Christian de Quincey


About Christian de Quincey

Contact Information



JFKU Syllabi


Discussion Forum

Book Reviews



  Deep Spirit: Critics Do. Critics Don't. (2)


1. Intersubjectivity

Wilber opens this portion of his defense, �de Quincey�s major criticism, and the one he spends the most time on, is that I identify intersubjectivity solely and exclusively with verbal linguistic exchanges. This is pretty much the opposite of my view.�

I�m glad to hear him say this. Given his emphasis on the ultimate nature of nondual Spirit, this is what I would have expected from Ken Wilber. I was very surprised, therefore, to come across, again and again, his claim that intersubjectivity (I�ll use �I-I� as shorthand) takes place only via exchanges of linguistic tokens or signals. I quote Wilber�s words exactly as he says them . . . without any distortion or misrepresentation.

In case you haven�t read my original paper, or don�t have it to hand, I�ll repeat the key section where I quote Wilber (JCS, pp.185-186), citing different books where he declares the same position (note, also, his own emphasis on �only�):

In [Integral Psychology] IP, he gives a very clear account of his understanding of intersubjectivity:

You, as subject, will attempt to understand me as a subject�as a person, as a self, as a bearer of intentionality and meaning. You will talk to me, and interpret what I say [emphasis added]; and I will do the same with you. We are not subjects staring at subjects; we are subjects trying to understand subjects�we are in the intersubjective circle, the dialogical dance (p. 161).

Then, in the next paragraph: �the interior of a holon can only be accessed by interpretation.� In Eye of Spirit, he makes the same point: �the only way you and I can get at each other�s interiors is by dialogue and interpretation (EoS, p. 14). In SES, he is even more emphatic: �. . . interiors must be interpreted. If I want to know what your brain looks like from within, what its actual lived interior is like (in other words, your mind), then I must talk to you. There is absolutely no other way. . . . And as we talk, I will have to interpret what you say� (p. 134). Then, missing the subtle reduction he has just expressed, he goes on to say, in contradiction: �But you can only study interiors empathically, as a feel from within, and that means interpretations� (p. 134). (Later on, in IP, he wavers: �the only way you can get at interiors is via introspection and interpretation�; here, Wilber recognizes that interpretation alone is insufficient to �get at� interiors [pp. 172-173]).

He leaves us in no doubt what he means by �intersubjectivity�: It is a subject-to-subject connection mediated by language and interpretation�and �only . . . by interpretation.� There is no unmediated, direct experience of the other. Wilber�s �interpretative circle,� he makes clear, is identical to the �hermeneutic circle.� But interpretation is a cognitive operation, a manipulation of symbols, or, at best, an extraction of meaning from symbols. In either case, interpretation is always at least one remove from immediate experience.

True intersubjectivity, as I understand it, is unmediated. It is direct subject-to-subject sharing of presence�where both (or more) subjects either mutually condition each other�s sense of self, or, more strongly, mutually co-create each other�s sense of self.

If, indeed, my critique focuses on a partial view, and is misrepresentative of Wilber�s total view, then he must take responsibility for emphasizing, repeatedly, this self-misrepresentation. As a reviewer and commentator of his work, it was my responsibility to draw attention to this. I think if Wilber were interested in true dialogue he simply would have acknowledged that in many places he has in fact emphasized a merely partial aspect of I-I (and has even stated that it is the �only� way), and that this could easily have misled readers into thinking that, for Wilber, �talking� and �interpretation� are the main aspects of I-I. That was the main thrust of my I-I critique, and unfortunately neither Wilber nor his defenders had the willingness to acknowledge this.

End result: If my critique has served to alert Wilber (and his readers) to the very narrow meaning of I-I he has emphasized most, and if it has encouraged Wilber (and others) to be more explicit and careful about expressing his full position on I-I (consistent with his own ontological/epistemological bottom line: the ultimate is nondual Spirit), then, I feel, our interchange has been worthwhile. (It does seem that more people are paying attention to the significance of intersubjectivity in the overall understanding of consciousness. And for that, I am grateful. For many years, it has been my hope and intention to put intersubjectivity on the consciousness studies map.)

A little later, Wilber says I give �two examples� of his very weak description of I-I, �both taken out of context� that fly in the face of hundreds of examples to the contrary (and he offers a quote from A Brief History of Everything: �So there is intersubjectivity woven into the very fabric of the Kosmos at all levels.� So why, then, does Wilber say (and I give not two, but seventeen examples from Integral Psychology alone) over and over that intersubjectivity is a matter of �talking� and �interpretation��clearly meaning linguistic exchanges, and these are not woven into the cosmic (or Kosmic) fabric at all levels?

What does he mean by �taken out of context�? Since I refer readers to exact pages in IP where Wilber makes this claim, it is clear I�m encouraging them to see the context for themselves. Obviously, in a review (even a lengthy one) there isn�t enough room to quote whole chunks of text to reproduce the original context. That would be an absurd expectation. In standard academic work, it is sufficient to note the context by (1) accurately quoting the author�s own words without selective bias or distortion, and (2) by indicating the context in the original work. This is what I have done. Unfortunately, it is not what Wilber has done in his response.

� . . . never do I say, at any point, that in the entire Kosmos this is the ONLY type of intersubjectivity. . . . I never say there is only linguistic intersubjectivity . . .� Well, read his own words and see what you think: �the interior of a holon can only be accessed by interpretation� or �the only way you and I can get at each other�s interiors is by dialogue and interpretation, and, the emphatic, �interiors must be interpreted� and �I must talk to you.� He doesn�t explicitly say �this is the only type of intersubjectivity in the entire Kosmos.� True (nor do I say that he does). But he does come very close when he states that �the interior of a holon can only be accessed by interpretation.�

If Wilber meant specifically human holons when using �only��and not the entire Kosmos�it doesn�t affect my critique. First, the position that the interiors of human holons can be accessed �only� by linguistic exchanges would be false, in any case. The specifically human kind of I-I that each of us encounters every day (or human-animal I-I) involves what I have called nonlinguistic �engaged presence.� We do not experience each other �only� through �dialogue and interpretation,� as Wilber states over and over. Second, what is essentially true of human interiors is essentially true of interiors anywhere in the Kosmos. Engaged presence is the essence of I-I between any holons.

In his response, Wilber offers this clarification: �When I talk about having �only� linguistic interpretation, I mean that, as far as the linguistic signifiers themselves go, we must add interpretation . . .� This is good. I�m glad to hear him be explicit about this (even though it is hardly news that words or symbols make sense to us only when we interpret them). But nowhere in Integral Psychology or ToE does he make this clear�which is what I was criticizing. This �very weak� form of I-I is what dominates Wilber�s discussion of the phenomenon in IP and ToE (also in Eye of Spirit). The point of my critique was to draw attention to the fact that this is just one�the weakest�of three different kinds of I-I.

Given this, Wilber is clearly being disingenuous when he says: �That I maintain there is only linguistic intersubjectivity is something de Quincey himself adds to my work.� This is blatantly false (see the 17 examples I cite from Integral Psychology). He then attempts a typical Wilber-wriggle defense: �I define interpretation as a �sympathetic resonance from within�.� I like that definition. But it doesn�t appear in Integral Psychology.

He goes on: �And yet de Quincey himself gives my primary definition of intersubjectivity by correctly using the following quote from me: �Subjective experiences arise in the space created by intersubjectivity.�� Yes, I do quote this to underscore how contradictory it is for Wilber to repeatedly emphasize the linguistic version as the �only� form of I-I. As I said in my paper, I know that Wilber knows better. I cite an example to support that claim. I then critique him for not acknowledging this other, more primary, form of I-I in Integral Psychology.

Wilber is here indulging in what he claims his critics do: He is lifting my reference to his �subjective experiences� quote out of context. The point of my JCS critique of I-I, let me emphatically repeat, was to draw attention to the very limited meaning Wilber ascribes to I-I in IP�and that he should, and apparently does, know better. Hence the �primary definition� quote above.

Wilber accuses me of �focusing on a specific example��again, I cite 17 examples��about one type of interpretation.� As I�ve pointed out, Wilber does not make it clear in Integral Psychology that he acknowledges more than one type of I-I in his total model. In fact, I believe he begins to talk about different types of I-I only after seeing my critique where I offer three distinct types of I-I.

He says: �Moreover, I add at least two more types of intersubjectivity not dealt with by de Quincey.� He then goes on to describe I-I #3: �The agency of all holons opens directly, immediately, onto Spirit itself, and thus all holons share a deep, nonmediated, nonlocal, profound intersubjectivity due to the fact that all holons immediately touch each other via the Spirit that each of them fully is.�

This is a wonderful restatement of what I have identified as I-I #2b��(strong-experiential meaning): mutual co-arising and engagement of interdependent subjects, or �intersubjects� that creates their respective experience. It is ontological intersubjectivity relying on co-creative nonphysical presence, and brings distinct subjects into being out of a prior matrix of relationships.� (The interiority of all participants in I-I #2b is the �common Self� that Schopenhauer rightly noted must exist for any form of I-I to exist in the first place.)

And if Wilber�s I-I #3 is not merely a restatement of my I-I #2b, then it is not any form of I-I at all�not a third variation of I-I, as he claims. If there is only ONE Spirit then there is only one, nondual, pure subjectivity (as interiority), so there is no possibility of any �inter-subjectivity� between any distinct loci of I-I.

At one point, Wilber turns for assistance to one of his acolytes who points out: �Wilber�s model, as it relates to intersubjectivity, is often buried in footnotes and/or is implicit . . .� Well, this is a limp defense because nothing like I-I #3 is �buried� in any IP footnotes. And if it is only �implicit� in IP, then my critique stands, and is in fact supported by this line of �defense.� Bottom line: The repeated and explicit position in IP is the very narrow and weak meaning of I-I.

Wilber then uses a surprising claim in his defense, quoting one of his defenders: �de Quincey only cites one book (out of 18) to support this claim [that I-I is not a central concern for Wilber]�although that one book [IP], surprisingly, contains passages which speak to all five dimensions.� Surprising indeed. If there is any passage in IP that �speaks to� all of Wilber�s purported �five dimensions� of I-I, I would certainly like to be directed to it. If such passages are unequivocally there, I will withdraw the part of my critique, based on IP, that suggests Wilber�s Lower Left quadrant is effectively vacant thereby leaving his complex edifice precariously balanced on three, not four, quadrants.

* * *

Wilber makes the point that I did not send him a copy of my paper before publication �to check for any misrepresentations,� even though I circulated it to numerous others. And then he slips in the telling remark: �Several people approached me warning of the severe distortions in the paper.� The Wilber Police. I�ll return to that in a moment. First, why I didn�t send him a copy of the paper in advance:

In the past, I�ve sent Wilber papers querying certain aspects of his theory, but he never responded. I even followed up pointing out that I was about to go into print with a chapter in a book that elaborated on what seemed to me to be a weakness in Wilber�s logic regarding the relationship between the biosphere and physiosphere. But again, no response. Given his lack of responsiveness in the past, I saw no reason to attempt communication one more time. Furthermore, I was aware that Wilber had also been invited to write a paper for the same issue of JCS. It did not seem wise, or fair to me, to present Wilber with an opportunity to undercut my critique in advance by adapting his JCS article to neutralize my objections.

As it turned out, this precaution on my part has been validated. In his response to my JCS critique (circulated to many people via email but pointedly not to me), Wilber makes the bizarre comment that my critique does not address the content of his JCS paper. How could it? Our papers were being written simultaneously, and I became aware of the contents of his paper only after both our papers were published!

Wilber: �What is perhaps most embarrassing for de Quincey is that, in an article in the same issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in which de Quincey�s critique appears�and in which he says I really only allow linguistic intersubjectivity�I clearly state my actual position, and it contradicts everything de Quincey claims.� Well now, as a card-carrying Whiteheadian I neither believe in, nor possess, precognition. How could I have known or commented on what Wilber was going to say in his JCS article�when the first time I had an opportunity to read it was after it appeared in the same issue as mine?

This is embarrassingly ridiculous�for Wilber. This slip reveals he expected that somehow I would have had access to his JCS paper�because he had had foreknowledge of mine?

The scales were not balanced, however. Wilber, clearly, had been privy to my work-in-progress (as he acknowledges in his response, see above). His friend Keith Thompson, evidently, had passed along a series of private and confidential email exchanges between Thompson and me. I had included Thompson in the group of prepublication reviewers, and had lengthy online conversations with him�particularly about I-I. However, I explicitly prefaced our exchanges with a request that the contents of our conversations be kept confidential, and should not be shared. Thompson agreed, and said he would honor my request.

Not only did he �approach� Wilber and �warn� him of �sever distortions,� Thompson used the content of my emails to write a critique of my Wilber critique, which he sent off to JCS, suggesting that either his paper be published as a Wilber review instead of mine, or perhaps alongside mine. Not surprisingly, the JCS editor saw right through the ruse. Thompson took this underhand action without informing me, clearly breaching a confidential agreement between us. Very unprofessional. A clear case of �Wilber police� mentality. (Thompson, and his friend and Wilber acolyte Sean Hargens, later tried a similar tactic to suppress publication of another article on Wilber I�d written for IONS Review!)

Incidentally, Thompson�s emails to me merely repeated the now familiar refrain from Wilber and his other neophytes: that my critique of Wilber�s treatment of I-I in IP was a �severe distortion� of his �total� position. Both Thompson and Hargens, and then Wilber himself, have stubbornly chosen to ignore the fact�consistently pointed out in conversations and in my paper�that I was critiquing Wilber�s very own statements�in context�made over and over in IP that I-I occurs �only� via linguistic exchanges. That�s what I was objecting to�and I�m pleased to see that my critique has apparently spurred Wilber to be more explicit and careful about what he means by I-I.

As I said in JCS (and in emails and conversations with Thompson and other Wilberphiles): My sole purpose in focusing on Wilber�s treatment of I-I in IP was to highlight how inconsistent this position is with what is implicit in Wilber�s overall model. To accuse me of being �selective� and �partial� for critiquing what Wilber actually said strikes me as perverse.

It comes to this: Wilber explicitly says �X,� when implicitly his model says �Y,� and I call him on this inconsistency. Now, instead of acknowledging this, Wilber and his defenders prefer the defensive-aggressive tactic of distortion by accusing me of ignoring �Y,� and focusing on �X.� In fact, I did not ignore Wilber�s implicit position (�Y�), but merely offered a detailed analysis of various meanings of I-I to underscore how �partial,� �weak,� �incomplete,� and �inconsistent� Wilber�s very clear and explicit statements (�X�) are in IP.

As I�ve said, I cannot take responsibility for Wilber�s misrepresentation of his own position. If �X� were simply a partial aspect of the full position (�Y�), then it was up to Wilber to make that clear in IP and ToE. He didn�t. Nor can I take seriously or respect the Wilber defense brigade when they not only distort my position and fail to acknowledge Wilber�s own shortcomings in the I-I issue, but also resort to highly disreputable �suppression� tactics�and worse, blatantly and unprofessionally breaking a confidential agreement.

Let me add an observation. As he acknowledges, Wilber did have the benefit of knowing in advance the contents of my critique of his I-I position. So, at the very least, he had the opportunity to angle his JCS paper as a pre-emptive defense against my critique. The fact is, as he acknowledges, his paper does pick up the theme of I-I �all the way down� and that I-I is �not established merely by exchanges of linguistic signifiers . . .� Since, as Wilber and his defenders admit, Wilber had not been sufficiently explicit on this point previously, I leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not Wilber actually did take advantage of knowing in advance when writing his JCS paper just how my critique would call him on this very point. Doesn�t take a neuroscientist . . .!

* * *


The most common pattern in all three of de Quincey�s main criticisms is this: each time I address an issue (such as intersubjectivity or the mind-body problem), I outline several different meanings (or aspects) of the problem, and I state that I believe that all of them must be included . .


But this is precisely what Wilber does not do�particularly in regard to I-I as discussed in IP (which was my review assignment for JCS). This is another example of a false and misleading statement by Wilber. And then the provocative distortion: �de Quincey will cut and splice quotes from me to show I have several different meanings in mind.� The phrase �cut and splice� evokes a sense of deliberate patching together of otherwise disconnected quotes to create a misleading representation of the author�s position (which is what Wilber accuses me of). However, I simply combed through IP and ToE (and other volumes in his Collected Works) for examples that made Wilber�s own position very clear. There was no distortion in my selection of Wilber quotes. There is, however, distortion in how Wilber represents my critique.

And then he makes the false claim: �In each of his main criticisms, de Quincey eventually backs off and subtly retracts his charges . . .� Just a few sentences earlier Wilber says that I �seem to have a hard time holding multiple perspectives in mind.� Not at all. It is precisely because I do hold multi-layered perspectives that I can critique Wilber�s explicit statements while being open to the possibility that he actually knows better (as implied elsewhere in his work). This is not in the least a retraction of my critique. It is, rather, a generous acknowledgement that although Wilber errs on such-and-such a point as expressed by him (e.g., intersubjectivity), I suspect that he does know better. This is not backing off. It is presenting a rigorous critique of a specific issue, and then acknowledging a larger context that gives Wilber the benefit of the doubt. The charge remains intact�notwithstanding an invitation to rectify it along with an acknowledgement of Wilber�s ability to do so.

Back to the issue of feelings. Wilber: �de Quincey [says] . . . that I am personally out of touch with my feelings.� I�ve addressed this earlier. But let me repeat: Actually I think Wilber (by his own admission and from my personal experience of him, and from friends who have been close to him, as well as from his writings), is quite a passionate soul�brim-full of emotions and feelings of all kinds. I don�t ever say or imply that he is a feelingless zombie. What I do say, and defend, is that his model comes across as passionless and lacking feeling, and that I suspect Wilber is not comfortable dealing with his or others� feelings. Yes, he has feelings, but seems to prefer to use his rational prowess to avoid or suppress incorporating his feelings into his philosophy. This is not �ad hominem.� I do not, as Wilber accuses me, �claim that [Wilber] lacks feelings.� However, I do think that he is �vehemently anti-feeling� when it comes to granting it ontological, or even epistemological, significance.

And then another Wilber distortion:

de Quincey continues this line of attack by saying �Wilber�s immense rational fortress has been erected to withstand any possible intrusion of ambiguity, paradox, or mystery, and is designed to shut out the messiness of intense feeling.� But this is simply ludicrous, since that leaves out not only my insistence on the trans-rational realms of consciousness (which are the cornerstone of my entire approach), but also the entire spectrum of emotions that I have written about . . . The fact that a large part of what I have to do is provide rational justification for trans-rational states is taken by de Quincey to mean that I have nothing but rationality, in me or my work.

First of all: Wilber conveniently omits my introductory phrase: �I sometimes get the impression that this immense rational fortress has been erected to withstand any possible intrusion of ambiguity, paradox, or mystery,� etc. Second, from reading Wilber�s Collected Works, it seems to me that his treatment of both the transrational and emotions suffers from an overly rationalistic attempt to build a logic-tight system. One does not come away from Wilber�despite his use of the words�with the impression that his model is informed by deep feeling or transrational insights. Many people I�ve spoken with share this sentiment about his work.

The problem is not uniquely Wilber�s�in fact, to be honest, I seem to suffer from the same affliction, if I�m to believe what some of my students tell me�it is a problem intrinsic to any attempt to build an all-encompassing, complex edifice of the intellect. It is part of the challenge of �post-conquest consciousness� itself.

Higher intelligence. It's closer than you think.

Homepage  |  About Christian de Quincey  |  Contact Information  |  Links  |  Pictures  |  JFKU Syllabi  |  Discussion Forum  |  Book Reviews  |  Calendar