Wilber and Feynman: clarifications

Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: MSAC Philosophy Group
Publication date: 1994

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at dlane@weber.ucsd.edu

I want to go back to the home base now.

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

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

I enjoyed your points about coincidence and about defining opinion.
Very interesting and i think illuminating.



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

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

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

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.

E-mail The Neural Surfer directly at dlane@weber.ucsd.edu

I want to go back to the home base now.