Wednesday, August 23, 2006

No map of reality should be accepted as final

Metaphysics, not post-metaphysics Here is another (slightly edited) extract from my essay in progress, now titled An Integral/Holistic Metaparadigm. (note: The "post-metaphysics" in the title of this post concerns Ken Wilber's interpretation of post-metaphysics ("Wilber-V"), and not contemporary German philosopher J├╝rgen Habermas's earlier use of the term)
Metaphysics is that branch of Philosophy that the rational investigation of questions about existence, being (Ontology), the nature of God or the Absolute Reality (Theology) and of the Universe (Cosmology), the mind-body problem (nowadays generally a separate discipline in Philosophy), causality, the problem of free will and determinism, and so on. In other words, questions concerning the meaning of existence, which underlie all other inquiries.
With the rise of the secular Enlightenment in the West, and especially current modernity, much of academic philosophy has lost its connection with the original "Wisdom Tradition" of Pythagoras and Plato and Plotinus, and hence cannot really answer these questions. Because these questions cannot be answered, proved, or disproved, by rational physical or physicalist means alone.
The word Metaphysics means literally “after” (not "beyond" or “above”) “physics", and refers to the arrangement of Aristotle's writings, in which his books on “first philosophy” were placed after the books on “physics”. This is quite distinct to the popular definition of beyond or above the physical reality...
Within the integral movement, especially its majority Wilberian branch, “Metaphysics” has become something of a dirty word. This is due solely to Wilber's repeated statements that metaphysics belongs to an outdated or pre-modern age and must be rejected if spiritual teachings (by which he means experiences abstracted from any context or meaning and hence slotted into his own AQAL system) are to be acceptable at the court of modernity and postmodernity1. In addition, as I have shown (Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral, Part Two, A Fourfold Critique sect. 2a), Wilber understands by metaphysics only the popular, non-academic philosophical meaning. Because of this, he is able to avoid acknowledging the fact that his own system is highly metaphysical (quadrants, holons, transcendent Spirit, etc) when making his self-contradictory claim that his own current teachings as "post-metaphysical".
In doing this Wilber (and hence the entire Wilberian integral movement) has bought into the scientistic and academic preference for debunking metaphysics, because it deals with things that cannot be "proved" by or to the Physical Mind (sensu Sri Aurobindo). But this rationalist physicalism itself rests on a number of unproved, irrational, and yes, metaphysical, assumptions, as has been persuasively shown by Transpersonal Psychologist Charles T. Tart. (see Charles T. Tart, “Some assumptions of orthodox, Western Psychology”. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 61-111)
My position here is that not only is metaphysics necessary, but no truly comprehensive “integral” understanding of reality is possible without it. Without metaphysics the best one could have would be a sort of agnostic postmodernist or neo-Buddhistic (on western-inspired apologetic Hinduism and Buddhism see Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, pp.48-51) style of approach, in which bare experiences are recognised and definied empirically, but there is no attempt at arriving at a deeper meaning, no attempt is made to show what those experiences refer to. Such agnosticism comes with its own metaphysical baggage, e.g. crypto-physicalism or crypto-materialism, the subtle conception that all these experiences, visions, etc are simply the by-product of the physical brain, but one shouldn't look to closely at that, just be satisfied with the experience taken out of its context and sanitised for a secular physicalistic bias. This may work for Wilberian physicalism, but as soon as one studies even superficially the teachings of authentic spiritual realisers it quickly becomes apparent that reality is much vaster than physicalism considers it to be.
The problem here, as mentioned, is that modern Western secular academic thought has lost its original wisdom tradition (represented by Pythagoreanism, Platonism, Neoplatonism, etc) and hence has to fall back on scientism and superficial empiricism. This is why spiritual apologetics like Wilber try so hard to present an unthreatening and secularised version of spiritual and perennialist teachings.
At the same time, no metaphysical system and no map of reality should be accepted as final. It should always be remembered that all these concepts are just suggestions and points of view, useful classification schemes and thoughtforms, which should never be used as alternatives for direct spiritual experience. posted by m alan kazlev at 4:49 PM Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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