Structures and States in Wilber's Recent Work

One thing that is noticable in Wilber's most recent work is a continuing refinement and adjustment of the relationship between "states," "structures," and "stages." Gone, for example, is the highly problematic, and perhaps ridiculous, idea that we are all, somehow or other, "evolving" into the "subtle mind stage" of human development, as if, someday, the future evolution of man will involve everyone walking around in a dream-state.

In Integral Spirituality Wilber attempts to carefully distinguish states and stages. (This distinction is not new, of course; I simply want to highlight aspects of his most recent comments on the problem of the relationship between the two.) At the end of chapter three, Wilber calls the issue of their relationship the "$64,000 question." It is a question, however, that tends to remain a question. In chapter four, "States and Stages," Wilber says:

As for transformation itself: how individuals grow, develop and transform is one of the great mysteries of human psychology. The truth is, nobody knows... this is an extrodinarily complex subject, which I will set aside for the moment...(p. 87)

In chapter six, "The Shadow and the Disowned Self," Wilber does give some actual indication of the possible relationship between states of consciousness and stages of development. He first makes this statement:

But in the long haul, research indicates, meditation can engage vertical development (or the unfolding or vertical stages of the same self line). (p. 137)

The question, of course, is how this is possible. A few pages later he gives this explanation:

Conventional researchers have discovered the zone-#2 structure stages of consciousness development...whereas the contemplative traditions... have plumbed the depth of the major zone-#1 trained states of consciousness.... Moving horizontally through those major #-1 states of consciousness can also help vertical or zone -#2 development.... The reason that state-meditation can help with vertical stage development is that every time you experience a non-ordinary 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 of the self line. (p. 140)

Presumably then, there is empirical data that supports the contention that those engaged in a "spirtual path" and/or meditation tend to "grow" or "develop" in various ways. This seems plausible. But, and here is my first problem, is this development the result of "meditation?" Perhaps it is the result of interaction with a teacher. Perhaps such growth is inherent in those who seek out such paths, and a natural result of their cultivation of spirituality. What I'm getting at here is the mechanistic idea that altering one's consciousness is the primary agent for growth among those engaged in spirituality. This is a lesser point and though I find it interesting, I don't want to pursue it at this time.

There is also, implied in the above, the added problem as to what it is we mean, exactly, by "development." This is to say, that it is not at all clear as to what it is that is "developing" in general, apart from the rather vague category of "consciousness." If consciousness is, as Ken suggests, empty, what is the criterion within consciousness that allows us to gauge the various levels, and that, just as importantly, also allows us to distinguish levels from lines? Ken makes it clear that we need to distinguish between levels and lines of development, and the various lines of development are relatively clear. We can, for example, speak of moral development, or intellectual development, and so on, in terms that can be understood by most of us. But as soon as we begin to talk about "levels" in general, things become very vague.

My sense is that levels can only be understood in terms of some particular line, that as soon as we attempt to characterize "levels of development," we are, in fact, understanding that development in terms of some line. The difficulty here appears to reveal itself in chapter nine, "The Conveyer Belt," wherein Wilber attempts to distinguish lines of phylogenetic development (i.e., Lower Left development) from levels of development. But when Wilber is required to speak of these general levels in more specific terms, he resorts to of the well-known color scheme of red, amber, orange, and in doing so, make use of a particular characterization: modern/orange=the "rational," etc. Now one might wish to go along with a particular characterization in such a manner, but unless some criterion can be given as to the general nature of this development, it comes off as merely an arbitrary, a priori imposition upon "consciousness"; and if some criterion is given, then, I would suggest, we are merely understanding development in terms of some particular line of development.

One final point. In chapter four, "Stages and States, " Wilber says the following with respect to the relation between states and stages, "But a person will interpret that state according to the stage they are at." (p. 90) This characterization has become widely known. But I think that this kind of comment, does not jibe with what Wilber says above about meditative states "aiding" in development through stages of growth. As we noted above, Ken had talked about "a non-ordinary state of consciousness that you cannot interpret within your present structure" contributing to the development of consciousness. But here, he is saying that we tend to interpret such non-ordinary states in terms of the structure-stage we are at. These two comments do not appear to jibe. If we tend to interpret non-ordinary states in terms of the structure-stage we are at, would this not tend to reinforce the stage we are at, rather than contribute to its transcendence? To me it seems as if there are two competing models of the role of state-meditation in stage development at work here. It seems as if Wilber cannot entirely let go of the older model that related stages more intimately with states and that gave a more central and important role to meditative disciplines in human "development."


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