Author: David Christopher Lane Publisher: MSAC Philosophy Group Publication date: 1994
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I liked Joseph's rejoinder to my third part on Ken Wilber. The reason I compared the two stories between Feynman and Wilber was to point out how a transpersonalist, as in Wilber's case, attempts to explain an unusual event, and how, in turn, as in Feynman's case, a skeptic responds to such an event. The "maturity" issue can be used by simply employing Wilber's hierarchical schema. According to Wilber, something is "higher" when it is more inclusive and ascends higher up in consciousness (from mythic to rational to subtle, etc.). Something is "lower" (remember these are Wilber's terms) when something is less inclusive and descends down in terms of awareness. Wilber's response to "winds" is hyped (read the narrative as it originally appeared in NEW AGE MAGAZINE and also read GRACE and GRIT) according to his own Pre/Trans critiques of others who indulge in the same hierarchy collapse. One example: it is narcissitic to believe that such winds kicked up as a response to one person's death. Why? Because those very winds also affected many other people and other creatures. The winds were not a merely subjective phenomena, but were rather the long result of physical forces that have long term effects on the local area (think of Chaos or complexity and you will see why this one event cannot be singularly extrapolated and isolated--the winds involve much more than just "blowing"). Thus, according to Wilber's own thoughts (read, for instance, how he critiques New Agers for their short-sightedness on "cancer" and "healing"), his naiveness is merely reflective of mythic and not rational thinking. Even according to Wilber's ideas, Feynman (and not Wilber) was operating with the rational realm when he tried to look for a non-magical and a non-mythic explanation for the clock stopping at the time of his wife's death. Wilber did no such thing. Feynman was engaging in the rational mind, according to Wilber's own hierarchical structure of consciousness. Thus, Feynman's approach is the more "mature"--not on my definition mind you, but on Wilber's model. Wilber's inflationary hype is simply reflective of mythic and magical thinking. That's okay, but it's not rational and if Wilber were to critique his own episode he would see it (via his spectrum psychology paradigm) as being "immature" (less inclusive, less rational, etc.). On the question of reliability, I agree with Joseph that we don't want to appeal to authority or tradition on these matters. What I meant by more reliable is actually the opposite: more testable, more more empirical, and more accurate. Remember Q.E.E. is perhaps the most "reliable" (in terms of minute accuracy) theory we have to date. I enjoyed your points about coincidence and about defining opinion. Very interesting and i think illuminating. dave -------- Part Two: Dear Joseph: I enjoyed your additional commentary to my post on Wilber and maturity very much. I also think it was quite instructive and raises good points. In the spirit of dialogue, I have given a few points in reply: The overall issue of pre-rational, rational, and transrational (Wilber's tripartite schema, which has many versions--some including 20+ subdivisions) is the debatable point, perhaps the primary point of objection, in Wilber's writings. When I compared and contrasted Feynman story surrounding his wife's death and Wilber's story surrounding his wife's death, it was to illustrate how a skeptic and how a transpersonalist responds to an unusual (but not transpersonal) event. We noticed, for instance, that there was a simple (rational) explanation for why the clock stopped at exactly the time Feynman's wife expired (the nurse checked the clock at that time and the clock had a history of mechanical malfunctioning). There was nothing "transpersonal" about the event, even though on the surface it "appeared" to suggest something spooky or paranormal. Given Feynman's skepticism, he did not even attempt to "inflate" the story (and by this I mean the tendency not to look for an underlying simpler reason, but to rather "add" or "embellish" the narrative with that which is not readily apparent). Now a close reading of Wilber's story suggests that he was not so willing, as Feynman, to explain an unusual event--in this case kicked up winds in Boulder--in a simpler and more rational way. If Wilber really does think they were indicative of some trans-rational force, then he needs naturally to give us some convincing documentation why. [Keep in mind that a trans-rational or para-normal event by its very nature is not anti-rational, but rather--using Wilber's terms here--supra rational. It includes rationality and does not exclude it. In more precise terms, a trans-rational event, if it is such, will carry "more" (not less) proof than an ordinary empirical occurrence, provided that such an event manifested outwardly (winds or stopped clocks, for instance). I understand why Joseph may think I have collapsed Wilber's triadic schema into a dualistic one (it's either pre rational or rational), but actually that is not my intention at all. If there really was something "trans" personal going on in the event, then Wilber should present overwhelming evidence for it. He doesn't. In Wilber's own critiques of the New Age, he has stated that "New Agers have a tendency to bypass that obstruction known as their brain because they want to go directly to the heart." (paraphrase). Likewise, in this narrative of the winds, Wilber has provided a beautiful and moving "emotional" portrait (in his schema, magical and mythical, but pre-rational), but he has not provided substantial empirical or causal reasons (the brain?) and has in so doing bypassed the very medium he feels grounds all transpersonal allegations. He has, to use Wilber's parlance, attempted to pass the merely ordinary off as something extraordinary without giving the reader ample evidence. It was for this reason that I argued for a pre/rational schema, not because there cannot be something beyond the brain but because Wilber's narrative gives us no evidence for it. As such, then, it is a story easily explained (via intertheoretic reduction) by mere coincidence. Thus when I said Wilber was being narcissistic in his analysis of those winds, I was using the very adjective that Wilber himself on several occasions has used to illustrate a pre/trans fallacy, a mistake where the New Ager or whomever in question sees something mystical when it was merely mythic, where someone sees something paranormal when it was merely normal. Occam's Razor does not suggest that only simple things exist, but that we should tend first (not last) to the simpler explanation if it explains the given phenomena. Wilber has a tendency not to look for a simpler explanation, even though he is the very person who argues for doing so. I don't begrudge Wilber for eulogizing his late wife. I simply call into question the inflationary tendency of his account. Concerning the significance of the winds, it was Wilber who pointed to it. He was imputing objective meaning in a causal way to those winds, suggesting that they kicked up as a response the passing away of his beloved Treya. That's fine for Ken to do such, but it does not in any way (given his model) provide us with over-riding supra-rational reasons to believe that something truly mystical was going on. The skeptical reader can easily find the explanation, and as such illustrates a merely rational and empirical explanation and not as Wilber's tries to suggest that a Divine Hierophany manifested. The "narcissism" of the account (to go back to Wilber's own adjective for those who do not seek genuinely rational explanations when such are available) is directly correlated to the fact that those "outer" winds affected many people, some who had no relationship whatsoever with Treya or Ken. In other words, those winds can be subjectively interpreted any way one wishes, but the objective fact of them has a rational basis. If Wilber, as his narrative suggests, really thinks that those "objective" winds (we are not talking about his feelings here) are the result of a Divine intervention, then he has failed to provide overwhelming evidence for it. Again, a simple explanation is all that is necessary, just as in Feynman's clock story. There may be something beyond the rational mind, but according to Wilber if there is it will have more proof for it than anything pre-rational. He has not given us that. He has, instead, given us emotional and magical extensions. Hence, I do not see Wilber has being "more" mature or going beyond the rational mind in his re-telling of the winds. Rather, I see him doing precisely what he criticizes New Agers for doing: "In trying to go directly to the heart, they bypass the Brain." Or, in Wilber's vocabulary, in trying to give meaning to an odd empirical event, he forgets his empiricism and mistakes something pre for something trans, he mistakes something emotional for something subtle. He mistakes coincidence for Divine intervention. And according to Wilber such mistakes are the trading cards of immature thinkers.
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