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A Glance at Ken Wilber's "A Brief History of Everything"



Arvan Harvat

A Brief History of EverythingThe title of this book aptly summarizes messages the author had the intent of conveying. Since online reviews shouldn't ( IMO ) be places of unbridled confessions and ecstatical yes or no self-congratulatory sermons, I'll try to enumerate ( as impersonally as I'm capable of doing this ) the strengths and weaknesses of the book.


Strengths

1.The author's audacity in pursuing of what he calls "integral studies". In our fragmented world of clashing Weltanschauungen Wilber tirelessly searches for a unitary vision, the "marriage of East and West". More - he tries to accomplish the task fathering an entirely new linguistic coordinate system, dispensing with ( and, simultaneously, assimilating ) older, culturally/religiously conditioned vocabulary in an attempt of the comparativist synthesis. A laudable endeavor.

2.His critique of Jungian/Depth psychology and its central tenets, with archetypes being frequently misinterpreted as Platonic ideas/forms and the Collective Unconscious mixed up with Supramental dimensions of, say, Sri Aurobindo's description of Reality. Washburn's criticism of Wilber's supposed misreading of the role of archetypes ( http://www.iusb.edu/~mwashbur/) in my opinion, doesn't hold water.

3.Wilber's penetrating and frequently funny dissection of contemporary pop-spirituality and other New Age fads ( pathetic Gaia cults which are nothing more than Rousseau in feminist clothing rehashed for the late 20th century spiritual cosmetics, irrational & dogmatic idolizing of the imagined paradisiacal life in foraging cultures,..)


Weaknesses

1.With all due respect, Wilber is quite innocent re science, especially physics. His references ( for instance, on Pythagoras' theorem), but also his musings on Quantum Mechanics in other books ) could only put off a professional physicist or a mathematician as an amateurish dabblings of a presumptuous ignoramus ( the contempt Gauss had harbored for Hegel's philosophizing of mathematics springs to mind immediately ).

2.The very notion that Wilber's synthesizing passion should be put under the transpersonal psychology label is what Confucius regarded as the central instigator of spiritual/political disturbances, i.e., "confusion of the names". So, paying tribute to the old Sage, I'll try to "rectify" this particular name. Wilber's life-work ( and this popular book in particular ) has been an exercise in Ontology & Metaphysics in the vein of Hegel, Schelling or Nicolai Hartmann, tinged with two tinctures: the South & East Asian non-dual schools of Metaphysics ( Kashmir Shaivism, Advaita Vedanta or Mahamudra in Tibetan Buddhism ); the other one a shrewd analysis of Western "Postmodern" state of mind combined with flirtations with modern science, especially physics.

3.Wilber's central worldview is the non-dualist vision of Reality ( essentially, it is Ch'an/Zen, Tibetan Mahamudra or Trika Shaivism refurbished ), combined with Hegel's evolving Spirit. Yet, the two are hardly reconcilable. You either got:

a) the manifest Reality as Illusion ( Advaita Vedanta, Zen,..) which doesn't warrant "perfection" or "evolution". The world just is, without any mythological, let alone rational, explanation or answer to the Leibniz's ultimate question " Why is there anything, instead of nothing ?" or

b) the manifest Reality as actualization of potential, "hidden" state of the Absolute, radiating/emanating into evolving & ever perfecting forms ( a tad optimistic view on evolution ). In sum, the manifest ( in various levels of manifestation ) Kosmos serves the purpose of enriching and "glorifying" the omnipresent Spirit ( Erigena, Hegel, also Meher Baba in his wilder speculations ).

An important subvariant ( Rumi, Neotheosophy ) claims that not only Spirit evolves, but essential human souls ( ruh, pneuma, jivatman ) who are the chief protagonists of "evolutionary enterprise".)

Therefore, I would say that marriage of Shankara's Advaita and Hegel's objective idealism is doomed from the outset.

4.All this inflated verbal jazz is not the substitute for genuine originality. I haven't found true creative spirit & seminal ideas, just the old wine in new ( bells and whistles ) bottles. Ancient conceptual paradigms ( apart from Koestler's "holon", which is not much of a discovery ) refurbished for a New Age spiritual hungry mind.

5.As the last verdict: Wilber's predisposition for non-dual visions of Reality in the vein of Advaita Vedanta or Zen blinds him to the richness and profundity of, also "spiritual", but more nuanced and "diversified" doctrines a la Hermetic, Rosicrucian, Lurianic Kabbalistic or more "digestable" contemporary revelations like Seth or truly radical & practical, but lucid and all-encompassing transpersonal psychologies like Assagioli's psychosynthesis.

Also, he elegantly ignores more "plodding" and "down-to-earth" efforts in consciousness studies grounded on more scientifically based investigations, like Hameroff or Penrose ( his, but also other positions can be found on Chalmers's site ). Marriage of East & West turned out to be no more than a dissemination of distilled and modernized corpus of intellectually elitist, but esentially marginal non-dual spiritual doctrines of East and Southeast Asia.



Note by MAK - this is in the first edition, and was sarcastically commented on by critic Geoff Falk in external link Stripping the Gurus—Norman Einstein and Norman Einstein": The Dis-Integration of Ken Wilber - PDF
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Note by MAK - but see external link Kenneth Sørensen's MA thesis Integral Psychosynthesis, a comparison of Wilber and Assagioli (PDF) which correlates Assagioli's conception of Psychosynthesis with Wilber's theory of levels, lines, states, types and quadrants, implying that even though Wilber is unfamiliar with Assagioli, the two were nevertheless working along parallel lines
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content by Arvan Harvat, 1999
page uploaded 16 December 1999, last modified 15 June 2004