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KEN WILBER AND CYBERSPACE
By Michel Bauwens

We had the occasion to meet Ken Wilber at his home in Boulder, Colorado. Mostly ignored by mainstream media and the academia, he's considered by some to be the most important living philosopher of the day, preparing our culture for a new synthesis of cultural and scientific understanding that combines the insights of the sciences of the material world, with an understanding of the inner development of human beings, based on the developmental psychologies of both East and West. On the occasion of our meeting, an altogether rare opportunity as Ken Wilber is rather seclusive, we especially prodded him on how his ideas would help us understand the import of cyberspace and the Internet. What follows then, is a mixture of Ken Wilber's ideas, tentatively applied to cyberspace, supplemented by some commentaries and suggestions of my own. But first, for the uninitiated, we start with a summary of the body of his work. Readers with a basic knowledge of his work may skip this section.

- 1. The development of civilisation according to Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber's first book was entitled 'The Spectrum of Consciousness' and it tackled the psychological (or rather: the psycho-spiritual) development of the individual. The first part of this 'spectrum' offers a synthesis of developmental stages according to the western schools of psychology both the developmental psychologies of Piaget, the schools of depth psychology of Jung, Freud and others, the humanistic/transpersonal schools of Maslow and Grof, and finally the behaviourist and cognitive schools. The result of is a synthesis of the development of the human being from birth, through childhood, up to the basic rationality of adulthood.

Already this stage model was instrumental in understanding how various contradictions in the theoretical models of the different psychologists actually make sense, and can be considered complementary (rather than antagonistic), if seen as applying to different stages of psychological development. But it is in the second part of the book that his spectrum of states of awareness was most innovative. Indeed, his map did not stop at the rational level which comprises the average achievement of our own western culture, but looked at the further development of the psyche, into various transrational and transpersonal stages, best described in the contemplative, yogic and meditative texts of the East (Buddhism and Hinduism, mostly). Out of the complex mixture of magical and mythical beliefs that constitute most popular religions and which constitute 'pre-rational' belief systems and ways of thinking and of conceiving the world, Wilber extricated the 'trans'-rational core of the psycho-technologies of awareness and attention (the contemplative and meditative practices) and what they reveal about the development of the human psyche. In effect, one also then gets a stage model of the transrational phases, and how they fit together across the various spiritual traditions. The book was instrumental in co-creating and inspiring the new field of transpersonal psychology, the domain where the name of Wilber is most familiar. This book in itself, which single-handedly synthesised and rationalised' the whole body of psychological and spiritual knowledge, and established the basic outlines of a 'science' of the spiritual (the latter defined in this context as the growth into the transpersonal stages), would be enough to inscribe Wilber's name in the pantheon of great thinkers of the century, revealing a whole new section of reality to the modern eye, which could investigate in a rational and scientific way. This effort of synthesis had been attempted before, but never on such a grand and comprehensive scale, which managed to integrate such a great scale of human thought.

His second most important work is probably 'Up from Eden' in which he applied his insights to the evolution of human society and civilisation. The work is based on the hypothesis, which turns out to be extraordinarily fruitful, that socio-genesis follows the basic outline of psycho-genesis. In other words, just as the human embryo seems to replicate the whole of natural evolution, so human culture seems to emulate the stages of individual growth. There is thus a broad equivalence of the stages of human society, to the psychological growth of the individual. Hence, Up from Eden describes the evolution from magical societies (dominated by magical, tribal stages of consciousness), to mythical civilisations (the forms of society from the rise of civilisation up to the western Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution) up to the rise of the modern state based on instrumental rationality. The conclusion of the book, after having convinced its readers of the validity of the hypothesis, ponders the future, predicting that if the hypothesis of social evolution is valid, then insight in the next psychological stages, should provide some clues as to how current civilisations might evolve in the near future.

In the next few books, Wilber will refine the epistemology and the 'scientificity' of his work, focusing on validity claims and the nature of the scientific enterprise. Outlining them would take us to far, but basically Wilber arrives at a framework in which reality should be looked at as a quadrant of aspects. Each phenomenon having its interior and exterior, and individual and collective aspects. Hence, one gets four different evolutionary lines of development (the evolution of nature -- individual and collective , the evolution of human societies, and the evolution of the human individual). Each of these domains, the domains of the It (material science and ?objective? social science), the We (cultural studies), and the I (the development of consciousness), requires an adapted scientific methodology, and have their own validity claims to distinguish what is true from what is false. This work allows us to go from a narrow empiricism, only accepting data representing things with a location in space, to a broad empiricism, that can accept cultural and psychological-spiritual data; and to move from a narrow science, based on examining material things that can be measured and quantified easily, to a broad science, which can rationally examine the cultural and psychological interiors as well. His range of books are dedicated to exposing the reductionism of much of contemporary science, which attempts to translate everything to things without exteriors, but also to various 'holistic' and 'new age' attempts to return to a pre-rational state of affairs.

These ideas constellate into a more complete philosophical system, in his third major work, strangely titled 'Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality', which, after explaining the basic laws of a expanded dialectic of change (the 20 laws governing the evolution of holons, i.e. the part-wholes that constitute our universe), goes on to dialogue with contemporary modern and postmodern philosophy, making eminent sense of our postmodern moment in history and where it is heading. It is a complex work of almost 800 pages, but well worth reading as a basic textbook on human thought. For those intimidated by its length, Wilber has produced 'A Brief History of Everything', which outlines, in easy to read dialogue format, the basic thrust of this theories. This book also contains several pages with commentary on cyberspace, the Internet, and the Information Age. His newest publication, ?The Spirit of Ken Wilber? should fulfil the same function.


2. The Internet as an enabling technology

A basic hypothesis of Up from Eden is the distinction of two different evolutionary lines of development, as it pertains to the growth of consciousness. Wilber indeed distinguishes the level of attainment of what he calls the spiritual elite, which evolves from shamanism, and its mastery of the causal domains of awareness, to a Buddha (and subsequent spiritual explorers), with his discovery of the subtle and nondual states of consciousness. It would take us to far to detail these states, which have empirically verifiable correlates, attending worldviews and psychologies, etc.. but suffice it to say that there is indeed development over time. Obviously, the 'average state of consciousness', i.e. the level of awareness of the rest of us, does not evolve quite that fast. In fact, it evolves terribly slowly, but also from magical to mythical to rational, i.e. up to the present stage. Wilber notes, in accord with Marxism, that the techno-social base of society is the key factor determining this ?average mode of consciousness?, and notes that communication technologies are themselves key determinants of that techno-social base. To give some examples: it seems clear that writing was instrumental in moving society from the magical to the mythical state; that printing was instrumental in creating national consciousness and the eventual dominance of rationality. For example writing and related technologies of communication allowed the consolidation of knowledge and hence the creation of empires, of identification with much greater groups of human beings (the ones who shared the founding myth of the empire), with expanded spatial awareness (tribal consciousness was limited in the amount of space that it could encompass), etc.. The role of the book and printing (i.e. the Gutenberg Revolution) has been discussed extensively by scores of historians as well. Thus we can speak of enabling technologies, as they enable the growth of new stage of awareness, and allow that stage to become dominant in society. However, Wilber would stress time and again that there is nothing deterministic or automatic about that process. That though these technologies 'objectively' enable a spurt in civilisational growth, the intentionality of subjects has to make this a reality .

Enter the Internet. It is clear that the Internet, in the broader context of information technology and worldwide networks of communication, is precisely such a key enabling technology. Broadly stated, it can be argued that the Internet, as a worldwide many-to-many communications technology which extends our senses to encompass events and realities to most of the (wired) world, objectively makes possible a new level of awareness, in which individuals can extend their sense of identity beyond for example identification with the nation-state. The ?span? of our consciousness, measured in terms of ?space?, can at least potentially become much greater. This ?cultural? aspect of the Internet of course also has clear objective ?techno-social? correlates that influence not only the way we see the world, but also the way our society functions, and many commentators would agree that we are evolving to an ?information age?, with a network-based social structure, in which institutions such as the nation state, are gradually eroding, as can be seen with in objective facts such as the privatisation of many state enterprises, eroding control of financial streams, a de-hierarchisation of administrative models in the enterprise, etc.. Ken Wilber would broadly agree that to a certain degree, the objective state of being, influences consciousness. In ?Sex, Ecology and Spirituality? he gives his own example of such change, when he discusses the condition of women in society. As long as our position in society was determined to some degree by physical strength, man could be expected to be dominant. But the more we evolve to an information society, where such a factor becomes irrelevant, the more patriarchal dominance becomes a contradiction to the real needs of society, and hence it starts undermining itself, and society becomes ready to accept new roles, in which the social, political and sexual liberation of women become a possibility. And this is precisely what is happening with the women?s movement and its achievements, yet the difficulty of achieving real equality also shows that the objective conditions by themselves, cannot alone create this new reality.

So again and again, during our conversation, Ken Wilber would stress that the process is not automatic. The Gutenberg revolution was everything but smooth and had many negative consequences giving rise to religious civil wars, the absolutist state, etc.. Ken Wilber recurring formula was: give the Internet to fascists, and they will turn that instrument into a tool of oppression, not liberation. In other words, the changes in the objective material world, the techno-scientific base of society, do not automatically lead to changes and growth in human awareness. They create a tension in society and the individual, which still needs to be integrated into a higher synthesis which can make sense of the new. The cultural world of human society, and the subjective-intentional worldview of the individual, have to change as well. And this type of change is not only a matter of greater ?span?, i.e. seeing the world as a whole and choosing a more planetary identification and identity, but also a mat ter of depth, a reorganisation of our psyche into something more encompassing, deeper, more integrative. And this process is never automatic, but requires intentionality and human effort.

Ken Wilber therefore strongly opposes any kind of naive cyber-utopianism that promises a paradisical world in which equal disembodied minds, dwelling in cyberspace, create a world of peace and fraternity. Give greater power and control to human minds that are not up to the task of integrating that responsibility into their sense of self and their sense of duty, and you get havoc, if not regression. As the French expression says: ?science sans conscience est derive de l?ame?.

Indeed, one of the important concepts that one can find in Ken Wilber?s work is what he calls the pre/trans fallacy. If you see human development as growth (magic, mythic, rational, transrational), then it become obvious that there are two kinds of non-rationality. There are the pre-rational forms of thought, the magical and mythical ways of thinking (where reason does not yet exist or is abandoned), and there are the tra nsrational forms (where reason stays intact, but is transcended into transmental states). For example, in meditation you become aware of your mental functioning, i.e. you transcend it, but you don?t ?abandon? it, or regress to infantile stages. According to Ken Wilber?s analysis however, much of contemporary spirituality is precisely that: regression to the pre-rational, where critical thought is abandoned. And obviously, the strains induced by the changing techno-social base of society, can lead some individuals to transcend themselves into a higher state of awareness, but can also make other's regress, and look for solutions in nationalism, tribalism (in the political-cultural sphere), but also in fundamentalism and new age-ism (in the spiritual sphere). And which observer can deny that precisely such tendencies are taking place! The Internet itself can become a medium where that fractured consciousness expands, that stimulates the creation of countless sollipsistic tribal communities of interest, without the corollary of a planetary consciousness and corresponding global institutions. Equally, the Internet may strengthen the revival of magical and mythical forms of religion. And finally, if we accept that cyberspace is a cultural product that also reflects our unconscious minds, it is bound to become the treater of all our regressive drives and become the locus for our darker sides, including criminal behaviour.



3. Towards Vision-logic in a network-based society

Nevertheless, despite these dangers and limitations, Internet and cyberspace do represent that change in the techno-social base of society, and hence, they are enabling technologies that gives society and culture an opportunity to move to a higher plane of integration and awareness. Of course, for Ken Wilber, this does not mean that we all will become enlightened. To look where the next evolutionary step of human culture may take us, we have to look at the development of advanced individuals. We remind the readers of our summary in the first section: according to Wilber, socio-genesis mirrors psycho-genesis. According to Ken Wilber, very few individuals are ready to move to the pure transrational states, such as the psychic (characteristic of shamans), causal (the saints), subtle (the sages) and non-dual (fully-realised buddha-consciousness) stages, but a sizable group is ready, and has in fact already moved, to a new boundary-state between reason and the transrational. This state is called vision-logic and is a deepening of the rational state of consciousness.

This is of course not to say that all of society and its members have reached full stages of rationality, but on the whole, our societies are dominated by rational modes of thinking, as expressed by the scientific, cultural, political and business communities. And within these circles, an important group is moving from instrumental rationality -- a narrow view of rationality which is only capable of viewing the interests of the individual or his own group, to vision-logic, an expended view of reason which is capable of integrating multiple points of view and interests. If the rational mode of operation can explain the psychology and achievements of most of us, it is inadequate to explain the achievements of great scientists, philosophers, and artists. Which is why most developmental psychologists are positing a higher stage of rationality, which by now has been fully documented. With normal, instrumental rationality and logic, we can take a world centric view but mostly the own personal interests still predominate, and that perspective is privileged. Rationality is used to attain the goals of the self. For example, most businesses solely interested in their own profits, or politicians interested in being elected at all cost, or individuals wishing to make a career at all cost, will use instrumental rationality to achieve their goals, without great concern for the effect of their actions on others, or on the environment. Reality is mostly seen in either-or terms, i.e. ?if this is true, then that can?t be true?. With vision-logic, one can more easily integrate multiple perspectives, becomes more independent of purely egocentric reasoning. Vision-logic is expressed in for example scenario-planning, in which multiple futures are being prepared for at the same time; it is expressed in environmental and other ?impact? studies, in which the results of one own?s action on others are fully taken into account; and generally in an increasing concern for the multiple ?other?. The individual can go more easily beyond the interests of his own self and of the group or nation he belongs too.

From this perspective of a change in the mentalities, in fact changes in the structures of the self, we can also see how the Internet provides many tools and possibilities that will strengthen such a change. It indeed offers not only a planetary perspective, the ability to directly encounter multiple perspectives at their very source (without the intermediation and distortion of medi a), and the capability to enter into a direct dialogue with these perspectives. It creates multiple networks of relationship which are profoundly altering the structure of society. The Internet helps to create a ?society of minds? where a constant dialogue can take place between equals.

On the other hand, the Internet creates a disembodied space where one can easily lose one?s grounding into physical and bodily reality; it creates a medium where a constant flow if mediocre information hypnotises the user and makes him regress to purely reactive modes of being, and, through the medium of games and pornography, it can work directly on the instinctual-emotional levels and hyper-develop these aspects of the psyche, to the detriment of others, and to the detriment of a sound integration of the different aspects of the self. The Internet, while enabling a new phase of transcendence, can also lead to new forms of regression.

For Ken Wilber, the conclusion is therefore clear. It is not enough to base our hopes on the objective network-logic of the material base of the Internet, it is not enough to base ourselves on the mere possibilities for collective dialogue, without an interior correlate in the form of a more integrated ?vision-logic? based self, and the attending world culture of planetary awareness and concern, with as a result worldcentric institutions and organisations which can deal with the current global crises, the Internet will only be an instrument of crisis. Indeed, if the techno-social base moves faster than the mode of awareness, a dichotomy arises, and a cultural crisis of society. In the past, whenever this was the case, great spiritual reforms have taken place (such as the ?axial period? of the 6th century B.C., such as the rise of Christianity and Islam, such as the Protestant Reformation after Gutenberg) usually painful social, economic, and political transitions which have created great havoc in society. We are of course, precisely in the midst of such a crisis now, as evidenced by the crisis of science and rationality, the rise of the new age and fundamentalism and postmodern cynicism. The more individuals that are able to grow into a more int egrated level of self, the more smoother the transition can be. Which is of course why Ken Wilber?s work is itself so important as it expresses such a new level of integration which can serve as a model.

This article is by Michel Bauwens (mbauwens@skynet.be), Cyber-marketing (http://www.kyberco.com/); Tel/fax: 32+(0)2+534.37.59; GSM : 047-747.75.70 Paris office: 9, rue des Cinq Diamants / 75013 Paris / France

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