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THE EINSTEIN OF P.R.
AFTER ALL THIS, one may begin to wonder where the “Einstein of consciousness” title got started, with regard to Ken Wilber.
It turns out that the original source of the undeserved appellation was John White. As per his Foreword to the second (1993) edition of The Spectrum of Consciousness:
Altogether, Wilber’s spiritual understanding, creativity, scholarship and literary competence make him, as I said in an early review of his work, the much-needed Einstein of consciousness research. “Much-needed” because since the Psychedelic Sixties, there has been burgeoning interest in higher states of consciousness, noetics and allied subjects.
White was Wilber’s literary agent for his (1977) The Spectrum of Consciousness; kw actually dedicated the book to him. Thus, White stood to benefit financially in direct proportion to the sales of that book.
That something which began as little more than self-serving P.R. could have since become nearly “accepted wisdom,” in no small part through simple consumer gullibility, peer ignorance, and the force of repetition from authorities and others in the field, is quite astonishing, is it not?
Interestingly, John White is also, by his own (1997) testimony, one of the deeply “enlightened” ones gracing this Earth:
My exceptional human experience (EHE) is the experience of God-realization.... I entered that [sahaj samadhi] state permanently in 1979.
Wilber has been called the “Einstein of consciousness research”? Yes, indeed he has. But more accurately, he has been called the “Einstein of consciousness research” by his own literary agent.
In kw’s enlightenment.com interview, as given in his (2001d) Speaking of Everything, he further commented on the aftereffects of having written his first book in his early twenties:
I went through a period of, kind of inflation and unbalance, because so many projections are put on you that you are both demonic—I’m much more [sic] demonic than some people would think I am—and also there are positive projections going on. And what tends to happen is that some way, sooner or later, you really have to address that.... So even somebody who is kind of slow, like me, in that area, I’m pretty okay....
But is Wilber really “pretty okay” in terms of his “inflation and unbalance”? Particularly given that his “Wyatt Earpy” behaviors read like a textbook case of clinical narcissism, while his professional activities and even his method of working test the limits of academic incompetence:
I don’t take notes. I don’t have notebooks. I work on a computer and that’s it.... I don’t know why this is so, but it is almost like idiot savant.... I’ve read at least a Ph.D. level in 23 disciplines....
I also have an idiot savant level of pattern recognition.... Because I have that pattern recognition, if I would read like Jane Loevinger and then two years later read Eric Yance and years later read Robert Kegan or something, I would instantly see how they fit (Wilber, 2007a).
But, what happens when you are not merely superficially-read across a large number of fields, but actually go back to Wilber’s original sources, to verify the support which he claims from them? Well, you consistently find that he has, provably, quite unconscionably misrepresented those same fields in order to make them “fit” with what he wants the “truth” to be. Conversely, without that brutal misrepresentation of the facts, he could again never have (falsely) “integrated” all of the fields of knowledge which he pretends to have covered.
Consider Wilber’s own (2006) claims regarding his purported understanding of postmodernism:
Not only did I grok what the postmodernists were saying, I have given, in dozens of writings, what numerous experts and specialists in the field (including experts on Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, among others) have called some of the best, and in a few instances, THE best, treatment of these topics.
By contrast, Desilet (2007) observes, in his “Misunderstanding Derrida and Postmodernism”:
At an Integral Spirituality book signing in Boulder (November, 2006) Ken Wilber and I had a brief exchange about postmodernism and specifically his understanding of Derrida....
Wilber claimed that Derrida himself came to understand the overstatement of his case and in an interview published in Positions (1981) reversed himself by acknowledging the transcendental signifier/signified’s necessary role in language....
Wilber’s reading is a bad misreading. In fact, it is a misreading that twists what Derrida says into its opposite....
Wilber [further] misses a crucial part of the Derridean deconstructive critique of understanding, signification, and communication....
Wilber’s understanding of postmodernism remains short-sighted as he continues to insist that it does not imply what Derrida believes it implies....
Despite his sophistication, Wilber appears to have missed the point of deconstructive postmodernism.
Much of Wilber’s penchant for provable fabrication and misrepresentation becomes readily understandable if one considers the following ideas, as related in David Berreby’s (2005) Us and Them:
Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett ... studied memory with a simple experimental procedure. He would ask his students to read a folktale, wait a few hours or a few days, and then retell it.
He was careful to select a story that they had never heard before. (It came from anthropological accounts of the Kathlamet people of Oregon.) As you might expect, the student versions left out many details. When they did recall something, they often changed it to make it more familiar. (For instance, they made “peanut” into the more British “acorn” and described paddle-wielding warriors as “rowing” their canoe, the way proper English undergraduates would handle a scull.) The students also added details that weren’t in the original. Where the story read “That Indian has been hit,” some recalled an Indian being killed, others an Indian being hit by an arrow. Recalling a warrior in the tale who says he will not go into combat because his relatives don’t know where he is, “but you may go,” many of Bartlett’s volunteers added an explanation, like “you have no one to expect you,” or “you have no parents.”
The students were unaware that some of their “memories” were actually alterations or additions. They imagined they were simply recalling what they had read. It felt so right that they did not see where the story stopped and their own contribution began.
Bartlett decided the students were confident about their memories because they came to the story with a ready-made mental map. When they read about Indian warriors, they thought of arrows....
Once the students had seen enough detail to call up the relevant map, a pattern seemed to complete itself in their minds, and they felt no difference between what they had learned from the outside world and what they had supplied.
One can easily apply that firmly established psychological principle to the integral/AQAL fairy tales told by Wilber. And, having done so, one need wonder no longer at how the man can add, delete and modify “facts” at will, always in accord with his “ready-made mental maps,” while simultaneously proudly touting his “idiot savant” method of not taking notes from the books he reads, in his drastically inadequate method of “research.” All the while “feeling no difference” between objective facts, and the fabrications which he presents as being “real.”
More realistically than kw’s complimentary self-evaluations, then:
[P]erhaps it is the ironic fate of those striving toward universality and integration, to end up being the most marginal and idiosyncratic cranks (in Boucher, 2005).
Even having done all of this debunking, though, note that Wilber is, still, truly the best which transpersonal psychology and integral studies have to argue for the validity of their viewpoints and “theories.” Further, he still has the support of the vast majority of “experts” in the field, even after being thoroughly discredited in his professional work.
Even just at the level directly below kw’s “brilliant” contributions, respected founding members of his Integral Institute include:
More surprisingly, the noted atheist Sam Harris has guested on Wilber’s Integral Naked bully-pulpit forum. He further spoke complimentarily of kw’s ideas in the endnotes to his own (2003) The End of Faith, saying:
[A] process of increasing individuation clearly occurs from birth onward. See K. Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 1995), for a criticism of the false equation between what he calls the pre-rational and the trans-rational. As Wilber points out, there is no reason to romanticize childhood in spiritual terms. Indeed, if our children appear to inhabit the kingdom of heaven, why stop with them? We might as well direct our envy at our primate cousins, for they—when they are not too overcome by the pleasures of cannibalism, gang rape, and infanticide to seem so—are the most gleeful children of all.
More generically, Harris dubiously averred, in the same endnotes:
[T]he future looks rather like the past.... We may live to see the technological perfection of all the visionary strands of traditional mysticism: shamanism (Siberian or South American), Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Hermetism and its magical Renaissance spawn (Hermeticism), and all the other Byzantine paths whereby man has sought the Other in every guise of its conception. But all these approaches to spirituality are born of a longing for esoteric knowledge and a desire to excavate the visionary state of the mind—in dreams, or trance, or psychedelic swoon—in search of the sacred. While I have no doubt that remarkable experiences are lying in wait for the initiate down each of these byways, the fact that consciousness is always the prior context and condition of every visionary experience is a great clarifying truth....
Harris also spoke positively of the psychedelic-fueled, hallucinatory “exquisite ravings” of Terence McKenna, in the same book.
As the real rationalist Meera Nanda (2003) then noted:
Sam Harris is not all that far apart from Mahesh Yogi, Deepak Chopra and others who claim that spiritual practitioners have the most objective view of the world because they can see it “directly,” just the way it is, completely “shorn of the self,” and the many biases and dogmas that “I-ness” brings....
He loads spiritual practices with metaphysical baggage, all the while claiming to stand up for reason and evidence. By the end of the book, I could not help thinking of him as a Trojan horse for the New Age.
In contrast to Harris’ muddle-headed approach, the philosopher and atheist Daniel Dennett
does not dismiss the value of studying mystical experiences for either understanding how our brains compose our sense of self, or for personally helping one to achieve a sense of peace and contentment. In fact, Dennett said, he himself meditates and finds it very beneficial. He just disagrees that it gives someone insight into the nature of how the entire universe works, vs. into the nature of how the mind works. People who have spent years and years meditating don’t come up with anything interesting beyond themselves (in Myers, 2007).
In any field of human knowledge, if one can thoroughly debunk the work of the “best” practitioners, one need hardly bother with taking the lesser lights seriously. For, not only are the latter’s contributions to transpersonal/integral studies “not as good” as Wilber’s, but in endorsing his work, either explicitly or through their founding membership in I-I, they have equally showed themselves to be unable to recognize provable fabrications even in their own fields of supposed expertise. And if the leading members in any field cannot tell the difference, there, you may be confident that the less-noteworthy followers cannot, either.
So if, after all of this, you still believe that Ken Wilber’s vaunted philosophy and life’s work are more than just the New Age effusions of an unconscionable, deluded/hallucinatory bullshit artist with little grasp on truth or reality, whose ideas are more than a profoundly negative, pre-rational force in the evolution of the species, and who has learned well from his reportedly abusive heroes how to manipulate others into thinking that the less they question his ideas the more “second tier” they are ... well, good luck to you.
You’re going to need it.
For years I was a fan of Ken Wilber, with emphasis on the word fan against another, preferable word: student. Instead of reading Wilber, a la Kant, as someone with ideas to be considered and argued with, I came to read him as the definitive authority on reality....
Over the last several years, Wilber and his fans have become so fluent in the language of Integral, Integral-this and Integral-that, that they have effectively created an in-group/out-group scenario reminiscent of the blue meme’s good and evil, that they are so (rightly) critical of. You’re either for Integral or against it. (And if you have a different definition of Integral, it’s wrong....)
Unfortunately, instead of engaging critics and showing some humility, Wilber is further insulating all things Integral. And the whole movement around him now appears destined to become, isolated as it is, a cult, and soon after, lose whatever relevance it may have had in the scholarly world (Parker, 2007).
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