Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ken Wilber's Integral Vision versus The Secret: Law of Attraction

Like multitudes of people, I was recently attracted to the Law of Attraction a.k.a The Secret. But almost 10 years ago, I got obsessed with Ken Wilber's Integral Vision, so much so it was the center of my college thesis and personal search for knowledge. The passion for it and passion for other stuff died down when I got into the real world.

In the past months though , I have been focusing on The Secret along with any related material, plus Tony Robbins's NLP based-system and Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad texts for wealth seekers. I quit my job and used my savings to start planning things out.

All throughout, I had put Ken Wilber's framework on the shelf but there indeed was in the back of my head a kind of doubt regarding "positive thinking" of The Secret and Wallace Wattle's Science of Getting Rich (which seems like the basis for Rhonda Byrne's work). I also had the feeling, while I didn't want to dwell on it, that any Wilberian, never mind if that person just glossed over Wilber's work, would easily obliterate the whole concept of reality according to the the Law of Attraction. I didn't want to know their opinion because until now The Secret has been giving so much hope in my life.

And then it happened...

Out of curiosity, I googled Ken Wilber and The Secret and I came across his opinion and that of his scholars (among those most vocal is Julian Walker). As can be expected, the all encompassing and practically airtight framework of Wilber, without any effort destroyed with critical thinking and rationalization the reality of The Secret.

The basis is primarily the Pre-Trans fallacy.

From what I studied long before, I have always felt that Ken Wilber's pre-trans fallacy is one of his most important contributions (maybe even more important than his Quadrants and Holons). The pre-trans fallacy, if I understand correctly, states that in the broadest process of complete development of human beings , an individual goes through pre-rational (infancy or perhaps any damage to the brain), rational (usually adulthood) and finally trans-rational (realization or enlightenment) . The crucial thing to note here is the opposite ends of the spectrum of human experiences are non-rational and as such anything that happens in the two can be mistaken for the other.

But the trans-rational stage encompasses and transcends rationality which means this stage has a solid foundation of reason and logic in which the highest level of human potential was able to grow from and finally become aware of the "whole picture" or answer "the Ultimate question".

On the other hand, before reason and logic there was the pre-rational stage and this is the realm of mythical and magical beliefs (pardon me Wilberians if I use some terms loosely but you get the picture) . This is the stage of superstitions, gods big and small and whatnot that are not based on complete facts. This stage is before rationality. But in the same manner, rationality must grow from this pre-rational realm. It cannot be skipped. A baby is not a Buddha because while irrational it can't help but think and feel it is one with all.

Back to the Secret… the argument goes that The Secret is far from being anything spiritual and more of being pathological and narcissistic for promoting beliefs that you are the center of the universe and thinking good thoughts can create matter such as a Ferrari.

This reminds me of one of my favorite books, Heinlien's "Stranger in a Strange Land" where the protagonist's realization and motto was "Thou Art God". Supposedly this is the idea that would improve the whole world if each one thought that way among each other...

Anyway, an intense and interesting discussion where a lot of Wilber fans criticized "The Secret" is found at If you read most of it you will see that
~C4Chaos or coolmel, while he knows much about Wilber's framework, believes that there is still value in "the Secret" in terms of "translation" and I quote:

"So, what's my point? My point is that The Secret (or Law of Attraction) serves as a good “translation” mechanism for people who need it at this point in their lives. If you notice the reaction of the people who have been touched by The Secret, the common theme is that, it changed their attitude from a “poor me victim” consciousness into a more positive outlook in which they now have to take responsibility for their thoughts, intentions, and actions. I say that's a pretty darn good “translation” for coping up with life."

And from here a number of critics among which is Julian Walker basically says it can't be a healthy translation (or view) of the world if there is lack of honesty or if there is a denial to what is real in this translation.

I read other related blogs in which Wilber fans also dominated the discussion. And for a few days it really depressed me. Obliviously it deflated my hopes. So it touched a nerve.

But in the end, I agree completely with ~C4Chaos. What I say is I'm all for "The Law of Attraction" if it helps individuals like me that need an occasional swift smack in the head with a big wooden stick to get out of depression. God knows critical thinking would take a lot longer to push me to get up and do something great.

I really think it's an exaggeration that adopting the reality of the Secret is damaging to the soul or society as a whole or believing it will surely end up in tears. Surely, scholars of Wilber know about slippery slopes and while the behavior of an individual sometimes reflects the behavior of the society, more often an individual can navigate and change courses faster and more consciously than a group of people. A cult of thousands with its members strengthening each others prelogic beliefs with their common symbols and having exact same goals maybe annihilation of a particular race or spread of their religion is more likely to have a damaging effect than an individual who perhaps has a prelogic belief system that he or she has full control of his or her life and everything around it and with positive thinking he or she person can create positive events and things.

Even with my respect to Wilberians, in this issue they serve as a wet blanket and they just have this habit of needing to use critical thinking to break apart something instead of seeing its usefulness. And that's the nature of being an intellectual in the intellectual field, as any would see the amount of critics that tried to dismantle Wilber' work from the beginning. Huge egos in this arena, as such any one would notice how intellectuals (even Wilber) can be vocally violent in defending their views.

In the end, maybe that's why even after reading Ken Wilber's book I was still much more into Osho. He was super rational in any issue or debate but he knew that he had to change levels of rationalizations depending on his audience. This for me explains why Osho seems to contradict himself or change his mind so often and have different opinions in different lectures. Unlike Osho, Wilber's framework or Quadrant system of thought is constant in whatever discussion you are having. In theory, All Level All Quadrant (AQAL) works every time and through it you can probably win any argument or debate but in everyday life, things, thoughts, experiences and people are so organic and dynamic and mysterious that not even an AQAL framework can contain them long enough.

Osho didn't bother with systems of thoughts or signposts, he just says what serves his purpose for a particular time and place and persons involved. And his lectures always had a goal and that is not to simply challenge his listeners but more to help them develop.

On the other hand, it seems a lot of Wilberians are more into the fun game of debating and deconstructing using Wilber's great maybe perfect rationalization tools.

Even if The Secret can easily be seen as revival of New Age B.S. and just a moneymaking scam, the simple value of helping people reevaluate their lives is much more of a contribution at this stage for a lot of people than knowing the Theory of Everything.

Personal experiences tell me glimpses of realization or any original thoughts often come illogically (pre rational or translogical - who cares) from mysterious places in the unconscious. From this, I think proponents of The Secret need not be aware of the colored "memes" and levels of development to create inspiring material that truly changes some people's live for the better.

Lastly, just think how The Secret simply inspires a lot of people the way Adi Da's Dawn Horse inspired Ken Wilber. Surely a lot of us who read it snickered at the stuff in the Dawn Horse (What's with the capitalizations?) but what's important is it had a huge impact on Wilber's personal development.

Also, look at Tony Robbins' Neuro Associative Programming - many psychologists violently disagree with NAP and its basis (from NLP) but most time the NAP techniques just work for a lot of individuals even without decades of study and evidence to back it up compared to let's say Freudian therapy. I know Wilber recognizes Tony Robbins as a real genuine successful person.

Or how about the way Maharshi gained enlightenment at such an early age when, he out of the blue (whatever inspired him), he laid down on his bed and pretended as best he could that he was dead.

My point is , inspiration that can push us to the next levels can come quite mysteriously or from whatever strange unknowable places. And I think Wilber had mentioned it before that you just need enough or minimum foundation in a particular stage of development to suddenly transcend that level. Realizations can be so sudden and become a leap into the next level. What fuels these sudden leaps if not inspiration (from a person, experience or book like the Secret) or simple desperation or frustration in the current situation you are in. If The Secret inspires people or better yet helps people gain control of their emotions and thoughts, then it necessarily deepens awareness and "nowness" - this is the single most important if not the only thing for spiritual development.

In any case, The Secret doesn't tell you to do drugs or sacrifice your child to awaken to reality. It just tells you to mind your thoughts, not unlike (if not exactly) how exercises of modern gurus Anthony De Mello or Eckart Tolle go.

I say, if the secret works for you why not(I know, post-modernism not post-post-modernism).


VIVEKA said...

When it works for some people, it's a good thing. When you're an intellectual it's just no secret at all...
Funny stuff, all these commercialised new age things. It's got a lot to do with the positive thinking 'movement'. My biggest critic being that you dwell all the nagativity under the carpet where it's building up and just waiting to explode... It's creating a bigger duality, one where your happiness is your own responsibility and happiness being just the amount of money you're having. A few lessons economics would clear it up.
Anyway, the world is moving on...

Steven said...

Life is an organic unit; no doubt about it. We must remember that AQAL is just a map (and only a map); but if we are going to make a prison break we had better have a damn good map!

LukeStanley said...

Rich post.
In short, I'd say:

Transcend and include magical attraction thinking -
as with all magical thinking, it can be good to use it as a guide but don't rely on it concretely.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis…exactly what I needed. Like you i've been into Ken for years, but lately i've been concentrating on Wattles and Hill et al. I've thought, 'Am I fooling myself with magical thinking?'(Pre). But then I thought, if I mock this I may be very clever ( and accepted by the 'in' crowd), but really I'm just joining the(mostly poor) nay-sayers. And the Buddhist crowd is full of them, with their veggie food and beaten up old cars, as if poverty were some sort of badge of honour. And also, I have to honour the magic level. It's still within me, and can't be ignored. If so, why not populate it with stories success and dragon-slaying, rather than tales of helplessness and defeat? At the end of the day it's your call. If you reject the Law of Attraction, be sure you're not doing it because your peers don't think it's cool. And remember Rhonda Byrne is laughing all the way to the bank, and what's wrong with that? As far as I know I don't think she forced anyone to watch the movie

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