Ken Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V – Wilber Phase III

by editor

This is the third part of a series of posts on Ken Wilber and the phases of his theories on human consciousness development. In our previous posts on Wilber I and Wilber II, we discussed on the evolution of the Wilberian theory and ideas. Our post on Wilber I primarily focused on the Romantic-Jungian period of Wilber, the period which produced The Spectrum of Consciousness, and how it explained human evolution and spiritual development. Our post on Wilber II concentrated on a new change in the Wilberian theory – a change brought about by Wilber’s study of Sri Aurobindo, the Mahayana Buddhism and the concepts of involution and evolution. In the current post, we will analyze Wilber III, the third phase of Wilber and the modifications Wilber made to his theory, regarding perception of consciousness evolution.

Wilber I and Wilber II: Before we move into Wilber III, it is better to revisit Wilber I and Wilber II and the pros and cons of both the phases.

Wilber I (1977-1979) is all about Wilber’s early stages as an Integral thinker. He draws inspiration from the Esoteric Traditionalists, the Theosophists and from the field of psychology, especially Jung. Like most of the Jungians, he believes in the collective unconscious and makes it the central part of his paradigm. He believes that there is a single universal teaching running through “apparently conflicting spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions”. He presents a spectrum which explains the growth of consciousness from the Ground of Being stage to the Absolute Reality or the Ultimate stage. According to his book The Spectrum of Consciousness during this phase, consciousness emerges from the Ground of Being and splits progressively into dualities, the ultimate stage of which is Persona-Shadow. Spiritual enlightenment would mean a regression into the Ground of Being – a return to the collective unconscious. Spirituality is actually finding the underlying unity between the dualities and finally, returning to the original, undisturbed state of consciousness – the Pleroma stage of the Gnostics. This theory met with a lot of criticism and Wilber himself (till date) calls this phase his “Romantic-Jungian” stage which is not to be considered by the Integral student.

Wilber II (from 1980) is a complete break away from Wilber I. The thinker rejects Phase I terming it as a confusion caused by the Pre-Trans Fallacy. Wilber’s Phase I considers the pre-consciousness stage to be the same as the trans-consciousness stage and terms spirituality as a return to the pre-stages. This is fundamentally wrong and hence Wilber rejects the entire Phase I. In Wilber II, with books like The Atman Project, Up From Eden, Sociable God and Eye to Eye, Wilber explains an evolutionary-developmental cycle of consciousness. Adopting the philosophies of Sri Aurobindo and Tibetan Buddhism, Wilber explains about 12 stages (from Pleromatic to the High Causal) leading up to the 13th stage of Absolute Reality or the Ultimate. This phase too met with criticism from all quarters. Critics open fired on Wilber’s misunderstanding of the Life Divine of Sri Aurobindo and the improper comprehension of Mahayana Buddhism. Wilber was also accused of merging Advaitin, Vedantic concepts with the Supermind/Overmind of Sri Aurobindo. In spite of all the critiques, everyone appreciated Wilber’s efforts to integrate and unify Eastern philosophy with Western thought. All concepts that follow (in Wilber’s other phases, from III till V) are based on Wilber II’s cycle of consciousness development.

Wilber III – The Holographic Mind: Wilber III occurs between 1983 and 1987. It is a transitional stage between the Pre-Trans cycle and the AQAL, in which Wilber is inspired by Western developmental models like the ones proposed by Piaget and Howard Gardner. Rejecting the simplistic and homogeneous development of consciousness from the Pleromatic to the Absolute of Phase II, Wilber opines that there are several lines of development of the human personality.

Adopting the paradigms of the “Holographic Mind” populated by Arthur Koestler, Wilber says that there are different aspects to development or several developmental lines than the simple, Pleroma, Urobora and others. A holon hierarchy or holarchy is comprised of holons. A holon is a system which is both a whole (by itself) and a part of a larger system. For instance, the human body is a holon which has several holons (organs) in it. The organs (brain or kidney or heart) are holons in themselves, within which there maybe several holons, so much so that the last holon maybe a human cell or an atom. For Wilber, evolution now becomes a “holarchy”, meaning a hierarchy made of “holons” with several lines of growth/development. Since evolution is a holarchy, there is multiple development which can be perceived along lines – cognitive, emotional, spatial, moral, interpersonal, social, spiritual and so on. A person may have reached the highest development along one line (say, cognitive) but may still be stuck to the lowest end along another line of development (say, moral). Nazi doctors, says a critic, were examples of such high-cognitive and low-moral development. But how do we know one particular holon is important or significant than the other?

Alan Kazlev explains Wilber’s test of holon hierarchy: “The test of holarchy is that, if a type of holon is removed from existence, then all other holons of which it formed a part must necessarily cease to exist too. Thus an atom is of a lower standing in the hierarchy than a molecule, because if you removed all molecules, atoms could still exist, whereas if you removed all atoms, molecules, in a strict sense would cease to exist. Wilber’s concept is known as the doctrine of the fundamental and the significant. A hydrogen atom is more fundamental than an ant, but an ant is more significant.”

So, what are the lines of development suggested by Wilber? There are about two dozen – cognitive, ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, kinesthetic, affective, musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, karmic etc. to name a few. Added to this, “not all development lines are ontologically equivalent”and hence the case of the Nazi doctors.

Critique of Wilber’s Phase III: Phase III did not meet with much criticism as it is just a transitional phase before the AQAL. Also, the concept of developmental lines is based on the assumption of the cycle of evolution, illustrated in Phase II. With regard to the concept of holons, it was accepted and appreciated by many. The Holographic Mind, in fact, explained the reason for unexpected/vulgar behavior on the part of spiritually-developed gurus. It is said that they maybe developed along the cognitive line, but not along the moral line. Apart from the theories, Phase III is one of the most significant periods of Wilber, during which he underwent a lot of personal transformation.

Last years of Wilber III: The last few years of Wilber III (from 1987) was a testing time for Wilber on a personal level. His wife of 10 days, Treya Wilber was diagnosed with breast cancer of the fiercest kind. The next five years was about the nursing of Treya (which put a stop to Wilber’s studies) and the overshadow of death on the couple’s lives. As Christiane Champendal writes in her review of Grace and Grit (Wilber’s most personal book – on Treya and her death), “They had to deal with gender issues: her dependency, her breast being removed, the impossibility of her having a child, his decision to stop working in order to support her, his emotional withdrawal, his drinking, and his violence. These are milestones strewn along a path that took them through a radical transformation.” Christiane further goes on: “Ken adds some of his key teachings which come alive illustrated by his experience during these five years. He challenges strongly New Age beliefs about how one makes oneself sick, and, fortified by his experience, he gives advice to people who find themselves in the role of supporting another.”

What follows Wilber III is the AQAL model in Phase IV. We will discuss that in our next post.

“Ken Wilber Revisited” is a series of posts on Ken Wilber and the development of his Integral theory. You can know more about Wilber and the criticism of his phases in our posts Wilber I, Wilber II, Wilber III, Wilber IV and Wilber V.

Reference Links:

1. Ken Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V – A cross section of Wilber Phase I

2. Ken Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V – Wilber Phase II

3. Alan Kazlev’s “Ken Wilber” on his website

4. Alan Kazlev’s Wilber’s Phase III

5. An overview of Holarchies

6. Holarchy and Hierarchy

7.  Christiane Champendal’s Review of Wilber’s Grace and Grit

8.  What is Integral: Ken Wilber’s Pivotal Contribution to Integralism

9.  Integral Politics: Ken Wilber’s Third Way of Interior and Exterior Development

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Previous post:

Next post: