Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is there a perennial philosophy?

The Perennial Philosophy is one of the primary foundations of Wilber's integral theory - and it's also one of the most criticized parts of his model. The Guardian UK, back in May, offered the question of whether or not the perennial philosophy is real to several thinkers and published several responses.

Is there a perennial philosophy?

Is there an eternal truth that we keep on discovering – whether it's a 'divine reality' or something less godlike?

The Buddha statue near Delhi airport

Photograph: Gethin Chamberlain

Many thinkers have identified common strands in systems of thought and religions through the ages. In 1945 Aldous Huxley wrote of a perennial philosophy "that recognises a divine reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent ground of all being". He said that it could be found in both "traditional lore" and the "higher religions", in every era.

Was Huxley right? Is there an eternal truth, that we keep on discovering – whether it's a "divine reality" or something better formulated in another way? And if so, what is its nature – is it outside us? Is it simply an aspect of the way our brains are wired?

Monday's response

Julian Baggini: The only way you can identify points of convergence in religion and philosophy is to make them so general as to be vacuous

Thursday's response

Bruce Chilton: A focus on perception was both the strength and the weakness of Huxley's approach to religion

Saturday's response

Mark Vernon: It's easy to see the appeal of the perennial philosophy. But it falsely reduces human experience to an undifferentiated whole


Steve said...

What do YOU think, Bill?

william harryman said...

My sense is that the perennial philosophy posits a biocentric universe, which to me is highly anthropocentric, and therefore illogical.

Human consciousness has existed for a blink of an eye in terms of the age of the universe, so the idea that consciousness (human or otherwise) is required for its existence is silly to me (this is the implicit argument of PP in several of its most current forms, as in B Alan Wallace, or in the biocentric model linked to above) - if we accept the reality of ANY object outside of human consciousness, then we have to accept that the universe existed for 14.99 billion years w/out human beings.

Oh yeah - I'm an atheist, too, so that puts a kink in things as far as PP is concerned.

But I'm a skeptic, so do not try this at home, and, your results might vary.


tom sullivan said...

There's a problem with the layout that makes the quotes unreadable.

william harryman said...

Thanks Tom,

it's fixed, I hope

tom sullivan said...

It is fixed; thanks.

tom sullivan said...

Doesn't Ken Wilber posit some degree of "inner depth" at all levels of development, in all corners of the "Kosmos"? That doesn't seem "biocentric" to me.

william harryman said...

Yes, Tom, he does - and that is part of the problem. He's either biocentric (which is how he comes across much of the time in saying that consciousness/ground of being is the alpha and omega) or he's panpsychic, which has its own set of problems - such as, what is the interiority of a rock? There's no there there.

But of course, this is just my take on the issue (for today) - many many others, integral and otherwise, would disagree with me.


tom sullivan said...

Doesn't Wilber write that all things ('rocks', included) are holons (whole/parts)? I think he means that each thing's 'wholeness' or the 'parts' that it contains, is its 'depth.' This doesn't necessarily involve what we think of as 'psyche' until we get to a much higher level of development than 'rocks.'

I'd be interested to hear what you're objection(s) to this might be. Thanks, Tom.

william harryman said...

I agree with holarchy theory (whole/parts). That's a basic part of physics.

However, Wilber says that Spirit/Consciousness is the Ground of Being, that it created the Kosmos to become aware of itself through evolution in a material universe - and that the end-point is non-dual consciousness (kind of back where it started).

See Excerpt G:

"Thus, for the traditions, the great cosmic game begins when Spirit throws itself outward, in sport and play (lila, kenosis), to create a manifest universe. Spirit "loses" itself, "forgets" itself, takes on a magical fa├žade of manyness ( maya) in order to have a grand game of hide-and-seek with itself. Spirit first throws itself outward to create soul, which is a stepped-down and diluted reflection of Spirit; soul then steps down into mind, a paler reflection yet of Spirit's radiant glory; mind then steps down into life, and life steps down into matter, which is the densest, lowest, least conscious form of Spirit. We might represent this as: Spirit-as-spirit steps down into Spirit-as-soul, which steps down into Spirit-as-mind, which steps down into Spirit-as-body, which steps down into Spirit-as-matter. These levels in the Great Nest are all forms of Spirit, but the forms become less and less conscious, less and less aware of their Source and Suchness, less and less alive to their ever-present Ground, even though they are all nevertheless nothing but Spirit-at-play."

And this:

"But this matter is curiously frisky, is it not? It doesn't just seem to lie about, on unemployment insurance, watching TV. This matter astonishingly begins to wind itself up: "order out of chaos" is what complexity physics calls it—or dissipative structures, or self-organization, or dynamic becoming. But the traditionalists were more straightforward about it: "God does not remain petrified and dead; the very stones cry out and raise themselves to Spirit," as Hegel put it.

In other words, according to the traditions, once involution has occurred, then evolution begins or can begin, moving from (A) to (A + B) to (A + B + C), and so on, with each major emergent step being but an unfolding or remembering of the higher dimensions that were secretly infolded or sedimented in the lower during involution. That which was dis-membered, fragmented, and forgotten during involution is re-membered, reunited, made whole, and realized during evolution. Hence, the doctrine of anamnesis, or Platonic and Vedantic "remembrance," so common in the traditions: if involution is a forgetting of who you are, evolution is a remembering of who and what you are: tat tvam asi: you are That. Satori, metanoia, moksha, and wu are some of the classic names for this realization."

This is where I run into problems with Wilber's integral spirituality. He posits a conscious universe from the smallest particle to the Kosmos as a whole.

Does that clarify my objections?

tom sullivan said...

WH, thanks, that is helpful.

Wilber, however, seems to equate the 'depth' of a holon with its 'interior', and that the 'depth' of even an atom is a form of what might be called 'proto-consciousness'(Whitehead seems to have called it 'prehension').

I find this approach interesting, as it provides 'a within' to the Universe. I wonder what you think about this, and whether you think that evolution is an entirely mechanical process.

Thanks in advance, Tom.

Chris said...


Suggestion- read Frithjof Schuon and/or Rene Guenon to get the right handle on this subject.