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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Mark EdwardsMark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology from the University of Western Australia. He has worked with people with disabilities for almost twenty years. He is currently writing a book on the interpretation of sacred writings from an integral theory perspective. Mark Edwards and his band "Myriad Things" have just released their new CD "Into the Sun".

Some Thoughts
on the States Thing

Mark Edwards

The following is my response to a discussion on states that recently appeared on the “Integral Naked” website. Apparently Ken has started a new initiative called “The Critics Circle”, and the set up is that a student asks Ken a question that is the student’s understanding of some other person’s criticism and Ken responds. The topic of my “alternative view” on Ken’s theory of states was the first off the rank to be discussed.

My short response is that the whole thing left me completely “bamboozled”. Only Wilber tragics need read any further.

My long response is as follows:

First some comments on the "critics circle" method.

In many ways I feel the whole exercise to be rather a waste of time for everyone involved, especially for Ken. Ken had no first-hand knowledge whatsoever of the the points I was trying to make. The student courageously tried to summarise 50 pages of reasonably tight argument in a few words. Ken has no idea if the question is an accurate summary. Granted that there is no claim being made that the question is an accurate, or even adequate, representation of my view. But then what's the whole point of the exercise. Does the student's question get to the heart of the what I was trying to say? Maybe yes, probably no. But for all Ken knows it could just be something the student made up. There’s no debate, no probing of Ken’s response, no true discussion or dialogue, no “circle of critics”, not even some poor Joe playing devil’s advocate - it’s just Ken giving a 20 minute monologue response to his student’s précis of the thoughts of some absent “straw man”. It’s not even a useful teaching exercise in critical thinking.

Ken’s response didn’t deal with any of the points I raised in the essays. It didn’t add anything new to what he has already said on the topic (see endnote) and didn’t even deal with some of the issues raised by the student.

I’ll say it again. This method of dealing with “the critics” is a complete waste of time for all involved. Most of all it’s a waste of Ken’s time and energy. I would very much prefer that he never attempt to answer any of the issues, criticisms, points of clarification or suggestions for improving Integral theory that I have raised over the years than to pretend that this second-hand monological response method is really a way engaging in a “critics circle”. His time and energy will be much better utilised elsewhere.

I completely understand that Ken has no time for reading the great amount of critical material on Integral theory that exists on the web and on Frank Visser’s “Integral World” site. He just doesn’t have the time. That’s fine. He’s doing valuable and important work and he doesn’t need to debate with the people who put stuff on the web. But if Ken’s not going to read the stuff, then he should leave it alone. Asking others to summarise huge amounts of material and then responding to their potted versions is just not the way to run a “critics circle”. Ken quite rightly cries foul when those who aren’t familiar with the detail of his work condemn him for something that he’s not guilty of. This clearly annoys him and so it should. (It certainly annoys me.) But sadly this monological “critics circle” thing is falling into exactly the same trap.

Ken should just leave this all to his students. Why can’t they take up the cudgel and try to counter my “off the wall” arguments? Why aren’t the critical papers on Visser’s site assailed by dozens of long-standing Wilber students defending their teacher’s position? Ken shouldn’t have to do this. He truly has better things to do. But it seems his students are either not interested in defending Integral theory as Ken proposes it, or are incapable of countering the arguments of Ken’s ill-informed critics. Either way it’s a rather sad state of affairs.

Ken says that Visser’s site is “an extensive source of misinformation about my work”. Well that’s just not the case. There are a great many essays on Frank’s site. Some of them are by very respected academics and, by my reckoning, about a third of the contributors are members of the Integral Institute. Some are by very careful and insightful Integral theory amateur enthusiasts. Some of them are by Integral Theory antagonists. The quality of the essays varies considerably. The intentions of the authors vary considerably. But none of the authors of these essays claim that they represent Ken’s views. Like me, some do try to present Ken’s view on a topic by quoting him. Are we misinterpreting the quote? Well that’s a matter of argument and debate not of misinformation. First and foremost, the authors on Frank’s site represent their own views on Integral theory and other matters not Ken’s.

When a critic misinterprets Ken’s views that’s not misinformation. Misinformation is the deliberate provision of incorrect information. The material on Frank’s site is not the biggest source of misinformation on matters Wilberian because no-one is on the site is deliberating trying to present false information about Ken’s ideas. The material on Frank’s site is not a source of misinformation on Integral theory, it’s an extensive source of critical thinking about Integral theory and an opportunity for open dissemination of peoples' views - right or wrong.

Frank Visser has contributed immensely to the discussion of integral ideas and he should be applauded for his independence of spirit, energy and great generosity in making this site available to poor Wilber tragics like myself.

Second, some theory-related comments on Ken’s response to his student’s valiant summary of my “problem”.

I could go over a lot of the ground I covered in the essays here but, mercifully, I won't. I will just make a few points about this very confusing gross-subtle-causal model. Ken points out that one way of defining the gross-subtle-causal realms is to see the gross realm as the lowest realm of rocks and trees and the causal is the highest realm of formlessness and bliss. This leaves the subtle to refer to everything in between. This means that the term “subtle” can apply to both pre- and to trans- aspects of experiential realms that make up the reat bulk of realms that exist between the gross and the causal. Hence, according to the classic presentation of PTF theory, the same term "subtle" can be applied to the pre-mental world of body and to the trans-mental world of bodymind. It can apply to the pre-mental realm of magic and to the trans-mental world of the psychic. It can apply to the pre-mental world of mythic realms and to the trans-mental realms of subtle archetypes. This is exactly what I am trying to draw attention to. Under this way of treating the gross-subtle-causal model clear PTF misconceptions can be inserted straight into Ken’s current theory of states without anyone knowing which end of the spectrum is being referred to. This is why we have Ken saying that,

“In a dream state, and in some meditative states, you see subtle objects, and well anything you see in a dream state [is subtle], images, light, bodies and feelings and so on”

This is classic PTF confusion. Ken equates the objects experienced in the pre-realms of dream and the trans- realms of meditative states because his definition of the term “subtle” can’t differentiate between them! He even falls into the typical PTF error of using the word “bliss” to describe the experience of the causal and the child’s experience of nature. That yogi is in a state of “bliss” in her Himalayan cave and that child is in a state of “bliss” playing in the forest so they must both be having the same spiritual experience. That’s classic PTF in my book.

Ken seems to think that just because there is an experience of “images, light, bodies and feelings” in the dream state that this means it can then be equated in some way with the advanced meditative states. I would say that the “images, light, bodies and feelings” experienced in dreams are pre-/involutionary subtle objects and that those experienced in the meditative states are trans-/evolutionary subtle objects. The two types of subtle objects are hugley different in essence. They only appear similar because we apply the same rational language limited descriptives to both of them simply because both realms are non-rational. Under the very unhelpful and rather meaningless catchall definition of “subtle” such pre- and trans- distinctions are essential if we really want to clarify which realm is being referred to. All the more reason to drop this very confusing and unnecessary gross-subtle-causal model altogether and simply use the Integral theory terminology that Ken and others have already developed.

Ken says several times that in his response and elsewhere that, “The content of states is provided by stages.” If this is the case and the term “subtle” crosses so many stages then it must by definition contain both pre- and trans- content. I am simply saying that this needs to be recognised in an Integral theory of states and that the pre-subtle realms of dreaming and sleeping need to be differentiated from the trans-subtle realms of the advanced meditative states. Ken doesn’t do this and he ends up with concluding that anyone who sleeps is accessing the trans-realms.

My whole motivation for raising these matters is to try to suggest ways of making Integral Theory more coherent and internally consistent and to point out that any "model" that can say,

“The infant still has waking, dreaming and deep sleep states, but it’s only at beige or purple. That’s sort of level one. Both its waking and its dream state have purple images and no higher really to speak of”,

and also say,

“the infant also has access to the various subtle and causal states (because it dreams and sleeps). Thus the purple-stage child can have an authentic subtle realm experience and causal-realm experience”,

and then convince us all that there is no contradiction, confusion, or ambiguity between these statements is in need of a serious clean up.


Apart from the many references to states that are made thoughout Wilber's Collected Works Vol 1-8, my essays were based on my readings of Ken's writings on states which included:

Wilber, K. (2002a) Sidebar G: States and stages - Part I. The relation of states of consciousness and stages of consciousness: No model is complete without both. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2002b) Sidebar G: states and stages - Part II. States and stages in development. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2003a) Kosmic consciousness: Disc four - states of consciousness. Boulder, Co: Sounds True.

Wilber, K. (2003b) On the nature of a post-metaphysical spirituality - Response to Habermas and Weis. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2003c) The Kosmos trilogy, Volume 2 - Excerpt G: Toward a comprehensive theory of subtle energies. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2003d) The Kosmos trilogy, Volume 2 - Excerpt D: The Look of a Feeling: The Importance of Post/Structuralism. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2003f) On critics, integral institute, my recent writing, and other matters of little consequence: A shambhala interview with ken wilber. Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2003g) Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model (Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology). Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

Wilber, K. (2003h) Sidebar D: Childhood Spirituality Retrieved 24/10/03 from http://

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