I owe a lot to Ken Wilber. Ken was recommended to me at a stage in my journey when I was quite dogmatic and narrow minded. I went to the library and checked out “Up From Eden” – one of his earlier works. It was completely transformative. Over the course of a month as I read the book, Ken Wilber systematically knocked all the walls out of my personal philosophy and opened me up to the beautiful scenery waiting outside my previously cramped spiritual quarters.
It’s difficult to know where best to classify Ken on this page. While his “base” is probably in trans-personal psychology, the whole point of Wilber’s life-work is an approach he calls “integral”, or “AQUAL” (All-Quadrant, All-Levels). The idea is that reality consists of several different perspectives. In early philosophy, these were called the “Good”, the “True” and the “Beautiful”. Wilber has expanded them somewhat into four: the individual outside, the individual inside, the collective outside and the collective inside.
As the simplest example, take a human being. A behaviorist or biologist might examine that human being in terms of his individual external aspects, examining behavior, cellular mechanics, blood chemistry, height, weight, etc. This is the individual outside. But if we engage in this person in dialogue, as a psychotherapist, religious counselor or meditation teacher might, we get an entirely different set of information from the individual INSIDE. Then we can look at the person’s collective outside with a systems theorist, and note such things as housing, transportation systems, communication infrastructure – physical things that make up the system of which this person is a part. Finally, with anthropologists, ethicists and other students of the collective INSIDE, we look at the cultural groups of which the person is a part. We look at the interactions on a mental and spiritual level with other human beings.
The point is, each of these perspectives gives us different truths, and (most importantly), NONE of these truths is privileged over the others. We live in a time and culture that tends to favor individual external truths – hard science. Proponents of “flatland” as Wilber dubs this perspective, want to collapse everything else in the universe down to physics and chemistry. By doing so, they squash three additional quadrants of equally important truth out of consideration.
Wilber also spends a lot of time discussing developmental levels and states. This was particularly eye-opening to me. Individuals and societies can all be classified along a spectrum of development, and the attitudes and characteristics of individuals and cultures at the various stages of this spectrum are quite predictable. After reading Ken Wilber, you can observe the world around you and recognize that what you thought were differences in opinion among people and cultures are actually different stages of development.
Wilber’s writing is prolific. His goal is no less than creating a system into which all truths can be placed in their proper perspective and relationship. Wilber’s work really IS a “theory of everything”. Once you read Ken Wilber, you will find, when encounter a new idea or worldview, that you are mentally plotting it out on Wilber’s giant map of reality. And it always fits.
Wilbers work puts politics, science, religion, business, education and everything else into a new and interrelated perspective – one that you ignore at your peril. If you need a map to base your view of reality on, there is no better researched map than Ken Wilber.
Wilber has attracted some criticism, which is to be expected considering his system swallows up the truths of so many others. The fans of each piece of his jigsaw puzzle protest that their piece is much more important than Wilber credits – in fact, the ONLY important piece. There have been some personality clashes at his institute and on some of his projects. The fact that Ken has coined so many new concepts and words tends to make a discussion among wilberians sound like some kind of secret cult language. And if you don’t like getting into the details, Ken Wilber isn’t the writer for you. Someone like Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts are better at simple profound generalities.
But you really MUST read him. See if you don’t find his concepts immediately useful. Below is a brief clip of Wilber discussing spirituality in the modern world: