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

by editor

This is the fifth part in the series of posts on Ken Wilber’s five phases of Integral theory, “Ken Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V”. In our previous posts, we analyzed and weighed the pros and cons of Wilber’s different phases, from Wilber I, Wilber II, Wilber III to Wilber IV. This post focuses on Wilber’s current and most important phase, Wilber V in detail. This post illustrates with supportive ideas and theories on how Wilber V is Wilber’s break away from cosmology to social commentary and pragmatism. In brief, this post finds answers to all these questions on Wilber V – Why is Wilber V important? What is so special about this current phase, and is it Wilber’s last word on Integralism, or is it liable to change?

Before we enter into an analysis of Wilber V, it is better to review the previous phases of Wilber and what was exactly Wilber’s theory before his phase V.

Wilber Phase I (From 1977- 1979):
Wilber’s theory of Integral Consciousness started in 1977 with the Spectrum of Consciousness. The book approached development of human consciousness in a Jungian and Freudian way, placing every other growth from an assumed Ground of Being. It is what Wilber himself calls a “Romantic-Jungian” phase that presumed that consciousness developed from a Ground of Being or the “collective unconscious” and then, split into dualities at every stage of growth. The dualities are: Ground of Being-Self; Organism-Environment; Ego-Body and Persona-Shadow. To attain Absolute Reality or Godhead or Ultimate Consciousness, one needs to find the unifying ground between these dualities and regress into the collective unconscious state of birth.

Inspired by the Esoteric Traditionalists and Theosophists, this stage assumes the first stage of consciousness to be exactly the same as the final stage of consciousness. In other words, Wilber I is marked by what is called “Pre-Trans Fallacy”, a misunderstanding of pre-consciousness stage with that of trans-consciousness stage. Wilber himself recommends that the Integral student starts with Wilber II than with Wilber I.

Wilber Phase II (From 1980): Wilber II is a break-through in the history of Integral philosophy. A mature approach to consciousness development, Wilber’s Phase II proposes an evolutionary-developmental model primarily based on Sri Aurobindo and the Mahayana Buddhists. However, all stages proposed in Wilber II are linear and homogeneous. There is no mention of a holographic growth as in Wilber III. Inspired by Aurobindo’s Life Divine, Wilber II mentions about 13 stages of consciousness development, from the Pleromatic to the Ultimate or Absolute Reality state. There is cognitive, psychological and self-growth in which each stage/level “transcends” yet “includes” the previous stage/level.

Wilber’s Phase II also discussed in detail about the involution and evolution concept of Sri Aurobindo, much to the criticism of Arvan Harvat who opines that the Pre-Trans theory has a “dubious” foundation. In his article “The Atman Fiasco” (critique on the The Atman Project by Wilber), he accuses Wilber of misunderstanding Mahayana Buddhism and Aurobindo’s Life Divine. Though the Phase faced a lot of criticisms, it is still one of the most interesting and break-through phases of Wilber.

Wilber Phase III (From 1983 – 1987): The linear mode of Wilber’s Phase II gains mass and direction to develop into several lines of development. Wilber, in Wilber III, realizes that development is not homogeneous, but holographic. Applying Koestler theory of holons, he sees every other stage of development as holon (a whole unit in itself), and that the universe is formed not by atoms or molecules but by holons. A holarchy is a system in which a holon hierarchy comprises of large holons, which in turn comprises of smaller holons and which in turn, splits into smaller holons till the lowest level of holons is reached. Wilber III lists out about two dozen lines of development – cognitive, emotional, spatial, moral, interpersonal, social and spiritual to name a few. Since evolution is itself a holarchy, one can track down multiple developmental lines like these. Critics consider this as a transitional stage between Pre-Trans Fallacy and AQAL model. After this stage, Wilber went through a personal crisis which forced him to stay out of the Integral sphere for a few years. However, he was back with a bang in Wilber IV.

Wilber Phase IV: Wilber IV kickstarted with the publication of Wilber’s phenomenal book, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. In the book, Wilber unites what is called the “Big Three” – Art, Morals and Science and proposes for the first-time the AQAL model of development of consciousness. The Big Three, according to Wilber, can mean anything from “the Beautiful, the Good and the True or the I, We, It or the First, Second and Third person”. The Big Three has represented several things down the ages.

As Wilber puts it in an article titled, ‘An Integral Theory of Consciousness’, “Sir Karl Popper’s ‘three worlds’ (subjective, cultural, and objective); Plato’s the Good (as the ground of morals, the ‘we’ of the Lower Left), the True (objective truth or it-propositions, the Right Hand), and the Beautiful (the aesthetic beauty in the I of each beholder, the Upper Left); Habermas’ three validity claims (subjective truthfulness of I, cultural justness of we, and objective truth of its). Historically of great importance, these are also the three major domains of Kant’s three critiques: science or its (Critique of Pure Reason), morals or we (Critique of Practical Reason), and art and self-expression of the I (Critique of Judgment)”.

Uniting the Big Three is important as lack of it represents diverse, disconnected fields of knowledge and fragmentation of ideas/perspectives. To make amends, Wilber frames the Four Quadrant Model in Phase IV. The model consists of the following characteristics: Intentional or Individual Subjective or Interior or I; Neurological or Individual Objective or It or Exterior; Cultural or Collective Intersubjective or We or Interior; Social or Socio-economic or Collective Interobjective or It or Exterior. In Wilber IV, the basic four quadrant model is developed further into AQAL model or All Quadrants All Levels model in which Wilber formulates a consciousness map that includes all possible dimensions of human consciousness called the physical, neurological, social, cultural, philosophical and spiritual. The AQAL model indicates the transition from the Great Nest of Being and holography/four quadrant model to a new structure that encompasses all aspects of consciousness development, including all developmental lines.

In Wilber IV, the worldview becomes more definite and complex and fits every other field into the AQAL model. Each quadrant has its own set of validation terms and procedures, with its own “relative, authentic and partial truths”. However, Wilber IV has its own set of limitations – experts ask if there are only four types of validity. Another question that is raised is, why are not all quadrants fused together? Similarly, there is arbitrariness in the taxonomy of the model. Also, for all its complexity, the AQAL model is linear and points only at a “one track linear sequence of growth”.

Wilber Phase V (2001- Current): AQAL developed in the post-metaphysical realm a little later, around the year 2000. This “Post-Metaphysical” model is now termed as the “Integral Post-Metaphysical”. Wilber has moved beyond metaphysics in this phase. There is rejection of Huston Smith’s perennialist metaphysics and objective reality with an emphasis on perspectives. As Alan Kazlev puts it in his summary of Wilber V and the Integral Post-Metaphysics, “Now Wilber adds kosmic habits, methodological perspectives, perspectives on perspectives, and altitude.” Brad Reynolds in his “Where’s Wilber At?” says that Wilber Phase V is a result of a “transformation in Wilber’s personal outlook, a spiritual breakthrough or a leap to a higher level”. On a brief note, Wilber V can be said to be about “perspectives”. Wilber recognizes that certain non-gnostic metaphysics are unnecessary and ditches, what Kazlev calls the “esoteric or gnostic metaphysics”, shifting his focus to a “here-now evolutionary view based on Rupert Sheldrake’s notion of morphogenetic fields and formative causation”.

In Wilber V, Wilber also develops interest in Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics and works a revised version of the same. In other words, Wilber leaves the world of cosmology to work in a pragmatic world that is post-metaphysical and acutely integral. The below diagram explains Wilber’s current ideologies:

In the diagram, the colors represent the chakras and represent more than three thousand year old teachings. But critics feel that this rainbow of spectrum developed only in the recent years and is not as old as thirty years as seen in Christopher Hill’s Nuclear Evolution. Inspired by Yogachara Buddhism, Wilber says “everything is perspective”.

Wilber V – Criticism: Since Wilber V is the current phase, there is not much criticism on it. However, it suffers from the same backlash that Wilber’s misunderstanding of Aurobindo brought into the Integral spectrum. Similarly, Wilber’s rainbow of chakras is critiqued for its “recentness” and its claim to have been derived from three thousand years of teaching.

Wilber V is also the phase in which Wilber founded the Integral Institute for studying science and society in an Integral way. The thinker founded the institute in 2001, which has, since then been involved in issues related to integral psychology and integral politics. This is a move, which Kazlev calls as a “movement away from a theorizing-only approach, into the practical world as well; the difficult realm of ‘ahirman’ as Rudolph Steiner would say, which one must master if one is to have any effect or make any serious change in the world.”

Wilber V has more to come. We will keep updating this post time and again!

“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. Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V – Posts on Wilber I, Wilber II, Wilber III and Wilber IV

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

3. Alan Kazlev’s Wilber’s Phase IV

4. Critique of Wilber’s AQAL model

5. Ken Wilber: An Integral Theory of Consciousness (in the Journal of Consciousness Studies)

6. Alan Kazlev on Ken Wilber’s Rationalistic Bias

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