Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Geoffrey FalkGeoffrey Falk is the author of The Science of the Soul, Stripping the Gurus, Norman Einstein, Rock and Holy Rollers and Hip Like Me. He studied electrical engineering and physics at the University of Manitoba. He currently divides his time between writing, software development, and music composition. See also Falk, Books, blogs and articles.

The Age of

Facts and Reality vs.
Ken Wilber's "Integral Age"

Geoffrey Falk

"Integrate" all of the fairy tales you like; it still won't make them any more real.

This past October (2006), Ken Wilber published a new book, Integral Spirituality, subtitled "A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World." Heralding its exposition of the dawning Integral Age (Wilber's term), the roshi Dennis Genpo Merzel blurbed:

Step by step, with luminous clarity, [Wilber] unites all spiritual traditions without diluting the potency of any one lineage or tradition.... Anyone serious about raising the level of consciousness on this planet should read this masterpiece.

Of course, there is (predictably) very little information in the new "masterpiece" that isn't already available elsewhere (esp. online).

The book begins with a dedication:

To Colin Bigelow
Manjushri to Vajrapani, some might say

The reference there, of course, is to Brad Reynolds' fawning, hagiographic view of Wilber as being a (metaphorical) "incarnation of Manjushri" with a word-processor ... a worshipful image which Wilber must really enjoy, to have so clearly referenced it in that dedication. Bigelow himself is kw's dedicated assistant who, on the basis of three semesters of undergraduate philosophy, has seen fit to pronounce Wilber as being "the world's greatest philosopher-sage."

Then, there are the introductory-psych level observations from kw about homophobia (p. 120-1):

You might have seen the recent studies where men who were anti-gay-pornography crusaders, and who had dedicated a large portion of their lives to aggressively fighting homosexual porn, were tested for their levels of sexual arousal when shown photos of gay sexual scenes. The crusaders evidenced substantially more sexual arousal than other males. In other words, they themselves were attracted to gay sex but, finding that unacceptable in themselves, spent their lives trying to eradicate it in others, while claiming they had no such nasty desires themselves. Yet all they were really doing was projecting their own despised shadows onto others, then scapegoating them.

The prefatory "Note to the Reader" in Integral Spirituality is dated "Spring, 2006." So, when Wilber blithely trotted out exactly the same comparison with regard to his critics' supposed shadow-projections a few months later, he wasn't just hurriedly making that up in the days after his initial "Wyatt Earpy" posting. Rather, he had supposedly researched it well enough to include it in a formal, edited, nonfiction book. Of course, even with that research, he still presented just one possible explanation out of many, as if it were the only one, in full accord with his own biases and intolerance for nuances/details.

(Just about from the beginning of kw's "compassionate meltdown," I have thought it likely that he had the second installment of that "Earpy" series—where he complains about his critics supposedly "hating" him—essentially completed well prior to even posting the first one. So, it wouldn't have mattered who blogged about the initial "test," or what tone they took in their responses; anything which wasn't simple "randy toadying" directed toward him was all going to be "shadow-projection" in kw's mind, regardless. All of that being in accord with Chapter 6 of Integral Spirituality, titled "The Shadow and the Disowned Self.")

Overall, it is kw, not his critics in general, who is obviously rampantly projecting his own fear and hatred out into the world.

Page 204:

Integral Institute has designed a simple but very effective process of accessing and integrating one's personal shadow material....

Wilber himself would presumably be "Exhibit A," for the fancied effectiveness of that process.

Next, from page 87:

Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic have done a wonderful job of making much of the original Graves work [in Spiral Dynamics®] available to a larger audience.

That, however, contrasts somewhat with kw's derogatory treatment, a mere few months later, of "Cowan and friend," where he stated that they had

tried to prove that Grave's [sic] original data showed that boomeritis couldn't exist, which is hilarious, first, because it's not based on Graves, but second, because it's an unconscious pathology and cannot show up on test data asking conscious questions. (It's like asking, "And now, please tell us all those things that you are completely unaware of?") And what do you make of the fact that the two guys who developed SD, nobody really wants to work with?—and in fact, they even refuse to work with each other, as if to put an exclamation mark on the point.
I mean, is that just weird or what? Maybe it's just me? I don't think so, everybody I know seems to agree. (I will say that personally I have never seen any professional writing as toxic as Cowan's: his anger laces every word, acidly, unrelentingly, eating away at the reader, as it surely must its author.)

And then, again from page 87:

[F]rom the start, SD® has not incorporated a single criticism, from me or anybody else that I can tell, largely, in my opinion, because it is not possible to have an academic discussion with individuals whose economic livelihood depends upon one model being the only correct model.

Wilber, however, has misrepresented Spiral Dynamics every which way since the beginning of his published oversimplifications and misunderstandings of it, to the point where Cowan himself sternly admonished him for "putting out impressive-sounding junk and nonsense that must be undone if the integrity of the model is to be protected." (He wasn't too impressed with kw's "Earpy" slings and arrows either, by the sound of it.) Given all that, Wilber has no high moral ground at all to stand on, in expecting Cowan, et al., to take the time to find the slippery truths (among the many half-truths and worse) in his (kw's) theories, to incorporate those into SD.

Page 86:

A simple critique of SD involves the facts that it: does not cover states of consciousness (e.g., Tart); likewise does not cover state-stages....

Charles Tart was the 1981 winner of James Randi's "Pigasus" award (given for world-class foolishness in paranormal research), in the "Scientist" category. His unique contribution to woo-woo science? "[D]iscovering that the further in the future events are, the more difficult it is to predict them." I-I founding member Gary Schwartz took home the same Scientist-category prize in 2001, for his mistaking of simple subjective validation and the like, for the supposed ability of his inadequately tested psychics to communicate with the dead.

Page 203: As one of the nine modules of an "Integral Life Practice," under the Diet options, kw lists: "Atkins, Ornish, the Zone." One wonders: Did Wilber even bother to research what the (low-carbohydrate, high-protein) Atkins diet is. How anyone could be so uninformed and irresponsible as to recommend that diet as part of a spiritual discipline is absolutely mind-boggling.

As the official American Heart Association web site (as quoted here) put it:

Besides the health risks associated with ketosis outlined earlier, there are other long-term concerns associated with this particular plan. Atkins' diet can lead to the kind of rapid weight fluctuations that adversely effect the heart. Moreover, the breakdown of fatty acids that occurs during ketosis may also increase the risk of heart disease. One of the basic tenets of Atkins' diet is that sugar causes cancer. Such misleading pronouncements are essentially scare tactics, meant to direct the dieter towards foods on the Atkins plan. Finally, nothing about this plan encourages the dieter to learn some very basic weight management strategies like portion control and serving sizes, let alone develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of balanced nutrition.

Maybe Wilber just likes the "carbohydrate ladder" and its nine rungs, in the Atkins diet? No, wait: It's not really a ladder, it's more like a Nest. Yes, a holonic/caloric Nest in the Great Chain of Eating. Huston Smith wrote a classic book about it, didn't he?

So yes: Carnivorous, inherently unbalanced-nutrition Atkins for the Body; reportedly psychoses-inducing Transcendental Meditation® for the Spirit; "Integral Ethics," as exemplified by kw's own "postconventional" marginalizing of the first-tier "green shits" who dare to expose the deceptions underlying his "third-tier" notions ... in a few months, "you won't even recognize yourself."

(Actually, in looking over those nine ILP modules, I see that I've been practicing explicit elements from most of them [i.e., from six of the nine, or seven of nine back when I was meditating] on a very regular basis for all of my adult life so far. Conversely, though, if you want proof that Integral Life Practice doesn't work ... well, since I've been [unintentionally] practicing it for twenty years already, I would consider myself to be walking proof that it's a load of useless nonsense. Aside, you know, from the obvious, common-sense benefits to body and mind of living a balanced life, which no one should need a pandit or guru to outline to them.)

And, of course, there is always the old Wilberian standby (p. 137, 197), false though it may be:

[M]editation can help move you an average of two vertical stages in four years [emphasis is in the original]....
No other single practice or technique—not therapy, not breathwork, not transformative workshops, not role-taking, not hatha yoga—has been empirically demonstrated to do this. Meditation alone has done so. For example, whereas around 2% of the adult population is at second tier, after four years of meditation, that 2% [in the population at large] goes to 38% in the [self-selected] meditation group [in which 9 percent were at second tier to begin with]. This is truly staggering research.

However, it is already well over a year, now, since I showed that "two stages in four years" claim (based as it is on Skip Alexander's scientifically-invalid "staggering research") to be utterly false. Further, it is a simple matter of fact that it was eleven years of meditation, not four, that got 38 percent of Alexander's subjects to test at the autonomous/integrated level. That is stated in black-and-white on pages 332-3 of Alexander's Higher Stages of Human Development, as anyone who wishes to make the effort can easily verify.

For Wilber to continue to the present day with his repeated twisting of that research is beyond despicable: His claim there is utterly false. (KW's own view of such deceptions, I believe, based on his overwrought response to Jim Chamberlain, would be to consider them as deliberate "lies." In this case, one is strongly tempted to agree with that designation, given the repeated and unapologetic violations of truth by Wilber on this particular point.)

Likewise for another of the standard Wilberian deceits (p. 43):

[T]he Great Wisdom Traditions ... offered all the verifiable evidence one could want within a remarkably modern paradigm.

That claim, of course, holds together only as long as one completely ignores the glaring problem, pointed out by competent skeptics more than half a dozen years ago, that Wilber "implicitly accepts the reality of mystical experiences, and it is sufficient for him that his scientific mystics test their internal experiences against nothing more than each other's internal experiences. How this would eliminate group bias or error is not discussed."

More, from page 297:

Rupert [Sheldrake's] ... use of Waddington's notion of morphogenic fields, or morphic fields, ... happens to be a completely viable scientific hypothesis.

One can, of course, hypothesize anything. And hypotheses which are confirmed become (components of) theories, and theories which stand the test of time may come to be regarded as laws. But what is "viable scientific hypothesis" supposed to mean, in the absence of competently conducted experiments to confirm or deny the educated guess? What purported (e.g., paranormal or evolution-of-consciousness) facts of nature, as established by competent experimentation, which can't be explained by known laws, are you even trying to explain? Because simple coincidences, foolishly taken as if they were kosmically meaningful, do not require any new "viable scientific hypotheses" at all. All you need is Statistics 101. (The skeptical, scientific view of Sheldrake's attempts at experimentation can be found here, and here.)

Page 169:

[L]et's understand the fundamental rule of any reality check: if I want to know if something is real, I must get in the same state or stage from which the assertion was issued, and then look. If I don't do that, then please, I shouldn't talk about things that are over my head.... [T]hat lets us see why (as we have found out the hard way) doing more brain research for those who are not in the corresponding state or stage convinces them of nothing....

But, skeptics do not need to meditate or learn to see/imagine auras or do (claimed) Schlitz-like astral traveling (in purported remote viewing), for example, in order to judge the likelihood of any of those being more than imagination. All they need to do is set up appropriate real-world tests of the people making those claims, and apply elementary statistics to the results. If those paranormal claims turn out, via those simple but devastating experiments, to not be predictive at anything beyond a "chance" level, then the same skeptics are fully qualified to pronounce on the likely "reality" of the associated interior experiences.

When those elementary tests invariably show that persons who are claiming to be able to see auras, etc., cannot actually do so in any better-than-guessing ways, and when real scientists then understandably remain unconvinced of the even-wilder claims (as to the experience of Godhead, etc.) made by comparable individuals, it is not because it is all "over their heads." On the contrary, if your experience of any astral, causal or nondual state is "as real" as is your perception of subtle energies, too bad for you. Because, until you muster the courage to actually have the latter claimed sensing-abilities tested, those "subtle" experiences must be taken as being merely imagined, given that that has been the result encountered by everyone else who has ever made comparable claims, and had integrity enough to put them to the test in properly controlled studies.

If you can't even get subtle energies (with their easily testable, exterior correlates) right, yet you remain convinced that your experience of them is "real," why should anyone take seriously your vouching for the existence of higher states of consciousness and levels of reality, based on your own surely comparably deluded/imagined interior experiences of them? Simply put, they shouldn't: As a wise man once observed, if you can't even get the testable stuff right, there is no reason why anyone should take your word for even more rarefied "things unseen."

Give Wilber credit for one thing, though: Integral Spirituality overall is written at such a high (i.e., general, non-detailed) level that it completely obscures all of the ways in which the foundations of his integral notions simply don't fit together. If you didn't know any better, you might well indeed think that Integral Spirituality was, in Dennis Genpo Merzel's words, "possibly the most important spiritual book in postmodern times." And next thing you knew, you'd be throwing your money away on overpriced seminars in the hope of catching a glimpse of Wilber, semi-volunteering your time for the organization "for the good of all humankind," and perhaps even working your way into the inner circle at I-I ... or IU ... or IN ... or ISC ... or Integral Training, with no comprehension at all of what sorrows you were setting yourself up for, should you fail to check your (UR) brain and independence at the door to the "sanctuary."

"Integrate" all of the fairy tales you like; it still won't make them any more real than are kw's own merely imagined experience of subtle energies and their relation to Q-Links, or any other comparable foolishness. Nor will it save you from the utterly predictable, social-psychology-based abuses inherent in any closed, hierarchical society whose higher members crave respect and in-group salvation, and are conversely intolerant of disobedience and questioning. That is so even if such a society is led and unthinkingly followed by people who proudly imagine themselves to be "second tier."

Wilber further updates his stance on neo-Darwinian evolution (p. 236, 241):

To say that the manifest universe is evolving is not necessarily to endorse all of the neo-Darwinian view of evolution. I did my graduate work in the biochemistry and biophysics of the visual process ("The photoisomerization of rhodopsin isolated from bovine rod outer segments"), and what we don't understand about the mechanisms of evolution could fill the Library of Congress several times over. I'm no fan of Intelligent Design, either, which is just Creation Science in drag. But you don't need an intelligent designer to realize that evolution seems to involve some sort of "creative allure," or what Whitehead called "the creative advance into novelty." That drive—Eros by any other name—seems a perfectly realistic conclusion, given the facts of evolution as we understand them. [???] Let's just say there is plenty of room for a Kosmos of Eros. But the whole point of a post-metaphysics is that it is the strict application of Occam's razor, refusing to postulate more entities when fewer will do the trick. It's just that Eros is one of those things that just doesn't seem to go away....

As far as Occam's razor goes, though, as applied in the integral world: In the next breath (or previous appendix, in this case), kw will be grandly theorizing about the nature of subtle energies—another one of the phenomena which he probably thinks just won't "go away," in spite of there being zero properly vetted experimental evidence for their existence.

Wilber is "scientific" only as long as it suits him; when it doesn't, he's off again multiplying entities throughout the astral and causal levels, into infinity, with plenty of morphogenic fields thrown in, as part of the same "integral parsimony."

That kw (p. 87) would further criticize Spiral Dynamics for being "bound up with the discredited notion of memes," while simultaneously needing/touting morphogenic fields in his Wilber-5 in order for it to be a "post-metaphysics" with evolving Kosmic "habits" and "grooves" rather than pregiven higher levels of reality, is downright ridiculous. And then he proudly presents his one little application of Occam's razor in an integral Sea of woo-woo phenomena whose exteriors by all competent experimental indications simply don't exist, but are rather merely imagined?! (And, if the exteriors don't exist, and if all four of kw's quadrants tetra-manifest and tetra-evolve, then the interiors don't exist either, in any ontologically real way.)

Proponents of ID have one truth on their side: scientific materialism cannot explain all of evolution (it can explain pretty much everything except major holistic transformational leaps). With that, I quite agree.

Since kw gave no examples there of such "major holistic transformational leaps," however, one can only reasonably assume that he was again referring to the evolutionary development of wings and eyes, etc.—neither of which provide any challenge at all to neo-Darwinian evolution. (Or if, in his maddening ambiguity and its associated plausible deniability he is referring to punctuated equilibrium in general, a quote given in David Lane's Response to Tom Floyd will suffice: "Punctuated equilibrium ... is widely accepted as true, at least in some cases. The debate is over the relative contributions of gradual versus punctuated change, the average size of the punctuations, and the mechanism. To a large extent the debate is over the use of terms and definitions, not over fundamentals. No new mechanisms of evolution are needed to explain the model.")

Toward the end of the book, Wilber's text gets increasingly loaded with his "new branch of mathematics," leading one critic to give the following smart parody/review of Integral Spirituality:

I'll review this book in Wilber-speak:
Let's say that a holon has a capacity of permeability and let's call it the holon's Integral Volumeinostatic Capacitance or IVC, and that a holon's IVC unfolds or expresses across all Quadrants, Stages, States, Lines, Perspectives, Genders, and Channels and that a holon's percentage of realized IVC can be expressed on a scale of 100, then in the Upper Left Quadrant (ULQ) representing Wilber's (W) subjective view that Integral Spirituality (IS) approaches Genius (G); e.g. IVC(ULQ(W/IS))=99G, but in the Upper Right Quadrant (URQ) or external or objective perspective we can assert that IVC(URQ(W/IS))=100S, where S represents a brown-meme, malodorous substance characterized by fecalosticityness.

Finally, even if all of Wilber's Integral Methodological Pluralism and recent post-metaphysical musings were valid, he has presented not a shred of properly vetted, independently repeated experimental evidence that his Integral Life Practice (or any other spiritual discipline, for that matter) is likely to induce psychological stage-growth in its adherents. So, while he may well have avoided metaphysics in favor of "injunctions" galore, his promises of stage-growth within "four years," etc., are utterly hollow: He is promising advancement for which he truly has no evidence. (The "two stages in four years" claim is again a pure fabrication on his part, gotten from his staggeringly unprofessional conflating of several different studies done by Alexander and others.)

So, whatever may remain standing, a decade from now, of the ideas in Wilber's latest theorizings—not to mention of his presentations of "integral history," or of various culture-wide dissociations, on which sort of thing he is a notoriously and provably unreliable source of information (as Meyerhoff, for one, has shown)—in terms of the practice, and of people's real lives, he is still selling kosmic snake oil, suckering people in through utterly misrepresentative "advertising" in terms of his false claims for its supposedly proven stage-growth benefits.

In the real, business world, companies get hit with class-action lawsuits for making comparably unsubstantiated claims for the supposed benefits of their products. (And yes, people are indeed paying for the integral "product," in overpriced seminars, equally overpriced ILP Starter Kits, and the like.) In the spiritual/integral world, however, it's just "business as usual."

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