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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).
Integral World Review
An Interview with Frank Visser
David Christopher Lane
In this Zoom-taped podcast, Frank Visser provides an overview of the history of Integral World and his views on Ken Wilber's philosophy. He touches on various subjects, including the Covid epidemic, ChatGPT, and the Ukraine-Russia war.
And in fact you should not only be able to stand criticism, you should welcome it, because you learn from critics either way.
So Frank, how did you first find out about Ken Wilber?
I had to look that up actually; it was in 1981 when I was part of a large demonstration in Amsterdam against the nuclear missiles that were to be placed somewhere in the country, with a few hundred thousand people I remember, and then halfway during the day I lost a little bit the fervor to demonstrate and I entered a bookshop, the American Discount Center or something, which had a nice collection of spiritual books. And I came upon the book No Boundary. It was just a tiny book and it caught my attention, and that's always like the eventful moment when you take a different course, not knowing that 40 years later I would still talk about Wilber with you. Ehm, that is almost a working life's period of time, which is quite remarkable because no other person has caught my attention for that long.
I had started psychology in 1980 in Nijmegen and I was heading for a psychology of religion specifically, because I had just returned from India—I had gone to Puna, that was the Bhagwan in those days, the orange people. I was a sannyasin for two and a half years, until the whole thing exploded in Oregon and I lost interest. But I also had a kind of desire to, on the one hand dive into it as an experience and on the other hand reflect on it in a more academic way. And the study I did was not too promising, because it was a Catholic University—which is good because they have a tradition of mysticism, but their paradigm was more like, we have lost the ability to appreciate symbols, we have become rational and we went from Mythos to Logos and we have to “relearn” the sensitivity to symbols again in some kind of second primitivity. There's a kind of school, I believe it's a French influence, and for me that was a bit weak thin soup. So when I read Wilber and he started talking about the whole spectrum from ego to body to cosmos, that was a kind of fantastic second education I gave myself. And every year when I he published a new book I just absorbed it. I also discovered…
Yeah but excuse me, after No Boundary, what was the next book you read? I'm just curious was it Spectrum?
Yeah so this was his second book, so I discovered that his first and third book The Spectrum of Consciousness and The Atman Project were published by the Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Books, and in Amsterdam there was a department of the Theosophical Society and they had a bookshop as well. So I went to them and I bought these two books and again I was really floored by its content. I became also a member of that Society and later on became the publisher there for a decade. I've been, in the 90s, the publisher of the Dutch Theosophical Society. It remained my kind of compass, like: okay this is how you can academically cover the field of mysticism and at the same time use it for your own advantage or meditations or whatever. And because Wilber published every year a new book I had the time to really read and digest it. I spoke to it with my psychology teachers and I already noticed they were not too impressed.
Oh yeah? Tell me why…
Yeah there was some resistance. I don't know, it could also be Wilber's writing style. It is of course not very cautious, is very bold and very fluent and he appeals to a popular audience. And there could even be a kind of professional jealousy, like: okay he's getting the eyeballs and we have to publish in the dry journals. But anyways, there was something I couldn't lay my hands on. There was also a kind of feeling in the developmental psychology department that thinking in terms of stages was problematic. Especially after The Atman Project Wilber was of course very much in favor of development. Actually that is the Wilber-II phase. And later he of course rationalized that as: oh that's the Mean Green Meme that has infested universities and that explains their resistance, but it could also be that there were real objections to some stage models, so I was very early on aware of possible criticism.
Now of all the books that you've read of Wilber, is there one that stands out in your mind to be his best? You know, the one that's like he did something quite significant?
Yeah, it's that it's difficult because I have different memories for different books, like The Atman Project was very concentrated. It could easily have been a five times thicker book, but I remember that the Publishing House said: we wanted to do it on the cheap and we chose a small font, so as to cram as much content as possible in the book. And I believe Ken also said that he had to skip a lot of content he wanted to include in it. But the same is the case with A Sociable God—that is also a very concentrated, a very potent writing, with so many ideas you could follow up on. Yeah I really like that, but that is of course the first impression you have that stays later on.
And of course Sex, Ecology, Spirituality was a massive reading experience. I must say this was a book that was impressive on my first reading, but on a second reading and a third reading you get second thoughts, and third thoughts. And yeah and then I had the feeling that there is so much to discuss here and to argue about or to reflect on. That should really be institutionalized in the integral community, which wasn't really the case back then, right? And then this was of course when the four quadrants were introduced.
And yeah A Brief History of Everything is in terms of book and popular appeal, it's a wonderful book, it's a spoken word kind of style, even though it contains, as you know the notorious passage about Darwin and evolutionary theory, it is still one of my favorite books. And yeah so it goes on and on. Even his latest The Religion of Tomorrow book, I really enjoyed it. It was a huge tome. I heard from many people: oh there's nothing new in the book and it's repetitious and so on. I think it was quite well written compared to Integral Psychology and Integral Spirituality, which are both awful books, in my opinion. Because they are full of sloganeering and self-promotion and summarizing and rehearsal. They are not well thought out. I think for Religion of Tomorrow he really took the time to quietly make his case. But even then there are awful passages in that book about evolution of course, which is a recurring theme in Wilber and I've concentrated on that especially.
And you have been instrumental in getting that focus because I came from the theosophical background and they have a a model of spiritual evolution that is very appealing, that Spirit comes down to matter and then reverses its direction and pushes upward every living organism and human beings. As a religious view that satisfied me completely, but when I read your blog about Wilber's “Achilles heel”, and the first part of was about evolution, then it opened my eyes freely to having second thoughts about this whole model. And after all these years, I I'm pretty sure that Wilber is selling a religious view of evolution under the guise of some academic support, which is very weak or even non-existent.
So yeah, of all the ideas that Wilber has proffered, Frank, which ideas do you think --regardless of criticism that can be laid against them—of all the ideas, which one do you think stands out, that he has contributed?
Yeah, I think the four quadrants is nice, is appealing. It's fairly complete. I mean that there's not much chance that there will be a fifth quadrant somewhere. Although on Integral World we have had dozens of articles that say: well, the moment he reduced his four quadrants to the three “I, we, it”, let's call it personal pronouns, some reduction of the richness of personal experience occurred. For example, Mark Edwards wrote that instead of four or three you would you would need six, like: I singular and plural, you singular and plural, and they singular and plural—and the whole “it” thing didn't show up in that model. So yeah I think that's a competing paradigm, that is much more focused on their personalism. Like: even those people we don't agree with are still persons instead of an “it”, and that is how how models shape the way we relate to the world and to other people. But that's a discussion about the four quadrants. Apart from that I think it's very appealing to have two dimensions, like the inner and outer and then the singular and plural.
Yeah, you cover a lot with that. What about what is you're feeling now on the pre-trans fallacy? Because that's what was pretty famous for him. What's your what's your gut feeling on that now?
Yeah yeah, again that stands or falls of course with the acceptance of a spiritual dimension, a transpersonal dimension. I mean without it, you only have two and there is no pre or trans. If you have three, yeah then the first and the third look similar and you you might easily confuse them and he tried to separate them. It's a nice distinction. It's still a kind of leading idea for me as well, especially when people say: we have to return to something we have lost or something. Wilber would say: we have to move on, and of course we have to reintegrate stuff we lose, but that goes without saying. It doesn't mean we are spiritual in any sense when we reintegrate the body or emotions or something, that's something that's part of psychological sanity.
And actually I worked for a publishing house in the Netherlands for seven years which published precisely these books that that romanticized body work, or care of the soul (Thomas Moore), you know, like memories and and all that stuff. And Wilber was contrarian in his opinion that, okay, body and emotions are fine, but we need to move to the other side of the mind—that was really an eye-opener for me.
Yeah so now, alright, what made you, I mean, when did you say to yourself: I want to start—it wasn't known as Integral World in the beginning, wasn't it known as The World of Ken Wilber? What made you, what inspired you to do that. What was the reasoning?
It was not my invention. I encountered it in those days, in 1997, we had the Alta Vista search engine and then I searched and I found a small website called The World of Ken Wilber. And it turned out it was founded by a Dutch a guy living here in Amsterdam, a psychiatrist, and he had five pages about Wilber or something, and I submitted some articles to him and then he said: well, instead of me having the work of putting that live on my website, here's my website and you can go for it and he handed me over the domain and so on and yeah, I could easily fill it with a lot of writing of my own, and also of other writers. People just submitted spontaneously their own thoughts and writings about Wilber, until Wilber demanded that I changed that name to something else, because he had the feeling that he was not properly represented by these articles. And then I turned it into Integral World…
When he said that to you, did it make you pause a little and say: wait a second, you really don't have control over this? I mean, it's our vision, our views, our criticism, does that make sense?
Yeah of course, the name The World of Ken Wilber of course contains his name and there could be legal aspects to it. I really didn't care about it, because whatever its name was, it served the function of providing a neutral platform—a non-commercial, non-promotional, increasingly critical platform—for writing and thinking and I think that was the niche I found eventually and which still lasts after 25 years. Yeah it's a wider space, which I didn't know at the time of course.
Now okay looking back on this yourself becoming his, well let's just say, his biggest critic in the world, basically…
Yeah it was unexpected. Let me see, like in first half of the 2000s Integral Institute started. I visited some of the meetings of the departments which he created and I noticed some, I can only call it “inflation”, like plans, like we will have a website and it will be the biggest, it will be bigger than the Cosmos website or bigger than what's the name of the program of the astronomer, Carl Sagan. Yeah he wanted to surpass everything and I had this feeling that okay, this is going in the wrong direction. It gets too inflated. And there was one millionaire [Joe Firmage] who pledged to donate a huge sum of money to The Integral Institute and that was all before the internet crash of 2000, until that Bubble burst. And perhaps that was good, because then they had to really regroup and and rethink their plans and of course that can happen. But then over the years I increasingly got that feeling that it became more of a kind of school that wanted to promote itself, wanted to become “mainstream” or something and there's a kind of understandable enthusiasm, but it was for me more important that these ideas got validated instead of promoted, which is a totally different mindset. Both can be good, but you couldn't combine them easily.
So, you had a personal connection with Ken? Because you went and visited him, right, in the United States?
Yeah twice, in 1997. And it was funny in 1997, in January, there was a conference in San Francisco devoted to his work, and later the book and Ken Wilber in Dialogue was based on that conference, where articles in ReVision were discussed. And I went there, sponsored by my publishing house, and I met Stan Grof and all these people there, but I had tried to arrange a meeting with Wilber—who of course never came to these conferences, that was kind of his his signature style of being—and it so it took a long preparation, like he said: yeah you can come, but oh now I have a meditation retreat. No sorry and then he said: yeah you can come anyway but then he said I have a meeting with my publishing house, and so on. Now after the third time he said: you can come but you can only stay for one night and then you have to leave, so I thought, okay that's fine, so after that conference in San Francisco I booked a plane to Denver and actually went to his house and it was full in the snow in January. The moment I stepped into the house we started talking and we didn't stop until one o'clock in the night or something. That was a huge exchange of fantastic ideas and and yeah I had a really good rapport with him. And then he said: Frank I'm going to bed. And I just I had a jet lag of course, so I was completely off the world.
That same year I came back for five days, because a Dutch publisher had asked me to write a book on him. I had made a travel report of the first journey that came into some new age newspaper and the publisher read it and he said: okay we need an introductory book on Wilber, so I said: I have to revisit him and interview him. And then again I had to negotiate with him; he said: yeah you're going to interview me, but you may not quote me. I said: but then what's the point of interviewing you? He said: well, then I can check if you understand me. I had really to argue with that: okay, but people want to read your words in response to the questions I have and then again he he agreed. So and we spent five days and we went to Denver to go shopping and so it was very, very nice. And then the book Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion was written. I started in 1997. It took a couple of years for the publishing house to finish the book. In 2001 it was published in Dutch and two years later in English by the SUNY Press. So that was my visit again.
Of course when you meet your idol, it's difficult to be objective, but he was very generous and hospitable and so on. Now looking back I think he likes you as long as you like him. If you're going against him or in whatever sense are seen as “difficult” between quotes, it's a different story. And he moves his attention to people who do like him or admire him or something, right. Anyway, for a third time I went in 2000. I believe that was a much larger meeting, of the Integral Education group and I didn't have personal contact anymore.
So yeah that ended. You've been in correspondence with him in the last decade?
No, since 2006, when the “Wyatt Earp episode” came along, that was about the three blogs he wrote, where he—well the most generous way to see it is that he let off steam against his critics, who were not really up to the standards of his work or something, but the less generous way would be that he just ehm… he flipped, he just couldn't handle the criticism and he gave a message to his then quite large audience that: don't worry about the critics, I will handle them, I will show that they have no merit and you can come over here and this is a safe haven for integral people and so on. And then I knew this has become a cult. And in these blogs, in the third one, he actually… it's a long story but he he later said: well some people say I have become a cult, but I wrote a book Spiritual Choices about cultism and following these checklists I'm not a cult. Which is very self-serving, because in that very book—I looked it up just an hour ago—he says that a truly transpersonal group will insist on criticism of its own tenets and a pre-personal group will advise against it, or even actively hinder it. So for me that was so clear that things are really off…
Frank, what do you think precipitated Wilber in 2006, going off the rails, because it was so unexpected when I read it. I knew something was deeply disturbing about it, it's just like something's wrong with this guy, very cultic, almost like what Adi Da would have done, when he gets all mad when people don't understand his message. But what do you think in 2006 was the tipping point, was there something that happened some articles that made him go over the edge?
There wasn't that much published by that time, the real criticism came later of course. Jeff Meyerhoff had serialized his book Bald Ambition, which later became a hardcover book, but he serialized it on Integral World. And Wilber indirectly also referred to Meyerhoff, I think that was the worst of the critics he later said, and Mark Edwards is a “good critic”. And so he just taught his people: don't worry, I figured it out for you, you don't have to think for yourself. And the funny thing is: one of the bloggers this Wyatt Earp episode generated—there were a lot responses of course in the blogosphere—and one of them said: if you compare Meyerhoff with Wilber, then Meyerhoff looks like the world famous philosopher and Wilber looks like the deranged critic, which was spot on.
Now, I've always wondered this: I wonder that's one of the reasons he resisted going for his doctorate. One of the reasons he resisted academia. Because one of the things that happens in academia is you just get ripped apart, no matter what position you have, you have to accept it, and I just always wondered if Wilber was just insulating himself.
And in fact you should not only be able to stand criticism, you should welcome it, because you learn from critics either way: even if they have it wrong you could reconsider your statements or phrase it differently or something or if they are correct then you learn from them, so you win in both cases. Yeah that has always puzzled me.
I think that it's almost as if I've noticed that from that point in 2006 a lot of people lost their impression of Wilber, they lost their faith in it and it's almost seemed to have taken him into a different turn. I don't know, maybe that's just my impression, but what was your opinion, after 2006 did you notice that Wilbur just became I don't know just seemed like he was repeating himself for the next 14 years?
Yeah, yeah, true because the books he published after that I think, Integral Spirituality for example is an awful book, because it pretends to give an overview of the spiritual field and the religious field using the four quadrants, but it does nothing of the kind. It just skips over the whole neurology and then, I don't know, it uses a lot of capital letters, and this is the book where he used the word “simply” 270 times. Which just for the fun of it I counted, when I got the manuscript from him. I was one of the pre-readers of the book and just as a feedback on his writing style I wrote him that is just too much and then in his Wyatt Earp blog he said: and it has come to the point that one critic said you use the word “simply” too much, you know: simply suck my dick! So I thought, okay that's ridiculous, didn't he take his medication or something? I don't know what happened and the more sinister thing is that it turned out that this was all, this explosion, was all premeditated. He rationalized it as a kind of “test” for his followers. That, okay, if you object to the my course language, then you are just “green” or even lower. If you don't mind and if you see the deep layers of meaning in it, then you're welcome to join my cult. I mean this is just pathetic, just pathetic. And it does more damage to his reputation than any critic could ever have done.
In my opinion at least, the academic Wilber is his own worst critic. I mean what happened was he damaged his reputation by himself, nobody else did it and here's the point I want to make: the very fact that you set up Integral World to allow all sorts of voices to discuss his ideas, he should be as thankful as anybody could possibly be because somebody's paying attention to his work and that's what you want. And that that I never understood about like: instead of people really reading my books and discussing it they have disagreements, that'd be fun! Any author should welcome that, but he doesn't. And again I go back, I really do believe his association with Andrew Cohen, Adi Da and Marc Gafni… He is really bad at picking gurus. I can just say that because, as you've been to India, I've been to India 11 times. That's kind of my forte you know. I used to expose religious cults back in the day and he's just naive. The people he aligns himself with and then of course here's the punch line, he seems to mimic some of that behavior himself and that's what I picked up in 2006.
Yeah, yeah as if it's kind of some Crazy Wisdom or something and I think I thought it was despicable. And yeah from that moment on I left that field, basically. I stayed connected from a distance and I kept writing and of course. I was more a publisher than a writer at the time and…
No no no, Frank, did you get people after that episode writing you privately and or posting about, you know, how shocked they were by that, by what happened, that it was kind of weird—as if that was like okay.
The atmosphere was so charged. Like you were a kind of whistleblower, like nobody supports you. Now, I happen to get energy from this. And for the same reason I could have just broken down or something, or be very disappointed or whatever. Of course I was disappointed, because, not because I had unrealistic expectations but I just had realistic expectations from Wilber. With all his brightness and his intellect he would appreciate the exchange of thoughts. It's just common sense and apparently that didn't appeal to him at all. Now in a generous way you could say: that's the psychology of the highly gifted people that they see stuff more faster than other people, and they get impatient by all those who want to reconsider this or that. You know that's all understandable, but on the whole the pattern has been I would say: pathological. Which is unfortunate, right.
After this episode in Integral World, what direction did you want to see it go after this episode, I mean did you want to see a little more criticism or a little more analytic on Integral World, in terms of your website and what articles that were being published, I mean did you become a harsher critic because of it?
I believe I decided to specialize myself into evolutionary theory. In 2008 was the Darwin year of course. I knew nothing about this, because I came from the esoteric field. I had to learn the ABC of what Darwin came up with and what impact it had and so on. So in a way that was good, so I could read myself through all that and I discovered about the the Modern Synthesis and then the Extended Synthesis and that the field was so much larger than Wilber would ever tell you. I also noticed that whenever he touched on that topic, it was through sarcasm and sloganeering. I don't know it is a totally atypical way of thinking, I had not expected from him. But he just cannot handle the whole field of evolution, and the irony is that he started to change the label “integral” with the label “evolutionary”. There was a time when Andrew Cohen used that as well, then we had evolutionary spirituality for example. That made it even worse, because if you don't understand the basics of evolution, but interpreted it in a spiritual way, then yeah you will never understand it, you are in fact lost.
Now Frank, at this stage of the game, what's been your intellectual interest, you know, post-Wilber, in a sense what has been your kind of passion?
Well, the thing is, of course I also got a little bit repetitive and some would say I was beating a dead horse with this evolution thing—which might be true. And then of course we had the pandemic for two years and I spent almost full time cataloging the conspiracy notions around the illness and the virus, and even the people who deny the existence of viruses and so on. It was a completely different subject. And now we have the Ukraine war and I again almost full-time spend studying the like pro-Ukraine and the more pro-Russian narratives. And I have a a guy on my website, Joseph Dillard, who takes the perspective of Russia for example, and I've published all of it, not because I agree but because it helps me sharpen my own views—and I think that's mutual. And it's not even that we change both our minds or so but even then I think it's to have the dynamic that's the point, that's the whole point, and the dynamic I would love to see with integral as well. That you you just lay your ideas on the table and then see what's it worth and what what can be brought up against it—and actually invite it.
Now with all your research on the Coronavirus, and it's going to be hard to do but how would you summarize what you finally understood like what kind of tentative conclusion do you have right now on that issue. Let me play it out: what's number one? Let's go right to the jugular: do you think it might have been a lab leak or do you think it was enough, you know, when people go buy food and what's your gut feeling on that, because that's that's been a huge debate, right?
I mean to be honest, I still don't know. I know that even as of today there are now rumors of the CIA, that there's a whistleblower that says the CIA paid six of the seven specialists to downplay the lab leak, who were in fact convinced of a lab league and so on. So there's all kinds of rumors. I don't know, my feeling is that the lab leak is not proven zöonosis is in all the other cases of a pandemic is the rule. A lab leak would be the exception. There have been lab leaks, but they were not turned into pandemics. Of course, you have the Gain of Function research going on all over the world. I have no clue what's happening there, but then I read that what they're doing is not create viable viruses but just parts of viruses to see responses, so the risk of that could be a little bit exaggerated.
But apart from that, in doing your research, what was the one aspect or what is the one thing that pissed you off the most or irritated you the most in the pandemic?
It's basically the inflexibility of people who have taken their position either the mainstream or the contrarians or the denialists—and all three have the feeling that they are justified and have truth on their side and can point to research and meta research and blah blah blah and there is no overview. Somebody who gives an overview or can make a balanced judgment of that. I mean here in the Netherlands there has not in these two years been one evening on television, one full evening, of a debate or something, presenting all the possible positions. Nothing. You only hear sound bytes and you see mainstream virologists and then some looney contrarians and then that's it. So the level of investigation is, I don't know, it's substandard. It could be so much better. And that's where AI comes in, because it gives you… I have experimented with AI and generated about 70 articles with it and it gives you the opportunity to oversee the whole field, all positions within a certain field, and that's actually very valuable.
Before I touch on that because it's an important subject to me personally, especially about AI, what would you say about the Ukraine Russia War? What would your position be? I mean, you know, a lot of people argue like something like Tucker Carlson says, you know, let Russia do what Russia does, and a lot of people here are of course pro-ukrainian. So what's your feeling, since you know a lot about it?
I think it is a question of question of zooming in and zooming out. I believe if you zoom in on a former superpower Russia invading an independent country which has expressed the wish to to align more with Europe. Russia causing tens of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees and billions of damage—and all in that other country and nothing happens in Russia—then of course it's a black and white thing, that Ukraine should be assisted in at least defending itself. However, if you zoom out and see that this former superpower has a whole history with the US and that the U.S has its influence in Europe and the NATO has expanded, and so on. That is as far as it goes. But then when Ukraine threatens to leave this sphere of influence of Russia, from the perspective of a superpower, I can imagine that you say: we will not let that happen, whatever it takes, and then you invent all kinds of pseudo-historical arguments like Ukraine is the Holy Ground of the Vikings and Kiev and so on. Well, the irony is: Kiev existed centuries before Moscow and Moscow was actually more influenced by the Mongols, that kind of mentality, well that's another story.
But you can rationalize of course, every Invasion can be rationalized, but so the US invaded Iraq based on false premises, so that's part of the course, unfortunately. But I can understand the motive, although I hate to say it and I don't justify it or something. But I don't know: I mean, there are so many discussions going on. Did NATO expand, did it break a promise? No, there wasn't a promise, because it was not in writing. Yeah but even if it was not in writing, then at least it was informal. Yeah you can go on and on. It never was a problem until a few years ago for Putin that NATO expanded and the irony is that because of his behavior NATO has become stronger, Finland and Sweden have joined, Ukraine is more nationalistic than ever. So everything he wanted to happen did not happen or everything which he feared did happen. So that's how I see it: it's just an enormous blunder from Putin to invade, even understandable by his own mindset.
Frank let me move on to something that I found you've been doing a lot of articles using ChatGPT and I find it mesmerizing because I would discover that my son was a computer scientist at Berkeley and I got turned on to AI early on and I saw how powerful it is. What's your view on ChatGPT?
Yeah, I started last May, experimenting with it, like with Bing Chat and ChatGPT and later Bard too. My first efforts were like: write a poem about integral or something and it was fun and then I was disappointed because it started to hallucinate when you asked for specifics like articles or people or sources. Then it was just fabulating, especially Bing Chat, and I went to work with ChatGPT, and then I started asking different questions, like: give me an overview of the field of geopolitics, for example, which are the options of, well, any of the 70 topics I have raised. And it was for me totally trustworthy, even if no sources were given. Sometimes I think the whole idea of sources is old school, because when you feed a billion pages into ChatGPT, does it really make sense to say: this was found on page six million seven hundred thousand three hundred and eighty? Perhaps in an academic way it still makes sense, but in a kind of data mining perspective or conveying it in a very well formulated, concise way, and really to the point? I was really floorde by what ChatGPT produced and perhaps also because I was, after so many trials I got into the hang of things and into the flow of what can you ask and what can you not ask.
So if people say, well I asked: give me, write a poem in the style of Frank Sinatra or something and it fails, then I think okay perhaps that's still a bridge too far for AI at the moment. But I don't care about this, because it's not serious. But if you ask about a topic and the and the bot can graze through a billion pages, you can never do that as a human. And what I also liked was: the normal, emotional way of presenting ideas… actually many of my authors objected to me turning to AI and they said: this is artificial and it is pedantic and we want a real human being. And I didn't have that reservation at all. Which is something I cannot explain. I thought it was a step forward in most cases, because I have had the history of 25 years of bickering and debating and yes and no and full of emotion and so on, and then it comes a point that you say: okay let's catalog the options.
I think, Frank, the problem is we as human beings want to see a human face behind something and I've noticed this myself. Anytime I say: it's ChatGPT people lose interest in reading. There was a good discussion with Sam Harris about this very issue. Whereas if I do something on Midjourney, like I do a picture, some creative artwork, nobody really cares whether I did it or Midjourney does it. It's very unusual but when something is written as tekst, so it's almost as if we have to disguise it, it's almost as if Frank, you should probably simply say: I wrote it, now read it, because the minute you say ChatGPT people just say: it's AI, I don't want to listen to it. Which is ironic because ChatGPT is going to be very accurate, much, probably much more accurate than we'll ever be. In fact my whole issue now is, I can see us offloading our intelligence over to AI, whether it's spell check, Grammarly, whether it's GPS devices, I mean, I could just see where this thing's going to go. And for instance, why reinvent the wheel when you can just ask it like I did with you a series of questions. I came up with my own questions and then I said well let's try ChatGPT and it's much more articulate than I'll ever be. I was like: Jesus…!
Actually I asked ChatGPT to reply to the questions you sent me, that you already had formulated yourself, and apart from the specifics, like: what are your favorite book titles or something, that was just useless, it was spot on when it even reflected on the Wyatt Earp episode. It was more balanced than I have ever heard a human being look back on that. It was diplomatic, it was polite, but it was spot on and it said everything that needs to be said. Perhaps I will publish it on Integral World as well, which is odd because I could even have stepped aside let the bot interview the bot, just like chess programs playing against each other. What's going on here? And then people say: oh but this is just parroting, you know, algorithmic parroting, or what's the expression, it's “hallucinating”, it's just predicting the next word in a sentence. That's nonsense, what you get out of these bots is informative, well-reasoned, very concentrated and nuanced. I don't know how they do that.
Well, I don't either. The other thing is, just imagine every new iteration is at least 10 times better than the one prior to it and you can well imagine if we just play this out two or three or four or five years in the future, how good it's gonna get. It then it will have a pretty face that is telling it. I mean, I know there's a huge problem with Amazon right now. Amazon's having a huge problem primarily because people are trying to generate all these books by using AI and I beta tested this back in December. We created about six books and I came up with an acronym called AI-Syn, artificial intelligence synthetic, as the author's name and and, you know, it didn't get flagged, but Amazon worried about this now, because you can well imagine who wants to write….
I mean, does it really generate long paragraphs? I've never seen that…
Yes it can and this is interesting: my son had for whatever reasons he got an early beta version of this and he took a whole book. It just blew my mind. He took a whole book by Huckleberry Finn and did a summation. The whole book was like, you know, three or four hundred pages long.
But summarizing is one thing, but writing a book like that?
But it also gave a critical review. Now obviously they've limited, I don't know, if you've noticed this but they've set up parameters, guard rails, and they're worried about all sorts of things that could happen. But there's a new one that came, out a friend of mine sent it to me, called Claude and Claude allows you to use PDFs and you just give it a PDF and it can analyze it which is pretty remarkable. So all I'm suggesting is that if you just play this out in the future…
I did that with the dissertation of Bernardo Kastrup recently and then the PDF plugin went through the dissertation and quickly spotted the Resume of the thesis and gave that back to me, so that's smart, it's a lazy student…
Yeah, that's right. It's been like us, you know, it's like: allright, let's go for the shortcut. Who knows what comes up. Now, Frank let me conclude on this kind of question and then you could add anything you'd like to. What's your future, I mean in terms of your intellectual pursuits, what are you most interested in now, what's your next stage?
I'm pretty open to the next disaster and what comes along.;-) Because Corona and the Ukraine are of course larger than life disasters. Ehm, Wilber will not bring anything new, which is fine because life is not infinite and he, being in his 70s, he should I think take stock, look back, stop his overconfidence and his exaggeration of his own role and just say okay: this is what I have to offer and let history decide, or at least the competent people who can judge, who have specialized in all these fields which he has touched.
Now in terms of thinkers that you admire, is there any, give me a few thinkers that you've kind of I mean besides Wilber of course, we have both admired him, but is there somebody now intellectually that you look up to that got a new book out or you had an old book you want to look at?
Not really. I mean I did a lot of reading. I've started a geology crash course, for example, because from evolution to geology is just one step. All these these time periods and the millions, millions of years and so no, there's so much. It's a rich literature describing how life was in those periods or epochs, and that's fascinating for me, and it's of course totally not related to our time, but on the other hand indirectly with the climate change you can again learn from the past. Yes, on the one hand it has been much colder and much hotter than it currently is, but on the other hand changes were not that fast as they are happening today, so you cannot get any guarantees from the past in that sense. Yeah, that has my focus in recently, but it's not something that reaches the limelight or something, right, but it makes a lot of sense. And again there is this clash of cultures, like the climate deniers and the advocates. And yeah, it's the same with creationism and evolution, so it appears to be a discussion, but in fact it isn't a real discussion. It's just that you have a couple of people who keep denying.
I always tell people as a surfer you know, because I look at the ocean. I said if you're a surfer you know about climate change in terms of like just seeing the change of the water temperature the pollution of the water I always tell people just just just focus on on your own neighborhood and you can figure out things like the desert, you know, we have a place in the desert La Quinta we just had this hurricane Hillary and nothing got hit on the beach but the desert's flooded, which was quite unusual, so we're starting to see this activity especially now in Florida with another hurricane. I think it's hurricane Lee that's going to hit. Like you said, Frank, and this goes back to Integral World as well. I mean as to Wilber, there should just be a reasonable, articulate discussion of ideas. It's become so polarized that you have to pick one camp versus the other.
Actually Wilber has, in one of his videos, I believe he discussed a book by Michael Crichton, was it State of Fear or something? I can't remember, he was a climate skeptic and Wilber used to say, like pontificate a little bit, we don't know all the details and it's much more complex and so on. So he's sowing doubt. That was alarming, because you still have a majority of of scientists who are convinced that it is an alarming situation and you cannot explain everything by conformism or whatever, I don't think so.
Yeah and we have a lot of people who do their own “internet research” it's like a joke from Bill Burr where everybody just does their internet research and they happen to be the luckiest guy in the world because they found out the Earth is flat or Barack Obama is really gay and his wife is really a dude. I mean he wouldn't believe it.
And Michelle is a man, and he's gay, so he can stay in his marriage…
I think one thing about it is, I know personally a PhD a very smart logician who tried to sell me this kind of crap, that's the kind of thing that scares you because that's what the internet of course has brought up, the democratization of information has also brought up every weird voice that we would never have heard about before. But then you can ask ChatGPT about the Flat Earth and then you really get educated. And of course they would say: yeah, but it is biased, by DeepMind or by Google or Microsoft is funding it. To round it off, is there anything you'd like to add or anything you'd like to throw in, any ideas that you want to end this with?
Well, I appreciate a lot to have the opportunity to look back and reflect. Actually this month I received my pension, some parts of my pensions. I'm 65 within a week. I take the time to do that and after work for another two years, but it's not too busy. So yeah I'm looking ahead to more time and more space to see whatever comes up.
Well 65 is young, I'm 67 and I'm still working. I think Frank, I'll encourage you to keep, you know…
What's the official pension age in the U.S?
Well, I could, you could retire at 62 here, right, but I like my job so you know my wife, she's also philosophy professor, at the same department, so if I quit and she still works I'm basically still working because she's going to tell me all about what's going on. So it's better for me to keep working. So I think I'm going to work until I'm dead, but you can keep on if you want, you can keep working… You're not are you forced to retire, is that what you're saying?
More or less yeah, more or less, I believe so it depends on the branch you're working. I work in advertising and actually all my colleagues are 20 in their 20s or 30s and the management is is in their 40s and then I come with 65. yeah I'm a dinosaur.
I teach my class and I always say I'm the great grandfather they didn't have.
You see it with your president that there's no age limit.
It's, you know, Frank it's just a to confess something, it's very embarrassing. Obama was then the real exception: a young guy coming from nowhere, articulate, very you know whether you agreed or disagreed, very articulate. He never embarrassed you. The only embarrassing thing that ever happened to him is he wore a brown suit and the Republicans went nuts.
I mean that's a good thing: he could sing!
He could sing, it was hip, he knew how to play basketball and by the way I had a funny story I have a friend of mine who's very Republican and he's kind of against Barack Obama but I said you know Barack Obama my friend's a good body Surfer and they said you know Barack Obama was a really good body Surfer and he goes all I don't buy that I go yeah, let me tell you so I had a picture of Barack Obama body surfing a very nasty wave called sandy beach in Oahu and I said look he's going right and all of a sudden my friend changed his views on Barack Obama, because well she had to pick a body surf maybe he's pretty good. And that's the kind of politics we have in this country, you know. What I mean like can I have a beer with the guy and and the very fact that we voted Donald Trump in and he might get re-elected it's embarrassing. I don't know what's going to happen. It's the weirdest part I've, you know, I'm 67. I've never seen it this bad, well when you want to resurrect Richard Nixon, when Richard Nixon looks better than Donald Trump.
Yeah yeah and “he was not a crook”…
Yeah right yeah
And I mean, it doesn't seem to matter how many legal cases Trump has, it even helps him in his victim role, when will that end. I mean, he has said that he could shoot somebody and still not get caught or something. I must say he has a talent of servicing that segment very well, with his what's it called the sessions, the rallies he does…
I mean the most remarkable thing about Donald Trump besides his hair defying the known laws of physics is that he has so much energy. I mean at his age, I just can't believe he wants to do this, you know, versus Joe Biden who looks like he doesn't know what's going on and he probably should take an exit, but but the problem is: you don't want Trump, you'll take anybody. I think Sam Harris said he just wants to win, he can't stand losing. I don't care if Joe Biden has two dead bodies in the trunk, I'm still voting for Joe Biden, but you know, I don't know, it's it's depressing. I can tell you all you really want is somebody middle range, like a Gerald Ford, you know, go back to somebody that was non-described so he don't want to know the controversial person...
We'll see. I have bad feelings about it, because Biden is too old, there's no competitor in the Democrats, Trump defeats all his competitors in the Republican field, perhaps you really have to cheat with the elections then. 12 Can AI not come to the rescue?
Hey well thanks Frank, and it was really wonderful talking to you and what I'll try to do is get a transcription of our talk and then I'll have it recorded and hopefully it'll work out and then I'll send it to you at the end.
Okay great, did Zoom create it or not?
I did it on transcripts, well Zoom can do transcripts, I asked my wife who's much better at Zoom than I am, she says it can do a transcript, but we can edit that transcript so it doesn't look so jittery and uh hopefully it'll work, I'll cross my finger okay.
We'll see thanks a lot I appreciate it thanks.
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