Thursday, May 8, 2008

More on What is Ken Wilber Selling

A friend whose opinion I respect posted a reply to my first Ken Wilber essay. As my reply to his reply approached the 500 word mark, I decided to make it a follow-up to what I said earlier:


Thanks for your insightful commentary. I have no problem with anything you said. My issue with Ken Wilber is that he won’t just stay in the mystical domain you describe. Instead he keeps trying to surround the essence of what you’ve stated with the trappings of rationalism while claiming to be trans-rational.

Wilber has a tendency to cite a numerous scientific and philosophical rationalists and use a lot of their jargon in making his case. I interpret this to be a cosmetic attempt to inject some rational rigor to his essentially mystical message. I imagine that if he only cited ancient and modern Dharmic, Daoic and Abrahamic spiritualists he would most likely be (even more) marginalized to the personal enlightenment ghetto. Wilber obviously wants to be taken seriously in academic circles beyond that ghetto and so he cites sources from more upscale scholastic neighborhoods. He justifies this by claiming that he is simply trying to integrate Eastern and Western thought on this subject.

I don’t buy that claim because I do not accept Wilber’s basic premise that the fundamental nature of reality is trans-rational. The fact that neither Wilber nor any of his mystical sources know of a rational perspective that explains the fundamental nature of reality does not mean that such a perspective does not exist. Wilber doesn’t seem to realize that saying you cannot find the words to explain something does not necessarily mean that there are no such words.

Unlikely as it sounds, I actually have found a rational insight into the fundamental nature of reality. I was reading Wilber’s book (ironically, you initially brought him to my attention way back when) in a continuing effort to vet my framework. Not only does it agree with a significant portion of what Wilber says, I can go him one better by rationally explaining why things are the way he characterizes them to be (rationality is a requirement that the Lila explanation simply does not meet).

In reading Wilber through the lens of my framework it is obvious to me that there is minimal rational cohesion to what he is putting forth, despite all of his pseudo-rational jargoning. He provides an interpretation of what is out there (his AQAL structure) but no system of basic premises and subsequent arguments that explain why (Rationalism 101). If he could either drop the rational pretense or add some truly rigorous rationality to his framework he would seem more authentic to me.

This is not to say that I don’t buy his trans-rational approach; I merely insist that it does not represent the only path to understanding. It is unfortunate that he generally dismisses physicists, mathematicians and other quantitative rationalists as irrelevant, materialist flatlanders (BTW, would you explain to me why the low end of the Upper Right quadrant of AQAL ends at atoms? Decades ago the Standard Model jury came back with guilty verdicts on the existence of more fundamental electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc.). These disciplines have come a long way since his spiritual sources originally concluded that rational answers are impossible. It was by extrapolating from these fields of study that I found my rational answers. If Wilber is truly being “integral” he should look more deeply into these quantitative fields. What he learns might surprise him.

1 comment:

John Stoner said...

I think the heart of how to make sense of Wilber from your perspective is to begin from Godel. In an analogous way to the way Godel proved all finite explanations of mathematics incomplete, Wilber (probably someone before him, but he uses the argument) shows epistemologies to be incomplete.

Epistemology is how we address the problem of knowledge. How do we do this thing we call knowing? Rationalism, empiricism, and materialism are epistemologies. Some choose an epistemology, say scientific materialistic rationalism, and decide that's the one true way to know. Everything else is shorthand or false. Dawkins and the like.

The trouble with that comes when I ask, 'How do you know that?' How do you know scientific materialistic rationalism is the one path of truth? And if that is something you, ahem, know, then how do you prove it according to scientific materialistic rationalist criteria?

If you say it's 'a' valid way to know, then you're doing fine. But if you say it's 'the' way of knowing, you're in trouble, because you've got a category error. You've just built a house that has to contain itself.

As far as I know, this applies to all epistemologies. If not, I need an example. So epistemologies are either inconsistent or incomplete.

Wilber acknowledges this. He acknowledges that his model is incomplete, as are any finite models. He doesn't resolve it with the quadrant model. He just provides a more expansive model. And he keeps expanding his model. I think he's on version 5 at this point.

And this is his problem with what he calls flatlanders. It's not that he says physicists or quantitative people are wrong. They are people with a partial view--more partial than his--who think they have the whole picture.

And I don't think that's changed recently. I do see physicists expanding physics, but mostly they stay within the UL quadrant, and deny (or at best seem indifferent to) any epistemic validity to any other approaches to understanding. Again, I'd be interested to see counterexamples.

My favorite (and I think his most rigorous) version of this argument is in Eye of Spirit. He does make less rigorous cases often. I don't know why.

That's one problem with criticizing Wilber: he's a moving target, and he writes a lot of books. Sometimes I feel like he writes faster than I can read.

Powered by WebRing.