Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


A Critique of Wilber on Bohm

And the Role of Quantum Theory in Spiritual Experience

Joe Corbett

In Ken Wilber's recent 2024 book Finding Radical Wholeness and elsewhere, he demonstrates an unfortunate lack of understanding of Bohm's theory of the implicate order and the role of quantum physics in spiritual experience. He says in a section of Radical Wholeness called “The Dualism Inherent in the New Paradigm of Science”,

“It's common to say... with David Bohm that the 'new physics' demonstrates that there is an 'implicate order' of ultimate unity underlying the 'explicate order' of separate things and events and that this 'implicate unity' is the same ultimate Unity that has been seen by the world's mystics... [Furthermore] Bohm's 'implicate order' makes sense only in terms of an 'explicate order' that is separate and different from it... [but this is what] Nargarjuna savagely criticized for its dualistic fragmentation”. (p. 213)

First of all, Bohm's concept of the implicate-explicate orders is mediated by a seamless process that Bohm called the holomovement, a kind of spirit-in-action that dynamically weaves the implicate and explicate orders together as a unity from moment to moment, not where the implicate order is a realm of unity and the explicate order is a separate realm of fragmentation. So Bohm's theory is not an example of the dualistic fragmentation of which Nargarjuna spoke.

It is true that Bohm's theory, just like any other scientific theory or indeed any other human thought construct, is just a map and is not the reality itself that it describes. So the neti neti (not this, not this) critique of Shankara applies somewhat. But Bohm's theory can hardly be criticized for being an example of dualistic fragmentation. We all know that a drawing of a sunset is not the experience of a sunset, much less a spiritual experience of unity with the universe that could arise given the right conditions and meditative effort to induce such an experience from a sunset. And the same thing can be said about Bohm's theory.

First you must understand Bohm's theory correctly, and then you must apply the appropriate contemplative method of centering yourself in what the theory says about how reality arises in order to experience the unity of the Kosmos that it is pointing to. In that sense Wilber is correct to say that Bohm's theory is just a map of the unity of existence, it is not the experience of unity itself. But his understanding of Bohm's theory seems to fall short of even the possibility of experiencing the ground-source of the universe, which is what Bohm's theory is. Understanding the theory correctly and then centering yourself contemplatively in the experience of what it is saying can potentially wake-one-up to the Source of their existence, at least from a third person perspective within a first person experience.

Ken Wilber, Finding Radical Wholeness

As for Bohm's super-implicate order, that isn't some concept that Wilber goaded Bohm into contriving after he criticized him for the dualism of his theory, as Wilber seems to suggest (p. 213), but is a term for a deeper level of reality than the implicate order. You see, the implicate order applies to the quantum realm of hidden variables involved in the measurement problem, where particles are invisibly guided by the waves they are riding in Bohm's pilot-wave theory. These waves are entangled with each other, overlapping and interfering with the trajectory of one another's particle paths, much like the interfering waves on a pond.

The super-implicate order on the other hand is a subquantum realm below that of these surface waves. Below the quantum realm there is an extension of spacetime to the planck scale that is as many orders of magnitude distant from the quantum level itself as there are orders of magnitude from us to the furthest galaxies in the visible universe. Thus there is plenty of room for levels of entangled order, multidimensionality, an akashic memory field, bardo realms of demonic chaos and alien alter-worlds of machine-elves, etc., from the quantum level to the furthest reaches of reality all the way down to the planck pixels of the spacetime fabric. And this is precisely why Bohm speculated that there could be many levels of the super-implicate order, the causal order of the formless archetypal realm.

This brings us to standard quantum theory, and granted there has been far too much new age woo regarding quantum physics and spirituality, much of it is simply based on a wrong understanding of the physics, much as Wilber misunderstands Bohm, as when people claim that quantum theory “proves” that consciousness is needed to collapse the wave function, and therefore consciousness (our consciousness) is the ground of the universe. Besides the obvious narcissism embodied in such a view, it is simply mistaken about what quantum physics says about the measurement problem, the experiment in which what slit the particle goes through depends on whether we are looking or not.

Does consciousness "collapse the wave function"? NO!! Our conscious observations are not responsible for manifesting objective reality, despite what new age idealists like Chopra, Kastrup, or Hoffman might tell you. Particle interactions themselves, which includes the measuring apparatus of the double slit experiment itself, are now considered by most physicists as the only necessary "observations" for decoherence of the system into a specific concrete reality. So in that sense, and in that sense only, the universe could be said to have “consciousness” (particle interactions) as its ground in the interdependent arising of the particles as they interact to collapse the wave function. The conscious-ground of the universe, if that's the way you want to think about it, is therefore the information exchanged between the particles as they interact, which involves the virtual particle-antiparticles pairs of the vacuum that mediate all interactions, aka the eyes-of-spirit, the yin-yang/shiva-shakti condensates, deep in the empty sockets of the abyss, the quantum vacuum.

Hence, the Empty Witness, literally, is indeed the ground of the universe, both metaphysically speaking and post-metaphysically speaking. But to avoid any confusion here one needs to discern the difference between those two domains, the one being a metaphorical-phenomenological expression and the other a mathematical-empirical model. In order to reintegrate and re-enchant their union and marriage in a holistic understanding involving both science and spirituality, one must first get the science right, and then one must engage in a careful contemplative excercise of centering oneself in what that understanding can give us in terms of our unity with and participation in the Source of the universe.

When we do so, when we combine a correct scientific understanding with a contemplative practice and language, we can exponentially increase the chance of having a genuine waking-up experience that is uniquely modern, experiencing our Source in the ground of reality from a third person perspective with a first person experience. And that is why many physicists do not themselves experience the unity consciousness of waking-up. They do not combine these two different domains of knowing and experiencing, although many of the early explorers of quantum physics did in fact have such experiences in nascent form.

Contrary to what Wilber says, provided the appropriate understandings and contemplative uses of knowledge, we can in fact experience our Source in the Empty Witness of Infinite Potential and Unity through both Bohmian and quantum mechanics. But as Wilber correctly says, be very very careful in how you do this.

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