A Test Case from a Recent Academic Journal
As is often the case with my critics,
I happen to agree with much of what de Quincey has to say; it is simply that, in
trying to establish his own view, he finds it necessary to distort my own,
perhaps to better emphasize the differences between us. In doing so, de Quincey
either takes a partial aspect of my position and claims that it is my total
position (he does this quite often); or he simply does not present my actual
position in the first place. I will try to point out where and how this occurs
in his critique. As students of my work have been quick to point out,
misrepresentation of my work is quite common, simply because there is so damn
much of it, and many of my actual positions are buried in obscure endnotes; I
have not helped much in this regard, a situation I am doing my best to rectify
(as I will explain below).
Here is the gist of de Quincey's criticism: "Wilber leaves 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." While de Quincey gives two examples of this, both taken out of context, it flies in face of hundreds of examples and statements such as the above quote from Brief History, which clearly state my overall position: "Intersubjectivity is woven into the very fabric of the Kosmos at all levels"--not just the linguistic levels, but all levels, right down to atoms and quarks.
De Quincey arrives
at his conclusion by focusing on a specific example where I am talking about
one type of interpretation, in this case linguistic (so that I give an
example of talking or having a conversation), and I am trying to drive home the
point that, in those cases, we must add an interior interpretation to the
exterior surfaces, or else we will never reach any sort of understanding.
However, never do I say, at any point, that in the entire Kosmos this is the
ONLY type of intersubjectivity. (When I talk about having "only"
linguistic interpretation, I mean that, as far as the linguistic signifiers
themselves go, we must add interior interpretation, the shared intersubjective
signifieds known by empathic resonance). I never say there is only
linguistic intersubjectivity in the entire Kosmos; that flies in the face of my
entire "all-quadrant, all-level" model, which sees intersubjectivity
as one of the four quadrants that goes all the way up, all the way down.
If we move from his presentation of my position to his presentation of his position, things are quite different. As I said, I happen to agree with much of de Quincey's ideas on intersubjectivity, and I heartily applaud his endeavors to bring second-person intersubjectivity to consciousness studies, thus putting flesh on the "2" in the 1-2-3 of consciousness studies. (This is also, I feel, why articles such as de Quincey's recent essay in JTP fare much better than his critique, because he can focus on his own important work instead of having to subtly or not so subtly distort mine in order to highlight the importance of his own contributions).
De Quincey usefully describes three major meanings of "intersubjectivity." Intersubjectivity-1 is defined by isolated, atomistic subjects coming together through communication of signals; this is a type of Cartesian or mediated intersubjectivity. Intersubjectivity-2a is a coming together of subjects that mutually condition each other in the process; a type of immediate mutual apprehension. Intersubjectivity-2b assumes that the relationship between subjects is primary, and individual subjects co-emerge out of this prior relationship; a very strong, immediate, coming-into-being together.
To begin with, de Quincey claims that I do not understand or include in my work the most important version of intersubjectivity, namely Intersubjectivity-2b (where relationship is primary and subjects are secondary); he maintains that I allow ONLY Intersubjectivity-1. 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." In other words, intersubjectivity is primary, and subjects arise in that field--which is exactly Intersubjectivity-2b. The way I usually state intersubjectivity is even stronger: "Intersubjectivity is the field in which both subjects and objects arise" (SES, BH, ES, IP). This is an even stronger form of intersubjectivity than de Quincey allows, since for him subjects mutually co-create, but for me, both subjects and objects co-create, all the way up, all the way down.
After quietly acknowledging that I actually do understand "real" intersubjectivity, de Quincey ignores that fact and then seizes on the wording in one example (and only one example out of hundreds) to claim that I allow only Intersubjectivity-1, that generated by linguistic signs. This is categorically false.
But the real difficulty here is that my writing on the whole makes it clear that I acknowledge and actually include all three of those forms of intersubjectivity--I believe that all three of them exist, and I have given examples and explanations of all three of them in my writings (see below).
Moreover, I add at least two more types of intersubjectivity not dealt with by de Quincey. I will focus on one of these, which in many ways it is the most important of all. With reference to de Quincey's numbering scheme, we could call it Intersubjectivity-3, namely: 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 "ultimate" meaning of intersubjectivity is for me the primary meaning, and I believe that all of the other forms of intersubjectivity issue forth from this all-pervading Ground. As Schopenhauer noted long ago, without a common Self in and to all people, you can't get any form of intersubjectivity going in the first place--and that certainly includes de Quincey's Intersubjectivity-2b, which by comparison is very a limited and partial conception of intersubjectivity, in my opinion.)
Students of my work are quite clear about all five types of intersubjectivity that I believe exist. Here are a few excerpts from Sean Hargens' work-in-progress, The Evolution of Intersubjectivity.
Sean begins by pointing out that "What is needed is a clarifying framework that can hold simultaneously the many dimensions of intersubjectivity. I believe that Ken Wilber's 'all-quadrant, all-level' (AQAL) ontological-epistemological model is such a framework. It provides an evolutionary/developmental continuum that can serve to clarify many of the misunderstandings that occur in discussions of intersubjectivity. De Quincy isolates a number of these confusions and offers three different definitions of intersubjectivity as a way of overcoming these impasses.... Despite the fact that de Quincey acknowledges Wilber's model to honor intersubjectivity, he tends to focus on only one part of what it has to offer, namely the intersubjectivity that is a result of an exchange of linguistic tokens [Intersubjectivity-1]. A closer reading of Wilber's model reveals a much more comprehensive approach to intersubjectivity. Although the fullness of Wilber's model, as it relates to intersubjectivity, is often buried in footnotes and/or is simply implicit, nevertheless, enough pieces do exist within the body of his writings to see a different picture than the one de Quincey paints."
Sean outlines five types of intersubjectivity that I include in my work (and which Sean unpacks at length, adding enormously to anything I have written on these types; I have included, as Appendix B, Sean's summary of these five types of intersubjectivity recognized by my work). He then says, "Now that I have highlighted some of the limits of existing approaches to intersubjectivity, and stated that even de Quincey leaves some important dimensions of intersubjectivity unaddressed, I will turn to Wilber's model as a starting point for articulating an integral approach to intersubjectivity.... The five dimensions discussed above are all considered to constitute the Lower-Left quadrant of Wilber's integral model. Thus when de Quincey claims that 'unlike Habermas, Jacques, Buber, or Mead, intersubjectivity is not a central concern for Wilber,' I beg to differ. After all, de Quincey only cites one book (out of 18) to support this claim--although that one book, surprisingly, contains passages which speak to all five dimensions.
"I agree with de Quincey,
insofar as Wilber's writings cover a variety of topics, he doesn't
deal exclusively with intersubjectivity. Thus it is not the central
concern, but it is definitely a central concern. However, the sense I get from
de Quincey's article, which has been confirmed in personal communication,
is that he means it in a more pointed way. But Wilber's entire
integral agenda is in part the stated need for us to honor 'The Big
Three' (subjective, intersubjective, and objective domains of the
Kosmos). Thus, arguably you could claim that Wilber actually elevates
intersubjectivity to a place unequaled by most theorists who have dealt with
it. I can think of no other metaphysical frameworks that have explicitly
stated that Intersubjectivity is one of three legs stabilizing the Kosmological
stool. I imagine that de Quincey's
retort is that while Wilber deals with intersubjectivity he is only dealing with
one of three types of intersubjectivity and fails to see that intersubjectivity
as context (de
Quincey's Intersubjectivity-2b) is
ontologically prior to intersubjectivity as mutual understanding
(de Quincey's Intersubjectivity-1).
However, as we saw in Part I above, Wilber actually provides a system that not
only recognizes the three types of intersubjectivity that de Quincey highlights
but goes beyond those to offer five distinct dimensions, several of which have
The heart of de Quincey's argument is that Ken's "intersubjectivity" is derived merely from the exchange of linguistic signifiers and is really "interobjective." I disagree. Wilber could not be more clear that he derives the Left-Hand or interior quadrants ultimately from Spirit or nondual consciousness, which is single (or more accurately nondual), and therefore is identical in all holons (e.g., all beings have buddhamind or buddhanature). His intersubjectivity thus arises from the direct and immediate contact of all interiors with Spirit--which is equally and immediately present in all beings, and thus all beings are immediately co-present in Spirit--and not from the exchange of objective signs (or anything else objective), although, as he makes clear, those exchanges also occur (but they are of the manifest realm, not of ever-present, omni-present Spirit).
Keith includes a discussion of my view of holographic interpenetration and its important but limited role in intersubjectivity, which I include as an endnote.
To return to de Quincey's critique. 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 in any integral theory. I do that with the five meanings of intersubjectivity, and I do that with the three major meanings of the mind-body problem. In each case, de Quincey quotes me where I am emphasizing the importance of one of the aspects, then he quotes me emphasizing another aspect, then he charges me with contradicting myself (or being ambiguous, confused, or befuddled). I feel that this gives the impression that de Quincey seems to have a hard time holding multiple perspectives in mind; he wants to me to choose just one aspect and privilege it above all others, and when I don't do this, he charges me with ambiguity. It's very hard to respond to such charges, especially the way that de Quincey will cut and splice quotes to show that I have several different meanings in mind (and I have several different meanings in mind because surely there are several different meanings in reality).
But, as previously suggested, in each of his main criticisms, de Quincey eventually backs off and subtly retracts his charges (although he will often preface this retraction by repeating his charge of ambiguity). With regard to Intersubjectivity-2b, which de Quincey first says I completely lack, he finally states: "Wilber does talk the language of presence--the foundational experience of
intersubjectivity." He then quotes me
Consciousness is an inseparable mixture of experience and mental-cultural molding.... Every experience is a context; every experience, even simple sensory experience, is always already situated, is always already a context, is always already a holon.... As Whitehead would have it, every holon is already a prehensive unification of its entire actual universe: nothing is ever simply present.
Let me repeat that I see all five or so forms of intersubjectivity as being profoundly important. I include several forms of intersubjectivity not addressed by de Quincey, including a nondual spiritual ground (which in one sense is the most fundamental of all), but all forms of intersubjectivity have, I feel, a very important place and thus should be honored and embraced in a more integral approach to the topic.
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:
Both the Lower-Left quadrant and the Upper-Left quadrant are postulated to exist "all the way down"; that is, this is a form of modified panpsychism ("pan-interiors"), which seems to be the only model capable of faithfully rendering this "master template." This implies that intersubjectivity also goes "all the way down" and that humans, as "compound individuals," contain all the pre-human forms of intersubjectivity as well. Thus, in humans, intersubjectivity is not established merely by exchange of linguistic signifiers, which is the commonly accepted notion. Rather, humans contain pre-linguistic intersubjectivity (established by, e.g., emotional or prereflexive co-presence with and to the other); linguistic intersubjectivity (established by the co-presence of interiority whose exteriors are linguistic signifiers but cannot be reduced to those exteriors); and trans-linguistic intersubjectivity (established by the simple presence of Presence, or nondual Spirit). In short, intersubjectivity is established at all levels by an interior resonance of those elements present at each level, a resonance that appears to span the entire spectrum of consciousness, pre-linguistic to linguistic to trans-linguistic. The suggestion that I limit intersubjectivity to the exchange of linguistic signifiers is quite off the mark.
And yet, some fifteen pages later in the same journal, de Quincey is claiming that I acknowledge "only the exchange of linguistic tokens," and therefore, as he summarizes his entire point: "Bottom line: This is not an incidental or 'nit-picking' critique. Basically, to spell it out: One quarter of Wilber's four quadrants is left void or vacant" (his emphasis).
De Quincey finishes this particular critique, as he does all of the others, by saying that the "highly significant" reason that I leave out the Lower-Left quadrant is that I personally am out of touch with my feelings, and therefore I cannot recognize the importance of non-linguistic intersubjectivity.
This would hurt me deeply had I any feelings, but since I don't... (:-). Let me just say two quick things: one, academic writing generally shuns emotionally laden writing, but the fact that I often, of necessity, conform to that requirement does not mean that I personally lack feelings or that I can't write in a feelingful way. For an example of the latter, I suggest de Quincey read Grace and Grit, which he cannot possibly have done and still claim I lack feelings. I must say that I was a little bit shocked that the one book where I bear my soul to the reader--and the one book that people who know me claim is the "real" Ken Wilber--is completely overlooked in de Quincey's relentlessly ugly psychoanalysis of me.
Second, even in academic writing, I have a widespread reputation as a passionate and engaged writer, with page after page of ecstatic expression, especially of the Divine. I cannot believe de Quincey managed to willfully ignore all of these passages, there's so damn many of them! But because it is important for de Quincey to portray me as being--his words--"vehemently anti-feeling," he ignores not only all the sections of my work that don't fit his mold, but also entire books. He claims that I have "a fiery determination to invalidate any possible psychotherapeutic intervention that might open up to experiential (realities)," thus overlooking all the books I have done on centauric psychotherapy, experiential therapy, etc. (see, for example, chap. 8 in No Boundary, which is nothing but experiential therapy).
De Quincey continues this line of attack by saying that "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 (see below). 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.
Those of you who have read my work
know differently. Here is the conclusion of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality,
which according to de Quincey is an "edifice complex" built entirely
to screen out mystery, feeling, ecstasy, etc. Of course, because this is the
conclusion to SES, it says what my final position really is. (Forgive me for
having to do this....)
Let the world be quiet. Let the heavens and the earth and the seas be still. Let the world be waiting. Let the self-contraction relax into the empty ground of its own awareness, and let it there quietly die. See how Spirit pours through each and every opening in the turmoil, and bestows new splendor on the setting Sun and its glorious Earth and all its radiant inhabitants. See the Kosmos dance in Emptiness; see the play of light in all creatures great and small; see finite worlds sing and rejoice in the play of the very Divine, floating on a Glory that renders each transparent, flooded by a Joy that refuses time or terror, that undoes the madness of the loveless self and buries it in splendor.
©2002 Shambhala Publications
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