An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:


Integral Psychology
And An Artistic View
Of Mental Disturbance

Elliot Benjamin

Over the past decade Ken Wilber has focused upon his integral theory in the context of his four quadrants and more recently eight zones [1], developing practical applications in the real world thru the establishment and development of Integral Institute [2]. However, what I have always felt most inspired and appreciative of in Wilber's work actually stems back from his very first book which he wrote in 1973, “The Spectrum Of Consciousness,” and which is expanded upon and developed in much more detail in his relatively recent book “Integral Psychology” in 2000 [3]. The essence of these books is the merging of psychology and spirituality, to the point of formulating various therapeutic interventions to enable individuals to progress thru Wilber's theoretical stages of consciousness, from the lower pre-rational stages to the higher post-rational stages.

There has been much critical disagreement with Wilber's stage conception of consciousness, which has been particularly evident in many of the articles on the Integral World website and has also been discussed in the 1997 book “Ken Wilber In Dialogue” [4]. Examples of some of the disagreement with Wilber's various ideas and theories can be seen from the writings of Jeff Meyerhoff, Andrew Smith, Geoffrey Falk, and many others [5]. However, in this article I would like to focus upon Wilber's Integral Psychology “theory,” keeping in mind that it is indeed a theory and not scientific fact, and compare it to my own Artistic Theory Of Psychology [6], as I believe that in spite of the problems in Wilber's philosophy that various critics have written about, there is still much that is extremely important and pioneering in its implications, and for me the uniting of psychology with spirituality is the part of Wilber's work that I find most appealing.

Once again, it is not the specifics of things like the context, value, and time involved in meditation, which Andrew Smith discusses on the Integral World website [5], that I am now concentrating upon. But rather it is the generic value of Wilber's original spectrum of consciousness, at a time when humanistic psychology was in its childhood and transpersonal psychology was in its infancy. There have certainly been many developments in the uniting of psychology and spirituality since Wilber wrote “The Spectrum Of Consciousness,” [7] and Wilber gives much credit to Aurobindo, Aldous Huxley, and others for preceding him with ideas that led Wilber to his own psychological/spiritual formulations [8]. But in our society I think it is commonly acknowledged that Ken Wilber is considered by many to be a leading representative in the philosophical efforts to unite psychology and spirituality. It is in this context that I will be discussing Wilber's Integral Psychology and comparing it with my own Artistic Theory Of Psychology.

To begin with I would like to give a brief description of what I am referring to by The Artistic Theory Of Psychology. The following is taken from my “Art And Mental Disturbance” article [6], where I have used the term “creative artist” to include “various creative disciplines such as music, writing, painting, dance, mathematics, science, etc., as well as socially creative innovations that are beneficial to humankind,” and the successful creative artist as “a person who has received the respect and acknowledgement for his work by a community of his peers or society-at-large, and who is also considered both psychologically and ethically to be a “well adjusted” member of her society and the greater world….To summarize what I have described as The Artistic Theory Of Psychology, the three main points are:

  1. the notion of the successful creative artist at the highest levels of Maslow's hierarchy of human potential;
  2. there are some people labeled as mentally ill who have the potential of becoming successful creative artists;
  3. a sensitive, understanding, and supportive educational environment may be conducive in enabling a mentally disturbed person with creative artistic potential to significantly develop and actualize this potential in life.

There has been much historical speculation regarding the relationship of art to mental disturbance, and in recent years there has been much research which lends support to these speculations; in particular see the research studies of Kay Jamison, Nancy Andreasen, and Ruth Richards [9]. Ruth Richards has conveyed in some of her research studies that significant creative potential may occur in people with milder forms of bipolar manic-depressive mental disturbance, i.e. a higher degree of creative potential than in a comparative group of “normal” people [9]. To get a handle on what it may mean to be a “well adjusted” member of our society in relation to the second part of my definition of a successful creative artist, we may utilize the work of Lawrence Kolhlberg, Jane Loevinger, Abraham Maslow, and Ken Wilber [10], looking at scales of morality, ego development, self-actualization, etc.

Returning to Wilber's initial spectrum model of consciousness as he described in his first book “The Spectrum Of Consciousness,” we can see that this book is essentially in the realm of the upper left quadrant of inner individual subjective experience in Wilber's Four Quadrant model [1]. Although he does incorporate aspects of his Four Quadrant model in his later book “Integral Pschology,” the crux of the Integral Psychology model presented in his book “Integral Psychology” is still focused upon the integration of Eastern and Western approaches to psychotherapy, which has been aptly described as “uniting Freud with the Buddha.” This theme of uniting Eastern and Western psychology, combining meditation with psychotherapy, etc. has in recent years also been explored by Stanislav Grof, Jack Kornfield, Roger Walsh, Mark Epstein, and others [11].

Of-course the relationships to the other quadrants which can be described as objective (physical), inter-subjective (cultural), and inter-objective (social) [1], is of fundamental importance, and is presently a core discipline of study in Integral Institute [2]. But focusing upon the individual subjective upper left quadrant, I find Wilber's theory of the Pre-Trans Fallacy in particular to be of significant interest. Once again, I want to acknowledge that the Pre-Trans Fallacy is “theory,” and like many other aspects of Wilber's work it has been criticized with alternative explanations offered [5]. However, from my own viewpoint this particular aspect of Wilber's theory has much merit and deserves to be taken quite seriously in the context of an integral psychology and a study of mental disturbance.

Wilber's first public exposure of the Pre-Trans Fallacy appeared in 1980 in his article “The Pre-Trans Fallacy” for Revision Journal [12]. His description of the Pre-Trans Fallacy has been included in many of his books since then, and there is a whole chapter with the same title in his 2001 book “Eye To Eye” [13]. The essential theory describes two types of errors, ptf 1 and ptf 2, where ptf 1 refers to mistaking authentic post-rational spiritual insights and experiences for lower level pre-rational magical and sometimes delusional states, and ptf 2 has the opposite description of mistaking lower level pre-rational magical and sometimes delusional states for authentic post-rational spiritual insights and experiences. Wilber's classic examples for ptf 1 errors is Freud, and for ptf 2 errors is Jung. But aside from the question of the universality of the Pre-Trans Fallacy, the focus upon Jung as exhibiting ptf 2 errors, or even the higher and lower stages of Wilber's consciousness theory to begin with, all of which has witnessed serious critical disagreement [5], I believe that the generic Pre-Trans Fallacy theory can be quite useful in describing some of the problems I have addressed regarding the labels we use to characterize people as “mentally ill” who may have significant creative artistic potential within them [6].

The essential point of contact between the Pre-Trans Fallacy and the Artistic Theory Of Psychology is in the context of spirituality. Julia Cameron describes in her highly acclaimed book “The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity” [14], the close connection between artistic creativity and authentic spirituality, as she very much associates artistic creativity with a spiritual force that goes beyond our conscious awareness. The connection between artistic creativity and spirituality & religion has been studied from an extensive historical perspective earlier in the century by Otto Rank [15]. One can also find an art form in spirituality in the context of love and sexuality; in particular from the writings of John Welwood, David Deida, and Eric Fromm [16]. We thus see that artistic creativity and authentic spirituality are closely related, and if there is indeed such a thing as a Pre-Trans Fallacy then it will have some important consequences for people who may have significant creative artistic potential, in terms of how they are perceived by our society-at-large.

An interesting example of this kind of creative artistic potential in children can be seen by the phenomenon of Indigo children. The term “Indigo children” was coined in the 1980s in the context of Parapsychology and the discovery of children who appeared to have highly developed psychic abilities but who often were labeled as “autistic” [17]; this can be viewed as an example of ptf 1 in Wilber's theory of the Pre-Trans Fallacy. These children were genrally highly creative and extremely sensitive to feelings and “vibrations,” both in their immediate environment as well as in faraway places, sometimes thousands of miles away. However, these Indigo children are often simultaneously living in the world of artistic creativity as well as in the world of mental disturbance. Their exceptional artistic and creative and psychic abilities have been well documented, and their social challenges and difficulties are also common knowledge [17]. A number of alternative schools and summer camps have been recently established to nurture the artistic potential of these children while helping them to develop the necessary social skills to function effectively in their societies [17].

It leaves one to speculate how many children who have been diagnosed as “autistic” are actually Indigo children in disguise, having the potential to fully blossom in an optimal learning environment for them. However, there is certainly a divergence of views held in regard to the claimed gifted nature of these children, and it can also be argued that those who believe in the high levels of artistic creativity and psychic abilities of these children are actually making a ptf 2 error. But whatever viewpoint one has in regard to this, there does appear to be an enticing relationship between the phenomenon of Indigo children and Wilber's Pre-Trans Fallacy theory, as well as with an artistic theory of mental disturbance.

I would also like to take a brief look at the relatively recent elaboration Wilber has made in his distinction between stages and states, as described in his joint work with Allan Combs in their formulation of the Wilber-Combs Matrix [18]. The essential idea is that it is quite possible for an individual to be at a lower stage of consciousness while having an authentic spiritual insight that is in the context of a higher state of consciousness. Once again assuming for the moment that Wilber's stages of consciousness is a legitimate description, an example would be someone who is at the rational stage of consciousness who has a peak experience (in Maslow's terminology) from perhaps a psychedelic drug trip. This individual may experience some genuine insights and realizations about a deeper nature of life, but within a few days will likely return to his former rational stage of consciousness, with this heightened state of awareness little more than a faint memory.

In other words, there is a distinct difference between states and stages of consciousness, and it is quite possible to experience authentic spiritual insights from higher states of consciousness while in a lower stage of consciousness. It is also hypothesized in this theory that people will interpret their authentic higher level experience according to the stage of consciousness that they are in. Thus for example, someone in a mystical stage of consciousness who believes wholeheartedly in the spiritual reality of Jesus will interpret her authentic subtle level spiritual experience as a beyond this world message she has received in the context of organized Christianity. The Wilber-Combs matrix is a complete listing of all the possible stages of consciousness in Wilber's theory, with the corresponding possible states of consciousness that can be experienced while in these stages. But the main point of correspondence I am interested in here is in the context of how this Wilber-Combs matrix relates to an artistic view of mental disturbance.

It has been frequently noted that people in mental hospitals often seem to be preoccupied with the meaning of life and with God [15]. I believe it is quite possible that for a number of these people the spiritual experiences and insights they are having may very well be in an authentic higher level spiritual context, even though their day-to-day level of consciousness is likely to be at a lower level pre-rational stage. The research by Ruth Richards[9] that has found significantly higher levels of potential creativity in the milder forms of manic-depressive mental disturbance compared to a normal control group is certainly consistent with this view.

In other words, perhaps some people who are mentally disturbed may experience authentic creative and/or spiritual states of consciousness while they are at lower stages of consciousness, as described by the Wilber-Combs matrix in the context of an integral psychology. This view is also consistent with the writings of R.D. Laing [19], who questions what is “normal” in our society in the context of labeling people as mentally ill, and views psychotic experience in a non-judgemental way that allows for the working through of deep inner self creative processes.

This view is also supported by the writings of Stanislav and Christina Grof [11] in their concept of “spiritual emergency” which sees an individual as quite possibly working through an intensive opening up process of spiritual emergence with overtones of psychotic experience. And of-course this view is also consistent with the writings of Thomas Szasz [20], who severely critizes our whole labeling of “mental illness” in the context of a medical sickness. I thus find the Wilber-Combs matrix, representing the complex relationship between stages and states of consciousness in Wilber's integral theory, to be another ingredient of Wilber's Integral Psychology along with his theory of the Pre-Trans Fallacy, that has an interesting correspondence with an artistic view of mental disturbance.


1) Ken Wilber, “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (Boston: Shambhala, 1995); Ken Wilber, “Integral Spirituality” (Boston: Shamhhala, 2006).

2) See the Integral Institute website at

3) Ken Wilber, “Integral Psychology” (Boston: Shambhala, 2000).

4) Donald Rothberg and Sean Kelly (editors), “Ken Wilber In Dialogue” (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 1998).

5) See the Integral World website at

6) Elliot Benjamin, “The Artistic Theory Of Psychology” (Inner Tapestry Journal, August, 2006); Elliot Benjamin, “Art And Mental Disturbance” (available at The Journal Of Conscious Evolution website;; volume 3 ).

7) Ken Wilber, “The Spectrum Of Consciousness” (Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books, 1977).

8) Sri Aurobindo, “The Life Divine/The Synthesis Of Yoga” (Pondicherry, India: Centenary Library, XVIII - XXI, n.d.); Aldous Huxley, “The Pereninal Philosophy” (New York: Harper & Row, 1944).

9) Nancy Andreasen, “Creating Brain: The Neuroscience Of Genius” (New York: Dana Press, 2005); Kay Jamison, “Touched With Fire: Manic-Derpessive Illness And The Artistic Temperament” (New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1993); Mark Runco & Ruth Richards (editors), “Eminent Creativity, Everyday Creativity, And Health” (London, Ablex. Pub. Corp., 1997).

10) Lawrence Kohlberg, “”Essays On Moral Development: Vol. 1” (San Francisco: Harper, 1981); Jane Loevinger, “Ego Development” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1977); Abraham Maslow, “Toward A Psychology Of Being” (Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1962); Ken Wilber, ([1], [3]).

11) Stanislav Grof, “Beyond The Brain: Birth, Death, And Transcendence In Psychotherapy” (Albany, New York: State University Of New York Press, 1985); Stanislav Grof & Christina Grof (editors), “Spiritual Emergency” (Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1989); Jack Kornfield, “A Path With Heart” (New York: Bantam Books, 1993); Roger Walsh, “Essential Spirituality” (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999); Mark Epstein, “Going To Pieces Without Falling Apart” (New York: Broadway Books, 1998).

12) Ken Wilber, “The Pre-Trans Fallacy” (Revision Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1980).

13) Ken Wilber, “Eye To Eye” (Chapter 7) (Boston: Shambhala, 2001).

14) Julia Cameron, “The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity” (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1992).

15) Otto Rank, “Art And Artist: Creative Urge And Personality Development” (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1932).

16) John Welwood, “Love And Awakening” (New York: HarperCollins, 1996); David Deida, “Finding God Thru Sex: A Spiritual Guide For Ecstatic Loving And Deep Passion For Men And Women” (Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, 2002); Eric Fromm, “The Art Of Loving” (New York: Harper, 1956).

17) Lee Carroll and Ian Tober, “The Indigo Children: The New Children Have Arrived” (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 1999); Peggy Day & Susan Dale, ”Edgar Cayce On The Indigo Children” (Virginia Beach, Virginia: A.R.E. Press, 2004).

18) Allan Combs, “The Radiance Of Being” (Paragon House: St. Paul, Minnesota, 1995, 2002); Ken Wilber, “Integral Spirituality” (see [1]).

19) R.D. Laing, “The Politics Of Experience” (New York: Ballantine Books, 1967).

20) Thomas Szasz, “The Myth Of Mentall Illness” (New York: HarperCollins, 1974).

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