November 14, 2006

Science itself is no integral thought

Integral Esotericism: A new Integral paradigm in theory and practice Part One: Introduction Alan Kazlev integralworld # integraltransformation
I think his followers are right when they say he is the most important living integral thinker. Not the most profound mind you (that honour would probably belong to William Irwin Thompson). But the most influential. Wilber is without doubt the most influential and charismatic New Age intellectual around. In this sense at least, "Integral does equal Ken"[7]...
But this larger and more universal understanding simply cannot happen if one is still at the level of the partial perspectives. And here, I argue, is where Wilber fails in his attempt to assimilate science and scientific, empirical method. In this he is not alone.
J. B. Rhine's founding Parapsychology on statistical results, Reichian attempts to prove orgone theory in materialistic scientism-based terms, and Wilber's attempt to present a new version of postmodernism that incorporates spiritual experiences, worthy in intention as they may all be, cannot succeed, because the realities they are addressing are realities that go beyond the academic secular world. But it is not enough to try to re-explain or reinterpret things on the level of that particular academic discourse. That only gives a partial picture, not an integral picture.
The same goes for Marxist attempts to justify Marxist-Leninist socio-economic theory as science, and - in the esoteric field, statements by Steiner and the Theosophist Leadbeater, that what they are saying is science, or the occultist Aleister Crowley's assertion that one day scientists will be able to replicate in the laboratory what he can only achieve through ritualistic means. More recently in the field of the New Age there are many teachings and worldviews that consider themselves scientific, or more often in harmony with science, especially with quantum physics. This New Age concept of the complementarity between science and mysticism[31] goes back to Fritjof Capra's famous book The Tao of Physics. An earlier, more lucid, Wilber correctly criticised Capra and the New Age on this[32], although ironically with his current "post-metaphysical" thought (see sect.1-v) he has fallen into exactly the same scientism-based holistic worldview that befell Capra.
All of these attempts to appropriate science are based on a misunderstanding of what science is about, how science works, and what science can do. I will state outright here that science, real science, should be the foundation and bedrock on which any integral paradigm or metaparadigm is built. But science, and scientific method, is not only a central element to any integral understanding of reality, and also that aspect of any integral synthesis that is the most misunderstood. Science itself is in no way the same as integral thought and integral practice, even if it is neveretheless an essential element.
The most important thing to understand is this: science makes no statement either for or against metaphysical realities. Science is not a religious or philosophical statement as to the nature of things, but a form of empirical methodology which enables the progressive accumulation of facts regarding the material universe, and the discarding of hypotheses that are refuted or falsified by newer facts. Although the various hypotheses, theories, and theorems that constitute science's understanding of the world, are being constantly refined, developed, and replaced with new theories and theorems and methodologies (this being what historian of science Thomas Kuhn referred to as "paradigm shifts"), there is never a final explanation, never a dogmatic statement, and never a claim made regarding things that are beyond the scope of science's methodology. It is this precision, and this self-limitation and modesty, that distinguishes science from pseudoscience, from scientism (which the belief that the current findings of science constitute an actual description of how things are), and from religion.
In short - science is a methodology, and a body of facts and hypotheses gathered through that methodology. It is not a philosophical statement about the nature of reality. The misunderstanding of actual science is so widespread that I tend to think now that perhaps it is easier for someone to be an esotericist that to understand science (as opposed to scientism). Scientism, physicalism, scepticism, atheism, materialism, naturalism - all of those philosophies and beliefs claim to be scientific, but they are just secular religions that have misinterpreted science.
The problem comes about, then, when esoteric, New Age, and integral thinkers attempt to use science, without understanding how science works. I contend that one reason the new age movement, and people like Wilber, are in a mess as far as their theoretical explanations go, is because they simply don't understand science, and instead adopt the religious belief of scientism. The same could said about such a seminal worker as William Reich, whose experiments were criticised by Einstein. This is not to say that things like Orgone are not real, only that they are not real on the material-physical level that science works.

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