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- Listening Length: 6 hours
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Macmillan Audio
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 22 Feb. 2000
- Language: English
- ASIN: B002SPXBRO
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion Audiobook – Unabridged
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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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But wait, what about the families and friends of the bride and the groom? See them there on opposite sides of the aisle, staring straight ahead (for the metaphor's sake, we'll keep this imagined scenario in church). Some haven't spoken to each other in years, despite growing up in the same town together.
Some are engaged in generations-old vendettas. Some of the relatives aren't even in the church for this auspicious occasion, to them a shocking travesty. The young couple feel the heavy pressure of their separate backgrounds, their own doubts about their compatibility even as they stand there ready to take the plunge. The paparazzi lean forward, cameras at the ready. The town waits. The birds hold back their song.
The Marriage of Sense and Soul is Ken Wilber's fourteenth book and his first with a major publisher (most of his others are with Shambhala, one of the best presses for books on spirituality, dharma, and aspects of the "perennial philosophy"). The fact that The Marriage of Sense and Soul has stepped into
the mainstream is good. Now its subject matter can begin to enter into a larger public forum where it stands a chance of being discussed more widely.
I count myself among the admiring fans of Ken Wilber, and The Marriage of Sense and Soul reconfirms and redoubles my admiration. I've read most of his work and followed with fascination his own development as a thinker, theoretician, philosopher, and dharma practitioner. In Wilber I see and am awed by a rare kind of greatness of mind and heart--the ability to bring together the disparate and even the seemingly irreconcilable into the revelation of a deeper unity and a profound vision of the universe and our place in it. Wilber is a genius at integrating and synthesizing, something our fragmented and over-
specialized age sorely needs.
In The Marriage of Sense and Soul Wilber builds on his other books but centers on his explicit intention to integrate science and religion. The overall structure of the book consists of a simple and elegant four-part division in which Wilber addresses the problem of reconciling science and religion and the importance of doing that, goes through the various earlier failed attempts at reconciliation, proposes his own reconciliation, and, finally, points us toward a possible future.
At the risk of over-simplifying and distorting a complex and brilliant presentation, his argument seems to be this: The integration of science and religion is vital to both our survival and to our on-going evolution. Both science and religion--or the modern and pre-modern world views they respectively embody--at their cores hold invaluable truths. The problem has been that the truth of one side has been denied by the truth of the other. These denials have led us to the perilous situation we find ourselves in, "a massive and violent schism and rupture in the internal organs of today's global culture . . . and if some sort of reconciliation between science and religion is not forthcoming, the future of humanity is, at best, precarious." (4) Wilber argues it is possible to "tease apart" the partial truths of religion's and science's domains and see that they are each part of a larger truth. This larger truth creates the possibility of
marriage between the two and a healing for us. Finally, this marriage, if it's to take place, must be acceptable on each partner's terms; that is, both science and religion have to buy into it, freely, willingly, and necessarily.
With that as the barest of summaries, we can now explore a few of Wilber's key ideas. First of all, Wilber recognizes that an integration of religion and science will not be possible if there is no agreed upon "core" within religion itself, that is, among the various religions on our planet. Looking at the question
broadly, he asks what is the general frame or core of the great world religions, the "great wisdom traditions" once we divest them of their particularizing details? For example, it would not be appropriate to use the idea of a personal god as the core of all religions as that would cut out Buddhism--or put it in
conflict with Christianity; rather, he asks, what do Buddhism and Christianity have in common, at the core--or any of the other world religions, for that matter? His answer is "The Great Chain of Being," which he renames the "Great Nest of Being," or the "Great Holarchy" (a holarchy is a naturally-occurring hierarchy; for example, molecules are greater than atoms because molecules contain atoms; cells are greater than molecules because cells contain molecules). In other words, he argues, it is an almost universal view of the premodern religious world that
reality is a rich tapestry of interwoven levels, reaching from matter to
body to mind to soul to spirit. Each senior level 'envelopes' or 'enfolds'
its junior dimension--a series of nests within nests within nests of Being--
so that every thing and event in the world is interwoven with every other,
and all are ultimately enveloped and enfolded by Spirit, by God, by
Goddess, by Tao, by Brahman, by the Absolute itself. (6-7)
Of course, he says, with the rise of modernity and science (the evolution of the rational mind), some of this hierarchical view of reality could not be accommodated and was discarded, leaving us with what he calls "flatland" where reality is seen as composed strictly of matter/energy best studied by science. After all, Wilber reminds us, when Galileo put his telescope to his eye and pointed it at the heavens, what he saw there was inconsistent with what the Church fathers had always said was there (more accurately, what "could" be there) and his experience clashed with their dogma, an oft-repeated conflict throughout history since the renaissance. And this leads us to what Wilber calls the "core" of modernity.
What modernity has given us, he says, beyond all the legitimate complaints about the "loss of value," the "brutalities of capitalism," "existential dread," and Max Weber's "disenchantment of the world"--what else it has given us (and this is its "good news," a counterweight to its just-listed "bad news") is what Jurgen Habermas calls "the differentiation of the cultural value spheres," specifically, the differentiation of morals, science, and art--or the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, or the language domains of "We, It, and I." In other words, in pre-modern times , since these "values spheres" had not yet been fully differentiated, what Galileo saw was "heretical," i.e. not possible. When you live within a strictly magical or mythical world view, your "experience" has to fit within that view. But Galileo's view, in part caused by the new instrument of science in his hands, took him outside what was permissible. Once you've distinguished a domain of morals (goodness) and another of science (i.e. knowledge or truth) and another of art (beauty), the world is a very different place--and, thanks to science, it was and is.
Here's the rub, though. When, based on the new knowledge it had gained through experience and experiment, science threw out the bath-water of dogmatic, metaphysically-driven descriptions of "reality," it inadvertently and unknowingly also threw out the innocent baby of natural hierarchy and thereby "flattened" the world. This "flatland" quickly became the sum-total of all that was real. And poor religion, Wilber reminds us, was relegated to talking about invisible, unknowable, and unmeasureable things--i.e. the "unreal." And no self-respecting scientist would or could take the unreal seriously.
In his attempt to reclaim some of the territory previously inhabited by religion and trashed by hard science, Wilber brings to bear a few important ideas from his earlier works (see especially Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality and A Brief History of Everything where they are fully explained). I can only briefly touch on them here in this context, but they are crucial to an understanding of Wilber's thought: they are the Holons, the Four Quadrants, and the Spectrum of Consciousness.
Borrowing from Arthur Koestler, Wilber says everything in the universe is a holon, which is defined as a whole/part, i.e. everything we can apprehend (either with our senses or with our minds) is a "thing" (a whole) made up of parts, which are in turn wholes made up of parts. These holons, of course, are
arranged "holarchically" in nested patterns of inclusion and are subject to development and evolution (and sometimes arrested development or "pathology" of one kind or another.) Further, holons partake of four co-related, co-arising aspects, each distinct from the others--the aforementioned Four Quadrants. These "four corners of the known universe" are divided in two main ways: first of all, between all that is exterior and observable by the senses (the "it" or "True" domain of the two right-hand quadrants) and all that is interior and observable by the mind only, by inner experience, by "inter-subjective dialogue" (the "I" and "We" or "Good" domain of the two left-hand quadrants); secondly, the universe is divided into the individual and collective, i.e. holons manifest themselves in singular and plural aspects. In the notion of the "Spectrum of Consciousness" Wilber echoes much of what's been passed down through the perennial philosophy and the world's ancient wisdom traditions. Briefly, there he's saying that consciousness--as it is manifested in our experience--can be seen to be hierarchical, where the lower levels are transcended but included in the higher. Hence, sensation is "lower" than emotion, that is, prior to it (evolutionarily speaking) but also included within emotion, just as emotion is "lower" than thinking but also included within it. The "lower" is "nested" within the "higher," the way letters are nested within words, words nested within
sentences, sentences nested within paragraphs, etc. Note, we never give up using letters, even as we transcend their limitations when we learn how to use words.
Wilber ties all these ideas together brilliantly through the notion of the "knowledge quest." Here, I can only hint at how he does it; the detailed argument is spell-binding! Wherever we seek knowledge, he says, in whatever domains, whether practical, scientific, or spiritual, we're going to use the same framework, follow the same three basic procedural steps: 1) injunction, 2) apprehension or illumination, and 3) confirmation. Put simply, if you want to know something, anything--from whether it's raining outside, to learning college algebra, to seeking enlightenment, you must first follow an injunction, i.e., you must "do this." For example, if you want to know if it's raining, you put your hand out the window (injunction), then you see or feel if it's wet (apprehension, illumination), and, finally, you check your results out with a "community of the adequate" (confirmation). A "community of the adequate" are all the others who have stuck their hands out the window and gotten them wet.
Sounds suspiciously like the old scientific method, doesn't it? For those of us who "do science," the procedure has a familiar ring to it. Interestingly though, and perhaps less obviously, for those of us who "do a spiritual practice," it also pertains. If we want to be enlightened, we're enjoined to sit down on our
cushions; if we want to know God, we're urged to pray without cessation; if we want to become one with Brahma, we're instructed to ask, over and over again, the question, "Who am I?" until all our answers are exhausted. In other words, whatever the spiritual tradition might be, it comes down to do this practice.
Then, see what happens and report back your experience to the community of practitioners and be confirmed or not. Note, Wilber makes an important distinction between "knowledge-quests" which have a "yoga" (an injunction to practice) and those which require one to take on a set of beliefs. Nothing wrong
with beliefs, he hastens to say, but for purposes of reconciling science and religion, "belief" will not suffice as a compatible core.
So, Wilber's key insight is that science and religion--at their cores--have the above implicitly agreed-upon "knowledge quest" pattern in common. Now we're at the heart of Wilber's reconciliation project. If we treat science in broad terms, as dealing with experience--not just sensory experience, not just "sensory empiricism"--then science is an essential part of any serious practitioner's spiritual path. Further, science--the experience-based knowledge quest--is essential at any level of the spectrum of consciousness, from the sensory to the non-dual. If religion can see that all of what it has to offer ultimately comes from someone's experience (say a founder's, or its most respected practitioners'), and if science can see that despite its sometimes articulated claims notwithstanding it does operate within the framework of holarchy and does implicitly acknowledge the reality of an interior domain, then we have finally gotten to a deep level of integration of both science and religion. (By the way, Wilber reminds scientists that to assert the primacy of sensory empiricism is to make a hierarchical thought claim, something decidedly "interior"! )
Recognizing that the objective and subjective spheres both have reality, are both part of the mysterious and dazzling warp and woof of the Kosmos (Wilber's word for the "cosmos" when we acknowledge its interior dimensions) frees us from the energy-draining, mind-numbing need to take sides in an impossible and unwinnable war, and reveals a universe of boundless particularities and bottomless depths.
On with the marriage ceremony! On to the feast and celebration!