November 13, 2010

Wilber leaves essential information out of his presentation

From Integral World: The 'Spirit of Evolution' Reconsidered: Relating Ken Wilber's view of spiritual evolution to the current evolution debates by Frank Visser 
In his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), the term "evolution" features prominently as the heading of Part One of two parts, Part Two being called "Involution". This sets the tone for a thoroughly spiritualist exposition of the subject. As he explained later, in the 20th anniversary edition of the book (Wilber, 1993: xix), at that time he was following A.K. Coomaraswamy's usage of these terms. Briefly, "Evolution", in this sense, means a movement from the One or God to the Many or the manifested world. (Other traditions would call this "emanation"). "Involution", then, is the opposite movement: from the Many to the One. In the first phase, Spirit loses itself in the world, in the second, Spirit returns to itself again as Spirit. In such a book, one would sooner find a reference to Dante than to Darwin...
In The Atman Project (1980), the meaning of these two terms is reversed. This time, Wilber follows Sri Aurobindo's understanding (Wilber, 1993: xix). This time, involution is the "downward" movement from Spirit to the world of the Many; and evolution the "upward" movement from the world to Spirit. This would remain the dominant model in Wilber's mind for years to come: evolution is seen as a movement that is both driven by Spirit and directed towards Spirit. In Up from Eden (1981), which was sub-titled "A transpersonal view of human evolution", the same scheme is used by Wilber to organize the field of human evolution, i.e. anthropology. Wilber starts his narrative with the first hominids, but does not cover evolution per se. […]

Somehow one gets the feeling that Wilber systematically overlooks the relevant literature. […] Unfortunately, The Blind Watchmaker is not referenced in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, and Brief History doesn't have any references at all. […]
It is equally obvious, then, that Wilber leaves essential information out of his presentation when making his points about evolution and its mechanism. He apparently disagrees with Dawkins on this matter, but without confronting Dawkins' arguments, Wilber's thesis becomes empty. Rhetorical maneuvers like repeating the word "chance" about seven times in one paragraph—as a kind of mantra—cannot compensate for this deficiency. […]

By not being responsive to online criticism directed at this theory, Ken Wilber has not lived up to the ideal of Habermasian "communicative rationality", in which viewpoints are freely exchanged in search of the best arguments. Nor has he taken responsibility for extreme statements on neo-Darwinism done in the past, when confronted with criticism. He has misrepresented a major field of science in a less than respectful way.
And finally, though this talk had as its manifest subject Ken Wilber's views on evolution, it's hidden subject has been—as you may have guessed—why has it been so extremely difficult to discuss these matters within the integral community? Openness to criticism and public debate are the hallmarks of science and philosophy. I would therefore like to give the last word to John Stuart Mill (1863: 17), form his treatise on liberty:
In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious.

1 comment:

  1. Hi!
    This post feels kinda nagging to me.

    Is it (true, kind and...) necessary to have as a starting point for this good post to find the fault in others, when you already make a good case by adding further reading yourself? It´s ofcourse impossible to cover everything about such a vast field as evolution and the human mind even if you write many and long books like Ken Wilber.

    You seem like a knowledgeable guy - so why not spread some positive vibes by saying something more like: "In response to Wilbers view on Evolution - here´s my own view".