Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).

The Freewheelin' Ken Wilber

Another Interview by Raquel Torrent

Frank Visser

Spanish integral therapist Raquel Torrent released another long interview with Ken Wilber on her YouTube channel. It is the fifth interview of such kind in a row, as far as I can tell. Earlier interviews were done by her in 2021, 2022 and 2023 (twice). This is a great service, for we are kept up to date with Ken's thinking and personal situation.[1] Raquel asked the following 10 questions, which she had gathered through Facebook from integral students:

  1. Do you know about the system of Austrian economics?
  2. Are we experiencing a regression of democratic values?
  3. Is Trump orange or turquoise?
  4. What is the philosphical mistake about the Ukraine war?
  5. Why don't you present yourself as an integral leader?
  6. If evolution is not a metaphysical force, then what?
  7. Do you have a nuanced response to the Gaza crisis?
  8. What is your current understanding of the psychic stage?
  9. Why do you still keep wearing that wig?
  10. How is your new book Finding Radical Wholeness different?

And these were, very briefly, Wilber's answers:

  1. Yes I do, but I have included what is valuable in it.
  2. Yes, in the woke movement, but Trump can correct it.
  3. Trump is definitely not turquoise, but orange.
  4. Most academics in this field are not integral.
  5. I need all my time to write new books?
  6. Evolution is everywhere, in all quadrants.
  7. Hamas is terrorist, Israel is more restrained.
  8. The paranormal is the first post-integral stage.
  9. After being bald for 50 years, feels awful to grow hair.
  10. It covers in great detail stages, states, lines, etc.

Now this is very thin soup indeed. Wilber often seems to have trouble to stay on topic, and Raquel needs to remind him of the questions. We are witnessing a freewheeling Ken Wilber here. But then again, this is nothing new.

Of course, an interview session like this (1:46 minutes) is too short to cover all these questions in real depth, but Wilber really seems to avoid any specifics when answering them. We are not told, for example, what Austrian school of economics he has in mind, nor any of its representative authors, or its main ideas. A few dismissive comments about woke, are followed by the claim that Trump at least will resist this trend. (Remember Wilber wrote a booklet about Trump. Shouldn't he reflect about why Trump makes a good chance of winning the presidency again, even with half a dozen law suits and millions of fines?). Regarding the Russo-Ukraine war, nothing is said at all, other than that mainstream academics are not integral. Hello? We have a terrible war going on in Ukraine, is that all he can come up with? No geopolitics involved here? His comments on evolution are, again, painfully lacking in substance, and we are assured self-organization is a spiritual force in the universe, which can explain things where Darwinism miserably fails (and there is Stuart Kauffman again). Then, as to the war in Gaza, he states Hamas is blue and terrorist, but Israel is orange and more restrained. (Never mind that the number of casualties on the Palestinian side is usually 10-20 times higher—and in the case of the current Gaza crisis it is 30:1. State terrorism anyone?). Again, what has integral to offer to this long-standing issue other then "they all need therapy"?

Here is the full interview for your convenience:

KEN WILBER 2024 interviewed by RAQUEL TORRENT

Since this has been my area of expertise for many years, we will concentrate on question 6: If evolution is not a metaphysical force, what impact does that have on Integral Theory? A question I could have asked myself. So here we go:

[T]he world is driven by a set of factors or forces or pressures or inclinations and that does include Eros, which is a transcend-and-include drive, the evolutionary Force, and evolution has been the main, predominant thought system of the modern and postmodern world. Random mutation and natural selection are not nearly enough to account for the vast diversity and the probabilities that those would arise through just random mutation and natural selection. So most, at least 50% of evolutionary theorists include another Force, that's operating in the world, like a real Force. A force like gravity or [the] electromagnetic [force] or light and so on. But it is a real Force, what I call Eros. And the most widely used term in evolutionary theory is self-organization. The world is driven by a force of self-organization. (6:00-8:00)

This is, of course, Wilber's hobby horse: to postulate a quasi-spiritual "force" at the same level as the four fundamental forces of physics, but which can supposedly account for biological and cosmological complexity. Yet, none of the mainstream evolutionary authors, let alone "at least 50%", that I know of argue along these lines. In short, self-organization is a fascinating phonenomenon, or in fact a wide variety of phenomena—ranging from physics to economics to linguistics to transportation—which tend to happen when certain conditions are met. None of which require any metaphysical explanation. In fact, current explanations make these obsolete.

Darwin did not have any understanding of self-organization. He thought it was just random mutation and natural selection. And I say that's not nearly enough to account for the evolutionary drive and its vast sophistication. I mean, even the number of changes in a complex animal structure... the number of changes required to produce a horse is one to a ten with 300.000 zeros. It is just out of this world. I mean, by the way most mutations are lethal, there is not some great advance or something. They are lethal. And to get 10300.000 mutations is just impossible by any sort of natural process. It doesn't work. (11:39-13:30)

I have no idea where Wilber got this nutty number of 10300.000 from, but it fits well in the category of creationist arguments to account for the complexities of life. The next and pertinent question to ask is, of course, how Wilber thinks this process of self-organization, unspecified as to its nature, is able to create a horse in the first place! But horses don't tend to show up just like that, but are the result of a 55 million year long evolutionary history. For example, they have slowly adapted to feeding from grass land, which in turn has evolved under the impact of grazing animals. This is how evolutionary theory provides explanations.

Wilber then makes a distinction as to the how of evolution and the why of evolution. In his opinion, nobody denies the great sequence from quarks to atoms to molecules, all the way up to complex organisms, which he files under the "how" category. But the controversy is about the "why" of this process.

The what of evolution is not doubted at all, it is the why of evolution that creates so much controversy and why so many biologists have introduced the third notion of self-organization that drives the whole series. And so that drives us from quarks to atoms to molecules, to single cellular animals to multi-cellular animals to fish to amphibians to reptiles to mammals, to primates and humans. That is all driven by a self-organizing Eros, and that's an absolutely crucial component of Integral Theory. (14:30-15:35)

At this moment it is high time to check bases with current evolutionary theory, which has been named the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, headed by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd B. Müller.

Source: Pigliucci & Müller, "Evolution, The Extended Synthesis", PDF

Do you see "self-organization" listed anywhere on this diagram? Me neither. Instead, we see multiple approaches that have come up after the Modern Synthesis was formulated, and which put this in a much wider context. And even this diagram is not complete. There is no reason that self-organization could not be added here as well, and the same goes for endosymbiosis, mass extinctions or even Darwin's sexual selection. Self-organization might very well have played a primary role in the origin of life. Evolutionary theory has moved on, Ken, and your obsession with Darwin, and infatuation with Kauffman (more on that later) betrays a creationist agenda. Or we could say "creativist", because for Wilber creativity in the cosmos is a fundamental principle.

Turning to question 6, Raquel asks Wilber: "In case that the metaphysical postulate presenting existence as an evolutionary impulse that goes always forward, taking us toward improvement all the time... Imagine that that doesn't exist. So then what aspects of the integral Theory will fall apart if that, you know evolutionary metaphysical postulate of evolution all the time forward wouldn't exist?" It is a crucial, if not the crucial question to ask! Wilber answers, conflating evolution with development, as he always does:

Well, almost all of the integral framework undergoes a development or an evolutionary aspect, so all four quadrants have various levels and all of those levels have developed or evolved over time. The levels themselves, of which there are nine to twelve—that I've outlined in the upper right quadrant, the lower right quadrant, the lower left quadrant and the upper left quadrant— those levels themselves as levels don't display evolution. Just as a level, as a level it's a stage in the evolutionary process... If you took that evolutionary development away it would cripple badly overall integral Theory, because integral includes evolution and so many of its components simply because the data is what points to evolution. It's an objective reality. It's actually occurring. As to why it's occurring—remember we have the what of evolution and the why of evolution and nobody doubts the stages of the what and those stages of the what of evolution are my stages of development that I present as I say 9 to 12 or so in all the quadrants. And that's the what of evolution, and that's very important. And then the why of evolution talks about what's driving that evolutionary unfolding, because natural selection and random mutation just aren't enough to do it. (45:40-48:10)

But the question was specifically about Wilber's proposal to explain the why of evolution (or development, though these processes are not at all identical) with the quasi-physical principle of Eros. It is true that he has contributed greatly to the what of human development, from infancy to advanced stages of enlightenment, but that is unrelated to Darwinian evolution, with its random mutation and natural selection, or otherwise, nor does it answer the why of development either. Wilber consistently gets muddled when discussing these topics. About the what of evolutionary history he has contributed zero in all of his works, nor does it seem to have interested him in the least.

As an aside, in Up from Eden (1981) Wilber still spoke of the what, how and why of evolution, where he writes: "The point, in a phrase, is that the orthodox scientific theory of evolution seems correct on the what of evolution, but it is profoundly reductionistic and/or contradictory on the how (and why) of evolution. But if we look upon evolution as the reversal of involution the whole process becomes intelligible. (Wilber 1981: 305) Not that he has written much about the how of evolution either, the actual processes that have produced plants and animals, for example. The late and famous evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) could have taught him much in all of these three dimensions as I have explicated in an earlier essay.[2] In his aply titled book What Evolution Is (2001) he mentioned three categories of scientific questions:

WHAT? - The study of Biodiversity how many species are there? how do they relate to each other? how are the various taxonomic classifications founded and validated?
HOW? - The Making of a New Individual how do cells develop into organisms? is there such a thing as recapitulation? what role do genes play during development?
WHY? - The Evolution of Organisms Darwin's many theories (gradualism, common descent, natural selection, sexual selection, micro- and macroevolution explained)
Three classes of questions in evolutionary theory (Ernst Mayr)

So evolutionary theory deals with all three categories of questions, according to one of its most respected theorists. Ironically Wilber once quoted Mayr once in support of his own views on Darwinism, and its shortcomings, but that failed badly. Mayr explicitly rejected any metaphysical theory of evolution. Wilber is consistently conceptually confused and careless in his grasp of this important field of science. But let's continue with our video interview.

If you look at any of the really superior great evolutionary biologists like let's say Stuart Kauffman he flatout says evolution is driven by a combination of natural selection plus self-organization, right? And that's nowhere near what Darwin said. Darwin himself had trouble figuring out why does this go forward so much and he would say I don't know. I mean he would actually write I don't know. [to which Raquel adds "He did not know because he was not a mystic, he was a naturalist, not a mystic." Wilber nods in approval.] (50:50)

Let's immediately quote Stuart Kauffman from his seminal book At Home in the Universe (1995): "I believe that life itself is an emergent phenomenon, but I mean nothing mystical by this" (p. 24) and, "The theory of life's origins is rooted in an unrepentant holism, born not out of mysticism, but of mathematical necessity." (p. 69) So it is one of two things only: either Kauffman's theory is mystical and Wilber can justifiably call on him in support of his own mystical theory of evolution, or Kauffman's theory is not mystical at all. And if Wilber gets honest about it, he admits that this is the case: "Do I think Mayr or Dawkins or Lewontin or Kauffman believe in telos or Eros that is Spiritual in any way? Absolutely not. Virtually all mainstream theorists embrace scientific materialism."[3] See the profound conceptual confusion and intellectual dishonesty here? One cannot claim support from authors that don't support your particular views.[4] Strictly speaking, Kauffman offers a holism, a systems biology that Wilber would qualify as subtle reductionism (ignoring the inner dimensions).

If you want to learn what Kauffman really thought about Darwin, and how he tried to expand his vision with self-organization, read his A World Beyond Physics: The Emergence and Evolution of Life (2019). Without any animosity towards Darwin or sloganeering for his own theory.

Then Wilber touches at least on some specific scientific problem, the so-called but badly named Cambrian Explosion, which occurred roughly half a billion years ago, at the start of complex animal life.

When evolutionary ideas were first starting to be understood, what they all really focused on was the what of evolution, because you go back and you find the fossil record and you find something called a Cambrian explosion, which is a period where in the fossil record thousands of animal forms sprung into existence, in this very short period of time. And why they did nobody knew, nobody could figure out, and it's still part of the big mystery of evolution why did this Cambrian period occur and it's where most of the theories of self-organization or self-transcendence... it's the period what most of these self-organization theories are trying to explain. It's where on Earth did this Cambrian explosion it's called come from. (52:00)

This is a favorite topic among Christian creationists, especially of the Old Earth variety (who accept most of the evolutionary narrative of science, except for some unspecified divine interventions), as I noted in a review of Stephen Meyer's The Return of the God Hypothesis.[5] Their strategy is to exaggerate the difficulties in explaining this "explosion", which actually lasted tens of millions of years, and then come up with their own non-explanation: God (or Spirit, in Wilber's case). It is disingenuous in the extreme, because these metaphysical explanations provide no believable mechanism or process that might help us understand how these complex organisms evolved.

If you want to read a fascinating account of pre-Cambrian times, I can recommend Martin Brasier's Darwin's Lost World: The Hidden History of Animal Life (2009).

In the end, Integral Theory has at most some abstractions on offer, such as transcend-and-include, with minimal descriptive value, but no explanatory value whatsoever. It is too far removed from the data of science to have any chance of gaining traction, especially in fields of science that are painfullly outside of Wilber's own circle of expertise. Darwin would have been more honest by saying "I don't know."


[1] We commented in the previous interview in: Frank Visser, "'They All Need Therapy', Ken Wilber on the War in Gaza",, December 10, 2023.

[2] Frank Visser, "From Dirt to Divinity, Ken Wilber's pre-Darwinian Understanding of Evolution",, November 2010.

[3] Quoted in: Frank Visser, "Does Every Outside Have an Inside?, Ken Wilber's Strained Relationship to Science",, July 2019. Original source: Ken Wilber, "Take the Visser Site as Alternatives to KW, But Never as the Views of KW",, June 27, 2006. (now offline, but archived here.)

[4] Frank Visser, "Is Stuart Kauffman Really Ken Wilber's Ally?",, October 2018.

[5] Frank Visser, "The Return of the God Hypothesis, A Skeptical Review of Stephen Meyer's Latest Book",, November 2023.

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