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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ray Harris Ray Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: [email protected].

Reply to Collins

Ray Harris

    1. Multi-differential/integral
    2. Analytic/synthetic
    1. Affective/cognitive
    2. Quality/quantity
    3. Personal/impersonal or subjective/objective?
    1. Two cars
    2. Getting immanent
    3. Evolution and Involution
    4. Regression
    5. The Dark Night
    6. The four quadrants
    1. Going around in circles
    2. Systems building
    3. Zen koans
    4. From the Sages mouth


This critique of Peter Collins confines itself to the article "The Dynamics of Development" published in the Reading Room of this site. It does not assume that visitors to this site have read any of Collins' other work. It also assumes that Collins intended his article to be a stand-alone critique, as he does not provide a link or reference to other articles. It therefore assumes that as a stand-alone work Collins' article defines its terms adequately within the given text.


"But most remarkable of all were the wondrous and unexplained proliferations of abstract categories that seemed freighted with special meanings that never got stated and whose content could only be guessed at; these piled one after another so fast and so close that Phaedrus knew he had no possible way of understanding what was before him, much less take issue with it."
-- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Does anyone really understand Peter Collins' critique of Wilber?

I cannot see how as he presents a rather eccentric and in my opinion, confused and confusing interpretation of both Wilber and the process of transformation.

A major part of this confusion is caused by Collins unique interpretation of many common terms. If his usage has any antecedents then he fails to acknowledge them. Nor does he properly define his usage or provide clear examples of his meanings as they apply to actual cases. The reader has to struggle to understand just what he means.

More confusion is caused through the use of non-existent polarities such as affective/cognitive, qualitative/quantitative and transcendence/immanence, to name a few. I say non-existent because, as we shall see, many of these terms are not 'polarities' as Collins' defines them. He in fact creates a number of false dichotomies.

But, as we shall also see, like Don Quixote, Collins is creating dragons out of windmills. The problems he ascribes to Wilber are simply not there. They are figments of his imagination, figments of his eccentric interpretation.


1. Multi-differential/integral

Collins' claims Wilber's approach is multi-differential whereas his own approach is truly integral. In order to argue his point Collins makes a number of unique distinctions, for example, circular and linear logic, dynamic versus static, radial reality, and so on. He also proposes an eight sectorial system as an alternative to Wilber's quadrant system as well as proposing his own spectrum of consciousness.

Pardon me, but aren't these an example of differentiation? Isn't Collins simply adding a different set of differentiations to Wilber? Isn't Collins' system also multi-differential?

Of course Collins will claim that what makes his system truly 'integral' is the inclusion of his dynamic approach. But integral, in the sense that Wilber uses it, simply means 'the integration of various parts'. And Wilber is attempting to integrate previously separate ideas and disciplines. The inclusion of a so-called 'dynamic' approach' is not what defines something as being integral.

No, Collins is merely proposing a different multi-differential approach. In fact, Wilber's approach is much more integral simply because he has applied his ideas to many disciplines. Collins' model is purely theoretical and confines itself almost entirely to a structural criticism of Wilber's model. It's focus is much narrower, much more specialist in orientation.

2. Analytic/synthetic

Collins says:

"Once again, the (linear) analytic approach separates poles and treats movement in an unambiguous one-directional fashion. This is suitable for the differentiation of separate aspects of experience. However, the (circular) synthetic approach integrates these poles by treating movement in a simultaneous bi-directional manner. Its rationale is thus very different from the analytic.

"The key difficulties with Ken Wilber's approach stem from attempting to use a sophisticated analytic rather than a true synthetic approach to translate the overall nature of development."

Here we again encounter some of Collins' unique distinctions and contradictions. For what Collins has presented us with so far is also simply another analytical system. It just happens to be that his analysis is different to Wilber's. It is an analysis that has the peculiarity of denying it is an analysis.

Furthermore when have analytic and synthetic ever been irreconcilable opposites? The fact is that they are complimentary processes, one cannot synthesise without first analysing.

Ah, but Collins says 'true synthetic approach' - meaning of course that he includes a so-called 'dynamic' approach. And my objection here is that again Collins is defining words to suit his argument. Synthetic does not mean to 'integrate poles by treating them in a simultaneous bi-directional manner'. Synthesis is simply the combining of various components into a new whole and by this definition Wilber's system is in fact something of a grand synthesis.

So by any comparison Collins' system is just as analytic and multi-differential as Wilber's.

But these are relatively minor points.


1. Affective/cognitive

To begin with we need to understand that Collins is proposing a cognitive process that he thinks Wilber is missing. This cognitive process is one that moves from holism to partism, from transcendence to immanence. And to confuse things totally Collins labels this cognitive process 'affective'.

Collins says:

"When one approaches development - in this context - from the (cognitive) scientific perspective, the whole includes the parts (in quantitative terms). In this sense, the atoms are (quantitatively) included in the molecule and given a collective impersonal identity. However from the corresponding (affective) aesthetic perspective, the position is (relatively) reversed whereby the part includes the whole (in qualitative terms). So here the molecule is qualitatively included in each atom leading to a unique personal identity. The very recognition of any phenomenon requires both (personal) affective and (impersonal) cognitive interpretation. The unique aspect is conveyed through the affective senses, whereas (relatively) the collective is conveyed through cognitive reason."

Here again, Collins is using words in a unique manner, quite out of context with their true meaning.

Cognitive and affective are terms used in psychology to describe our response to stimuli, they are complimentary to a third term, volition (they are not polarised). Affectation is the emotional response (ie happy, sad, fearful, peaceful) to stimuli, volition is the active response, and cognition is the mental response. In other words, we experience (either internal or external) stimuli (which can be spiritual as well as mundane) and we respond by feeling a certain way, by having certain thoughts and by acting a certain way. And we respond using all three modes simultaneously. It simply is not the case that we respond by only using either affective or cognitive modes.

As I am writing this for example, I am using my cognitive ability to form thoughts, my volitional ability to type and affectively speaking I am peaceful. There is no stage at which any mode disappears, although they may appear to be passive (the appearance of no emotion is itself an emotional state). To take another example, in meditation my mind stops (passive) my emotions are at peace (passive) but I am in a definite posture (active volition). I may be asleep (passive volition) but I am having a disturbing nightmare (active cognition and affectation) and so on.

Furthermore, for some reason Collins wants to ascribe the cognitive to what he calls the scientific perspective and the affective to what he calls the aesthetic perspective. My objection here is that affectation/cognition/volition is used in both the scientific and the aesthetic domains. Let's take the aesthetic to begin with. And let's take poetry as a particular example (although absolutely any aesthetic endeavour will do). The poet is actually expressing his/her thoughts and maybe (but not necessarily) their feelings. No, let's be more precise. Words are cognitive constructs. When a poet writes about feelings s/he is actually 'thinking' about feeling, so the expression is purely cognitive. When we read the poem we will most likely be stimulated in both thought and feeling – and perhaps volitionally.

And is science any different? What scientist has not experienced joy at making a breakthrough?

The difference between the scientific and aesthetic domains is the type of cognitive discipline preferred. Science uses empirical evidence and applies a strict methodology. The aesthetic domain, in general, uses both subjective and objective material in a wide variety of creative ways; there is no strict methodology (1).

So, if Collins' 'affective' isn't simply emotional response, then what is it?

I'm going to take a shot at suggesting what he might mean.

A: Two modes of knowing.

Those of you who have read most of Wilber might recognise this as the heading of Chapter 2 of 'Spectrum of Consciousness'. In this chapter Wilber discusses the limits of symbolic thinking and the existence of a second type of knowing, the direct knowledge of the Real. Wilber discusses the work of Alfred North Whitehead:

"…and therefore abstraction is nothing else than omission of part of the truth.' The symbolic mode of knowing also operates by bifurcation, by 'dividing the seamless coat of the universe,' and hence does violence to the very universe it seeks to understand. Whitehead further pointed out that these errors have usually been compounded because 'we have mistaken our abstractions for concrete realities,' a mistake that Whitehead termed the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness….Opposed to this mode of knowing is what Whitehead called Prehension, which is intimate, direct, non-abstract, and non-dual 'feel' of reality."(2)

Could Collins' 'affective' be something like prehension?

If it is, why does he use the term 'affective' and why does he associate it with aesthetics? Why does he confuse prehension with emotion and creativity?

But it is not really these questions that puzzle me. If Collins' 'affective' is something like prehension can we say that prehension goes from holarchy to partarchy, from transcendence to immanence?

I would agree that when one has a 'peak' experience that it involves prehension. We need to remember however, that prehension does not necessarily involve direct apprehension of the non-dual. A peak experience may involve a sudden apprehension of the subtle or causal levels. It may appear, given that peak experiences exceed our current level, that we have grasped a new totality; grasped a profound and higher truth. But until we are established in the higher level whatever peek we might have is just that, a peek, a partial vision.

So, it may appear that we intuit a new whole, but what happens then? The symbolic mind takes over and constructs a translation of the prehension. It is not that prehension itself makes higher level parts out of the new whole. Not at all. It's that the mind takes over and creates symbols for the prehensive experience. The making of parts is a cognitive/symbolic exercise. And Collins' entire argument is a prime example of the symbolic mind 'rationalising' the transpersonal; his 'circular logic' is his attempt to cognitively 'capture' the transrational.

B: Imagination

So if 'affective' cannot be prehension is it imagination? Remember Collins associates the aesthetic and the personal with 'affective'. And when Wilber waxes somewhat lyrical in the passage below (see Part 3, note 5) Collins label this as 'poetic' and an example of Wilber using but failing to acknowledge the 'affective'. But what distinguishes the aesthetic domain from the scientific is the use of free flowing imagination. Art has no need to reflect the real. It can express the purely imaginative and fantastic. It can happily ignore facts.

It is important to distinguish between the content of imagination and imagination as a cognitive process. The content of imagination can encompass whatsoever it chooses (read any scifi lately?). So, it can quite happily create an 'affective' mode that moves from holarchy to partarchy. The facts are irrelevant. However, imagination as a cognitive process evolves just as all cognitive process does. (3). And if Collins believes that it does behave differently then he needs to provide adequately researched examples.

It seems to me that Collins gets confused between the content of imagination and imagination as a cognitive process.

The problem with imagination as content is, for our purposes, twofold.

  1. Each person has his or her own imaginative universe that is as equally valid as any other. We cannot say that Isaac Asimov is more right than Frank Herbert, or Picasso more right than Rembrandt.
  2. Imagination has no rules and no boundaries. The cow can jump over the moon and Jedi Knights battle the Darth.

When we witness a creative act, be it music, literature or art, we understand these rules. We therefore apply different critical criteria. We can only judge it from the point of view of 'the Beautiful'. Did we like it? Were we entertained, etc? This is the aesthetic domain Collins seems to refer to.

However, Collins' 'affective' claims to be of 'the True' and therefore it must be judged by entirely different criteria; we are no longer in the realm of the aesthetic but in the realm of reason. He is telling us there is, outside of his own imagination, such a thing as an affective mode that functions in the manner he describes. It is something that is 'true' for all of us. But this is simply argument by assertion. He offers no proof whatsoever. Where is the evidence to support his contention? In offering support for his model Wilber has done extensive research. Where is Collins' research? Where are the antecedents for his 'affective' mode? And if there are no antecedents, where is the evidence on which to base his discovery of a new process?

So, if Collins' 'affective' mode is not just emotion, if it is not prehension and if it is not imagination then what is it?

2. Quality/quantity

Collins ascribes quantity to cognition (and science) and quality to affectation (and aesthetics). Again this is rather confusing. Both quality and quantity are purely cognitive distinctions. Quantity itself is a quality. (A quality of Australia is that it consists of six states and two territories). And science is most definitely concerned with the empirical study of the 'qualities' of things. A geologist for example, is concerned with the various qualities of soils and rocks. It is perhaps only arithmetic that is solely concerned with pure quantity as such. Mathematics for example, investigates the qualities of number (quantity). (And the quantification of qualities, ie this rock is x cubic metres and weighs y kilos, is a valuable translative tool, but this does not mean by any account that science is purely quantitative).

Aesthetics concerns itself with the creative study of the qualities of things (although it might explore quantity and empiricism as a subject).

So, according to Collins there is a mysterious affective/aesthetic/qualitative mode that is opposite to a cognitive/scientific/quantitative mode. Except that this affective mode is in fact itself a cognitive distinction, a different kind of cognition. Furthermore, it is a type of cognition that has the peculiar property of making the transcendent immanent and a whole a part.

3. Personal/impersonal or subjective/objective?

Collins says:

"The very recognition of any phenomenon requires both (personal) affective and (impersonal) cognitive interpretation."

So here we now have the addition of the terms personal and impersonal, or in other words subjective and objective (is there any other interpretation?). And here's an important clue. The affective/aesthetic mode is subjective and the cognitive/scientific is objective.

If the 'affective' mode is subjective then how do we come to a common understanding of our unique, personal, affective experiences? Except by accepting common, impersonal and cognitive descriptions of our experiences? What if we each had a unique/subjective language, not a common/objective language?

Indeed, we each recognise any phenomenon subjectively, but until we can translate it into a concept we cannot think about it. And unless we can translate it into a common, objective concept we cannot talk about it with others.

In any case, the unique aspect is not conveyed by the 'affective senses' (what are affective senses anyway?) at all. In fact we unconsciously sense many things -- as hypnotism has shown. But becoming conscious of them implies cognitive awareness, the labelling of the sensation. In other words, the stimulation of our senses leads to a cognitive process. Any uniqueness arises simply because no one else experiences exactly what we experience.


There are two definitions of transcendence that have relevance to our discussion. These are given in my dictionary as:

  1. Exceeding or surpassing in degree or excellence.
  2. Theology (of God) having existence outside the created world.

Immanence has these meanings:

  1. Existing, operating, or remaining within; inherent.
  2. Theology (of God) present throughout the Universe.

It is clear that definition 2 in both cases is derived from definition 1.

The above definition of immanent says 'remaining within'. It is derived directly from the Latin 'manere', meaning 'to remain'. The prefix 'im' denotes 'within'. Immanence has as its synonym, inherent. Inherent is defined as 'existing as an INSEPARABLE part'. So, if the key concept here is inseparability it follows that if something is immanent it can never become transcendent – it must remain within. Therefore transcendence is not the antonym of immanence. The terms are mutually exclusive. Something is either immanent or it is transcendent, there is no in-between, there is no process whereby the one can become the other.

The only situation in which immanence is used as the opposite of transcendence is in the specific context of the different religious views of God. A religion is either a religion of immanence or a religion of transcendence. But of course, this is itself a simplification.

Yet Collins repeatedly, as we shall see, uses immanence as the antonym of transcendence and confuses definition 1 with definition 2.

Wilber on the other hand is entirely consistent.

In reference to the Great Nest of Being Wilber uses transcendence as per definition 1, as in a thing transcending its previous state. To describe the reversal of transcendence in this context Wilber most often uses 'regression'. To describe stalled 'transcendence' Wilber has sometimes used the term 'embedded'.

When Wilber uses the word immanent it is most often in the context of definition 2. (When he uses definition 1 – and it is rare, I can't think of an example - it is to be taken strictly in that context).

In fact, as we shall see, Wilber believes that Spirit is immanent, in other words Wilber is not a transcendentalist, not by any stretch of the imagination.

And as a further note it is important not to confuse Wilber's use of the terms 'ascenders' and 'descenders' with transcendence and immanence. (4)

Collins says:

"Starting with the notion of a holon (as a whole/part), development is portrayed as the process by which at each stage, "lower" wholes are transcended and included as parts of a "higher" whole. In this view "lower" atoms are transcended and included in the "higher" molecule. The movement here is one-directional (from atoms to molecules). So the holarchical model places the emphasis on transcendence and the progressive evolution of more complex wholes. It is unbalanced as it gives primacy to the whole over the part."

Here Collins is quoting definition 1.

(Here I would like to make this note. Wilber is being accurate in his use of transcendence in this context. Unfortunately transcendence also carries with it the image of movement from the lower to the higher. Wilber's meaning however applies equally to any type of gradation. We could equally describe the process as moving from denseness to emptiness. It is a limitation of English, not a limitation of Wilber's thinking. If there were a more precise term I'm sure Wilber would use it. In fact Sanskrit, because it is a religious language, contains many words that describe the process far more accurately. But alas we are stuck with English.)

"However in dynamic relative terms, development equally incorporates immanence (as well as transcendence), where the emphasis is now on the progressive evolution of more unique parts.

Now, to be semantically consistent Collins must apply an antonym of the first definition of transcendence. It is not, as I have shown, 'immanence'. Remember, Wilber is talking about holons transcending and including the previous level or degree. The first definition of immanence has as its synonym, inherent, which means 'existing as an inseparable part'. So to use Collins example of atoms and molecules it is true to say that atoms are an inseparable part of molecules. Remove the atoms and the molecules cease to exist. But if we remove molecules do the atoms cease to exist? No, pull apart a molecule and you still have the constituent atoms. A molecule cannot be made immanent in the atom. This is simply a misuse of the term.

"At each stage, the "higher" part is made immanent and included as the whole of the "lower" part. (The holon is here a part/whole). So in this way, the "higher" molecule is made immanent and included in the "lower" atoms. When Blake saw "a whole world in a grain of sand" he was speaking from an advanced immanent stage of development, where a very "high" whole is qualitatively contained within a very "low" part."

Here Collins simply confuses the two definitions of immanence. When Blake made this famous statement he was referring metaphorically to definition 2. That is, that the Divine is immanent as a whole (because it is non-dual and therefore indivisible) in every particle of the Universe. This is entirely consistent with how Wilber understands immanence. And Yet Collins uses this quote referring to definition 2 to lend support to his rather confused use of definition 1.

This is not the only instance where Collins confuses definitions. Collins says:

"The irony is that in the very section where Ken lists this summary of holarchy, he describes in very poetic fashion the (reverse) immanent partarchy (without commenting on the important difference).

"Think of the most beautiful person you have ever seen. Think of the exact moment you looked into his or her eyes, and for a fleeting moment you were paralyzed: you couldn't take your eyes off that vision. You stared, frozen in time, caught in that beauty. Now imagine that identical beauty radiating from every single thing in the entire universe, every animal, every cloud, every person, every mountain, every stream – even the garbage streams and broken dreams – every single one of them radiating that beauty". (5)

"So here, the (whole) experience of beauty is made immanent and (qualitatively) included in "every single thing in the entire universe".

Now, in the summary of the holarchy Collins refers to above, Wilber is using transcendence as per definition 1. In the so-called 'poetic' quote from Wilber it is clear that he is referring to immanence as per definition 2. There is no contradiction for Wilber and again Collins is revealed as confusing definition 1 with definition 2.

In fact Wilber goes on to say in a section Collins conveniently excludes:

"That all-pervading Beauty is not an exercise in creative imagination. It is the actual structure of the universe. That all-pervading Beauty is in truth the very nature of the Kosmos right now." (5)

Let's get very clear about this. Immanence is not generally used as an antonym of transcendence (refer to any dictionary or thesaurus). Immanence and transcendence are generally only ever paired as either/or terms in reference to God. They are correctly paired when referring specifically to a particular religion as having an immanent or a transcendent God. And God is either immanent or He is transcendent, He can never be both. Here we need to make an important distinction. It would appear that Collins is influenced by Christian mysticism, a religion with a transcendent God, whereas Wilber is influenced by the nondual eastern traditions, particularly Mahayana Buddhism (MB) (6).

Each tradition views the issue of immanence and transcendence very, very differently indeed.

There is no God in Buddhism and so there is no Deity that can possibly be transcendent. This actually applies to all non-dual spiritual systems. (Even those such as advaita vedanta which nominally places Shiva as the supreme Deity. It must be remembered that Shiva as a god is seen as a limited manifestation/representation of Pure Consciousness). Hinduism for example, distinguishes between saguna (with attributes/form) Brahma and nirguna (without or beyond attributes/form) Brahma. Nirguna Brahma is seen as the supreme non-dual reality. And this non-dual reality is seen as the Ground, not as something above or outside or separate from the Kosmos. The Kosmos is in fact the body of Brahma, or an aspect of saguna Brahma.

To distinguish nirguna Brahma or the Clear Light of Buddha from ordinary reality both Buddhism and Hinduism accept the concept of maya and samsara. It is self evident that the Kosmos differentiated into form. This world of form is called maya/samsara. And the world of form contains laws and patterns and structure. One of these patterns is the evolution of consciousness toward nondual realisation and all nondual traditions use some sort of system of stages. In Hinduism and Buddhism this is not commonly understood as 'ascending' a ladder as such, but more a matter of waking and sleeping, remembering and forgetting, clarity and unclarity. One can suddenly awaken into non-dual awareness simply because it is Always Here Now. (7)

Whereas Christianity proposes a transcendent Being who resides in a Heaven above; He is above and beyond. He and His Kingdom are eternal and unchanging whereas the Kosmos, as His creation, is temporary (see the Book of Revelation). The only way God could enter the Kosmos was by proxy, through His Son (or various Angels and Prophets). This theology has always created a problem for Christian (and its sibling Jewish and Islamic) mystics. (8) Their personal mystical experiences led them toward the understanding of God as immanent, yet the doctrine declared He was supposed to be transcendent. Many have been accused of heresy for getting too close to claiming that they were one with God (which is not a problem in eastern nondualism!). And this has led to a rather uncomfortable philosophical/theological dilemma for the Abrahamic traditions, one that is largely irrelevant to Hinduism and Buddhism. (9) Given this theological context it is a very western point of view to think of the religious journey as an ascent to the Heavenly realms with a converse descent to Hell realms. There is also a sense of an end time, of a 'future' with God as opposed to a God that is Always Here Now. A journey, in other words, of transcendence. Christians have the Ascension and the Buddha simply sat under the Bodhi tree and touched the earth.

It needs to be said quite emphatically, that many westerners interpret eastern philosophy through this bias. Very often the image of transcendence has been imposed upon eastern philosophy. It is not however, how Hindus and Buddhists actually view their own nondual traditions. The image of the mountain in the east is not the same as the image of the mountain in the west. One cannot be imposed on the other. This bias is very evident in Collins writing, and he seems to have interpreted Wilber through this bias.

We will return to the issue of transcendence and immanence in more detail in Part Six.


I want now to digress a little and examine some instances where Collins has simply misquoted or misrepresented Wilber. Just to show how muddled his thinking can get.

1. Two cars

Let's begin by examining his metaphor of the two cars as it applies to Wilber's model, because this is where he first sets up his false dichotomies, his notion of polar opposites.

Collins has his cars travelling in opposite directions.

In terms of Wilber's hierarchy there is either evolution or regression, and regression should not be confused with involution (devolution). When Wilber refers to involution he is talking about the process whereby the Kosmos became manifest, that is, Spirit becomes matter. We are well past that point and the Kosmos, now manifest, is evolving toward Spirit. (10) Wilber's model is therefore a map of evolution; it does not purport to contain the process of involution. And in Wilber's evolutionary model regression is a very specific aberrant condition. One cannot regress to lower levels easily. Where, except in the case of severe trauma, does one regress from vision-logic to preoperational? (11)

So, in terms of Wilber's model the cars are basically travelling in the same direction (even if one or two have broken down temporarily).

Now, Wilber's model states that there are many different streams of development. So we are really looking at many cars travelling in the same direction on a multi-lane highway. We can therefore switch between the relative positions of a car A, B, C, D and so on, not just two cars (Collins is obsessed by polarity). Wilber admits for example that it is entirely conceivable that one's cognitive development can exceed one's moral development, or one's sexual development exceed one's ego identity, etc. So from the perspective of the sexual development car it would appear that the ego identity car is going backwards. Whereas, in absolute terms it may simply be stationary, or moving forwards slowly. But so what?

Wilber says:

"This means that this overall-self development might therefore be initiated by any number of different lines during this process. At one point, the overall self might develop – that is, increase its overall depth – through its cognitive growth; at another point, growth in the affective line might take the lead; at another, its artistic growth might explode and drag the self with it; at yet another, its spiritual growth; at yet another, it might be the proximate self…" (12)

(Note that Wilber distinguishes between cognitive, affective and artistic).

Collins says:

"Movement with respect to the exterior aspect of stages unfolds sequentially in a forward direction. Understanding of the world therefore progresses through a series of stages. In like fashion, the interior aspect of development unfolds sequentially in a forward manner. So self-understanding also progresses through a series of stages. However when we consider these aspects dynamically in relation to each other, absolute notions of movement are no longer appropriate. Thus if development of the exterior aspect moves forward, then the interior (relatively) moves backward in the opposite negative direction. Likewise when we switch our frame of reference so that the interior direction of stages is now defined as positive, then exterior movement (relatively) is negative. Thus from a dynamic perspective, understanding of the world and self takes place in opposite directions. Once again, the (linear) analytic approach separates poles and treats movement in an unambiguous one-directional fashion. This is suitable for the differentiation of separate aspects of experience. However, the (circular) synthetic approach integrates these poles by treating movement in a simultaneous bi-directional manner. Its rationale is thus very different from the analytic."

The immediate error in this statement is that if interior and exterior development are both going forward (toward the same destination) and one is developing more slowly, then only one would appear to go backwards in relative terms, the other would appear to speed ahead.

However, what Collins seems to ignore is what Wilber refers to as the 'Witness'. The Witness is the point of view that we label as 'I'. The Witness is that which defines something as being interior or exterior (as in Collins' example). And it is therefore aware of both. The Witness does not take the exclusive point of view of either the interior or the exterior. As a quick example, as you read this you are 'aware' of the exterior fact of the words. At the same time you are 'aware' of your interior reaction.

So, in the example of the cars above, the Witness is always above the road.

The process of evolution is all about what the Witness is able to witness. (At the highest level, the non-dual, the Witness disappears into Pure Awareness Itself). But at whatever level, the Witness is that which makes the distinctions. It is the Witness that chooses to take a particular perspective. So, returning to Collins, "Thus if development of the exterior aspect moves forward, then the interior (relatively) moves backward in the opposite negative direction". The problem with this conclusion is that the Witness is aware of both a particular perspective and the fact that it has taken this particular perspective (it is this ability that allows us to imagine Collins example in the first place). The Witness would therefore be aware (overall) that the cars (in my example) are all travelling forwards as well as being aware that from the perspective of car A that car B (or C or D) appears to be receding. And it is also aware, from the perspective of car B (or C or D) that it is stationary or travelling slowly and that car A is speeding ahead.

Of course, the Witness can only be aware of what it is conscious of. But Wilber points out that evolution is all about the process of becoming more and more conscious. The different levels are defined by how conscious the Witness is – hence the spectrum of 'consciousness'.

2. Getting immanent

Collins says:

"Frequently, "higher" transpersonal development operates initially under the refined control of the (cognitive) mental self. This leads to a transcendent emphasis on the Ascent where one attempts to integrate the "lower" emotions and body through the "higher" spiritualized personality. This inevitably causes a degree of instinctive repression and can set severe blocks to further progress. For development to continue successfully, one later needs to descend and deal with the (affective) emotions and physical body in terms of their own modes of expression. In other words, one is required to switch from a transcendent to an immanent focus and then to embrace reality equally from that "lower" context."

Here Collins is tending to confuse Wilber's 'Ascenders' with definition 1 of transcendence (see above). Wilber's integral approach posits a middle way between the excesses of the Ascenders and the excesses of the Descenders.

In which case how is this different to Wilber? Wilber would fully acknowledge that the cognitive stream might develop faster than the moral or affective streams. He would also acknowledge that one stream may act to repress another (indeed the affective may very well repress cognitive development). His Integral approach is designed to specifically redress this imbalance. This is very clearly stated in Wilber's writing. Wilber criticises some paths for being 'ascendist' and for not addressing or for repressing other streams. But this does not imply that 'one is required to switch from a transcendent to an immanent focus'. It merely means one must pay attention to all streams – this is the 'integral' approach.

I also see the Christian theological bias here, which is a prime example of the 'ascender' camp. Why, is one required to "switch from a transcendent to an immanent focus" when one has to "descend and deal with the (affective) emotions and physical body"? You might if you view God as residing in Heaven above and coming down as the Son. You might if you view the emotions as lower than reason and reason lower than knowledge of God as did St John. But if the Kosmos is seen as the emanation of the Clear Light in the guise of samsara, the view is completely different. And here I believe Collins is showing his ignorance of the subtleties of eastern thought - particularly the non-dual schools (13).

These terms are merely relative. They only make sense in terms of samsara. It is samsara that has apparent structure; it is samsara that evolves. And as limited beings entrapped in samsara we are subject to its structure. Wilber's model is a superb exposition of that structure. From within that model, the various streams, be they cognitive, affective, moral, artistic or whatever, are following the evolutionary structure of samsara.

It is the Witness that allows us to understand where we are in this evolutionary process. As the Witness becomes increasingly conscious it becomes aware of the gap in development between the various streams. The Witness simply becomes aware of the discrepancy between cognitive and affective development and shifts its attention to the affective (But this process may involve a discrepancy between moral and affective, for example, or affective advancing ahead of cognitive, or proximate-self behind sexual).

This does not involve switching from a 'transcendent to an immanent focus'.

3. Evolution and Involution

According to the non-dual philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism the Kosmos conceals its true nature as samsara. This has already happened. We are now entrapped in samsara, deluded by maya. It's a done deal.

Personal evolution, as Wilber defines it, is the process of realising our true nature – after the fact of creation. Involution is the process of creation prior to our existence, prior to samsara (see note 10).

Collins argues:

"However in dynamic (circular) terms, evolution and involution are necessarily relative. When one become conscious of the (exterior) phenomenal world, awareness moves out from the self in a positive direction. However awareness of the (interior) self, entails the reverse movement in a negative fashion. Therefore relative to each other, evolution of the (exterior) world and (interior) self take place in opposite directions. So if the world moves forward and evolves (with respect to the self), then the self necessarily moves backward and involves (with respect to the world). Equally if the self evolves (with respect to the world), then the world (relatively) involves (with respect to the self). So if we identify evolution with the differentiation of "higher" level structures, then involution - relatively - relates to their corresponding integration. Ken Wilber's failure to properly incorporate involution inside the process of development is largely dictated by an inadequate analytic translation and has important practical consequences."

Again, Collins is misusing these terms. Again Collins forgets that the Witness stands outside the relative positions of interior/exterior (as discussed above). Involution is not, in the context of the Great Nest of Being, a going back. In proper terms this is regression. We, as limited beings can never be involved in involution as Wilber (and the non-dual schools) define it.

4. Regression

Now let's turn to Collins' exposition of regression.

Collins says:

"However, from a dynamic perspective, regression is vital in terms of balanced spiritual growth (where it has a circular meaning). Once again, Spirit always exists in the nondual present moment. As phenomenal notions of progress require a moving forward in time (away from this spiritual center), corresponding regression is continually needed in order to return (to the center). Indeed in a direct sense, this is the very means by which integration - as opposed to differentiation - takes place in experience. So in relative terms, there is always a moving forward and a moving backward from this nondual present center. So if we identify moving forward as progression - then relatively - the movement backward is regression.

"This necessary dialectic is well brought out in Christian mysticism. When the disciple confuses phenomenal progression with Spirit, attachment to secondary symbols necessarily takes place. So a corresponding (phenomenal) regression called purgation is required to undo this attachment, and return once more to one's deepest center.

"Regression in this circular fashion is vital in terms of integration and balanced spiritual development. Indeed - in a direct sense - the process of integration is inseparable from such regression."

Boy, is this ever confused. Boy, is this ever a misrepresentation of the real story.


"Once again, Spirit always exists in the nondual present moment. As phenomenal notions of progress require a moving forward in time (away from this spiritual center), corresponding regression is continually needed in order to return (to the center)."

Yes, Spirit exists in the nondual present moment. Yes, phenomenal notions of progress involve a moving forward in time. No, this is not away from the spiritual center. A movement away from Spirit means that Spirit has become past, but Spirit is always Now. It is equally present in the past and future as Now. When we progress forward we still encounter Now. We don't have to regress to get back to Now. Isn't this painfully clear?


"This necessary dialectic is well brought out in Christian mysticism. When the disciple confuses phenomenal progression with Spirit, attachment to secondary symbols necessarily takes place. So a corresponding (phenomenal) regression called purgation is required to undo this attachment, and return once more to one's deepest center."

Firstly, this statement reveals an appalling ignorance of eastern mysticism. For, if Collins understood eastern mysticism, he would understand that what he calls 'purgation' is very well known and more competently explained. It is called detachment. And all eastern traditions cite the importance of not getting attached to 'secondary symbols' - amongst many, many other things.

Secondly, this statement shows a profound misunderstanding of what is involved in purgation and detachment. Perhaps Collins is confusing the techniques of 'purging' and mortification with the concept of purgation itself. Purging may involve confession, prayer, contemplation, selfless work, or even more severe techniques such as flagellation, etc. All of which are evident in eastern mysticism as mantra repetition, meditation, seva (selfless work) and tapasya (asceticism), etc. Purgation itself is the conscious decision to lead a life of detachment; it is the conscious application of detachment from moment to moment. Collins implies that one must undo previous attachments. But this is not so. One should not identify with secondary symbols AS THEY ARISE (or desires/moods/thoughts, etc). If one has an attachment to sweet food one has to deal with it as the desire arises in the moment. One cannot go back (regress) in order to recover a lost center (as if it were a thing that could be left behind). One's deepest center is Always Now - purgation (detachment) happens in the moment, Now.

Can Collins possibly get it more wrong?

I'm afraid so.

5. The Dark Night

(I'm truly surprised that Collins gets this one wrong)

Collins argues:

" Much of what Ken says in support of his position is inaccurate. He states on P. 141 of "The Eye of Spirit":

"Once images emerge for example, the individual has full and constant access to the capacity to form images".

"This simply is not so. The "Dark Night of the Soul" which represents a vital stage in the mystical journey is associated with the deep (temporary) deprivation of image forming capacity."

For a start Collins, as usual, takes this quote of Wilber's somewhat out of context. It also indicates that he neither understands the 'Dark Night' nor the deprivation of image forming capacity.

The Dark Night of the Soul as St John of the Cross defines it is nothing other than the spiritual journey, the process of disidentifying with the mundane world (samsara) (14). It is a night simply because samsara is the condition of the absence of the Light of God. St John expounds his analogy of the Night in two works, 'The Ascent of Mount Carmel' and 'The Night'. In each he examines the conditions and stages the spiritual journey takes. In very broad terms there are two nights, a night of the senses and a night of the rational mind. And this is a process well understood in eastern mysticism. It absolutely is not unique to Christian mysticism or to St John. If Collins understood eastern mysticism he would understand that its analysis of the spiritual path actually exceeds St John's (as good as it is). And Wilber largely basis his stages on eastern mysticism (15).

The temporary deprivation of images is a condition of the Causal level, which Wilber would acknowledge and which is fully incorporated in his system. There is no contradiction for Wilber. To give an example from Tantric Hinduism: there are said to be four levels of consciousness equated by simile as waking, dream, deep sleep and beyond deep sleep. These can be described as rational, subtle, causal and nondual. They are also represented by a red bindu (drop of spiritual light), a white bindu, a luminous black bindu and finally a radiant blue bindu (beyond which dwells the Clear Light). When one enters the causal stage one is literally enveloped by blackness and by the absence of images. To the unprepared it can be frightening, but it is actually a place of deep calm. It is truly a Luminous Dark Night, but not one in the sense that St John intends.

(I have taken this piece out of a larger section Collins' subtitled 'The Spectrum of Consciousness'. I have not examined the bulk of this section because it covers themes we have already discussed. I pulled the above piece out because it reveals Collins' confusion and misunderstanding).

6. The four quadrants

I found Collins critique of Wilber's quadrants to be baffling, simply because he criticises Wilber for taking a position he in fact does not take.

Collins says:

"In attempting to define each quadrant in unambiguous terms he himself uses a surprisingly reduced philosophical perspective. Indeed this is a fundamental problem with his general style. So often he attempts to analyze reality as if it were somehow independent of the interpreting mind. For example in describing his Right-Hand quadrants he says in "The Marriage of Sense and Soul", P. 117;

"All Right-Hand events – all sensorimotor objects and empirical processes and ITs – can be seen with the monological gaze, with they eye of flesh. You simply look at the rock, the town, the clouds, the mountains, the railroad tracks, the airplane, the flower, the car, the tree. All these Right-Hand objects and "ITs" can be seen by the senses or their extensions (microscopes to telescopes). They all have simple location, you can actually point to most of them".

"This is a very emphatic statement of the "myth of the given". However this description of Right-Hand events is untenable from an experiential perspective. Objects do not just exist "out there" but always in relationship to the observer. Thus in seeing a rock a bi-directional interaction is involved, where the rock is in relation to self (and the self in relation to the rock). The actual perception of the (individual) rock has both exterior and interior aspects (which mutually interact). "Thus identifying the object solely with the Right-Hand is very one-sided. Likewise the (individual) perception of "a rock" has no meaning in the absence of the corresponding (collective) concept of "rock". Thus Upper and Lower quadrants are likewise necessarily involved in the experience. So in dynamic terms all four quadrants are involved in the recognition of an object."

If we look at the quote from Wilber we see that he uses the term monological 'the eye of the flesh' in distinction to dialogical or translogical (16). Here Wilber is acknowledging a limited and specific view. Collins then does Wilber a disservice by assuming that this clearly stated monological view is Wilber's final view.

Here's a quote from Wilber:

"The myth of the given is really the myth of exteriors untouched by interiors, of mere objects untouched by subjective and intersubjective structures. It is the myth that there are less than four quadrants to the Kosmos, the myth of the Big One instead of the Big Three. It is the myth at the very core of classical empiricism, positivism, behaviourism, collapsed modernity and scientism. It is the myth of objects without subjects, of surfaces without depth, of quantity without quality, of veneers without value – the utterly rancid myth that the Right Hand world alone is real. But it is indeed a myth, and the myth is decidedly dead" (17)

Exteriors AND interiors, objective AND subjective AND intersubjective structures!

Does this sound like Collins' description of Wilber's view? Does this sound like someone who regards reality as independent of the 'interpreting mind'?

In fact Wilber would agree with a good portion of what Collins says. Indeed, a rock, although assigned to the UR from a monological perspective, can be seen to have, from a dialogical perspective, aspects of all quadrants. Indeed, a rock cannot be separated as only an UR phenomenon. Indeed, it has a UL, LL and LR component. How can Collins have missed Wilber's meaning?

Perhaps because he is not really looking?

In addition Collins wants to introduce a third, diagonal line to upgrade the quadrant system to an eight sectorial system. This third line is a polarity between the logic of form (linear) and the logic of emptiness (circular). Which, according to my view is actually represented by the movement from the center to the extremities. Form, at its most dense, is pure matter, which is the centre. The experience of Emptiness (Spirit) is the outer extremity.

However, Collins is actually talking about something different. Collins' circular logic is his name for the mental gymnastics we have analysed above. It is the process of combining his false dichotomies. But, as we have argued, they are 'false' dichotomies. They are the products of his strange imagination. Therefore there is no Collinsian 'circular' logic, so there can be no third 'diagonal' line and no eight sectorial system.


1. Going around in circles

Collins describes Circular Logic as:

"This is formless logic and leads to a dynamic relative type of understanding, where polar opposites are complementary (and ultimately identical) in experience. It views logical connections bi-directionally in both/and terms leading to paradoxical simultaneous interpretation. Thus, in a circular relative sense, the atom is contained in the molecule and the molecule is contained in the atom.

"The very purpose of this logic is to erode exclusive identification with the polarized distinctions of the linear method. This then serves as preparation for a qualitative transformation through intuitive insight (where paradoxical meaning can be directly apprehended in spiritual fashion)."

Formless logic? Isn't this a contradiction in terms? By definition the formless is without form, one without second. Formless logic has form; it is a modification of the formless, ergo it is not formless.

Of course, Collins is trying to express an idea that is difficult (impossible really) to express. But somehow Collins feels that Wilber is lacking in such a subtle understanding. In 'The Marriage of Sense and Soul' Wilber uses the term translogical and defines it thus:

"Translogical means transcending the logical, the rational, or the mental in general. Formless mysticism, disclosed with the eye of contemplation, is translogical: it sees beyond the eye of flesh (and its monological empiricism) and beyond the eye of mind (and its dialogical interpretation), and instead stands open to the radiant Divine (in nondual gnosis). This spiritual opening can be directly accessed by neither the eye of flesh nor the eye of mind, only the eye of contemplation." (18)

Doesn't this sound rather similar to Collins' 'circular logic'?

Wilber goes on to quote Plato in 'Sex, Ecology and Spirituality':

"It is not something that can be put into words like other branches of learning; only after long partnership in a common life (contemplative community) devoted to this very thing does truth flash upon the soul, like flame kindled by a leaping spark. No treatise by me concerning it exists or will exist". (19)

Wilber expands on this point (the emphasis in caps are mine):

"But on that central point, Plato was silent, as silent he could only be. That 'knowledge' or 'divine ignorance' is not verbal but TRANSVERBAL; it is not of the mind but of 'no-mind'; it is not part of a 'discursive philosophy' or merely 'talking religion' but a 'contemplative flash of truth in the soul'. And while this truth or sudden illumination can be directly and injunctively shown (by long contemplative practice in the community, as Plato put it), IT CANNOT BE FULLY SAID OR VERBALLY PASSED ON (WITHOUT THE CORRESPONDING DEVELOPMENT SIGNIFIED IN ANY INDIVIDUAL)."

In other words, there is such a thing as transrational or translogical awareness that is associated with transpersonal states, but this awareness can only be experienced directly. It cannot adequately be described or talked about; in other words, it cannot be reduced to discursive philosophy, to the 'eye of mind'.

Yet, this does seem to be what Collins is attempting in proposing a 'circular logic' and a 'dynamic approach'. It's a kind of 'discursive philosophy' that discloses the translogical to the 'eye of mind'. In a note attached to the above quote (note 4) Collins says: "So in dynamic terms bi-directional understanding serves as the essential bridge between dualistic reason and intuitive awareness." Why do we need a bridge? And in particular, why do we need the bridge Collins' proposes? Is Collins suggesting that one can't get from dualistic reason to intuitive awareness without it? Or is this bridge simply a means of dragging intuitive awareness back into the realm of "refined reason".

Let's look closer at what Collins says.

"This is formless logic and leads to a dynamic relative type of understanding, where polar opposites are complementary (and ultimately identical) in experience. It views logical connections bi-directionally in both/and terms leading to paradoxical simultaneous interpretation."

Collins uses the terms 'polar opposites' and 'bi-directionality' quite often. I find this quite curious. Why the fixation with polarity? Afterall it is only one of the many types of categorisation, one way the mind sorts information. There is also similarity, dissimilarity, complementarity, group, class, mutual exclusivity, etc, etc. Nor are opposites always strictly polar. And it depends entirely on the context. The mind does not differentiate in such an absurdly simplistic manner.

There is also 'this/not this' where 'not this' is everything that is not 'this'. For example, you are able to identify the computer screen by separating it from other objects. It is not the 'mouse', it is not the keyboard, it is not the desk, etc, etc, ad infinitum. This is not a simple polarity but a one/many categorisation.

So if we were to apply Collins 'circular logic' to a one/many categorisation wouldn't we be saying that from a 'formless' point of view that the screen is the same as the desk, the mouse, the keyboard? From the point of view of the 'formless' this may be theoretically true (is the non-dual sage unable to differentiate?) but there is a point at which this becomes absurd and madly impractical.

Indeed, from the point of view of the formless all distinctions disappear, including complementarity, similarity, class identity, gradation; you name the categorisation and it disappears.

The point of making distinctions is to communicate; the point of differentiation is to enable us to act. We cannot find numbats in the wild until we know what a numbat is. Indeed, even a nondual Sage differentiates in order to teach and to speak about his/her experience. Collins understands this because in order for us to understand his critique he differentiates 'circular logic' from 'linear logic' and a 'dynamic' approach from a 'static' approach. The irony being (as mentioned above) that in tackling the problem of Wilber's so-called multi-differential approach he has created even more differentiation.

We can't avoid this differentiation. Even when we start to experience transpersonal states. We name any and every experience. If we don't have a name we create one. Every tradition names and describes what it experiences, including the most profound. 'Circular logic' is just another name.

But is it a name for a new vision? Basically, no. It is just a different name for an ancient problem. How to describe the ineffable, how to translate the experience of a higher understanding to a lower level. And this problem exists no matter which stage of the spectrum we are talking about. It is not exclusive to the relationship between the rational and the transrational. Wouldn't the theory of relativity cause disruption the world-view of the mythical/magical levels? What might the bridge between these levels look like?

The bottom line is that Collins is a reductionist. He is attempting to reduce the transrational to the rational, to reduce the Divine to something that can be apprehended by a more "refined reason", to something that can be seen by the 'eye of mind'.

This is something Wilber wisely refuses to do. For Wilber the highest rational level is vision-logic; the highest level that can be accurately and sensibly talked about is vision logic.

Any level beyond that must be experienced DIRECTLY and Wilber states this clearly and often.

2. Systems building

One of the contradictions, even ironies, of Collins' system is that he claims to have found a way to develop a more "refined reason", one that integrates the so-called immanent and transcendent aspects through a 'dynamic' approach. Supposedly creating a higher order 'rational' level than vision-logic. Yet, when I read Collins all I see is a rather confused 'rational' argument. All of Collins' definitions (vague and inaccurate as they are) are simply attempts to provide a rational argument for a more "refined reason". Wilber would probably call this a 'performative contradiction'. In other words, what appears to Collins attempting to use 'circular logic' is in fact Collins using rational arguments rather poorly with the result being that he simply ends up being illogical and irrational.

In fact, Collins never actually uses 'circular logic' in his article, even to provide an example of how it might be used. Instead he uses quite conventional arguments to state his case.

Could Collins provide us with an example of 'circular logic' revealing the subtle level, the causal level and the non-dual? And in doing so can he guarantee that his 'circular' or 'dynamic' description will cause a 'qualitative' change in the reader leading to an intuitive insight, or a direct apprehension of the said level? This is a direct challenge. Collins says 'circular logic' will do this. OK, show us, demonstrate it for us.

Remember that Wilber says that any level beyond 'vision-logic' is transrational and transverbal.

Wilber says about spiritual systems:

"It dawns on a few interpreters that these systems are, through and through, from top to bottom, the results of actual contemplative apprehensions and direct developmental phenomenology. The higher levels of these systems cannot be experienced or deduced rationally, and nobody from Plotinus to Aurobindo thinks they can. However, after the fact of direct and repeated experiential disclosures, they can be rationally reconstructed and presented as a 'system'. But the 'system', so-called, has been discovered, not deduced, and checked against direct experience in a community of the like-minded and like-spirited. (20)

With the understanding that, "it cannot be FULLY said or verbally passed on".

I wonder how much of Collins' system has been deduced? And if it is based on direct experience, if this experience has been checked and verified by a community of the similarly experienced?

And separate from those questions: how coherent and useful is Collins 'rational reconstruction'?

3. Zen koans

Collins says that:

"The very purpose of this logic is to erode exclusive identification with the polarized distinctions of the linear method. This then serves as preparation for a qualitative transformation through intuitive insight (where paradoxical meaning can be directly apprehended in spiritual fashion)."

Well, okay. But isn't this what Zen koans are meant to achieve? In which case we are really talking about a 'technique', one that has long been used in eastern philosophy (not just Zen). If this is so I would like to point out that it is not a technique that is considered useful for all people. Tibetan Buddhism for example, may use this technique only at a specific time in a student's practice, at another time a master may deem 'deity yoga' or some other technique to be more appropriate. And any technique must be applied using 'skilful means'. Unless the student is ready any technique will be useless. The application of koans may simply lead to confusion or befuddlement, not enlightenment.

In any case, does Collins seriously think that Wilber isn't aware of the concept of using paradox to stop the mind? Wasn't Wilber a Zen student at one time?

Now, if 'circular logic' is a 'technique' whose purpose is to erode identification with the linear method in order to prepare for transformation through intuitive insight isn't Collins assuming that this is what Wilber wants to do? Wilber is really acting as a reformer of western thought. He is not acting as a spiritual teacher with a set of 'techniques'. He does not intend his system to actually trigger transpersonal states. He intends his system to analytically criticise the state of western thought. He intends his system to be 'theory' upon which he hopes other, more directly experienced teachers, will create a 'practice' and devise appropriate 'techniques'. (In which case is Collins also simply providing theory or is he suggesting a practice? Is he qualified to suggest a practice?) Wilber has described himself as a pandit, not a Jagadguru. (21)

Nor is Wilber particularly interested in providing a definitive description of transpersonal states. He only provides the minimum outline in order to point to their existence (in the hope that flatlanders will pay attention). He suggests that if people want proof of their existence that they take up a set of contemplative injunctions. He suggests that if you want to be guided through these states that you study under a genuine master, one who has fully travelled the road him/herself, one who will apply the right technique at the right time.

4. From the Sages mouth

There is no doubt that transpersonal experiences require a more subtle understanding. There is no doubt that many people from all traditions have had these experiences and have attempted to talk about it, to teach others, some more successfully than others (some have simply remained silent). By and large such people used metaphor and allegory to convey what they wanted to say. The parables of Jesus (try the Gospel of Thomas), the poems of Rumi, the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tse, etc. But in the end one has to experience it for oneself. One can only understand the true meaning of a Zen koan or Hindu teaching story through direct experience. And so it is with 'circular logic'. One cannot understand the paradoxes that arise from transpersonal experiences unless one has had that experience. The application of 'circular logic' will not give you that understanding.

Indeed, it is said in many traditions that the most important thing is to be in the presence of a master. This is because the master can give you a direct experience of the transpersonal. This can be done by a look, a touch, a sound from, or the will of a master. And I can personally vouch for the existence of this phenomenon. All the talk that precedes the event is merely meant to help prepare the student to integrate the experience. 'Logical paradox' may, and I emphasise may, be but one of the methods the master uses to prepare the student. In Hinduism it is considered one technique of the many available in jnana yoga, but there is also karma yoga, guru yoga, bhakti yoga, kundalini yoga, dhynana yoga and so on. But of all the techniques contained in the various yogas the most important is direct transmission.

If Collins understood the wealth of the eastern traditions he would understand that the use of 'logical paradox' is actually a relatively minor and unimportant method. Yet, 'circular logic' is central to Collins' approach, which I think speaks of a certain naivety.

Here are some final questions for this section: does Collins' concept of 'circular logic' actually add anything to what Wilber has said? Or is it simply another (albeit a rather awkward) way of saying much the same thing? Is 'circular logic' really all that different to 'translogical'?


I want to now return to the issue of immanence and transcendence.

Collins takes this statement of Wilber's and inverts it:

"A holon is a whole that is also a part of other wholes. The universe is basically composed of holons; a whole atom is part of a molecule, the whole molecule is part of a cell, the whole cell is part of an organism, the whole organism is part of an ecosystem, and so on. Holons are organized holarchically, with each higher holon transcending but including its juniors; organisms contain cells which contain molecules which contain atoms – but not vice versa, hence the hierarchy (or holoarchy). The Great Chain is also a holarchy composed of holons; spirit transcends but includes soul, which transcends but includes mind, which transcends but includes body. Each senior holon enfolds, envelops and embraces its juniors, and this is the very nature of whole/parts, holons and holarchy; nests of increasing wholeness and embrace".

"This has a vertical mirror image interpretation as partism.

"A holon (or on-hol) is a part that is also a whole of (i.e. qualitatively includes) other parts. The universe is basically composed of holons; a part atom is also the whole of a molecule (i.e. qualitatively includes the molecule), the part molecule is whole of a cell, the part cell is whole of an organism, the part organism is whole of an ecosystem, and so on. Holons are organized partarchically, with each lower holon making immanent but including its seniors; atoms (qualitatively) contain molecules which contain cells which contain organisms – but not vice versa (in this relative qualitative sense), hence the partarchy. The Great Chain is also a partarchy composed of holons; spirit is made immanent but included in soul, which is made immanent but included in mind, which is made immanent but included in body. Each junior holon enfolds, envelops and embraces its seniors, and this is the very nature of part/wholes, holons and partarchy; nests of increasing (unique) partness and embrace".

Let's isolate one particular passage:

"…spirit is made immanent but included in soul, which is made immanent but included in mind, which is made immanent but included in body."

In the sense that Wilber uses the terms soul, mind and body as levels of the Great Chain this statement is plain ridiculous. It is spirit alone that is immanent. Spirit is immanent in each level. Mind, or more correctly, the specific cognitive levels, are not inherent in all bodies. A dog, though it has a mind, has a very limited level of cognition, it cannot understand vision-logic. A plant, which has a body, does not have a mind.

Collins also says:

"…a part atom is also the whole of a molecule (i.e. qualitatively includes the molecule), the part molecule is whole of a cell, the part cell is whole of an organism, the part organism is whole of an ecosystem, and so on."

Where on earth does this actually happen? We can see Wilber's model in action. It is real. We can pull apart an organism and see it as a collection of cells, we can pull apart the cell and find the molecules, but has anyone pulled apart an organism and found an ecosystem? Has anyone pulled apart a molecule and found a cell? This is just fantasy.

(Indeed, in a specific sense, a full-grown tree is inherent in the genetic structure of the seed. But the tree can only grow with the introduction of other factors such as fertile soil, water, sunlight and the absence of disease, flood and fire. And it can only grow forwards in time. Without these things the seed cannot actualise as a tree. It may only remain as a potential. But this is not really what Collins means).

The key word here is 'qualitative'. But what does qualitative in this context mean? In order to understand this we need to go back over previous material. Collins associates 'qualitative' with 'affective' and 'aesthetic', with this mysterious cognitive process that is the polar opposite of cognitive. However, we have already discovered that this mysterious other is a very vague thing indeed. And it is a 'concept' that is unique to Collins.

In the end this thing that inverts Wilber's process of transcendence in the Great Chain (that turns holons into on-hols) is really a conceptual device, an abstraction, a figment of an over active imagination, a phantasm. And that is all it is. It has no reality outside of Collins' mind. It is his 'feeling' that there is an 'affective' mode that makes the transcendent immanent. That is why it is personal and aesthetic. The thing is, there is really no language to describe this process properly (because it doesn't really exist) so Collins has had to distort, twist and doctor other terms.

It's all rather confused and confusing.


We've gone about as far as I want to go. I could systematically pick through all that Collins has said, but that would be laborious and ultimately futile, as I believe we have covered all the essential points.

I will leave it up to the reader to apply my critique to all that Collins has said.

In conclusion I want to return briefly to Collins' 'affective' mode. As we have discovered Collins associates the concepts of aesthetic, personal, and qualitative with this so-called 'affective' mode. I have pointed out that this is actually not affectation but a different kind of cognitive process. It is a subjective/creative cognitive process as opposed to an objective/empirical cognitive process. This is fine. Artists do think differently to scientists. This in itself is not a radical concept.

What is bizarre in Collins' model is that this subjective/creative mode is opposite to an objective/empirical mode in that it moves from holism to partism, from transcendence to immanence. That it somehow reverses evolution. I have shown just how mistaken this idea is.

The truth is Collins' 'affective' mode does not exist. It is a concept he has imagined without offering any proof (either logical or empirical or antecedal) whatsoever. It is not a term that accurately describes any process that I am aware of.

And because it does not exist it cannot form a polarity with an opposite cognitive process. This being so it cannot therefore form part of a so-called 'dynamic' approach. The 'dynamic' approach cannot exist.

Wilber cannot therefore be criticised for failing to use a non-existent approach.

In fact without an 'affective' mode and a 'dynamic' approach there can be no circular logic. Collins' entire model collapses and he is therefore talking nonsense.

It is Collins who is mistaken, not Wilber.


  1. The aesthetic domain contains many 'movements', some of which arose to counter other movements, ie the 'Impressionist' rebellion against the Academy, and the Dadaist rebellion against everyone.
  2. The Spectrum of Consciousness, pg 33. Wilber lists a number of writers from different traditions. For instance, in Hinduism symbolic understanding is called aparavidya, prehension is called paravidya. In MB, vijnana and prajna. In Meister Eckhart, twilight knowledge and daybreak knowledge.
  3. Wilber discusses artistic endeavour in 'The Eye of Spirit'
  4. See 'Sex, Ecology and Spirituality' pg 345-347
  5. 'One Taste' pg 91
  6. Wilber has adequately explained his influences and practices.
  7. My description is hardly adequate. I can only suggest you investigate these concepts yourself. There is an abundance of good literature on the subject.
  8. For Wilber's description of this issue see SES pg 352-355
  9. This question is treated differently in Hinduism, most notably in the development of Dvaita Vedanta (Samkya) and Advaita Vedanta.
  10. Wilber, I believe, is in agreement with the general understanding of the process of involution as outlined in Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism and Vajrayana. For a full definition of how Wilber uses evolution and involution see the second preface in the 20th anniversary edition of 'The Spectrum of Consciousness'.
  11. Regression is seen as a pathological condition, for which there may be many causes depending on which stream is involved.
  12. Eye of Spirit, note 22, pg 345
  13. Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Madhyamika, Zen, Dzogchen.
  14. On page 157 of 'John of the Cross, Selected Writings' (Paulist Press) the editor, Kieran Kavanagh says, "The dark night is faith, the entire life of faith".
  15. For example, in 'Sex, Ecology, Spirituality' Wilber uses St John and St Teresa as examples of the Subtle level, Meister Eckhart and Ramana Maharshi for the Causal – Nondual. He uses these western adepts to correct a previous bias toward eastern exemplars.
  16. See pg 36-38, The Marriage of Sense and Soul.
  17. Sense and Soul, pg 149
  18. Ibid pg 37
  19. SES pg 319, 320
  20. Ibid, pg 336
  21. Jagadguru means 'world teacher' as distinct from a guru who has a select number of disciples.

© 2000 Ray Harris

Ray Harris lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is a graduate of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School where he majored in Cinematography. He pursued a career in Special Effects where he became Head of the Camera Department of a Special Effects Production Company. In 1986 he underwent a series of powerful peak experiences which led him to seek a spiritual discipline. He studied under a Hindu master and received a classic kundalini awakening. This inspired an intense interest in comparative religion, comparative mythology and transpersonal psychology. He began writing a book called 'Upon the Wings of Gabriel' – an investigation into the deep structures of mythology and religion. It is whilst doing the research for this book that he first encountered the works of Ken Wilber.
In 1991 he was invited to pursue his yoga practice full time and he entered an ashram where he studied yoga philosophy and kashmir shaivism, as well as pursuing the ashram discipline, for five years.
He is now 'back in the world' pursuing his interest in 'integral studies' and plans to return to writing 'Upon the Wings of Gabriel'.

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