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CHAPTER III

SPIRALING
PSYCHOLOGY



WILBER WAS FOR MANY YEARS FETED as the “foremost theoretician in transpersonal psychology,” until his voluntary abandoning of that field to found his own, more-inclusive “integral psychology.” Thus, one might reasonably hope that, whatever shortcomings exist in his knowledge of other fields, his understanding and presentation of core ideas in psychology would stand up to thorough questioning.

However, as early as 1993, kw’s understanding of Carl Jung’s ideas regarding archetypes was seriously questioned by the Jungian psychologist V. Walter Odajnyk, in Appendix A of his Gathering the Light. Indeed, Odajnyk there explicitly regarded Wilber as having an “erroneous view” of Jung’s position:

Wilber’s criticism of Jung’s notion of archetypes is misinformed. Contrary to what Wilber states, Jung does refer to the archetypes as “the patterns upon which all other manifestations are based”....
[Further,] contrary to what Wilber claims, Jung does not locate the archetypes only at the beginning of the evolutionary spectrum—they are present both at the beginning and at the end....
The spirit Mercurius is the archetype that expresses the notion, stated much too generally by Wilber, that “the ascent of consciousness was drawn toward the archetypes by the archetypes themselves.” Far from being a criticism of Jung, this was Jung’s discovery and not Wilber’s....
[Likewise,] it is Jung and not Wilber who first proposed clear distinctions among “collective prepersonal, collective personal, and collective transpersonal” elements of the psyche [cf. Wilber’s celebrated “pre/trans fallacy” insights where, because both pre-rational and transrational claims are “non-rational,” they are often wrongly equated].
Note further that Odajnyk’s critique was given well prior to Crittenden’s assertion—first made in 1998, and reprinted by Wilber’s own Integral Institute in 2004—that no “believable criticisms” have ever been made of kw’s representations of others’ work. Further, Odajnyk’s book was put into print by Wilber’s own long-time publisher, Shambhala. Thus, kw could not reasonably have been unaware of its existence.

Odajnyk’s comments on Wilber’s early work, too, are worth noting:

When it comes to psychological development, we know that it is possible to point out a person, or a culture, with highly evolved intelligence and consciousness while his, or its, instinctive, emotional, and ethical development lags far behind .... In other words, it is possible to have a higher consciousness that is “transcendent, transpersonal, and transtemporal” and a personal unconscious that is “instinctive, impulsive, libidinous, id-ish, animal, ape-like.” I know that for Wilber [in his early work, pre-1981] this is not possible by definition, but definition is theory.

Wilber’s more recent (see 2000e) psychological model includes more than a dozen “streams” of development, or quasi-independent “lines”—of cognition, needs, sexuality, motivation, self-identity, etc. Those lines were first introduced by kw (1998) in his “Wilber-3” phase, beginning in the early ’80s. And such epicyclic streams/lines do indeed now allow for individuals to be simultaneously at, for example, a high level of cognitive or of psychic/spiritual development, but a low moral stage.

In his discussions of psychological stage-growth, Wilber has referenced Jean Piaget’s work since his (kw’s) early-’80s books The Atman Project and Up from Eden. Chapter 11 of his A Brief History of Everything further has this to say regarding Piaget’s concrete operational and formal operational stages:

Around the age of 11–15 years in our culture, the capacity for formal operational awareness emerges.... Where concrete operational awareness [“conop,” from around age seven] can operate on the concrete world, formal operational awareness can operate on thought itself. It’s not just thinking about the world, it’s thinking about thinking....
There’s also a classical [sic] experiment that Piaget used to spot this extremely important emergence or paradigm shift or worldview shift. In simplified versions: the person is given three glasses of clear liquid and told that they can be mixed in a way that will produce a yellow color. The person is then asked to produce the yellow color.
Concrete operational children will simply start mixing the liquids together haphazardly. They will keep doing this until they stumble on the right combination or give up. In other words, as the name implies, they perform concrete operations—they have to actually do it in a concrete way.
Formal operational adolescents will first form a general picture of the fact that you have to try glass A with glass B, then A with C, then B with C, and so on. If you ask them about it, they will say something like, “Well, I need to try all the various combinations one at a time.” In other words, they have a formal operation in their mind, a scheme that lets them know that you have to try all the possible combinations.

Piaget (2000), in his own books, actually described using five jars of clear liquid—labeled “A” through “E”—not three. Note, though, that kw did explicitly state that he was presenting a “simplified” version of the experiment—exactly what he failed to state with regard to his misrepresentations of basic evolution in the same book. If one takes that as being significant, it only makes it more likely that, in spite of his subsequent claims to the contrary, his misrepresentations of Darwinian evolution came precisely from failing to understand it even at a high-school level. That is, the pattern would make him more honest, but less competent.

In any case, M.I.T.’s Seymour Papert (1993), inventor of the LOGO (Turtle) programming language and math-learning environment, had this to say about the individual’s evolution from the conop to the formop stage:

What is the nature of the difference between the so-called “concrete” operations involved in conservation [e.g., where the results of counting do not depend on the order in which the relevant objects are counted, or where the volume of a liquid remains the same whether it is in a tall or a short glass] and the so-called “formal” operations involved in the combinatorial task? The names given them by Piaget and the empirical data suggest a deep and essential difference.
[But from] a computational point of view, the most salient ingredients of the combinatorial task are related to the idea of procedure—systematicity and debugging. A successful solution consists of following some such procedure as:
  • Separate the beads into colors

  • Choose a color A as color 1

  • Form all the pairs that can be formed with color 1

  • Choose color 2

  • Form all the pairs that can be formed with color 2

  • Do this for each color

  • Go back and remove the duplicates

So what is really involved is writing and executing a program including the all-important debugging step. This observation suggests a reason for the fact that children acquire this ability so late: Contemporary culture provides relatively little opportunity for bricolage [i.e., do-it-yourself “experimentation”] with the elements of systematic procedures of this type....
[Endnote: Of course our culture provides everyone with plenty of occasions to practice particular systematic procedures. Its poverty is in materials for thinking about and talking about procedures....]
I see no reason to doubt that this difference could account for a gap of five years or more between the ages at which conservation of number and combinatorial abilities are acquired....
It may well be universally true of precomputer societies that numerical knowledge would be more richly represented than programming knowledge. It is not hard to invent plausible explanations of such a cognitive-social universal. But things may be different in the computer-rich cultures of the future. If computers and programming become a part of the daily life of children, the conservation-combinatorial gap will surely close and could conceivably be reversed: Children may learn to be systematic [a purportedly distinguishing characteristic of formop, and one standard experimental “proof” that a child is at that stage of development] before they learn to be quantitative [in conop]!

Papert (1993) worked with Piaget himself for five years in Switzerland, from 1959 to 1964; he knows what he is talking about on this subject.

Even worse for Wilber’s reputation, his oft-given claim of a consensus in the developmental-psychology field with regard to Piaget’s studies is demonstrably false:

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is central to Wilber’s description of the individual’s interior development. Yet in my chapter on individual development [in Bald Ambition] I cite five professors of psychology [who seriously question the sturdiness of Piaget’s ideas, even to the point of narrating a “collapse of Piagetian theory”], all with concentrations in developmental psychology....
Wilber, writing a few years after these negative assessments, writes that “as for the cognitive line itself, Piaget's work is still very impressive; moreover, after almost three decades of intense cross-cultural research, the evidence is virtually unanimous: Piaget’s stages up to formal operational are universal and cross-cultural” (Meyerhoff, 2006b).

In Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, he further had this to say regarding the cognitive spectrum:

Take, for example, the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences—the idea that development involves not one capacity but many relatively independent capacities (from musical to artistic to mathematical to athletic, and so on), which I think is quite right. We can plot the depth of those developmental capacities as well. They will fall within the same basic levels of consciousness development, but they are nonetheless relatively separate talents that unfold with their own logics, as it were. None of that is denied; in fact, I very much support those approaches. In my view, there are numerous different developmental lines or streams (e.g., cognitive, moral, aesthetic, interpersonal, needs, etc.) that move relatively independently through the basic levels or waves (body to mind to soul to spirit), giving us a very rich, multidimensional tapestry of waves and streams of consciousness unfolding.

However, Linda Gottfredson (1998) has noted, of the same alleged “multiple intelligences”:

Several decades of factor-analytic research on mental tests have confirmed a hierarchical model of mental abilities. The evidence ... puts g [i.e., “general intelligence”] at the apex in this model, with more specific aptitudes arrayed at successively lower levels: the so-called group factors, such as verbal ability, mathematical reasoning, spatial visualization and memory, are just below g, and below these are skills that are more dependent on knowledge or experience, such as the principles and practices of a particular job or profession.
Some researchers use the term “multiple intelligences” to label these sets of narrow capabilities and achievements. Psychologist Howard Gardner of Harvard University, for example, has postulated that eight relatively autonomous “intelligences” are exhibited in different domains of achievement. He does not dispute the existence of g but treats it as a specific factor relevant chiefly to academic achievement and to situations that resemble those of school. Gardner does not believe that tests can fruitfully measure his proposed intelligences; without tests, no one can at present determine whether the intelligences are indeed independent of g (or each other). Furthermore, it is not clear to what extent Gardner’s intelligences tap personality traits or motor skills rather than mental aptitudes.
Other forms of intelligence have been proposed; among them, emotional intelligence and practical intelligence are perhaps the best known. They are probably amalgams either of intellect and personality or of intellect and informal experience in specific job or life settings, respectively. Practical intelligence like “street smarts,” for example, seems to consist of the localized knowledge and know-how developed with untutored experience in particular everyday settings and activities—the so-called school of hard knocks. In contrast, general intelligence is not a form of achievement, whether local or renowned. Instead the g factor regulates the rate of learning: it greatly affects the rate of return in knowledge to instruction and experience but cannot substitute for either.

Further consider Lynn Waterhouse’s evaluation of Gardner’s notions in her (2006) “Multiple Intelligences, the Mozart Effect, and Emotional Intelligence: A Critical Review”:

Taken together the evidence for the intercorrelations of subskills of IQ measures; the evidence for a shared set of genes associated with mathematics, reading, and g; and the evidence for shared and overlapping “What is it?” and “Where is it?” neural processing pathways and shared neural pathways for language, music, motor skills, and emotions suggest that it is unlikely that that each of Gardner’s intelligences could operate “via a different set of neural mechanisms” (Gardner, 1999, p. 99). Equally important, the evidence for the “What is it?” and “Where is it?” processing pathways, for Kahneman’s two decision-making systems, and for adapted cognition modules suggests that these cognitive brain specializations have evolved to address very specific problems in our environment. Because Gardner claimed that that the intelligences are innate potentialities related to a general content area, MI theory lacks a rationale for the phylogenetic emergence of the intelligences.

Steven Pinker (in Schneider, 2007) likewise concluded:

I’m sympathetic to modular theories of the generic human mind like Howard Gardner’s, but they have nothing to do with individual differences in intelligence. For one thing, the inclusion of “musical” and “bodily and kinesthetic” intelligence is mainly a tactic to morally elevate those traits by rebranding them as forms of “intelligence.” But a great athlete or drummer is not necessarily “intelligent” in the sense that people ordinarily mean by the term.

In more recent years, beginning with his (2001) novel Boomeritis, Wilber has focused on Spiral Dynamics® (SD), based on the work of Clare Graves, as a convenient way of categorizing stages of human psychological development. (It is not necessary, for the present purposes, to understand exactly what Spiral Dynamics is, in all of its details. The interested reader may wish to consult Don Beck and Christopher Cowan’s [2005] Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change.)

Interestingly, while Beck was a founding member of the Integral Institute, his former partner Cowan (www.spiraldynamics.org) has actually commented very unfavorably on Wilber’s comprehension of SD:

[Wilber’s presentations of Spiral Dynamics] twist the theory and contain glib over-simplifications and biases ... which reflect neither the nuances nor the intent of this theory. There is frequent confusion of values with Value Systems. He also seems to have trouble differentiating the levels of psychological existence from personality traits ... and grossly misunderstands and overplays the “tier” notion....
Much of the material demonstrates a very limited grasp of the underlying theory ... he’s wrong far more often than there’s any excuse for. Thus, the supposed SD foundation on which he builds so many arguments is fundamentally, fatally flawed....
[Wilber] is putting out impressive-sounding junk and nonsense that must be undone if the integrity of the model is to be protected. There’s no excuse for it (Cowan, 2005).
Because Wilber tries to apply but doesn’t actually understand Gravesian theory, he confuses the levels/colors like a novice. He doesn’t know green from orange or yellow. Thus, the elaborate arguments he lays out are constructed on quicksand.... And because he sounds authoritative, newcomers to SD will believe they’re getting a valid overview of Graves/SD from Boomeritis (Cowan, 2002).

In one of his attempted practical applications of Spiral Dynamics, on page 396 of Boomeritis, Wilber has “Charles Morin” assert the following:

Studies [not cited by kw] show that yellow [value-meme, level seven] is approximately ten times more efficient than green [level six]....
[I]f 10% of the population is at yellow, it will very likely be at least as effective as 25% at green....
10% of elderly, wealthy, yellow Boomers will have at least the impact that the 25% of young green Boomers did....

(Green is the highest value-meme in the “first tier” of development, stereotypically manifesting as an anti-hierarchical, politically correct, pluralistically valued self. Yellow is the lowest of the “second-tier” stages; in it, “[d]ifferences and pluralities can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows” [Wilber, 2000f].)

If 10% of the population one day reaches yellow, however, and if yellow is approximately ten times more efficient than green, then the 10% of the population at yellow would be approximately four times as effective, not merely at least as effective, as the 25% of the population at green (10 * 10%/25% = 4).

Further, if kw’s presumption that Y = 10G were correct, then the current 2% at Y would already be almost as effective as the 25% at G. That is, if 2% of the North American population is currently at yellow, and 20% to 25% (kw’s own numbers) is currently at green, and if yellow is “ten times more efficient” than green, then Y and G should be nearly of equal strength (20 vs. 20-to-25, from ballpark figures to begin with) right now, in terms of their influence on our culture.

Thus, minimal comparison of Wilber’s claims against reality, there, shows that things don’t work at all, in practice, the way he imagines they should. For, by his own testimony, it is the “greens” who hold far more sway over politically correct academia than the yellow-and-above, second-tier (or higher) leaders such as himself. That position goes back at least to the early nineties, as kw indicates in the Preface to the second edition of his (2000) Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. There, he relates that his attempted writing of a “textbook of psychology” was cramped by the fact that the words “development, hierarchy, transcendental [and] universal” were “no longer allowed in academic discourse,” owing to the “extreme postmodernism,” “pluralistic relativism,” and (green-meme) anti-hierarchy attitudes which had supposedly spread through the academic world. As he put it in a related interview:

[T]he green-meme dominates virtually all of conventional academia AND countercultural academia (Shambhala, 2001).

From untenable mathematics, to “responses from critics” who are actually supporters: In Boomeritis, on page 244, kw has the Powell character state:

The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses, by Kors and Silverglate, is a thorough survey of the actual state of affairs. Far from being right-wing ideologues, its authors are liberals in good standing. Instead of quoting case after case—I urge all of you to consult this book for yourselves—I will give a few of the responses from critics, simply to try to convey a sense of the urgency and outrage.

“Powell” goes on to rattle off a group of very flattering quotes from Linda Chavez, Alan Dershowitz, Christina Sommers, Nat Hentoff, and Wendy Kaminer, in support of Kors and Silverglate’s book.

It turns out, though, that those supposed “responses from critics” are actually blurbs taken verbatim from the hardcover edition of The Shadow University.

As every author knows, such blurbs are generated by individuals whom one already knows to be, or at least hopes to be, sympathetic to one’s ideas; they do not come from “critics.” (Dershowitz, Hentoff and Kaminer were all actually thanked for their “assistance” by the authors in the front matter of the book.)

Granted, Boomeritis is purportedly a work of fiction—just as the rest of Wilber’s writings are ostensibly based in fact. So, technically, he is allowed (in the former) to make up whatever “facts” he likes, and present them as if they were real. Unfortunately, there no way for the reader to tell which of the claims in that novel are meant to be taken seriously. Worse, as we have seen and will see much more of, Wilber’s “real” research suffers from exactly the same penchant for “making things up out of thin air” as does his “fiction.”


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