Cross-posted from Map and Territory


A couple months ago a friend gifted me a copy of Ken Wilber's Integral Spirituality. At first I was skeptical about reading it: I'm pretty busy and didn't have much context to think I would learn from it. But he talked me into it, prodding me to at least just read the introduction, which he promised was relatively short (35 pages, so basically the length of a long blog post) and densely packed with interesting content. At the time I was almost done reading another book, and figured "what the heck, I'll just read the intro and can decide from there".

Given that you're reading a post with "Integral Spirituality" in the title, I think you can guess what happened next.

I mostly want to share a lot of things I highlighted in the book—passages I thought could stand to be more widely read—because Ken Wilber has put words to many of the thoughts I would like to share but haven't made the time to write about. However, I need to give these passages a little context, so I'll do my best to give you a very high level, whirlwind tour of Wilber's themes.

The nominal purpose of this book is to discuss spirituality, and Wilber does that plenty, but I honestly think of this book as more about Wilber's integral theory and just happens to use spirituality as a topic to address integral theory. So what is integral theory? In short I'd say it's a way to work with all evidence so you can update on it so you aren't forced to ignore or dismiss evidence that doesn't fit with your worldview. That is, most of the time most of us start from a place of undervaluing some information and overvaluing other information we encounter because it suggests that our understanding of the world (ontology) is wrong or right, respectively; integral theory helps rehabilitate this tendency by showing how to integrate evidence that has different purposes. A pithy way to put this would be: everything is evidence of something, nothing is evidence of everything. There's a lot of subtlety I'm eliding here because I don't think I can do justice to the whole theory with the amount of effort I would like to expend, but you can find a few primers online, and I worked towards the same end in my "Methods of Phenomenology" post, albeit by liberally abusing the proper scope of the word "phenomenology" to do it.

I should warn you, though, before diving too far down the Wilber hole that although I think Wilber is often right, his ideas are easily misunderstood. In Wilber's terminology he'd say something like people are understanding his Indigo ideas through a Green, Orange, Amber, or even Red perspective, but that's hard-to-penetrate jargon. So think of it this way: you know how you feel when that thing you care about a lot gets talked about in the news and all the subtlety and nuance and real value is stripped out and rounded off and the ideas get flattened down to something the least educated member of adult society could understand? That's how I feel reading 90% of what's written about integral theory, including stuff Wilber writes because for all his insight he relies heavily on jargon that's easily misunderstood and without already having some idea of what he's pointing at it can easily sound like woo (we can debate whether this is better or worse than doing the philosopher thing of using jargon that's difficult to understand at all, which is my preferred tact). This is extremely unfortunate but it's an old problem, and I don't expect it to be solved soon, so I encourage you to press on anyway for the nuggets of wisdom—that's mostly what I've pulled out here in the quotes and tried to minimize the woo and jargon, although there is still some.

Also be warned that Wilber is also not very good at citing sources even if he does often have valuable insights. Better to think of him like a Ribbonfarm blogger than a research scientist before you jump all over him. Put another way, he goes in hard for fake frameworks that are sometimes useful nonetheless.

Further, if talk of spirituality, religion, and other things you might find in the metaphysics section of a bookstore put you off, you might just bounce and not be able to look through your ugh fields to see if there's something here in these quotes. He's written other books I've not read, and I suspect Integral Psychology and the more recent Integral Politics would be of interest to many readers if they dislike talk of spirituality. However, Wilber very much treats spirituality as a human-universal that is often misunderstood, so if you feel some ugh about spirituality I'd encourage you to read the quotes anyway because you might find them surprisingly tolerable from his perspective. Plus, some of these quotes aren't directly about spirituality anyway, just neat insights he shared. You might say I rounded up all best "insight porn" in Integral Spirituality to share with you here.

Okay, that's enough context and caveats, on to the quotes!

Quotes on Mental Development

On misunderstanding stages of development that are two stages apart:

For just that reason, they are often confused. Confusing pre and post—or confusing pre and trans—is called the pre/post fallacy or the pre/trans fallacy (PTF), and we will see that an understanding of this confusion is very helpful when it comes to the role of religion in today’s world. In any developmental sequence—pre-rational to rational to trans-rational, or subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious, or pre-verbal to verbal to trans-verbal, or prepersonal to personal to transpersonal—the “pre” and “trans” components are often confused, and that confusion goes in both ways. Once they are confused, some researchers take all trans-rational realities and try to reduce them to pre-rational infantilisms (e.g., Freud), while others take some of the pre-rational infantile elements and elevate them to trans-rational glory (e.g., Jung). Both that reductionism and that elevationism follow from the same pre/post fallacy.
This is a constant problem with, and for, spirituality. Particularly when you deal with the meditative, contemplative, or mystical states of spiritual experience—most of which indeed are non-rational—it might seem that all of the non-rational states are spiritual, and all the rational states are not spiritual. The most common example is dividing the states into Dionysian (nonrational) and Apollonian (rational), and then identifying Dionysian with spiritual. But that conceals and hides the fact that there is not just “non-rational,” but “pre-rational” and “trans-rational.” Even Nietzsche came to see that there are two drastically different Dionysian states (pre and trans). But once the pre/trans fallacy is made, it appears that anything that is not rational, is Spirit. Instead of pre-rational, rational, and trans-rational, you only have rational and nonrational, and the trouble starts there.

On the importance of some underlying axis of development that is necessary but not sufficient for development along all other axes:

Namely, research has continued to demonstrate that growth in the cognitive line is necessary but not sufficient for the growth in the other lines. Thus, you can be highly developed in the cognitive line and poorly developed in the moral line (very smart but not very moral: Nazi doctors), but we don’t find the reverse (low IQ, highly moral). This is why you can have formal operational cognition and red values, but not preoperational cognition and orange values (again, something that cannot be explained if Spiral Dynamics vMEMEs were the only levels). So in this view, the altitude is the cognitive line, which is necessary but not sufficient for the other lines. The other lines are not variations on the cognitive, but they are dependent on it.

On developmental stages still being models and not direct reality (your regular reminder that the map is not the territory):

But in all of this, please remember one thing: these stages (and stage models) are just conceptual snapshots of the great and ever-flowing River of Life. There is simply nothing anywhere in the Kosmos called the blue vMeme (except in the conceptual space of theoreticians who believe it). This is not to say that stages are mere constructions or are in the real world and that we call development or growth. It’s just that “stages” of that growth are indeed simply snapshots that we take at particular points in time and from a particular perspective ( which itself grows and develops).

On how every human has to develop from nothing up to something (made in the context of pointing out how we need institutions to help with this development):

Human beings, starting at square one, will develop however far they develop, and they have the right to stop wherever they stop. Some individuals will stop at red, some at amber; some will move to orange or higher. Some individuals will develop to a stage, stop for a while, then continue growth; others will stop growing around adolescence and never really grow again. But that is their right; people have the right to stop at whatever stage they stop at.
I try to emphasize this by saying that every stage is also a station in life. Some people will spend their entire adult lives at red or amber, and that is their right . Others will move on.

Quotes on States and Stages

Wilber makes a distinction between states (temporary ways of being that you move through for a time) and stages (ways of being that are persistent).

On the relationship between states and stages:

Because states by their very nature are much more amorphous and fluid than structures, this stage sequencing of states is very fluid and flowing—and, further, you can peak-experience higher states . further training, “peak experiences” can be stabilized into so-called “plateau experiences.”) Thus, if you are at a particular state -stage, you can often temporarily peak-experience a higher state-stage, but not stably hold it as a plateau experience.
On the other hand, research repeatedly shows that structure -stages, unlike state-stages, are fairly discrete levels or rungs in development; moreover, as research shows time and time again, you cannot skip structure-stages, nor can you peak-experience higher structure-stages . For example, if you are at preoperational in the cognitive line, you simply cannot have a formal operational experience—but you can have a subtle-state peak experience! (Again, we will return to the relation of states and structures shortly.)

On the difficulty of figuring out how states and stages are related:

What was so confusing to us early researchers in this area is that we knew the stage conceptions of people like Loevinger and Graves were had been tested in a dozen or more cross-cultural studies; either you included these models or you had a painfully incomplete psychospiritual system.
But we also knew that equally important were the phenomenological traditions East and West (e.g., St. Teresa’s Interior Castle , Anu and Ati Yoga), as well as the recent studies like Daniel P. Brown’s on the commonality of certain deep features in meditative stages. And so typically what we did was simply take the highest stage in Western psychological models—which was usually somewhere around SD’s GlobalView, or Loevinger’s integrated, or the centaur—and then take the 3 or 4 major stages of meditation (gross, subtle, causal, nondual—or initiation, purification, illumination, unification), and stack those stages on top of the other stages. Thus you would go from Loevinger’s integrated level (centaur) to psychic level to subtle level to causal level to nondual level. Bam bam bam bam. . . . East and West integrated!
It was a start—at least some people were taking both Western and Eastern approaches seriously—but problems immediately arose. Do you really have to progress through all of Loevinger’s stages to have a spiritual experience? If you have an illumination experience as described by St. John of the Cross, does that mean you have passed through all 8 Graves value levels? Doesn’t sound quite right.
A second problem quickly compounded that one. If “enlightenment” (or any sort of unio mystica ) really meant going through all of those 8 stages, then how could somebody 2000 years ago be enlightened, since some of the stages, like systemic GlobalView, are recent emergents?
All of our early attempts at integration were stalling around this issue of how to relate the meditative stages and the Western developmental stages, and there it sat stalled for about two decades.
Part of the problem centered around: what is “enlightenment,” anyway? In an evolving world, what did “enlightenment” mean? What could “enlightenment” mean?—and how could it be defined in a way that would satisfy all the evidence, both from those claiming it and those studying it? Any definition of “enlightenment” would have to explain what it meant to be enlightened today but also explain how the same definition could meaningfully be operative in earlier eras, when some of today’s stages were not present. If we can’t do that, then it would mean that only a person alive today could be fully enlightened or spiritually awakened, and that makes no sense at all.
The test case became: in whatever way that we define enlightenment today, can somebody 2000 years ago—say, Buddha or Christ Jesus or Padmasambhava—still be said to be “enlightened” or “fully realized” or “spiritually awakened” by any meaningful definition?

On a very important point about how states and stages are related and how they get confused:

What you can see in figure 4.1 is that a person at any stage can have a peak experience of a gross, subtle, causal, or nondual state . But a person will interpret that state according to the stage they are at. If we are using a Gebser-like model of 7 stages, then we have 7 stages × 4 states = 28 stage-interpreted / state experiences, if that makes sense. (And, as we’ll see, we have evidence for all of these “structure-state” experiences).
That bold sentence was for us early researchers the breakthrough and real turning point. It allowed us to see how individuals at even some of the lower stages of development—such as magic or mythic—could still have profound religious, spiritual, and meditative state experiences. Thus, gross/psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual were no longer stages stacked on top of the Western conventional stages, but were states (including altered states and peak experiences) that can and did occur alongside any of those stages. This is suggested in figure 2.5 by placing the 3 major state/clouds to the right of the stages.

On making that same point in a slightly different way that might connect better:

The point is that a person can have a profound peak, religious, spiritual, or meditative experience of, say, a subtle light or causal emptiness, but they will interpret that experience with the only equipment they have, namely, the tools of the stage of development they are at. A person at magic will interpret them magically, a person at mythic will interpret them mythically, a person at pluralistic will interpret them pluralistically, and so on. But a person at mythic will not interpret them pluralistically, because that structure-stage of consciousness has not yet emerged or developed.

On still really driving this point home:

Anybody familiar with the monastic traditions, East and West, from Zen to Benedictine, will recognize those souls who might be quite spiritually advanced in Underhill’s sense (very advanced in contemplative illumination and unification) and yet might still have a very conformist and conventional mentality—sometimes shockingly xenophobic and ethnocentric—and this goes, unfortunately, for many Tibetan and Japanese meditation masters. Although they are very advanced in meditative states training, their structures are amber-to-orange, and thus their available interpretive repertoire is loaded by the Lower-Left quadrant with very ethnocentric and parochial ideas that pass for timeless Buddha-dharma.

If you're much familiar with developmental models, they tend to end prematurely relative to where you might think they would end if you are familiar with, say, maps of enlightenment.

On the lack of these stages in most developmental psychology models:

Such are some common state-stages. As for Fowler’s structure -stages, notice that Fowler is presenting the objective results of only a few studies, and hence his data thin out at the top very quickly. It’s not that there aren’t any higher stages up there, but that there aren’t many people up there.

Quotes on Psychology and Shadow

On how the psychological shadow develops via dissociation in response to cognitive dissonance:

If I become angry at my boss, but that feeling of anger is a threat to my self-sense (“I’m a nice person; nice people don’t get angry”), then I might dissociate or repress the anger. But simply denying the anger doesn’t get rid of it, it merely makes the angry feelings appear alien in my own awareness: I might be feeling anger, but it is not my anger . The angry feelings are put on the other side of the self-boundary (on the other side of the I-boundary), at which point they appear as alien or foreign events in my own awareness, in my own self.
I might, for example, project the anger. The anger continues to arise, but since it cannot be me who is angry, it must be somebody else. All of a sudden, the world appears full of people who seem to be very angry . . . , and usually at me! In fact, I think my boss wants to fire me. And this completely depresses me. Through the projection of my own anger, “mad” has become “sad.” And I’m never going to get over that depression without first owning that anger.

On what the phenomenology of what dissociation, projection, and the shadow looks like:

Ah, but if they could just see what a total control freak this guy is, they would loathe him too, like I do! But it’s my own shadow I loathe, my own shadow I crusade against. I myself am a little bit more of a control freak than I care to admit, and not acknowledging this despised quality in myself, I deny it and project it onto my neighbor—or any other hook I can find. I know somebody is a control freak, and since it simply cannot be me, it must be him, or her, or them, or it.

On the general mechanism of dealing with the psychological shadow so that it may be overcome:

The goal of psychotherapy, in this case, is to convert these “it feelings” into “I feelings,” and thus re-own the shadow . The act of re-owning the shadow (converting 3 rd -person to 1 st -person) removes the root cause of the painful symptoms. The goal of psychotherapy, if you will, is to convert “it” into “I.”

On a better interpretation of Freud (this is not exactly a novel insight, but most readers forget they learn about Freud via translation and the translation has had a pretty dramatic effect on how his ideas are understood in the Anglosphere):

This is not a far-fetched reading of Freud, but it is a reading obscured by the standard James Strachey English translations of Freud. Not many people know that Freud never—not once—used the terms “ego” or “id.” When Freud wrote, he used the actual pronouns “the I” and “the it.” The original German is literally “the I” and “the it” ( das Ich , “the I,” and das Es , “the it”). Strachey decided to use the Latin words “ego” and “id” to make Freud sound more scientific. In the Strachey translations, a sentence might be: “Thus, looking into awareness, I see that the ego has certain id impulses that distress and upset it.” Translated that way, it sounds like a bunch of theoretical speculation. But Freud’s actual sentence is: “Looking into my awareness, I find that my I has certain it impulses that distress and upset the I.” As I said, Strachey used the Latin terms “ego” or “id” instead of “I” and “it” because he thought it made Freud look more scientific, whereas all it really did is completely obscure Freud, the brilliant phenomenologist of the disowned self.
Perhaps Freud’s best-known summary of the goal of psychotherapy is: “Where id was, there ego shall be.” What Freud actually said was: “Where it was, there I shall become.”

On the insufficiency of meditation to deal with the shadow (sadly I wasn't able to find a good quote without a lot of jargon that makes this point, so to summarize, Wilber argues that psychotherapy is important because it deals with something that is invisible if you only meditate, a methodology that focuses on how you experience the world, because it will on its own consistently fail to help you notice how you are misperceiving yourself):

Amidst all the wonderful benefits of meditation and contemplation, it is still hard to miss the fact that even long-time meditators still have considerable shadow elements. And after 20 years of meditation, they still have those shadow elements. Maybe it is, as they claim, that they just haven’t meditated long enough. Perhaps another 20 years? Maybe it’s that meditation just doesn’t get at this problem. . . .

More details on how the shadow is addressed, first by re-owning it (ending the dissociation) and then transcending it (detaching from it in a healthy way):

Thus, for example, a person might say, “I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts, I have feelings, but I am not my feelings”—the person is no longer identified with them as a subject, but stills owns them as an object—which is indeed healthy, because they are still owned as “my thoughts.” That ownership is crucial. If I actually felt that the thoughts in my head were somebody else’s thoughts , that is not transcendence, but severe pathology. So healthy development is the conversion of 1 st -person subjective (“I”) to 1 st -person objective or possessive (“me”/“mine”) within the I-stream. This is the very form of healthy transcendence and transformation: the I of one stage becomes the me of the I of the next.

And a bit more on that last point:

Whereas healthy development converts I into me, unhealthy development converts I into it. This is one of the most significant disclosures of an AQAL perspective. Those studying the psychology of meditation have long been aware of two important facts that appeared completely contradictory. The first is that in meditation, the goal is to detach or dis-identify from whatever arises. Transcendence has long been defined as a process of dis-identification. And meditation students were actually taught to dis-identify with any I or me or mine that showed up.
But the second fact is that in pathology, there is a dis-identification or dissociation of parts of the self, so dis-identify is the problem , not the cure. So, should I identify with my anger, or disidentify with it?
Both, but timing is everything—developmental timing, in this case. If my anger arises in awareness, and is authentically experienced and owned as my anger, then the goal is to continue dis-identification (let go of the anger and the self experiencing it—thus converting that “I” into a “me,” which is healthy). But if my anger arises in awareness and is experienced as your anger or his anger or an it anger—but not my anger—the goal is to first identify with and re-own the anger (converting that 3 rd -person “it anger” or “his anger” or “her anger” to 1 st -person “my anger”—and REALLY own the goddam anger)—and then one can dis-identify with the anger and the self experiencing it (converting 1 st -person subjective “I” into 1 st -person objective “me”—which is the definition of healthy “transcend and include”). But if that re-ownership of the shadow is not first undertaken , then meditation on anger simply increases the alienation —meditation becomes “transcend and deny,” which is exactly the definition of pathological development.

On how all this talk of shadow and psychology relates to spiritual, cognitive, and psychological development (this will sound very familiar if you're familiar with Kegan's The Evolving Self):

More specifically, we saw that in each stage of self development, the I of one stage becomes the me of the I of the next stage. As each I becomes me, a new and higher I takes its place, until there is only I-I, or the pure Witness, pure Self, pure Spirit or Big Mind. When all I’s have been converted to me’s, experientially nothing but “I-I” remains (as Ramana Maharshi called it—the I that is aware of the I), the pure Witness that is never a seen object but always the pure Seer, the pure Atman that is no-atman, the pure Self that is no-self. I becomes me until there is only I-I, and the entire manifest world is “mine” in I-I.
But, at any point in that development, if aspects of the I are denied ownership, they appear as an it , and that is not transcendence, that is pathology. Denying ownership is not dis-identification but denial. It is trying to dis-identify with an impulse BEFORE ownership is acknowledged and felt , and that dis-ownership produces symptoms, not liberation. And once that prior dis-ownership has occurred, the dis-identification and detachment process of meditation will likely make it worse , but in any event will not get at the root cause.

A bit more on how development can happen via psychological work:

That is the second major contribution of the modern West, namely, an understanding that, in the early stages of a psychological development that should convert each I into a me, some of those I’s get dis-owned as its—as shadow elements in my own awareness, shadow elements that appear as an “object” (or an “other”) but are actually hidden - subjects , hidden faces of my own I . Once dissociated, these hidden-subjects or shadow-its show up as an “other” in my awareness (and as painful neurotic symptoms and dyseases). In those cases, therapy is indeed: Where it was, there I shall become.
Where id was, there ego shall be— and then, once that happens, you can transcend the ego . But try transcending the ego before properly owning it, and watch the shadow grow. But if that identification has first occurred in a healthy fashion, then dis-identification can occur; if not, then dis-identifying leads to more dissociation.

On how meditation can help with development, given the context we just explored:

The reason that state-meditation can help with vertical stage-development is that every time you experience a nonordinary state of consciousness that you cannot interpret within your present structure, it acts as a micro-disidentification—it helps “I” become “me” (or the subject of one state-stage becomes the object of the subject of the next)—and therefore helps with vertical development in the self line. But notice that the simple fact that you meditate does not guarantee vertical growth, let alone Enlightenment. Whether individuals or the traditions themselves encourage or discourage this vertical development depends largely on the center of gravity of their View or Framework—so again, choose your Framework carefully.

Quotes on Social Systems

Many of these quotes are about thing that I expect many of my readers are not confused about, but I nonetheless find them interesting because there is much to learn from understanding why you are not confused about something even if you are already not confused about it.

On how the social is not like the individual:

Many theorists had realized that you can’t stack social on top of individual (which is the first mistake both of those two earlier lists make), as if social holons were composed of individual holons. The example I usually give, of why individual holons are not the same as social holons (or, why the Great Web is greatly confused), is that of my dog Isaac, who is definitely a single organism on most days. Single organisms have what Whitehead called a dominant monad , which simply means that it has an organizing or governing capacity that all of its subcomponents follow. For example, when Isaac gets up and walks across the room, all of his cells, molecules, and atoms get up and go with him. This isn’t a democracy. Half of his cells don’t go one way and the other half go another way. 100% of them get right up and follow the dominant monad. It doesn’t matter whether we think this dominant monad is biochemistry or consciousness or a mini-soul or a material mechanism—or whether that nasty “dominant” part wouldn’t be there if we were just all friends and cooperated—whatever it is, that dominant monad is there, and 100% of Isaac’s cells and molecules and atoms get right up and move.
And there is not a single society or group or collective anywhere in the world that does that. A social holon simply does not have a dominant monad. If you and I are talking, we form a “we,” or social holon, but that “we” does not have a central “I,” or dominant monad, that commands you and me to do things, so that you and I will 100% obey, as Isaac’s cells do. That just doesn’t happen in social holons, anywhere. You and I are definitely not related to this “we” in the same way Isaac’s cells are related to Isaac.

On how the social and the individual interact and reflect each other in some ways and differ importantly in others:

Thus we arrive at yet another major difference between individual and social holons: individual holons go through mandatory stages, social holons don’t .
There are simply no invariant structure-stages for groups, collectives, or societies. This is why you can’t really use individual structure-stage theories—like Loevinger, Graves, Maslow, Kohlberg, etc.—to describe groups or social holons. I realize that some of the followers of those theorists say that you can. The reason it superficially appears that you can is that the group has a dominant mode of discourse, and the structure of that discourse is basically following the structure of the dominant monad of the individuals who run the discourse in the social holon. Hence, you can loosely speak of the poker game as a “green group” if the dominant mode of discourse is structurally green. But, as we saw, the group can jump those stages if the individual members change, and hence no group necessarily goes through those individual structure-stages. The group itself is following all sorts of very different patterns and all sorts of very different rules.

On the power of "we" despite it not being a "super-I":

There are many ways to talk about these important differences between individual and social, but perhaps the most significant (and easiest to grasp) is indeed the fact that the we is not a super-I . When you and I come together, and we begin talking, resonating, sharing, and understanding each other, a “we” forms—but that we is not another I. There is no I that is 100% controlling you and me, so that when it pulls the strings, you and I both do exactly what it says.
And yet this we does exist, and you and I do come together, and we do understand each other, and we can’t help but understand each other, at least on occasion.

Quotes on Spirituality

On the different ways spirituality is interpreted (sorry for the heavy jargon in this quote; I hope the main point still comes across):

I’ve got a pretty bad attitude on this myself, so forgive a 15-second rant. You can take virtually 99% of the discussions of “the relation of science and religion” and put them in the mush category. I’m sorry, but that’s how it seems to me. These discussions never get very far because the definitions that the discussants are using contain these 4 hidden variables, and the variables keep sliding all over the place without anybody being able to figure out why, and the discussions slide with them.
Especially when you realize that usage #3, which is a valid usage, contains—by its own account— levels of religion or levels/stages of spirituality , then things spin totally out of control (there is archaic spirituality, magical spirituality, mythic spirituality, rational spirituality, pluralistic spirituality, integral spirituality, transpersonal spirituality . . .). Somebody says, “Religion or spirituality tells us about deep connections and eternal values,” and I have no bloody idea which religion or spirituality they mean, and all I’m sure is, they don’t either. There are at least 5 or 6 major levels/stages of religion—from magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to integral and higher—across 4 states (gross, subtle, causal, nondual), which are also types or classes ( nature , deity , formless , nondual ), not to mention the four usages great You or Thou, spirituality as great It or Other).
Before you tell me about science and religion, or religion and anything, please tell me which religion you mean. Even using just the W-C Lattice, there are some two dozen different religious or spiritual truth-claims . Which of those two dozen do you mean, and on what grounds are you excluding the others?
This is NOT an overly complicated scheme. It is the MINIMAL scheme you need to be able to say anything coherent on the topic.

On the multiplicity of spiritual paths that, despite different ways of interpreting them, seem to point towards a core, shared spiritual path that manifests differently in different traditions:

This was Daniel P. Brown’s point, so badly misunderstood at the time, but brilliant and right on the money, as Traleg independently agrees. Brown said that there were the same basic stages on the spiritual paths of the sophisticated contemplative traditions, but these same stages were experienced differently depending on the interpretation they were given. Hindus and Buddhists and Christians follow the same general stages (gross to subtle to causal), but one of them experiences these stages as “absolute Self,” one as “no-self,” and one as “Godhead,” depending on the different texts, culture, and interpretations given the experiences. In other words, depending on the Framework, the View.
Those individuals who assume otherwise are simply assuming a pre-modernist epistemology, that there is a single pregiven reality that I can know, and that meditation will show me this independently existing reality, which therefore must be the same for everybody who discovers it; instead of realizing that the subject of knowing co-creates the reality it knows, and that therefore some aspects of reality will literally be created by the subject and the interpretation it gives to that reality. American Buddhists at the time were particularly upset with Brown because his work showed similar stages for Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus (gross, subtle, causal, nondual)—even though they experienced them quite differently—and this implied that Buddhism wasn’t the only real way. But time and experience have vindicated Brown’s extraordinary work.

On how to avoid becoming trapped by a particular spiritual framework:

Notice individuals who have been practicing one path for a decade or more, and you will often see a gradual closing of their minds, a narrowing of their interests, as they go deeper into spiritual state experiences but don’t have an integral Framework to complement their plunge into Emptiness, or Ayin, or Godhead, or Holy Spirit. The result is that they become closed off to more and more parts of the world, which can actually lead to a regression to amber or fundamentalism or absolutism. They become both deep mystics and narrow fundamentalists at the same time.
You know exactly what I mean, yes?
And the cure for that part is so easy: supplement! Just expand the Framework, widen the View—include Spirit’s premodern and modern and postmodern turns—and simply make it integral.

On the relationship between post-Enlightenment Western society and spirituality:

The Western intellectual tradition, beginning around the Enlightenment, actively repressed any higher levels of its own spiritual intelligence. Historically, with the rise of modernity, the mythic God was thoroughly abandoned—the entire “Death of God” movement meant the death of the mythic God , a mythic conception for which rational modernity could find little evidence.
And here they particularly made a crippling error: in correctly spotting the immaturity of the notion of a mythic God—or the mythic level of the spiritual line—they threw out not just the mythic level of spiritual intelligence but the entire line of spiritual intelligence. So upset were they with the mythic level, they tossed the baby of the spiritual line with the bathwater of its mythic level of development. They jettisoned the amber God, and instead of finding orange God, and then green God, and turquoise God, and indigo God, they ditched God altogether, they began the repression of the sublime, the repression of their own higher levels of spiritual intelligence. The intellectual West has fundamentally never recovered from this cultural disaster.

On how modernity both succeeded and failed (cf. Chapman):

This very positive achievement—which is one of the many extraordinary gains of the Western liberal Enlightenment—is often called the dignity of modernity. And it has long been known that this differentiation (which was good) went too far into dissociation (which was bad), so that the dignity of modernity became the disaster of modernity.
Among other things, when the 3 value spheres did not just separate but flew apart, this allowed the hyper-growth of technical-scientific rationality at the expense of the other spheres, and this resulted in what is called the colonization of the lifeworld by this technical rationality. You can find variations on that theme in most of the sophisticated critiques of modernity by kosher Western intellectuals themselves , from Hegel to Heidegger to Horkheimer to Habermas.

On how the spiritual baby got thrown out with the religious bathwater:

And that happened for one reason in particular: So horrifying was the mythic level of God—and so extensive were the genuine terrors the Church had inflicted on people in the name of that mythic God—that the Enlightenment threw religion over entirely. “Remember the cruelties!,” as Voltaire exhorted the Enlightenment, referring to the millions that the Church had tortured and killed, and remember they did. The mythic God was taken to be God altogether. The mythic God was identified with the horrors of the Inquisition and the liquidation of millions (all true), and in a leading-edge cultural convulsion and revulsion—a cultural trauma writ large—religious anything was angrily suppressed. Spiritual intelligence was frozen at amber, a massive Level/Line Fallacy set in place, out went that bathwater, and with it, the baby of ultimate concern.
Freezing the spiritual line at amber mythic-membership is exactly what prevented the spiritual line from moving into the modern liberal Enlightenment, with the other major lines, and being developed at an orange level, so that there would indeed be orange science, orange aesthetics, orange morals, and orange spirituality. Instead, the Big 3 emerged and differentiated, not the Big 4. Spirituality was infantilized, ridiculed, denied, repressed, and kept out of modernity altogether.

On how science became scientism and accidentally dissociated from an important part of the human experience (rather than developing a healthy detachment from it):

Thus, ultimate concern was displaced to science, a concern that its methods were simply not capable of handling. And science itself was always completely honest about its limitations: science cannot say whether God exists or does not exist; whether there is an Absolute or not; why we are here, what our ultimate nature is, and so on. Of course science can find no evidence for the Absolute; nor can it find evidence disproving an Absolute. When science is honest, it is thoroughly agnostic and thoroughly quiet on those ultimate questions.
But the human heart is not. And spiritual intelligence, meant to answer or at least address those issues, is not so easily quieted, either. Men and women need an Ultimate because in truth they intuit an Ultimate, and simple honesty requests acknowledging the yearning in your own heart. Yet if the mythic God is dead, and spiritual intelligence frozen at its childhood stage, the only thing left that appears to give answers to those questions of ultimate concern is science. There is a well-known term for what science becomes when it is absolutized: scientism . And the liberal Enlightenment, for all its enormous good and all its extraordinary intelligence in other lines, began with science and ended with scientism, and that because of the prior LLF that delivered to the Enlightenment a set of tools bereft of spiritual intelligence.

On how atheism is a form of spirituality:

And let me point out, strongly, that both atheism and agnosticism , if arrived at via formal operational cognition, are forms of orange spiritual intelligence. Spiritual intelligence is simply the line of intelligence dealing with ultimate concerns and things taken to be absolute; and if a person’s considered conclusion is that, for example, you cannot decide whether there is an ultimate reality or not (agnosticism), then that is orange spiritual intelligence. But what orange rationality usually does is one of two things: it claims that science proves there is no ultimate reality—which it categorically does not—or imputes absolute reality to finite things like matter and energy, an imputation that is nothing but an implicit spiritual judgment dressed up as science—put bluntly, is nothing but hypocrisy. Both of those are due primarily to the repression of healthy spiritual intelligence, which does not necessarily embrace the existence of an absolute reality, but does deal with its existence openly and honestly, even if it says “I don’t know” or “I believe not.”

Quotes on Consciousness

On the relationship of the physical and the mental:

Every state of consciousness (including every meditative state ) has a corresponding brain state , for example—they occur together, they are equally real dimensions of the same occasion, and cannot be reduced to the other.

On the indirectness of experience:

That is something developmentalists have known all along: there isn’t a single pregiven world lying around out there waiting for all and sundry to see. Different phenomenological worlds— real worlds—come into being with each new level of consciousness development.

On the nature of consciousness itself:

Consciousness is not anything itself, just the degree of openness or emptiness, the clearing in which the phenomena of the various lines appear (but consciousness is not itself a phenomenon—it is the space in which phenomena arise).

Final Thoughts

I hope you found the above quotes insightful. My guess is you found yourself nodding along to some things, surprised by others, and disagreeing or even angered by some of the others ("how dare Gordon make me read this bullshit!"). Like much insight porn, I think much of the value of these quotes is as jumping off points for exploring your own thinking about these topics by giving you different ways of looking at familiar topics.

If you choose to comment, please take a look at my moderation guidelines before you do. I'm pretty patient, but I ask people do a bit more than just express themselves. I ask that you comment in good faith and try to understand both what you may be commenting on in the post and what you are responding to in other comments. I'm not sure if this post will land with a quiet thud or a loud crash, but if it tends towards the latter please keep this in mind before you jump into the comments.

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28 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:44 AM

Most valuable IMO is the idea that relational practices expose shadow sides for processing that individual practice doesn't.

I have problems with much of his stuff due to having the 'look how much more inclusive my metaphysics is' problem where the framework gives you more degrees of freedom than the phenomenon being explained, allowing you to cold read yourself. This is covered in technical explanation of technical explanations. You want your framework to have fewer degrees of freedom than the system it describes (compression), that's where your predictive constraints come from.

Ok, I’m gonna read this book. Just reread this summary; so good! Thanks again for writing it up! As they say, sorry I only have one super upvote to give you.

The concept of "fake framework", elucidated in the original post, to me it seems one of a model of reality that hides some complexity, sometimes even to the point of being very wrong, but that is nonetheless useful because it makes some other complex area manageable.

On the other hand, when I read the quotes you presented, I see a rich tapestry of metaphors and jargon, of which the proponent himself says that they can be wrong... but I fail completely to see what part of reality they make manageable. These frameworks seems to just add complexity to complexity, without any real leverage over reality. This makes those frameworks draw nearer fiction, rather than useful but simplified models.

For example, if there's no post-rational stage of developement, what use is the advice of not confusing it with a pre-rational stage of developement? If Enlightenment is not a thing, what use is the exortation to come up with a chronologically robust definition of the same?

This to me is the most striking difference between "Integral spirituality" and say a road map. With the road map, you know exactly what is hidden and why, and it's evident how to use it. With Wilber's framework, it seems exactly the opposite.

Maybe this is due to of my unfamiliarity with that material... so someone who has effectively found out something useful out of that model can chime in and tell their experience, and I will stand corrected.

Post-rational is a place of development, and it was named by various parties outside of lw terminology.

Integral becomes an organising principle for other concepts to rest in.

For example, if there's no post-rational stage of developement, what use is the advice of not confusing it with a pre-rational stage of developement?

It's quite different when CFAR tells you to listen to your emotions via focusing when facing a tough decision then when a random celebrity tells a person to listen to their emotions when facing a tough decision.

CFAR's position would be "post-rational" in Wilber's terminology while the random celebrity would be pre-rational (CFAR is a yellow place and not a orange one).

Is it really quite different, besides halo effect? It strongly depends on the detail, though if the two say the exact same thing, how are things different?

1) The audience. 2) The presentation.

I fail completely to see what part of reality they make manageable.

I think the frameworks built on earlier work, and this review is not intended as a basic introduction (which would include the motivation/benefit).

The following quote was called out in a deleted comment, but I think there is something to discuss here that would be missed if we didn't come back to it even though that comment was ruled off-topic.

Thus, ultimate concern was displaced to science, a concern that its methods were simply not capable of handling. And science itself was always completely honest about its limitations: science cannot say whether God exists or does not exist; whether there is an Absolute or not; why we are here, what our ultimate nature is, and so on. Of course science can find no evidence for the Absolute; nor can it find evidence disproving an Absolute. When science is honest, it is thoroughly agnostic and thoroughly quiet on those ultimate questions.

The now deleted complaint was that this is saying something like science is in a non-overlapping magisterium from the question of whether or not God exists. I agree trying to claim separate magisterium is a problem and doesn't work, so what do I see as the value of including this quote?

Mainly to highlight a point that I think is often poorly understood: that science, for all the good it does, intentionally cuts itself off from certain kinds of evidence in order to allow it to function. Maybe we can debate what is the "real" science, but I'm thinking here of the normal, run-of-the-mill thing you'd call "science" we find going on in universities around the world, and that form of science specifically ignores lines of evidence we might call anecdotal or phenomenological and, for our purposes, ignores questions of epistemology by settling for a kind of epistemological pragmatism that allows science to get on with the business of science without having to resolve philosophy problems every time you want to publish a paper on fruit flies.

This choice to pragmatically ignore deep epistemological questions is a good choice for science, of course, because it lets it get things done, but it also means we cannot take results like "science finds no evidence of supernatural beings or some ever-present unifying force we could reasonably label God" as stronger evidence than it is. Yes, this is pretty strong evidence that there is no God like the kind you find in a religious text that interacts with the world, but it's also not much evidence of anything about a God that's more like an invisible dragon living in a garage. The thing that lets you address those sorts of questions is a bit different from what is typically done under the banner of science.

This quote does go a bit too far when it says science should be "thoroughly quiet on those ultimate questions", because it does have something to say, but I still thought it worth including because it highlights the common overreach of science into domains which it specifically rules itself our from participating in by setting up its methodological assumptions so that it can function.

(This last point put another way, think of how annoyed you'd be if every time you told your friend you felt sad and wanted a hug they said "I don't know, I can't really measure your sadness very well, and it's just you reporting this sadness anyway, so I can't tell if it's worth it to give you the hug".)

The part about people closing their minds as they pursue a spiritual tradition is an interesting one; it seems to conflict with the historical examples of spiritual traditions. Consider for example how so much of the early information about Buddhism came from Jesuits who learned from Tibetan and Sri Lankan monks.

I deeply fail to grok the motivation for using simplistic schemes for things, like this color wheel example. I suspect that the goal is to make it seem easy to categorize so people feel like they are making progress. How it actually feels to me is like the author is planting a big STOP HERE sign. Sort of a macro-level motivated stopping sign.

But it is a cast-iron convention in self help books, and self help books sell a lot, so there must be something people like about it that I'm not getting.

Graves's color levels aren't simply a way to sell self help books. Clare W. Graves was a university professor who spent 7 years to gather data about >1000 people on which basis he came up with his system.

Colors have the advantage that they come with less preexisting notions then preexisting words like systemic or holistic.

It's also not a wheel but a spiral (hence the name Spiral dynamics), it's not a simple model.

I'm not questioning the qualifications of the source or the goodness of the concepts, just the method chosen to communicate them.

If the point of the system is to introduce an inferential gap on purpose, with the goal of leaving unintended associations behind, I can see the reasoning but disagree with it. I see a lot of attempts to do this, and a lot of discussion using such systems, and virtually nothing in the way of coming back down from the abstractions to object-level recommendations again.

This is likely the result of applying the system badly, but the ease with which a tool is misapplied an important factor in the goodness of the tool.

Would you say that Kahnman's work of speaking about system I and system II doesn't do anything to come to object-level recommendations and he should have used fast system and slow system instead of speaking about the numbers?

Kahneman's work does an unusually excellent job of coming to object-level recommendations. That seems to be what he is doing with his time now.

I don't think using fast and slow would have hurt those ideas at all, what with it being the title of the book. Further, I've seen plenty of cases of trying to wrangle the dichotomy by piling on additional words like the elephant-or-rider conversation.

I also note we don't talk about system 1 and system II much anymore. Looking at the Curated list for the last three months, I see plenty of posts that are aiming squarely at system 1 or system II, applying one system to the other, or describing one specific technique that could be called system I or II...but virtually none of the posts say anything about either of them or mention Kahneman. We've moved past the point where a binary distinction is useful to our discussions, and broad familiarity with the underlying concepts is assumed without the need for additional terms.

This suggests some combination of system I/II being easy to apply correctly, or the community being unusually good at applying it, or both.

It looks to me like how powerful a system is and how difficult it is to apply correctly are very different questions, and it feels like they are rarely balanced well. I think this is probably very difficult to do, and have seen people failing to apply systems correctly way more often than I have seen them succeed, which gives me a very low prior for unfamiliar systems' utility.

the motivation for using simplistic schemes for things, like this color wheel example.

I think the purpose* is to make it memorable/easy to teach. Someone who employs it might say they're following the 80/20 rule. If you're teaching, starting with a simple model is one approach - and not everyone is interested in more details (whether or not you have them). The main advantage (specific to this case) is that by coming up with stages being colors means you can classify other things by stage and use color as an adjective in the same way. Color wheel might be the wrong word - if you go all the way along a wheel, you're back where you started. Whereas if you progress in the "red"/"blue" direction, eventually you leave the visible colors for the invisible (eventually stopping at radio waves/gamma radiation).

*It is also possible that things which have such traits (simple models like color wheels) become more popular/successful. I am not sure whether or not self help books are an intentional paradigm, or if the authors like it so they use it.

colours are meant for efficiency of communication. (Knowing the colour coding) I can describe bringing red values into a blue system, or wanting to bring in healthy orange to a crushing blue bureaucracy (Spiral dynamics colours). Assuming other people also know the system, conversation can go on without me having to explain a whole load of conceptual framework.

But if we assume other people also know the system, why would you have to explain a whole load of conceptual framework?

How is this superior to addressing the object-level concerns directly?

Edit: I definitely misread that last sentence. Ignore me!

That's a bit like saying that doctors shouldn't use a category like major depressive disorder but instead speak about the object-level concerns of a individual symptoms.

Having a short handle for a complex concept makes it easier to talk which other people who understand the concept and now that the handle points to it.

The pre/post conflation reminds me of Terence Tao's discussion of math pre/post proofs (, which I've found to be a helpful guide in my journeys through math. I'm not surprised the distinction occurs more widely than in just math, but this post has encouraged me to keep the concept on hand in contexts outside of math.

I also enjoyed the discussion about how various religions are all getting at the same concepts through different lenses/frameworks. As an atheist, I have no interest in, say, Christianity per se; I enjoy learning about the historical, psychological, and sociological components in the same way I enjoy learning about many aspects of humanity, but I'm not really interested in things like grace or transubstantiation or exegesis because it all falls under the label "false" or "irrelevant". Having said that, I'm also very much aware that many Christian thinkers have insights that are relevant even for people who don't share their belief in God. But I can't get myself to slog through writing that is mostly false/irrelevant just to glean some nuggets of wisdom.

It would be excellent to find a book that synthesizes all of the most insightful aspects of the major religions, strips them of their cultural/theological labels into something more generic, and presents the stuff that's been "replicated" (in the sense of multiple religions all coming to the same conclusion modulo cultural/theological labels). Do you know of a book that does this? Is Integral Spirituality a good example? It seems like it's in the right ballpark, or at least would reference many books that are.

Integral spirituality is an earlier Ken Wilbur work, I've just started "religion of tomorrow" and it might be what you are looking for. I am only a few pages in right now so no guarantees.

I don't. Integral Spirituality might have some of what you're looking for, but only incidentally, since it's really trying to do something else.

Awesome! I’ve really enjoyed reading this. Quite a lot of ideas resonated in a surprising new way. I might actually read this book. Thanks for writing up the summary!

I would have liked some links to definitions of terms used as they come along, e.g. the colors and meditative levels (the former I could google the latter less so).

Thanks! I found particularly useful the reconciliation between "integrating the shadow" and "not identifying with your feelings".

[+][comment deleted]5y14