Theosophical Publishing House, 1977. $5.75, 374 pp.
by John Welwood
The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1977, Vol. 9, No. 1
This book provides a fresh and comprehensive view of the essential structure and development of human consciousness, and is a must for anyone seriously interested in the concerns of transpersonal psychology. Like William James, whose broad studies in philosophy, religion, and the sciences enabled him to examine the basic assumptions of psychology and to ground his research in the rich soil of human experience and meaning, Ken Wilber has brought a multi-disciplinary background to bear on the central phenomenon of consciousness, with extremely fruitful results. This exhaustive overview of the evolution and levels of consciousness is perhaps the most complete exploration of the foundations of transpersonal psychology yet to appear. While many psychologists and social scientists have long since abandoned the attempt to develop a comprehensive theory of human experience, the appearance of this book suggests that transpersonal psychology may be able to provide an encompassing framework in which the full range of psychological phenomena make sense.
Rarely does one find such an original book as profound, clear, and richly illustrated with material from the sources of world religions, philosophies, and psychologies. Moreover, by drawing on a number of very apt examples, Wilber encourages the weighing of his carefully constructed arguments against the reader's own experiential reference points. The book also has humor. And its balance between basic theoretical foundations and practical implications will satisfy readers of both inclinations.
Essentially, Wilber shows how the phenomena of consciousness are related to a series of bifurcations or dualistic splits that take place as man continually tries to create and identify with a separate, solid identity. The primary dualism splits organism from environment, leading to an identification with the individual body-organism. Identification with the separate organism breeds the fear of death, which leads to identification with a continuous ego that can be projected into the future and sustained by thought and fantasy. Finally, the identification with ego leads to a further splitting of the desirable aspects of ego from the undesirable, which become the shadow that haunts our every step. Wilber shows how various spiritual practices and Western therapies work with the problems of the different levels by helping the person get in touch with the respective underlying level out of which the split occurs.
It is impossible to convey the full import of the author's design in such a brief sketch. The implications of this book both for psychology as a discipline and for personal self-understanding are potentially of great importance, and will no doubt take some time to work out.