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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Toon van EijkToon van Eijk (1952, The Netherlands), M.Sc. Tropical Agriculture, 1978 Wageningen Agricultural University. Ph.D. Farming Systems Research in sub-Saharan Africa, 1998 Wageningen Agricultural University. Worked 20 years in Africa on long-term assignments plus 20 years on short-term assignments as free-lance consultant. Great interest in philosophy of science and experiential spirituality.

Rationality as well as spirituality

Wilber, Spinoza and Ontological Presuppositions

Toon van Eijk


Spinoza in the light of spiritual development, 218 pages, 2019.

Recently I published a book on Spinoza's philosophy titled Spinoza in the light of spiritual development.[1] Spinoza is an interesting philosopher, especially because some consider him to be a rationalist while others see him as a kind of mystic. How possible that one and the same philosopher is so differently interpreted? In my view these differing interpretations of Spinoza's work are due to different ontological presuppositions of the interpreters concerned. Unfortunately, most people (scientists and philosophers included) do not make their implicit presuppositions explicit. This results in a lot of confusion in scientific debates.

Could it be that the discussions on the Integral World website about the refusal of Ken Wilber to respond to his critics are related to non-explicated (especially ontological) presuppositions? Are the differing interpretations of Wilber's work due to differing implicit ontological presuppositions? And can rationality and spirituality be reconciled at all? In this article I will attempt to elucidate above questions with the help of my book on Spinoza's philosophy.

Before I start I would like to refer to Erdmann and Parker who say that in the introduction to Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995) Wilber writes: “I will be telling the story as if it were simply the case (because telling it that way makes for much better reading), but not a sentence that follows is not open to confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate ” (p. ix-x).[2] As Erdmann and Parker have argued, this indeed is a weird sentence. The two parts in the sentence 'telling the story as if it were simply the case' and 'a community of the adequate' are unusual and peculiar, at the very least. 'Confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate' refers to a scientific story, but the term 'adequate' is weird in a scientific context. I will come back to this.

Three scientific paradigms

In my view ontology precedes epistemology and methodology. Ontology concerns the ultimate nature of reality, while epistemology concerns the nature of knowledge and the relationship between subject and object. It is important that implicit, ontological presuppositions (which are non-scientific and thus beliefs) are explicated right from the start. That is why the first chapter in my book on Spinoza's philosophy starts with an Initial clarification of my predispositions (subchapter 1.1). Chapter 2 (Three scientific paradigms) has two subchapters (2.1: Why explicate underlying predispositions?) and (2.2: Discussion of the various criteria for characterization of the three paradigms).

I distinguish between three co-existing but different scientific paradigms: the positivist, constructivist and transcendentalist paradigm. The criteria used to characterize these paradigms in a comprehensive way are: ontology, epistemology, methodology, type and role of rationality, spirituality and role of intuition. A detailed discussion of the three paradigms would take too much space here, so I refer to chapter 2 of my book.[3]

The three paradigms coexist and each paradigm has its strong and weak features. The currently most dominant scientific paradigm - the positivist paradigm - is an approach to reality that is very useful under certain circumstances. Similarly, the constructivist and transcendentalist paradigm can contribute to the solution of societal problems. Each paradigm has its own niche, but a simultaneous use of the theoretical concepts and practical methods of the three different paradigms generates the greatest chance of success.

In Table 1 I give a brief and very simplified characterization of the three paradigms by using two criteria: keyword and methodology. The dominant positivist paradigm is characterized by the keyword matter and the methodology of experimental testing. In this paradigm the underlying presupposition is that the ultimate nature of reality is physical and that material reality can be known through experimental research. The constructivists in the constructivist paradigm leave aside what the ultimate nature of reality is. They construct a socially-constructed reality via reasonable thinking and communication.

In the transcendentalist paradigm the underlying presupposition is that the ultimate nature of reality is 'psychic' or that 'the' reality is different in different states of consciousness. Here the starting point is a transcendental consciousness, which can be experienced by for example techniques for development of consciousness or meditation techniques.

Transcendental consciousness

But what is this transcendental consciousness? Transcendental consciousness is the most refined level of human consciousness: a level of pure consciousness, a consciousness-as-such without any content in the consciousness, a consciousness with only mental silence. At this level of consciousness, the continuous thinking - the continuous flow of thoughts, the incessant inner talk - comes to rest. The general assumption, especially in the West, is that a state of consciousness without any interpretative activity of the intellect is impossible. A state of pure consciousness, in which all thinking is transcended, is considered impossible, is simply unthinkable. Well, the state of transcendental consciousness is also unthinkable: this state of consciousness can only be experienced by transcending all thinking.

The confusing thing about the process of transcending is that it cannot be explained to others in a meaningful way; one simply has to experience it oneself, in the same way as one has to taste an apple to get to know its specific taste. One can explain for hours what an apple tastes like, but without the actual experience of eating an apple, everything remains superficial: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Descartes' famous statement - cogito ergo sum: I think so I am - implies that the only possible form of being is a form of thinking-being. This denies the possibility of a state of consciousness that lies beyond all thoughts, a state of only being.

Koestler says: “We must distinguish [between] general states of consciousness - [such as] degrees of wakefulness, fatigue, intoxication - and the degree of awareness of a specific activity. The first refers to 'being conscious', the second to 'being conscious of something'. The first corresponds to the overall lighting of the stage, the second to the beam concentrated on a particular actor ”.[5] Koestler speaks of a state of pure consciousness, without object or content other than consciousness itself.[6] There must be a carrier (pure consciousness) and content of the carrier (content of consciousness).

A universal and relative reality?

Table 3 shows the ontological position in the three paradigms schematically.[7] In the dominant positivist paradigm only a universal material reality exists that can be engineered. Constructivists say that the question of whether a universal reality exists is irrelevant, and that the everyday world is an intersubjective reality. Constructivists claim that it is irrelevant whether a universal, autonomous, non-contextual reality exists or not, because we cannot know such a reality anyway. According to them, it is fundamentally impossible to know such a reality, even if it existed. This has been the dominant position in Western culture since Immanuel Kant. Kant claimed that people do not know the 'world-in-itself', but the 'world-as-represented-by-the-human-mind'.

In the transcendentalist paradigm, universal reality is 'the field of creative intelligence' (the territory) while the everyday world is an intersubjective, relative reality (a contextual map of the territory). But what is this field of creative intelligence?

A field of creative intelligence?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Here above I have indicated that transcendental consciousness or 'consciousness-as-such' can only be experienced by transcending all thinking. Since 1972 I am practicing twice daily the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, which aims at transcending all thoughts. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced the TM technique in the western world, claims that consciousness has two aspects. These transcendent and immanent aspects of consciousness can be seen as the two sides of a coin. The transcendent aspect, the transcendental consciousness or the consciousness-as-such without any discursive content, can be experienced through for example the TM technique. The immanent aspect of consciousness Maharishi calls the field of creative intelligence. This field of creative intelligence refers to an intelligent organizational pattern which underlies all nature, including man. Man has access to this field of creative intelligence through his own consciousness. The field of creative intelligence is simultaneously immanent in - and transcendent to - the world. This sounds and is paradoxical. I will come back to it later.

The ontological position in the transcendentalist paradigm is thus that a universal and immanent field of creative intelligence exists (Spinoza calls this the Law of Nature or Reason) that can be experienced personally as transcendental consciousness. An individual transcendental consciousness and universal immanent consciousness co-exist. Wilber speaks in this context of the transcendent and immanent aspect of spirit/Spirit, where spirit (with lowercase s) represents the transcendent aspect of the unity of spirit/Spirit and Spirit (with uppercase S) the immanent aspect.[8] In my terminology spirit is the transcendental aspect of consciousness and Spirit the immanent aspect of consciousness.

This ontological position or presupposition in the transcendentalist paradigm is non-scientific in the sense that the existence of an immanent field of creative intelligence cannot be proven with the methodologies of the positivist and constructivist paradigms. The methods of investigation in the positivist paradigm, i.e. sensory perception and experimental testing, cannot validate the existence of the field of creative intelligence. Nor can verbal communication in the constructivist paradigm. Spinoza would say: discursive reason has no access to Reason. All this is linked to Wilber's remark about a community of the adequate. I will come back to this.

Intellectual authoritarianism

In his search for the limits of human cognition, Kant could easily dismiss transcending as scientifically irrelevant, because he and most of his contemporaries had no direct experience of transcendental consciousness.[9] In science, however, the principle of 'majority rule' is not applicable: the number of people with such experiences cannot be used as a scientific argument. Many constructivists appear to see constructivism mainly as an epistemology, and neglect its ontological aspect. But ontology (what is the nature of reality) precedes epistemology (what is the nature of knowledge), and without a clear ontological position, the mistake of lumping ontology and epistemology together will continue to frustrate scientific debates.

According to Harbers, the postmodern philosophy of de-constructivism, historicism and contextualism becomes inconsistent as soon as it claims to be a general rule.[10] The philosophical discourse is not helped by exaggerated contextualism, which only leads to chatter, not to debate - let alone action.[11] Wilber refers to the extreme post-modern, 'post-truth' stage.[12] Postmodernists who want to keep all variables adjustable have no choice but to remain silent. It results in the unbearable lightness of postmodern being.[13] Without an explication of ontological presuppositions many discussions get bogged down in endless talking or babble. In my view, the possibility of an all-encompassing and coherent paradigm cannot be ruled out in the sense that the three earlier mentioned paradigms co-exist.

The transcendentalist paradigm offers a coherent perspective without falling into the trap of intellectual authoritarianism, since the main methodology of this paradigm (development of consciousness or spiritual growth) focuses precisely on liberation from the continuous identification with the intellect. The methodology of the transcendentalist paradigm aims at transcending the continuous flow of thoughts, the incessant inner talk. It aims at transcending the constant identification with the rational-empirical consciousness. The individual, free, anarchist if you want, experiential spirituality that characterizes this paradigm goes against any form of totalitarian behavior. It is spirituality grounded in personal experience, not based on dogmas.

Spinoza fought against the intellectual totalitarianism or dictatorship of church and state. He designed a radically new ontology by replacing the traditional transcendent God with an immanent, nature-inhabiting God (Deus sive Natura, God or Nature, God i.e. Nature). However, designing new theories is useful, but deriving verifiable hypotheses from these theories is crucial in a scientific context. I will come back to this.

Epistemology: Wilber's five modes of knowing

This section is based on subchapter 4.7 in my 2019 book.[14] In scientific literature the concepts of mind, intellect, reason, spirit and soul are sometimes used in a sloppy manner. The same applies to the associated modes of knowing. This results in unnecessary confusion and sloppy thinking. Wilber gives a useful classification of five different modes of knowing. Wilber uses the three words matter, mind and spirit in his books that I consulted. Wilber doesn't use the word soul, so I will do the same to avoid confusion. I use the words intellect and reason as synonyms. These two words refer to the previously mentioned concept of the rational-empirical consciousness.

In Diagram 5 Wilber distinguishes three ontologically different levels or domains of being: matter, rational-empirical consciousness and transcendental consciousness, with the corresponding material, intellectual and spiritual domains. This simple three-layered hierarchy of domains of being results in five different modes of knowing.[15] Wilber uses the terms matter, mind and spirit (or instinct, reason and intuition) for the three levels of being, but I think that my terminology is more appropriate because it makes a clearer distinction between different levels of consciousness. Since reason does not only look at its own intellectual domain, but also at the other two domains (the material and spiritual domain) we have a total of five different modes of knowing.

Mode of knowing number 5 is sensory-material perception: the eye looks at a tree, or rather through the sense of the eye we see the tree via all kinds of physical-chemical processes that take place in the eye and brain. Mode of knowing number 4 is the empirical-analytical method, resulting in ideas of the reason about the sensory-material world. This is the dominant mode of knowing in the positivist paradigm. Mode of knowing number 3 is the hermeneutic method, resulting in introspective knowledge, i.e. knowledge of the reason about the intellectual domain. This mode of knowing number 3 is an important method in the constructivist paradigm. Mode of knowing number 2 is paradoxical reason, i.e. the attempt of reason to think about transcendental consciousness. It is called paradoxical reason because reason necessarily generates paradoxical statements when it tries to think about the spiritual domain. The spiritual domain is non-dualistic or paradoxical in the sense that it is both transcendent and immanent.

Wilber writes:

Paradox is simply the way non-duality looks to the mental level ... when the mind tries to think about [the spiritual domain] then non-duality shows up as two contradictory opposites, both of which can be shown to be equally plausible because neither is complete by itself. The best you can do therefore is affirm both sides of the duality ... (which) gives you paradox.[16]

Mode of knowing number 1 is direct, personal experience of transcendental consciousness. It results in non-mediated and non-symbolic knowledge. It's a kind of intuitive knowledge, says Wilber. Mode of knowing number 1 is the dominant method in the transcendentalist paradigm. This knowledge is non-mediated because it is not generated by the intellect, it is not knowledge obtained through thinking about something, but it is grounded in direct personal experience of transcendental consciousness. Mode of knowing number 1 usually requires regular practice of some technique for spiritual development.

The arrow between transcendental consciousness and reason indicates that intuitive, refined thoughts are input for the conscious discursive reason. And the arrow between matter (the body) and reason indicates that sensory impressions are input for reason.

Transcendent/immanent consciousness

In Diagram 5 both rational-empirical and transcendental consciousness play a role. In Diagram 5 the immanent aspect of consciousness is represented by the paper on which the diagram is drawn. In the earlier mentioned 'spirit/Spirit' unity spirit is the transcendental consciousness and Spirit the immanent aspect of consciousness. In my view Spinoza's notion of an 'immanent God-Nature' is this immanent aspect of consciousness or the field of creative intelligence or Reason as Spinoza labelled it (Reason with uppercase R in order to distinguish it from reason with lower case r which is the intellect). In theistic terminology you can distinguish between a transcendent and immanent God. In secular terminology you can speak of the transcendent and immanent aspects of consciousness.

It is necessary to specify the word 'consciousness' because it is difficult to discuss the domain of spirituality without involving paradox. I will use the term 'transcendent/immanent consciousness' when I refer to both aspects of consciousness at the same time. The transcendent/immanent consciousness itself is not paradoxical: “it is, strictly speaking, beyond all characterization and qualification whatsoever ”.[17] The transcendent/immanent consciousness is prior to any form of conceptual elaboration. The notorious, and unavoidable, paradox is that transcendent/immanent consciousness is both transcendent to - and immanent in - the world. Our verbal formulations must include both sides of the paradox: the transcendent/immanent consciousness transcends everything ánd includes everything. The transcendent/immanent consciousness is “both the highest level of reality ánd the condition or real nature of every level of reality. It is the highest rung on the ladder, ánd it is the wood out of which the ladder is made ”.[18]

One half of the paradox is hierarchy. The domain of transcendental consciousness is transcendent to, or different from, the domains of matter and reason. The other half of the paradox is that all things are transcendent/immanent consciousness. On the one hand transcendent/immanent consciousness is the Summit of all domains; on the other hand, it is the Ground of all domains, the 'suchness' or 'isness' of all domains. Since the immanent aspect of consciousness is all-pervading and all-inclusive, there is no place outside it from where you could 'objectively' describe it.[19]

The territory and the map

We saw in Table 3 that in the transcendentalist paradigm the universal reality is the field of creative intelligence (the territory) while the relative, intersubjective reality is the everyday world (a map of the territory). We also saw that the dominant position in Western culture since Kant has been that man can only know 'the-world-as-represented-by-the-human-mind'. Man only knows the map, not the territory. In order to approximate intellectually the one universal Ground of the world (the territory), people create interpretations that are, however, always socially-constructed and historically-situated. Only the Ground itself (the territory) and its direct experience - before all interpretation - remain unchanged.[20]

The putting into words of this experience - resulting in a map of the territory and not the territory itself - generates differing descriptions. The obvious difference between scientific paradigms and mystical experiences is that paradigms are mental constructs, whereas mystical experiences imply actual transcending of all contents of discursive reason.[21] Scientists are mapmakers and the mystical experience is part of the territory.[22]

It is important that we do not confuse mode number 2 with mode number 1. Immediate, non-conceptual insight (mode number 1) can be born in the gap between thoughts, when reason becomes silent, when the inner talk stops.[23] Transcendental consciousness can only be directly experienced. When you only speak or write about transcendental consciousness, assisted by the intellect, you merely develop a rational concept of this consciousness. Without a method to experience transcendental consciousness directly, it is easy to make category errors. Category errors, in which different modes of knowing become hopelessly mixed up, must be avoided.[24]

Differences in kind and differences in degree

According to Schumacher there are differences in kind, and not simply differences in degree, between minerals, plants, animals and humans.[25] The distinction between differences in kind (transcendence) and differences in degree (immanence) is here explicated with the example of Stones and stones.

From an immanent point of view there are only differences in degree, no differences in kind, since the same field of creative intelligence underlies everything. For example, a stone and a (Rolling) Stone are both expressions of creative intelligence. Creative intelligence expressed in the form and color of a dead stone and creative intelligence expressed in the lively music of a Stone. Or, in other words, vibrations of creative intelligence 'frozen' in the form of a stone and vibrations of creative intelligence exploding in the dynamic music of the Greatest Rock & Roll Band on Earth. From a transcendent point of view, however, there are obvious differences in kind between stones and Stones. The first don't play music and don't fill stadiums with people all over the world; they're just non-rocking stones. The latter are an extraordinary species of the human race with an ability to transcend cultures through their music. A stone and a Stone are on different levels in Diagram 5, but on different levels of the same creative intelligence. Or, in other words, a stone (matter) and a Stone (matter, reason and transcendental consciousness) can be distinguished vertically, but not radically separated, since both are interconnected horizontally by the immanent field of creative intelligence. There is transcendence ánd immanence. In short, a paradox that is difficult to comprehend at the level of discursive reason.

Verification of modes of knowing

This section is based on subchapter 4.8 in my 2019 book.[26] Another example of a category error is mode 4 - the empirical-analytical method of orthodox science resulting in objective facts - rising to the modes 3 and 2, i.e. to the methods that seek knowledge about the intellectual and spiritual domains through reason. That is the great problem of psychology and philosophy. When the empirical-analytical method is extended to these domains, the result is often disguised reductionism.[27] Schumacher holds a similar opinion with regard to economics.[28] In economics the emphasis on quantification and modelling has not necessarily led to better results. The theories developed in modes 3 and 2 cannot be verified by empirical-analytical methods. The verification of mode 3 is not empirical, but hermeneutical: knowledge about the intellectual domain can be verified in a community of peers, i.e. persons who interpret this knowledge in an intersubjective manner.

Mode 2 (paradoxical reason) cannot be verified by either empirical or hermeneutical procedures; only by using mode 1 can paradoxical claims be verified. The verification of mode 1 (e.g. via meditation techniques or other techniques for spiritual development) takes place in a community of peers, i.e. persons who practice techniques for development of consciousness and who experience transcendental consciousness personally.[29]

Here the weird remark of Wilber on 'confirmation or rejection by a community of the adequate' in the Introduction of this article is relevant. A community of peers is different from a community of the adequate. Peers are persons who are trained in a certain field and are experts in their field. The word 'peers' does not carry a connotation of moral judgment. The term 'the adequate' however does carry a connotation of moral judgment and should therefore not be used. In combination with Wilber's refusal to respond to critics the term 'the adequate' is unfortunate, at the very least.

Testable hypotheses

We need to distinguish between theory formulation and the practical applications or effects of these theories in everyday life. If we have a theory and can derive testable hypotheses, these can be validated or falsified in a positivist-scientific way, using applied statistics. Even if the theory is still controversial and the underlying theoretical principle unclear, scientific research can be done, as long as the derived hypotheses are testable. In this way evidence-based recommendations or practices can be developed.

In psychology and philosophy one deals with subjective truths in the sense that they are part of the subjective domain, but that does not necessarily imply individual whim or wishful thinking. These truths can be thoroughly tested in a community of peers. In principle, all three domains in Diagram 5 are open to investigation by the scientific method.

Genuine and bogus knowledge

The scientific method applies to all knowledge claims that are open to experiential validation or refutation, as opposed to non-testable dogmatic proclamations.[30] The domain of transcendental consciousness is also open to experiential disclosure, i.e. spirituality can be tested. Just as mathematical knowledge can be confirmed or refuted by equally trained mathematicians, spiritual knowledge can be verified by equally trained peers, i.e. persons trained in techniques for spiritual development.[31] In orthodox science we accept that we can only duplicate experiments in principle. With regard to acceptance of the theories of atomic physics, for example, “we do not ask that we all have a billion dollar cyclotron in our back garden, but put our faith in … authorities in the field ”.[32] We just believe what the scientists concerned tell us. In fact, it is easier for laymen to verify the possibility of access to higher states of consciousness, and their beneficial effects, than to test the claims of atomic physics.

According to Wilber, there is no real conflict between science and religion, but only a battle between truthful and untruthful knowledge (genuine and bogus knowledge). It is experiential science and religion versus dogmatic science and religion.[33] If science is the study of the material and intellectual domains, and if religion studies the spiritual domain, then the battle between genuine and bogus appears at every level. The general quest for knowledge is characterized by unity-in-diversity: a unity in methodological criteria (experiential modes of knowing resulting in genuine knowledge) that underlies a diversity in objects (domains).[34] A comprehensive approach needs to encompass all modes of knowing, including mode 1.

Scientific research on techniques for spiritual development

With regard to the scientific character of techniques for spiritual development, three criteria can be distinguished. First of all, the inner subjective experiences must be realized in a systematic way and be repeatable. Strictly speaking, no scientific status can be attributed to non-repeatable experiences.[35] Secondly, it concerns experiences of a stable, unchanging and to everyone accessible inner condition, i.e. experiences of transcendental consciousness. This level of consciousness is truly universal, in the sense of always the same for everyone everywhere (however, verbal accounts of this consciousness will differ).

Thirdly, effective methods for spiritual development must transcend their own activity in order to reach the level of transcendental consciousness, where discursive thinking or inner talk gives way to inner silence. A method that does not transcend thought cannot be universal, but will always be subject to the intellectual, emotional, political and other characteristics of individual persons.

The interested and motivated seeker has many methods at his/her disposal to make contact with transcendental consciousness. The selection of a particular method is a personal choice, mainly guided by personality characteristics and cultural background. Although transcendental consciousness cannot be 'engineered', the receptivity to gain access to transcendental consciousness can be trained. I therefore define experiential spirituality as the process by which one systematically trains the receptivity to gain regular access to transcendental consciousness. I deliberately emphasize the importance of a systematic training to gain regular experiences of transcendental consciousness. After all, methods and techniques for spiritual development that do not result in regular experiences of transcendental consciousness are difficult to investigate scientifically. Scientific research requires regular and repeatable experiences, in this case experiences of transcendental consciousness. Nevertheless, coincidental experiences of transcendental consciousness can sometimes transform lives completely.

The TM technique is an example of a technique for spiritual development that focuses on systematic training to gain regular access to transcendental consciousness. The individual and societal effects of the TM technique have been thoroughly investigated. Scientific research shows that these individual and collective effects are positive.[36] A spiritual attitude to life proves to be societally beneficial. TM is just one of many meditation techniques aimed at facilitating access to transcendental consciousness, but it has been comparatively well scientifically investigated.

Scientific research into the individual and collective effects of techniques for spiritual development generates indirect evidence for the existence of transcendental consciousness. This indirect evidence can be complemented with direct evidence via personal, direct experience of transcendental consciousness. Moreover, verification by others in communities of peers, i.e. persons trained in development of consciousness, makes the existence of transcendental consciousness more plausible.

Seven considerations concerning the experience of transcendental consciousness

The underlying idea is that spiritual development leads to more positive behavior.[37] The idea that regular experience of transcendental consciousness guides our behavior in a societally and ecologically responsible direction is based on seven considerations.

  1. The existence of a universal transcendental consciousness can be deduced from logical reasoning. Thoughts emerge, but emerge from what or in what? In the gap between two thoughts the transcendental consciousness remains present, although there are no thoughts (no content of consciousness). This can be personally experienced.
  2. Throughout the history of mankind, people (including scholars and philosophers) have referred to a creative source from which all cultures and traditions emerge, a kind of trans-historical Archimedean point: transcendental consciousness.
  3. The assumption underlying the attempts of people to experience transcendental consciousness is that this experience results in more happiness and in societally beneficial behavior. Not only old mystics, but also (some) modern scientists are of the opinion that experiential spirituality contributes to the development of societally and ecologically responsible behavior (for example: Schumacher, Wilber, Russell, Orme-Johnson, Duintjer).
  4. Institutionalized religions have often discouraged the direct personal experience of transcendental consciousness. In some cases, experiential spirituality has even been aggressively undermined. Instead of providing effective and efficient techniques for development of consciousness, institutionalized religions have emphasized morality based on (religious) authority. This enforced morality has not proved very successful, as evidenced by the fact that a (large) part of the world's population does not behave in a societally and ecologically responsible manner (including religious people). However, some minority groups within the institutionalized religions always have stressed the importance of individual mystical experiences, often against the wishes of religious authorities.
  5. Although the experience of transcendental consciousness can be obtained only personally, and thus subjectively, verification of such experiences in communities of peers is possible. People who are trained in techniques for development of consciousness can verify each other's experiences.
  6. Research shows that the effects of these experiences can be registered and measured with scientific instruments. Scientific research shows that the state of transcendental consciousness is a measurable reality: our neurophysiological system produces effects that can be instrumentally verified. This implies that a person's progress in development of consciousness can be measured by collecting physiological and psychological data. In this way, the effectiveness and efficiency of techniques for development of consciousness can be determined.
  7. Scientific research into the individual and collective effects of the TM technique shows that regular practice of this technique results in societally beneficial behavior.

The enlightened adult

In Table 5 I present a framework of human development in three phases: child, adult and enlightened adult.[38] Table 5 is an ideal-typical description, so in reality the three phases cannot be distinguished that sharp. The state of enlightened adult in Table 5 is an ideal type, but in principle ordinary mortals can reach the state of Enlightenment. An enlightened adult simultaneously uses instinct, reason and intuition, but especially intuition is highly developed through permanent access to transcendental consciousness. In the course of human history, the ideal of the enlightened adult has been realized by only a (very small) minority of individuals. Nevertheless, it is not an unattainable dream, but rather a realistic ideal worth striving for. We can become full-grown social beings by gradual spiritual development. This does, however, require time investment in development of consciousness.

Duintjer, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, defines transcendental consciousness as a preceding, all-encompassing, trans-discursive and trans-personal consciousness. The use of the prefix 'trans' in the description of the enlightened adult points to the preceding and all-encompassing character of transcendental consciousness. In order to reach the level of transcendental consciousness, the rational-empirical consciousness, i.e. reason, must be transcended.

An underlying and overarching witness-consciousness

According to Duintjer, gaining access to transcendental consciousness is a spiritual learning process. It is a step-by-step learning process in which we work on the gradual opening and purification of our consciousness.[39] It is a deepening or broadening of our consciousness, made possible by this purification. Duintjer says that a spiritual attitude to life can be relevant to solving societal problems. This is because “mutual cooperation and solidarity are less difficult to establish when the part of our consciousness that surpasses our person, group or culture is less clouded ”. Doing good work, in an ethical-social sense, benefits from a learning process of self-contemplation and purification. The essential connectedness of all conscious beings can be experienced when each finite consciousness is part of an underlying and overarching consciousness. However, as long as discursive thinking functions as a blocking ceiling to all possible experience, a truly spiritual attitude to life cannot emerge at the level of transcendental consciousness. In the next paragraph Duintjer says more about moral commandments and development of consciousness.[41]

He writes: “In meditation you can, by becoming silent within, come into contact with a witness-consciousness [an inner doorway] that just watches passing thoughts and impressions without starting to think about them (so there is no reflection) ... Is the ethical imperative of obedience to morals (such as charity, compassion and non-harm) a derivative of a preceding reality? In the conventional domain of dualities, the ethical-normative would then be a primary echo and reminder of that preceding reality, where all are connected. From the perspective of that reality, there is indeed as much reason to love your neighbor as yourself ... Here lies a source for renewed reflection on the meaning and background of morality. In Western theistic traditions - apart from experiences that mystics refer to in all traditions - there is a tendency to see the transcendent, in which people believe, primarily as morally imperative institution, as 'a Lord who has given commandments'. Since people became less and less inclined to accept authoritarian beliefs, many lost belief in God, and moral commandments themselves were given the highest primacy (for example, in the form of a 'categorical imperative', now under the title of 'norms and values'). By now, however, quite a few young people, a few generations later, are wondering why they should believe in norms based on authority. Isn't experience with real connectedness more important? ... The main question is always: what within us is in charge, what provides direction? .... Wouldn't it be possible to learn cultural skills (discursive knowledge and know-how) without losing contact with the inner doorway? In any case, it is never impossible to learn to find such contact again ”.

The fact-value dualism

Spinoza is a radical and revolutionary thinker in the sense that he rebels against any form of mental extortion, whether it comes from the church or other authorities. With regard to liberation from patronizing authorities and mental extortion by the church, I refer to Table 6 in which the relationship between science, institutionalized religion and experiential spirituality in pre-modern, modern and post-modern society is sketched.[41]

Table 6 is an ideal-typical description, so in reality the three phases are less sharply distinguishable. In pre-modern society the church was dominant, whereas in modern society we have an independent science in which we are supposed to separate facts from values. However, the current crises concerning migrant flows and climate change show that reason cannot cope with the fact-value dualism. In these crises 'hard' economic and ecological facts as well as 'soft' political and cultural values play a role. The present-day discussion on fact-free politics also indicates that the fact-value dualism still plays a role. We do not want a regression to a pre-modern situation, in which the facts and values were established by political and/or religious authorities.

But we also realize that the fact-value dualism is simultaneously an important achievement of modern Western culture (we don't want regression) and contributes to our lack of wisdom (a strict focus of reason on so-called 'objective' facts does not generate wisdom). A strict separation of facts and values is simply impossible. Every so-called objective scientific fact is grounded in underlying, generally not explicated values. In the perspective of the constructivist paradigm, all scientific knowledge is socially-constructed knowledge. The fact-value dualism is a so-called 'divergent' problem that can only be transcended. With only logical and discursive thinking by reason at the level of the rational-empirical consciousness, divergent problems cannot be solved. Logical reasoning complemented with development of consciousness is more likely to generate wisdom, in the sense of societal and ecological rationality.

Experiential spirituality

In my view the liberation from mental extortion by religious and political authorities is promoted by development of consciousness. In this context it is useful to distinguish between institutionalized religion (as articulated in churches and denominations) and experiential spirituality. Spirituality refers to the original meaning of religion: religare, religio, to reconnect, to re-establish a connection. The question is to re-establish a connection with what? With God, with multiple gods, with a substitute of God on earth, with a supernatural entity, with a field of consciousness outside ourselves, with Mother Nature, with transcendental consciousness? The re-establishment of contact with Duintjer's 'inner doorway' is the re-establishment of connection with transcendental consciousness, for example via techniques for development of consciousness. Development of consciousness is personal, direct spiritual experience. It is individual, free and anarchistic, experiential spirituality that resists any form of totalitarian behavior.

In the praiseworthy separation of science and religion, which took place in the west after the Middle Ages, the baby (spirituality) was unfortunately thrown out with the bathwater (institutionalized religion). Experiential spirituality is not based on dogmas but rather on self-help techniques that halt the continual identification with the rational-empirical consciousness. It is spirituality that does not require faith, but personal experience. Experiential spirituality points out the ever-present margin of freedom to act. The liberation from mental extortion by religious and political authorities, i.e. our autonomy, is promoted by experiential spirituality.

Unity-in-diversity of the knowledge quest

The word 'uni-versity' refers to the unity-in-diversity in the quest for knowledge (see also Table 6). This unity-in-diversity is a unity in methodological criteria that underlies a diversity of objects or domains of research. As indicated earlier on, the unity in methodological criteria refers to experiential modes of knowing resulting in genuine knowledge. As pointed out in Table 1, the experiential mode of knowing in the positivist paradigm is experimental testing. In the constructivist paradigm the experiential mode of knowing is genuine and 'power-free' communication (although I doubt whether Habermas' concept of power-free communication can be realized). In the transcendentalist paradigm the experiential mode of knowing is development of consciousness or experiential spirituality.

The unity-in-diversity in the quest for knowledge can be represented by the Janus face. The Janus face in Diagram 8 looks simultaneously outward and inward, expressing that reason and development of consciousness can both be used in a single holistic path to knowledge.

The Janus face symbolizes that simultaneous use of reason (looking outward) and experiential spirituality (looking inward) generates wisdom. A wisdom that results in ecologically and societally beneficial behavior. Rationality as well as spirituality are important and do not have to exclude each other. Whether a unity-in-diversity in the quest for knowledge is possible can be confirmed or rejected by communities of well-equipped peers, not by communities of 'the adequate'. Well-equipped peers are open-minded peers who look both outward and inward. Dogmatism has no place in this endeavor as Spinoza has clearly argued.


[1] Van Eijk, T. (2019). Spinoza in the light of spiritual development. Lulu [the book is available in printed format and as pdf file]. The book is also available in Dutch.

[2] See:

[3] The three paradigms were for the first time characterized in my PhD thesis: Van Eijk, T. (1998). Farming Systems Research and Spirituality. An analysis of the foundations of professionalism in developing sustainable farming systems. PhD thesis, Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands.

[4] Van Eijk 2019:15 and Van Eijk 1998:9.

[5] Koestler, A., 1989. The ghost in the machine. Arkana Books, London [First published by Hutchinson & Co in 1967]. p.206

[6] Koestler 1989:218

[7] The numbering of Tables and Diagrams in this article is interrupted, because they are copied from my other publications as screenshots.

[8] Wilber, K., 1985c. Quantum questions. Mystical writings of the world's great physicists. Shambhala Publications, Boston (First published in 1984). p.17.

[9] Schulte, N., 1984. Self and Being. An investigation into the experiential basis of Schelling's philosophy of consciousness. Ph.D. thesis, University of Amsterdam. Soma Boekenservice, Lelystad, Holland.

[10] Harbers, H., 1992. Wanted: a sociology of intellectuals. In: Nauta L., D. Pels and G. de Vries (Ed.). The role of the intellectual. A discussion about distance and involvement. Van Gennep bv, Amsterdam. p. 37-53 (in Dutch).

[11] Harbers 1992

[12] See: Van Eijk, T. (2018), Discussion of: Ken Wilber, Trump and a post-truth world. Shambala Publications, 2017. Civis Mundi Digitaal #63, augustus 2018 (in Dutch).

[13] Harbers 1992

[14] See also subchapter 8.4 (Different modes of knowing) in my dissertation (Van Eijk 1998:168-171).

[15] Wilber, K. (Ed.), 1985a. The holographic paradigm and other paradoxes. Exploring the leading edge of science. New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Boston. p.256 & 269.

Wilber, K., 1983. Eye to eye. The quest for the new paradigm. p.117

[16] Wilber 1985a:274

[17] Wilber 1985c:15

[18] Wilber 1985a:254

[19] Wilber 1985a:265

[20] Van Ruysbeek, E., 1996. One single reality. In: Weeda I. (Ed.) Spiritualiteit en wetenschap. Anthos, Amsterdam. pp. 348-51.

[21] Wilber 1985a:170

[22] Weber, R., 1985. The Tao of Physics revisited. A conversation with Fritjof Capra. In: Wilber (Ed.), 1985a:215-48.

[23] Wilber 1985a:270

[24] Wilber 1983:40

[25] Schumacher E.F. (1977). A guide for the perplexed. Harper & Row Publishers, New York. p.21

[26] See also subchapter 8.4 (Different modes of knowing) in my dissertation (Van Eijk 1998:168-171)

[27] Wilber 1985a:271

[28] Schumacher, E.F., 1989. Small is beautiful. Economics as if people mattered. Reprint: Harper Perennial, New York (First published in 1973). p.254

[29 Wilber 1985a:282

[30] Wilber 1985c:14

[31] Wilber 1985c:20

[32] Russell, P., 1990. The TM Technique. An introduction to Transcendental Meditation and the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Arkana, Penguin Books, London (First published by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. in 1976). p.160

[33] Wilber 1985c:21

[34] Wilber 1985c:23

[35] Schulte, N., 1978. Education for enlightenment. The TM technique and development of consciousness - the missing dimension in education. MIU Nederland Press, The Hague. p.60 (in Dutch).

[36] For more on scientific research into the individual and collective effects of TM: see Box 3 (Is scientific research into the effects of meditation possible at all?) in subchapter 3.1 in Van Eijk 2019. See also subchapter 9.4 (The field effect of consciousness) in my dissertation: Van Eijk 1998:190-95. And see the website of Dr. David Orme-Johnson "Truth About TM" which provides an overview of all research done on TM (including criticism on this research).

[37] See Box 6 in subchapter 7.2 in Van Eijk 2019 and Van Eijk 1998:185-6.

[38] Table 5 is based on Wilber 1983, but the table as such is not part of his book. Based on his text, I have compiled the table.

[39] Duintjer, O.D., 1996. Remarks on spirituality - an option for humanists? In: Weeda I. (Ed.) Spiritualiteit en wetenschap. Anthos, Amsterdam. pp. 270-78.

[40] Duintjer 1996.

[41] Table 6 is based on Wilber 1983, but the table as such does not appear in his book. I compiled this table on the basis of his texts.

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