Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wilber, Tipler and Me

Though I have some significant differences of opinion with Ken Wilber and Frank Tipler, I agree with certain aspects of each of their systems. I find it amusing that I probably agree with each of them more than they agree with each other.

Wilber’s framework represents an effort to extend Dharmic/Daoic traditions into Western philosophy and science. In theory, I see this as a worthwhile endeavor since my framework concurs with the bulk of what the Eastern systems of thought have to say about the fundamental nature of Reality. But these Eastern disciplines are thousands of years old. As a result, there are important ideas in these ancient traditions that are outdated in the context of contemporary Western thought.

In his integration of East and West, Wilber’s interpretation of Eastern spirituality emerges largely unchanged. This is because Wilber mostly just cites examples of Western thought that are consistent with his Eastern sources. He fails to enhance his ancient Eastern ideas with the Western knowledge that has been discovered in the interim.

For whatever reason, Wilber largely ignores mathematics and physics, arguably the most successful Western disciplines, in terms of explaining the fundamental nature of Reality. These areas of Western thought have the most to offer towards modernizing the ancient Eastern traditions that are Wilber’s most important sources. By failing to integrate certain key ideas from these areas of study (e.g., quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, the anthropic principle, time reversal invariance, transfinite numbers, etc.), Wilber misses out on an opportunity to develop a system that truly integrates Eastern and Western thought.

Tipler’s framework attacks the problem of explaining the fundamental nature of Reality from a different direction. His approach is based on a combination of pure scientific materialism and fundamental Christian spirituality; strange bedfellows if I’ve even seen them. Nonetheless, there are concepts in these disciplines that I embrace in my framework as well. For instance, both of our systems are based on quantum mechanics, theory of relativity, anthropic principle and time reversal invariance. In addition, certain purely Christian concepts (that I expect to discuss in subsequent essays) are also consistent with my framework.

Tipler’s effort to integrate science and Christianity almost completely bypasses philosophy, the discipline that forms the natural bridge them. The absence of philosophical underpinnings in Tipler’s exposition undermines the plausibility of his frequent jumps directly from hard science to hardcore Christianity.

Tipler has a tendency to cite as unimpeachable any scientific postulate that he can shoehorn into supporting his premises. He rarely takes the time to establish why (beyond often being attributed to someone with an impressive scientific credential) the often obscure (to laypeople) sources he uses for validation are themselves valid. By never connecting his framework to premises that his broader audience is qualified to accept, Tipler builds a castle in the clouds that looks impressive but has no foundation.

I also have problems with the materialism of Tipler’s framework. His interpretation of God is a physical entity that manifests at the beginning and end of time. I can relate to the idea of this Alpha/Omega Point from which all manifestations emerge and to which they ultimately return. But I have trouble with the idea that this ultimate source and destiny of all manifestations is in any way contingent upon the fundamental laws of nature that Tipler is constantly citing as proof of his theory. Finally, I find it problematic that Tipler chooses to embrace a more literal interpretation of Christianity rather than a progressive contemplative form that better reflects the leading edge of Christian thought.

Like Wilber, Tipler goes out of his way try to justify ancient beliefs in the context of modern thought rather that using modern thought to update those ideas. To his credit Tipler does attempt to reinterpret the meaning of certain aspects of Christian eschatology in a manner that is consistent with his theories. Both Wilber and Tipler generally refer to their spiritual sources as though they are beyond reproach. While this approach works when they are preaching to the converted it can be annoyingly presumptuous to the many skeptics in their audiences.

Tipler and Wilber’s reverence for their respective spiritual sources is most likely the basis of their reluctance to modernize them. But their unwillingness to revise their particular spiritual foundations leaves their interpretations in what is essentially a pre-modern state. Such interpretations typically cannot withstand the critical scrutiny of today’s rational thinkers. While Wilber claims to have transcended rationality he does not seem to realize that expecting rational thinkers to evaluate his framework without using rational (objective) analysis is asking a bit much.

By contrast, though my framework also encompasses a great deal of the wisdom of these ancient spiritual traditions, it does not include the more dogmatic articles of faith that seem to reflect the provincial thinking of the time of their origins. As such, I have no use for belief in Sky Fathers, Judgment Days, Evil Spirits, Hell or Lila among others.

Unlike Tipler and Wilber, I do not have to carry any of the irrational baggage associated with these spiritual traditions. This is because my purpose is not to give a new relevance to an ancient belief system; it is to provide rational answers to the questions of our origin, purpose and ultimate destiny, based on the most promising knowledge that we have accumulated over the course of human history. As such, I regard it as wonderful and encouraging that there are many areas of overlap between my framework and those of Frank Tipler and Ken Wilber. This overlap implies that there are rational answers to our most important questions that are not inconsistent with are most enduring spiritual traditions.

No comments:

Powered by WebRing.