Ken Wilber

Frank Visser in Transition

By | Adi Da Samraj, Integralism, Ken Wilber, Plotinus, Stanislav Grof, Theosophy
Frank Visser
A decade ago, the Dutch writer Frank Visser  figured as the major partisan exegete of Ken Wilber. His book Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (2003) was published by the State University of New York Press. Visser was here described as “an internet specialist who studied the psychology of religion at the Catholic University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands.”
The publisher classified Visser’s book in terms of: “the definitive guide to the life and work of Ken Wilber, widely regarded as the most comprehensive and passionate philosopher of our times.”
Visser’s contribution was strongly in support of Wilber. At the end of nearly 300 pages, Visser offers a chapter entitled “Ken Wilber in Perspective.” This covers science, psychology, and religion. Visser states that “Wilber counts as the leading theorist” in transpersonal psychology (page 267). This version of psychology “first emerged as an academic discipline at the end of the sixties” (ibid.). Wilber himself was not an academic.
Visser dwells on the differences between Wilber and C. G. Jung. “Wilber is of the opinion that Jung has prompted an extremely regressive movement in psychology” (page 265). A basic contention here is that the Jungian stress upon the “collective” is a mistaken denominator for too many contrasting ingredients, including the spiritual, the prerational, and the regressive. One aspect of this drawback is seen by Visser in “writers inspired by Jung who interpret the wild or primitive aspect of our nature as spirituality” (page 265).
A well known opponent of Wilber was Stanislav Grof, a psychiatrist who had innovated the term transpersonal, and who was influential in the movement associated with that word. Grof gained a repute for therapy practices and the use of mind-altering drugs, including LSD. His perinatal theory has met with strong reservations in some directions. Grof believed that he had a valid theory based on clinical evidence, which he thought was lacking in Wilber. “In many respects Wilber and Grof stand at opposite ends of the spectrum” (page 270).
Ken Wilber
Visser expressed enthusiasm for the “perennial philosophy” aspect of Wilber’s conceptualism. The former tended to define this factor in terms of: “Each world religion has its own esoteric or mystical core, and, in addition to this, there are also schools of thought developed by individual philosophers who have attempted to formulate this esoteric core in a way that makes it more comprehensible” (page 276). According to Visser, “the esoteric aspects of Wilber’s model are based largely on the philosophy of Shri Aurobindo,” while “Wilber has also borrowed ideas from contemporary mystics, such as Adi Da Samraj” (page 276).
Some of the critics felt that this borrowing was getting into dangerous territory. The American guru Adi Da Samraj (d. 2008) had gained the reputation of an antinomian who was acutely unreliable in his behaviour.
Moving into less controversial topics, Visser stated that the “perennialists or traditionalists” included Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, and Huston Smith. The first three names are landmarks in the traditional version of perennialism. Smith was a strong influence on Wilber. Visser made a point that “Wilber has explored contemporary philosophy to a far greater extent than most of the traditionalists, who often abhor modern society” (page 276).
The commentator went on to compare the Theosophical tradition with Wilber themes. “Theosophy might be described as an early nineteenth century, Western attempt to reformulate the perennial philosophy in more contemporary language” (page 277). Visser here finds an affinity “with the Western neoplatonic tradition partly expounded by Plotinus  who is highly admired by Wilber” (ibid.).
Views about Theosophy can  differ markedly.  Wilber’s version of Plotinus has met with disagreement. Visser moves on to discuss a Western Vedanta, here employing a phrase used by Wilber (who is also strongly associated with Mahayana Buddhism). Visser refers to the Dutch “philosopher and theosophist” Johannes J. Poortman (d. 1970), a former professor of metaphysics at Leiden University, who “often described his system as a Western form of Vedanta” (page 282).
The information is supplied that Poortman, similar to Wilber, “was extremely sceptical about the kind of holism that is based on quantum physics, which seeks to suggest that modern physics had stumbled across the deepest Mystery” (page 283).
Visser asserts that “Plotinus, Poortman, and Wilber are all mystical philosophers who have a great deal of faith in the capacity of the intellect and who therefore attach a great deal of value to any form of scientific research. For this reason they oppose any movements which denounce rationalism under the guise of spirituality and seek salvation in the romanticism of holism” (page 284).
This perspective was later seen to have complications. Visser subsequently became a critic of Wilber, abandoning his partisan stance. The element of scientific research in Wilber’s output here became minimal. Although Ken Wilber did advocate a rational stance (and denied materialism), Frank Visser arrived at the conclusion that this form of rationalism was limited. The question now also arises: what exactly is a mystical philosopher?
Visser’s tangent from Wilber emerged soon after the publication of his book (translated from Dutch). Rarely does any author transit so strongly and speedily from formerly held assessments. Visser became well known for his new attitude that Wilber’s version of “integralism” was a minefield rather than a solution to all problems (see Reaching Out to the World).
A major drawback is that Ken Wilber tended to present his theories as all-embracing and comprehensive. He referred to his doctrines as AQAL, an abbreviation for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types” (page xiii, foreword by Wilber). Quadrant theory could easily be accused of assuming a stance of quasi-omniscience.
The dissenting Frank Visser has maintained a website featuring criticism of Ken Wilber. This site is called Integral World.  So Visser has remained an integralist, but not a copyist of Wilber. There are different forms of integralism, including authors other than Visser and Wilber. A complexity is that certain authors do not call themselves integralists. Which is the most accurate and comprehensive form of “integralism”? This could easily become a major issue.
Observers noticed a commotion in the integralist camp which occurred at blog level. In 2006, Wilber attacked Visser and other critics in a blog featuring aspersive language deemed vulgar by some assessors. Wilber here also referred to himself in terms of the lawman who was resisting the outlaws. See Visser, The Wild West Wilber Report.
A decisive schism was in process. The dissenters and critics would not accept the blog bludgeoning and caricature expressed by Wilber. Visser hosted other critical writers (e.g., Jeff Meyerhoff) at his website. To be more precise, the growing number of contributors at Integral World included Wilber critics, Wilber supporters, and yet other categories.
Perhaps in response to some of the criticism, Wilber wrote a new book called Integral Spirituality (2006). Visser described this as “disappointing, both in style and content.” However, he did concede that Wilber had changed format. See the Visser review. The American writer claimed a relevant  assessment of modernity and postmodernity, and also an ongoing knowledge of religious traditions. This new AQAL presentation amounted to “integral post-metaphysics.”
The founding of the Integral Institute by Ken Wilber was a focus for critical attention from Visser and others. The partisan description of a “visionary think-tank” was countered by allegations such as workshop entrepreneurialism, and allegiance with controversial figures like the neo-Advaita guru Andrew Cohen.
Visser composed numerous web articles demonstrating his critical attitude to the man he had formerly promoted. It is difficult to find any trace of his former “theosophical” inclination. “I consider Ken Wilber’s view of evolutionary theory to be deeply flawed and disconnected from the scientific literature” (Spirit of Evolution Reconsidered). Visser here stresses that “a detailed engagement with Darwinism is virtually absent from his [Wilber’s] writings.”
Visser mentions the second Integral Theory Conference of 2010 in San Francisco, an  event which attempted to modify the Wilber-centric approach. He also refers to the third Integral Theory Conference of 2013 at San Francisco, featuring a confrontation of the Wilber model “with two other luminaries in the wider integral field: philosopher Roy Bhaskar and sociologist-philosopher Edgar Morin.” These entities are described as professional philosophers who share the “same multidisciplinary spirit.” See Integral Theory.
The crux for integralism would appear to be the multidisciplinary orientation, something which is not fundamental to professional philosophy and nor restricted to contemporary paradigms of spirituality.
See further Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003); Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality (Boston: Integral Books, 2007); Jeff Meyerhoff, Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber’s Theory of Everything (Inside the Curtain Press, 2010); Stanislav Grof, Psychology of the Future (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000); Shepherd, Pointed Observations (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2005).

Kevin R.D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 55

Copyright © 2013 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

David Lorimer and New World Values

By | Andrew Cohen, Findhorn Foundation, Kate Thomas, Ken Wilber, Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), Stanislav Grof, Wrekin Trust
David  Lorimer
Seven years ago, the present writer composed a letter of complaint to David Lorimer. The mailing list was extensive, and included over sixty members of the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), led by Lorimer. Only one of those recipients replied, and in a purely personal context. The key addressee, David Lorimer,  was notable for a total lack of response.
The contents of that letter included reference to various anomalies within organisations influenced by Lorimer, and also the Findhorn Foundation, closely linked to SMN membership and subscriptions. Discrepant behaviour of authority figures was a primary feature. Evasion was preferred by SMN recipients.
Lorimer is known for his activities as a writer and lecturer, including the book Radical Prince (2003), the subject here being the Prince of Wales. He is Programme Director for the SMN, and Vice-President of the closely associated Wrekin Trust, “a charity concerned with adult spiritual education,” to use one of the media descriptions. Lorimer’s blog emphasises “vision and values for a new world view.” So what are the royalist connotations of “spiritual education” and “new world”?
Lorimer has expressed estimation for both Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen, two controversial new age celebrities promoted by the Findhorn Foundation. His arguments were not convincing. In 2004, Lorimer even stated: “I have been impressed by the level of debate between Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber in What is Enlightenment?” This deference to a commercial magazine, the well known vehicle of Cohen, tends to confirm “new world” drawbacks in spiritual education. Elsewhere, Wilber and his “integral spirituality” are the subject of strong critical attention from former enthusiasts and other commentators. Cohen has gained a very unenviable reputation as an American guru of extremist tendency.
To provide an update here,  other  entities are favoured  in the SMN ratings. In 2011, Lorimer named “Jung, Maslow, Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart” as being “far more meaningful” than the psychology syllabus in British universities. In particular, the explicit deference to Grof merits close attention.
In the same interview, Lorimer stated: “One of the assumptions I am making is that my mind is the Universal Mind.” Reminiscent of the Ken Wilber “Big Mind” lore promising enlightenment, this belief can cause acute confusion. We should be very careful before assuming that our very limited individual bundle of mental impressions has any relation to a “Universal Mind.” The neo-Advaita of Andrew Cohen is noted for the theme of cosmic identity, which is flippant to the point of absurdity in new age circles. 
The designation of Scientific and Medical Network is quite affirmative. This organisation is not calling themselves, e.g., the Alternative Scene for New Age Beliefs and Daring Theories. No, they are something far more reliable, far more ultimate, and indeed far more authoritarian. To the extent, indeed, that they can ignore complaint. They are too scientific to be criticised. That is the implication. They are too medical to be taken to task for supporting the holotropic and psychedelic beliefs of Grof. New world values mean, for instance, that hyperventilation (employed by Grof) is a deceptive avenue to cerebral hypoxia, denoting a decreased supply of oxygen to the brain (Stephen J. Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, 1996, pp. 45-6). The results are purely material, not spiritual, like the blatantly commercial motivations involved.
Holotropic Breathwork (HB) was a very lucrative exercise devised by Grof at the Esalen Institute in California, and also employed at the Findhorn Foundation for several years until official intervention occurred. In this “new age workshop” sphere, everything is done for money. Grof resorted to HB because his LSD psychotherapy faced legal problems in the 1970s reaction to the hallucinogenic drug. He also employed “MDMA therapy” until the mid-1980s, his method having been described as “drug-aided mind manipulation in order to create paranormal beliefs” (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 126). Grof chose to gloss psychological problems as “spiritual emergencies.” Grof transpersonalism has enjoyed a big dollar turnover via Grof Transpersonal Training Inc.
In this suspect scenario of the new world elite, wealthy academics and promoters can profitably ignore complaints. Entrepreneurs thrive on the absence of criticism, which is banished from the convenience of commerce and pseudo-meaning. On the basis of LSD experiences and holotropic sessions, Grof has devised a “cartography of the psyche,” which critics reject as spurious (cf. Grof, Psychology of the Future, 2000, pp. 20ff.).
Alternative therapy has been big business for several decades at places like Esalen and the Findhorn Foundation. I have related how a 1990s unfortunate lost his wife in this popular quicksand, after she had suffered most of the following drawbacks created by group sessions of “therapy”: nervous breakdown, suicidal tendencies, severe headaches, involuntary muscle spasms, memory failure, and lack of decision making ability. Despite realities, therapy deceptions have gained the status of “a unifying shift in our worldview,” to quote one of the ubiquitous celebrations on the new age media.
In the direction of drug use, the exhortations are widespread on the internet. Some channels are strongly associated with the Grof bandwagon. Even at relatively low volume pitch on email responses to journalism, one can find strident web voices urging that humanity has been taking drugs for thousands of years, and the police are therefore an obstruction to presumed benefits. More realistically, there are devastated LSD victims in wheelchairs, while the recent craze for ketamine has involved extreme bladder problems and stomach operations for young victims. The new age now features teen sufferers with incontinence. Also in evidence are daily “recreational” users of skunk cannabis who favour the popular “shift in worldview.” They are unable to stop their drug habit, which can prove deadly, being only a step away from cocaine and heroin.
The main subject of the Letter of Complaint to David Lorimer was a former member of the SMN, whose situation (as a relative of mine) I was closely familiar with. Jean Shepherd (Kate Thomas) suffered discrimination because she was a critic of drug use. The agent of cordon here was Findhorn Foundation Trustee Janice Dolley, a close colleague of David Lorimer. The victim expressed the opposing view that drug experiences are counterfeit, comprising a delusion of “spirituality” for the partisans, and a misleading cue to addiction for the clientele. However, the critic was downgraded by the SMN in favour of Grof’s academic disciple Christopher Bache, an exponent of psychedelic neoshamanism. 
The Bache encounter with LSD involved a major problem: “I interrupted my work [for seven years] because the extreme nature of the states I was entering became too stressful for my family to endure” (Bache, Dark Night, Early Dawn, SUNY Press 2000, p. 311 note 10). Anomalously, the academic drug advocates deny causing any complication, talking of their “moderate” usage as distinct from street excesses. The pro-cannabis refrains of Tart, and the LSD lore of Grof and Bache, have been very influential, permeating counterculture with false concepts, thereby assisting drug-pushers on the street.
The academic drug advocates are viewed by citizen philosophy as “shallow mystics who invent a form of specious logic that misleads thousands and millions of people deceived by prestigious credentials” (Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals, 2004, p. 50).
In the strongly contested new age, Scientific and Medical now signifies evasion, commercial “workshops,” Jung lore, and psychedelic theory. The “new world” orientation leads to a blind alley of “channelling” delusion, hallucination, visits to real medics for assistance in survival, aversion to criticism  in the interests of income and economic expansion, and  a  neglect of ethical considerations.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 53

Copyright © 2013 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved

Ken Wilber and Integral Theory

By | Adi Da Samraj, Andrew Cohen, Frank Visser, Integralism, Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber

The American thinker Ken Wilber is well known for an integral approach, generally described in terms of psychology and spirituality (and formerly classified in terms of transpersonalism). He has reacted to the format of analytical philosophy (and also “continental” philosophy) associated with the universities. His outlook might be described as one form of citizen philosophy. I have attempted to point out the substantial differences from my own version.

Wilber became famous as a writer of numerous books on psychology, therapy, and the “perennial philosophy” themes. Commencing with The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977) and The Atman Project (1980), his output climaxed in the 1990s with such works as Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995) and Integral Psychology (2000). This led to an accolade from the Dutch partisan Frank Visser, who produced a detailed study of Wilber’s books after having personally interviewed him. See Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (State University of New York Press, 2003).

Frank Visser

Many readers were surprised when Visser soon afterwards became a critic of his subject.  Other converging web critics such as Jeff Meyerhoff (author of an online book) also became noted for a resistance to Ken Wilber’s worldview, described as being too ambitious and lacking due supporting proofs. Wilber’s Quadrant Theory aroused opposition, claiming an “Everything” scope based on metaphysical doctrines and questionable deductions. Such counters are in evidence at the Visser mega-site integralworld, which commenced as a very small site in support of the integral psychologist. Wilber has strongly denounced his critics as having failed to reach the spiritual “altitude” required for the perspectives under discussion.

Wilber has the rare distinction of having his Collected Works available in a multi-volume edition. He has launched in America the Integral Institute, declaring elaborate objectives and an interdisciplinary scope. I am certainly not against the interdisciplinary ideal, having myself pursued a form of that ideal for thirty years. One of my objections relates to the issue of what can usefully be integrated. I am not an integralist, but an analytical commentator.  That is to say, I am not actually against being “integral” in some respects. However, I do not believe in reckless “holistic” approaches.

My disagreement with the approach evolved by Ken Wilber has spotlighted, for example, the “new age workshop” issue. See Ken Wilber and Integralism (2009). Cf. Wilber, Integral Spirituality (Boston: Integral Books, 2007), pp. 201ff., and referring to “Integral Life Practice workshops offered by Integral Institute.”

There is a basic disagreement about the viability of “integral” concepts in a “new age” format, however modified the latter might become (Ken Wilber is not typical of the “new age” by any means). A presentation in terms of spirituality invites strong analytical responses. The claim to spirituality is a contemporary problem in some sectors. This does not mean that spirituality cannot exist, but the claim is no proof of competence.

Adi Da Samraj

Ken Wilber aroused query when he supported the controversial American guru Adi Da Samraj (Da Free John) many years ago. That deceased entity became notorious as an antinomian opportunist. See Ken Wilber and Adi Da Samraj. Wilber modified his enthusiasm in that direction, but continued to esteem the teaching of Adi Da. He also substantially assisted the profile of the “neo-Advaita” guru Andrew Cohen, regularly appearing via a dialogue feature in the latter’s popular magazine What is Enlightenment ? The dialogue duo were rolecast as the guru (Cohen) and the pundit (Wilber). Cohen became the subject of strong criticism. An American Professor of Philosophy described Cohen in terms of being “in deep need of long term therapy.” See David C. Lane, Andrew Cohen Exposed (2009).

Many contemporary confusions relate to the subject known as “perennial philosophy.” This became popular in the 1960s and later, though seldom attended by a due sense of perspective. Adi Da Samraj made some strong overtures in this direction, which critics have found unconvincing, despite the trappings of “crazy wisdom” that supposedly proved legitimacy.

Wilber was for long a promoter of perenniality; he has since opted for a “post-metaphysical” exegesis. Some ask why the fantasised subject of “perennial philosophy” has thrived in contemporary alternativism, where so much academic literature on the history of religion is ignored. This has been one of my own complaints. My citizen presentation has quite frequently resorted to scholastic literature, which can supply information too often overlooked.

Ken Wilber is unusual for having defined his intellectual career in terms of successive phases. He has enumerated Wilber-1, Wilber-2, and so on. Wilber-5, concurrent with “integral post-metaphysics,” expanded his controversial Quadrant Theory, declaredly comprehensive. He affirms: “The Integral Approach involves the cultivation of body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature” (Wilber, Integral Spirituality, 2007, p. 26).

Ken Wilber stresses a spiritual altitude relating to “levels of consciousness” signified by spectrum colours. Via Integral Life Practice, Wilber partisans are supposedly participants in the favoured zone of turquoise to Clear Light. Critics require a more convincing exposition that does not lead to “workshops” and bizarre gurus whose followers have so often defected.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
February 6th 2010 (slightly revised 2018)

ENTRY no. 12

Copyright © 2018 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.