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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Dr. 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: integraldeeplistening.com
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Some Problematic Aspects of an Integral World View
We want to believe in these narratives of Truth, Reality, and Goodness, particularly if we are miserable, young, uneducated, or naïve.
Let us imagine that you are a world-class meditator with a highly developed line of spiritual intelligence. You have had multiple mystical experiences of oneness with nature, or the path of the yogis, oneness with devotion, or the path of the saints, oneness with formlessness, or the path of the sages, and experiences of the non-dual, in which all distinctions between the world of form and transcendent formless oneness were both dissolved and integrated. What would you conclude?
As Wilber has noted in Integral Spirituality, your level of enlightenment would be conditioned by the socio-cultural context into which you were born, meaning that your capability for enlightenment today is broader and deeper than that of a bronze age meditative master, simply because there has been a vast evolution in socio-cultural contexts since the masters of the Axial age lived and taught. But regardless of when and where you live, you are likely to draw profound conclusions about truth, reality, and goodness from your experiences of oneness and meditative clarity. Because you have had overpowering experiences of oneness, these are likely to be experienced as universal conclusions; you have experienced not only truth, but Truth; not only reality, but Reality; not only goodness, but Goodness.
Consequently, due to the universality of your experience, it is likely to be obvious to you that these conclusions about the nature of Truth, Reality, and Goodness apply not only to yourself but to everyone. If we investigate the historical record, as Wilber has done, we find an uncanny consistency among reports of the nature of oneness, which further confirms our conviction that we have experienced universal truths. As a result, we may have an overpowering desire to proclaim these truths to others, to awaken and enlighten the world.
This scenario seems to realistically apply to a lesser or greater degree to master mystics like Gautama, Shankara, Nagarjuna, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Paramahamsa Yogananda, and many others. It also seems to apply to experienced meditators who view themselves primarily as teachers or pandits rather than as gurus, as Wilber does. But whether master mystic, pandit, or near death experiencer, a common theme is a compelling vision of universal oneness, and some of these experiencers find themselves compelled to share this vision of Truth and Reality with others. Some of these people, like Gautama, Mohammed, and Saul of Tarsus even become founders of world religions. Those who do not, like Aurobindo and Wilber, may still become highly influential teachers who impact the world view of thousands of people.
We want to believe in these narratives of Truth, Reality, and Goodness, particularly if we are miserable, young, uneducated, or naïve. If we have been scripted by our families and culture in such a way that we share a similar world view with conveyors of mystical truth, we are likely to adopt without much questioning the inspired world view of oneness conveyed by a charismatic teacher or guru. If we are intelligent, we may be bedazzled by the brilliance of a mystical pundit, as Wilber appears to have been by Da Free John. Like love at first sight, it is not unusual to suspend disbelief and commit ourselves based on what we feel and what resonates with what we know. This is not only how religions but cults form, how we get caught up in groupthink and follow collective norms that may have little or nothing to do with what is true, real, or good for us, but has a great deal to do with both our sense of who we are and our prepersonal beliefs. Because of the powerful influence of these people and their mystical visions of oneness upon individuals, cultures, and societies, it is wise to take a close look at some of the assumptions that are entailed by the above but which are not commonly recognized, acknowledged, or considered.
While the universality of experiences of oneness imply universal truth, the most parsimonious explanation, and therefore the one to rule out, is one already discovered by Immanuel Kant in the late 1700's. Kant determined that there are categories of perception, such as time, space, and causality, that are universal and which condition and contextualize whatever we perceive. For example, we have little choice but to project intentionality outward onto nature. Because we are purpose-driven organisms, we frame reality in terms of intentionality, and the idea that purpose may exist within our perception instead of innately existing within God or the cosmos can generate a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness in some people, particularly those who need or want a sense of order, structure, and instilled direction in their lives. Because most people have not yet found themselves and know it, they are looking for a stable foundation in the shifting sands of life and are vulnerable to adopting the world view of someone that believes they have found it.
If experiences of mystical openings of oneness are a predictable possibility for human perception under radical conditions, such as sensory deprivation or death, they may have nothing to do with universal truth or high development on the line of spiritual intelligence. This conclusion is supported by the fact that criminals and children can have mystical and near death experiences that contain core features reported by experienced meditators: varieties of oneness, white light, disembodied freedom, bliss, and pure beingness. This in turn implies that mystical openings are most likely to be state experiences independent of one's stage of development, but which can be cultivated with meditative practices or drugs. At least that is the most parsimonious assumption and the one to rule out before jumping to the conclusion that we are looking at an enlightened master or have become one ourselves. If it is indeed the case that mystical experiences of oneness are most likely state openings available to anyone at any level of development, under the right circumstances, common assumptions of those who have these experiences, that they are enlightened and know absolute Truth and Reality, as well as the conclusions that others make about those who have them, are likely to be not only mistaken, but mistaken to the point of being dangerously delusional.
Because we are purpose-driven organisms, we frame reality in terms of intentionality, and the idea that purpose may exist within our perception instead of innately existing within God or the cosmos can generate a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness in some people.
When state experiences of oneness are mistaken for high levels of development, those who have them want and need to believe that they are indeed at a high level of development. Those who know them and believe that an authentic opening into universal oneness has occurred want and need to believe them too, because the guru or pandit has become an “ego ideal,” someone we admire and set as an example for ourselves. Because we identify with that person, we want and need to believe in them. We will have a strong predisposition to amplify their strengths and ignore or overlook their limitations and weaknesses. We commonly see a similar pattern in abused spouses who for financial, self-esteem, guilt, status, or other reasons stay in a relationship that is destructive.
All of these factors lead us to a consideration of our circumstances as individuals who have been influenced by Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL. When state experiences which are accessible to anyone and that may be hard wired into humans are taken to be transpersonal, elevationism can occur. To believe that mystical experiences of oneness indicate transpersonal levels of development may be an example of the elevationistic variety of Wilber's Pre/Trans Fallacy. Here is Wilber's description of the Pre-Trans Fallacy:
The essence of the pre/trans fallacy is itself fairly simple: since both prerational states and transrational states are, in their own ways, nonrational, they appear similar or even identical to the untutored eye. And once pre and trans are confused, then one of two fallacies occurs:
In the first, all higher and transrational states are reduced to lower and prerational states. Genuine mystical or contemplative experiences, for example, are seen as a regression or throwback to infantile states of narcissism, oceanic adualism, indissociation, and even primitive autism.…
On the other hand, if one is sympathetic with higher or mystical states, but one still confuses pre and trans, then one will elevate all prerational states to some sort of transrational glory (the infantile primary narcissism, for example, is seen as an unconscious slumbering in the mystico unio). Jung and his followers, of course, often take this route, and are forced to read a deeply transpersonal and spiritual status into states that are merely indissociated and undifferentiated and actually lacking any sort of integration at all.
In the elevationist position, the transpersonal and transrational mystical union is seen as the ultimate omega point, and since egoic-rationality does indeed tend to deny this higher state, then egoic-rationality is pictured as the low point of human possibilities, as a debasement, as the cause of sin and separation and alienation. When rationality is seen as the anti-omega point, so to speak, as the great Anti-Christ, then anything nonrational gets swept up and indiscriminately glorified as a direct route to the Divine, and consequently the most infantile and regressive and pre-rational occasions get a field promotion on the spot: anything to get rid of that nasty and skeptical rationality. "I believe because it is absurd" (Tertullian)there is the battle cry of the elevationist (a strand that runs deeply through Romanticism of any sort).
Wilber, of course, along with the rest of us, believes our experiences of mystical oneness are truly transpersonal and are not elevationistic misperceptions of prepersonal states of consciousness. When we have strong mystical experiences of oneness we are predisposed to embrace some variety of idealism, that is, a belief that pure consciousness creates reality. For Wilber, this has led to a belief that “Eros,” as “Spirit-in-action,” evolves life. In some passages, Wilber indicates that this spirit is immanent as “self-organization;” in others, it is transcendent, as a drive that purposefully propels evolution. In either case, the possibility to rule out is that this sense of universal, spiritual purpose is a category of human perception that we almost inevitably project onto life.
To confuse state mystical openings for high levels of development on either a particular line, like spiritual intelligence, or in self development as a whole, is an example of what Wilber calls a “Level/Line Fallacy.” Corey deVos, at IntegralLife, defines a level/line fallacy as
The confusing of a level in a line with the line itself. There are two major versions of the level/line fallacy: fixation, where a level in a line is glorified and absolutized, and thus the entire line is frozen at the level where the confusion originally occurred; and repression, where a level in a line is denied or suppressed and thus the entire line is suppressed.
The assumption that mystical openings are transpersonal requires the ruling out of the possibility that a mystical experience on the line of spiritual intelligence is glorified and absolutized, generating a fixation on that line at the level where the confusion originally occurred: in a confusion of state awakening with prepersonal beliefs, world views, and sense of self. When self is identified with the spiritual intelligence line the imbalance becomes even worse, with failings and abuses typically denied.
Because Wilber's world view and sense of self are tied up inextricably with the experiencing of the manifestation of form out of oneness in multiple mystical experiences, it is not surprising that he has displayed a consistent resistance to developments in evolutionary science that explain evolution in purely naturalistic terms, or that he does not recognize the Level/Line Fallacy or Pre/Trans elevationism in his own system. When we are deeply invested in a world view, because it makes up our core identity, we are likely to defend it tenaciously, because to reconsider our fundamental assumptions can create a crisis of meaning. Our entire sense of who we are, why we have been living, and how we have spent our time can be called into question, without any meaningful substitute on the horizon.
This is not so much a criticism of Wilber, who I admire, or Integral AQAL, which has been highly influential in my formation of my own world view, as it is a cautionary note for all of us. These tendencies and traps are not things we are naturally immune to; they are common and are readily observed not only in the religious and spiritual realms but in personal relationships, career advancement, and national political allegiances.
The best protection I know from them is an ongoing questioning of our assumptions, including an inviting of those who challenge our world view, combined with a healthy skepticism toward exceptionalistic claims, remembering the words of Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” We need to remember that there is no inherent division between the sacred and the secular to generate the delusion that there are separate spiritual and natural worlds. We do that ourselves. Indeed, to assume same is to fracture our interior microcosm and put ourselves in unnecessary schizmoid conflict with ourselves, as well as to experience a non-existent intra-dimensional war in our relationships, culture, and society.
 Wilber, K., Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Boston: Shambala. 1995, pp. 206-7.
 Corey de Vos, "level/line fallacy", February 5, 2017.