Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review of "Integral Psychology" by Ken Wilber

Fully aware of the subtle nature of consciousness and mentality, Ken Wilber, the modern American psychologist and philosopher seeks to transcend both the ancient and modern perceptions of psyche and forge a new path towards acceptance, if not understanding of, the mind in all of its quantifiable and unquantifiable aspects.  In his 2007 The Integral Vision, Wilber founds his hope on the idea that “for the first time, the sum total of human knowledge is available to us—the knowledge, experience, wisdom, and reflection of all major human civilizations—premodern, modern, postmodern—are open to study by anyone” (16).  From this standpoint, Wilber intertwines the knowledge made available by conventional science, recurrent teachings, and the individual’s intuitive experience into one, all-encompassing theory of mind, a theory he calls Integral Psychology.       
Endeavoring to “honor and embrace every legitimate aspect of human consciousness,” Wilber draws upon important concepts of the mind, the perennial philosophies of the East, observations taken from the roots of modern psychology in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the more rigorous developments of present day psycho-dynamics and neuroscience in outlaying a totalizing theory of consciousness.  Believing that the “the whole discloses new meanings unavailable to the parts,” Wilber aligns the variety of psychological and philosophical theories and their supporting data alongside one another.  By doing so, he seeks to integrate the mind, body, spirit, conscious, unconscious, and dream states across every possible psychological spectrum—worldviews to ethical values, needs to self-identity, and others.  When comparing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with Vedanta Hinduism, for example, varying degrees of understanding, instinct, experience, awareness, and so forth are found inherent to each.  Analyzed graphically on a variety of axes, Wilber thus sets about finding the ideas and concepts fundamentally inherent to the whole of perennial philosophy and psychological theory to date.  

By interrelating the sum of these to date, drawing parallels and juxtapositions according to the individual stages and phases delimited by each, Wilber comes to the conclusion psychological development occurs in “waves.”  Preferring to call them waves because the term “emphasizes the fact these levels are not rigidly separate and isolated, but, like the colors of a rainbow, infinitely shade and grade into each other,”  Wilber understands human psychology to originate in the most basic of modes, such as egocentrism, archaism, or physiology, depending on the axis, with the potential to rise to great heights of supermind, self-transcendence, and transpersonalism (7).  As each wave builds upon and incorporates the former, all towards achieving the highest spiritual dimension, modes of operation, such as transpersonalism, are seen as being higher on the scale of development than altruism.  Wilber is, however, quick to point out that the spiritual dimension he purports as the highest plane achievable to the human mind is not religious by definition.  Rather, it is a transcendent mode which synthesizes altruism with personal awareness toward a better understanding of the nature of human existence.  

In the end, Wilber is a love-him or hate-him kind of writer/scholar/philosopher.  His fundamental view that the modern social paradigm is incapable of leading humanity towards greater spiritual heights is the reason he propounds Integral Psychology as a means of eliminating the issues currently facing mankind.  He states that his theory “is simply a great morphogenetic field that provides a developmental space in which human potential can unfold.” (27).  Thus, be warned that this book, though delving deeply into animism, religion, and modern psychology, nevertheless moves to the next level of universal spirituality.  Practical rather than mystical, however, thankfully no crystals or chanting are admonished.

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