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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.


Problems With Wilber's Pre-Trans Fallacy

Joseph Dillard

The importance of the pre-trans fallacy

To build on the shoulders of giants, we need to speak our own truth with confidence and conviction.

Like many admirers of the Integral AQAL of Ken Wilber, I have been particularly influenced by his Pre-Trans Fallacy, because of its ability to answer important questions about truth claims. How do we know if channeling or psychism or astrology are or are not transpersonal practices? How can we tell if a mystical experience is transpersonal or not? How can we tell if someone who claims to be transpersonally evolved is indeed so, or simply suffering from delusions of grandiosity? The importance of such questions boils down to issues of trust, deception, useful time and wasted years, to enlightenment and needless suffering. To those who consider such concerns important, the Pre-Trans Fallacy is an extremely important tool for cutting through confusion and assessing claims and personalities with necessary clarity.

What is the pre-trans fallacy?

The Pre-Trans Fallacy

The Pre-Trans Fallacy states that regarding line and level development, nothing is transpersonal that is not first personal, and that this is how you differentiate that which is pre-rational from that which is not, or that which claims to be transpersonal from that which is, in fact, prepersonal. To be transpersonal, something or somebody has to first meet personal criteria. There is no other way; there is no shortcut. People mistake what is pre-conventional for what is post-conventional because neither is conventional. Both are non-rational, never mind that one is pre-rational and irrational while the other is trans-rational. As we discuss below, people also confuse the two because they do not differentiate state awakenings from lines and levels. Because they have mystical, near-death, or drug experience of oneness they conclude they are enlightened. This is a fallacy and a delusion. Because the transpersonal as a state is always already present, they think their level of development is transpersonal. This is a fallacy and a delusion.

The Pre-Trans Fallacy is profound, because of its power, once we grasp what it means for something to rise to personal levels of development. While there are innumerable other criteria and qualities associated with early and late personal, the major characteristics of relevance to this discussion are those of mid-personal. These are rationality, peer review, and the primacy of universal principles over often stunning and surprising exceptions. Because these three factors are quite important to the determination of claims of truth, goodness, and beauty, let us take a look at each of them.

Rationality as a personal level filter

Rationality means understanding and following the rules of logic and challenging those who do not. This is not a pleasant endeavor; it does not make friends, and if you are Socrates, it will get you killed. Rules of logic are not trifles to be learned and ignored; they are powerful and important, and it is a crime that all children don't learn them by the time they are fourteen. For example, once you understand, accept and use Occam's Razor, or the Law of Parsimony, you understand that the explanation that covers the available data with the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct. The face of Jesus on that taco shell is more likely to be a product of your mental projection than a message from God.

There is a large list of logical fallacies, including Straw Man; Arguments from Authority; attacking the speaker rather than the argument (ad hominem); the necessity of falsification, that is, if an argument cannot be proven wrong, it cannot be proven true; appeals to ignorance (often heard in arguments by global warming deniers); special pleading (“You just don't understand because you haven't had my mystical experiences or evolved to 2nd Tier”); and observational selection (media focus on what goes wrong in the world so as to produce the impression that the world is on the brink and we should all be afraid). There are many more. If you can't tell rationality from irrationality you can't express your arguments in a way that makes sense, nor can you defend your arguments from the irrational attacks of others.

Rationality also means recognizing your cognitive distortions and changing them. Cognitive distortions are essentially untrue statements that feel true. Like logical fallacies, there is a host of them, including Personalization, Waiting for Santa Claus, Black and White Thinking, Name Calling, Jumping to Conclusions, Over Generalization, Filtering, Catastrophising, The Fallacy of Fairness, Blaming, Emotional Reasoning, and Always Being Right. If you do not recognize your cognitive distortions and those of others, your reasoning will be in the defense of prepersonal emotional preferences. You will justify your deep-seated emotions with intellectualization and rationalizations that you will believe are perfectly rational when they are not.[1],[2]

Rationality also means recognizing your cognitive biases and neutralizing those that blind you to understanding the other person's position and keep you from clear decision-making. These include Confirmation Bias (seeing what you're looking for while ignoring the rest), Self-Serving Bias (drawing conclusions that support your interests and thinking you are being objective), Survivorship Bias (“Donald Trump is rich and powerful, so he must be doing something right”); and Anchoring Bias (the first impression you get of someone or some story is the one you favor). There are many, many more. All cognitive biases are powerful, and some are extremely subtle.

If you don't take the time to learn to think, you will think you are thinking when, as William James observed, you are simply rearranging your prejudices, which is a prepersonal endeavor. Irrationality does not rise to personal level cognition, so, based on the pre-trans fallacy, your arguments and testimony have zero claim to anything transpersonal, even if they are about meditation, your last mystical or near death experience, or the place eros plays in the evolution of consciousness. Because of the pervasiveness of these logical fallacies, cognitive distortions, and cognitive biases, it is wise to assume that right now, and every moment, in every situation they are distorting your perception, with the consequence that you have excellent cause to embrace deep humility.

Peer review as a personal level filter

The second criteria of the personal mentioned above is peer review. A “peer” is not only a member of your in-group or professional guild, because such people share your world view and can be predicted to essentially agree with you while nit-picking about details. A credible peer review actively seeks the input of people who have specialized knowledge in your general field but approach it from an entirely different angle. For instance, if you have a theory about music and you play jazz, get some input from a country fiddler or Klezmer aficionado. If you support global warming, be sure and take into account the arguments of those scientists who draw different conclusions. If you advocate for a post-metaphysical conception of integral, but still insist on metaphysical concepts, such as a teleologically-based understanding of evolution, try not to dismiss the arguments of scientific consensus as simply lacking 2nd Tier development. This reduces the likelihood that you will seal yourself into a cognitive echo chamber and repress all conflicting information. When we only seek the feedback of some “amen choir” (most of us), or cite those sources that bolster our own biases, we are doing something prepersonal. We have not risen to the level of personal level validation, and so any claim that our thoughts, actions, and feelings are transpersonal, are not only likely to be a delusion we are running on ourselves, but a scam we are pulling on others. We see this particularly in New Agers and “cultural creatives” who clothe themselves in all things “quantum,” believing that if they just sound scientific enough that their pre-rational and prepersonal agenda will impress others. The anti-vaxxers, chemtrailers, homeopaths, and machine-mediated bioresonance “therapists” and their arguments are all excellent playgrounds to explore if you want to develop your rational skills. Just go to any affiliated websites and start counting the logical fallacies, cognitive distortions, and cognitive biases that you encounter. Ask, “Where is the peer review?”

The primacy of universal principles as a personal level filter

The third core criteria for personal level cognition is an adherence to the primacy of universal principles. Anecdotal cases are impressive, and they may indeed point to broader definitions of reality than presently exist, such as the fact that psychic abilities such as clairvoyance and precognition have been verified, though only at a tiny of a fraction of a percentage above chance. Such anecdotal cases are rarely cause to throw out universal principles. For example, we now have millions of meditators around the world. Where are all the siddhis that the sages of the world have claimed accompany them and are signs of enlightenment? This does not mean that siddhis do not exist, but it does mean that the usual explanations, that you haven't meditated enough, are doing the wrong kind of meditation, or have the wrong guru, ring hollow. As another example of deterrence to universal principle, because there have been and can indeed be beneficent despots, as promoted by Aristotle and exemplified by most parents, that does not over-rule the general principle that collective governance is on the whole wiser, more stable, and more effective than governance by one totalitarian figure.[3]

In the moral realm, the fundamental universal principle here is reciprocity. That is, respecting others by asking them what they want or need and treating their needs and wants with the same respect that you would expect or demand if you were in their position. Obviously, the result of the application of such a principle is humanism, in the form of the codification of the insurance of universal human rights. You don't have socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. You don't have one set of laws for everyone else and another set for yourself, such as “Might Makes Right.” If you or someone else is not willing to submit themselves to the primacy of universal principles, generally reflected by both codified law and collectively derived norms of conduct, they are declaring that they are functioning on a prepersonal level, regardless of their degrees, wealth, power, intellectual prowess, or claims of enlightenment. They may in fact be, like Barack Obama, quite advanced on this or that developmental line, with the degrees and status to prove it, but if they do not respect and follow universal law, that is, submit to it themselves, as determined by both transparency and accountability, there is nothing personal about what they are doing, much less “2nd tier.”

This principle is particularly important regarding gurus, pandits, and self-help professionals. Many of these people base their claims to authority on experiences of enlightenment which, while perhaps genuine and impressive, are both anecdotal and rare. They are exceptions to universal principles, not examples of them. While they claim this exceptionalism is a demonstration of their advanced status and therefore their advanced authority, several points need to be remembered. It is a logical fallacy to think that because Einstein is a genius at physics his pronouncements on ballet or love are any better than your own. This is a confusion of exceptional line development for overall development. We are talking about different developmental lines. It is a logical fallacy to assume that development of one line implies high development in another. It is a logical fallacy to think that because someone has had experiences of nature, deity, formless, or non-dual mysticism that they have an ethical bone in their body. This is a confusion of state access with stage development. Children and criminals can have mystical experiences.

Challenges in growing into the personal

All of these characteristics of the personal are associated with the ability to ask questions and exercise healthy doubt. If people accuse you of bleeding over into skepticism and even cynicism, this is to be expected. If people accuse you of being an anal, unloving, non-empathetic asshole, smile and say, “Thank you very much.” It will irritate them even worse.[4] Growth into the personal is first and foremost about learning how to be objective, and that objectivity serves as a foundation for authentic compassion and empathy. This is essentially what Wilber is pointing out when he notes that late personal egalitarianism and pluralism evolve after mid-personal rationality, consensus, and respect for universal principles. If you instead place a priority on compassion and empathy over objectivity, you may never learn how to access personal levels of development. You may then will stay authentically and genuinely compassionate and empathetic at a prepersonal, pre-rational level, as most very good, very kind people do. In fact, it is quite rare to find people who are both at healthy personal and compassionate and empathetic beyond their in-groups. Most people who profess to be at late personal or beyond are ethical frauds.[5]

Now that we have had this quick overview of the nature of the personal and what is required to access, internalize, and live out of that level of development, we have criteria by which we can determine whether things and people meet personal level criteria or not. If they do not, then they do not and cannot meet transpersonal criteria, according to Wilber's pre-trans fallacy.

Some examples of what does not meet personal or transpersonal criteria

Roger Walsh, among others, has cited research that asked professional astrologers to define and agree on criteria by which the validity of astrology can and should be judged. Once those criteria were agreed upon, those professional astrologers were given charts created by one another and asked to interpret them based on the criteria of validity they themselves had chosen. The results demonstrated no agreement above chance or randomness, meaning that there was no peer validity.[6] Astrology therefore did not meet personal criteria, so any usefulness and relevancy that it possesses is of a prepersonal sort.[7] This is not to deny the usefulness or validity of astrology within its own realm. I have had evidential astrology charts created for me that were very helpful.

What is said about astrology applies to skrying, channeling, energy medicine, and all manner of psychic experiences. These can be powerfully evidential of oneness and the sacred, as oneness manifests at the prepersonal. As long as we leave it at that and make no claims of scientific validity, or that these activities reflect transpersonal validity or experience, there is no problem. Unfortunately, it is rare to observe this degree of honesty among any of these practitioners. Reiki, channelers, spiritualists, bioresonance computer purveyors, and meditation masters are sure they are accessing the transpersonal and most will claim they are following scientific principles.

States are not stages

A closely related issue is also described in great detail and clarity by Wilber, and that is the distinction between states, which are accessible by all at all levels, and stages, which presuppose permanent access to previous developmental stages. For example, a predatory true believer like Saul can have an authentic mystical experience and believe he has had a transpersonal experience, in that he now knows not only what is true and real for him but true and real for everyone else. If one is delusional enough, and one's audience is gullible enough, one can go on and develop a world religion, as Paul did Christianity.

Level development does not equate to balanced, overall development

If this is not pernicious and confusing enough, there is another level of confusion to add. People routinely believe advancement in lines demonstrates overall development. Because I understand Integral AQAL, my world view is multi-perspectival or vision-logic, which is post-late personal. Because I identify with my thoughts and world view, I believe I am evolved to vision logic, or post-personal, or into “2nd Tier.” This is a fallacy based on a confusion of developmental lines (cognitive and self lines, in this case), with stage development, which requires four-quadrant tetra-mesh in several core lines, notably including morality, and therefore levels are much more difficult to traverse than lines. For example, there is good reason to believe that most integralists that assume that they are 2nd Tier because their cognitive and self lines are post-personal are actually at mid-prepersonal in their overall development, because their line of moral development, necessary for tetra-mesh, is stuck at mid-prepersonal.[8]

Evolutionary and moral AQAL violations of the pre-trans fallacy

The consequence of all of this is that Wilber himself does not follow his own criteria for the Pre-Trans Fallacy in two critical areas, evolution and ethics. Wilber himself chooses to ignore the Pre-Trans Fallacy when he promotes a pre-rational "eros" governing evolution as a teleological consciousness that stands above and beyond life while interpenetrating it. At the same time that Wilber claims eros is post-rational and transpersonal, he does not submit this construct to the essential and required intermediate step of rationality. That is, he does not subject eros to a collective of knowledgeable peers (in this case the community of scientific researchers) and have it pronounced rational or if not, to then modify it based on peer review. We have seen that if one doesn't or won't do so, claims to transpersonal revelation and truth boil down to the same sort of warm feelings that a baby experiences with a wet diaper. Frank Visser has hammered home this point in any number of clear and important posts at IntegralWorld.Net.[9]

Regarding the second area, ethical norms or morality, I have shown in a number of articles that interior quadrant moral judgment does not correlate with collective assessments of morality in the LR quadrant. For example, Marc Gafni or Andrew Cohen might assess their morality as 2nd Tier or transpersonal. They might claim that those who accuse them of abuse simply do not understand the elevated level of consciousness from which they are operating. Wilber explains these moral “slips” as the “shadow” of the high levels of development of “rude boys.” You may now recognize this defense as the logical fallacy of “special pleading.” If you do, you then recognize that these individuals have not risen on their ethical line beyond the prepersonal and pre-rational, and that therefore, their claims of spiritual enlightenment are based on temporary state access and the development of specific lines, such as spiritual intelligence, rather than on stable over-all development, which requires moral tetra-mesh.

Consequences of fundamental violations of the pre-trans fallacy

Evolutionary and moral contradictions of the Pre-Trans Fallacy by Wilber, AQAL, and most expositors of spiritual truth, are not trivial.

Evolutionary and moral contradictions of the Pre-Trans Fallacy by Wilber, AQAL, and most expositors of spiritual truth, are not trivial. Rather, by committing them they undercut their own credibility as exemplars on the leading edge of contemporary thought. This largely explains why these people, while retaining a limited audience of true believers, do not gain traction in the larger scientific community (because they do not pass the three tests of rationality, peer review, or respect for universal principles) and in the larger community of humanity (because they don't pass basic moral tests of trustworthiness and credibility). The result is that unless and until such issues are addressed by Integral, it will remain an influential and fertile source of creative development on various lines, including the cognitive, self lines, and line of spiritual intelligence. These contributions are significant and not to be ignored or minimized. However, Integral is likely to continue to fail, as it has up to this point, to attract a broader audience, because of a lack of personal level credibility. Astonishing development in lines, notably the above-named three, does not equal overall development. Ethically speaking, you cannot tell someone familiar with Integral AQAL from a third world farmer or your typical middle class Chinese citizen. The same can be said about the US Democratic Party as well as global liberalism and progressives in general. Can you tell the daily behavior of an Integral claiming 2nd Tier from the majority of “deplorables” voting for Donald Trump? Those people love their families just like you and I do; they strive to be good citizens just like you do. And that is indeed a shocking indictment of Integral elitism and exceptionalism.

In this short essay I have identified two basic and major contradictions in Integral AQAL that drastically limit its outreach and credibility. By creating logical fallacies in the areas of evolutionary dynamics and moral development, while AQAL soars on cognitive, self-system, and spiritual intelligence lines, it remains solidly prepersonal in its overall development. The result is that it is unable to gain traction with larger scientific and normative communities. This failure is mirrored in the broader personal development field as well as liberal political parties in the West. The result is that none have been able to gain traction in addressing the major issues of our time, the impending, catastrophic trifecta of anthropogenic global warming, bursting of massive economic bubbles leading to world-wide depression, and nuclear armageddon.


Ken Wilber is to be respected and commended for the massive and lasting contributions that he has made to cognitive multi-perspectivalism. If we are wise, we honor and build upon the shoulders of giants, after we have used their lives to expand our awareness of and practice in each of the four quadrants. That means that we are enriched by Wilber's depth of experience of meditation and understanding of the nature of consciousness and the relationship of our thoughts, feelings, and alternate states to it; by the unitive cognitive culture of a multi-perspectival world view that weaves together the various realms of human endeavor into a cohesive whole based on lasting values of truth, goodness, and beauty; by Wilber's emphasis on both personal application as well as on using the best objective, empirical practices as applied to our understanding of the physiosphere, noosphere, and beyond; and to his analysis of living systems and the relationships within and among them, including human interaction and societal norms. We need to attempt to understand before we criticize, knowing that our understandings will always be partial and our own, meaning that we will never transcend the criticism that we do not fully understanding or grasp integral as Wilber sees it.

We now know that to push for 2nd Tier and beyond in the transpersonal generates exceptional development in some lines at the expense of others, throwing our entire development our of sync and making it impossible to tetra-mesh. The result is that we attain 2nd Tier in our world view and cognitive line, transpersonal knowingness with meditation on the line of spiritual intelligence, and a mature sense of self on the self line, while lagging in empathy for out-groups, insistence on social justice, and the holding of authority to high standards of transparency and accountability. We remain a true believer in our own preferred vision rather than continuously subjecting it to updating, based on peer review. In short, the UL quadrant of consciousness is over-emphasized and the LR quadrant is under-emphasized, leading to a failure to tetra-mesh in our overall development, with this masked by our exceptional development in several important lines.

To build on the shoulders of giants, we need to speak our own truth with confidence and conviction, make our own unique contributions in each of the four quadrants and constantly run them through personal level filters: Are our ideas and behaviors rational?[10] Do they pass peer review? Are they in accordance with our best understanding of universal principles? It is best to focus on meeting these criteria rather than attempting to attain anything beyond them, because that which is authentically transpersonal is always already present; its influence, as our unique life compass, naturally and automatically grows as we manifest congruence at personal levels. We need to commit ourselves to meet personal level criteria for development if we want to achieve credibility and authenticity in our claims of transpersonal anything. Otherwise, we are destined to repeat the lessons of Oedipus, Othello, and yes, Wilber: stunning development and contributions in this or that line that rings hollow, leading to betrayal of others and our own promise.


[1] Both logical fallacies and cognitive distortions are explained in some depth in Dillard J., Waking Up, Berlin: Deep Listening Press, 2012.

[2] An impressive example of this which is both tragic and humorous, was Wilber's famous attack on his critics in a 2006 outburst on a public post on his website. After telling his critics they could “suck my dick,” he argued that anyone who couldn't see how such a statement could be 2nd Tier obviously were not themselves 2nd Tier and needed to go do shadow work. The original is here; the follow up blogs and Frank Visser's accounting of the episode are here.

[3] While the concept of "enlightened despot” is inherently subjective, here is a list of some candidates: Catherine the Great of Russia, Carlos III of Spain[, Frederick the Great of Prussia, Frederick VI of Denmark, Gustav III of Sweden[, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor of Austria, Joseph I of Portugal (through his minister the Marquis of Pomba, Maria Theresa of Austria, Leopold I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Louis XVI of France, Maria Carolina of Austria, Queen of Naples, Christian VII of Denmark (through his minister Johann Friedrich Struensee, Napoleon Bonaparte, Lee Kuan Yew, Josip Broz Tito, António Salazar, Isaias Afwerki, Park Chung-hee, Chiang Kai-shek, Pervez Musharraf, Thomas Sankara, and Muammar Gaddafi

[4] Your intention is not to irritate them, but when their insults, which are designed to intimidate you back into conformity fail, irritation is can seem preferable to considering the possibility that perhaps we are misreading the situation.

[5] Meaning, they don't walk their talk. Examples include politicians like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Tulsi Gabbard who talk egalitarianism, pluralism, and human rights while voting for weapons sales, supporting the funding of an obscenely bloated military, do not call out apartheid Israel because of their dependency on support of AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, and take campaign donations from corrupt and corrupting sources, such as gambling tycoon and Israeli-firster, Sheldon Adelson.

[6] The case for and against astrology.


"I myself, at the risk of appearing ridiculous even to my colleagues, have for fourteen years held my archives open for astrological evidence, ... [but all were] the result either of a forced application of the rules to human careers already known, or of a careful culling of hits from preponderating numbers of misses. I do not think that any psychical researcher ... has given attention to the claims of astrology and has not definitely cast the pretended science on the dust heap." (Walter Price, presidential address to the Society for Psychical Research, 1930.)
"The ancients were evidently unaware that [astrological judgements] were the result of reasoning by analogy, which so often proves a treacherous foundation. That is why the whole superstructure of astrology is so utterly worthless and fallacious." (August Thomen, Doctors Don't Believe It 1938, a survey of medical superstitions.)
"The casting of horoscopes provides a living to thousands of individuals and provides dreams to an infinitely larger number of consumers. ... [But] since the most painstaking studies have shown the inanity of horoscopes, there should be a strong rising up against this exploitation of public credulity" (Michel Gauquelin, after analysing the horoscopes of 16,000 famous people, Dreams and Illusions of Astrology 1969.)
"The picture emerging suggests that astrology works, but seldom in the way or to the extent that it is said to work." (Geoffrey Dean and Arthur Mather, Recent Advances in Natal Astrology 1977, a critical review by fifty astrologers and scientists of over 1000 astrology books, 410 journal articles, and 300 relevant scientific works.)
"We are convinced however that astrology does not work. Astrology cannot be used to predict events of any kind, nor is astrology able to provide any useful information regarding personality, occupation, health, or any other human attribute" (Roger Culver and Philip Ianna, The Gemini Syndrome 1979, a review by astronomers of years of data collection, tests, and most of the available evidence.)
"Astrology is largely (but not entirely) superstition. However, because of the important areas which remain to be investigated, this conclusion may need future qualification. We should not be dogmatic." (Hans Eysenck and David Nias, Astrology: Science or Superstition? 1982, a review by psychologists of the then most recent research.)
"The single fact that astrologers contradict each other at about every point, and the firm convictions of their own correctness supported by their experience, must call up doubts about the reliability of [their] methods. ... Not a single classical astrological element is shown to be able to resist statistical research." (Ronnie Martens and Tim Trachet, Making Sense of Astrology 1998, a review of astrological claims.)

[8] See Dillard, J., Kohlberg-Wilber Fallacy, Parts 1&2. IntegralWorld.Net.

[9] For example, Frank Visser, “An Absolutely Obvious Look at How Evolution Actually Operates”, Wilber and Whitehead on the emergence of novelty, October 2018

[10] It is rational to suspend rationality and its criteria, as we do to a greater or lesser extent when we sleep and dream or take a drug trip, make love, play, meditate, or move into flow. To use a Star Trek metaphor, this is the answer to those who say, “You are reductionistic in that you are reducing the transpersonal to personal level criteria and world views.” Recognizing and insisting on abiding by the criteria of the personal is not a glorification of Mr. Spock, but an explanation of why Leonard McCoy, who personifies pre-rational emotionalism, and James Kirk, who personifies a balance of intellect and emotion in what Wilber calls centaur, still requires Mr. Spock, if a higher order synthesis, personifying the transpersonal, is to be accessed.


Ken Wilber briefly explains his concept of the pre/trans fallacy.

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