Sunday, May 21, 2006

Strange and twisted weirdness of "transpersonal psychology" lives on...

Via Tom at Blogmandu, I learned about the strange and atavistic world of Ken Wilber, and odd shenanigans of one Marc Gafni associated with Wilber...

I am not sure if it's a yet-to-be-certified "Rick Ross" cult, but the look and feel of all things Ken Wilber leads me to be very gratified that I became an engineer, and didn't study psychology, as I had seriously considered in high school.

Wilber leads something called the "Integral Institute."

Integral Institute is dedicated to the proposition that partial and piecemeal approaches to complex problems are ineffective. Whether addressing individual and personal issues of meaning and transformation, or increasingly complex social problems such as war, hunger, disease, over-population, housing, ecology, and education, partial and fragmented approaches need to be replaced by solutions that are more comprehensive, systematic, encompassing—and integral.
Accordingly, there are four main goals for the Institute:

1. Integrate the largest amount of research from the largest number of disciplines—including the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, neurology, ecology), art, ethics, religion, psychology, politics, business, sociology, and spirituality.

2. Develop practical products and services from this research—which can be used by individuals in their own development, or by groups, businesses, national and international organizations.

3. Apply this integrated knowledge and method of problem solving to critical and urgent issues—especially the serious political, health, educational, business, and environmental problems facing humanity. This integral approach to problem solving is employed by the Institute’s own members; by forming alliances with other organizations; and by training organizational leaders, managers, and change agents in the Integral Approach.

4. Create the world’s first Integral Learning Community—with national and international communities of Integral Practice, as well as with Integral University.

All of which says, evidently, "there's complex problems, and we want to solve them."

Now I am an engineer by training. You know what engineers do? We solve complex problems according to a number of often competitive, contrasting criteria and constraints.

It's telling that "engineering" is missing from "integrating the largest amount of research" statement above. And makes the needle on my BS meter go into the red...

As I get further into the "Integral Institute's" web pages, the language starts to take on the tone of the dreaded management consultant...I half expect to see the pointy-haired boss of Dilbert show up...

By far the most effective means that we found were the creation of numerous core teams in the various branches. These teams were composed of anywhere from 5 to 12 highly qualified members of I-I, who were charged with creating practices and services that would best advance an integral approach in their particular fields, such as integral business, integral ecology, integral psychotherapy, integral law, integral education, integral medicine, integral spirituality, integral leadership, and so on.

Having set several of these core teams in motion, I-I went into a relatively low-profile period. We expected that it would be several years before these teams began producing "integral products and services"—such as books, articles, multimedia presentations, field-tested consulting services, tools for personal transformation, and so on.

However, what is so exciting is that several of these teams are now at a point where they can begin to share their pioneering results with others who are interested in bringing a truly integral approach to their particular fields.

I have been reading their materials now for an hour, and I still can't figure out what the hell they're talking about.

Nobody I know would ever fund them if they can't encapsulate their message succintly so that it can be grasped in a period of know, integrating both the problem and approach of solution with examples.

Here's a place called "Integral Training." The graphics and fancy web-design are frankly off-putting, - I dislike being razzled and dazzled. Ken Wilber, via his website has metaphorically come to me for sanzen, and I'm about to shoo him off, and the only reason I don't is because a) I want to know what the f*ck he's talking about, and b) because I suspect there's really no there there, and want to be sure.

Ah, here's "Integral Buddhism."

Within an Integral context, the individual who has embarked on the path of awakening has the possibility of drawing on a reservoir of skillful methods which can be brought to bear on specific issues revealed by a combination of Buddhist practice and an Integral perspective. These methods include the foundational Buddhist practice of shamatha/vipashyana meditation, the non-conceptual Big Mind approach, compassion practice, analytical meditation, yoga, qi gong, the 3-Body Workout, various forms of psychological investigation, group inquiry, and 3-2-1 Shadow-Work Process, just to name a few.

Maybe I am very spiritually well fed, and Google is a wonderful tool today, but frankly, insight meditation, zen, wushu, etc., can all be found without going to Ken Wilber's shop, which looks suspiciously like their attempt to sell you another head in addition to the one you already own.

I'd also say that Wilber's apprehension of Buddhism looks ridiculously culturally insenstive; it seems predicated on the assumption that stupid Americans couldn't grasp the inscrutable East (which by now with at least a few decent 2nd generation teachers in the US in a number of fields, including Zen, this is nonsensical on its face) or that Asians couldn't somehow integrate what they do with Americans. Either way, it looks evidently useless, especially given the fact that this outfit operates in a major urban area (Denver CO,) and therefore is within easy access of pretty good resources on the subject itself.

The page on Integral Training also mentions something about "AQALTM," which should set off anyone's BS jargon detector:

The AQAL Framework offers the most comprehensive map of reality available. It integrates the realms of subjective experience and objective phenomena, in both individuals and collectives.

AQAL is not just an amazing theoretical achievement—it's a powerfully practical tool. The framework reveals deep patterns of reality, and helps you to integrate these patterns into your own body, mind and spirit.

The result? You are ushered into a wider circle of wisdom, caring, and skillful action. You're able to express yourself and serve others with a new level of confidence and effectiveness. Fear is relaxed, and life becomes more vivid and joyful.

I simply cannot believe people pay this guy money...and I am astounded that there are people still walking around with narratives like this in their heads.

Whatever. Caveat emptor.

Oh, also, read Ken Wilber's response to his friend's scandal, and read Incredibly Insightful Victoria Lansford's viewpoint.

Software engineers have a term for what is the apparent effluence of this thing: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out.

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