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CHAPTER V

KOSMIC
PARAPSYCHOLOGY



[Wilber] excoriates the suggestion of some New Age authors that we can overcome any disease or hardship if our faith in our own minds is strong enough; this claim, Wilber points out, implies that it is our fault if we cannot cure our own cancer (Horgan, 2003a).

THE BELIEF THAT WE CAN “overcome any disease or hardship if our faith in our own minds is strong enough,” or via laying-on-of-hands flows of healing energy from others, is indeed found throughout the New Age community—even though no convincing scientific evidence of that possibility exists. And certainly, if either of those abilities are anything more than imagination—or even if psychic phenomena in general exist—there can be few if any limits to what the human mind can do. Nor is such an attitude so far removed from Wilber’s own belief system as one might assume from the preceding quote:

Ken Wilber, as eager as he is to project a scientifically conservative image, once stated, “I’m sure [psychic phenomena] exist” (Horgan, 2003a).

Or, as kw himself elsewhere (1991) put it:

As I lay in bed, I noticed a series of subtle energy currents running through my body, which felt very much like the so-called kundalini energy, which, in Eastern religions, is said to be the energy of spiritual awakening, an energy that lies dormant, asleep, until aroused by an appropriate person or event.

In describing, to his second wife, his own experiences in a session with a laying-on-of-hands healer, he expounded further:

I could definitely feel the energy moving.... I think something actually does happen with gifted healers (Wilber, 1991).

If such energy flows exist, however, there is no reason why their intensity could not be increased by relevant practice, to affect oneself or others in both spiritual awakening and in profound healing, e.g., even of cancer. (Conversely, in the same view, a long-term restriction of such flows within one’s own body could result in illness, as Brennan [1987] and many others have asserted.) Indeed, that increase is the very basis of the claimed temporary and partial transmission of enlightenment via shaktipat and darshan (i.e., the blessing which is said to flow from even the mere sight of a saint):

Since shakti is the divine energy, and since the guru is concerned with the transference of divine power, the use of that energy in such a transfer produces an immediate impact. That is shaktipat—the almost instantaneous transfer of divine energy, by touch or word or even look, from the guru to the [disciple] (Brent, 1972).

Further, with regard to the claimed power of the mind in healing, as the widely admired sage Aurobindo (1953)—one of Wilber’s evident heroes—himself put it:

It is my experience and the [spiritual partner] Mother’s that all illnesses pass through the subtle consciousness and subtle body before they enter the physical. If one is conscious, one can stop it entering the physical, one can develop the power to do so. We have done that millions of times.... Self-defense may become so strong that the body becomes practically immune as many yogis’ are.

Incidentally, Wilber has been criticized, in Kazlev (2004) and Hemsell (2002), for having significantly misrepresented Aurobindo’s philosophy in his (kw’s) own writings; but that is a separate issue.

Wilber’s second wife sadly died after a long battle with cancer, providing the context in which he was first confronted in a highly emotional way with often crassly applied New Age “blaming/responsibility” ideas regarding disease. (Having lost my own mother in the same way, I deeply sympathize with the suffering and support entailed.) He himself further weathered a mysterious, exhausting illness (RNase Enzyme Deficiency Disease, REDD) for several years in the mid-’80s, the long-term effects of which, as of 2002, again had him largely bedridden. He also suffered through the aforementioned six-month staph infection, in which he lost access to the always-already One Taste state. Those points are surely not irrelevant to his attitude toward the power of the mind with regard to cancer and other illnesses, as expressed above.

It is one thing to disparage New Agers for being “regressive” or “pre-rational” in their reliance on astrology, etc. But why be so bothered by them simply ascribing more power to the human mind in the potential for healing than you feel is appropriate? And if Wilber really has no tolerance for the “pre-rational” idea that we can heal our illnesses through the power of our own (or of others’) minds and the associated/believed energy flows, why did he (2002) have his third (ex-)wife “doing industrial strength reiki” on him, in battling the effects of his REDD?

If the woman in question can truly direct the flow of subtle energies, or even if Wilber himself can genuinely feel those beyond mere imagination, there are any number of skeptical organizations throughout the world which offer significant monetary prizes for the simple proof of that. Short of their demonstrations of those claimed skills in a properly controlled environment, however, the much more likely explanation, for any betting man or woman, is that they are both simply imagining the beneficial effects of her “healings.”

Of course, while insisting that “something actually does happen with gifted healers,” Wilber has simultaneously disputed their interpretations of the effects of the subtle energies which they purport to be able to move. But if such healers can actually see auras and chakras, and move subtle energies, how could they so utterly misinterpret the results of their related attempted healings? For, those purported results would surely be visible in exactly the same auras. (Brennan [1993], for one, explicitly claims exactly that clear, unmistakable visibility.) Thus, there is precisely nothing that is open to “interpretation” in those healers’ claims. Nor should one feel the least bit comfortable in accepting the existence of subtle energies simply for one’s own easily fooled or imagined experience of those in non-double-blind environments, as is the case when kw vouches for their existence ... or touts (2005) the value of the Q-Link pendant for that matter, claiming:

The Q-Link is a technology that amplifies and clarifies the body’s energies. By reducing the noise in any energy field, this technology strengthens and purifies the body’s own energies.

Beyond that, Wilber’s aforementioned excoriating of New Age believers for their innocent position on healing cannot be meant simply to “spiritually awaken them.” On the contrary, their denigrated view simply demands more responsibility than he evidently wishes to ascribe to human actions—including his own and those of his late wife. Indeed, that belief in the power of the mind, whether valid or not, is no more (and no less) pre-rational or magical than is kw’s own acceptance of psychic phenomena, and his own acknowledged (even if merely imagined) perception of subtle energy flows, from claimed healers and otherwise.

Wilber’s second wife actually entertained similar ideas to these (with regard to responsibility), at a point where she felt that he was blaming her for his lack of interest, at that time, in book writing:

[H]e may not want to feel responsible himself, it might be easier for him to think it’s [my] fault. What might be behind that? Maybe he’s afraid it’s his fault. Maybe he doesn’t want to take responsibility for his not writing....
Later that day I checked this scenario out with Ken, but very gently, no blame. He gave me a gold star, I hit it pretty close on the nose (in Wilber, 1991).

In any case, such patterns of behavior as Wilber admitted to his own late wife never confine themselves to any one aspect or incident in a person’s life. Rather, they shape all aspects of one’s existence, whether or not one is consciously aware of that.

Of myth and magic, now, kw (2000b) has stated:

Unless otherwise indicated, when I use the word “mythic” it refers to preformal, concrete-literal mythic images and symbols, some aspects of which are in fact imbued with cognitive inadequacies, for these myths claim as empirical fact many things that can be empirically disproved—e.g., the volcano erupts because it is personally mad at you; the clouds move because they are following you. These preformal mythic beliefs, scholars from Piaget to Joseph Campbell have noted, are always egocentrically focused and literally/concretely believed.

Consider, then, Wilber’s (1991; italics added) own attitude toward the possible effect of his second wife’s death on the weather, where 115 mph gale-force winds beat the surrounding area at exactly the point of her passing:

The winds, I suppose, were coincidence. Nonetheless, the constant rattling and shaking of the house simply added to the feeling that something unearthly was happening. I remember trying to go back to sleep, but the house was rattling so hard I got up and put some blankets around the windows in the bedroom, fearing they would shatter. I finally drifted off, thinking, “Treya is dying, nothing is permanent, everything is empty, Treya is dying....”

That, as a simple reporting of facts, is fine. However, years later, in his (2000a) journals, Wilber “coincidentally” reprinted a letter he received from the spouse of a hospitalized, terminal cancer sufferer, who had been touched by Treya’s story:

As [my wife] died in the afternoon a great storm and strong rain came up. And I saw a great grey cloud going upstairs from her body and drifting away out of the opened window. After twenty minutes the storm was over.

It is difficult to imagine Wilber including that specific letter in his reprints without it being implicitly in support of a “cosmic” nature to his own experiences. That is so even in spite of his previous “I suppose” (as opposed to a skeptical/rational “of course”) regard for the “coincidental” nature of the winds blowing during his wife’s death. After all, with the “great storm and strong rain” being explicitly associated with a “great grey cloud” rising from the dying person’s body in the fan-letter case, could it really have been just coincidence for a similar storm to have arisen in his own wife’s death? (If Wilber thought that the grey cloud and accompanying storm were pre-rational nonsense, he need not have included them in his own reprint of the letter. For, they are not at all essential to the man’s story.)

If Wilber’s winds were real parapsychological phenomena, beyond mere coincidence or imagination, that would mean that real magic exists, in the ability of human thoughts, intentions and/or emotions (i.e., subtle bodies) to affect the physical world. And in that case, New Agers could not rationally be excoriated for believing in such things. Rather, they should then instead be celebrated for having “correctly” divined and appreciated that aspect of reality. (The fan’s wife made no recorded claim to be highly realized, yet still purportedly manifested that windy “magic.” Thus, such claimed phenomena could not be restricted here only to the powers supposedly possessed by “great Realizers,” etc.)

Short of Treya’s death actually having affected, via real magic, the same winds which blow not merely for Wilber but for all of us, his implicit view of that phenomenon

is simply reflective of mythic and magical thinking. That’s okay, but it’s not rational and if Wilber were to critique his own episode he would see it (via his spectrum psychology paradigm) as being “immature” (less inclusive, less rational, etc.)....
Thus when I said Wilber was being narcissistic in his analysis of those winds, I was using the very adjective that Wilber himself on several occasions has used to illustrate a pre/trans fallacy, a mistake where the New Ager or whomever in question sees something mystical when it was merely mythic, where someone sees something paranormal when it was merely normal (Lane, 1996).

Note that Lane insightfully spotted that point a full four years prior to Wilber’s reprinting of the “grey cloud” fan letter.

In relation to all of the above paranormality, further consider the following recent perspective from Wilber (2003) himself, in expounding on the nature of the chakras in his “comprehensive theory of subtle energies”:

I will ... simply use one example: the overall summary of the chakras given by Hiroshi Motoyama.

Wilber then goes on to explain, for his own demonstrative purposes, Motoyama’s standard and non-controversial “theories of the chakras,” from his book of the same name. (Motoyama himself is founder and president of the California Institute for Human Science: www.cihs.edu.)

There is, however, much more to Motoyama’s (2000) Karma and Reincarnation worldview than that:

Ritual offerings of food and water are truly effective ways of helping beings suffering in the astral dimension, particularly the souls of people who have recently died. When we place an offering upon the altar, we don’t expect it to disappear because we know that someone who has died cannot eat physical substances. When we expand our field of vision into the higher dimensions, however, we can actually see spirits consuming the offerings. They are consuming the “ki” [i.e., the chi or prana] of the food and water, the astral energy of the objects that exists even before the object manifests into the physical world.

One assumes that Wilber would not himself endorse these latter claims—of spirits eating subtle energy, etc. If not, however, why not? If Motoyama’s clairvoyant perceptions of the chakras are taken as valid, why would his comparable perceptions, through the same subtle senses, of ghosts and astral gods not be taken as equally valid? Did he see the chakras validly and clearly, but hallucinate everything else? If not, how can you justify “picking and choosing” only what you want to believe from those perceptions?

Of course, if such phenomena as Motoyama describes really do exist, a lot of what Wilber denigrates as being “pre-rational” or the product of regressive magical or mythical thought would again not be so. Rather, it would instead be appealing to aspects of reality which simply do not fit into his own theories. That point would apply specifically to sacrifices to nature spirits or to human ghosts who could very conceivably actually be “personally mad at you.” Indeed, Motoyama (2000) describes exactly such appeased ghostly anger in the very same book, along with his psychic interactions with water and tree spirits:

Yoichi had been dead for 800 years, yet his tortured spirit was still able to affect me when I began to build our retreat center. We began to pray for his soul in the Shrine. After three years of such prayers, his resentment dissolved and I no longer experienced any negativity....
I could see that the Spirit of the tree was grieving about its impending doom....
I saw that the Water Spirit was understandably outraged and was retaliating by causing the family its present problems.

It is no large step from tree and water spirits to volcano and cloud spirits; if the former were to exist, surely the latter would, too. And according to Motoyama, the former do indeed exist, as surely (or unsurely) as do the chakras which in turn figure into Wilber’s theories of psychological/spiritual development and subtle energy.

Stepping further out from there into the New Age, then, Wilber (2003b) has bravely conjectured:

Internality is the form of spacetime’s self-prehension, a self-organization through self-transcendence (to put it in dry third-person terms), or—in first-person terms much more accurate—the love that moves the sun and other stars.

Interestingly, the tail end of the above block quote is actually taken, without attribution, from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The overall block itself comes from a series of excerpts from a forthcoming planned book in Wilber’s “Kosmos” trilogy, the first installment of which was his Sex, Ecology, Spirituality—“one of the most significant books ever published,” according to Larry Dossey.

From Part 4 of that same online “Excerpt G”:

The major theorists addressed [in my “comprehensive theory of subtle energies”] include Rupert Sheldrake, Michael Murphy, William Tiller ... Deepak Chopra, Hiroshi Motoyama, Marilyn Schlitz, Larry Dossey, and Gary Schwartz, among others. I am a great fan of all of those theorists, and much of this integral theory has been developed over the years in discussion with many of them.

Corresponding to his unfounded belief in subtle energies, paranormal winds, and the abilities of the above “theorists,” Wilber has given the impression of believing that the infamous “Maharishi Effect” is real. From page 433 of Boomeritis, with the Jonathan character speaking:

There is a very large body of empirical evidence showing that when 1 percent of the population of a town, say, begins to meditate, then crime statistics all go down sharply. Murder, rape, theft, they all go down. It’s called “the Maharishi [E]ffect,” and even skeptics admit that it’s a real phenomenon.

“Even skeptics admit that it’s a real phenomenon”? Pure nonsense! Skeptics do not regard the “Maharishi Effect” as being a real phenomenon. James Randi, in fact, had given a debunking of that purported effect as early as 1982, in his Flim-Flam! Martin Gardner, likewise, in 1995 dismissed the Maharishi Effect as being “supported, of course, by highly dubious statistics.” (Members of the Maharishi’s university, though, have given their own [Rainforth, 2000] “detailed rebuttal” to at least one critique of their “voodoo science.”)

Randi and Gardner were voted as being the top two “outstanding skeptics” of the twentieth century, in the very same issue of Skeptical Inquirer where Wilber’s Marriage of Sense and Soul was given an unduly tolerant review.

If you want to know how little Wilber’s name and work are respected in the skeptical community even now, consider this: In the autumn of 2001, I attempted to interest Randi in testing Wilber’s own (2000a) claims, of being able to stop his brainwaves at will. I simultaneously informed him that kw was considered to be “at the top of his professional field.” I also let him know that Wilber had served on the same Board of Editors of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology as does Stanley Krippner, with whom James works regularly. (Krippner actually wrote the foreword for Rothberg’s anthology, Ken Wilber in Dialogue.)

Randi responded tersely that he had “never even heard of” kw, and expressed his disdain at the prospect of having to “chase after” Wilber (and after the claimed spiritual healer Barbara Ann Brennan, of whom he had equally not heard). That response was given even while Randi was simultaneously and explicitly “chasing after” many others, with regard to their potential participation in his million-dollar Paranormal Challenge. The clear implication there was that, given Randi’s own high position in the skeptical world, if Wilber were anyone of note, Randi would already be familiar with his work.

Of course, since kw’s aforementioned book was again reviewed in the very same “outstanding skeptics” issue of SI in which Randi was voted as the #1 skeptic of the twentieth century, chances are rather amazingly good that James had actually at least heard of Wilber’s work, even if later having that fact slip his mind. Brennan, too, has been mentioned briefly in other issues (e.g., Park, 1997) of the same magazine. And yes, however absurd it may be, both Wilber and Brennan are indeed widely regarded as being at the top of their respective “professional” fields by their peers.

Stumbling further into parapsychology, we find Wilber making the following claims in his (2001d) CD, Speaking Of Everything:

KW: U.C. Irvine had been given, I don’t know, a $500,000 dollar grant or something to do another series of psychic research.... And I said basically that I think that was a misuse of money. Because the real problem is that we have meta-analysis on psychic phenomena....
E.com: Yeah, Dean Radin’s book [The Conscious Universe]. It’s fabulous.
KW: That’s right. It puts it beyond dispute, and every statistician agrees. So I said take your $500,000 and buy a fucking P.R. firm.
E.com: Right.
KW: Because you people just have bad press. Another experiment is not going to change. It’s already one hundred percent certain.

One can, however, easily locate a statistical refutation of Radin’s analysis, by Ray Hyman and J. McCrone, at The Skeptic’s Dictionary (Carroll, 2005a). The conclusions which follow from it refer to exactly the same book which kw regards as being unassailable:

Based on the results of these experiments, Radin claims that “researchers have produced persuasive, consistent, replicated evidence that mental intention is associated with the behavior of ... physical systems” (Radin 1997: 144). That sounds like a hasty conclusion to me. He also claims that “the experimental results are not likely due to chance, selective reporting, poor experimental design, only a few individuals, or only a few experimenters” (Radin 1997: 144). He’s probably right except for the bit about it being unlikely that the experimental results are due to chance.

And note how, at that same skepdic.com page, all of the papers quoted to refute Radin’s 1987 meta-analysis claims were published prior to Dean’s own (1997) book.

Where, then, did Wilber get the confidently presented but brutally untenable idea that Radin’s work was actually valid, much less inarguably so? Why, from text in Radin’s own book, of course, as quoted on the enlightenment.com website:

“Informed opinion even among skeptics, shows that virtually all the past skeptical arguments against psi have dissolved in the face of overwhelming positive evidence,” and “informed skeptics today agree that chance is no longer a viable explanation for the result obtained in psi experiments.”

Note how the already indefensible “informed skeptics today agree” from Radin becomes the even worse “every statistician agrees” when processed through kw’s view of reality. (Presumably Radin was referring there to ostensible “skeptics” like the people at www.skepticalinvestigations.org ... including himself.)

Here is how one cogent reader of James Randi’s (2002) column suggested competently testing the Q-Link pendant which Wilber is likewise convinced has real effects:

First, a volunteer not communicating with the tester takes ten Q-Link devices and ten dummy devices, which are identical, but have been disabled. The volunteer makes a list of numbers from 1 to 20 and randomly numbers the devices, keeping track of which is which. Now, someone else chooses any 10 of these 20 units and takes them to our friend Herbert. His job is to separate the good ones from the phonies. If what he claims is true, he should be able to use a subject (or ten separate ones) and determine, without fail, which are which. With ten units, he has a one-in-1024 probability of getting them all right by chance. And I’ll bet a case of premium tofu that he can’t do it!

On the other hand, Wilber’s (2001d) standards of “proof” for the Q-Link go this way:

[T]he amount of scientific evidence on [the Q-Link] so far is small, but very, very promising. You’ve seen some of it on TV, and stuff.

Just how comfortably is Wilber ensconced with the makers of these new “technologies”? As he himself notes in his (2003) “Excerpt G”:

Any good model open up lines of further research, and the integral or AQAL model is no exception. I have been developing many of these research agendas in conjunction with Bob Richards, co-founder of Clarus, Inc. [maker of the Q-Link] and a vice president of Integral Institute. We would be glad to discuss these issues with interested parties.

Richards is also on the Advisory Board for the Chopra Foundation, headed by Deepak Chopra.


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