Thursday, March 24, 2011

Frank Visser Interviews Jeff Meyerhoff about "Bald Ambition"

Interesting interview with Jeff Meyerhoff about "Bald Ambition" - his book on Ken Wilber. Visser published much of the book at Integral World and then last year a print edition of the book was published (the publisher sent me a copy - which I found thought-provoking).

Ken Wilber's "Divine Comedy"

An Interview with Jeff Meyerhoff about the book release of Bald Ambition

Frank Visser

Jeff Meyerhoff, Bald Ambition Buy at Amazon

Jeff Meyerhoff submitted his book manuscript Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything back in 2003 to Integral World. Chapters of the book got serialized between 2003 and 2005. Last year, in 2010, a hard cover version of the book was published by Inside the Curtain Press, owned by Scott Parker. I wrote a foreword to the book, because I have always supported the initiative to further the field of Wilber studies, even if from a highly critical point of view. To re-introduce this book to the Integral World audience and the wider world, I have asked Jeff a couple of questions about the book, to which he provided some candid answers, in which he looks back with mixed feelings on the years he spent studying Wilber.

Jeff Meyerhoff

Why now an offline book, self-published?

Scott Parker, who's written for integral world [Winning the Integral Game?], proposed the idea and offered to edit and publish it. It never occurred to me. I liked the idea of a "real" book. Also, Scott said that a book is hard to read online and I realized he was right. So Scott Parker edited it and has published it through his press called Inside the Curtain. Of course he's taking a sizable chunk of the gargantuan profits that are accruing.

What is your academic background, what is your expertise to write about Wilber?

I got a BA in Economics from Tufts U but had no interest in learning. My desire to pursue intellectual matters started after graduation with reading Noam Chomsky's books on politics. I had felt confused by how the world worked, but after reading Chomsky I realized you could really understand what was going on.

So I expanded from Chomsky to other areas but found you can't get the same degree of certainty in other areas - especially philosophy - that you can in politics. Then I discovered Richard Rorty whose philosophy is a debunking of philosophy and I've been reading him and other philosophers ever since. His Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is my debunking Bible. I went to graduate school at Brandeis U in Sociology but chose the wrong field, not realizing I really preferred philosophy.

While at Brandeis I discovered the Gurdjieff work and then Buddhist mindfulness. After withdrawing from Brandeis ABD (all but dissertation) because academia was too intellectual, I pursued Buddhist practice and then psychotherapy (as a patient), which I still do. After graduate school I just kept reading in philosophy, psychology, spirituality and politics. So I'm partially self-taught and partially academically trained. Philosophy is my primary interest, especially questions about knowledge.

What triggered you to write Bald Ambition back in 2003?

I saw Ken Wilber's Collected Works published in the old Wordsworth Bookstore in Harvard Square, Cambridge and exasperatedly thought "This guy is getting his collected works published before he's died?!"

Then, on another occasion, I saw Sex, Ecology, Spirituality on display and started reading the first page where Wilber talks about how postmodernists, or whatever he calls them there, don't think there is any purpose or meaning to the cosmos and think people who want to ask about purpose and meaning are immature. I just thought "I believe the people he opposes and he's so wrong!" So I started reading more and had the same reaction then that I currently have ten years later: initial fear that he's right; a vague sense that something's wrong with what he's saying; and then the cultivation of that vague sense into a full-fledged understanding of how he's getting it wrong.


Can you summarize your conclusion about Wilber?

The vast, diverse, integrated, evolutionary-developmental system Ken Wilber creates is attractive and inspiring, but is not supported by the evidence.

The vast, diverse, integrated, evolutionary-developmental system he creates is attractive and inspiring for some, but it is not supported by the evidence he adduces nor the argumentation he uses. Certainly we all adopt worldviews to our liking, but if you contend that your worldview has the backing of the collective knowledge of academia and mysticism then it had better stand up to scrutiny. If it doesn't, which is what I show about Wilber's system, you've got a major problem.

What is it's most original part, the psychological chapter?

Yes, Chapter Nine [A Different Path], where I defend a psychology of belief. And the Psychological Analysis of Wilber's Beliefs using what information I could find about his psyche.

Also, while it isn't an original method, actually tracking down Wilber's sources and examining the academic literature he's referring to. Not enough of that was being done. And, while I don't think my work inspired it, the second generation of integralists, like Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, are emphasizing the need to make integral studies academically respectable. My book is saying: "Wilber is saying that academic results justify his system, can it stand up to academic scrutiny?"

Read the whole interview.


Rodrigo said...

You know what bothers me the most? Almost every critique of Wilber's work that I see always stumble on the critique of Wilber himself.

Meyerhoff seems to be aware of that, but yet the chapter on Wilber's beliefs resembles the same thing. But I haven't read the book yet, so I'm just saying based on first impression.

I'd really like to see deep analysis on some of Wilber's theory gaps, like an article linked here one of these days, about "Collective Vs Individual".

So far, most of what I've seen is always criticizing "Wilber's idolatry" or anything alike. And some of the other part are critiques based on a poor understanding of Wilber's work (I'm not saying that is the case of Meyerhoff).

I grew tired of reading Integral World because of that. The constant reference to Wyatt Earp story just seems childish. I've read the whole thing/story and, honestly, I cant understand what all the fuss is about.

Well, I'm just babbling. To make this useful, let me thank you, William, for such a great job here at Integral Options.


william harryman said...

Hi Rodrigo - thanks for the comment - I tend to agree with you that we need to stop critiquing Wilber when the topic is AQAL - if the model is to grow up, it needs be separated from the man.

As to your request on the individual vs. collective, I have posted some stuff here (mostly my own thoughts in presenting other authors or theories) on that topic, because for me that is one of the places where the current AQAL model has come up short.

People like Kenneth Gergen, Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygostsky, Rom Harre, have all been neglected, which is to neglect the whole LL quadrant (cultural psychology). In that same regard, there has been too little attention paid to dialogical self theory (and other perspectives that situate the self in the interpersonal space). I hope to see that aspect developed more - I know there have been a couple of articles at Integral World that address it.