitive and sensory.
Wilber calls this expansion the “four quadrants,” which permits individual focus on issues of “I,” “We,” and “It.” “I” and “We” pertain to the internal knowing of the individual, plus the wisdom of the collective. “It” pertains to the external (sensory/scientific) knowing about both individual things (atoms, cells, organisms) and collective organizations (galaxies, families, societies). This arrangement is a simple but elegant way to order inquiry about reality so that distinctive patterns may emerge. In a slightly different context, the four groupings may be seen to address facts, aesthetics, and morality; or, alternatively put, the true, the beautiful, and the good.
Wilber also employs Arthur Koestler’s notion of holons; that is, that all things are part of a larger grouping but also contain within themselves smaller groupings. An example is atoms within molecules, within cells, within organisms. The significance of Wilber’s use of holons is that science is just now discovering that the universe consists not only of smaller organizations of matter grouped into successively larger groups, but that these groupings are accompanied by a quantum hologram at each level, which is nonlocal and carries the history of each group. The importance of the quantum hologram is still little known to the public; it will likely emerge as a major theory for understanding mystical experience.
Another point that other writers (including myself) have also emphasized is that science has demonstrated that “knowing” is directly associated with the physical domain; it does not exist in isolation from the physical. This thinking implies that there is an objective reality that we strive to know but that in some ways interacts with our attempt to know it. It then becomes obvious that knowing is not limited to external measurement, as has been suggested by those who hold a very narrow definition of science. But also, knowing is not independent of the physical.
After chronicling the waves of change produced by our predecessors wrestling with knowing the mundane, communicating the aesthetic, and explaining the divine, Wilber suggests a way to structure our understanding of science, art, and religion. This formulation is based upon three strands of knowing: injunction, apprehension, and validation. The injunction is a method for obtaining a certain type of information; that is, “do this” in order “to know that.” Apprehension is the gaining of data by performing the injunction. And validation is checking the results with others of equal or greater skill at executing the injunction. This protocol can be used to produce knowing at the external level of thought as has been done by scientists for centuries and by mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers for millennium, and at the more subtle levels of esoteric perception as has been done by the great mystics. I enthusiastically endorse Ken Wilber’s formulation as a protocol that can be applied across the spectrum of external (science) and internal (Mathematical, logical, aesthetic, spiritual) explorations. It is precisely the protocol that I independently learned to use (but not so elegantly describe) as I moved my exploration from outer space into inner space 30 years ago.
The downside of this method [for less integral approaches], as Wilber correctly points out, is that science must put aside (as it is beginning to do) the outmoded dogma that external, or sensory, knowing in its most narrow meaning is the only valid way of knowing. Likewise, religion must put aside the dogma and mythological studies that cannot withstand the scrutiny of independent validation. The fact that science is already starting on this path is indicated by a seminal scientific conference at Cambridge University in 1995 that emphasized the “primacy of the first-person experience.” This phrase means that there cannot be an objective observation without there first being a subjective observer. Whether religions, singly or collectively, move significantly in the direction of setting aside unverifiable myth and dogma will determine whether they become part of the solution or remain part of the problem.
Here, as promised, is the one from Roger Walsh, who always does a superb job with his overviews and assessments. Roger’s is longer and more for scholars, so click on the “read more” if you would like to access it. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Science and religion, science and religion: their effects are everywhere. How to reconcile these two great forces--which together are shaping our lives, our cultures, and our planet--remains one of the great intellectual, social, and spiritual challenges of our time.
Few perspectives seem as conflictual as those of science and religion, which sometimes even try to completely deny legitimacy to each other. Some fundamentalists decry science and technology as destroyers of religious values while some scientists sneer at religion as a primitive relic of psychological and social immaturity.
The worlds they offer us seem completely different. The great religions assure us that behind apparent chaos and catastrophe there exists a deeper, truer divine realm which is our true home. Science reports that behind chaos there are only the meaningless, immutable laws of nature, or as Whitehead lamented, “merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.”
No surprise then that some of the greatest minds of the last few centuries have wrestled with this question: how can we reconcile the picture of a meaningless world offered us by science on the one hand, with the profound human need for meaning and religion’s picture of a meaningful cosmos on the other. No surprise also that this question would appeal to Ken Wilber, who in a series of fifteen previous books spanning fields as diverse as psychology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, ecology, religion, and physics, has always sought to integrate apparently conflicting perspectives in broad overarching syntheses.
The present book follows Wilber’s usual pattern. It is broad ranging, multidisciplinary, and integrative, and offers a synthetic vision of exceptional scope. This review focuses primarily on the synthetic vision rather than on critical analysis of selected building blocks. This because the novel vision is obviously the most fascinating aspect…. Read more….
INTEGRAL PSYCHOLOGY (2000)
The next major book that Ken did was Integral Psychology, after a fun trip into doing a journal for a year, published as One Taste (Michael Lerner: “When a great mind like Ken Wilber’s starts freely commenting, you want to be there! Wilber’s brilliance pours out on every page of One Taste—so it’s both fun and profound. His work models what spiritual and intellectual life ought to be”).
Integral Psychology is a major comparison of over 100 developmental models from around the world, premodern to modern to postmodern. The general similarities and differences were telling indeed, and formed the basis of the first major, East-West, integral psychological system the world has seen (consisting, of course, of quadrant-dimensions, levels, lines, states, and types). Ken has continued to refine this model, but its basic elements are as presented in this book, and anybody concerned with a truly worldcentric psychology should check out this extraordinary book. The professional critics agreed:
“Ken Wilber is a national treasure. No one is working at the integration of Eastern and Western wisdom literature with such depth or breadth of mind and heart as he.”
--Robert Kegan, Harvard Graduate School of Education, author
The Evolving Self and In Over Our Heads
“In ages to come, historians may well view Wilber’s work as the pivotal insight that legitimized the return of consciousness and spirit to our age. For this exciting page-turner, psychology owes him a millennial debt.”
--T George Harris, founding editor, Psychology Today and American Health
“In a single publication Wilber strides over the entire history of psychology to create new and comprehensive strategies for human survival in the next millennium.”
--Don Beck, coauthor of Spiral Dynamics
“Integral Psychology is so all-encompassing, lucid, and well-written that Ken Wilber deserves the recognition of having single-mindedly brought conceptual order to psychology of the East and West.”
--Susanne Cook-Greuter, coeditor of Transcendence and Mature Thought in Adulthood
THE COLLECTED WORKS OF KEN WILBER (2000)
You might remember something that a reviewer said of Ken’s fourth book, Up from Eden: “Wilber writes with the crackling energy of a man who has the authentic creative fire burning in him. As his canvas is so vast, one might expect his verve to falter on occasion, for there to be awkward patches when his arguments grow a little thin and uncertain. But not so. He moves confidently and unwaveringly on, casting a new and thoroughly illuminating light into every area which he enters.” That was referring to the sentences in one book, but you could apply the same idea to Ken’s books as a whole. After writing (or coauthoring) 17 books at that point, you might expect his work would have started to falter, that his later books would lose their “verve,” as that British reviewer would have it. But, as we suggested, he seems to have some sort of overmind or even supermind burner turned on, and it never seems to falter. At this point, Shambhala/Random House did something that no other major author in history has had done: they agreed it was time to bring out the first edition of Ken’s Collected Works, and that is exactly what they did. There were 8 large volumes containing all 17 or so books (a few of those were edited or coauthored books, and only the relevant material from those were in the CW). All of the books were edited for this collection, and there were lengthy introductions to all 8 volumes written by Ken. (By the way, there are now another 4 volumes that are ready to be released, whenever Ken gets the time to edit them!—bringing it to 12 volumes.)
Ken had been working on a long and difficult book about postmodernism, its many strengths and weaknesses. The book was originally titled The Pig in the Python, and Other Gruesome Tales. The title refers to the Boomer generation, a huge bulge in the demographic charts. At the last minute, in what he calls “one of the most colossally idiotic ideas I have ever had,” he converted it into a novel called Boomeritis: A Novel That Will Set You Free. The chapters in Pig became the topics of talks delivered by the professors at Integral Center in the novel. He still plans on bringing out The Pig in the Python at some point. In the meantime, Boomeritis hit the mark, even according to conventional reviewers from Booklist to the San Francisco Chronicle. What everybody got was the novel’s hilarious sense of humor, as well as its apt and searing criticism:
“Wilber, a hip and loquacious philosopher, turns to fiction to flesh out, as it were, his provocative theories about humanity and the Boomers, the generation everyone, including themselves, loves to hate. His erudition is matched by a parodic sense of humor.” –Booklist
“Wilber, a brilliant and prolific philosopher, serves up some hilarious and cutting commentary in Boomeritis. He hits the mark!” --San Francisco Chronicle
Besides being laugh-out-loud funny, Boomeritis was something else: it was a profound and in-depth psychoanalysis (if that’s the right word) of an entire generation (maybe integranalysis?). Simply reading the book can expose and significantly heal the pluralitis (aka boomeritis) lurking or lingering in anyone’s psyche. As one critic put it, “I loved every page, but it was very painful.” [KW note: “pluralism” is healthy green, “pluralitis” is dysfunctional green, or extreme and absolutistic pluralism. This extreme pluralism—which maintains all views are absolutely the same—is open to infection by narcissism, since all views are allowed. Thus, under the extreme-green post-modern banner, every pre-modern, pre-rational, preconventional, prepersonal, egocentric impulse can parade. Green infected by red or magenta is pluralitis or boomeritis, named after the first generation to be significantly infected by it—also known as the mean green meme, or MGM. And yes, you can have the mean orange meme—aka scientific materialism—and the mean amber meme—aka the Spanish Inquisition, and so on. But the MGM now affects a significant portion of the intelligentsia, the academic elite, all humanities in the universities, liberal social policies, and so on. Boomers were the first to have a large percentage at green, and thus also dysfunctional green. Some reviewers continue to think that green and the mean green meme are the same, so that I am critical of green in itself and altogether, which is ridiculous. I have long sections in many books entitled things like, “The Many Gifts of Green,” and I discuss and applaud them at length—things like the civil rights movement, feminism, environmentalism, pluralism, and so on. It’s only sick green, or dysfunctional green, that earns the appellation of “mean green.”]
Ken gave away the whole secret to the novel on pages 324-6, where a professor discusses the 7 items of “the perfect postmodern novel”: things like the fact that in the novel, the characters would all be flat and two-dimensional, reflecting the “only surfaces” credo of postmodernism; the book itself would largely be about literary Theory, since that is mostly what postmodernism is all about; it would mix fact and fiction without the slightest concern, reflecting postmodernism’s claim that there is no real difference between them, or between science and poetry, history and fiction, fact and fabrication; and finally, with the 7th item, Ken gives the show away: “Seven, if you ever manage to pull it off and get all seven of these into a novel, then, in keeping with the demand for self-reflexivity, make sure you find a way to point out in the novel that the novel itself has just pulled off the great postmodern feat. This would amount to bragging, thus earning you extra points for boomeritis. Personally, I’m convinced that that this is too much to achieve in one work—especially the demand to exemplify everything it criticizes—and that is why the great postmodern novel will never be written. But if somebody ever manages to pull it off, it would indeed be a heart-breaking work of staggering genius.”
The last phrase (“a heartbreaking work of staggering genius”) is the name of another novel, and thus mixing a real-life event with fiction is exemplifying again what the book itself criticizes. In fact, it becomes obvious that Ken carefully designed the entire novel to exemplify every single one of those 7 items, and that is the finishing touch on its brilliance, excuse us for saying so. But we’re pointing this out because you can read critics whose review took the entire novel literally, and, with all due respect, it’s hilarious. If you look at the photo of the author on the book flap, it’s a photo taken of Ken when he was 23 (!)—how could you miss that? Some critics commented on Ken’s youth and on the photo showing the 23-year-old author, and congratulated one so young for writing such a savvy book. Others simply criticized the author for writing flat characters, two-dimensional motives, cardboard settings, etc., thus inadvertently applauding the book for squarely hitting those 7 items. The author’s bio on the same book flap claims that the author’s works have appeared in Wired, BlackBook, X/Y, Yearn, MeatBeat, and Cosmopolitan. Ken’s work has appeared in none of those; and have you ever heard of a magazine called Yearn or MeatBeat? This exemplified item number 2, mix fact and fiction with no concern. And so the book goes….
(Some people know about another exemplification of item 2: having Stuart Davis, who is a character in the novel, actually write his own words, which Ken then cut, unedited, into the narrative. There is a particularly interesting side note on that: During a 10-day period that Ken was writing the overview of the italicized paragraphs in the book—paragraphs that actually constitute a small manual of tantric sexual-spirituality, and involve Ken and Chloe getting closer and closer to Spirit through their increasingly intense love scenes, which Ken describes with both sincerity and hilarity—those italicized sections are the real message of the book, and they start brief and, in the next-to-the-last chapter, almost the entire chapter—well, during literally that same 10-day period, Stu was having a real-life experience that paralleled in almost every way the essential ingredients of the nondual tantric message that Ken was writing—namely, there is a sexual yoga that can show you the very Face of Spirit, which is your own Original Face, and can be seen shining in and through the eyes of your beloved in One Taste. So Ken had Stu write out about 20 pages of what had happened to him, in detail, and Ken used exactly those sections, written entirely by Stu, in the book—thus switching, yet again, real characters and events with fictional characters and events. But many people said that those were some of the most beautiful sections in the entire book, and Ken agrees. But score another point for item #2!)
We asked Ken what he thought the actual pragmatic use of the book might be, and he said, “If you even think you have any lingering narcissism, or egocentrism, either as a Boomer or from having Boomer parents or teachers—or just any lingering narcissistic subpersonalities left over from growing up—then read it. It will literally start to undo those contractions by making them conscious. And that’s what I constantly hear the book does for people. It goes into everything from the real meaning of ‘paradigm,’ the relation of quantum mechanics to Spirit, the 100th monkey, etc., as well as the contributions and problems with Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard—and helps you get any hidden pluralitis out of your system. It really does seem to work, and that is what I most wanted to accomplish. As you can imagine, the younger generations (X and Y) love the book, because they have Boomer parents or teachers; but many of those parents and teachers also love it, if they can get through the ‘it-was-very-painful’ part.”
A THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2000)
Ken noticed that some of the introductions to the 8 volumes of the Collected Works were good summaries of his work, and so he took all 8 introductions, and they became the basis of the 7 chapters of his next book, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. It wasn’t a major statement, but drawing his seminal ideas together in a brief and accessible form seemed to hit home. Warren Bennis, the revered dean of business leadership, said simply, “This is the book I’ve been longing for.”
“A soaring tour de force and daring exposition by one of America’s most inventive thinkers. Don’t quit the search for an integral culture until you have given it a whirl—and take this book with you as a sturdy guide.”
--Professor Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School
“Ken Wilber is one of the most creative spiritual thinkers alive today, and A Theory of Everything is an accessible taste of his brilliance. Like a masterful conductor, he brings everyone in, finds room for science and spirit, and creates music for the soul.”
--Rabbi Michael Lerner, The Politics of Meaning
“Wilber’s integral vision offers readers the opportunity to make valuable connections among disparate disciplines and—just maybe—to prepare themselves for a brave new world.”
Those quotes, and many others like them, made it clear that, even though A Theory of Everything was a compilation of CW intros, it beautifully captured the overall excitement of a meta-genius at work—and most readers responded accordingly.
INTEGRAL SPIRITUALITY (2006)
We’ll say it again, because this is a celebration, damnit, so let’s get with the party!: what’s so amazing is that Ken’s trajectory keeps transcending and including, going higher and higher, deeper and deeper, wider and wider, including more and more—Eros and Agape at work, from the overmind and even supermind, to this day, with the proof being the pudding. Keep in mind that Ken wrote The Spectrum of Consciousness at 23, and basically has written (or co-written/edited) an average of a book a year ever since. Most developmentalists will tell you that you can’t reach turquoise altitude (e.g., level 4.5 in Kegan, or autonomous/integrated in Loevinger, or cross-paradigmatic in Commons-Richards, etc.) in any substantial fashion until you are in your forties or even fifties. But as only one example, in the book Spiral Dynamics, when they were looking for examples of turquoise, their highest level of worldview, what did they come up with? Here’s their list from the book itself:
Where seen: Theories of David Bohn, McLuhan’s ‘global village,’ Gregory Stock’s Metaman, Rupert Sheldrake and morphic fields, Gandhi’s ideas of pluralistic harmony, Ken Wilber’s ‘Spectrum of Consciousness,’ James Lovelock’s ‘Gaia hypothesis,’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘noosphere.’
Ken was at turquoise not when he was 50 but when he was 23 (!), and he went straight up from there, to this day, which is why a case can be made that his work, certainly starting with SES, has pushed into the overmind and supermind. You just can’t do the kind of cross-paradigmatic work he does at anything lower: the proof, again, is in the pudding, and what integral pudding it is!
As special as many people have felt his work has been up to Integral Spirituality, it seems that—and we’re being very careful here, but something even more extraordinary, something truly unheard of and novel, has apparently starting coming through with what his students are calling “wilber-5” or “phase-5,” which began with volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy (several excerpts of which are posted on KenWilber.com), and an even better example of which can be seen in Appendix II of Integral Spirituality. The ex-abbot of Father Thomas Keating’s Snowmass monastery—a brilliant and wonderful man, well-versed in East and West, named Michael Abdo—probably put it best, referring especially to the Appendices: “This book represents not only a breakthrough in the history of thought, but a breakthrough in the history of thinking.” People have called it things like a mind-melt or a brain-melt, a radical and absolutely unprecedented perception of the Kosmos and a methodology to approach it. We’ll come back to Appendix II specifically in just a moment. First, the book as a whole.
“Do you remember drawing your first awkward As and Bs and Cs, and how it helped to ‘lift your nose from the page’ and try to take in the full sweep of a sentence? Well, some of us are slow to learn that trick, and thus we never step back far enough to see the whole picture. Not so, Ken Wilber. He doesn’t just lift his nose from the page, he lifts himself up like the astronauts who reached a distance that allowed them to view planet Earth as a whole. Getting acquainted with Wilber’s Integral Approach can be as thrilling as seeing the first photograph of Earthrise over the moon’s horizon.
“From a distance things fall into new patterns that reconcile apparent contradictions. A crucial task of our time is reconciliation between the wisdom of the world’s religious traditions and the best in contemporary thought. For decades this has been the central concern of my own work. Integral Spirituality offers a new and promising framework for tackling this task and renews my hope… in a genuine reconciliation.”
--Brother David Steindl-Rast, author Music of Silence and Gratefulness
“Integral Spirituality is a book that literally shatters spiritual confusion. Eloquent, compassionate, and deeply helpful, it should be read by every practitioner and lover of Spirit.”
--Swami Sally Kempton, author The Heart of Meditation
Sally Kempton, by the way, is a lineage-holder in Kashmir Shaivism, one of the two or three most sophisticated psycho-spiritual systems in the world. She is a deeply realized soul and profound teacher. Quite apart from what she says about Ken, her works are highly recommended. But back to the responses:
“A work of inspired genius. As so often before, Wilber breaks new conceptual ground in consciousness and spiritual studies, this time revealing clearly the important difference between the states of consciousness explored by the classical spiritual traditions and the stages of consciousness described by contemporary developmental psychology. Integral Spirituality is a seminal work for 21st Century spiritual studies.”
--Jim Marion, author, Putting on the Mind of Christ
Integral Spirituality, as so many noted, even went beyond Ken’s previous works—it was, as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi put it, “Beyond anything that Ken Wilber has written to this point….” As we are celebrating it, the man just keeps going higher and higher and higher….
“Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality is possibly the most important spiritual book in postmodern times. Step by step, with luminous clarity, he unites all spiritual traditions without diluting the potency of any one lineage or tradition. Anyone serious about raising the level of consciousness on this planet should read this masterpiece.”
--Roshi Dennis Genpo Merzel, author Big Mind, Big Heart
Genpo makes a crucially important point, one repeated by so many reviewers who meet adequatio: Ken unites without diluting the particulars. According to work by, e.g., Commons and Richards, Deirdre Kramer, Robert Kegan, etc., individuals at green altitude cannot see (conceive or perceive) the connecting links between paradigms, and thus, being at the pluralistic wave, they view any attempt at spotting the patterns that connect as being nothing but destroying the particulars by lumping or mushing them together. That is categorically NOT what Ken does, as Genpo and Brother David and Roger Walsh and Robert Kegan and Frances Vaughan and so many others who are at turquoise or higher have noted (i.e., at cross-paradigmatic or higher in Commons--Richards, Kegan’s level 5, Kramer’s stage 7 or ‘dynamic dialecticism,’ etc.).
There is no other way to say that. It is not meant to be disrespectful of reviewers at green, but of reviewers at green who disrespect Ken’s work by fundamentally misperceiving it. When any of us do that, we are “in over our heads,” and that fact needs to be simply, respectfully, but honestly noted. We are dissing the misinterpretations, not the individuals. But at turquoise or higher, starting with cross-paradigmatic cognitive capacities, the patterns that connect start to come into view, and then, indeed, you can see the Earth as a whole (while still spending as much time as you want studying any of its parts and particulars in as much excruciating detail as you wish—using, of course, Integral Methodological Pluralism—something most green reviewers tend to miss). But this “seeing the Earth as a whole” is what so many people appreciate about the radical and revolutionary nature of Ken’s AQAL approach: finally, a way to do exactly that.
“Vast in scope, profound in depth, and far reaching in its implications, Integral Spirituality is, quite simply, the most encompassing account of religion and spirituality available in our time.”
--Roger Walsh, PhD, author Essential Spirituality and The Spirit of Shamanism
Notice another thing that Genpo has said. Ken’s unity-in-diversity approach stresses both unity and diversity equally (Integral Methodological Pluralism, for example, includes a minimum of 8 different methodologies, including empiricism/positivism, hermeneutics, semiotics, autopoietic systems theory, cognitive science, phenomenology, developmental neo-structuralism—do you know any other approach that explicitly uses all of those not merely eclectically but as inherent aspects of an integral system???). A pluralistic critic would expect Ken’s approach to “freeze the mind” when it comes to other particulars and other approaches, but just the opposite is true, if you’re at turquoise or higher. Genpo: “As a lineage holder [Genpo is the lineage holder of the White Plum Zen lineage, the largest Zen lineage outside of Japan], I particularly appreciate that Wilber has helped those of us who embody a tradition embrace and love those of other traditions who are doing the same work—raising the consciousness of this planet to a truly global vision.” The same notion of connecting, healing, reconciling, seeing things whole: that is the vision that Wilber has represented since his first book….
And now, for Appendix II. If you haven’t read it, please do so—but please read the whole book first, or it won’t make sense, and it certainly won’t be a brain-melt (due to the terminology that you need to first know—it’s not hard at all, just necessary). One of the first things that people notice about this Appendix (and also the other two appendices) is that it helps them understand the postmodern revolution, and how and why they might still be trapped in the myth of the given, which postmodernism helped to uproot. In fact, in Appendix III, Ken has a gentle criticism of some 20 modern writers and spiritual teachers who are still caught in the myth of the given, even as they try to teach liberation and enlightenment—but still being caught in some pervasive myths is not generally thought to be liberating. But Ken gives almost a simple manual of how to adjust one’s teachings—or one’s spiritual practice—so as to take advantage of the important (if partial) truths of the postmodern revolution. After all, for the last three decades, it didn’t dominate virtually all of the humanities for no reason….
Then Appendix II gets down to business. Since there is no fundamental or foundational truth anywhere (believing otherwise is part of the myth of the given), then any particular phenomena can only be located in reference to the sum total of all other known phenomena at any given time. But all other phenomena appear differently to different altitudes—there is a red worldspace, an amber worldspace, an orange worldspace, a green worldspace, a teal worldspace, a turquoise worldspace, an indigo worldspace, a violet worldspace, an ultraviolet worldspace…. Now, this is not subjective idealism, nor is it extreme postmodern constructivism—in fact, although it includes the perspectives that give rise to those worldviews, it negates their limitations, and can even include a perspective of critical realism when it comes to the givens of this world—EXCEPT the givens of this world appear differently to different altitudes, not because they are merely discourses, but because they exist with different contours at different levels of (subjective and intersubjective) consciousness. The only reasonable way to handle this is to take the highest expectable level of consciousness at any given time—in today’s world, that is roughly turquoise—and then say that “the” world is best given by an Integral Methodological Pluralism conducted at turquoise—or, in short hand, turquoise science, turquoise morals, and turquoise art. (Of course, various researchers can conduct research from, at, and/or about higher levels and states, they simply have to identify them as such, which is part of IMP.) So, for example, if we say that the world’s ecosystems are suffering considerable damage, that means, as seen by turquoise science (unless otherwise indicated). This is a beautiful integration of realism (empiricism) and constructivism (interpretation).
This is all encapsulated in the notion of Kosmic address. In order to “locate” any phenomena, you have to indicate its location in relation to the rest of all known phenomena. All known phenomena are found by a phenomenology of all levels and states of consciousness, resulting in what Ken calls a giga-glossary (or giga-gloss). The Kosmic address is simply the quadrant and level at which a particular phenomenon, occasion, or event can be found. For example, Santa Claus is a magic-mythic figure (magenta-to-amber level) seen as a 3rd-person if he is never met, and a 2nd-person if he is talked to in fantasy (or actually shows up! ;-). The latter would be 2nd-person or Lower-Left, magenta level: (Q/LL, L/magenta)—meaning LL quadrant (Q/LL) plus magenta level (L/magenta). The square root of a negative one exists in an orange worldspace seen in 3rd-person abstraction: (Q/UR, L/orange). Gaia as a nested holarchical system of all gross systems is Quadrant Lower-Right and level turquoise (Q/LR, L/turquoise)—in other words, that is where you will find Gaia. Or that is where you will find the square root of a negative one. Or that is where you will find Santa Claus. If you are at a lower level, or in a different quadrant or perspective, you won’t be able to see (perceive or conceive) that occasion… period.
The same goes for occasions found in various states of consciousness, or developmental lines, or types. Simply specify their Kosmic address (including all 5 elements or dimensions if necessary—quadrants, levels, lines, states, types), and you will know what injunctions and enactments you must perform in order to bring forth the specified occasion. This is what’s so radically new about this approach: it not only takes the best of everything from constructivism to genealogy to realism to post-metaphysics, it actually weaves them together in a way that does not dilute their truths, but makes them believable by removing their absolutisms.
It is, indeed, an entirely new way to think: a breakthrough in the history of thought, and of thinking. It is also the key to vertical development, to vertical Enlightenment. Meditation remains the royal road to horizontal Enlightenment, but taking the role of other—that is, integral perspectivism—is the royal road to vertical Enlightenment. And Integralism asks us to do both, of course….
Ken has written over 1400 pages on volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy, about half of which has been posted on KenWilber.com (here). But that is the half that is more of a summary of previous material recast in Integral Math Perspectives. But the other half, yet to be posted, is more like Appendix II, and contains the truly radical material, so stay tuned for that.
Here are the already-posted excerpts, although these are all first drafts and can be expected to be tweaked in all sorts of ways (and notice that these excerpts were titled specifically not to upset green, because Ken honestly is still reaching out to them):
Excerpt B—The Many Ways We Touch: Three Principles Helpful for Any
Excerpt C—The Ways We Are in This Together: Intersubjectivity and
Interobjectivity in the Holonic Kosmos
Excerpt D—The Look of a Feeling: The Importance of Post/Structuralism
Excerpt G—Toward a Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies
Excepts E and F, which Ken is writing now, deal with what he calls the heart of the book, namely, an entirely new linguistic meta-paradigm, Integral Semiotics. Due date for volume 2? He’s not sure, there are four other books that are also almost completed, and they each compete for his time. Please stay tuned….
Well, such is our celebration of Ken’s work. In this day of the Internet, the result is often what Jürgen Habermas said it was: the most persistent voices, not the most knowledgeable voices, dominate the culture and sub-culture, making quality discussions somewhat rare and often dissed by the dominant. (The dominant culture immediately jumped on Habermas: quelle surprise! ;-) Ken absolutely loves the Net and its various cultures—after all, he choose the Net for his main form of live communication to the world, IntegralNaked.org—but the fact is, if you are flying at turquoise or higher, you will likely have found it very hard to locate a forum that resonated with your deepest desires, values, and awareness. We are trying to start those at I-I, and the first that we feel comfortable with is the AQAL Journal Forum, which will go live with Ken around May 1 or so, and which you can access if you subscribe to that journal or if you are a member of I-I. And of course there are integral bloggers who are not connected with I-I, which we try to call attention to in Holons. But it can indeed be thin out there.
And if you are green, the fact is that you very well might have disliked the whole experience of reading these reviews: it just cuts against the egalitarianism that is green. That’s fine, this celebration is meant for those who can actually rejoice in the good fortune of others, not immediately move to level them to their own conformity. And rejoice we have done—we’ve had a blast assembling these reviews by some of the most respected scholars, spiritual teachers, and intellectuals now working—and going back some 30 years in Ken’s ever-widening, ever-Eros-ing career. Thank you if you joined us in this celebration—if so, it says something wonderfully deep about you as well, seriously.…
Much love and all good blessings and gratitude……….. The Editors