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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Translated from the German interview "Ken Wilber Unplugged" by Christina Kessler and Anne Devillard, posted on this website.

Ken Wilber Unplugged

Interview with Ken Wilber

Christina Kessler and Anne Devillard

Ken Wilber is the leading pioneer of the integral paradigm today. At last count this "passionate thinker" has authored 19 books, and he is the only philospher in the entire world whose collected works have been published during his lifetime. "One can explain the concepts of the "integral" and the "holistic" in a number of ways," thus Ken Wilber, "Mostly people say that they refer to an attempt to integrate matter, body, mind, soul and SPIRIT, i.e. an attempt to comprehend the entire, great concatenation of Being. Physics deals with matter, biology with the body, psychology with the psyche, theology with the soul, and mysticism with the immediate experience of the SPIRIT. This is why an integral concept of reality must encompass physics, biology, psychology and mysticism."
And therefore must encompass EVERYTHING, we might add.

Someone who has taken on the task of integrating science and mysticism must be borne up and inspired by an overpowering creative energy. In addition: the fact that he has of necessity placed himself outside of conventional categories and has thereby made himself the target of academic criticism renders certain character traits indispensable, such as courage, determination, integrity and most of all an unshakeable faith in his own intuition, matched with a razor-sharp ability to make distinctions. He has all of this, Ken Wilber, "the Einstein of consciousness". One has the feeling he's gotta have it.

Ken comes to greet us at the door of his loft in Denver, laughing: 1,90 m. tall, slim, athletic, in jeans, t-shirt and jogging shoes. Casual, no poses. It is May 11, 2002, 10:00 AM, and we have planned to do a "light" interview with him. We, Christina Kessler, a cultural anthropologist and author of the book, "Amo ergo sum," Anne Devillard, editor-in-chief of the German magazine "Natur und Heilen" ("Nature and Healing"), and Bob Richards, vice-president of the Integral Institute (II). To us, a light interview means first of all to present Wilber's complex and - for many readers - difficult central concepts on a more accessible level, but also to reveal Ken, the private person. Ken had withdrawn from all public appearances two decades ago and has only begun "to get about among people" again since his Institute was founded. He does not want to be built up into a myth, but rather to be seen for what he really is – in his own words: "just a kind of a… guy."

Now he is sitting in front of us, this guy, and before we get going let's try to create a picture for the reader through the "eye of the beholder." Ken has a beautiful voice, a voice that expresses strength and sensitivity at the same time. He speaks directly, with great specificity, often critically, and sometimes bitingly; but all of this is enveloped in the warm-heartedness of his voice, which simply renders everything he says likeable. He is caring and considerate, and in certain moments an undertone of softness resonates in his speech, when he is speaking about mystical topics, for example. He also has the most infectious laughter that one can possibly imagine, loud and resounding. There is a kind of humor about him suggesting that he regards the world's doings and not least of all his own, with the amused eye of an observer. Surely the right combination! Ken immerses what he says with his entire being. This lends him not only presence and intensity, but above all authenticity. Wilber is what he says, thinks and expresses. He embodies diversity and focus simultaneously. It cannot be denied that he possesses a very special attractiveness because of this. It is simply impossible not to like him – assuming one has the opportunity to meet him personally.

We Are All Pioneers

Christina Kessler, Anne Devillard: Ken, you are very popular in Germany at this time. Study and discussion groups, institutes, etc., that are working on and with your theories, are popping up out of the ground like mushrooms! It seems as though the Germans have a special affinity to your thinking thanks to their philosophical heritage.

Ken: I myself am a Northern European thinker with a Southern European lifestyle. All the great systematic thinkers – most of whom were German - are really extraordinary. If you look at the great philosophers of the western tradition, really about seventy or eighty percent of them have come from the German-speaking area, basically. I think thatīs why there is a certain kind of sympathy for some of the steps I am trying to take, because the groundwork was already laid by some of the great European thinkers, such as the great idealists, but also the Rhineland mystics and the whole tradition of integrative reason, as well as transrational spirituality.
And a southern European lifestyle is that I like to lie on the beach and drink wine and eat pasta. This is one of the things we are trying to do now, which is going to be the mark of how any truly integral endeavor succeeds. This is the first time in the history of the world that we have all of the existing cultures available to us. Itīs really astonishing when you think about it.

CK, AD: Yes, we are in a unique moment of human history and therefore the opportunities for positive change and renewal are great.

Ken: Right. It never happened before. The challenges are great, the rewards are great - and we are all pioneers. The thing I like about the integrative is that it alters ideas and knowledge. And the thing I like about being a pioneer is that you can be an absolute idiot and still make important contributions. Because nobody started these things.

CK, AD: (laughing): Now really, one can hardly claim that you are an idiot. You are THE pioneer of the new integral philosophy that is just beginning to assert itself. But many people find your books difficult to read… Ken (teasing): Not Germans!

CK, AD: Yes, Germans too!

Ken (laughs) No, Americans!

CK, AD: No, it's really true. Not even 50% of your readers understand your voluminous works in such a way that they can really grasp them and make use of them. A great many people think that they have to read Ken Wilber, and then close the book after a couple of hundred pages because they are simply overwhelmed by it all.

Ken: I understand, I understand.

CK, AD: Therefore it's important – and not only important – it's necessary to…

Ken: …popularize, make it accessible.

CK, AD: Right! That's the main thing right now, in our view. And that is what we are aiming for today, to present the main aspects of your thinking in a form that is easy to understand. Your ideas are important for our future and therefore we do need to understand them.

Ken: I can make jokes about some of these things, so donīt take them too literally. But if you think about really difficult writers: any German philosopher whose name begins with an H, is difficult: Horkheimer, Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl, Habermas. Thatīs difficult. Ken Wilber is far from any German philosopher whose name begins with an H. Iīm kidding. Iīm joking!

CK: But you're right. For example Habermas is awful to read. I remember, while I was studying at the university I hated him (laughs). I hated him. That's why I was astonished to find him mentioned in your writings.

Ken: I introduced him to a lot of people in America. A lot of people know German thinkers like Schelling, basically, and even Fichte through my work. I agree with you, though, there is a difficulty at one point: in order to be taken seriously, you do have to write like a Heidegger or a Habermas or a Husserl. Thereīs a certain elitism in philosophy. It is understandable. So in America you have to show to some degree you are able to play with intense, high-level analytical thinking. You have to do that to some degree or you are not taken seriously in certain circles. Now, in one sense Iīll never be taken totally seriously in academic philosophy, because I donīt actually do philosophy which is a particular type of game that I think is extremely limited. It has certain rules and a certain lingo and a certain club membership you have to have in order to get into it, and the only thing you do - once you become an official philosopher - is to become absolutely irrelevant to the rest of existence. For some reason thatīs something that is highly valued by these philosophers. I donīt understand that.

CK, AD: Yes, but most of your books are highly academic, too.

Ken: But they're easy to read, aren't they? "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality" for example or what they call in German "Eros, Logos, Kosmos". What I try to do is, to have each sentence be clear even if the overall idea is complex. So I tried to write clear sense. Each brick in the house is very, very clear. Itīs like a 42-story-building with all its rooms and mansions - a very complex structure. But if you are willing to sit down and read it – thatīs an 8oo-page-book - itīs one of the simplest, easiest books. Every sentence makes sense, in my opinion; itīs clear, itīs straight-forward. And if people just take a breath and go into it, they generally have a very good time. In that sense it is very different from what the academic philosophers do: if they ever lapse into a sentence which is clear or easy to understand, they think that they failed at their task, which is to think something so profound that nobody can really understand what they are saying.

CK, AD: But on the other hand: if one reads your books one already has to have some idea about the whole thing in order to understand what's going on, in order to get into it in the first place. Otherwise you haven't got a chance.

Ken (laughing): Itīs true.

CK; AD: So what we think is important right now is to give people an idea of this whole field, some highlights to get them interested. It really is important, Ken! Your ideas are important for our future and therefore we need to understand them.

Ken: OK. I'll give you some of my versions that can serve as more popular or more accessible approaches to all of this. Why donīt we start with … I'll give you one of the simplest kinds of summary I can give of the whole situation…

CK, AD: Great! We'll now relax and listen! (laughing)

All quadrants, all levels

Ken: Part of the model I have developed is based on the attempt to integrate all known forms of human experience and knowledge. And itīs not a fixed, closed Hegelian system. Itīs very open, very fluid, and there is room for new material also. The technical term we use - and then Iīll get to the simple part – the technical term is "all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states all types." We sometimes call it AQAL, which is the short for "All quadrants, all levels." The simplified version is as follows:

If you look at the known human languages around the world, they all have first, second and third person pronouns. And I believe the simplest explanation for this is; as human beings evolved there were these very real dimensions of "I", "You" and "It". For "You" I also talk about "We"; so "I", "We" and "It." All languages have some version of first, second and third pronouns and the reasons that they do this is that these are very real dimensions. And as language evolved, of course words evolved that would reflect these very real dimensions. Thatīs why you find them cross-culturally.
Itīs not some invention of the patriarchy or some Eurocentric notion or some idea you find only in one culture. These are common universal dimensions. So, part of what you want to do if you're gonna have an overall cogruence of most realities is to include first-, second- and third-person-dimensions; or "I", "We" and "It". And those happen to show up in things like the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

"I" is the beauty in the eye of the beholder, the aesthetic dimension. Objective science deals with "Its" or objects. Morality deals with the "We"-dimension of doing the good. So "I", "We" and "It" are morals, science and art, the Good, the True, the Beautiful. These are dimensions of reality that you find basically cross-culturally. I call that part "All-quadrants", because the quadrants just refer to the "I"-, "We"- and "It"-dimensions. So, no matter what entity you investigate, the first thing you wanna do is to make sure you look at every single thing thatīs arising from at least a first, second or third-person approach, because these are very, very different perspectives on one and the same entity. All entities have an aspect that we would get artistically, scientifically and morally.

Thatīs the first part: all quadrants.

Second part: There is a spectrum of consciousness or there are states or levels of consciousness. Everybody experiences the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states and these show that, in a sense, very different worlds come into being as different states of consciousness come into being. This is the very essence of the Kantian notion that ontological objects are creations of the structure of the subject. A different state of consciousness shows you a different world. If you are trying to put all these things together, the very simplest way to do it is to have access to a spectrum of states or levels or stages of consciousness, the simplest of which are waking, dreaming and deep sleep. We also have meditative states of consciousness, all sorts of states, intuitive states and so on. And you can do a complete mapping of all those available states that men and women have around the world: shamanic states, scientific states, artistic states… The general idea is that you wanna basically assume that they are all telling us something important about reality. You donīt want to get in there and start excluding with an "I"-idiom.
If you take that notion which is the All-Level or All- States of consciousness and you put it together with the notion of "I"-, "We" and "It"- dimensions, you arrive at the idea that any state of consciousness can be looked at in a subjective sense, in terms of aesthetic or self-expression, can be looked at in a moral dimension and really can be investigated scientifically. So "All-Quadrants-All-Level" means that basically every known type of experience human beings have can be in a sense mapped on to a comprehensive overview. This will show the relationship of all these different types of disciplines with each other, whether it is politics, business, sociology, philosophy and so on. So much of it just amounts to day-to-day interactions. And the essence of that, what it really means is: if you have a complete map of the human tradition you are going to be able to operate on the basis of its potentials much more effectively. It's just like having a better map of the Alps when you are flying over them; then you're gonna do a better job. If you've got a bad map, you're gonna crash. And most of the disciplines handed to us today, whether itīs science or medicine or education, are bad maps. They are incomplete, they are partial and people are crashing every day into the Alps of their own stupidity.

We try not to do that. We generally find that it is a good thing not to do that.

So thatīs what we are trying to do with a more integral approach. Of course, whatever stuff comes along, we are always trying to fix it, to incorporate it and so on. But the one quality that is necessary to do this type of work is an extremely open mind. You cannot come to it with prejudices and narrow-mindedness and beliefs that one particular way is the only way to see things. So itīs a radically pluralistic approach on the one hand. Furthermore, it sets this radical pluralism in a frame that makes it not just collective, but actually systematic. It integrates. It ties things together and shows how basically everything is related to everything else. In a very slow, organic, or connected mode.

Thatīs a view of the theoretical side of what we are doing. We are trying to come up with a more complete map of the human tradition. Then there is the practical side: How do you apply it? How do you achieve transformation in your own case? If you want to grow and develop, what can be done? If you want to apply this in medicine, in education, in politics, in community planning … itīs pretty much applicable to anything because the map covers everything. We got it by looking at all the possibilities that human beings have: all states of consciousness, all perspectives, all dimensions. By putting these things together you come on to any situation, whether it is the education system, whether it's in your own personal life, in how you run your office, in your relationships – it doesnīt matter. All of these things are applicable, because they all have these various aspects. How you want to apply these is up to you. You can do an enormous number of things with it, or you can just study it theoretically, which some people do. I donīt recommend that. The whole point is practicing it. You can use it along any of those dimensions.

CK, AD (laughing): That was a very good summary. Now we have to think up some further questions.
Ken laughs his typical laughter, loud and hearty.

There is no „one true approach"

Bob Richards: Well, I have a question. What we started on earlier was the notion that we are in a particular novel moment in history right now and that people out there in culture and society are tending to think either in modernist terms or post-modernist terms or traditions. So, how does the integral model correct the fallacies built into these terms that set up absolutisms of reality?

Ken: Yeah. Itīs one of …We are really trying to … avoid all those forms of absolutisms or partial approaches that take their view as the only correct view. If you look at the quadrants we talked about – "I", "We" and "It" - and quadrants means forms - mostly there is a single object in their systems of objects. There is a single "I" and there are systems of cultures, communities, that are "We". So we have "I" , "We", "It" and "Its", the four quadrants. Various types of disciplines want to make one of those quadrants the only real quadrant of existence. Typical scientific naturalists for example plead that the only thing that is real are individual material objects. No subjectivity is real, all the moral dimensions are side-shows and the only thing thatīs is really, really real are rocks and objects and tables and stones, things you can actually measure scientifically. They try to make the "It"-dimension the only dimension thatīs accurate. Systems-theory comes along and says: "Well, weīll correct that. We actually look at systems of things and how they fit together", but they still are looking at objects. So you have systems of how rivers affect mountains and may affect your physical body and how that affects the ecological system and so on. But these are still "Its" that leave out the interior dimensions of subjectivity, consciousness and altered states of consciousness … See, when systems theory claims to be whole, it is actually dealing with a partiality, itīs dealing with the "Its"-dimension of objects, of systems of objects. There are others who want to take the "I"-dimension to be the only real dimension. Traditionally certain mystical states and meditative states claim that thereīs a subjective self thatīs the only reality and that all these other things are illusions.

And recently you have a kind of post-modernist approach, which is that culture itself or the "We"-dimension actually constructs all objects. Everything is a social construction and thereīs no real reality to the "I" or the "It". Itīs all a construction of the social "We". Thatīs the essence of post-modernism. So they too, absolutize one perspective.

Now, what we try to say is: "You know what? You are all right". I mean, all of these approaches are right. "But youīre wrong in the sense that you think only your approach is the correct one". We simply say: "Letīs look at the "I" and the "We" and the "It" and not try to reduce one to the other. Right there we get out of that kind of absolutism, trying to make one slice of reality the only real slice. The same goes for levels of consciousness or stages of consciousness or states of consciousness. The pre-modern worldview tended to have certain states and stages that they allowed. The modernist worldview tends to allow a certain scientific rationality and pragmatic business-rationality. Then the post-modern world has a certain kind of pluralistic state of knowing and thatīs the only thing they allow. What we try to do is, basically, to stand back and look at the fact that we have access to all these cultures around the world. In doing this it becomes really, really, really obvious that trying to take just your particular slice and make it the only slice is completely inadequate to the world situation. It takes a very priviledged, narrow view and that certainly includes post-modernism that thinks that it is the only correct view and everything else is an aberration.

We plead to say: "This doesnīt work. This makes no sense. You have to explain why 99 % of humanity donīt agree with you. In other words, 99 % of human beings have to be described as sick or stupid in order for you to be correct". And we find that to be a sick and stupid view. So this is what happens if youīre looking at all the worldīs cultures. You have to come out with a mind big enough to say: "We have to accept all of these things on their own terms and instead of asking which is right, which is wrong we have to say, "what view can allow them all to be saying something important?" Thatīs an entirely different question. But it's the only question you can ask in todayīs world where all the cultures are coming together. And on how your consciousness grows and develops - it is that unless your own consciousness is capable of rising to that world expansive awareness, then you're gonna be stuck in one of those very narrow, partial views. Thatīs generally not a good thing. An integral view sort of leaves stretchmarks all over your mind, because it is basically having you reach out as far as you possibly can. And that changes your very being. That changes your own awareness and your consciousness. You become much more expansive, more inclusive, more loving, more compassionate.

The Integral Operating System - An Integral Model for Everyone

CK, AD: At this point it becomes very interesting for everybody, for daily life. Not only for complex systems like science, business or religion, but just for ordinary daily life and ordinary human beings.

Ken: Right. And thatīs one of the things that we are trying to do with a - quote -"simplified explanation" like I gave just now. It is not very complex. One of the things that we are trying to do in the Integral Institute, is, really shake it down into very, very simplified ways to get it across.

For example, the few items I described: the "I"- , "We"- and "It"-dimensions and multiple states of consciousness ; itīs something people already have in them. Everybody already has "I", "We", and"It" and everybody has states. Itīs not something I made up and am trying to put into you. Itīs something you already have and weīre gonna talk about. If you get that, it makes our job easy. If we show simple ways to resonate with this in human beings, they light up very, very quickly. Because it's just some parts of themselves that they didnīt know they have. And therefore they can become fuller and richer human beings themselves, in their relationships, their work, their life and so on. So after the theoretical work has been done, the really interesting question is: "How can we get this down to real people on the street – in the best sense people on the street – real-life human people?"

CK, AD: To everybody, so that it will really change something.

Ken: Yeah. Bob Richards, who is sitting here, is one of our key people at the Integral Institute – in the actual Integral Institute – and he really has pioneered ways to take these complex ideas and make them very, very simple in a very, very quick time. He might explain the Integral Operating System; how he uses computer language for people who use that. What we are doing is to install IOS or Integral Operating System, and you can run any software out, if you want, in terms of your own.

CK, AD: This is what is unique about the integral: it reveals two aspects simultaneously. The one is complex because it has to do justice to the complexity of reality. The other aspect is very simple.

Ken: Right. And itīs one of the very difficult things for me – earlier you said, that you cannot understand the part, until you unterstand the whole of it – :people really have to spend some time. They have to read two or three long books like SES or at least "A brief history of everything". But once people get it, itīs blinding and simple. I mean, it really, really is simple. You get the quadrants, you understand levels, you understand states and it all comes almost automatically, because it is something that is already present in you. You are just learning to use things that you already have. You are not having to learn something like deconstruction of wave mechanics or something thatīs very difficult, that people have to pour into you. It is something you already have inside you. So, once people get it, they say "Wow, this is so simple". Once you get it, it is so easy and saves an enormous amount of time.

BR: One of the reasons we call it the Integral Operating System, IOS, is because it is like an operating system on a computer. Once you learn the integral method, it will organize all your experience along the lines that Ken is describing. And so once you install them, at least install them cognitively, then all of your experience becomes much more defined and clarified. You can organize reality a lot better, you can organize complexity a lot better, you can make distinctions between "I", "We"- and "It"-experiences, you can make distinctions between states of consciousness and structural developmental levels in consciousness, and so you will have business applications, you can have medical applications, you can have political applications of this operating system.

CK: You donīt even have to make distinctions anymore, if you've got it. Then you just listen to what is called "the inner voice". And this is something! Because, if you really understood this system – and your map is actually the best, Ken – so then the point comes where you only listen to yourself. You donīt need this map anymore.

Ken: Exactly. Thatīs the thing. I really appreciate the fact that you are saying that. Because sometimes people will say, "Well, he is trying to force me to think in this way." Or, "Wilber has got it all figured out and he thinks he knows everything" and so on. Itīs really just the opposite. When I am putting out that every language has a first, second and third person perspective, for example, it means that in your life, if youīre approaching a situation, at the very least you wanna know: "Ok, how do I feel about the situation? Whatīs going on for the "I"?" You also look at the objective facts of the situation, the "It". "What is actually going on objectively? Whatīs happening here?" Then you want to have a "We"- dimension: the people you are involved with in doing this; mutual understanding about what course of action should be taken. Now, when I point out that thereīs an "I"-, a "We"- and an "It"-dimension, then I say, "Whatever you do, make sure that you touch base with all of those, because they are there." I am not telling you what to think, or that you must tell something with the "I", or you must think something with the "We". I say, "Just check them, because they are there, because they are parts of yourself." The same way when I say, "You have a waking-state-reality, you have a dream- state-reality and you have a formless state of reality", I am not telling you what to think. I am just saying, "If you are leaving out these states that you have, you're gonna be incomplete. So, you are just checking yourself and making sure that you are checking with the entire spectrum of consciousness you have available. Make sure that yourīre checking all these dimensions you have. Technically: all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all that stuff. It is very simple when you actually do it. It makes sure that your inner voice is checking with all of you. Not me, I am out of the picture in that way."

BR: Ken, why is it even important for a nondual awareness to include the integral realisation?

Ken: Thatīs one of the things we get all the time. Every spiritual tradition has an understanding of enlightenment or cosmic consciousness or oneness, or satori, unio mystica, these types of states. And now some people say, "Well, thatīs fine, Ken. But I reached satori. I experienced this sort of oneness, I donīt need all that stuff to talk and think about." But actually this is the world you live in and itīs where you express this realization. And even if you have a realization of oneness and nirvana, then the world of form is still there and thatīs how you express your enlightenment. You can have a perfect enlightenment, but in the world of form, if you are broken, partial and fragmentary, itīs gonna be a broken, partial and fragmentary expression. And thatīs not gonna help. That simply does not help the real world. If you take anything resembling the Bodhisattva vow, the vow to gain enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings, then part of that vow would have to be, to have as clear a map of the human condition as possible, or you are going to screw it up. If you really take the Bodhisattva vow seriously, you are going to become an integral thinker, or you are going to mess it up badly. Itīs just when we are saying, " If we have a bad map for flying over the Alps, we are going to crash." When you want to be a good doctor or a good Dalai Lama, or a good psychotherapist, or a good house-keeper, or a good garage-mechanic, you are going to wanna make sure that you are touching base with all of those parts of yourself. Because thatīs the only way you're gonna actually lift off to what you can be. This Integral Operating System, IOS, is just a way that, once you understand it, your own system starts checking to make sure that youīre including all these things. And it really is your own inner voice, as you are saying, it really is your voice. It is not my voice, not his voice, itīs your voice. But it becomes a fuller expression of what you are, because it is checking all these various aspects that you have and it is less likely to leave out something really, really important. It is in that sense that it becomes useful."

CK: Not only useful. You need it. The inner voice has to be trained, otherwise you canīt differentiate, if it is really the inner voice, or just one of the many other voices inside.

Ken: Yes, exactly. It gives you in the best sense of the word what the Buddhists call "discriminating wisdom" in order to separate the genuine, the deep and the profound from the superficial, the vulgar, the shallow. Thatīs very important and thatīs certainly how, in your own terms, how you both realize your highest state and how you express that state from day to day in the real world. So, the fortunate thing about all these cultures coming together for the first time now is that one will be free from any partial approach by simply looking at what all the cultures have to tell us.

A million years from now we wonīt be doing crosscultural, we will be doing crossgalactic schemes. In the next integral stage it will be: "OK, the Earth people believe this little bitty piece of stuff, the Venusians and the people of Alpha Centauri believe this …" The same what we now say: "The Tibetans believe this and the Germans believe that". So itīs sort of a planetary integral stage and then there will be the interplanetary, intergalactical stage. You can realize oneness with all of that right now and itīs the same oneness that they realize a million years from now. But the form will change. And the form today is integral, itīs crosscultural and if you canīt integrate the cultures, you really just lie blind. You are partial and narrow and it hurts your own soul. It cuts into your own soul to be that partial and that fragmentary. Thatīs why people wanna sort of basically expand into the largeness they are. And the integral model is simply a way to help doing that.

The Current World Situation in Terms of the Stage-Model

CK, AD: This is exactly the situation, that is so razor-sharp these months and that is becoming sharper and sharper every day. On one side this partialness, on the other hand this longing, this yearning for wholeness, completeness. What do you think will happen?

Ken: Itīs an unpleasant world situation, right now, you have to admit. There are some very difficult issues going on. And one of the ways that we approach them – we have been talking up this point about states of consciousness – but there are other models that you can look at; it gives you a little bit of a finer understanding of the types of consciousness available.

One of them is a stage model. There are over a hundred stage models, psychological developmental models from around the world. And on the world scene it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that different blocks of the world are operating on different levels of consciousness. This does not imply judgment. It just implies that there is a difference that has to be taken into account. All of the developmental models that psychologists have come up with in America, in Japan, in Europe, they are all really pioneered by the German idealist tradition. And the whole notion is, that consciousness, like anything else in the world, grows and develops, like a plant or tree is. It grows in stages as it reaches its maturity.

The simplest stage concept was probably developed by Jean Gebser. He called these stages archaic, magic, mythic, rational and integral. And most people understand pretty much what those mean. They are sort of self-explanatory in that sense. Unfortunately what we find in the world today are large blocks that are magic, large blocks that are mythic and large blocks that are rational. No large blocks are integral. If you use developmental scales in this country, in America, it is very similar to Europe. You find less than 2% of the population at anything that could be called an integral stage of development. Most of them are magic, mythic or rational. And unfortunately in the world scene right now we have some very tribalistic, magical, basically terrorist sort of tribal organisations, conflicting with fundamentalist mythic belief structures, whether Christian or Arab or fundamendalists of other orientations, and you have sort of the rational industrial countries, the economic capitalism with its own version.

All three of these have downsides; in global capitalism these are excessive industrial rationalisation, ecological problems and basically what we call McCulture, that McDonald's is invading everywhere as if it represents America that way - although their fries are really un… (laughing). So thatīs the downside of that egoic-rational industrial thing. We all know the downsides of the mythic membership approach, which is the Spanish Inquisition, fundamentalist belief structures, homophobia, patriarchal oppression and so on. And the downside of the tribal magical belief is just that: itīs terroristic, itīs tribal, it canīt form lasting nations with binding unities. We have these three very large blocks at each other's throats. And the real difficulty here is: until you get into an integral stage yourself, you canīt see that all of these are all stages in an overall growth or spectrum of consciousness. So, if you are at a mythic stage, you believe that your view is the only real view. It is another type of absolutism that we were talking about. If youīre industrial rational on the other hand, you think that you have nothing but freedom and truth on your side, you are for all human beings equally and fairly, and youīre the only one thatīs right, and all these other people are wrong. There is no way to resolve the worldīs issues at those levels and unfortunately those levels now govern the world. Therefore there is no way to solve the world's problems. I am serious. There is no way to do that right now.

So whatīs gonna happen? Ideally of course, we would like to think that people would get into an integral stage or stages, that can integrate and see the importance of all of these views, partial but true.

There is some point where you hope that there would be a real world awareness, whose inner gravity at least is integral, because everybody would than have an increasing understanding. This consists of these stages that everybody has to go through and that will design a culture - not really design, the culture designs it itself; itīs spontaneous and self-growing -, where all of these have an expression, but none of them are allowed to dominate. So, one of the things we have in industrialized countries is an egoic-rational constitution that attempts to give certain rights and freedoms to people; and thatīs a step in the right direction. But itīs still not integral. It still doesnīt understand the importance of the other stages.

Our wonderful Mr. Bush is not rational, he is mythic. He is a fundamentalist believer, which is very strange, because usually the United States would have preferred some kind of industrial rationality. They allow us to pollute lakes and kick McDonalds out there, thatīs what America is good at. But Bush is a fundamentalist. So he actually talks about the axis of evil and all like that. Oh, he is very mythic. Most European leaders are just flabbergasted, they are embarrased, they are scared, and itīs unbelievable.
But … even if you have somebody who is at a really decent level - and you can choose whomever you like – some really good world leaders - still these large world blocks are playing out at a magic-tribal level, a mythic-fundamentalist belief-level and a rational-industrial level. And they are all at each other's throats and thereīs no way to resolve that, except through the forces operating at those levels. That means, one of those – theyīve all declared war on each other right now – and one is specifically going to win and more or less, you know, get rid of the others to some degree. This is surely what happened in human history, and until we get to that integral level where we actually have something resembling – not a world government in the strict sense - but some sort of world federation that has an understanding depth for people, cultures and nations - theyīre allowed to be at whatever level but they are not allowed to dominate others; where they are based on their particular level of development and its value structure. At that integral world federation we could expect different types of resolutions to these problems, but we are not gonna get to that without going through what I think will be some very difficult culture wars between these blocks. Because each of them has certain tools of warfare that are formidable. They are most formidable in the industrial-rational nations, itīs not just they have nuclear and very intense forms of warfare, they own the market, they own the economic market. They own all the money. This is a very, very difficult scenario. So I donīt see, with no way near, a sort of aspiration and world social transformation. That is idealistic and wonderful, but thatīs not gonna happen on the world scale in my opinion for quite some time. There is very little we can do right now in my view except create increasingly growing pockets of people with an integral understanding. The more people will have an integral understanding, the better it is going to work out. It might be a very slow and non-violent transition, for example. I wouldnīt rule that out. What sometimes happens, when new structures come into being, is that there is some type of warfare, not necessarily physical. But when the industrial-rational mode of democracy emerged out of the mythic aristocracy, there was of course a revolution in France and America that brought those new structures into play, and a very, very decisive break with the past in that sense.

The next phase is gonna be an integral phase, and we don't know how this is gonna happen. But itīs not gonna happen tomorrow afternoon. So what we wanna see is, increasingly people who are gaining an integral understanding having influence. Not because the integral imposes its view on people, but because it says, "you must look at all peoples before you make a decision". So itīs a very, very expansive, inclusive type of approach, and not something that says, "my industrial values are right and your tribal values are the work of the devil." But the world scene is very, very unpleasant, and I think itīs gonna be very difficult for a very long time. I donīt necessarily see cataclysm, but itīs just gonna be tough.

CK: On the other hand, this enormous pressure is precisely what can speed up the transition. Our present situation encourages people to reflect, it is waking them up, because many of the systems that have existed heretofore no longer function or are threatening to collapse. A great number of people are open for what is authentically new and are opening up to a spirituality that supersedes organized religion. This transition is not being implemented by political, economic or religious groups or blocks - that is true. They only impede the transition. But it is in the air; it can be sensed and felt everywhere in the world. No matter where I travel, I notice this yearning for the new, this feeling of expectation; at the grass-roots, in individual people. And this yearning goes far beyond political and economic innovation or reform. It is a yearning for and a will towards the deepest truth that we all feel in ourselves, the yearning to reconnect with our core essence that integrates everything. This yearning more or less drives us exactly in this direction; towards integral consciousness. And for the first time in human history we have the chance to recognize that that which is truly integral does not come from without, through culture or institutions, but rather is born through that inner state of consciousness that every human being has (at least) an inkling. If we succeed in catching people at precisely that point, they will jump! They all will jump if they sense that the other side provides an answer to their yearning.

Ken: I would say yes and no. I agree with part of what youīre saying and disagree a little bit with a part. We make a distincion between states of consciousness and stages. And most of the natural states are available to people, including a kind of nondual integrative state. But in order for that to become a permanent acquisition it has to become a stage, an actual fundamental stage of development that you incorporate. And so, if we look at that empirical research, on what stage people are at, than that part is little more discouraging. The stage part is a little bit more discouraging. The state part of what youīre saying is right, people do have access to this and they can tap into it. At any stage of development they can get a hit of being one with everything thatīs arising, they can get that kind of integral awareness. But for that to be a real permanent acquisition and not just a peak-experience it has to become a stage. You can accelerate it with techniques like meditation for example.

But for somebody who is at the mythic or rational stage, it probably takes him a minimum of - if they want to transform - a minimum of five to ten years. If they do a really profound psychotherapy or profound meditation – itīs a five or ten years process to the actual transformation. We have a lot of research on that.

CK: Maybe so. But I still see this point somewhat differently.

Ken: Thatīs OK. I have to follow research and evidence and thatīs what I do. So if we follow the stage conceptions and you find that about 2% are at integral and imply that there is a post-modernist stage, about 25% of the people in Europe and America are at this post-modernist stage. And prior to that is the egoic-rational stage, and thatīs about 30% of the population there, and about 40% of these are mythic-fundamentalists. So what weīre concentrating on, are that 20 % in Western cultures that are capable of moving directly to the integral stage. Thatīs not a huge number but it is significant, because the 20 - 25 % at that post-modern stage are most of the baby-boomers, and they have been there for about 30 years. They are ready to transform into the integral, and that theoretically could happen in a year, I mean really tomorrow afternoon. So the question is, what can speed that up. Itīs not gonna be that everybody in the culture becomes integral.

There is just no evidence that this is going to happen that extensively. But 20 % of the population – if even half of those move up to integral - then the integral goes from 2 % to may be 10 or 15 %. Thatīs a very substantial amount. Because, if you look at the revolution that was brought about by the sixties, starting in May, '68 in Paris, those profound changes of the sixties were brought by 20 % of the population. Now when the sixties came through, not everybody became a sixties radical. There were still fundamentalist believers, - they did not become post-modern. There were still the modernist-scientists – they did not become post-modern. 20 % of the population became post-modern and that caused an increase in civil rights, feminism and the ecological movements, diversity movements and so on. So 20 % is very influential. I think whatīs gonna happen in Western culture - the second and third world are still magic-mythic – I believe that that 2 % thatīs now at the integral, is gonna go to 10 or 15 % over the next 10 or 20 years. And even though thatīs not huge, as a permanent acquisition itīs extremely powerful and influential; because the integral stage is a very effective, a very efficient stage. If you give people at the integral stage a task, and give people at the post-modern stage a task, people in the integral stage do it about 10 times more effectively, they just see things more clearly. So if we can have 5 or 10 % of the population in the integral, I believe there will really be sweeping changes. If there are people in leading positions, positions of influence; in government, in education, politics, even if academia is starting to get integral, that would be very, very influential. I believe that, realistically, thatīs the most we can hope for. If 90 % gets there, Iīll be glad. The church will be very upset, but I think a more realistic view of that, 10 to 20 % is still very, very encouraging. Itīs huge in terms of population. And what I like about it, is, that, if what we are saying is right, and the integral is a stage of development, than just as around the world mythic believers are born almost every minute, so they all evolve through the mythic stage even if they are in a rational culture. The child goes through the magic and mythic stages on to the rational.

So around the world you're always gonna find people that believe in fundamentalist religion. Always, because some people will simply stop there, and they will really believe that Christ was born of a virgin, or Laotse was 900 years old … The fact that integral is a stage means, as humanity continuous to unfold, people automatically show up in the integral stage. Itīs not something they have to learn. Itīs a stage of their own development. So weīre going to see an increasing natural production of integral thinkers, whether they have read me or not – because itīs a stage of their own development, they are going to go for some integral approach themselves. They might not have the terms for it, or they might not be as articulate, but itīs a stage of awareness that people are gonna have. And thatīs very encouraging, because it does not depend upon people reading me, or reading Gebser, reading Aurobindo, whoever is integral. That part, I think, is very encouraging. So, are you comfortable with that kind of analysis?

CK (laughing): Yes, with this I'm very comfortable.


BR: Your new book "Boomeritis" is coming out this summer.

Ken: It's coming out next week.

BR: When will it be launched in Germany?

Ken: I am sure they sold the rights, and generally it comes out about six months after. They started translating since I got finished the manuscript. BR: How would you summarize the intention of "Boomeritis" within the context we have been talking about?

Ken: We have been talking about these general stages of consciousness and development, and we have been talking about the magic to the mythic to the rational to the integral. Bob is right. Between the rational and the integral is a pluralistic stage, the post-modernist stage. So that post-modernist stage is about 20 % of the population in Europe. Each stage has its positives and its negatives. The postive aspects that the p.m. pluralistic stage brought, are the civil rights, feminism, all sorts of health reform, environmental concerns and so on. The downside has been sort of the downside of the extreme deconstruction, postmodernist moves. Everything is relative, nothing is right, nothing is better than anything else, you canīt make a statement about any sort of actual truth. And that is based in paralysis of will and thought in academia. I mean that one is really hard-pressed to come with a reason why blowing up the World Trade Center, for example, could be a bad thing. They are just very reluctant to make judgements one way or another. So it paralyzes action. I call that paralysis of will "boomeritis". It ends up with the boomers, the baby boom generation that pioneered it.

"Boomeritis" is a novel based on this phenomenon. Itīs unlike anything I have done before. It will be kind of controversial and ruin my reputation in half of the countries around the world. But I usually have a lot of fun being controversial and to see what happens. Itīs told from the view of a 20-year old male, studying artificial intelligence. You have to read it, to see just how weird and sick it is. But it is a lot of fun. So weīll see what happens there. Itīs basically a put down of people that are trying to prevent integral awareness. Thatīs what it means. And the post-modernists are the center of the prime offenders. Because they really, really have prevented any forward movement in integrating anything. There just is no truth to integrate. There are just their own statements about relativity, and they take that, of course, as the absolute truth.

Ėtīs sort of a presentation of their own contradictions. What it is trying to do, is, work with that 20 % that is ready to move to the integral. Thatīs what it is doing. It is a novel addressed to them.

CK, AD: If this 20% would really leap into the new, it would mean that our lifestyle would change. Worldwide.

Ken: Absolutely.

CK, AD: And if they were to bring the integral into areas like….

Ken: Huge.

CK, AD: Thatīs huge. With only 10 % our lives could be totally different.

Ken: Yeah. It could be huge. And I think itīs gonna happen, because two things are happening:

One is, the baby-boomer generation itself in both Europe and America is reaching the second half of life, and psychological transformation occurs more rapidly at that phase, because they are all facing mortality: somebody you know and loved has died and you are starting to ask all these difficult questions. Transformation again becomes kind of possible.

And then the kids are coming in. They hit the ground running. There are a lot of them coming in integrally thinking already, and they are looking at this whole post-modernist irony, " You canīt make any statement of truth … fuck you, thatīs so ridiculous." They really cut hit the ground very, very fast. And we love it. Most of the people I spend my time with at the Integral Institute, are the kids. Because they got it, intuitively they just get it. But the boomers, ranting old rebels – oh, ah, - they spend hours and hours and they just donīt get it. They think I'm faschist and authoritarian and horrible and all these things. But the kids, they hit the ground running. So I think we really can move that 2 % to 10 %. And that will change everything. It will really change everything. Because the solutions are so much more adequate, so much more efficient, so much more non-violent in the best sense.

That is part of what we are trying to do as well: to work with people in education, politics, business and so on. We should implement these ideas in a very practical level and it shows results. Because of that people will take the idea seriously. If there is just a philospher coming along they only say: "oh, well …"

CK, AD: So there is much work to do.

Ken: Yes, exactly.

"I'm just a kind of a … guy"

CK, AD: Where shall we take it from here, Ken? There are thousands of questions. Not that you leave any questions open in your books. You pose questions, but also present comprehensive answers. But once the seed has been sown, new thoughts begin to ignite in ones innermost core and one would like to know more and more. One would like to bring the new into every nook and cranny of one's life. BR: These European girls are really cute, aren't they, Ken?! An American woman would never express herself this way. CK,AD: Why not?

BR: American girls would ask, "When are you going to buy me that car? When am I finally going to get that new house?" They would never ask, "Give me more of this terrific philosophy." (Roars of laughter)

CK, AD: (acting serious): OK, let's proceed. Tell us a bit about yourself, now, Ken. How did you arrive at your intellectual and spiritual breakthrough? It was a breakthrough, wasn't it?

Ken (joking): Well, I was put here from another planet.

CK, AD: You don't say!

Ken: All of my training before was scientific, studying Its, Its and Its, objects, objects, objects, objects. I went to medical school and then studied chemistry. But all of that was not answering anything I wanted to know. It was all about objects. There is no "I"- and no "We"-dimension. But I really wanted to know about the interior states of consciousness and meaning and value, and then I was drawn to eastern traditions on realization and enlightenment and awareness. So I basically began a very intense search, trying to put all these truths together. Because I was convinced that they all had something to say. I started with the same question we talked about earlier, which is not who is right and who is wrong, but how can it all be right. There has to be some way that they are all saying something important. And this is a very different question to ask. Itīs a very different question. I was lucky. It was the first question I asked basically. And so I wrote my first book when I was 23: "The Spectrum of Consciousness". That was one answer to the question "How can everybody be right?"

CK, AD: But ….this is quite early!

Ken: 23? Yeah, itīs pretty early; --- in earth years. (laughter)

CK: I think you are not really from this planet.

Ken: 23 is early, yeah.

CK, AD: You have a very unique kind of intelligence, like…a machine-gun.

Ken (pretending to be outraged): Thatīs a very American metaphor!

CK, AD: Is it?

Ken: We Americans are very "machine-gun". Tattatatatata…

CK, AD: (Kidding) We at least perceive you so. You make the entire surroundings shake.

Ken: Is it unnerving?

CK, KW: No, not at all. It is most inspiring. [In the meantime the mood of the group has become quite relaxed and lively]

BR: He is the Rambo of philosophy.

Ken: OK. Now you do not put that! That is not …!.

BR: He is the terminator.

Ken: Oh, no, no, donīt put that. No, no, no. No, no, no …(pretends to be defending himself)

BR: He is the Mother Theresa of …

CK, AD: Let's leave it at the "Terminator of Philosophy!"

Ken (pretending to be insulted): Thatīs not a good image for an integrator. We integrate. We donīt terminate anything.

CK, AD: Do you believe that you deserve a better image?

Ken: In any case better than "Terminator." [It is only with difficulty that we return to the subject at hand] There are definitely different modes, different speeds. If I get into meditative states, it is totally different. It is very slow and very expansive. But when I do this kind of work, actually you have to bring an enormous passion, an enormous intensity to it. To do this particular aspect of pioneering work, takes that kind of energy. If you donīt have that intensity, you are not going to make it. So, for pioneers, I think, that part is very necessary. Once you are sort of downloaded and gathered then it is fine. I do not operate like this 24 hours a day. But when I do this kind of stuff I do, it is very, very intense.

CK: It is a kind of creative ecstasy, isnīt it? I know that, too.

Ken: Yeah, there is no other way to do it. But when you go into Zen-meditation, then it is totally different. The energy is entirely different, and then you may have two or three thoughts in an hour. But here …

BR: A key part of the integral is just to do both, to cover the whole spectrum of energy …

CK, AD: And that's what's so fascinating about it. When people finally grasp how fascinating it is to live this way, then they will eagerly open up to the new.

Ken: Yeah. But one of the difficulties I have… See, if you are just going to transcribe it and people read it, read literally the words - and this is about 50 % - then they just don't get the real person. I am sitting here basically and a lot of things I am saying are also kind of jokes; or we are laughing, and there is a certain easiness. But there is also .. - I think it is a fun aspect - to these ideas. We can sit for hours, as we did, with those dense ideas, and actually it is really fun, right?

CK, AD: It is just fun.

Ken: It is fun. Thatīs the energy and the tone and the face expressions. None of those will come across in the transcription, because you wonīt see any of that. A part of my problem is: I am not present enough in just a written word. It is a real problem for me. Because people just look at it, and they therefore supply their own tone, and they think that somebody who is saying these kinds of things very intensely, must be a very serious, very dominating, very authoritarian person. But I am just a kind of a .. guy. But none of that comes across.

CK, AD: Everybody should know you like this. (The room is still filled with our laughter)

Ken: One of the things that really came across, one of the first interviews I did for publication, was a CD that Jordan Gruber did. I was speaking of everything. It is actually the first live interview I have done in 30 years, where people can hear me talk. If you read all the reviews on that CD and then you read the reviews of people that read just the transcript, the word, the written stuff will say, "What, heīs arrogant, he knows everything, he is dadada … " From people who listened to the CD there is not a single negative critisism. Itīs like, " Oh, he is warm….." (interrupts, mimicking desperation) And that again sounds… [We are convulsed with laughter] See, if you transcribe this, theyīll say "He is a total asshole." "He is human, he is witty, he is caring, he is compassionate … " The same words, and if you transcribe them, they say "Jesus …" So I realized that basically I have done a certain kind of disservice by not being physically present more. And thatīs a problem.

CK, AD: Thatīs why it was important to write the diaries.

Ken: Yeah, but even than … it is still better in person. It comes across better in person. The diaries help to some degree. But there is so much conveyed in body-language, in image, in tone, - whether you smilingly say something or whether you frowningly say something. And I just donīt frown. Even if I have been critical, it has been more amusing to me - that we can all be this stupid, you know. But if you transcribe that, it sounds horrible. And I myself have to think, "I am a total fucking idiot". Then, if you actually transcribe that, people go "What is that? What does it mean? That scary guy."

CK, AD: But if one reproduces the interview faithfully, just as it is, without frills, maybe it can give the reader a little bit of this special atmosphere.

Ken: But you're never gonna see the energy and the smile and the laughter and all the stuff that happens … One of the reasons I havenīt done public work is that, because of the certain intensity that is required. Just to go to the information, I have to read two or three books a day, and it is a very, very intense work to pull all this stuff together. And it was just time. I can sit and write the books, or I can go out and teach. It is very hard for me to do both. They are both very demanding. They are both full-time jobs and once you start doing the public stuff, you have to say yes or no, and I have so many friends. If I say yes to one I hate saying no to the other. So I basically stopped – I did a lot of public work up to about when the book first came about, so when I was about 26 or 27. But then I didnīt do an interview for 22 years. Now, in the service of the Integral Institute, finding ways to come out, we are doing some more kinds of this work. Integral is threatening to people because they do think, you are trying to tell them how to think. And sort of they read me saying that, they get scared sometimes and they feel threatened and they get angry. They think that I am trying to control them. Most of the people that meet me in person donīt think that. They think I am an asshole for other reasons, but they donīt think that I am trying to control them. So I am doing a certain disservice by putting forward these ideas through a medium that makes them appear more threatening than they are. If they meet me in person, people at least make up their mind whether they like it or not, based on what I am actually communicating. And most what I am communicating is my body and the energy and the tone and so on. But none of that comes across in writing. So, I guess what I am saying, if they're gonna really dislike me, I want that they dislike me for an integral reason and not for that, that they want to get the complete me, so that than can thoroughly despise me, not supposed to merely partially despise me. So thatīs what we want to try here. Exactly how you do it, I donīt know.

But please, don't say "Wilber, the terminator speaks…."

Đ Copyright Christina Kessler, Anne Devillard

Dr. phil. Christina Kessler is cultural anthropologist and author of „Amo ergo sum. Ich liebe, also bin ich. Selbstrealisation – Der Weg in eine neue Wirklichkeit.", Arbor-Verlag, 2002. This book is about the development of integral consciousness.

Anne Devillard is Senior Editor of the magazine NATUR & HEILEN and Moderator on international conferences on holistic medicine, spirituality and science.

Final editing of interview transcription: Ani Jinpa Lhamo (Edith C. Watts)

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