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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Brad Reynolds did graduate work at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) before leaving to study under Ken Wilber for a decade, and published two books reviewing Wilber's work: Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber (Tarcher, 2004), Where's Wilber At?: Ken Wilber's Integral Vision in the New Millennium (Paragon House, 2006) and God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (Bright Alliance, 2021). Visit: http://integralartandstudies.com
A Toast to the Divine Spirit of the Kosmos…
A Response to Frank Visser
T his is an abbreviated response to Frank Visser's essay “Two Wilber Scholars Walk into a Bar…. A Response to Brad Reynolds” (I will post more detailed responses in the future). But, yes, I do feel a couple of drinks in a casual atmosphere might be enjoyable for Frank and I. I'm sure we'd cover a lot of ground, but doubt if either one of our minds would change. Thus, I would also like to suggest some herbal smoke as well, since the ego (or one's cherished views) needs to dissolve somewhat for these considerations to be taken more seriously. I hear that marijuana in Amsterdam is pretty good, so I'm game—is Frank? But truly, the best solution may be for both of us to do some mushrooms, or serious psychedelics (I prefer LSD), and go walk in the woods together, for THEN we might actually get to the heart of the matter. Either that or a three-year silent meditation retreat under the guidance of Tibetan Lamas. For the topics I am discussing and emphasizing—SEEING (or cognizing) with the Eye of Spirit—is not founded in “grandiose metaphysical claims,” as Visser is fond of saying, nor in science, but in the evolution of consciousness (or expanding our conscious awareness). So, a trip through the woods, Frank?
But, honestly, I see that Visser has more or less accurately represented my views in regard to Ken Wilber's work. However, he believes his reading of Wilber is more accurate; I disagree (as my past and future essays hope to outline in greater detail). But I do agree with Frank that Wilber has made some fundamental errors in trying to mix Spirit and science in ways that appear untenable. I contend they should each be allowed to make their own contributions, and then integrate them as providing valuable knowledge from their own domains of epistemological pluralism.
Yet, overall, as Visser states right off the bat, we disagree about what is at “the heart of the matter—evolutionary theory,” for I disagree that is the heart of the matter. I contend it is having a model of reality that includes SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION and SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS that is the heart of the matter, so to speak, which also lies at the heart of Ken Wilber's Integral Vision. But Visser concedes no ground in this area, which is why I am critical. I do, as previously stated, admit Visser is correct in that Wilber has done damage to his own overall stance by arguing, sloppily, for Spirit or “Eros” as being some type of “force,” which Visser's preferred quotes repeatedly point out. Again, this is why I suggest that this Wilber Error has become more abundant in his later writings, which is where most of Visser's selected quotes come from.
But I do agree with Frank that Wilber has made some fundamental errors in trying to mix Spirit and science in ways that appear untenable.
So, who is using the more correct quotes? Obviously, I believe I am for the side with my view of reality. Nonetheless, Visser has a point in his selections (as I have conceded). So let me show you some of my favorites that strike a more accurate tone for me in representing the true Integral Vision.
In The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), Wilber clarifies (even agreeing, in part, with Daniel Dennett himself, a confessed atheist):
Evolution is the mode and manner of Spirit's creation of the entire manifest world, not one item of which is left untouched by its all-encompassing embrace. Henceforth, any spirituality that did not embrace evolution was doomed to extinction. Modern science, after the collapse [into reductionistic materialism], would reject the spiritual nature of evolution but retain the notion of evolution itself.
Modern science, that is, would give us the exteriors of evolution—its surfaces and forms—but not its interiors—including Spirit itself. But even science would realize that evolution is universal, touching everything in existence, and, as Daniel Dennett put it, “like 'universal acid,' evolution eats through every other explanation for life, mind, and culture.” How could it not, when it is actually Spirit-in-action, and Spirit embraces all?
Or this one, from The Eye of Spirit (1997):
It is true that, in individuals, spirit can awaken as spirit (“spirit as spirit,” traditional Enlightenment). And it is true that this is in some important ways a developmental or evolutionary process. That is, certain developments clear the way for this timeless realization: both humans and rocks are equally spirit, but only humans can consciously realize that fact, and between the rock and the human lies evolution.
I could go on and on. These quotes, for example, other than showing that Wilber truly believes Spirit-in-action is the OVERALL evolutionary process, NOT necessarily some outside “force” or “drive,” which is what Visser tries to prove by using Wilber's “Creationist's slips” quotes, they also show that by overlooking them Visser is a committed scientist and does not see the Kosmos as being Divine Spirit (which his essays freely admit). Visser is a scientist, whereas I am (and I believe Wilber is too) a spiritual person who embraces the discoveries of science, just not the concluding overall PHILOSOPHY of scientific materialism. The evidence I use to support my claim—that Divine Spirit is real—is not only my personal meditative and psychedelic experiences, as well as kundalini activations, and Darshan with an Enlightened Adept, but also thousands of years of spiritual writings by those people considered to be the wisest women and men in human history! This is not insignificant.
Not only do the countless Shamans, Yogis, Saints, Sages, Lamas, Roshis, Siddhas, Christs, and Buddhas, et al, but even many of the world's smartest scientists agree with the same basic fundamental conclusion: The Universe is ultimately formless (and ineffable) SPIRIT or God (the true Divine Reality, not merely some mythic deity God of the Bible). But, of course, Visser thinks all of us—all of the world's greatest mystics!— are deluded, claiming we are all involved in “pathological inflation” (to use Visser's words). Wow! All of the world's spiritual giants are “pathologically inflated,” but Visser is not? I disagree. I side with the spiritual heroes of humankind, since my own experiences verify their claims. Rather, I suggest Visser himself is simply egoically-inflated, under the illusionary trap of the ego or separate self-sense—which, by the way, is what authentic transformative spiritual practice and meditation is intended to overcome—not the other way around.
Granted, Visser's group of scientific reductionistic cohorts, from Dawkins to Dennett, to maybe Darwin? (but maybe not), believe the same thing. This is plainly not realistic, according to the true Integral Vision. This is why I emphasize that science is a great and useful method of investigation (using the Eyes of Flesh and Mind), but not a good life philosophy because it leaves out a lot of evidence (gained via the Eye of Spirit) that cannot be quantified and measured by science's preferred techniques.
To provide another Wilber quote, culled from Frank's own book, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (2003), when he personally interviewed Wilber, the integral pandit explains:
The whole thrust of my work is to make spiritual practice legitimate, to give it an academic grounding so people will think twice before they dismiss meditation as some sort of narcissistic withdrawal or oceanic regression. That's all. I am not doing all of this work just to build a nice system, like Hegel, then put my name on it and admire it and go down in history. I'm doing all of this so we can just forget it and get down to practice [sadhana initiating satori], which is ultimately all that counts.
Perhaps this quote too from Wilber should be more closely studied by Visser:
The archbattle in the universe is always: evolution versus egocentrism. The evolutionary drive to produce greater depth is synonymous with the drive to overcome egocentrism, to find wider and deeper wholes, to unfold greater and greater unions.
Apparently Visser doesn't believe this (or forgot), since I doubt that he seriously meditates himself (other than perhaps some calming, mindfulness techniques), one of the necessary paradigms or exemplars (or practices) needed for real ego-transcendence and spiritual revelation. Rather, he wants to criticize Wilber for not being professional enough in the details of biological evolution, natural selection, and the modern synthesis, and thus prefers to dismiss his spiritual views (aka, the “flat tire” analogy). Yet, as Visser also admits, Wilber doesn't really talk about natural selection, per se, or the science of it, other than to make overall statements suggesting that scientific natural selection alone cannot explain everything that has taken place to create our world and human beings. It does a lot, Wilber maintains, just not enough when taken in the context of seeing ALL of evolution, from the cosmological to the molecular to biological to the psychological to the spiritual aspects of “evolution” or the developmental unfolding of the Kosmos as a whole.
Visser zeroes in on certain details, such as misstatements of biology made by Wilber, but in doing so he fails to acknowledge the overall Integral Vision being offered by Wilber's work.
Visser zeroes in on certain details, such as misstatements of biology made by Wilber (which, I agree, are not correct or well-stated), but in doing so he fails to acknowledge the overall Integral Vision being offered by Wilber's work. Too bad, for it's a distortion. And like I said, Visser has made a “mini-career” and name for himself by highlighting this critique over and over again. But I, another Wilber scholar, disagree with Visser's conclusions.
Therefore, I thought a decent way of describing this Visser Fallacy is to suggest he fails to adequately see with the Eye of Spirit for himself, hence he distorts Wilber's views. But, if you don't see it, you don't see it. I am writing for those people who SEE Spirit, know the Divine Light is real, the Source-Condition of all and All, not because someone told you so, or wrote it down hundreds of years ago, or because Ken Wilber said so, but because YOU have had these deeper truths of Reality revealed directly to your consciousness (or conscious awareness). And, not only that, you know it to be more true and real than anything else you know. Even Einstein, and countless other real scientists also agree… so you can either agree with them, and all of us, or with Visser and his gang of scientific materialists.
My future essays will address other of Visser's Fallacies, such as his inaccurate claim that mystical experiences should add additional insights to the relative world, one of his main complaints. This is an outright CATEGORY ERROR for he is asking the Eye of Spirit to reveal specific mechanics best uncovered with the Eye of Science. No one ever said that, Frank. Though, granted, the Eye of Spirit when seen as a vision of the heart (not the mind) will awaken a deeper sense of love for Nature, and for all living things, including the wide diversity of human beings. This will in fact effect the “real world” (to use Visser's terms), because, alas, Spirit (or Eros as Love-Bliss) is real as the Source-Condition of everything.
Thus, the Eye of Spirit will assist in seeing or knowing the wholeness of the relative world more accurately, including our views on collective human socio-cultural interactions, as well as generating a deeper appreciation of Nature as a living, breathing reality of Divine Spirit, than science alone can provide (or even cares to suggest). In this case, a person's personal response will be more enlightened, more compassionate, more real, giving us a deeper morality in our dealings with ourselves and our world (and the universe). But the reductionism of science fails miserably in this regard, another point constantly overlooked by Visser's views.
Scientific materialism, as an inadequate philosophy of life, will propel industry and technology to do dangerous damage to life and our environment without accepting responsibility, as our current global climate crisis, for one, amply demonstrates. An expanded spiritual and integral worldview gained by opening the Eye of Spirit helps correct these blind spots of science. But this is an area for future discussion (as my essays will propose), yet, I promise, is one that Wilber has seen and acknowledged deeply.
To give some other examples of quotes from Wilber that counter Visser's view, yet support mine, once again, come mostly from earlier sources than what Visser selects (or chooses to overlook):
The ultimate aim of evolution—the movement from the lower to the higher—is to awaken as Atman, and thus retain the glory of creation without being forced to act in the drama of self-suffering.
Development—or evolution—consists of a series of hierarchical transformations or unfoldings of the deep structures out of the ground-unconscious, starting with the lowest (pleroma and body), and ending with the highest (God and Void). When—and if—all of the ground-unconscious has emerged, then there is only consciousness: all is conscious as the All. As Aristotle put it, when all potential has been actualized, the result is God.
Or, even from a later source, Integral Psychology (2000):
Since evolution is one of the crucial ingredients—some would say the crucial ingredient—of the modern scientific worldview, and if we truly wish an integral embrace of premodern, modern, and postmodern, then we need a way to put the theory of evolution in a context that both honors its truths and curtails its abuses.
Indeed, the Integral Vision was generated to transcend-and-include these arguments between science and religion. Its intent is neither to discount science, as a valid method of inquiry, nor dismiss genuine spiritual revelations as just being mere hallucinations (as Freud did; in short, you either value Freud or Jung as being the more valid reading of the human psyche). As only one example from a scientifically-trained evolutionary biologist, but also a man of faith (or Christian): Ken Miller explains in Finding Darwin's God (1999), overall supporting the views of science, that spirituality and science can work together if each remains in its own domain of knowledge:
If the Creator uses physics and chemistry to run the universe of life, why wouldn't [God as Spirit] have used physics and chemistry to produce it, too? The discovery that naturalistic explanations can account for the workings of living things neither confirms nor denies the idea that a Creator is responsible for them.
That is correct: science cannot confirm or deny the existence of Spirit, as Wilber has long maintained. Only satori (or Enlightenment), real ego-transcendence and mystical revelation—or opening (and exercising) the Eye of Spirit—reveals these deeper, spiritual truths. Visser, however, mocks such spiritual insights, calling them “lofty altitudes” (poking fun at Wilber for suggesting he's had them), yet I claim this is mostly because Visser has not yet had these insights for himself (yet). And there's probably good reasons too: Visser focuses on science and the mechanics of natural variation and selection, maintaining his attention in the conventional (and traditional) worldviews of modern society, so he has no need to access these higher state-stages of consciousness. Fine, for him. But some of us, yay, many of us, have had these revelations, under numerous circumstances, so we must INTEGRATE them into our overall worldview, which is what the Integral Vision attempts to do.
I find it amazing, and a telling truth, that all of the people I admire most in the world, from the greatest artists to musicians to philosophers to the best scientists, et al, ALL maintain a view similar to what I and Wilber propose: Evolution (or the creation of the universe) is, ultimately, Spirit-in-action, not mere blind chance or happenstance that fortunately produced us and human civilization! I can go to my grave content this will be proven, once again, when I die and drop the body. I do pray for Visser's fate in such circumstances, for that's a hard way to learn the lesson: SPIRIT, aka GOD, IS REAL! But, sooner or later, us spiritual people maintain, this truth does become obvious to everyone, for it is Reality Itself—though it is esoteric and “hidden” knowledge, which means, a person MUST open the Eye of Spirit to know for sure.
So, Visser doesn't believe that. Fine, by him, but not adequate enough for me or Wilber (and others). We must INTEGRATE and acknowledge the truth of Spirit in our models of reality. Yet, admittedly, this is basically impossible for Spirit is trans-verbal, beyond conception by the mind, so it creates paradoxes, and even misstatements when written down (for it is, truly, ineffable or beyond words). Hence, the reality of Spirit (or God) is only revealed or realized, either that, or constantly doubted, not known by logic or the measurements of science (see my recent essay “INTEGRAL VISIONS: Seeing with ALL Eyes of Knowing”). In other words, such wisdom is beyond the grasp of the scientific method, which is what my essays, and the Integral Vision, tries to point out.
Visser can mock me all he wants that I “over and over again talk about becoming and being (?) one with God”—why the question mark after “being,” Frank?—for that IS my experience. It is not Visser's experience, obviously. But I am in Good Company. Yet, with all the other Sages, et al, and most truly with Wilber too, we all do maintain that it is via Spiritual Evolution, the development or evolution of consciousness itself (for that is God-in-action), that it becomes truly possible for any person to SEE for themselves, and thus not take my word for it (or anyone else's)… or accept Visser's doubts either. Go see for yourself, sisters and brothers!
As Wilber, and myself, and all the world's greatest philosophers maintain: such Seeing with the Eye of Spirit is the most Beautiful, True, and Good thing you will ever discover in this lifetime (or any lifetime)… and will give you peace as you enter the death process as well. We All share in this Truth of the Divine Reality of the Kosmos, whether we see it or not. Let me end by quoting my beloved Guru-Adept and World-Sage, Adi Da Samraj, who has sublimely pointed out:
All things in themselves are effects of the interests of independent living beings. There is no “Great Plan” upon which we can depend, because countless beings—human beings, less than human beings, visible beings, invisible beings, big beings, little beings, beings in every plane within the hierarchical planes of manifestation—all beings are thinking and feeling and acting and desiring and creating effects.
The summation of all this chaotic desiring is the cosmos. God does not make the cosmos. God is the cosmos. God is the Truth of it, the Substance of it, the Condition of it. God need not create one thing. God always stands in place as pure Delight, as Love, as Self-Radiant Being. All the effects, the changes, the appearances arise in God, but they are the results of your own interests. Understand your causality, your own effect, and be free of the disease suggested by these appearances. Realize that the Living One is the Condition of life, the Condition of all forms, and be Happy. This Realization is sufficient to purify you. This message is the only Gospel.
Thus, I will continue to post essays throughout this year, as my essay “Partially True, Partially False” claims, but, for now, I will simply lift my glass, or take a trip through the woods, to toast the Divine Spirit of the Kosmos. What do you say, Frank? I'm buying!
 Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), pp. 110-111 [some italics added].
 Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit (1997), p. 279.
 Ken Wilber, quoted in Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (2003) by Frank Visser, pp. 39-40.
 Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (1996), p. 180.
 Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye (1983, 1990), p. 131.
 Ken Wilber, The Atman Project (1980), p. 83
 Ken Wilber, Integral Psychology (2000), p. 149.
 Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin's God (1999), p. 268.
 Adi Da Samraj, The Dreaded Gom-Boo or the Imaginary Disease That Religion Seeks to Cure (1983).