Who Is Ken Wilber?

An associate explains the spiritual philosophy of the popular psychologist and author.

Adapted from the foreword to "The Eye of the Spirit" by Ken Wilber.

Tony Schwartz, former New York Times reporter and author of "What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America," has called Ken Wilber "the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times." I think that is true. In fact, I thought that was true 20 years ago when I founded ReVision Journal in large measure to provide an outlet for the integral vision that Ken was already voicing. I had just finished reading his first book, "The Spectrum of Consciousness," which he wrote when he was 23. He was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, washing dishes for a living, meditating, and writing a book a year. Main Currents in Modern Thought, which published his first essay, was just about to go out of business, and it was my desire to keep alive the integrative focus and spirit that that journal represented. This, combined with my desire to work with Ken in doing so, prompted me to drag him into the publishing business. We were both about 27 at the time, and within a year or two we had ReVision up and running, based very much on the integral vision that we both shared and that Ken was already articulating in a powerful way.

But it is exactly the comprehensive and integral nature of Wilber's vision that is the key to the sometimes extreme reactions that his work elicits. Wilber's approach does nothing less than offer a coherent integration of virtually every field of human knowledge, What is his actual method? In working with any field, Wilber simply backs up to a level of generalization at which the various conflicting approaches actually agree with one another. Take, for example, the world's great religious traditions: Do they all agree that Jesus is God? No. So we must jettison that. Do they all agree that there is a God? That depends on the meaning of "God." Do they all agree on God, if by "God" we mean a Spirit that is in many ways unqualifiable, from the Buddhists' Emptiness to the Jewish mystery of the Divine to the Christian Cloud of Unknowing? Yes, that works as a generalization-what Wilber calls an "orienting generalization" or "sturdy conclusion."

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Wilber likewise approaches all the other fields of human knowledge: art to poetry, empiricism to hermeneutics, cognitive science to meditation, evolutionary theory to idealism. In every case he assembles a series of sturdy and reliable, not to say irrefutable, orienting generalizations. He is not worried, nor should his readers be, about whether other fields would accept the conclusions of any given field; in short, don't worry, for example, if empiricist conclusions do not match religious conclusions. Instead, simply assemble all the orienting conclusions as if each field had incredibly important truths to tell us. In other words, assemble all of the truths that each field believes it has to offer humanity. For the moment, simply assume they are indeed true.

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Jack Crittenden
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