Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ken Wilber's Endorsement of Guruji

I can't decide what to do with these endorsements Ken makes. They are always limited in scope - his endorsement of Adi Da was as a writer and spiritual adept rather than as a teacher for instance - but I see this as a general problem in the integral community. We get so attached to the "Yes, And" of integral that we forget that there is also a "Preserve and Negate" aspect. Sometimes its appropriate to say "No, But". If you have one researcher producing astonishing results its only appropriate to say that its provocative and bears considering. To endorse things like this, is - I think - , an over-reaction to the thoughtlessly skeptical position that "it just couldn't be."

Its similar to conversations I've had about numerous speculative subjects. 911, UFOs, ESP, PK, ghosts, etc. There's actually some very good work in these fields but it gets overshadowed by a lot of irrational argument - and I'm not just talking about believers. There's a false dichotomy created between "Its true and real" vs. "Its false and imaginary." It is possible to have evidence that gives ample reason to suspect that something more than meets the eye is occurring without giving proof of the phenomenon or proof of a proposed theory of the phenomenon, or conversely without disproving or disallowing the phenomenon. This is why its called "speculation"! One can defensibly speculate about things. Its when we force the choice to be between True and False that we run into trouble.

So, in the case of subtle bodies and subtle energies, there is ample reason to suspect there is a physical mechanism at work that we don't understand - that is, that prosaic explanations are not sufficient or satisfactory. However, there is not, that I know of, enough evidence to make strong 3rd person claims of truth about this kind of thing. But there is *plenty* of reason to devote energy to investigation. The false dichotomy arises when you try to claim that "Its all True!" vs. "Skeptically we must conclude it is False!"

So in this case, if Ken is claiming 3rd person truth here - I think he's wrong. 3rd person requires validation with a community of the adequate. One researcher does not make a community of the adequate. However, an endorsement of further investigation into the claims around Guruji is fine - the evidence of a single researcher can support that.

And, I - for the pittance that its worth - endorse this. We need open eyed investigation into these things. They are worth it. What we don't need is new age over-credulity and sarcastic skeptical arrogance. My friends and I, William Harryman for instance, don't put ourselves in the sarcastic skeptic boat. I think, speaking for myself, that Ken's endorsement just seems a bit too strong and not well measured. It is far too easy to thoughtlessly accept that endorsement. I see this all the time in integral community - "Ken says its been scientifically proven!" when a close reading of Ken's writing reveals no such thing. He just wasn't careful to caveat his comments so while he can't be said to completely endorse something or someone, he also leaves one to wonder whether he actually was aware of the necessary reservations when he was writing.

In the end, this kind of thing frustrates some of us. Its hard to separate the natural human desire to nitpick the big monkey from the necessity to remain skeptical about our intellectual leaders. Its also hard to keep anxiety about his health and mental state out of things. Those of us who value his contributions worry about him. I certainly do. I'm greedy. I want more of his magic with words and ideas. They make the world so much more interesting, exciting, and understandable. And I feel a personal sense of gratitude for all the magic he's created already. I want the best for him and if his writing and behavior seems to show decline (understandably) it worries me. Deeply. I feel the same way about many of my favorite writers (Bradbury, Pratchett, etc.) but Ken has had a stronger influence on my life than any of them.

I think these claims about Guruji are interesting and make me want to understand more about them. Maybe that's what Ken wanted to achieve with this - just raise some interest. His post seemed to imply more than that though.