Friday, July 26, 2013

Ken Wilber - Integral Semiotics, Part 2: The Giga Glossary (Say What!?!)

I'm glad to see I am not the only blogger/reader (thank you Daniel Gustav Anderson) who has issues with Wilber's newest post on "integral semiotics," in which he argues for a "Giga glossary" (emphasis added):
What is required, at this point in evolution, is a “Giga glossary”—a comprehensive listing of the various phenomena (and hence various referents) found in each and every aspect of each and every dimension of the AQAL Matrix—listings of the phenomena found in all the quadrants, all the quadrivia, all the levels and Views, all the lines, all the states, and the types of existence and being-in-the-world that are presently arising. This would give us the Kosmic Address of every major phenomenon in the Kosmos (at least as now understood).
This is required? Really? By whom, and for what? 

Do we really need the "Kosmic Address" of "every major phenomenon in the Kosmos"? [For readers new to Wilberese, Kosmos is his term for the whole damn universe, from quarks to consciousness.]

"At this point in evolution," what it seems to me we need is a solution to climate change, a way to curb the obesity/diabetes epidemic that is no longer confined to the U.S. and Western Europe, free quality education for all, transparency in government, a viable P2P/Commons system to move us beyond capitalism, a cure for cancer, an end to the mass extinction of plants and animals . . . . I think you get my point.

Anderson has more philosophical issues with Wilber on this new proposal:
I find such categories as the possible, the emergent, and the novel to be of particular use; these are not yet accounted for here, insofar as the "Kosmic Address" described above concerns posited phenomena, the already realized, and not those presently articulating processes that are only now becoming. Further, I should hope that any competent semiotics would find ways to differentiate knowledge that is simply wrong (not just incomplete or partial but demonstrably false) from that which is merely incomplete, from that which is figurative (say, metaphoric or metonymic) and therefore not literally true but still bearing truth-value, and so on. (What counts as a phenomenon here?) I would like to know what the "Kosmic Address" of this concept of "Kosmic Address" is. Is it on Akashic Records lane?
Anderson suggests some other authors and books to read, so go see his recommendations (last paragraph). There is no doubt they are better than this, uh, new material.


I kept reading Wilber's post after the section quoted above, which opens the article, but I became increasingly disheartened.

Wilber's whole project, from The Atman Project forward, seems to be an effort to explain his conception of God/Spirit/Ultimate Reality in a way that makes it seem more than faith in the validity of his subjective experience. In The Marriage of Sense and Soul, he outlines a kind of "reality testing," or "scientific method" for proving or disproving claims in the domain of spirituality. 
1. Instrumental injunction: The experiment, "If you want to know this, do this." The injunction might be, for example, if you want to experience nondual awareness, perform this meditation practice in just this way, for this length of time.
2. Direct apprehension: Here we get the experience, the apprehension, generated by the injunction. This step provides the data for the experiment.
3. Communal confirmation or rejection: At this final stage we compare our results with others who have performed the same injunction. We check our data against the data of others who have taken up that meditation practice for the prescribed length of time.
[Wilber, 1998, The Marriage of Sense and Soul, p. 155-56]
The assumption (a false assumption, in my opinion) is that if enough people perform the experiment and get similar results, then the results point to some form of transcendent truth. In my opinion, this model is constructed, at least in part, to support his own conjectures around Spirit and Kosmos. Prior to this model, there was only "faith" or "belief," but with this Wilber proposed a way to test the reality claims of a given spiritual idea or injunction.

So let's use a real example. 

DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a popular and potent hallucinogen found in nature (and in human beings). Alongside LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin (to which it is structurally similar), it is probably one of the most widely studied hallucinogens in use. Strangely, and unlike many other hallucinogens, there is amazing commonality in the experiences of people who smoke (or use other inhalation methods of) DMT:
The subjective effects of a good lungful of DMT are usually very intense, with consciousness usually overwhelmed by visual imagery. With eyes closed this may take the form of extremely complex, dynamic, geometric patterns, changing rapidly. Such a dose of DMT may produce a visual pattern consisting of overlapping annular patterns of small rhomboid elements all in saturated hues of red, yellow, green and blue. Gracie & Zarkov [44] refer to this, or something similar, as "the chrysanthemum pattern." The pattern itself seems to be charged with a Portentous energy.

The state of consciousness characterized by amazing visual patterns seems to be a prelude to a more Profound state, which subjects report as contact with entities described as discarnate, nonhuman or alien. A very articulate account of the subjective effects of smoking DMT is given by Terence McKenna in his talk Tryptamine Hallucinogens and Consciousness [72], in which he recounts his contact with what he calls "elves."
Does the fact that many (most?) users of DMT experience something similar to this description mean, then, that "the chrysanthemum pattern" is real in some sense, or that "elves" and other "discarnate, nonhuman" entities exist someplace outside of our normal consciousness?

According to Wilber's model, the answer would seem to be yes.

However, these are drug-induced subjective experiences - there is nothing inherent in these experiences that requires them to have any reality outside of the drug state.

It's worth noting that Wilber, as late as 1998, was still writing and conceptualizing about the "Great Nest of Being," his reframing of the more traditional "Great Chain of Being."
In Integral Theory, the Great Nest of Being is not a Platonic given but, in large measure, is constructed of evolutionary Kosmic habits.
In essence, Wilber's is a teleological model of the universe.
A thing, process, or action is teleological when it is for the sake of an end, i.e., a telos or final cause. In general, it may be said that there are two types of final causes, which may be called intrinsic finality and extrinsic finality.[1]
  • A thing or action has an extrinsic finality when it is for the sake of something external to itself. In a way, people exhibit extrinsic finality when they seek the happiness of a child. If the external thing had not existed that action would not display finality.
  • A thing or action has an intrinsic finality when it is for none other than its own sake. For example, one might try to be happy simply for the sake of being happy, and not for the sake of anything outside of that.
Since the Novum Organum of Francis Bacon teleological explanations in science tend to be deliberately avoided because whether they are true or false is argued to be beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge.[2] Some disciplines, in particular within evolutionary biology, are still prone to use language that appears teleological when they describe natural tendencies towards certain end conditions, but these arguments can almost always be rephrased in non-teleological forms.
I have no real issue with teleological models, and even Thomas Nagel (see Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, 2012) has recently been supportive of such models, as long as they do not include supernatural causes or beings. Nagel offers a real and valid metaphysics, "the question of what exists." Wilber offers "supernatural" causes, "that which is not subject to the laws of physics, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature."

To my reading, Wilber's new "integral semiotics" is simply another attempt to justify and support his AQAL model. Granted, I am not dismissing AQAL as a basic orienting map, nor am I claiming that it's basic organizational premises are false.

What I am claiming is that the metaphysics upon which much of the spiritual element in integral theory is little more than intelligent design dressed in New Age clothing. And in that respect, Wilber's "integral semiotics" is simply another defense of that paradigm.
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