Wilber, Ken 1949–
Wilber, Ken 1949–
Born January 31, 1949; married Terry "Treya" Killam, 1983 (died, 1989). Education: Attended Duke University; graduate studies in chemistry and biology at the University of Nebraska. Religion: Buddhism.
Writer, editor, and philosopher. Editor-in-chief of the journal ReVision, 1977-82; general editor for the "New Science Library" series, Shambhala Publications, Boulder, CO.
The Spectrum of Consciousness, Theosophical Publishing House (Wheaton, IL), 1977.
No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, Center Publications (Los Angeles, CA), 1979.
The Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development, Theosophical Publishing House (Wheaton, IL), 1980.
Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, Anchor Press/Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1981.
(Editor) The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes: Exploring the Leading Edge of Science, Shambhala (Boulder, CO), 1982.
A Sociable God: A Brief Introduction to a Transcendental Sociology, New Press (New York, NY), 1983, revised edition published as A Sociable God: Toward a New Understanding of Religion, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2005.
Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm, Anchor Books (Garden City, NY), 1983, expanded edition, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1990.
(Editor) Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists, Shambhala (Boulder, CO), 1984.
(With Jack Engler and Daniel P. Brown) Transformation of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development, New Science Library (Boston, MA), 1986, revised edition published with chapters by John Chirban, Mark Epstein, and Jonathan Leiff, Shambhala Publications (Boston, MA), 2006.
(Editor, with Dick Anthony and Bruce Ecker) Spiritual Choices: The Problem of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation, Paragon House (New York, NY), 1987.
(Author of essay) Alex Grey, The Sacred Mirrors: The Visionary Art of Alex Grey, Inner Traditions International (Rochester, VT), 1990.
Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1991.
Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1995.
A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1996.
(Author of essay) Martha R. Severens, Andrew Wyeth: America's Painter, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1996.
The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1997.
The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1998.
(Author of foreword) Alex Grey, The Mission of Art, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1998.
One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1999.
The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume 1: The Spectrum of Consciousness; No Boundary, Volume 2: The Atman Project; Up from Eden, Volume 3, A Sociable God; Eye to Eye, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1999.
Integral Psychology: Transformations of Consciousness, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 1999, reprinted as Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2000.
A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2000.
Boomeritis: A Novel that Will Set You Free, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2002.
The Simple Feeling of Being: Embracing Your True Nature, compiled and edited by Mark Palmer and others, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2004.
Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World, Integral Books (Boston, MA), 2006.
The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything, Shambhala (Boston, MA), 2007.
Wilber's books have been translated into numerous languages, including German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese.
Ken Wilber is known for his writings on religion, science, philosophy, psychology, and mysticism. His unified field theory of consciousness is an ambitious attempt to interpret and integrate the world's most important psychological, philosophical, and spiritual beliefs. He is considered a leading New Age thinker and philosopher, but he is not comfortable with many aspects of the alternative science and new spirituality movements. He considers some New Age models of human development to be superficial, regressive, or reductionistic. His approach is scholarly, but he has written several books in which he attempts to make his work accessible to a mainstream audience.
Wilber first considered becoming a physician, but he became interested in psychology and mysticism during his early years at Duke University. In graduate school at the University of Nebraska, he formally studied biology and chemistry, but he also continued to explore alternative beliefs. At the age of twenty-three, he wrote The Spectrum of Consciousness, which has been recognized as a definitive work in transpersonal psychology—a controversial form of psychology that explores not only the emotional but also the spiritual aspects of human development. Published in 1977, the book describes the forms of human consciousness and proposes an integration of Eastern and Western approaches. Instead of being contradictory, Wilber argues, diverse spiritual and psychological approaches appeal to different wavelengths of consciousness, which are analogous to different wavelengths of light. Wilber expanded on many of the ideas first presented in The Spectrum of Consciousness in subsequent books such as No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth (1979), The Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development (1980), Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution (1981), A Sociable God: A Brief Introduction to Transcendental Sociology (1982), and Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm (1983).
No Boundary has been extolled as an excellent introduction to transpersonal psychology. According to a review by Robert Stensrud in Best Sellers, "no other work provides a better overview of the field while remaining introductory in nature." A Sociable God proposes a new social psychology of religion. In a review in Commonweal, John A. Coleman noted that he is "deeply suspicious of the main theoretical premises of this work," but he also admits that it "includes perceptive insights, analytic acuity, and genuine wisdom in places."
Wilber's Eye to Eye proposes a fusion of science and mysticism and explores the feasibility of empirically authenticating spiritual truths. The book includes several papers that originally appeared in such publications as ReVision, for which Wilber served as editor, and the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Writings from the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology also appeared in Transformation of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development, which includes work from Wilber, as well as his colleagues Jack Engler and Daniel P. Brown. A review by Marilee Zdenek in the Los Angeles Times Book Review stated that although Transformation of Consciousness is a dry, esoteric treatise that presents serious challenges to non-scholars, it still is "a valuable book, reaffirming the importance of spiritual growth and transcendent experiences."
In 1983, Wilber married Treya Killam. She was diagnosed with breast cancer just ten days later. He stopped writing for a while in the mid-1980s as they struggled with the disease, which Treya treated through a combination of conventional therapies and alternative approaches, including meditation and psychotherapy. Still, she died in 1989. In 1991 Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber was published. It recounts the Wilbers' ordeal and includes long, frank journal entries from Treya. The battle against the disease tested the couple's faith in their spirituality, but Grace and Grit shows how a personal crisis can be a catalyst for growth. It also refutes the New Age idea that the mind is responsible for the human body's susceptibility to disease.
Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, published in 1995 and the first in a planned trilogy of books, is itself a massive work of more than 800 pages. Over 200 of them are notes, and there is a thirty-two-page index. Despite the title, the book focuses mostly on spirituality and provides a broad overview of various philosophies. It also addresses the evolution of theories in biology, psychology, and metaphysics. Wilber guides the reader through spiritual practices that result in an "omega point" of consciousness. His 1996 book, A Brief History of Everything, is a much shorter work written in a more accessible style. The book represents an attempt to pull together the best aspects of various theories of spirituality and derive an overall world philosophy.
The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion was published in 1998 and is, as the subtitle suggests, an approach to finding commonalties between scientific and religious views of the world. Wilber, who again strove for a writing style accessible to mainstream audiences, says that science can provide truth, but religion is required for the understanding of meaning in life. Building on A.O. Lovejoy's concept of the Great Chain of Being, Wilber proposes the Great Nest of Being, in which soul, body, matter, mind, and spirit converge.
In a Shambhala Publications interview on the Ken Wilber Online Web site, Wilber noted that three of his later books—Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, A Brief History of Everything, and The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad—contain "a handful of polemical footnotes severely chastising some of the more regressive and flatland trends in spiritual studies, including some of the trends in deep ecology, retro-Romanticism, astrology, neoJungianism, ecofeminism, neopaganism, systems theory, and so on." The result, he added, was that "many of these theorists became enraged."
Wilber has a multitude of fans, and his books have been translated into numerous languages. For some Wilber enthusiasts, interest in his personal life is fueled by his reputation as a recluse who is rarely seen outside his Boulder, Colorado, home, a chalet in the Rocky Mountains. Wilber does not teach or attend conferences or seminars—not even those that focus on his work. He has explained his reluctance to appear in public by revealing that he decided early in his career to focus on writing instead of teaching. "Unfortunately, I've never been able to mix the two," he said in his interview with Shambhala Publications on the Ken Wilber Online Web site. "Writing is so very intense and time-consuming that it takes all I've got to do it well, or anyway, try to do it well." He also mentioned that he believes most interest in his work is "driven by a sincere interest in integral studies" and that people use his work "as a springboard for their own ideas, practices, and views." He added, "My only hope is that you take those books and use those ideas that make sense to you, and reject those that don't."
The author has continued to write books into the new millennium that attempt to make his theories and ideas more accessible to the general reading public. Published in 2000, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality is a concise yet comprehensive overview of the author's philosophy as applied to the everyday world. Using nontechnical language, the author presents various models that integrate the realms of body, mind, soul, and spirit and demonstrates how various theories can be applied to real-world problems. He discusses topics such as a leading model of human evolution called "spiral dynamics" and various integrative transformative practices that combine meditation and sophisticated psychological techniques designed to help people develop integral vision in their lives. The author also includes various maps designed to bring together the most influential worldviews that have developed over the ages. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "These are not startlingly new ideas, but they are freshly and intelligently presented by Wilber."
In Boomeritis: A Novel that Will Set You Free, Wilber turns to fiction to present readers with his integral approach to human development. In a Shambhala Publications interview on the Ken Wilber Online Web site, Wilber commented that the book began as an academic treatise. "I finished writing that book—it ended up being around a 350-page critique of postmodernism, or rather, extreme postmodernism," the author said. "But no sooner had I finished that book than I realized I really didn't want to publish it." Wilber noted in the interview that the book was too negative and critical for his liking. As a result, he decided to turn the book into a novel that had a more positive bent. Wilber commented in the interview that the book still contains much of the academic writing that appeared in his original academic work. However, he pointed out: "There ended up being several story lines, and the fantasy sequences, and MTV cut-and-paste moments, and—scattered throughout all of that—the academic material, but in a reduced and simplified fashion. Much of the academic material is off-loaded into endnotes and sidebars."
The novel revolves around a young graduate student in computer science named Ken Wilber and his quest for meaning in a fragmented world, a quest that primarily involves attending a series of consciousness-raising conferences. In the process, the Ken Wilber character ponders "boomeritis," the word used to described the disease of egocentrism and narcissism that seems to be embraced by the baby-boomer generation. This "disease," as Wilber sees it, is a hindrance to realizing the integral vision that embraces body, mind, soul, and spirit in self, culture, and nature. Most reviewers noted that the novel's format primarily represents another way for Wilber to present his ideas. In that vein, a Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "has some interesting ideas." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, noted that "this rant of a novel seems destined for cult status."
The Simple Feeling of Being: Embracing Your True Nature, compiled and edited by Mark Palmer and others, is a collection of inspirational, mystical, and instructional passages drawn from Wilber's numerous books and other writings. In addition to passages concerning the author's own insights and reflections, the writings include commentary on the spiritual contributions of various figures throughout history, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Meister Eckhart, and Ramana Maharshi. The book also includes anecdotes of personal experiences and discussions of spiritual instructions and guided meditations. "This taste of his work should earn new appreciation for the prolific author," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. A reviewer writing in Bookwatch commented that the book "promotes a meditative sensation true to its title."
Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World was published in 2006. In a review on the Spirituality & Practice Web site, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat wrote: "In this thought-provoking work, Wilber deepens his integral approach with a theory of spirituality that takes within its embrace the truths of modernity and postmodernity along with the insights of the great religions."
With his 2007 book, The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything, the author presents perhaps his most simplified introduction to his theories and ideas and their practical applications, both on a personal and global level. A Tikkun contributor commented that "the effort is courageous and there's much to be learned." Another reviewer, writing in Publishers Weekly, commented that the "work may well become a popular classic for explorers on the frontiers of humanity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Best Sellers, February, 1982, Robert Stensrud, review of No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, p. 424.
Booklist, June 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Boomeritis: A Novel that Will Set You Free, p. 1688.
Bookwatch, November, 2004, review of The Simple Feeling of Being: Embracing Your True Nature.
Commonweal, March 9, 1984, John A. Coleman, review of A Sociable God: A Brief Introduction to a Transcendental Sociology, pp. 154-155; February 22, 1985, review of Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World's Great Physicists, pp. 122-123; March 13, 1987, review of Transformation of Consciousness: Conventional and Contemplative Perspectives on Development, p. 154.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Boomeritis, p. 610.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 14, 1986, Marilee Zdenek, review of Transformation of Consciousness, p. 5.
Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1998, review of The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion, p. 71; September 11, 2000, review of A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality, p. 86; May 13, 2002, review of Boomeritis, p. 51; June 14, 2004, review of The Simple Feeling of Being, p. 60; May 28, 2007, review of The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything, p. 52.
Tikkun, September, 2000, review of A Theory of Everything, p. 81; November-December, 2007, review of The Integral Vision, p. 81.
Blog Critics, http://blogcritics.org/ (December 8, 2005), David Desjardins, review of A Theory of Everything.
Ken Wilber Online, http://wilber.shambhala.com/ (May 12, 2008), various interviews with Shambhala Publications.
Ken Wilber Home Page, http://www.kenwilber.com (May 12, 2008).
Spirituality & Practice, http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ (May 12, 2008), Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, review of Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World.
2think, http://www.2think.org/ (May 12, 2008), review of A Theory of Everything.
Wisdom Page, http://www.wisdompage.com/ (May 12, 2008), Copthorne Macdonald, review of A Theory of Everything.