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Book Review - Norman Einstein

International Journal of Cultic Studies Vol. 2, 2011, 77-78.

“Norman Einstein”: The Dis-Integration of Ken Wilber

Geoffrey D. Falk

Reviewed by Arthur A. Dole, PhD, ABPP

Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Million Monkeys Press. 2009. ISBN-10: 097362034X; ISBN-13: 978-0973620344 (hardcover), $34.95 list ($26.56 216 pages.

In this hardcover, self-published book, one digitician dis-integrates another digitician as a fraud and the guru of a New Age cult, the Integral Institute. (A “digitician” is my word for a member of the digital generation; a professional, often a scientist or an engineer. Such a person performs magic with sick computers; can convert your television set to high definition/HD; uses a cell phone to communicate with friends, take pictures, play games, watch movies, read a book, or listen to music. The modern electronic technician is no Luddite. He or she may not be a scholar, either.)

Ken Wilber’s followers call him “Norman Einstein” because they consider him the genius of consciousness. According to Wikipedia, Wilber completed a double major in chemistry and biology at the University of Nebraska, even though he was disillusioned with science. He is now an author and Integral theorist; he writes on psychology, philosophy, mysticism, and spiritual evolution. He founded the Integral Institute in 1998 in Boulder, Colorado. Buddhism teachings and the practice of meditation (TM, or Transcendental Meditation) underpin his work. The title of one his books, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality (Wilber, 2001) suggests the reach of his thinking.

Of the 47 citations of Wilber’s work in Falk’s Bibliography, I classified 16 as blogs, or personal communications. This example supports my impression that Wilber (unlike Albert Einstein?) is a digitician.

Canadian Geoffrey D. Falk brings to his criticisms of Wilber 2 years of electrical engineering education at the University of Manitoba, followed by 20 years of experience in computer programming. In his resume, Falk claims to have worked for a variety of non-profit and commercial organizations, and to have demonstrated superb technical, problem-solving, and communication skills. In short, he also is a digitician.

Here is what is presented on the cover of “Norman Einstein”:

Ken Wilber’s ideas have influenced Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jeb Bush, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, and a host of other luminaries, spiritual and otherwise. Writer Michael Crichton, leadership guru Warren Bennis, playwright Eve Ensler ... and a handful of rock stars have lent their voices in support of the “Integral Community.”

In 12 short chapters, plus a 26-page appendix, Falk refutes Wilber’s major ideas. Here is my summary of Falk’s criticisms, by chapter:

I: Wilber is not a second Einstein.

II: Wilber misunderstands evolution by connecting it to Intelligent Design.

III: Wilber stumbles in building his Integral spiral psychology; for instance, he is misinformed about Carl Jung.

IV: Wilber’s theory of Integral Meditation is unsound science.

V: Wilber’s theory of Kosmic parapsychology depends on mythic and magical thinking.

VI: Wilberian mathematics is a misunderstanding of the Pythagorean theorem.

VII: Integral politics are blatantly self-celebrating and openly grandiose.

VIII: Integral censorship of disagreement is a doubtful practice.

IX: Wilber’s bald narcissism is unprofessional, childish, manipulative, and cultic.

X: In “the strange case of Adi Da,” the leader of a spiritual community whom Wilber defends, Wilber states, “the guru principle is neither understood nor accepted by our culture.”

XI: Wilber’s cargo cult philosophy obfuscates or ignores facts that do not mesh with his theories.

XII: “Norman Einstein” was publicized by Wilber’s literary agent, John White, to sell Wilber’s books.

Appendix: Falk analyzes the “problems with Ken Wilber’s ‘refutations’ of David Bohm’s ideas.” David Bohm is a physicist.

To support his arguments for each chapter, Falk inserts quotations from pertinent books and Web sites within the text. Data to support opinions are sometimes lacking. In the Bibliography, he cites few primary sources and omits page numbers when he does refer to refereed journals. Additional fact checking, editing for organization and the reduction of strong language, and proofreading would improve this book. For example, on page 42, in discussing the practice of Transcendental Meditation, Falk refers to the “conscientious” rather than the conscious level.

If we accept Falk’s assertions, Wilber does indeed resemble a moderate New Age cult leader. However, authoritarian leaders who meditate or pray, apply intense social persuasion, do not tolerate disagreement or criticism, and construct grandiose schemes are common in our culture. They are chairs of academic departments, laboratory directors, coaches of athletic teams, ministers, military officers, police chiefs, and business bosses. Often they can be unpleasant but not illegal or unethical. More than a decade ago, an ICSA-sponsored (then AFF-sponsored) team published a series of studies of the New Age. Dole, Langone, and Eichel noted that some New Age groups were rated as beneficial or not harmful by nonmember experts who knew them well.

Falk fails to describe much of what Wilber does as head of the Integral Institute. How many followers does he have? Does he abuse them psychologically, physically, or sexually? How is he funded outside of grants and book sales? What is his budget? Does he follow a luxurious life style while his group is exploited? Does he require chanting as part of meditation? In short, to what extent, if any, does Ken Wilber do harm? To his followers? To the public?

In sum, both digiticians seem limited by the cyber revolution. Apparently, Wilber has attempted to combine a scientific background with New Age mysticism. But his critic Falk only skims the surface with a patchwork of assertions, many of them collected from the Internet.

International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 2, 2011