Friday, November 24, 2006

thought on post-metaphysics & neo-perennialism

Frank Visser has a new post critical of Integral Spirituality (and Wilber-5 more generally).

The first half of the article criticizes stylistic elements of the work. Integral Spirituality was originally a letter written to teachers at the (then) upcoming Integral Spirituality Seminar. I think most (but not all) of the style criticisms can be seen in that light. I would have preferred IS as a letter be left as a draft accessible on the web perhaps and then published only in a more academic (along the lines of SES) type work. SES, the initiator of the so-called Wilber-4 was followed by the popularizations of that work--Brief History, Marriage of Sense and Soul. I think the vol 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy--excerpts of which are on the web as well--should have been published prior to this work, which to me is more along the lines of a Marriage, Brief History but with the chronology reversed.

That doesn't take care of all Frank's stylistic criticisms (even ones that are more in the eye of the beholder). Frank emphasizes the work as deficient work those interested in psychology. There is an important chapter on the relation of detachment in spiritual (good) and psychological (not good) circles, but overall the kind of work Frank would like I think remains to be the written. [The possibly never to be written mega-work on Psychology that is sometimes referenced, more as a joke I guess at this point maybe than anything].

I would rather focus on the second half of the work which gets down to what I think are the real intellectual issues at hand. First, to tip my hand....I do favor a post-metaphysical (Wilber-5) structure, with my own flavor of interpretation I suppose, but I still think Visser's position is well argued (Neo-Perennialist) and if one accepts such a viewpoint, then Frank is in my mind the best around on the subject.

That said, to the paper itself.

Frank writes:

The core thesis of Integral Spirituality is that, unless spirituality comes to terms with the demands of modernity and especially postmodernity, it is doomed. But it has to pay a price for this: it has to give up its metaphysics – for that is something both modernity and postmodernity "intensely dislike". But for Wilber, this isn't that much of a sacrifice, for as he confidently asserts, the essential truths of spirituality can be brought up to date with the findings of modernity and postmodernity. What is more, this "post-metaphysical" approach to spirituality is a "more adequate" treatment of the field.

According to Wilber, and contrary to popular belief, the greatest enemy of spirituality hasn't been science – these domains more or less ignore each other anyway – but cultural studies, a field which has been dominated by postmodernity for the past decades. And the one thing postmodernity brought to light, following Wilber, has been that spiritual traditions still stubbornly believe in "the myth of the given", meaning they take their beliefs to be the simple truth.

Many questions are raised by this strategy to "salvage" spirituality: how should this re-interpreted spirituality live together with the domains of science and cultural studies? And does this re-interpretation do justice to the depth of spirituality itself, not only psychologically but cosmologically as well? And is the accusation aimed at spirituality by cultural studies not a clear case of quadrant absolutism (taking one fourth of the truth to be the whole story)? Shouldn't spirituality ward off the attacks by cultural studies (and science) by stating openly and fearlessly that they have one big blind spot: the existence of interiority, the irreducible experience of being a self?

The reference to cosmological is a reference to the acceptance/disacceptance of realms beyond the material. Metaphysics according to Wilber is the proposing of realities beyond one's experience. Such as heaven for example, since none of us are in heaven (as a separate acutal territory) than none of us can comment upon it, without reference to an argument from authority. There may be such a reality and one is--even in post-metaphysics--free to believe in such a relaity as long as one admits that there is no proof (or disproof) for its existence.

Post-metaphysics takes the path of least resistance to the denunciation of all things spiritual by the modern and postmodern worlds. Wilber-5 shifts the argument to the field of the modern and especially postmodern, as Frank correctly observes, studies.

For Frank the key enemy is scientism--the belief in science and the loss of a metaphysical worldview characteristic of traditional soceities. I'll return to that in a moment.

After a brief interlude on perspectives and quadratns, Visser states: "In Wilber-5, the earlier emphasis on stages of development has been replaced by an emphasis on states of consciousness."

That assertion is up for argument--as stages of consciousness are still featured quite prominently in the work--but for the moment I'll run with it. Wilber-5, following the Wilber-Combs Lattice, argues that states are horizontal possibilities open to experience at every veritcal stage of consciousness.

The states then of psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual mysticism can be experienced at every level of development and will never concretely look the same--how those states manifest depends on the level of development, the quadratic factors (religion, historical time period, social status, education level, and personal psych/emotional factors).

When states and stages are thus aligned the combination of the two is state-stages. State-stages are the difference between a mystical state as a temporary peak experience (always available) and patterned regularized long-term spiritual practice and familiarity with the states (state-stages). They are not stages in the sense of developmental stages (now called structure-stages to distinguish) but are stage like in that the general pattern both historically and individually is psychic, subtle, causal to nondual.

Frank notes that the notion of states needs more work--a subject I'll work on in another post or two. Check out Mark Edwards and Edward Berge ( about how states are still too meta-physical and not have been (inter)subjected to the LL.

In the final paragraphs Visser recapitulates his arguments elsewhere (for example, here) for a perennialist viewpoint.

Visser writes,

I have argued on many occasions on this website, for example in "My Take on Wilber-5", that this hides the problem of the ontological status of interiority. For these physical correlates correlate with... precisely what? Rereading this quote several times over, I continue to be struck by one thing: even if it is true that modernity has pointed out some of the physical correlates of interior states of mind, it will not and cannot pass judgement on what these states are in themselves – completely inexplicable, literally meta-physical phenomena. Relabelling them as "intra-physical", as Wilber does, creates an illusory feeling of understanding, where in fact nothing is clarified. No physicist would subscribe to this notion of "intra-physicality", especially since it is so intimately connected to our thoughts and feelings, which are non-entities in the world of physics.

I agree that the notion of intra-physical (left and right quadrants, consciousness and matter co-arising) does not say what consciousness is--it's ontological status. My sense is that post-metaphysics is not interested in what consciousness is (which is a mystery) as it is in emobodying consciousness and building the higher stages of consciousness. My disagreement with a perennialist outlook is that it can undercut the urgency with which I think spirituality must come to grips. Especially as the technological-economic right-hand quadrants daily increase in speed and the world is in a crisis of consciousness.

Too much argumentation about the ontological status of consciousness pulls us away from actually experiencing it, participating in the life process seems to me.

Whatever the arguments about the modernist or postmodernist critique of spirituality-and I think both are deeply damaging and faulty but there nonetheless and both should be addressed which perennialism does not--there is still the questino of how to prove the existence of these spheres upon spheres, metaphysically situated in our universe?

To paraphrase Wilber: Why doesn't a Tibetan medieval meditator have dreams about genetic testing, radios, Derridian deconstruction, Salafi terrorism, even when the dream is of a lucid mystical nature? Or Hindu, Islamic, Christian, Jewish, fill in the blank.

The argument is not that we can disprove the existence of the metaphysical spheres; it is just that as a notion it is a complete non-starter. It can't be proved either. The best there is evidence that could be considered (by some not all) "suggestive"--reincarnation, near death experiences, sayings of realizers, etc. [I will deal with the claims of estoericism separately when talking about Alan Kazlev's work].

Or to put the question in reverse....why is that the dream state experiences of medieval meditators only show (even in mystical states of lucidity) phenomena apparent from their everyday waking lives. Why do Tibetan meditators have Tibetan imagery--both religious and non-religious--and Christian ones Christian?

If the spheres upon spheres are true than why is the dream body (the Soul's vehicle which is built for the heavenly intermediate zone) only experiencing a rarefied version of waking day phenomena? Why does heaven look like medieval Tibet or France?

What if the purpose of existence is to be in this plane and not seek liberation through some other--at least for this lifeframe?


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