Critique of Ken Wilber:Prologue

Author: David Christopher Lane
Publisher: MSAC Philosophy Group
Publication date: 1996

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at

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The Art of Spiritual Hyperbole

[A Ten Part Series]

Prologue: Aaron Talsky, the Harvard Lawyer, the Intellectual
Pit-Bull, Is Let Off the Leash At a Transpersonal Pizza Party.


First of all, this ten-part series is designed to point out the
fundamental weaknesses that I see in Ken Wilber's work and, to some
degree, in the whole transpersonal psychology movement.

However, I should state right from the outset that I have tremendous
respect for Ken Wilber and his books. I have used Wilber's ideas
since I first started teaching in 1979. In almost all of my
philosophy and religious studies classes (from high school to
college to graduate studies) Ken Wilber's spectrum psychology has
been instrumental. In the late 1980s I even taught two or three
graduate level courses devoted entirely to Wilberian thought. At
MSAC this past year we have read Sex, Spirituality, and Ecology and
a Brief History of Everything in my Introduction to Philosophy and
Introduction to Major World Religions classes. I pride myself on
having read almost everything Wilber has ever publicly published.

Moreover, my critique of Wilber can also be applied with
double force to many of my early writings. What I accuse Wilber
of--gross, or should I say spiritual?, exaggeration--is precisely
what I have been (perhaps still am) guilty of. 

Quite simply, it is the tendency to "inflate", to "exaggerate", to
"hype" those things which are not yet knowable. It is, in sum, the
inclination to indulge in spiritual hyperbole, gross exaggerations
that do not (perhaps cannot) convey the precision necessary for the
progression of transpersonal psychology as a science.

Wilber exaggerates and he exaggerates way too much, especially on
matters of ultimate importance. I don't think he does it
intentionally (I am not accusing Wilber of dishonesty), but I do
think it fundamentally taints his work to such an extent that most
reductionistic scientists--a phrase I use approvingly--cannot
distinguish Wilberian gems from Wilberian rubbish.

I write this critique not so much to "dis" Wilber (I will always
eagerly await any new tome from his pen), but to rather frame what I
think limits the import of his research on the harder sciences.

On a more personal note, I think Ken Wilber is a delightful fellow.
He is, unquestionably, one very bright guy and I consider myself
fortunate to have had the pleasure of dining with him (and his
beautiful late wife, Treya).

I also want to underline that my criticisms of his work can also be
applied to much of my writing and perhaps to many of the writers in
the Transpersonal Movement.



This past year I was invited by Dr. Anthony Kassir, who had
graduated from Medical School at U.C. Irvine, to an informal
gathering of would-be doctors of psychiatry who were going to an
Italian restaurant in Newport Beach to talk with Dr. Roger Walsh, the
well-known transpersonal therapist and author.

Dr. Kassir knew of my interest in Wilber and thought that Dr. Walsh
and I should meet. Naturally, I was happy to go. I also thought it
would be fruitful if I brought my best friend, Aaron Talsky (a
Harvard educated lawyer and an expert on Indian spirituality), along
with me.

I should have known better, of course. Aaron Talsky is one helluva
of nice guy when you get to know him, but he is, to put this politely,
an intellectual pit-bull. He's very smart, but he can also be very
acidic. Since we are pals, I told him that I was going to put a
"leash" on him for the night. Basically, I was bribing
him into a free meal at my expense because Aaron needs to get out at
night and away from his Haiku dog, Master Basho.

It was a pleasant evening and the conversation was at first polite.
Everything seemed to have a warm goo to it, and I could just tell
that it was not going to last. There were too many uninspected
statements, too many miracle claims, too much optimism about what
transpersonal psychology will achieve.

Aaron was sitting right next to Dr. Roger Walsh. Talsky was biting his
tongue, holding his hurl, the entire time..... until I slightly
winked at him (forgetting that a wink to Aaron can also be
interpreted as "you are off the leash!"). No sooner had I given
Talsky the nod than a full-fledged debate began to rage.

Aaron Talsky was like the proverbial bull in a china shop, breaking
apart the most delicate of items. Yet, as I watched him unleash his
exceedingly keen intellect like a laser-sharpened Ninja
blade, it became painfully obvious that nobody in the room could
counter-argue Talsky's devastatingly simple points.

For example, when Talsky talked about brain lesions and how certain
patients literally experience non-connecting selves--each one
unknown to the other--he raised the issue of a "soul" or "self."
In such cases, what sense does it make to talk about a permanent
self or soul? Moreover, why do we think that we survive death, when
in actual experience we cannot even remember deep sleep (those
moments in which we don't even dream).

And what, truly, is modifying the play of consciousness? The Neural
symphony or some divine symphony for which we have no proof, but a
lot of stories, which depend by the way on the activity of neurons.
No neural activity, no stories--no religion, no spirituality, no
myths, no nothing (at least in terms of what one could talk about at

Then Aaron raised the issue of silicon chips replacing "wet"
neurons... or the transplanting of one's brain into another person's
body. Does the soul stay or move or translate or pay rent or what?

Or does it make any sense to talk about a "soul" when such a term is
as outdated as Zeus or Thor or any God which we used to think
controlled some vital organ or substance of the body or the

Naturally, there are many ways to approach these questions and they
have been with us since time immemorial.....

But I tell you something.... at this party it deadened the "spirit."
It grounded the flights of fancy. It made everybody look like a bad
poser.... We all started sounding stupid, sounding inarticulate.

Why? Because we really don't know much and even the best of minds
are stuck when confronted with simple little questions.... and it is
the simplest of questions that can derail transpersonal psychology
much too quickly.

Put it this way, some of the best emerging minds in transpersonal
psychology were in attendance, and not one of them could answer
Talsky's questions in a satisfactory way. Quite frankly, it was
pathetic. And Talsky is not even that well informed on the latest
issues. He just had the balls to ask impolite questions at a polite
pizza party.

It got me to thinking. Thus my critique of Wilber, which has been in
the back of my mind for years.......

Let's start with DA.... ADI DA, that is.

[End Prologue]

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