Sunday, June 11, 2006

Frank Visser Responds to Wilber

It was only a matter of time, and now it is here -- the Visser response to the Wilber rant.

Visser doesn't seem to want to avoid getting into the personal pissing match that Wilber's attacks on Visser's interiors were likely to produce. After some initial ridicule, he stays mostly (notice the "mostly") on point with his questioning of Wilber's scholarship and the whole structure of integral theory under Wilber's leadership.

Here are some of the arguments Visser raises:

* The question "do the twenty tenets hold up to scrutiny?" has nothing to do with stages.
* The question "Is your view of western history solid?" has nothing to do with stages.
* The question "Can your take on mysticism be validated?" has nothiing to do with stages.
* The question "Are your ideas about holons consistent?" has nothing to do with stages.
* The question "Is your current states theory realistic?" has nothing to do with stages.
* Even the question "How are stage models influenced by values?" has nothing to do with stages (nor with acorns becoming oaks, the example you use).

These are all raised by
Jeff Meyerhoff. Shouting "sloppy scholarship" -- to pick one of the more polite terms you used -- obscures the relevancy of these questions.

Should I say more? On Integral World these questions are openly discussed. Does that make it a place for you to despise?

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality was supposed to be "a book of a thousand hypotheses", however, for better readability you chose to tell the story "as if it were simply the case." (p. 6). How many people have mistaken your story for fact?

When will you start validating your theories? Can they be validated at all? Has there every been a serious attempt to validate Spiral Dynamics and its tenets?

The effort to validate your notion of boomeritis (by Cowan) empirically should not be ridiculed. Even if boomeritis is an unconscious pathology, as you contend, surely it will leave its fingerprints all over a person's behavior and responses. How else could we know it existed?

Why haven't you clarified your position regarding the tenets of evolutionary biology? The careless statement in Brief History about a half-wing that will not work ("Absolutely nobody believes this anymore") has been contested by numerous biologists. Are they reductionists, so you can conveniently ignore them? What if they are reductionists because reductionism produces results?

Reading Dennett's Darwins Dangerous Idea I was impressed by the careful attention to detail and workable hypotheses he displayed. Can integral theory beat this? What's the scientific value of the statement "There's an Eros to the Kosmos"? Isn't this "vitalism all over again", as one critic expressed it?

How does your view of evolution actually differ from Dennett's? Are you aware Dennett explicitly refuted the religious view of evolution ("Darwins assault on the Cosmic Pyramid"), mentioning Lovejoy, one of your key sources in SES?

Why do you
respond angrily to your own students when they dare to bring up this issue again and again? ("Give me a break on this"). Why do you point them to literature (cf. Behe's Darwins Black Box) which has been discredited widely by top scientific organizations? Because, as you say, you think you know what scientists really think? What kind of scholarship is that?

Isn't the Intelligent Design debate for you a perfect opportunity to show to the world how YOU integral science and religion? What are you waiting for?
Read the rest.

So, it's on. The question is whether or not Wilber will actually pretend to care that some of his positions are subject to refutation. My guess is that we will hear nothing more from Wilber on this topic, aside from the possible review of responses his post engendered -- but certainly not a detailed response to any of the valid points that have been raised by critics or by fans as a result of his post.

Let me give one brief argument for why Wilber and Integral must address its critics. Here's an analogy: a house built on a foundation that contains even a few substandard bricks will eventually collapse. Same deal with an all-encompassing theory like Integral. If some of the foundational pieces contain faulty logic, or faulty research, or are simply just plain wrong, the whole edifice will eventually come tumbling down.

Wilber used to say that he was just blazing a trail and that it would be up to grad students to verify his work in research projects. Mostly, that never happened. But he has continued forward as though all of the earlier work has been validated. There are clearly some critics who would argue that there are flaws that must be addressed. Visser gives a platform for those views. In doing so, he does integral a greater service (despite the nutjobs who have found a home on Visser's site) than Wilber's blanket rejection of any public criticism.

Wilber's attack on Visser was questionable at best and blind at worst. Visser's response was more measured than I might have guessed, which is a credit to the man and his project.

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Unknown said...

Excellent post, per usual, Bill.

I think it is time for the post-Wilber Integral period to begin.

Physics was able to move forward without Einstein. I think it will be both possible and necessary for Integral Theory to go forward without hommage to Wilber given with every breath.

Let us allow the Father of Integral to retire to Mt. Vernon or Princeton or Fiji and others can carry the baton.

Wilber shouldn't answer his critics. But more important, those who have other visions of the Construction of Everything should stop finding it necessary to seek a way to have Big Daddy pat them on their head. It is time for that second tier above the mud-wrestling Wilber meme to emerge.

I hope Visser retools his website and blog soon such that they are no longer fansites, but, rather, a mature journal or online study center that is worthy of much of the content that is now to be found there.

Steve said...

ZU, I agree with you that Bill's post was "excellent" "per usual."

I confess that I had this fantasy of Frank either not responding at all to Wilber's post or, at least, not responding with any animus to Wilber's personal remarks and just substantively reinforcing key issues raised by critics of Wilber. But, on the whole, I think Visser did a good job of keeping his response "on point," far better than I could have under the circumstances. :-)

I just finished commenting on my own blog: "Still, I don't understand how Wilber's recent conduct expresses anything approaching wisdom or advanced consciousness of any kind or how it did anything but inflict long-term harm on the integral cause." But, in light of your comments, I think maybe I see how Wilber's post has done long-term good to the cause after all. I think you're right in suggesting that it may be time to move on to integral post-Wilberianism and that Wilber's rant may have helped to bring this about.


Unknown said...

Thanks, Steve.

I think it would be healthy for everyone and most-especially Integral Theory if it wasn't wholly/holy centered on Wilber.

Let Wilber pursue his own Grand Unification Theory while others can find other alleyways of inquiry and research to explore.

I agree with you that it is curious at best and impossible at not-best to watch and explain Wilber's conduct in light of his life's work. It is as if Dale Earnhardt wrote brilliant books about NASCAR and engine performance but as a driver on the stockcar circuit could only ever get his Chevy to move at 60mph. People would begin to think he can talk the talk but not drive the stock.

Perhaps Wilber's knowledge of the 2nd Tier is based on theory and study of others, exclusively.