Guest Blog: Is Howard Gardner a Line Lumper? (by Ivo Banaco)
July 24, 2007 09:00

(The following is being posted according to Ken's generous offer. The posting of a submission doesn't imply that Ken or the editors of this site necessarily agree with any or all of it. Thanks, -Eds)

Dear Ken and all the staff,
My name is Ivo Banaco, I'm 26 years old and I'm from Portugal. I have already told my "integral story" many times (from Fielding to I-I forums, etc). I just want you to know that I came from a deeply orange world, particularly in what concerns to my undergraduate studies in economics. However, in my way to my master degree in Economics an intriguing book (because of the modest title) called TOE simply made a revolution to my way of understanding the world, me...Everything! (TOE was (as far as I can tell) the first Portuguese translation of KW work. To your knowledge here in Portugal the newest translation is Grace and Grit ("Graça e Coragem", in Portuguese) with a very beautiful front page.) TOE and of course all the other books that I bought (from SES to Integral Spirituality) make me see how reductionist (gross and subtle) I was. I really have a map now to explore the territory with much more accuracy (and also a more demanding challenge both professional and personal).    

Is Howard Gardner a line lumper?
by Ivo Banaco

Let me be clear right from the start. I am tremendously disappointed with Mr. Howard Gardner’s latest book “Five minds for the future”. And yes, you know exactly why, it is indeed mostly because of the references that he makes to Ken’s work—but not only as you will see.

Reading in Ken’s blog that Mr. Gardner had called him a “lumper” made me buy his book immediately. I sometimes enjoy running through blogs that criticize Ken’s work (it always help me to strengthen my integral vision!) and a critique from Mr. Gardner, one of the most important structuralist of postmodern times and his work certainly a very important piece of the integral puzzle, should be an important one to read. “Ok, Amazon give me that book...”; it eventually reaches my hands a couple of days later. Going right to the index, finding where were the excerpts referring to Ken...and finally start reading. I was shocked (I will explain why)...and read it again, and again. I read the whole chapter “the synthesizing mind” and still in shock I read the whole book.

But, why was I so shocked? (More exactly I felt a sort of sadness but quickly doing a mental 3-2-1 shadow work, I found that I was not feeling sadness I was actually and I am simply mad!). Let me share with you all my thoughts.

I will start first by putting things in context. Mr. Howard Gardner proposes in this book five minds for the future – the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind. The references to Ken’s work appear in the 3rd chapter “The Synthesizing Mind”. So far so good. Mr. Gardner starts the chapter with a description of what a synthesizing mind should be, the main characteristics and so on. He mentions Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas as great synthesizers of their times. Mr. Gardner considers that “The ability to knit together information from disparate sources into a coherent whole is vital today”. He continues his description by describing the rewards and risks of interdisciplinary work approaches. Again ... so far, so good (even though I think, he lacks in his synthesizing mind some features than only can be find with a framework like the AQAL approach, that allows us to built not only interdisciplinary work, but a trans/post disciplinary approach to the study of any given object, but that’s another story...).

Mr. Gardner then advances to some contemporary examples that he finds fitting in the “Promising and Overpromising syntheses”. He chooses two: the “two books with similar-sounding titles”: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and Ken’s A Brief History of Everything. Fair enough. So let’s see how he puts those books in comparison:

“Bryson’s synthesis works for me. He covers a huge amount of ground but in a way that makes logical sense, and constitutes a good story to boot”.

Ok, I also think that Bryson’s book is a good one, as far as he goes, he reaches a part of the Kosmos (namely the sensorial world, the things out there) very well. What Mr. Gardner has to say about BHOE:

“I am less buoyed by Ken Wilber´s A Brief History of Everything. Wilber is widely recognized as an intellectual polymath- a largely self-educated scholar...Why then, am I ungratified, unsatisfied? I think it is because Wilber emerge as the ultimate “lumper”. He is always poised to see connections; to join theories, stories, examples together; to accentuate their commonalities; to pinpoint their order in a yet greater order.”

Hum...interesting... wasn’t those characteristics of a synthesizing mind that Mr. Gardner described earlier? I don’t get it...

Mr.Gardner continues: “‘Lumpers’ are contrasted with ‘splitters’...On a continuum of lumpers to splitters, I fall somewhere in the middle. Yet, confronted by one of Wilber’s texts, I feel myself strangely antagonistic to lumping.”

Very strange for someone who propose a “synthesizing mind” for the future. And...if Mr. Gardner feels strangely antagonistic to lumping, I think Mr. Gardner have to be careful about that...perhaps some shadow working isn’t a bad idea at all. Mr. Gardner again:

“It would be difficult to know how to disprove Wilber, indeed, where to start, where to discern the tensions and struggles that permeate Bryson’s text but which are inevitably papered over in Wilber’s compulsive search for connective tissue. His effort virtually paralyzes the critical mind.”

Oh that hurts (I will get to that bellow)! He finally ends with my favorite sentence:

“I admit that my preference of Bryson over Wilber is a matter of taste”.

Jesus Christ! All these to finish with that...I can’t believe it! But ok, let me try to engage with this not from 1st tier but from at least a little bit higher, respecting Mr. Gardner surprisingly 1st tier vision (doesn’t it looks like green level center of gravity?).

First I will observe that Mr. Gardner shows no great knowledge about Ken’s work. From Wilber 1 to Wilber 5 a lot of things happened, a great developing of AQAL model occurred and if someone wants to engage seriously Ken’s theoretical framework it has to be careful, specially someone so well known and with the prestige of Mr. Howard Gardner. That didn’t happened, he treated BHOE lightly and sounded like an alien talking about something that is evident that he didn’t understood (even if we consider here the Wilber’s phase 4).

What is that Mr. Gardner didn’t understand? First I think he missed the primordial goal of Ken’s theory. What Ken delivers to us is mainly a framework, a tool that can be used by anyone that is interested in a comprehensive, non-partial way to see our reality. Take the English language for an example. English is just a tool, an essential tool for me, a Portuguese guy, and you, a Russian guy, to mutual understand each other. That’s why English is considered the world official language, some language had to do the job, or else no serious globalization where possible these days. Ken simply says to you (my words): “As I see the world, the Kosmos at large, we have in the manifest world 5 primordial things, we have 4 quadrants, if you exclude any of those you are being partial, we have stages, if you miss those you will likely to absolutize some stage, we have lines, if you miss that you are likely to absolutize the line you prefer the most, we have states and types, if you miss one of those you are forgetting something”. All this could stay without content, could stay in this abstract mode, and all those five aspects of the Kosmos could be discussed, confronted and developed. That is why, in my opinion, that Mr. Gardner couldn’t criticize BHOE. He didn’t understand the goal, the general orientations of integral methatheory, which is a surprise really; before Mr. Gardner take on Ken, he refers to a possible kind of synthesis: “Metatheory. It is possible to propose an overall framework for knowledge, as well as ‘theory of theories’.” I simply cannot understand why he didn’t consider AQAL a metatheory exactly in the terms that he himself describes it”.

That is why you can compare Bryson’s work to Ken’s work. Mr. Gardner own distinctions of kinds of synthesis respond to that. One is a narrative synthesis (Bryson’s book) - by Mr. Gardner definition “The synthesizer puts material together into a coherent narrative”. The other is a metatheory or a metanarrative if you will. But even if you want to compare those books, you can of problem: Bryson’s book is good, Ken’s include those ideas and transcend them. For instance, vertically (with stages) and horizontally (with quadrants) Ken supplement and transcend Bryson’s synthesis.

I hate to say this, but this is how I feel with Mr. Gardner book: He showed a 1st tier vision of reality, a very lousy mean green meme attack on Ken, just deconstructing (which is very easy) but not proposing himself another framework. He didn’t attack Ken’s theory, because he seems confused, as he says “It would be difficult to know how to disprove Wilber, indeed, where to start, where to discern the tensions and struggles that permeate Bryson’s text but which are inevitably papered over in Wilber’s compulsive search for connective tissue.” A green meme can I criticized Ken like I easily do with Bryson and others.

And what have Mr. Gardner have to offer? Lines? Yes, ok, it’s a start, but this book seems like Mr. Gardner keeps adding lines over lines...just he a lumper? No stages (Could Mr. Gardner conceives the synthesizing mind a stage and not a line?), no quadrants - The book for me is nothing more than 3rd person approaches, 3rd person behavioristics descriptions.

I personally think Mr. Gardner is going in the wrong way; this time he is not absolutizing a line, but he is absolutizing lines as if there was nothing besides that.

Mr. Gardner seems a mere line lumper with no promising road ahead.

Ivo Banaco

P.S. Oh and by the way Mr. Gardner...if you allow me...not bad for a “paralyzed critical mind “.


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