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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Mark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology from the University of Western Australia.
He has worked with people with disabilities for almost twenty years. He is currently writing a book on
the interpretation of sacred writings from an integral theory perspective. Mark Edwards and his band "Myriad Things" have just released their new CD "Into the Sun
on the States Thing
The following is my response to a discussion on states that recently appeared on the “Integral Naked” website.
Apparently Ken has started a new initiative called “The Critics Circle”, and the set up is that a student asks Ken a
question that is the student’s understanding of some other person’s criticism and Ken responds. The topic of my
“alternative view” on Ken’s theory of states was the first off the rank to be discussed.
My short response is that the whole thing left me completely “bamboozled”. Only Wilber tragics need read any
My long response is as follows:
First some comments on the "critics circle" method.
In many ways I feel the whole exercise to be rather a waste of
time for everyone involved, especially for Ken. Ken had no first-hand knowledge whatsoever of the the points I was
trying to make. The student courageously tried to summarise 50 pages of reasonably tight argument in a few
words. Ken has no idea if the question is an accurate summary. Granted that there is no claim being made that
the question is an accurate, or even adequate, representation of my view. But then what's the whole point of the
exercise. Does the student's question get to the heart of the what I was trying to say? Maybe yes, probably no.
But for all Ken knows it could just be something the student made up. There’s no debate, no probing of Ken’s
response, no true discussion or dialogue, no “circle of critics”, not even some poor Joe playing devil’s advocate - it’s
just Ken giving a 20 minute monologue response to his student’s précis of the thoughts of some absent “straw
man”. It’s not even a useful teaching exercise in critical thinking.
Ken’s response didn’t deal with any of the points I raised in the essays. It didn’t add anything new to what he has
already said on the topic (see endnote) and didn’t even deal with some of the issues raised by the student.
I’ll say it again. This method of dealing with “the critics” is a complete waste of time for all involved. Most of all it’s
a waste of Ken’s time and energy. I would very much prefer that he never attempt to answer any of the issues,
criticisms, points of clarification or suggestions for improving Integral theory that I have raised over the years than
to pretend that this second-hand monological response method is really a way engaging in a “critics circle”. His
time and energy will be much better utilised elsewhere.
I completely understand that Ken has no time for reading the great amount of critical material on Integral theory
that exists on the web and on Frank Visser’s “Integral World” site. He just doesn’t have the time. That’s
fine. He’s doing valuable and important work and he doesn’t need to debate with the people who put stuff on the
web. But if Ken’s not going to read the stuff, then he should leave it alone. Asking others to summarise huge
amounts of material and then responding to their potted versions is just not the way to run a “critics circle”. Ken
quite rightly cries foul when those who aren’t familiar with the detail of his work condemn him for something that
he’s not guilty of. This clearly annoys him and so it should. (It certainly annoys me.) But sadly this monological
“critics circle” thing is falling into exactly the same trap.
Ken should just leave this all to his students. Why can’t they take up the cudgel and try to counter my “off the
wall” arguments? Why aren’t the critical papers on Visser’s site assailed by dozens of long-standing Wilber students
defending their teacher’s position? Ken shouldn’t have to do this. He truly has better things to do. But it seems
his students are either not interested in defending Integral theory as Ken proposes it, or are incapable of countering
the arguments of Ken’s ill-informed critics. Either way it’s a rather sad state of affairs.
Ken says that Visser’s site is “an extensive source of misinformation about my work”. Well that’s just not the case.
There are a great many essays on Frank’s site. Some of them are by very respected academics and, by my
reckoning, about a third of the contributors are members of the Integral Institute. Some are by very careful and
insightful Integral theory amateur enthusiasts. Some of them are by Integral Theory antagonists. The quality of
the essays varies considerably. The intentions of the authors vary considerably. But none of the authors of these
essays claim that they represent Ken’s views. Like me, some do try to present Ken’s view on a topic by quoting
him. Are we misinterpreting the quote? Well that’s a matter of argument and debate not of misinformation. First
and foremost, the authors on Frank’s site represent their own views on Integral theory and other matters not
When a critic misinterprets Ken’s views that’s not misinformation. Misinformation is the deliberate provision of
incorrect information. The material on Frank’s site is not the biggest source of misinformation on matters Wilberian
because no-one is on the site is deliberating trying to present false information about Ken’s ideas. The material on
Frank’s site is not a source of misinformation on Integral theory, it’s an extensive source of critical thinking about
Integral theory and an opportunity for open dissemination of peoples' views - right or wrong.
Frank Visser has contributed immensely to the discussion of integral ideas and he should be applauded for his
independence of spirit, energy and great generosity in making this site available to poor Wilber tragics like myself.
Second, some theory-related comments on Ken’s response to his student’s valiant summary of my “problem”.
could go over a lot of the ground I covered in the essays here but, mercifully, I won't. I will just make a few points
about this very confusing gross-subtle-causal model. Ken points out that one way of defining the
gross-subtle-causal realms is to see the gross realm as the lowest realm of rocks and trees and the causal is the
highest realm of formlessness and bliss. This leaves the subtle to refer to everything in between. This means
that the term “subtle” can apply to both pre- and to trans- aspects of experiential realms that make up the reat
bulk of realms that exist between the gross and the causal. Hence, according to the classic presentation of PTF
theory, the same term "subtle" can be applied to the pre-mental world of body and to the trans-mental world of
bodymind. It can apply to the pre-mental realm of magic and to the trans-mental world of the psychic. It can
apply to the pre-mental world of mythic realms and to the trans-mental realms of subtle archetypes. This is exactly
what I am trying to draw attention to. Under this way of treating the gross-subtle-causal model clear PTF
misconceptions can be inserted straight into Ken’s current theory of states without anyone knowing which end of
the spectrum is being referred to. This is why we have Ken saying that,
“In a dream state, and in some meditative states, you see subtle objects, and well anything you see in a
dream state [is subtle], images, light, bodies and feelings and so on”
This is classic PTF confusion. Ken equates the objects experienced in the pre-realms of dream and the trans-
realms of meditative states because his definition of the term “subtle” can’t differentiate between them! He even
falls into the typical PTF error of using the word “bliss” to describe the experience of the causal and the child’s
experience of nature. That yogi is in a state of “bliss” in her Himalayan cave and that child is in a state of “bliss”
playing in the forest so they must both be having the same spiritual experience. That’s classic PTF in my book.
Ken seems to think that just because there is an experience of “images, light, bodies and feelings” in the dream
state that this means it can then be equated in some way with the advanced meditative states. I would say that
the “images, light, bodies and feelings” experienced in dreams are pre-/involutionary subtle objects and that those
experienced in the meditative states are trans-/evolutionary subtle objects. The two types of subtle objects are
hugley different in essence. They only appear similar because we apply the same rational language limited
descriptives to both of them simply because both realms are non-rational. Under the very unhelpful and rather
meaningless catchall definition of “subtle” such pre- and trans- distinctions are essential if we really want to clarify
which realm is being referred to. All the more reason to drop this very confusing and unnecessary
gross-subtle-causal model altogether and simply use the Integral theory terminology that Ken and others have
Ken says several times that in his response and elsewhere that, “The content of states is provided by stages.” If
this is the case and the term “subtle” crosses so many stages then it must by definition contain both pre- and
trans- content. I am simply saying that this needs to be recognised in an Integral theory of states and that the
pre-subtle realms of dreaming and sleeping need to be differentiated from the trans-subtle realms of the advanced
meditative states. Ken doesn’t do this and he ends up with concluding that anyone who sleeps is accessing the
My whole motivation for raising these matters is to try to suggest ways of making Integral Theory more coherent
and internally consistent and to point out that any "model" that can say,
“The infant still has waking, dreaming and deep sleep states, but it’s only at beige or purple. That’s sort of
level one. Both its waking and its dream state have purple images and no higher really to speak of”,
and also say,
“the infant also has access to the various subtle and causal states (because it dreams and sleeps). Thus
the purple-stage child can have an authentic subtle realm experience and causal-realm experience”,
and then convince us all that there is no contradiction, confusion, or ambiguity between these statements is in
need of a serious clean up.
Apart from the many references to states that are made thoughout Wilber's Collected Works Vol 1-8, my
essays were based on my readings of Ken's writings on states which included:
Wilber, K. (2002a) Sidebar G: States and stages - Part I. The relation of states of consciousness and stages of
consciousness: No model is complete without both. Retrieved 24/10/03 from
Wilber, K. (2002b) Sidebar G: states and stages - Part II. States and stages in development. Retrieved 24/10/03
from http:// wilber.shambhala.com/html/books/boomeritis/sidebar_g/part2
Wilber, K. (2003a) Kosmic consciousness: Disc four - states of consciousness. Boulder, Co: Sounds True.
Wilber, K. (2003b) On the nature of a post-metaphysical spirituality - Response to Habermas and Weis. Retrieved
24/10/03 from http:// wilber.shambhala.com/html
Wilber, K. (2003c) The Kosmos trilogy, Volume 2 - Excerpt G: Toward a comprehensive theory of subtle energies.
Retrieved 24/10/03 from http:// wilber.shambhala.com/html
Wilber, K. (2003d) The Kosmos trilogy, Volume 2 - Excerpt D: The Look of a Feeling: The Importance of
Post/Structuralism. Retrieved 24/10/03 from
Wilber, K. (2003f) On critics, integral institute, my recent writing, and other matters of little consequence: A
shambhala interview with ken wilber. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http:// wilber.shambhala.com/html
Wilber, K. (2003g) Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model (Or, Outline of An
Integral Psychology). Retrieved 24/10/03 from http:// wilber.shambhala.com/html
Wilber, K. (2003h) Sidebar D: Childhood Spirituality Retrieved 24/10/03 from http:// wilber.shambhala.com/html