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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A hard sell, 15 Feb. 2012
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Let me begin by saying that "The marriage of sense and soul" isn't a bad book by any means. In fact, it's the best book by Wilber I've read. Usually, "A brief history of everything" is considered to be *the* introductory work for people who never heard of Wilber before. However, I think "The marriage of sense and soul" is a much better introduction. While the book doesn't cover as many subjects as "A brief history of everything", it's better written than most other works by this author I'm familiar with. Wilber is notorious for his free-wheeling style of writing, but something had him on a tight leash when penning this one! Let me guess: the editor?

That being said, I nevertheless agree with the critical reviewers that Wilber never really succeeds in integrating or reconciling science and religion. What he perhaps succeeds in doing is reconciling his own, modernized version of Advaita/Zen/Vajrayana (a.k.a. Integral Theory) with science. But that's just one religion out of God knows how many - pun intended. Wilber may imagine that non-dual mysticism is the real kernel of all (or most) religions, and that their mythology can be easily dispensed with. Few people would agree. For instance, neither the Jesus of the Gospels nor Paul made statements even remotely similar to those of Integral Theory. Christianity as traditionally conceived considered the virgin birth or the resurrection to be real, tangible, historical events. Wilber may disagree and point to Gnosticism or the Gospel of Thomas, but the point is that the bulk of Christian believers simply won't accept his claims. Besides, it's not prima facie clear whether Gnostics would accept them, either!

A more serious problem is Wilber's conviction that impersonal forms of mysticism are higher than personal forms. How does he know? He doesn't. Wilber is right that mystical experiences are "empirical" in the broad sense of that term, but none of the criteria he advances for proving the existence of such experiences can solve the problem whether the personal or the impersonal states are the highest. Both stages of mysticism exist, and both are deemed the highest - but by competing religious communities! Many Christian and Jewish mystics would argue that impersonal mystical states are lower than personal mystical states. So would some Hindu mystics, such as Caitanya. I really can't see how Wilber can solve this problem, except by appealing to sheer authority or some kind of metaphysical criterion (but that would no longer be "science" sensu stricto).

Another problem is Wilber's view of the interior and the exterior. Perhaps I've misunderstood him here, but it certainly seems as if he is denying the possibility of paranormal phenomena. Spiritual and "supernatural" realms do exist, but they are "interior", and therefore accessible only through our minds. Presumably, this means that the "exterior" dimension is explicable in wholly materialist or naturalist terms. Here, science can run free. What science must do to reconcile with religion, is to admit that the interior/subjective realms are equally ontologically real as the exterior/objective universe. Perhaps a mystical experience *would* convince even the most hardened materialist that "the Upper Left" is ontologically robust. But most scientists, let alone most humans, will never have such experiences. Indeed, they will be prone to dismiss them as delusions or hallucinations. A more promising way of reconciling science and religion would be to prove the existence of supernatural phenomena *in the exterior*. Perhaps this can be accomplished by parapsychology. If it can't, I'm afraid even open-minded scientists will remain sceptical of the claims of religion, since most religions are based on the existence of a supernatural dimension of reality. It's therefore curious that Wilber never mentions parapsychology, or discusses various kinds of paranormal phenomena. I suspect this is connected to Integral Theory, which holds that claims of miracles are part of a Mythic-Magic consciousness humanity should outgrow. In other words, Wilber rejects "right quadrant" supernatural phenomena for dogmatic reasons. They cut against his own religion.

My final criticism of Wilber would be more general. I don't like his attempt to create a synthesis between the premodern, modern and postmodern. My bugbear is postmodernism. I don't mind attempts to synthesize premodernity and modernity. But postmodernity? Why does Wilber believe that postmodernity is the next step in the evolution of Spirit? It makes more sense to see postmodernity as a pathological dissociation-product of modernity. In "The marriage of sense and soul", Wilber still attempts to unite the three historical epochs, but a few years ago he made a sharp "post-metaphysical turn", and became completely consumed by the postmodern meme (or mind virus). His awful book "Integral Spirituality" reflect this unfortunate turn. Some critics of Wilber believe that he gave up on science, and instead decided to conquer the humanities with Integral Theory. But since the humanities are enthralled by postmodernism, Integral thought had to become more explicitly postmodern. This will probably spell the doom of Wilber's project in the long run, since postmodernism is simply a ridiculous fad. Science, on the other hand, will always be with us (unless civilization collapses). So will mysticism...and religion.

The really important project isn't to show a bunch of crackpot liberal art lecturers that you can derive the AQAL without metaphysics. What really matters is...the marriage of sense and soul.
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The Marriage of Sense & Soul: Integrating Science and Religion
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