January 24, 2006

Wilber misrepresents Sri Aurobindo

spiritofnow (spiritofnow) wrote, @ 2006-01-22 22:16:00
Research is taking up most of my time. Also the way I do research is slow and meticulous. I make notes for everything I read, and my ever-expanding Amazon wishlist has now reached monstrous proportions. And the more I read, the more I seem to be putting myself in the classical Socratic state of aporia -- all I know is that I don't know. For folks who read Ken Wilber and Integral theory, I have to say that lately I have started to have serious doubts about Wilber's scholarship. Consider going through the following links:
Geoffrey Falk's Blog: Don't take skeptic Geoff Falk lightly if you're into Integral theory (or are a serious spiritual seeker, for that matter). Falk is a former disciple of Yogananda who had abusive experiences at the hands of the latter's organization (though of course Yogananda had died by the time Falk joined it). His first book, The Science of the Soul, was pro-mysticism, and got the nod from Huston Smith and the transpersonal psychology community. He has since disowned it and claims it was too credulous -- he is now a skeptic materialist. He was formerly an admirer of Wilber, but says he went to the primary texts and found many misrepresentations (e.g. Wilber totally misrepresents Aurobindo, which has been pointed out by Alan Kazlev and Rod Hemsell as well).
Falk's Stripping the Gurus is also worth a look -- a look at reports of abuse among spiritual communities. Obviously Falk has an axe to grind (half the book reads like materialist propaganda), and an Indian friend wrote a detailed rebuttal as regards Falk's chapters on Vivekananda and Ramakrishna (interestingly he hasn't been able to dig up much dirt on Aurobindo and Mirra), but I still think that before one commits to a spiritual group or teacher, this book is a must-read. As far as his criticisms of Wilber go, he is rude, arrogant, and infuriating a lot of the time, but if you have the patience to wade through all the ad hominem, there is a LOT of real substance to his criticisms.
As Matthew Dallman, an Integral art philosopher who wants to see Integral move into a post-Wilber phase, comments:
One thing I predict is that more and more of this sort of expose will continue - where Wilber's often shoddy research and superficial renderings of domains that others devote their lives to researching will come to light, and are rightly criticized. As scholars, our prime directive is to research original sources, and not rest upon a spiritual philosopher's hyperbolic commentary upon them - whose ambitions clearly are simply to encourage people to meditate. So keep the faith, friends! The house that Willber's theories rests upon can be blown over with less wind than one might think. Mind you, I'm not interested in deconstruction for its own sake. Far from it - what I desire is a more humble, reasonable, and responsible integral philosophy than the one offered by Wilber. And deeply, I don't want it to create its own ghetto.
David C. Lane's Critiques: David Lane's books on cults are the standard reference for serious spiritual seekers, and his critique from a radical agnostic point of view is much more balanced, polite and sympathetic than Falk's. Nonetheless he takes Wilber to task especially over his misunderstanding of science and evolutionary biology.
Critiques of Wilber at Assorted critiques from an esoteric (not materialistic) perspective from Alan Kazlev and Arvan Harvat. These essays are a must-read.
Wilber's Misunderstanding of Evolutionary Biology: Personally I was shocked to find that Wilber is now recommending Intelligent Design literature, such as Michael Behe. Moreover, the following statements have been attributed to him (courtesy of a discussion on Integral Naked questioning Wilber's understanding of evolutionary biology to which Wilber responded):
  • "Publicly, virtually all scientists subscribe to neo-Darwinian theory. Privately, real scientists -- that is, those of us with graduate degrees in science who have professionally practiced it -- don't believe hardly any of its crucial tenets." (I can almost hear Daniel Dennett screaming, "SKYHOOK!")
  • "Instead of a religious preacher like Dawkins, start with something like Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. And then guess what? Neo-Darwinian theory can't explain shit. Deal with it." (Atheism is not a religion. Dawkins is not a religious preacher. Arrogant, maybe, but so is Wilber, evidently! And Darwinism explains material evolution just fine, thank you very much.)
  • "But they [the ID folks] never would make the kind of headway they have unless neo-Darwinian theory is the piece of Swiss cheese that it is." (And now I know why Geoff Falk calls Wilber exaggeratus wilberus. Most of the work done by evolutionary biologists is solid stuff.)
Here is a small sampling of links:
Geoffrey Falk's reply to Wilber's statement (materialistic critique)
Alan Kazlev's response to Wilber's statement (esoteric critique)
In summary: I intend to use Wilber for references, mainly, and go straight to the primary sources myself.

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