The Modern Philosopher: Ken Wilber

Kenneth Earl Wilber Jr. (born January 31, 1949) is one of the most widely read American philosophers of the past century. His works attempting to bridge Eastern mysticism and Western psychology have been translated into more languages than any other American academic and he is the first philosopher in history to have his Collected Works published before his death. He is considered to be “the foremost thinker in the field of the evolution of consciousness” and has been critically compared to Freud and Einstein.

Since finishing his first manuscript in 1973 at the age or 23, Wilber has written nearly 30 scholarly works on his developing ideas of integral philosophy, spirituality, and psychology, as well as released hours upon hours of audio interviews. He has also founded the Integral Institute, a think tank which encourages and networks collaboration between leading scientists, writers, psychologists, musicians, artists, and philanthropists.

Ken Wilber’s integral philosophical approach is based on theories that include what he calls a neo-perennial philosophy, the Great Chain of Being, and nondualism; he considers anti-evolutionary philosophies to be an unfortunate regression. Much of his work is an attempt to explain the union of Emptiness and Form and the changes Form most embrace to recognize the reality of Emptiness.

Ken Wilber’s best known idea is that of the pre-trans fallacy, the theory that the certain stages of consciousness (the pre-rational the transrational) are very similar and can be easily confused. Wilber cites both Freud and Jung as examples of the pre-trans fallacy, characterizing Freud as considering transrational realizations to be regressions to pre-rational states and Jung as believing pre-rational concepts to embody transrational realizations. It’s interesting to note that Ken Wilber admits in his early works to having fallen victim to the pre-trans fallacy himself.

One of the most important concepts in Wilber’s philosophy is the

holon
, the basic building block used to create existence. Everything in creation may be viewed with a dual nature – i.e. an e-mail is made up of words which is made up of letters. The letters themselves may exist alone, but also as part of the words they create and the e-mail those words compose. All these things – everything in existence from atom to universe – are holons.

Wilber’s recent work has at its core an integral model he refers to as AQAL. AQAL stands for “All Quadrants, All Levels” and deals with five categories (quadrants, lines, levels, states, types) that Wilber believes must be included in any account of existence. He is also said to be working on ideas including integral methodological pluralism, integral post-metaphysics, integral math, and the Wilber-Combs lattice, a collaboration with Allan Combs.

Ken Wilber has written a large volume of work that spans several decades. Following is a short list of books for those who would like to learn more about his work and theories.

No Boundary: The most accessible of Wilber’s scholarly works, No Boundary is a brief summary of the ideas expanded on originally in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. SES is considered to be “one of the most significant books ever published.” No Boundary briefly covers, clearly and engagingly, all of Wilber’s basic tenants. Each chapter includes simple exercises to introduce the reader to ideas he pursues in greater detail in other works.

Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber: Using journal excerpts to document his wife’s battle with cancer, Grace and Grit is the most personal of Wilber’s works. Described as “an incredibly moving love story” by Publisher’s Weekly, Wilber’s honest and open portrayal of Treya’s spirituality in the literal face of death and their transcendence of the most brutal facts of life is one of those rare books that can ultimately change the reader’s life.

One Taste: Daily Reflections on Integral Spirituality: One Taste is a collection of Ken Wilber’s journal entries from one year, providing the reader with a personal look at how the integral approach transforms his daily experiences.

A Brief History of Everything: Written in an interview Q&A format, this book is accessible and thorough, covering all aspects of the integral approach and providing the reader with an in-depth introduction to an overall model of integral studies. A Brief History of Everything is the most widely-read of Wilber’s “serious” works. Not to be confused with A Theory of Everything, a shorter piece that provides an easy overview of the greater body of his work.

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