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On the Nature of a Post-Metaphysical Spirituality
Response to Habermas and Weis

Ken Wilber

PART I | PART II | APPENDIX I | FOLLOWUP | APPENDIX II | NOTES

Part II: Hans-Will Weis and Ironic Put Downs

Ken Wilber's Philosophy--A Critical Appraisal by Hans-Willi Weis

Hans-Willi Weis recently published an article highly critical of my work, replete with ironic put-downs of my position and filled with a lovely spirit of ill-will and mean-spiritedness. How refreshing! I shall try to respond, although I am probably not as good at ironic put-downs as Meister Weis.

The following are summaries of Weis's criticisms. If these do not accurately represent his position, I apologize for any errors. If I ridicule a position and it is not actually Weis's position, then please apply the ridicule to some other accurate position of his. :-)

1. The spectrum of consciousness and its fulfillment through the transpersonal

KW's system is closed, the transpersonal stages are not just some further stages that might or might not exist (this is for science to decide), but the final stages of development--period.

This is quite incorrect. The system is open at almost every point. As I explained above, the nature of future evolution of humanity (and the Kosmos at large) is not predetermined, but is rather a product of (at least) all four quadrants as they manifest and interact. I call this "tetra-evolution," and it is open is almost every way, constrained only by the generalities of the twenty tenets, which are not a priori postulates but a posteriori conclusions based on empirical investigation. Once certain patterns emerge, they often become Kosmic habits, but when they first emerged, they had a great deal of creative freedom and openness.

Most of all, development is open in the subtle dimensions, which are part of the great creative fountain of Spirit. As I clearly state at the end of Part I of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality , evolution can (and might) continue into billions and billions of other worlds. There is no period, period.

Wilber's system claims universal validity, is immune for criticism and uses empirical data only by way of illustration.

The system I have proposed does not claim universal validity in any a priori fashion, but concludes that there are some aspects of the system that appear to be universal, and it makes this conclusion based on empirical and phenomenological investigation by hundreds of researchers from around the world using reconstructive broad science. Weis is clearly unaware of my writing in this regard. He might start to learn about my work in this area by reading Integral Psychology . In many ways, my position here is not much different from aspects of Jurgen Habermas's approach.

2. The Great Chain of Being and its formulation by the Philosophia Perennis

By relating the spectrum of consciousness to the Great Chain of Being, Wilber crosses the border between science and metaphysics, between psychology and ontology.

I do not identify myself with the perennial philosophy, and I have not done so for over fifteen years. As I have stated on many occasions, I categorically reject most of the work of the major perennialists, including Schuon, Coomaraswamy, Pallis, Guenon, etc. (For the latest statement of my rejection of the perennial philosophy, see TOE).

My major criticisms of the perennial philosophy are numerous and too detailed to summarize here. But perhaps my strongest criticism is that we can no longer conceive of "levels of reality" in a separative ontological sense. I reject entirely the notions of levels of reality as separate ontological existents (as explained in many endnotes in Integral Psychology ; see the following Appendix 1). Rather, any levels of reality must be conceived in a post-Kantian, post-metaphysical sense, as being inseparable from the consciousness that perceives them. This consciousness is investigated, not by metaphysical speculation, but by empirical and phenomenological research (see part I).

I have outlined this post-metaphysical and postmodern approach in numerous places, including several endnotes in SES, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (which specifically addresses the need for, and methodology of, a post-Kantian spirituality), and long endnotes in Integral Psychology . I suggest Weis start with those if he would like to learn more about my position.

What has an dogmatic repetition of concepts found in the wisdom traditions to do with empirical transpersonal research?

Nothing, which is why I categorically reject them--unless they can be reconstructed using good broad science and reconstructive science. Some of them can, many cannot; but we repeat none of them on blind faith.

3. Philosophia Perennis as foundation--the argument from authority

Conceiving the transpersonal realistically as the ens perfectissimum of theology, one can only point to the authority of the spiritual scriptures.

True, which is why I categorically reject that approach as well. I am a major critic of the perennial philosophy for all those reasons. The only areas of the perennial philosophy that I have been willing to support are those that have continuing and ongoing grounding in empirical and phenomenological investigation, such as the existence of three major states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, sleeping). But otherwise, all of the perennial philosophy is up for review based on good, broad science and confirmed by reconstructive science.

What empirical proof do historical spiritual figures present us with?

None, which is why their claims must be open to ongoing experiential research.

What proof do we have that they represent our future development?

None, which is why their claims must be open to ongoing experiential research. I have said that some of the great sages "represent our future," but only in the sense--and to the extent--that they have experienced higher or wider or deeper states of consciousness that humanity as a whole might discover (as I explained in Part I). But whether or not that happens depends on events in all four quadrants, each of which is an open, evolving system. Again, Weis is taking a very superficial and narrow reading of my work and trying to extrapolate it, and the results are his own dogmatism, not mine.

4. The transpersonal as a promise of the evolutionary future

Wilber sees the transpersonal as potential evolutionary stages, not as actual realities, which is another proof his thoughts move on an abstract level, high above the empirical world.

That is incorrect on both counts. As I explained above, the transpersonal realms are universal potentials for transcendence that can be experienced by virtually anybody right now, as a concrete reality, but its actual forms are filled out by all four quadrants. These higher potentials might become higher evolutionary stages, but that will only happen based on concrete realities in all four quadrants.

Further, as my overall writings make clear, I maintain, based on empirical and phenomenological evidence, that "the transpersonal" actually contains "states," "stages," and "realms." As states, they are ever-present realities, not future potentials. In other words, my model can accommodate both Weis's position and an evolutionary position, whereas his model does not.

Ideas about future evolution can only be speculative and have nothing to do with the scientific concept of evolution, which is retrospective, reconstructive.

Correct, which is why, as I explain in SES, the higher stages can only be explicated with a reconstructive science (see Part I above). Weis might have missed these sections. The point is that if we take a reconstructive approach to those who have already demonstrated a present competence in higher stages of development (i.e., stages beyond turquoise), then those stages will likely give us some of the general patterns that future evolution on a larger scale might follow (as a Kosmic habit), but even then, the actual forms will only be determined by emergent realities in all four quadrants. I don't think Hans-Willi is quite following the argument here, but I'm sure if he did, he could still find something wonderfully nasty to say about it. :-)

5. Meditation as scientific proof for metaphysical statements?

Metaphysics is concerned with understanding the (higher) world, science with facts. Science does not know if development is in itself desirable.

Correct, and again Weis repeats much of my own position as if it were merely his. My stance here is again somewhat similar to Habermas's, but whereas Habermas stops his account of development at the centaur (turquoise), I continue the account into the transpersonal as it becomes a concrete reality in development (and can be demonstrated with a reconstructive science). And, as I said, I categorically reject metaphysical approaches in every way. We need a postmodern, post-Kantian, empirically and phenomenologically and experientially grounded science of the transpersonal, which operates through a reconstructive science to suggest the higher stages and states that are available as present realities (facts) to those who continue their development beyond the stages recognized by conventional theorists such as Habermas.

Does meditation prove in a "scientific" way the metaphysical statements of the spiritual traditions? Metaphysics and science can never meet. (A scientific proof of the existence of God is a contradiction in terms.)

Generally I agree with the points that Weis is making here, but only from within his own narrow definitions. There is an enormous literature--in both Germany and America--on what the meaning of "science" is. Weis typically collapses my position--which contains at least three separate answers to that question--into one lump answer, which is nowhere near my actual stance. So let me unfold my actual position on "science," if I may, and repeat a few points I made previously:

1. If by "science" we mean sensorimotor empiricism, then there is no scientific proof for God. Nor is there any scientific proof for any realities higher than sensory (including mathematics, logic, etc.--all of those become "nonscientific" because they are nonsensory). This is often called "narrow science."

2. If by "science" we mean propositions ground in direct experiential evidence, then of course there is a "proof" of God's existence, and it is called "satori," the direct realization of the Suchness or Isness (tathagata) of the world. This is often called "deep or broad science."

3. I believe that both of the above statements are true, but I have added a third and I believe very novel consideration to this debate, namely: that when a person experiences satori (in the Upper-Left quadrant) and thus has a "deep science" direct experience of Spirit, then narrow science (in the Upper-right quadrant) can simultaneously track the brain changes that occur during satori (or sahaj samadhi, moksha, unitive consciousness, etc.), thus fleshing out our understanding of higher states of consciousness and giving us a much fuller, "all-quadrant, all-level" overview of higher realities. This approach is spelled out in The Marriage of Sense and Soul and briefly outlined in A Theory of Everything and Integral Psychology .

Meditation does not follow the three strands of science, for the data of meditation cannot even be put in words. So this is an empty analogy.

Oh, here Weis is showing his old grandmother Zen. He only has half of the Zen truth. "You Must Say Something!" is the name of Katigiri Roshi's latest book, and it points out the other half of Zen: of course the Real is ineffable, but you must say something! So what can you say? Quite a lot, it turns out, which is why real Zen Masters talk about Emptiness all the time. This is acceptable IF you have had satori, in which case you will know exactly what they mean.

There is a long section in SES, which Weis might not have read, where I talk about why ALL experiences are ineffable unless you have had the experience yourself. Experiences such as making love, watching a sunset, listening to Bach: none of them can be fully put into words. The same is true of mystical experiences, but that does not stop us from communicating quite a bit about them--just as we can talk quite a bit about sex, even though it is ineffable. All that is required is a bit of good will and mutual understanding, which Weis might want to consider as a happy alternative to his resolute desire to not agree with a single thing I have ever said. :-)

Stripping Wilber's system from its ontological and cosmological assumptions leaves us with an attempt at classifying transpersonal phenomena, which is neither compelling nor necessary. It is only one out of many other possible interpretations of the transpersonal.

First, there are no ontological assumptions, as I explained, but rather conclusions reached by empirical and phenomenological research based on broad sciences and reconstructive sciences. Weis is free to ignore this research, but his own model or system will clearly suffer for doing so.

Second, the "classification" system that results from including this data and research involves several dimensions--including states, stages, and realms--and Weis shows no indication that he is familiar with this research, so I would imagine that he would not find it compelling.

6. The clinical approach to the transpersonal

Wilber's classification of stages, pathologies and treatment modalities sees the field of spirituality with the eyes of a therapist, as if all deviations from the "norm" are pathological.

Not at all. The idea is simply that, wherever we find development occurring, including transpersonal development, we often find that there can be problems, snarls, or miscarriages in this development, and if that happens, painful symptoms of the developmental problem can occur. We naturally do not want to reduce transpersonal problems to merely personal problems, and therefore, if we are acting as transpersonal therapists, we want to extend our therapeutic compassion to these higher dimensions as well. It's a simple matter of kindness and consideration.

If we are to understand transpersonal phenomena in an empirical way, we have to let go of all normative and finalizing assumptions about how things should be.

Obviously. But once we collect a great deal of data and experiential evidence on the unfolding and development of consciousness, then we can legitimately draw normative conclusions in a very general sense (again, just as Habermas does; see also Part I). There is nothing suspect about this; it is very straightforward; and it certainly does NOT include finalizing assumptions.

Who are we to say that the world-rejecting Gnostics were "pathological," an assessment Wilber attributes to Plotinus? Each spiritual/existential viewpoint is valuable in itself.

Here Weis's green-meme (or merely pluralistic) orientation asserts itself clearly. He exhibits the standard performative contradiction: no view is higher or better than another, except his own view, which is the one correct way to see things. It is exactly to avoid such performative self-contradictions that a more integral approach to spirituality would be helpful.

7. Weis' proposal for an alternative view of the transpersonal

Wilber's system is far too abstract to be useful for transpersonal researchers, who have to deal with specific and detailed issues.

Then Weis should quickly alert the millions of readers around the world who are using this system and finding it quite useful. And please hurry, they are clearly wasting their lives! :-) But the point is, use the abstract framework and also apply whatever details you wish (my work offers a fair amount of details as well), and then you will have the best of both worlds.

Let's not focus on stages but on states (induced or spontaneous) in empirical transpersonal research. That is something we can handle.

My model includes both states and stages, since that is what is warranted by the empirical and phenomenological evidence to date. If Weis wants to ignore this huge body of evidence, then he must tell us why he ignores this evidence, and he must tell us what defects in the researchers led to their finding this evidence. Until he does that, any truly integral model will include all the relevant facts as disclosed by reputable researchers. I do not think we should toss out evidence as easily as Weis does.

Let's see how people integrate these states into their personality, and how they affect their larger behavior.

That's exactly what my approach does. But it also includes the effect of stages, types, developmental lines, the self as integrating tendency, and so on, which gives us a much more complete and integral view than that of Weis, in my opinion.

Trying to fit the transpersonal in an abstract and theoretical framework is a hopeless enterprise, all mystics have said the spiritual cannot adequately be formulated.

Yes, and all of traditions of the mystics have nonetheless offered general maps of the journey to Spirit (such as the ten Zen Ox-Herding pictures). It turns out that there are family resemblances to these maps, and these resemblances seem to reflect certain deep potentials in the human bodymind (deep potentials for self-transcendence given as the Great Nest). We don't try to fit anything into an abstract and theoretical framework. Instead, we attempt a reconstructive science that concludes, based on empirical and phenomenological research and evidence, that there are higher states and stages available to men and women (but again, not in a predetermined fashion, since their manifestation is molded by all four quadrants--behavioral, intentional, social, and cultural). This is a much fuller approach than Weis offers, I believe.

Let me finish by saying that I believe I truly resonate with some of the genuine worry and concerns that Weis demonstrates--particularly the concern about closed systems, authoritarian control, lack of openness, and potential for abuse. But I have already written extensively about those issues and about why we therefore need a post-metaphysical, deep-scientific or experiential approach to such issues, and why we must sharply differentiate such post-metaphysical spirituality from both the perennial philosophy and the many New-Age movements. I'm sure if Weis would read my work in this area that he could find something to hate about it, too, and we are all eagerly looking forward to his next round of criticism, although I'm sure that I will be forgiven if I don't respond, since I might have more important things to do, like feed my goldfish.

PART I | PART II | APPENDIX I | FOLLOWUP | APPENDIX II | NOTES



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