Friday, July 14, 2006

More on Wilber and Developmentalism

I got another comment on my criticism of Ken Wilber that I thought should come to the front, from Michael:

I enjoy your take on this. It provides me with some real food for thought. I am a Wilber fan, to be sure, but I am not particularly skilled in debating his work in any great detail. I am not gifted with that sort of intellectual kung fu, so please bear with me.

But I do feel compelled to "represent" on some level. Ken's work is based on research, as you know. Lots of it. From empiricists. It's not a pet theory, but rather the reasoned results of decades of working with tensions among various worldviews, research results, testimony of adepts, etc. I think you somewhat misrepresent this basis, kind of tacitly implying that Ken is making stuff up.

I think a more accurate way of summarizing where Ken is coming from would be along the lines of saying "development is a Kosmic habit" or something along those lines. Denying development would include denying that we grow from infants, to toddlers, to children, to teenagers, to adults, etc. No? This "Kosmic habit" of individual growth is also apparent in human history. And realizing this and working with it is not equivalent to believing this is the end all-be all. It does not discount the fact that there could be much more massive kalpas, eons, and other huge cycles of time and growth.

And (to Kang's question about SDi) Ken doesn't limit himself to spirals. He talks of spirals, circles, mandalas, waves, and all sorts of patterns and ways that systems and people develop. SDi is just a nice, easy-to-understand way of introducing people to these ideas. Those very familiar with SDi are becoming more aware of its pitfalls and shortcomings, even in light of its overall usefulness.

Ken is always making comments in the context of his simplifications that its way more dynamic, convoluted, and mutlidimensional than we can easily express, but for the sake of discourse, we need to work with simpler concepts. People often gloss over these caveats when they criticize.

You say:

"Wilber doesn't seem to have gotten to that point, and part of the reason is that his system is masking the real nature of conditional life, which is cycles of repetition rather than ongoing development in ever higher stages and levels."

To me, it would be more accurate to say that Ken's system (AQAL) represents the real nature of conditional life, and includes in its framework cycles of repetition AND ongoing development in ever higher (and deeper) stages and levels (across lines, and including states and types).

If its just "cycles of repetition" that make up condition existence, why don't we see old men becoming 6 year olds? Why don't we see society suddenly becoming medieval again? Because there *is* development and its completely obvious. And Ken's work is just an attempt to make as complete a map as possible of this conditional, developing world full of conditioned, developing beings. All the while keeping in mind that its essentially unreal and empty of permanent nature.

Dear Michael,

I have no problem with anyone being a fan of Wilber's work. If it fits with your notion of things, fine. If AQAL makes sense to you, fine. My criticism of Wilber is not based on a rejection of the existence or value of development. You said:

“People often gloss over these caveats when they criticize.”

I think you have glossed over my own caveats to some degree. My primary criticism wasn't that there is no such thing as development. Obviously as you say we all develop and grow. My primary objection is that development is only one side of the cycle of nature. We also decay and die. You say that grown men don't suddenly become six year olds. But grown men do become corpses. And corpses disintegrate. Now maybe if one excepts reincarnation - and I don't think Wilber has any real objections to that – then old men do in fact become six year olds.

My other big objection is Wilber's attempt to put non-dual enlightenment on the map, as the final stage of developmental growth. My point is that non-dual enlightenment is not achieved through developmental growth, nor is it on any map of developmental growth. Wilber seems to have a deep respect for the non-dual traditions of enlightenment, and I think that's great. Most developmentalists don't give much credence to such things. It's good that Wilber does. But he gets non-dualism wrong, in my view, by seeing it as a developmental stage of growth, even the ultimate developmental stage.

One of the primary motivations to non-dual enlightenment is the recognition that the developmental process simply doesn't lead there – or if it does in some sense, it takes eons of kalpas of time. So the non-dual traditions constantly point to the reality of death, to the message death has for us all, that all our growth and progress and attainments are vain and illusory, that death and decays wipes them all out, and that therefore we should awaken from the dream of egoity now, and not look for ways to develop ourselves. This is not an anti-developmental view, it's just a realistic rather than an idealistic view of development. When Wilber says that once a level is attained, we don't ever fall back, he is simply false. Everything that rises up also falls back. Seeing this makes us take up a transcendental view of life.

Now, Wilber does account for transcendental views, but he wrongly places them within the developmental model itself. He puts them in the “trans-rational” category of development. This is a way of constantly re-injecting the developmental system back into the picture, even when it has been essentially renounced and transcended. His “transcend and include” principle is simply a way of reifying the developmental process regardless of whether one has moved away from it or not. In some sense, this is just an intellectual trick, it has no meaning in the context of a truly transcendental approach, because the transcendental approach is precisely to “get off the wheel”. The point being that one can get off the wheel at any time, at any point in one's developmental process. Ramana got off at age 16. He didn't wait until he had fully developed some kind of centauric outlook on life. The Buddha practiced conventional spiritual developmental approaches until he saw them as unreal and pointless. He didn't continue to include them in his radical enlightenment.

As I said, the non-dual approach is essentially a negative one, not a developmental one. One relinquishes everything, rather than including everything. It is fine in my book to create developmental models of human growth. They are natural and sensible. Wilber has done no actual research himself in this area, but he has read the results of many different researcher's works, and tried to come up with a comprehensive model himself. Nothing wrong with that in general. But I do have a problem with the model he has come up with. The fact that it tries to include all models doesn't make it right, you understand. Nor does it mean that those researchers who Wilber has included in his model approve of the way he has tried to fit everything together. I seriously doubt that non-dual realizers, for example, would point to Wilber's AQAL as “the real nature of conditional life”. Nor do I think developmental experts ( of which Wilber is not, I need to remind you) would see it that way either.

Wilber has picked and chosen the developmental models that seem right to him, and fitted them into a scheme that makes sense to him. Nothing wrong with that, but there's no guarantee that his scheme is anything close to “the real nature of conditional life”. You may disagree, but where are all the experts in these fields? Are they in Wilber's camp? I think not. I'm not saying there's no value in Wilber's scheme. Clearly there is. It's just not the ultimate map. One could examine all the data Wilber has and select from it differently and come up with a very different scheme. I know that I would. Whether my scheme would be more accurate than Wilber's is hard to say. The point is that one should simply view Wilber's work as a reflection of his own views about things, and his views may not be accurate. They are certainly debatable on many fronts.

Now obviously you like Wilber's model. My guess is that you like it because it seems to promise “ever higher (and deeper) stages and levels (across lines, and including states and types)”. You don't seem to pick up on the idealism of this view of development. As said, all growth is followed by genuine decay, and there is a return to shallowness after experiencing depth. Everything in conditional nature moves in vast cycles that essentially even out in the long run. Development doesn't really go anywhere, but repeats itself, and as it repeats itself, it doesn't really get any better (or worse). The non-dualist teachings aren't about ultimate development, they are about getting off the developmental wheel. If you want to stay on the developmental wheel, fine, just be realistic about where it goes and what its limits are. Wilber makes the error of seeing development as having unlimited potential. Wiser people have always taught the opposite, that all growth is countered by decay and death, that conditional existence is about limits, not the unlimited, and that all our efforts and attainments are ultimately in vain, and return to dust. This is a sobering and tragic message not found in Wilber's writings. I suggest you consider it more deeply if you truly do want to understand the nature of conditional life.”

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