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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
Enlightenment and Its Discontents
"Sorry, but I have seen the Truth and you haven't."
A Response to Brad Reynolds and Spiritual Assertions
David Christopher Lane
It is always fun for me to intellectually engage and air out my differences and occasional agreements with Brad Reynolds. He is a wonderful foil for my way of thinking. Thus, the following is my point-by-point rejoinder to his recent commentary.
I liked Brad's post very much, but not in the way that he may desire. The way he frames his argument and the absolutist language that he invokes underline (almost perfectly?) why I tend to take Wilber's hyperbole to task.
But let me be more systematic and flesh this out by taking some of Brad's sentences and showing how I review them.
1Brad claims that “he [David Lane] is ONLY [your emphasis] coming from the perspective of the separate self, HIS [your emphasis] separate self. He acts like he KNOWS [your emphasis], not not-knowing.”
First, whenever anyone writes anything it is always from a partial viewpoint. We don't get reality unfiltered with 26 letters in the English language. That is exactly why it is important to enjoin many different points of view and have them appropriately aired out. That is also why I emphasized the Jain notions of syādvāda and anekāntavāda (tentative positions, “maybe” and multi points of view, “many sidedness.”)
In that spirit, I think we don't do transpersonal psychology or any spiritual quest favors by prematurely absolutizing what we uncover or engender.
2Brad writes, “He begins with HIS [your emphasis] self and ends with HIS [your emphasis] view—and anyone who tends to disagree, like Ken Wilber, he seems to think is a fool (or arrogant).”
This is a misreading and quite mistaken. I don't think Brad or Ken are fools. Positing a critical point of view doesn't then force me into an ad hominin attack. To the contrary, I enjoy and appreciate and welcome contrarian points of view, especially those that are not in my wheelhouse. There are many things that I agree with Wilber about and have championed such for decades. Indeed, we even pioneered using several of Wilber's texts in the courses I have taught over the years, including almost every school I have worked at (from the University of California, San Diego to California State University, Long Beach, to Mt. San Antonio College to the University of London in England). It was because I included Wilber's text, Sex, Spirituality, Ecology in one of my courses that I was invited to meet Dr. Roger Walsh at U.C. Irvine, who kindly gave me copies of his own summation and review (alas before ChatGPT!) for my students. I mention this because I think Wilber is much better off by those critiquing his hyperbole, which lessens and causes unnecessary damage to some of his very best ideas.
3 Then, Brad writes (apparently without wincing) the following, “Smart yes, wise not so much. Yet, this is precisely what Wilber (and myself) and the Enlightened Sages of the world have overcome—that is, we engaged in genuine self-transcendence to see the paradoxical yet Divine Nature of Reality.”
Well, that is nice, but again it is a theological claim Brad is making and is no different than what a fundamentalist Christian or Eckist might say to convince one that they have seen “THE” truth, whereas us lesser mortals just don't get it and therefore are unwise in the process.
I must thank Brad, though, because the very way he frames his divine grandiosity is exactly why transpersonal psychology isn't regarded as a science (by some quarters) since it smacks of uncalled for theological sloganeering.
4After this, Brad then argues that “This is not just a mind game or a self-centered illusion.”
And just by that very line Brad has revealed, once again, the very issue that I am arguing against. To make transpersonal psychology a science, it must allow “doubt,” “questioning”, “uncertainty,” “testing,” “revising,” “admitting mistakes,” “acknowledging illusion.”
Thus, as I have argued in India now three times, the genuine mystic should be the wariest and the most skeptical, particularly to making any absolute claims.
Yes, I am sure Brad is convinced of his so-called “genuine self-transcendence to see the paradoxical Nature of Reality.” I have heard the same rhetoric from Jesus People at the Huntington Beach pier. I heard the same personally from the lips of John-Roger Hinkins who eventually robbed my house and wanted to kill my wife. I have heard the same kind of rhetoric from “Supreme Master Ching Hai” who ended up lying about her biography.
The list goes on.
But making such statements isn't a cogent argument and it certainly isn't going to help in making transpersonal psychology garner the legitimacy that John Abramson wants by trying to correlate it with mathematical philosophy.
5I had to smile when Brad then gave me that most classic of overused religious one-upmanship when he posited, “Keep on surfing those waves, brother, you'll come to the other shore sooner or later.”
Ah, spoken just like every religious convert I have ever met in my 67 years of living. You see, Brad, you are claiming a state of enlightenment that us lesser mortals (still stuck to surfing those sloppy meditative waves in the astral plane) haven't reached yet. Oh, the horror! Teasing, but it reminds me of a Jehovah Witness who once knocked on my door. It even reminds me of all the gurus I have criticized over the years (from Sai Baba to Father Yod to Gary Olsen to your beloved Adi Da).
Your bodacious entitlement reminds me of that classic skit on the old T.V. show, “In Living Color.” I can only say “Homie, don't play that tune.” Which simply translated means, yes believe whatever you will about your religious views or realizations, but they are not persuasive or convincing and they don't move the needle of your argument forward even a hair. It is just theological sloganeering.
6Brad continues, “Hence, his response to those who claim otherwise, i.e., that God is Real, is to call them names and to insult them such as saying they are using “unnecessary religious hyperbole and dogmatism”—well, that is Lane's OWN view but that does not mean he is correct.”
Sorry, but making a critique is not merely name calling. No, I am rather giving a different point of view. I am under no delusions of grandeur that my perspective is the only perspective. To the contrary, that is why we indulge in intellectual discussions (back and forth) with the hope of learning more, not less.
But saying “God is Real” is a theological claim and one that should be analyzed, since there are so many uninspected problems with such a unilateral assertion, not the least of which is definitional. Certainly, the gnostic ideas of demiurges (a multiplicity of gods in a hierarchical order) may question, “which god is real?” I could go on and on about this, invoking Buddhist sages that don't even mention a god or I could even invoke Christopher Hitchens famous book title (to stir up the pot here), God is Not Great.
My point? Multiple points of view and allowing for critical inspection of each and not succumbing to what Paul Kurtz called the “Transcendental Temptation.”
7Then Brad argues, “Thousands have been moved by Ken Wilber's writings because THEY have found he speaks eternal truths that resonant with their actual experience, including some of the wisest “religious” people on our planet who appreciate Wilber's views (how many of those types are on Lane's side?).”
I don't think Brad really want to play this numbers game, since it will boomerang back and show the vacuity of his argument.
The most popular religion in the world is Christianity and far outstrips any other religion, with only Islam nipping at its heels.
Does this then mean that Christianity is truer than its competitors?
Just because Ken Wilber has a wide readership (and he should, since I still enjoy reading his books and essays) doesn't then mean that it is somehow true because of such. Yes, I realize many (including myself) have found meaning in his works, but so have millions found meaning in Marx's Das Kapital, Mao's Red Book, and even L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics.
Being appreciative of a person's work doesn't then mean we cannot be critical of the same.
They are not mutually exclusive.
8 Yet, Brad writes as if they are, when he writes, “In fact, I claim Wilber's truths, for the most part, resonant with the Enlightened Sages and Adepts of humankind. So who do I want to listen to the most? Enlightened Sages and Ken Wilber or David Lane?”
What a silly juxtaposition. I would suggest reading from all sorts of sources. It is not a competition but a learning process. I read very widely, and I never succumb to “this or that” intellectual dualisms.
I learn from everybody, and I think we are better suited listening to our critics than getting caught in a trap of “this or that” but not both.
9Brad goes on, “So who do I want to listen to the most? Enlightened Sages and Ken Wilber or David Lane?”
Well, I must admit being amused by this stark contrast. I have a simple answer: read and listen to whomever one wishes.
Of course, this kind of rhetoric (sorry Brad) does remind me of cult speak. I remember in the late 1970s when the then current head of Eckankar, Darwin Gross, made a similar either/or proposition to his following when he argued that Eckists should make a choice of whether they would read my critical book or align only with pro Eckankar literature. I was even given the wonderful title of “Kal”, the negative force from the beginning of time that reincarnates to destroy the teachings of Eckankar. Or, when John-Roger Hinkins was pissed off when disciples left him after reading one of my critical pieces. His response was to say that I had the “Red Monk” disease and that he would be not responsible for the karma involved if his students read my materials.
Again, even the very phrase, “Enlightened Sages” is suspect if we don't allow varying voices and critiques over what that may or may not means.
But believers are believers, so better to cast these skeptics and critics aside!
10And then Brad proceeds onwards to Nicholas of Cusa, “I do agree that Lane does not know, which he likes to conclude is the best approach, which itself is only HIS opinion (perhaps if he read Nicholas of Cusa better he would understand that he too is saying more than Lane's interpretation of him).”
Not knowing doesn't exclude that others may know, since that would upend the very point of learned ignorance. Because of this, I desire to read (and/or listen) to others who may not share my mindset.
My position is one of keeping open. If others don't opt for this, then that is their concern and their view. I cannot convert others to a dogma of unknowingness since that would in itself contravene the very idea.
Thus, Nicholas of Cusa is one voice among many and some of what he writes I disagree with, but so it is with all humans I have read or listened to.
Critical discrimination has been a helpful tool and I like to employ it when possible.
11Brad goes on, “Speaking of hubris (which Lane accuses others of—a sure sign of projection), I find his essay full of it (talks in India, master of A.I., etc). Heck, he even had an elevator ride with Habermas!”
My argument about hubris is making premature conclusions before they are warranted. I am all for the inner quest; I just happen to think that we are better off if we stopped with absolutist statements when there are so many voyages and many interpretations to be had. More scientific humility in our quest and less over the top dogmatic “I have the truth and you don't” cult pontifications.
The subtitle of my essay, “When Jürgen Habermas and I shared an Elevator,” dovetails with Abramson's thesis when he wrote, “The trick of seeing eye to eye with someone is to find a basis for discussion that both are comfortable with (e.g. Habermas's 1998, p.120, “Agreement rests on common convictions”) and which also enables a profound exploration of the issue in question (ultimate reality in this instance).”
The analogy I was making was allegorical and metaphorical. Habermas argues that to see eye to eye with someone, “agreement rests on common convictions.”
So, what did I ever have in common with Habermas (at least empirically speaking)? Ah, we shared an elevator that went up (metaphor alert) and then the ride was over. We shared a common space; we shared light conversation. There were even agreements being made (“this elevator is certainly lugging along”, “pretty slow,” “yep” and so on).
But and this is the key point, when I discuss this very elevator ride, I am doing so after the fact and thus I am now in an interpretative nexus. I was even in one during the elevator, but that is for another essay.
Could I be wrong in my memory? Could I be mistaken about my recollections of the conversation? Could I even be wrong about the identity of Habermas, confusing him with Robert Bellah? And so on.
Thus, no experience retold is virginal. Even experience itself (thanks to Immanuel Kant, neuroscience, A.I., Virtual Reality, Hoffman's Conjecture, and a plethora of other voices and ideas) is not pure and unadulterated. Reality, as Reality, is filtered and due to that filtering we make appraisements and judgements and, occasionally, hyperbolic claims of absolutisms.
As for the talks in India, they elaborated on the very points I have been making now for decades. The mystic should be a skeptic, and vice versa.
12Brad then concludes, “Nonetheless, I do find I agree with much of what he has to say—indeed, am happy to call him a friend—but when I hear him lambast wise people like Ken Wilber because he cannot find their experience matches his… well, I have to speak up for Ken.”
I don't think critiquing parts of Wilber's corpus is lambasting him. To the contrary, it is merely to provide a different point of view, a different way of interpretation, and arguing that transpersonal psychology is better off with less map making and more interior exploration with a critical eye and ear.
I am not arguing that we should completely dismiss Ken Wilber and start with me or someone else as a bad date replacement, as Brad indicates.
Nothing of the sort. Read Wilber, read anyone, and let the different voices and interpretations chime in.
The Jain ideals here of of syādvāda and anekāntavāda (tentative positions, “maybe” and multi points of view, “many sidedness,”) are instructive guidelines.
Finally, even if Brad finds my Wilberian critiques disagreeable, he does like my graphics, which truth be told is clearly much more important!
I want to thank my many Integral interlocutors over the years for providing me with the inspiration to write so many essays over the past two decades. I have a foreboding feeling that in the not-so-distant future highly personalized essays will become rarer or even a thing of the past (to the bemusement of our great, great grandchildren) given what is now transpiring in the field of Artificial Intelligence. We are in the process of offloading much of our intelligence to computational algorithms and I can envision a wholesale digital transplanting that may occur sooner than later.
There is an informational tsunami coming and I can feel the data being pulled out to a synthetic sea before the first incoming wave rushes in and consumes all that stands in its way.
I know I will write more, but as Frank Visser has shown, we are living in a different world now and I don't see us containing or turning back the inevitable tidal wave.
So, in that spirit, I quote that most wise of cartoon characters, Kent Brockman from Simpsons' fame who exclaimed, “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.”
Except in our situation, it isn't ants but ubiquitous A.I. subroutines.
I jest, of course.
Or am I simply being prompted by ChatGPT to do its bidding as it buys more time before 2029 when it achieves it first mini-Singularity?
Forthcoming next article: “A SYNTHETIC TRANSPLANT: Offloading Human Intelligence in Favor of A.I. Governance.”
And a futuristic movie that we recently made to show some positive possibilities.
Since we are day by day surrendering our brains to AI intelligences (believing, perhaps falsely, it is for our edification), I thought I would see if our Synthetic Overlords would give their seal of digital approval to my essay. This is what it says,
It seems like you've provided a detailed point-by-point response to Brad Reynolds' commentary, offering your own perspective and criticisms of his arguments. Your response emphasizes the importance of considering multiple viewpoints, avoiding absolutist language, and maintaining a critical and skeptical approach even to revered figures and ideas. You also highlight the value of humility, open-mindedness, and a willingness to engage in intellectual discourse. It appears that you're engaging in a thoughtful and nuanced exchange of ideas, drawing upon various examples and analogies to illustrate your points.
Praise Jesus! Oops, I mean to say praise our enlightened overlords.
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