what i think about ken wilber

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>> mark, what do you make out of kw’s video? what do you mean when you say that you vouch for the authenticity? <<

tl;dr: He’s not full of shit in this video. 1) I believe that most if not all of his assertions in that video will lead back to peer-reviewed publications of moderate average quality, 2) in each segment he is experiencing the states he says he is experiencing, 3) those moving lights are an accurate reflection of the power in various frequency bands of the superposition of electromagnetic fields generated by his neural activity.

What to say about Wilber… He’s not on the critical path of my blogging project, here, so I don’t want to give him too much airtime. But I understand that what I say about him can help people assess the quality of my thinking.

First, he’s been writing for decades, and I think there’s five major “Wilbers” at last count. At present, he’s old and quite sick, and his online presence is becoming increasingly incoherent.

He just finished a book, though, which will hopefully be published within the next year or two. I’m eagerly awaiting it, and I hope it’ll be as good as it could be.

Now, how the heck do I make a concise, comprehensive, true statement about Wilber, given his vast oeuvre?

Let’s touch on some ontology and epistemology:

a. So, duh, I believe in reality. There’s a there out there. It surprises us; it bites back. And there’s nothing metaphysical or supernatural; it’s all just “natural.”

b. Loosely speaking, we can’t “know” reality, directly. We can only make maps. If we’re in the business of representing reality, it’s folk theories, scientific theories, or AI thalience [1], all the way down.

c. All maps are wrong, but some are more useful than others (understatement), depending on what you’re trying to do. (I acknowledge the wrinkle that your maps impact your choices of what you’re trying to do.)

Now, how can maps be wrong?

Here are a few ways I can think of:

1. F=ma wrong
2. Phlogiston wrong
3. Folk psychology wrong
4. Evangelical christian wrong
5. Structured analytic techniques [2] wrong
6. Armchair philosophy wrong
7. Not even wrong
8. LessWrong.com

I would say Wilber is primarily in the businesses of being “F=ma wrong” (across a large number of domains), “folk psychology wrong”/”folk theory wrong”, and “structured analytic techniques wrong.” He has maps and metamaps that are so fucking useful, depending on what you’re trying to do… and so do a gazillion other fantastic authors [3]. Wilber has so much relevant stuff that his work will probably come up again, but that’s about as far as I want to deal with him right now.

Last thought is that, from the outside, the LessWrong community looks just as creepy and culty as the Integral Theory/Integral Spirituality crowd, no? 🙂
[1] http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/thalience

[2] Structured Analytic Techniques by Richards J. Heuer and Randolph H. Pherson


(btw, naive use of structured analytic techniques can produce worse outcomes than “just doing it”. There is at least one paper that shows this about SWOT analysis, for example. SWOT analysis always seemed silly to me, though.)

[3] Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning by Eugene Gendlin; Incomplete Nature by Terrence Deacon, Origin of Objects by Brian Cantwell Smith, Wandering Significance by Mark Wilson, Effectuation by Saras Sarasvathy, Clinical Judgment by Alvan Feinstein, Vital Lies Simple Truths by Daniel Goleman, Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt, Moral Mazes by Robert Jackall, Rationality and Power by Bent Flyvberg, Seeing Like a State by James Scott, Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford… The list is endless…

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