Visions of Daniel

Religion and the Human Sciences
An Approach via Spirituality


Papers link

  Chapter 4

The Perennial Philosophy of Ken Wilber

(Chapter Four is an 80-page summary and criticism of Wilber's "comprehensive-integral paradigm." Excerpts below relate the high points of this chapter.)

Wilber is sometimes characterized as the arch-guru of the transpersonal psychology movement (Rothberg, 1996b; Walsh, 1996; Walsh & Vaughan, 1994; Wilber, 1982)…. [As summarized in Wilber's 1996, third-edition Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm and applied in his 1995 Sex, Ecology, Spirituality ], he speaks for a very widely held position, which [following Leibnitz and Huxley, he calls "the perennial philosophy" and which] in the end is a version of Hinduism.

Knowingly or unknowingly, that position colors much, if not most, of current discussion about spirituality or "metaphysics," at least in popular circles, "transpersonal" and otherwise. That position is now also prominent in academic psychology (Assagioli, 1965; Chandler, Holden, & Kolander, 1992; Deikman 1982). For this reason, among others, Wilber's work deserves and will receive extensive and detailed criticism here. Those familiar with "spiritual" writings, especially writings influenced from the East, will easily recognize common themes, apart from any familiarity with Wilber's own works.

This criticism will begin with a summary of the concerns common to this book and to Wilber's Eye to Eye [to which numbers in parentheses refer]. Above all, Wilber is explicit about developing a science of the spiritual and about proposing a comprehensive interdisciplinary paradigm. There will follow a brief summary of Wilber's position and then a detailed analysis of our points of difference. The hope is to show that the position that I developed in this book can meet the need for a comprehensive paradigm, as envisaged by Wilber, while avoiding what appear to me as ambiguities, inconsistencies, and flaws in Wilber's presentation….

The Three Eyes:
Different Sciences, Data, and Knowing

The metaphor of the three eyes is central to Wilber's presentation. In many ways this metaphor summarizes his proposed comprehensive interdisciplinary paradigm. On closer inspection, however, the metaphor of three eyes represents a very fuzzy vision, indeed. In fact, the notion of eyes serves three different functions in Wilber's theory, and these three functions are not sorted out. First, the list of eyes serves to differentiate different kinds of sciences. Second, the eyes provide people with access to different kinds of data. And third, the eyes are themselves different modes of human knowing….

Summary on the Three Eyes
Wilber's conception of three eyes is a real chameleon. It holds some validity when the intent is merely to indicate an array of possible sciences and when the intent is to indicate an availability of different kinds of data, which determine that array of sciences. However, the conception has no validity when it is taken to suggest actual, separate, human capacities or faculties whether for gathering data or for producing knowledge.

Taking the three eyes to refer to separate modes of knowing or separate cognitive capacities not only results in inconsistencies, as noted. It also fractures human knowing by projecting separate realms of knowledge, dependent on disparate knowing capacities. So Wilber's conception appears to be but an expansion of Dilthey's distinction (80-81) between the physical sciences (Naturwissenschaften) and the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften). In some way or other this unfortunate distinction underlies every counter-position considered in this book. The distinction's core error is oversight of the difference between common sense and theory as two different ways of expressing understandings, as explained in Chapter Three. This error is related to the anemic modern notion of reason, which does not understand what understanding is. Buying into this error, Wilber's contribution is to add yet a third separate level of Wissenschaften: mandalic or spiritual science. This contribution is precisely an addition. It posits a separate realm of human experience and insists that it, too, is a realm of valid knowledge, though of yet another kind.

Wilber's unwavering insistence on a spiritual realm is certainly welcome, and to a large extent his defense of the spiritual explains his near-hero status in the transpersonal-psychology movement. But as presented by Wilber, knowledge in this realm is incommensurate with that in the other two, just as in Dilthey's position the physical and the human sciences are incommensurate with one another. On this understanding there is juxtaposition but there is no unification of the sciences. There is no comprehensive paradigm.

A Theory of Knowledge

The need is for a theory of knowledge that can apply equally to different realms of data and sustain the claim of validity for the knowledge in each of those realms. Wilber's account of the three strands of knowledge is to supply just such a theory. Criticism must now turn to that account.

According to Wilber, all valid knowledge is similar because it entails 1) a prescription for attaining the knowledge in question, 2) the actual attainment of the knowledge, and 3) social consensus as to the validity of the knowledge attained. These are the "three strands" that constitute all knowledge and science.

Knowledge as Immediate Apprehension
Strand #2 represents the key issue. It explains the actual knowing. In what does such "knowing" consist? Well, strand #2 is the "illuminative or apprehensive strand" (31). It entails "intuitive apprehension" (43). Its knowledge is such that, "To know if it's raining, go and look" (32); or, as regards spiritual knowledge, proper contemplative training allows "direct seeing into one's spiritual nature," "a direct apprehension" (60). Evidently, Wilber holds a theory of immediacy of knowledge. One knows simply by attending. Like light striking the retina, knowledge is immediately given to the opened eye. Look and you see. Attend to the matter and you know. On this basis, attending with different eyes results in different kinds of knowledge. The key to the matter is simply to be willing to train the proper eye. Open the eye, and the rest happens automatically.

But that account of knowing is too simple….

Verification as Communal Confirmation
However, what Wilber really means by "communal confirmation" [strand #3 of knowledge] is far from clear. The one thing he maintains throughout is the possibility of the "rebuff" of theories. This possible rebuff guarantees their correctness.

Consideration of the third strand of valid knowledge will again highlight Wilber's confusion of data and knowledge and will expose a latent relativity in his theory….

Wilber gets this notion of rebuff from Karl Popper (1985). In Popper's theory the rebuff arises from critical thinking. If a theory cannot stand up to questioning and new data and the criticism of others, it is rebuffed.

Note that on Popper's understanding an inherent flaw in an argument or theory is the basis of rebuff. Though the rebuff comes from others concerned about the matter, not the sheer opinion of the others but the inability of the theory to meet the issue is the basis of rebuff.

Wilber confounds those two matters….

Once again Lonergan's position meets the needs and suggests corrections to the flaws in Wilber's presentation. The three strands of knowledge are mere extrinsic considerations. They do not touch the intrinsic nature of human knowing and so cannot account for the validity of knowledge or science.

In fact, Wilber never clearly resolves the question about the inherent nature of truth, reality, objectivity, and goodness, despite the chapter on authenticity and despite long discussions about scientific knowledge. Wilber's adherence to the "perennial philosophy" probably explains this fact. In the "Ultimate State of Consciousness" none of these things really matters anyway. Ignorance is supposedly enlightenment (300), and the difference between good and evil is supposedly transcended (241). Wilber's philosophical commitment allows him to take these things seriously at one point and then at another point to suggest that they are ultimately meaningless. The suggestions that samsara is nirvana and that maya is Brahman (318)—that is, that the present realm is the ultimate realm—do not explain the inconsistency; rather, they highlight it. Indeed, on Wilber's position these suggestions, part of the world of samsara and maya, can themselves be taken seriously or can be treated as ultimately meaningless.

Paradox in Wilber's Position

Authenticity, a notion pivotal in my position as prerequisite to any valid human discourse [and, following Lonergan, defined technically], ultimately plays no explicit part in Wilber's presentation. For him the Ultimate State of Consciousness is the final guarantor of all validity. Nonetheless, he would want his position in the realm of samsara to be taken seriously. Obviously, consideration must now turn to the scientific legitimacy of what Wilber calls "paradox."

Wilber's insistence on paradox has already been noted. Supposedly, logical inconsistencies or paradoxes are inevitable whenever one attempts to reason about transcendelia. Wilber is adamant on this point. His insistence on the legitimacy of paradox in the realm of transcendelia is a cornerstone of his integral paradigm. But this cornerstone does not hold, and the intellectual edifice it supports begins to crumble. For there is further evidence on the matter. The paradoxes depend from ambiguities and oversights. Sorting these out eliminates the supposedly inevitable paradoxes. The discussion that follows substantiates this claim.

But first, let me state again my appreciation for metaphor, for myth, symbol, ritual, and yes, even paradoxical statement—but all in their proper place, and I do not believe that scientific account is the place for paradoxical statement. I treated this matter in detail in Chapter Three under the section, "Religion and Science," and under the later subsection, "The Importance of Metaphors."

Experience of All-Without-Distinctions
Wilber's talk of being-without-distinction does show valid insight, and in acknowledging this fact, I want to insist that I am not writing off such talk as sheer folly. Rather, I am suggesting that such talk does not do justice to the experience. Clearly, some people do attain a unitive experience, and this experience needs to be respected. The experience itself is valid in its own realm, as an experience. But the articulation of the experience is another matter. An experience can be represented accurately or it can be misrepresented. Psychotherapists deal with this state of affairs daily: while respecting the experience of the client, they nonetheless lead the client to a new, a more accurate, interpretation of it. Thus, they help the client face the full reality of the matter and free the client to live a more wholesome life. I understand and value the spiritual experience in question. What I question is the interpretation that Wilber gives it.

There is a real human experience that might be described as an experience of everything and in which, nonetheless, no distinctions pertain. Not even the distinction between Yes and No, between Is and Is-not, comes up. This experience is beyond distinctions and beyond non-distinctions, beyond "form" and beyond "non-form." Yet the experience seems to be an experience of all and, indeed, in some way is an experience of what does pertain to all.

The all-embracing experience in question is the experience of consciousness or spirit itself [not according to Wilber's notion of the perennial philosophy, wherein all things, spiritual and physical, are literally Consciousness, the Absolute, in various degrees of subtleness; but in Lonergan's sense, wherein consciousness is "merely" an empirically verifiable dimension of the human mind, the distinguishing characteristic of humanity, the human ability to consciously experience, understand, judge, and choose]….

Picture-thinking and Description
Another pervasive source of paradox in Wilber's presentation is a consistent reliance on picture-thinking. As must be already obvious, Wilber's terminology is fuzzy. Its meaning is ever shifting. Not theoretically defined terms, let alone fully systematic formulation in implicit definition, but pictures, images, symbols, and metaphors express his meaning. Wilber deals in description, not in explanation as understood here. Thus, supposedly, in the physical sciences one uses concepts to "map" or "mirror" (52) or "match" (68) or "picture" (193) reality.

So much is Wilber locked into description, into physical, sensible, imaginable accounts, that he holds that space and time are aspects even of spirit: "in the physical realm, space and time are the densest, the grossest, the most head-knockingly concrete. As we move up the spectrum of consciousness, space and time become subtler and subtler" (79). Understood in that way, abstraction is just a blurring of lines; having an insight, getting an idea, is just forming a mental picture; the spiritual is just a very diffuse version of the physical. Note how a function that is proper to psyche, namely, imaging, is confounded with functions that are proper to spirit or consciousness, namely, insight and judgment. (Lonergan [1976] has provided a genetic analysis of these differing understandings of thinking.)…

About God and Consciousness

Discussing the hierarchy of being, Wilber suggests that the absolute is differently related to the different levels of the hierarchy: "It is, as I said, paradoxical. All of the absolute is equally at every point, and some points are closer to the absolute than others" (163). Note that this statement is phrased in terms of imaginable closeness, non-separations [rather than in terms of intelligible distinctions]. No wonder supposed paradoxes result.

But another major confusion also influences that statement. The "absolute" in question can refer to human consciousness or to God. Granted, for Wilber they are one and the same. My insistence is that they are not and that their identification is a further source of the supposed paradox, the confusion. Or phrasing the matter more conservatively, I propose another interpretation that seems to account for all the relevant data and that also avoids paradox or self-contradiction….

Mixing Religious Traditions

For Wilber the "absolute" is Mind, God, or Brahman, and all three are identified. On my understanding these three are far from equivalent….

Brahman/Consciousness in the Perennial Philosophy
Discussion thus far has made clear that consciousness and God—as understood respectively in Buddhism and in the Western religions—are not identical. The final consideration is of Brahman, associated with Hinduism. Neither is Brahman to be identified with either consciousness or God, as understood in those other religions. According to the celebrated Hindu maxims, at the core of Wilber's perennial philosophy, "Thou art that" and "Atman is Brahman." That is, human mind or spirit or consciousness is the Absolute. This identification of consciousness and the Absolute is in clear contrast to the differentiated treatment of these two in the other religious traditions. Buddhism speaks of consciousness or Buddha nature but chooses not even to consider God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam acknowledge conscious-ness and God but as two different realities. Hinduism identifies consciousness with God. Obviously, the latter is a very different understanding.

My point is simply that these are very different notions: consciousness, spirit, or Buddha nature; God; and Brahman. Yet Wilber has treated them as different formulations of one and the same thing….

Conclusion Regarding Wilber

Lest sectarian bickering shamefully enter the discussion at this late stage, let it be clear once again what the real issue is. Discussion here has recently turned to world religions, but religion is not the issue. The broader and more important issue is the possibility of an insightful, coherent, comprehensive, consistent, and accurate account of things spiritual. The issue is the interrelationship of religion and the human sciences.

Throughout, the broad possibility of a science of spirituality has been the concern of this book. On this score Wilber's presentation has been found wanting. The data Wilber presents certainly do need explanation. His concern for a scientific treatment of the spiritual also deserves a standing ovation. His profound insight into certain aspects of consciousness needs to be credited. Still, the metaphor of three eyes plus a notion of three strands of knowledge or science and an additional appeal to unified "knowledge" beyond all distinctions, all facets of the perennial philosophy, do not cover the intricacies of the matter. Moreover, the claim that paradox must reign in this realm does not legitimate the inability to order these intricacies, and the conflation of significantly different religious traditions, far from shedding light on the matter, is only another symptom of the methodological problem.

These flaws lie at the heart of Wilber's position. They continue to hold sway and they debilitate the presentation in his later massive study, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (Wilber, 1995; for useful summaries see Rothberg, 1996b, Walsh, 1996). Some brief criticism here will make my point, consolidate the argument presented thus far, and connect this chapter with the growing, recent discussion about Wilber's thought.

In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality Wilber speaks of three realms of reality: physiosphere, biosphere, and noosphere. The noosphere incorporates undifferentiatedly what I would distinguish as psyche and spirit. As a result, all of the confounds discussed in this book come into play in Wilber's on-going theorizing. In particular, Wilber conceives the spiritual or transpersonal realm as, in some way, extending into a still further dimension of the noosphere, and that further dimension gains its specificity by being identified with Ultimate Consciousness. Yet, consistent with Wilber's version of the perennial philosophy, the Ultimate is still thought to be an aspect of the human--but then, of course, it is an aspect of everything else, as well: all is Consciousness or, more ambiguously phrased, all is an expression of Consciousness. Said in Western terms, God and the universe, Creator and creation, are confounded.

It follows that in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality the ontological continues to be confounded with the conscious; philosophical idealism reigns (Walsh, 1996). So when Wilber spells out his thirteen levels of interior-individual development and matches them, step for step, in the three other quadrants of his master diagram--the physical-biological, the social, and the cultural realms--he also proposes thirteen corresponding ontological realities in each realm. The very achievement of this overall symmetrical schema, which Wilber calls the Four Quadrants of the Kosmos, is an amazing feat of creativity. Still, it seems that much of the achievement depends more on imagination than on appeal to empirically verifiable data. What the schema demands, Wilber finds, but the validity of these finds is debatable. Thus, questioning whether or not real-life issues match the sequencing that the schema proposes, others have criticized one or another facet of this overall schema and have begun to chip away at the credibility of the supposed synthesis (Grof, 1996; Kelly, 1996; Kremer, 1996; Rothberg, 1996a; Washburn, 1996; Wright, 1996; Zimmerman, 1996). Much more radically, I would suggest that the effort to discern four realms that match, step for step, is misguided. This effort rests on the mistaken assumption that levels of reality are parallels and expressions of levels of consciousness. I already criticized this assumption and proposed an alternative explanation of the relevant data. The implication here is that the individual glitches in Wilber's comprehensive schema are not mere glitches but natural symptoms of a major misconception.

The root of that misconception lies in Wilber's elaboration of the levels of interior-individual development. These levels are essentially the same as those guiding Wilber's methodological position in Eye to Eye. They are the levels of conscious experience and their supposed corresponding levels of reality. As noted early in this chapter, the three eyes of flesh, reason, and spirit, plus the further level of the Ultimate, are but a shorthand version of a more detailed continuum, which Wilber refers to in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality as physiosphere, biosphere, and noosphere and details in thirteen levels. Corresponding to these levels, these spheres, and these eyes, are the different types of "science" that Wilber proposes.

The terms mandalic science and noumenological or gnostic science do not occur in the Index, but the substantive matters recur in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Noumenological or gnostic science would correspond with the Nondual level, which is off Wilber's chart, beyond the thirteenth level of conscious development. Kelly (1996, p. 22) confirms this understanding when he explains that "Nondual" is Wilber's recently preferred term for the "Ultimate," the "Absolute," or "Spirit." At that point of awareness, in the Nondual, one realizes that all things are one, beyond all conception, distinction, and proposition.

On the other hand, mandalic science would correspond with what Wilber calls "vision-logic." It is hard to say exactly what vision-logic is. Wilber (1995, p. 185) suggests that to use vision-logic is to "not just reasonably decide the individual issues, but hold them all together at once in mind." But this holding together is peculiar, for "vision-logic can hold in mind contradictions, it can unify opposites, it is dialectical and nonlinear, and it weaves together what otherwise appear to be incompatible notions." Vision-logic is supposedly a level beyond post-formal operational thinking, on which already there is no consensus (Commons, Richards, & Armon, 1984). Moreover, in Wilber's own portrayal of the matter, without being "'irrational' or 'non-rational' or 'arational'" (Rothberg, 1996, p. 3), vision-logic is clearly supposed to transcend rationality. Puhakka's (in press) profound analysis suggests that Wilber's notion of vision-logic does indeed entail movement beyond the constraints of the principle of contradiction. But how a cognitive process could countenance contradictions and still not be irrational, non-rational, or arational is itself a mystery beyond rationality--which is, indeed, the point; but to me this assertion seems to be mere words without substance, whistling in the dark.

My sense is that vision-logic is but another way to talk about the supposed inevitability of paradox when one attempts to reason about spirit. This is to say, vision-logic is a construct parallel to Wilber's mandalic science, and Kelly (1996, p. 22) confirms this assessment. As such, vision-logic is an alchemical amalgam of conceptual cognitive concern and aconceptual meditative experience and as such entails a fanciful notion of transrational knowledge. In other words, the argument in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality rests on the same slippery epistemological presuppositions presented in Eye to Eye.

More specifically, the flaw in Wilber's presentation is that, in his proposed levels of interior development, he mixes together stages of cognitive development and levels of meditative experience. In the process, he calls "knowledge" what is merely experience, that is, data that could be questioned in a process that could lead to understanding and knowledge but that in themselves are not knowledge. This confounding allows him to place on a single continuum matters that are really very different. In a line he lays out apples after oranges and claims that they belong together since they are all fruits. And, indeed, his levels all do have something or other to do with consciousness. But apples are not a further expression of oranges, and levels of meditative experience are not further stages of cognitive development. As Kelly (1996, p. 20) expresses the matter, "Clearly, the transpersonal 'levels' as a whole are of a completely different order than the ones that 'precede' them [in Wilber's hierarchy]."

Precisely because he adds meditative levels to the list of cognitive stages, Wilber--along with centuries of fuzzy thinking about mysticism--is able to maintain that meditative experiences constitute knowledge. Moreover, since the wildly variably conceived post-formal operational thought marks the passage between the two sets, the claim to knowledge in the later levels easily slips in. Then, in the supposed highest attainment, the Nondual, all the known characteristics of knowledge disappear; all concepts, distinctions, and propositions become irrelevant; but this phenomenon is nonetheless presented as a kind of knowledge. The implication--and explicit claim--is that all distinctions are ultimately irrelevant. I criticized this matter above. My point here is that it continues to control Wilber's theorizing, and it discredits his theorizing for anyone who believes that knowledge and science entail articulate explanation. I also suggested how one could achieve such articulate explanation even regarding these spiritual matters.

Lonergan (1972, pp. 85-99) also proposes an evolutionary account of the on-going differentiation of consciousness (something akin to Wilber's specification of a spectrum of consciousness). Lonergan's "stages of meaning" are three: common sense, theory, and interiority. I already characterized common sense as a way of understanding that relates things to oneself, and I highlighted its association with metaphor, myth, ritual, image, symbol, story, description, and suggestive, inspirational, and paradoxical statement. And I characterized theory as a way of understanding that relates things to one another; I exemplified its epitome, implicit definition, in the definition of a circle (Helminiak, 1996a, Chapter 5); and I associated theory with rigorous science, on-going methodical explanation.

Thirdly, following Lonergan, all along I have been operating out of the stage of interiority. It is characterized initially by the modern "turn toward to the subject" and ultimately by a theoretically precise understanding of understanding. Once achieved, the latter allows one to appreciate and account for both common sense and theory as differing ways of understanding, each valid in its own right, each limited in its own way. Herein is a similarity to Wilber's vision-logic, for the stage of interiority can interrelate and hold together different perspectives. However, nowhere in Lonergan's position does the principle of contradiction get superseded. Integrating different perspectives is not the same thing as accepting contradictions. Moreover, insisting that contradictions are mere paradoxes is to confine thinking to the realm of common sense.

To some extend Lonergan's three stages of meaning parallel stages of cognitive development: concrete-operational, formal operational, and post-formal operational thinking, which also feature in Wilber's levels of interior development. If Lonergan's analysis of intentional consciousness is taken as an account and an instance of post-formal operational thinking (Helminiak, 1988b), there arise important contrasts with Wilber's presentation. First, as already noted, the principle of contradiction remains ever valid. But secondly, in post-formal operational thinking cognitive development reaches its summit. When cognition--understanding and knowing--is the project, there can be no further stage of development once one has understood understanding itself, for then one knows the very source and generic form of all possible knowledge (see note 2 above). In contrast, Wilber allows further levels beyond post-formal operational thinking. But his further levels move beyond rationality, that is, they no longer deal with cognition. Rather, they are in fact levels of possible refinements of meditative experience. As such, however, they do not necessarily follow nor do they presuppose the stages of cognitive development. They are apples being compared with oranges. On this very point and from different points of view, Grof (1996), Kelly (1996), Kremer (1996), Rothberg (1996a), and Washburn (1996) all find problems with Wilber's spectrum of consciousness. I believe I am pinpointing the underlying theoretical problem in Wilber's account, and it is a matter of epistemology.

On a Lonerganian analysis, post-formal operational thought would represent the final stage of cognitive development. But on this basis Lonergan would not write off the levels of meditative experience that Wilber indicates. These Lonergan (1972, pp. 258-262, 302-305) would treat under the category of "differentiations of consciousness." For cognition is but one possible avenue for the cultivation of human consciousness. In addition to common sense and then theory and interiority, people can also cultivate, for example, aesthetic awareness or else mystical awareness (which I have been referring to as meditative experience). These different kinds of cultivated awareness, different specializations of conscious capacity, represent differentiations of consciousness, and each is not to be compared to the others in some hierarchical listing as are the documented stages of cognitive development. To be sure, mystical awareness also has documented stages or levels or degrees, and these Wilber invokes to propose the highest levels in his spectrum of consciousness. But he is mistaken to propose these as further kinds of cognition. They are, indeed, sources of very specialized data on consciousness/spirit itself, but they are not new means of knowing.

On this same Lonerganian analysis, another important consideration emerges. Image, symbol, metaphor, myth, ritual, and the like are hardly prerational expressions of consciousness. They are, rather, the common coinage and expression of commonsense thinking, especially when consciousness is undifferentiated--that is, in cultures where theory has not yet emerged and among people whom critical thinking has hardly influenced. But insofar as image and metaphor and the like are but alternative expressions of meaning, they do represent a form of knowledge and they also participate in and abide by their own rules of rational--that is, reasoned and argued--discourse. For example, details in the mythic accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis stand in provocative contrast to parallel accounts in Mesopotamian myth. The contrasts are deliberate, represent a polemic, and propose a particular understanding of God (McKenzie, 1990, 77:25-29). Although Wilber (1995, p. 173) notes the ambiguity in the term rationality, his account of this matter is questionable in that he sees magical and mythic thinking as prerational. But by understanding understanding, by working within the stage of interiority, Lonergan's analysis recognizes the validity and preserves the dignity of primordial styles of thought and reasoning. Thus, this Lonerganian analysis gives theoretical grounding to Kremer's (1996) criticism of Wilber in defense of indigenous peoples. And on still another front this analysis indicates how Wilber's spectrum of consciousness confounds important and distinct sets of matters, lining them up in a mistaken hierarchical array. This time myth and ritual and other expressions of meaning (including concepts [cf. Helminiak, 1996a, pp. 134-135]) are peaches, expressions of meaning, set out on the hierarchy before oranges, stages of cognitive development, which in turn precede apples, levels of meditative experience. Wilber has at least three different kinds of things strung together in one continuum.

In some way sensitive to the same matter, Grof (1996), Kelly (1996), Rothberg (1996a), and Washburn (1996) criticize Wilber's hierarchical model for restricting the possibility of spiritual experiences to the higher levels of his continuum. For children also often have profound spiritual experiences, and adult spiritual experiences often entail elements that pertain only on the lower levels of Wilber's continuum, which Wilber must then see as regressive and depreciate as an entry into the spiritual realm through the "back door" (Grof, 1996). Understanding the matter in terms of various and possibly parallel differentiations of consciousness rather than in terms of a continuous sequence of levels or stages already brings clarity to the matter.

But another consideration is also relevant--Wilber's model of the human being. Overlooking the difference between spirit and psyche within the human mind, Wilber identifies the spiritual with Ultimate Consciousness or God. Then all spiritual development must look like a very advanced affair, and in Wilber's scheme "advanced" means high up the ranks in the supposed Great Chain of Being. For if all things in our mundane experience are but a "involuted" expression of Ultimate Consciousness, advance toward Consciousness must entail ascent away from the physiosphere and biosphere and into the noosphere and beyond. The implication is that spirit is not available or is not so richly available in those lower spheres, for according to Wilber's perennial philosophy, the physical is the crassest expression of Consciousness in the Great Chain of Being. In contrast, if human spirit is not identified with God and if the human is conceived as inherently spiritual, then spirit is available to be experienced at every stage of human development, and profound spiritual experiences, far from implying some flight from the physical and psychological, would entail precisely the ever further integration of the organic, psychic, and spiritual in the human being. A this-worldly, "incarnational," rather than an other-worldly, spirituality results (Helminiak, 1987a). So spiritual experiences would routinely involve "descent" into the "lower" dimensions of human make-up, "regression" into the psychic undergirdings of the human mind.

In The Human Core of Spirituality I detailed that process of spiritual integration and development. My point here is that this account not only stands in contrast to Wilber's but also provides a theoretical grounding for Grof's (1996), Kelly's (1996), Kremer's (1996), Rothberg's (1996b), and Washburn's (1996) criticism of Wilber's model. This is not to say that I would completely agree with the analyses of these other theorists. For example, as in the case of Freud's psychoanalytic constructs (Helminiak, 1996a, Chapter 17), the distinction between psyche and spirit cuts through both Washburn's (1995) Dynamic Ground and his ego, revealing both that and why Dynamic Ground, despite elaborate verbal specification, remains an amorphous and ultimately unworkable construct. This is only to say that, granted my alternative model, their criticisms of Wilber can stand on coherent theoretical grounds as well as on empirical and intuitive ones.

Clearly, Wilber's model needs radical revision. It's hierarchical backbone, the so-called spectrum of consciousness, involves numerous and serious confounds, and sorting out the confounds actually dismantles the proposed hierarchy. Then the other quadrants of Wilber's grand scheme of the Kosmos in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality also come undone. The core problem is Wilber's perennial philosophy; it is epistemologically incoherent; it provides no solid basis for the superstructure that Wilber would build upon it. Said otherwise, there are "fundamental problems with the root metaphor of the Great Chain of Being" (Kelly, 1996, p. 23). Or echoing Kremer (1996, p. 44), the considerations elaborated here "not only require, if they are to be integrated, a fine-tuning of Wilber's theory, but, if taken seriously, a rethinking of the entire model."

Coming from a Western approach and opting for a critical realism, this book has proposed an alternative model--a system of four viewpoints that presumes a tripartite understanding of the human, including an analysis of dynamic consciousness or spirit as both reflecting and nonreflecting and as operating on four levels, all within a context that distinguishes description and explanation, or common sense and theory, and that also allows for non-cognitive differentiations of consciousness. This alternative model seems better able than Wilber's to integrate the broad concerns that he addresses.

But whether there can even be a science of the spiritual--this is the question at stake in this book and in Wilber's extensive writings. Both this book and Wilber's agree that the answer is Yes, but this answer will not hold until a coherent account of spirituality can actually be demonstrated and the coherent interrelationship of religion and the human sciences can be delineated. Finding Wilber's proposal wanting, I have provided another. It outlines a scientific spirituality and ipso facto delineates the relationship between religion and the human sciences. If this alternative proposal holds even though Wilber's fails, Wilber's dogged Yes to a science of spirituality is nonetheless vindicated. Transpersonal psychology can have a coherent theoretical core. A credible science of spirituality is actually emerging. Religion and science are reconcilable.