Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
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".
Frank Visser, a psychologist of religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997 (back then under the name of “The World of Ken Wilber”). He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.
PROUD TO BE ORANGE
A Response to Joe Perez
CREATIONIST: The human eye is such a complicated and refined organ of perfection, it can't possible have been evolved through natural forces alone. Therefore it is obvious that it has been created by our Lord the Creator.
DARWIN: If intermediate forms of the human eye cannot be found, my theory would be in trouble. But if these forms can be found, a good case can be made that the human eye evolved through evolution by natural selection.
CREATIONIST: You are an atheist! A non-believer! That's why you can't see our God! You are blind to this vertical and sacred reality! If only you would confess this in public, the whole discussion would be helped forward.
Now fast-forward to 2014:
WILBER: The human eye, or the bird's wing, or the human immune system, can't possibly have been evolved by chance alone. Therefore, something other than chance is pushing this universe. I call this Eros or Spirit.
VISSER: Evolution is not based on chance alone, but on chance and selection. Science can reconstruct the evolution of these complexities of life. Therefore, it is premature to introduce this spiritual force to make sense of evolution.
PEREZ: You are ORANGE! You are a reductionist! A quadrant-absolutist! You suffer from altitude blindness! That's why you deny Spirit. If only you would get clear on this. I challenge you to do a personality test that will prove this.
So what's the point of this "challenge" then, if this wasn't an obvious attempt to discredit my Integrality Quotient?
A brief recap is in order, since Joe Perez posted his comments on me on his newly launched Integral Blog. These comments dealt with the new chapter of Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion which I had posted on Integral World, and an earlier interview with me for a German magazine in which I expressed my disappointments with the integral movement. My general conclusion in this chapter was that although Wilber may be strong in the fields of mind and culture (though even here debates are needed to assess the validity of his proposals), his coverage of the domains of life and matter was insufficient. In my opinion, this casts grave doubt on Integral Theory's claim to be a "Theory of Everything". I suggested other disciplines, such as the field of Big History, could compensate for this glaring omission.
Joe Perez responded on his blog ("Properly Integral") by stating that I had misunderstood Ken Wilber's spiritual take on evolution. He did not mean Spirit to affect the world and that Spirit would therefore not explain it, since Spirit was something to be realized in our inner world. I countered that the whole point of an "evolutionary spirituality", as advocated by Wilber, was that Spirit did impact the world, i.e. evolution, and was not merely a blank Absolute above the world. Then Perez conceded that Spirit might offer an explanation after all, though it was not a scientific explanation, but a "spiritual explanation". To which I would have answered: what could such a spiritual explanation possibly offer as insight into the complexities of evolution? And Wilber's use of the phrase "Theory of Everything" was more tongue-in-cheek, according to Joe. Really?
This is what is usually seen as a rational exchange of arguments. Debates like this can lead to insights, or they can go nowhere, but that's how it is. Perez, however, is not interested in such an exchange, as evidenced by a second blog posting ("A Challenge for Frank Visser") for it comes from a lower stage than he prefers, the ORANGE stage of individuality, reflection, rational arguments and materialistic science. (Yikes, not even GREEN!) And materialistic science, by its very nature, can't spot Spirit. So, if only I could take a personality test to show the world my true colors, the whole discussion could move forward, to the benefit of all concerned.
This "challenge" prompted a host of responses in the social media, as any good blog posting would have done. Most responses disapproved of this tactical move by Perez, because no available personality test would cover my complete personality, nor would it have any bearings on the validity of my arguments. I would add to this, that it isn't clear at all how my being ORANGE would help the discussion forward. Of course my approach to the field of evolution is using reason and science to move forwardand for sure the integral field could benefit from a dose of reason here. There's no secret here, no hidden agenda. Proud to be ORANGE! But who knows, I am using this tool or reason strategically, as a true Integral Wizard, to stir up the integral community so it takes a good look at this major field of study, especially now that the integral system has become a fully fledge "evolutionary" worldview for many. No personality test will tell.
Perez, understandably, is shocked by all these negative comments about using "altitude" as an argument in this type of debates. Isn't this the crown jewel of the integral model, and is it no longer allowed to put it to use, he desperately asks? Aren't we as integrals giving up our fight, he exclaims? In a third blog ("Have We Become Altitude Denialists?") he even concedes that his "challenge" to me to take a personality test was not meant to decide the argument were are currently having. So what's the point of this "challenge" then, if this wasn't an obvious attempt to discredit my Integrality Quotient?
For outsiders, this whole "debate" is starting to look very much like a "pub talk" discussion.
For the sake of the argument, what could a "higher look" at evolution possibly disclose as to its workings? Would this "visionary science" just state that there's an Eros in the Kosmos, as Wilber repeatedly does? How reliable would such a "theory" be? Could it be corroborated by other "visionary scientists"? Or only by those who already subscribe to this particular take on evolution? It is very hard to argue with visionaries. If the integral worldview is in trouble it is precisely for this reason: it claims to have an alternative for "reductionistic, materialistic science" without ever having thoroughly engaged this field. Perez concedes that Wilber "may have missed" a few details about science, but no Joe, this is not about details. This is about foundational problems with the integration of religion and science Wilber is attempting. Integral sorely needs a science department. And for sure, science does cover everything, but that wasn't the point I made in my book chapter.
In a time when even the Pope believes in Darwinian evolution (even in a theistic form and with the exception of us humans, who are still believed to possess souls), integralists are mightily worried by the conclusions of this field of science and defend a spiritual vision of evolution of truly cosmic proportions. This worldview is argued for by a only handful of quick examples of scientific "failures" to explain the complexities of life and the cosmos. I think it behooves the integral "evolutionaries" to pay close attention to what science has discovered in these domains, especially those of matter and life, before they are justified to claim any higher or deeper insight in these areas. Suggesting that you can only participate in these deeper discussions if you are evolved enough doesn't really help in winning the modern world over to the integral message. It will only listen to those who provide the better rational arguments.
To make a long story short: in the end humor captures it best. I think the barmaid is right: integralists, like Mo and Jesus, just don't understand evolutionary theory:
 You can view only 10 pages per month of Joe's blog, after which you are supposed to pay. Very unusual for a blog that is still to prove its worth.