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Phase 5: Integral Post-Metaphysics (2001-present)

With each successive iteration, it seems that Ken Wilber's metaphysics becomes more complex, more elaborate, perhaps even profound, but also more unwieldly. The original Great Chain of Being that defined his early thinking even from the start has become lost in a maze of quadrants, levels, holons, lines, states, and types that constitutes the mature Wilber IV. Now Wilber adds kosmic habits, methodological perspectives, perspectives on perspectives, and altitude. And although his supporters claim that Wilber does indeed propound a single unified system of knowledge, seamlessly integrating all aspects of science and spirituality, art and culture, ancient and modern knowledge, one could also say the opposite (see critiques of Wilber's "AQAL" cosmology and of philosophical method and Arvan Harvat's review/critique. These same criticisms, directed at Wilber IV, do I feel apply equally to Wilber V.

Since I first posted this page more than five years ago, back in 2004, what was then called Post-Metaphysical AQAL, and is now called Integral Post-Metaphysics, has become the official philosophy of the mainstream integral community. Its most important features are: the rejection of Huston Smith's perennialist metaphysics (itself based on Vivekananda Neo-Hinduism and Guenon-Schuon Traditionalism), and a postmodernist rejection of objective reality (which is dismissed as a "myth of the given"), in favour of emphgasis on perspectives

The rejection of metaphysics continues Wilber's earlier trend of rejecting a Perennialist Great Chain of Being, in favour of a more Mahayana Buddhistic "emptiness" (shunyata) teaching, inspired by the Madyamika (Nagarjuna) and Yogachara schools [Brad Reynolds, Where's Wilber At? p. 14]. This marks the increasingly postmodernist flavour of Wilber's work, a movement towards the exoteric and the secular, as the promised metaphysical synthesis of Wilber IV did not deliver the union of One and Many that one might argue should be at the heart of every grand esoteric synthesis.

The impression I get from reading Brad Reynolds on-line chapter, is that Wilber V represents a transformation in Wilber's own personal outlook, a spiritual breakthrough or leap to a higher level. But, as Wilber himself pointed out in his Wilber III phase, and in his critique of his guru Adi Da, not all developments of the various components of the being proceed at the same pace. So whilst Wilber's spiritual development might have progressed (at least this is the impression I have from reading Brad Reynolds' hagiography of him, in that I did contact a spiritual energy when reading it, but perhaps I was just picking up the psycho-spiritual energy and would probably contact the same energy when reading any devotional material; although I don't know enough to make a definite unbiased statement), the intellectual position remains strongly intellectual, and at leats as far as external writing goes, exotyeric and non-gnostic

One thing I do like about Wilber's current Post-Metaphysics is his emphasis on "perspectives". It took me a while to get this, but when I did it really made sense (not the convoluted "integral mathematics", but the basic idea). Indeed, I incorporated it into my own current version of Integral Metaphysics. To me it fits perfectly with the Jain insight of anekantavada

Wilber's problem unfortunately is that he throws the baby out with the bathwater. Recognising certain unnecssary intellectual abstractions of non-gnostic metaphysics and trying to attain a sort of Buddhistic nonduality purity (through his enthusiasm for Nagarjuna), he ditches authentic esoteric or gnostic metaphysics as well. But without metaphysics, there cannot be emanation or planes of existence, so Wilber shifts his focus to a here-now evolutionary view based on Rupert Sheldrake's notion of morphogenetic fields and formative causation, applying it now to all four quadrants. Ironically, I remember reading once in an issue of ReVision (maybe a quarter of a century ago) where Wilber was dismissive of Sheldrake because the latter does not have a proper hierarchy of being!

The Inheritance of the Past in All Four Quadrants

Ken Wilber diagram on "The Inheritance of the Past in All Four Quadrants"
from Excerpt A: An Integral Age at the Leading Edge
- Part I. Kosmic Karma: Why is the Present a Little Bit Like the Past?

Phase V also sees Wilber retain and further develop his and Don Beck's revised version of Spiral Dynamics, using it as a paradigm for human evolution. He also writes a curious novel attacking baby boomers (of which he himself is one), and further works on his external link Integral Institute, which has now established a number of new projects like external link Integral University and the rather hip-sounded external link Integral Naked (although if you expect to find sexy young new paradigm philosophers doing tantric practice in the altogether you'll be disappointed).

It remains to be seen whether Wilber's current shift away from cosmology, to social commentary and working in the pragmatic world, will be the last word, or whether he will develop a further novel new system (Wilber VI so to speak) to add on to the corpus of his previous work.

From what I have read of and about Ken Wilber, I would have to say the latter.

Some diagrams pertaining to Integral Post-Metaphysics

Altitude levels or Levels of Consciousness

The above diagram (from Integral Spirituality and frequently reproduced) shows Wilber's altitude scale; this being the latest iteration of his Great Nest of Being. The colours are supposed to be based on the chakras and represent, Wilber says, a teaching three thousand years old (Link to Amazon com Integral Spirituality p.66). I don't mean to take a cheap shot, but ironically for someone who is so critical of the "Green" New Age meme, Wilber doesn't seem to realise that the rainbow spectrum of chakras is not much more that about thirty years old; the earliest refernce I know of is Christopher Hill's Nuclear Evolution; an elaborate Integral theory that predates Wilber's AQAL by several decades and deserves to be written up on Kheper net, if and when I ever get around to it. Hill's book seems to have had little or no influnence on the wider world, so Wilber's rainbow chakras are probably based on pop-Osho New Age websites.

I won't go into Wilber's misinterpretation of Sri Aurobindo under the cognitive line, the interested reader is referred to my earlier page on the subject, and external link essay on Integral World. Although these two essays were written before I had seen Integral Spirituality, my criticism here remains as solid as ever. I actually started writing an academic page, in which I provided a very indepth analysis of just one or two passages from Sri Aurobindo, to prove that Higher Mind has nothing to do with Vision-Logic (and vice-versa). Either I will eventually puvblish this in a journal, or else I'll publish it on the web.

For the rest though, it's an intersting diagram. While simplistic and railroading all these different systems intoa single developmental spectrum, I tend to look more favourably now at Wilber, or at least some of his work, than i used to.

Integral Methdological Perspectives

The above diagram shows Wilber's eight Integral Methdological Perspectives. there is nothing wring with this diagram; i.e. it does not misrepresent things the way his altitude diagram tends to (I've already mentioned Sri Aurobindo). But it isn't anything particularily gnostic or cosmological either. Basically it's one possible and purely arbitrary formulation on perspectivism, no better and no worse than any other. In itself it's fine, but it should never be taken as absolute classification.

Wilber's idea that "everything is perspectives" is basically inspired by Yogachara Buddhism; it certainly is an interesting concept, and one possible reality (or one possible perspective), but it shouldn't be thought to be the only possible explanation.

Further reading

See also PDF Acrobat format Where's Wilber At? The Further Evolution of Ken Wilber's Integral Vision During the Dawn of the New Millennium, by Brad Reynolds. Unfortunately, the hagiographic style of the author is rather hard to take, and the whole thing reads rather like an over-enthusiastic devotee praising their guru-master, or the writings of a convert to a new religion (for the record, Wilber himself denies he is any sort of guru, preferring to consider himself a pandit or scholar of spiritual teachings). If you stomach (or ignore) that side of it, this essay gives some good pointers of Wilber's current approach.

online document Excerpt here (Word Format) on KWs iteration #5

Bibliography - 2001-present:

Speaking of Everything (2 hour audio interview recording), 2001

Boomeritis Boomeritis: A Novel That Will Set You Free, 2002

Kosmic Consciousness Kosmic Consciousness (12 hour audio interview recording), 2003

Ken Wilber, Speaking of Everything, live audio interview with the world's most widely published spiritual philosopher. Just $24.95 for 2 CDs plus Alex Grey illustrated Glossary pamphlet.

Integral SpiritualityIntegral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World - Shambhala (November 13, 2007

Wilber's classic Post-Metaphysics text

Integral Ecology Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and Michael E. Zimmerman (Integral Books, Boston and London, 2009). Application of Wilber V perspectivism to ecology.


Biography and Ideas
Phase 1 - The Romantic Period
Phase 2 - The Pre-Trans Cycle
Phase 3 - Multiple Development - Holographic Mind
Phase 4 - All Quadrants All Levels
Phase 5: Post-Metaphysical

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page uploaded 15 June 2004, last modified 26 October 2009.