ON KEN WILBER, EX-RABBI MARC GAFNI, AND INTEGRAL BLINDNESS
Ken Wilber (KW) is the “long-sought Einstein of consciousness research,” having been generously regarded
as such since the late 1970s.
Ken Wilber is “a genius of our times.”
Ken Wilber is “the world’s most intriguing and foremost philosopher.”
Ken Wilber’s ideas have influenced Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jeb Bush, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, leadership guru
Warren Bennis, and a host of other luminaries, spiritual and otherwise. Writer Michael Crichton,
playwright Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), alternative medicine’s Larry Dossey,
the Wachowski Brothers (directors of The Matrix), and a handful of rock stars have all lent
their voices in support of KW’s “integral” community.
As one of his more-recent projects, Wilber has co-founded a think-tank with the ex-rabbi Marc Gafni. As the
New York Times
A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a proponent of conscious capitalism, calls Mr. Gafni “a bold visionary.” He is a chairman of
the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch. The Whole Foods website shows a seven-part
video series of conversations between the two men.
The new media pioneer Arianna Huffington spoke, via teleconference, at Mr. Gafni’s invitation-only conference last year. The author
John Gray has asked Mr. Gafni to help write a sequel to Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
However, Gafni’s past is littered with accusations of sexual exploitation, involving girls as young as fourteen, as revealed in
the same NYT article. A more-detailed documentation of Gafni’s alleged behaviors, apologies, and later withdrawal of the same,
can be found in the Internet Archive
Gafni has actually taken polygraph tests, in the attempt to prove his innocence. Anyone with the slightest background in skepticism,
however, knows that the results of such “lie-detector” tests are
worthless, in attempting to determine whether someone is telling the
For his own part, Wilber had this to say about the claims of improprieties on the part of Dr. Gafni:
Mr. Wilber said that before forming a partnership with Mr. Gafni, he personally researched the rumors about him and commissioned an
employee to investigate. In the end, Mr. Wilber concluded that Mr. Gafni was, at worst, “insensitive as a boyfriend.”
“Marc has a lot of Shakti,” Mr. Wilber said, using a Sanskrit word for energy. “I don’t think he understood the impact it had on
Yet Ken Wilber, his celebrated theories of consciousness, and the unquestioning population
of “second-tier” spiritual aspirants surrounding him and participating in his Integral Institute, are not what they appear to be,
either in terms of academic competence, integrity, or the basic ability to evaluate the alleged cultic and abusive behaviors of
KW and other spiritual leaders.
Specifically, in his so-called professional work, in the process of founding the field of integral psychology, Wilber has:
Misrepresented standard Darwinian evolution, in claiming that “a half-wing is no good as a leg and no good as a wingyou can’t
run and you can’t fly. It has no adaptive value whatsoever.” That claim flatly contradicts Darwin’s own observations, in
The Origin of Species, concerning flying squirrels and similar animals with partial wings. Wilber has further claimed that
“absolutely nobody” believes the “standard, glib, neo-Darwinian explanation” of chance mutation and natural selection anymore ...
while recommending Michael Behe’s pseudoscientific Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution as a
demonstration of how “Neo-Darwinian theory can’t explain shit.” That is presented in contrast to Wilber’s vitalistic “Eros” which, in
his view, is the “intrinsic force of self-organization” responsible for the phenomenon of conscious evolution, whereby “dirt gets up
and starts writing poetry.”
Misrepresented Carl Jung’s notion of archetypes ... while borrowing (without attribution) Jung’s ideas on pre-rational vs.
transrational states, as both being non-rational, to form his (Wilber’s) unduly celebrated “Pre/Trans Fallacy.”
Misrepresented the lack of academic consensus on Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. As Jeff Meyerhoff noted, that theory “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.’”
Misrepresented Clare Graves’ Spiral Dynamics®. As the SD practitioner Christopher Cowan put it:
[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
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.
In a review of Wilber’s book The Marriage of Sense and Soul, on the integration of science and meditation-based religion, in
the monthly Skeptical Inquirer magazine, the reviewer noted that
Wilber “implicitly accepts the reality of mystical experiences, and it is sufficient for him that his scientific mystics test their
internal experiences against nothing more than each other’s internal experiences. How this would eliminate group bias or error is not
discussed.” Nor has Wilber addressed that devastating (and unanswerable) criticism elsewhere.
Wilber’s vaunted “community verification,” in practice within any closed environment, actually amounts to little more than an appeal
to popularity and conformity. For, you can only be a “success” within those walls by seeing what the guru-figure and his “more
spiritually advanced” (than you) disciples tell you that you should be glimpsing.
KW has brutally misrepresented Charles N. “Skip” Alexander’s deeply flawed Transcendental Meditation-based research on meditation
advancing its practitioners at an accelerated pace through recognized stages of psychological development. His misrepresentations
there extend to having failed to even quote the results of the studies accurately, e.g., claiming that four years of meditation got 38
percent of Alexander’s subjects to test at the autonomous/integrated level, when in fact the relevant study involved eleven years
of meditation. Further, because of the profound flaws in the methodology of Alexander’s studies, one cannot know whether those
changes are the product of causation, or mere correlation.
As John Horgan has noted, “Ken Wilber, as eager as he is to project a scientifically conservative image, once stated, ‘I’m sure
[psychic phenomena] exist.’” No solid scientific evidence, however, has ever been provided for the existence of subtle energies,
morphogenic fields, or any other paranormal phenomena.
KW has presented Dean Radin’s thoroughly debunked (cf. skepdic.com) book
The Conscious Universe as putting the existence of parapsychological phenomena “beyond dispute, and every statistician agrees.”
The tail end of that statement, in particular, is utterly false.
In June of 2006, after several months of being publicly criticized for the ubiquitous and fatal errors in his work, Wilber posted a
vulgar and intentionally demeaning rant on his blog. Several days later, he revealed that posting to be a deliberate “test,” designed
to separate the more highly evolved “second tier” students who could appreciate his ideas, from the mere “first tier” critics who
were, in his view, criticizing his integral edifice simply because they lacked the spiritual evolution to even understand it.
(“[S]econd tier would get it, and that is who it was meant for.”) He further
denigrated the same critics as being “lunatics, nuts, fakes, and frauds,” while predictably not addressing the substance of any of the
criticisms leveled at his ideas.
From the same blog entry, this is a partial list of Wilber’s fertile imaginings regarding the purported shortcomings of persons such
as myself, who dare not only to have no use for his philosophy but to further point out, in reasoned detail, why his conjectures make
so very little sense:
lunatic and cacophonous ... so deranged as to be laughable ... suck my dick ... level of scholarship is so mediocre ... worthless ...
you morons ... lame criticism ... painfully sluggish critics, dragging their bloated bellies across the ground at a snail’s pace of
gray dreariness, can frankly just eat my dust and bite my ass ... nonsensical ... neither true nor false but empty ... criticism so
deranged you just stare at it wide-eyed and dumbfounded ... criticism so absolutely loopy you just stare in disbelief for minutes,
pie-eyed, slack-jawed, say whaaaaaat? ... numb-nut young Turks and no-nut old Turks, many of whom have studied [my] work for up to 3
The whole kit and caboodle of recent criticism just reeks of Nietzschean resentiment [sic]in plain English,
resentment, deep and long and ugly resentment.
As a former founding member of the Integral Institute responded, however:
Being integral is increasingly being defined as: “agreeing with Ken Wilber.” This is the only critique being accepted within the
movement. And basically it takes the form of: yes you are a genius, but wouldn’t you consider that xxx. Such a form of self-
denigrating critique is the only one acceptable, and it can only serve to strengthen the edifice and the influence of the master....
Can there be any hope for such a movement? In my opinion: none whatsoever. The point of no-return has long passed.
Or, as another anonymous online critic put it:
The herd mentality that Wilber should concern himself with is the herd mentality he encourages in his young followers, the groupthink,
the in-group versus out-group dynamic, the loading of the language with jargon and psychobabble, the arrogance, narcissism, and
Or, as Meyerhoff noted:
The way I see it, my critique and that of others has left so little of Wilber’s integral synthesis standing that he has to devise ways
to avoid responding to them in order to fool his followers, and probably himself, into thinking that his system is the best
integration of contemporary knowledge available. Wilber’s techniques of avoidance are long and getting longer....
My conclusion is that the emperor has few clothes. The cowboy is circling the wagons to better defend an untenable position. He’s been
exposed and can’t confront it nor admit it, and so he avoids critical engagement through an array of diversions.
Wilber has enthusiastically endorsed the “crazy wisdom” teachings and reported violent discipline of
Andrew “Rude Boy” Cohen and the late, nine-
Adi Da (a.k.a. Da Free John).
Cohen’s magazine referred to Wilber as a “prophet.” Of Da Free John’s teaching, Wilber’s hyperbolic conclusion was that it was
“unsurpassed by that of any other spiritual Hero, of any period, of any place, of any time, of any persuasion.” He credited
another of Da’s books as being the “most profound, most complete, most radical, and most comprehensive single spiritual text ever to
be penned and confessed by the Human Transcendental Spirit.” Only a few years after that glowing endorsement, however,
Wilber stated that Adi Da’s “entire situation has become very problematic.” Nearly a decade later, he explained: “‘Problematic’ was
the euphemism that sociologists at that time were using for Jonestown.” That is not surprisingly, given that Da
explicitly told his followers that he “can do no wrong.” Former members of Cohen’s community have
likewise regarded it as an abusive environment.
There is no reason to expect Wilber’s vetting of Gafni to have been done with any more sensibility than his dangerously naïve
evaluations of Cohen and Adi Da.
Far from being the “Einstein of consciousness research,” the clinical narcissist Wilber is much closer to being the discipline’s
Velikovsky. As two of the
latter’s critics noted: “I would not trust any alleged citation by Velikovsky without checking the original printed sources,” and
“Velikovsky interprets, adds, and deletes liberally while insisting he is adhering literally to the evidence.... Given such an array
of data and freedom to interpret, the legends can be made to fit any theory.”
Wilber’s ideas make dangerously little sense, and he has been caught, red-handed, fabricating information far too often by now, for
anyone of sound mind and body to look past those radical shortcomings as if they were anything less than pandemic in his work.