Richard G. Young, Ph.D.
Fingers Pointing at the Moon
The Eye of Spirit
An Integral Vision for World Gone Slightly Mad
By Ken Wilber
As many of you know, I am a committed, card-carrying Ken Wilber aficionado--and not just because he endorsed my book, either. (You guys are so cynical.) I have read almost all of his books, I've corresponded with him on a couple of occasions, and I've talked about his philosophical and theoretical approach to anyone who would listen for more than a decade.
Last year, for example, I reviewed two of his books in this column--The Spectrum of Consciousness and A Brief History of Everything. So far this year, I have taught a fifteen-week class on his life and work at the Center For Contemplative Christianity and have integrated his theories on the evolution of Spirit into a course in law and ethics that I teach at United States International University in San Diego.
So why am I such a devotee of this elusive iconoclast who never gives lectures or leads retreats, rarely grants interviews, and goes out of his way to discourage anyone from considering him a spiritual teacher? Simple. I'm hoping to guilt him into granting us an interview for Pathways.
Seriously, Ken Wilber is one of the most incredible thinkers and writers of our time. As Jack Crittenden has written, "The twenty-first century literally has three choices: Aristotle, Nietzsche, or Ken Wilber." And Tony Schwartz, author of What Really Matters (reviewed in Pathways Vol. 4, No. 6), has called Wilber "the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times."
Wilber does with aplomb what I have always wished I could do--integrate, integrate, integrate! Yes, I intuitively understand that everyone knows something about the Truth. Virtually every scientific paradigm, every serious philosophical system, and every authentic spiritual tradition has something valuable--even essential--to offer us in our quest to understand Spirit's unfolding in the manifest universe. Unfortunately, the scope of my (and most other writer's) knowledge and vision has always been too limited and my epistemological methodology far too weak. Thankfully for all of us, Wilber suffers from neither of these limitations.
Ken Wilber has a singular ability to understand and absorb vast stores of seemingly contradictory information and to then synthesize this knowledge into a compelling spiritual perspective of near-epic proportions. And he is able to do this while avoiding the twin errors of monolithic universalism (which misses the trees for the forest) and incoherent pluralism (which misses the forest for the trees). As he says in his introduction to The Eye of Spirit, he has endeavored to create an approach to knowledge that is "a genuinely universal pluralism of commonality-in-difference."
If a good theory is "one that accounts for all the known data in an elegant manner," then Wilber's theory of the spiritual evolution or unfolding of Kosmos is a great theory. He stands head and shoulders above those who would propose or try to defend a more theoretically exclusive or religiously sectarian viewpoint (which includes most of us, I'm afraid). He's not a bad writer, either.
But wait. I came not to praise Caesar, but to review his latest book. It's really good. Go buy it. And by one for your minister while you're at it.
Alright, I'll tell you a little bit about it first. The Eye of Spirit is essentially a collection of essays in which Wilber applies his theoretical perspective, or integral approach, to virtually every field of human knowledge. There are chapters on psychology, spirituality, anthropology, cultural studies, art and literary theory, ecology, feminism (I really loved this chapter!), and planetary transformation (he likes to think BIG).
Unlike many so-called integral theorists, Wilber doesn't just summarize these various fields of knowledge and then rearrange their truth-claims using different jargon (like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic). Nor does he try to subsume other theoretical systems under the auspices of his preferred discipline, dismissing as irrelevant any approach that can't be easily assimilated. Such reductionism is the work of lesser, more imperialistic minds.
Wilber's integral approach is both penetrating and all-embracing. It literally revolutionizes how we think about thinking itself. His four-quadrant paradigm, which divides all knowledge into its subjective (internal), objective (factual), intersubjective (cultural), and interobjective (systemic) aspects, provides a place for every current field of knowledge to stand complete, enabling each one to contribute its unique perspective to the grand integrity of the whole.
But believe me, this book is not as boring as I probably just made it sound. In fact, it is quite entertaining. In several chapters, Wilber responds to the numerous criticisms that have been hurled at him and his theories through the years by feminists, deep ecologists, empiricists, behaviorists, Gnostics, neopagans, premodernists, astrologers, and former mouseketeers. Reading his brilliant responses to these attacks is like watching a dharma-duel between a Zen master and a child. No, it's more like seeing a gunfight between Wyatt Earp and an unarmed man. It might be bloody, but you don't want to miss it.