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IN 1999, WILBER PUBLISHED The Marriage of Sense and Soul, on the integration of science and meditation-based religion. That relatively error-free book actually received a complimentary review (Minerd, 2000) in the monthly Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Indeed, Minerd closed his evaluation with the generous comment that Wilber’s writing was “refreshingly free of the pontifications, careless generalizations, and self-admiration indulged in by other writers.” He also opined that “devotees of Wilber ... would be a group of people that skeptics could, if not quite embrace, at least live alongside very easily.”

Surprisingly, Wilber actually quotes approvingly from Martin Gardner, regarding the Anthropic Principle, in that same book. So, contrary to what one might reasonably assume from the rest of his work, he does at least realize that the skeptical position exists, even if entirely disrespecting it in practice.

Thankfully, Minerd did note disapprovingly that Wilber “implicitly accepts the reality of mystical experiences, and it is sufficient for him that his scientific mystics test their internal experiences against nothing more than each other’s internal experiences. How this would eliminate group bias or error is not discussed.” I have yet to find that obvious and devastating point addressed by Wilber himself anywhere in his own writings, before or since that review.

Interestingly, comparably flawed arguments as Wilber’s, in favor of the “scientific” nature of meditation-based religion, were put forth by Itzhak Bentov in the 1970s:

I am lucky to have met several people whose [meditative] experiences have been similar to mine, so that I have been able to compare my information with theirs. To my great surprise, our experiences agreed not only in general, but also in many unexpected details. This knowledge appears, therefore, to be consistent and reproducible.

(Wilber elsewhere [1982] quotes from other published aspects of Bentov’s work. It is therefore likely that he was aware of the earlier [1977] book from which the above quote is drawn. Or, if he wasn’t, as the “foremost theoretician in transpersonal psychology” he certainly should have been.)

Yet, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1989) more reasonably noted:

[T]he imagination that things are real does not represent true reality. If you see golden globes, or something, several times, and they talk to you during your hallucination and tell you they are another intelligence, it doesn’t mean they’re another intelligence; it just means that you have had this particular hallucination.

Further, a shared delusion, based on a common self-fulfilling expectation of experiencing “talking golden globes” or otherwise, is obviously no more real than is a hallucination confined to a single individual.

Wilber’s vaunted “community verification,” in practice within any closed environment, actually amounts to little more than an appeal to popularity and conformity. For, you can only be a “success” within those walls by seeing what the guru-figure and his “more spiritually advanced” (than you) disciples tell you that you should be glimpsing. Even the external experience of loyal followers seeing “miraculous coronas” (in guru Adi Da’s community, for example) and the like, while skeptics were reportedly demoted for not seeing/imagining the same, has proved exactly that.

Sound objective research is not relevant to the true believer. In place of evidence and scientific validity, things are said to work ... by using social pressures to persuade people that they did work; i.e., by gradually interfering with the individual’s ability to evaluate information (Penny, 1993).

If the same purported sages were actually able to prove their claimed abilities to see auras, do verifiable astral remote-viewing or manifest objective coronas, for example, in a properly controlled environment, one might have some basis for confidence in the reality of their other internal experiences, even if those subtler experiences were not otherwise scientifically testable. (There is, after all, no a priori reason why everything should be “scientifically testable,” in the physical laboratory or otherwise, in order to be “real.”) But short of that, Wilber’s hope that any amount of community verification might sort fact from fiction in mystical claims falls flat on its face. For, there are clearly no controls whatsoever in place to guard against meditators simply experiencing what they expect to experience, and then viewing that as a confirmation of the truth of the metaphysical theory previously taught to them.

Without a satisfactory demonstration of the reality of such spiritual experiences, integral “Theories of Everything” might as well be theories of leprechauns, unicorns and Santa Claus. That is, one struggles to find more certain truth-value in them than in, say, Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Impressive monuments to human imagination, to be sure; but hardly deserving of being taken seriously as mirrors of “authentic spirituality.”

That is so, particularly when the authors of the same wide-ranging integral ideas can be conclusively shown to have misunderstood and misrepresented so many of the established fields on which they base their “cutting edge” theories. Indeed, that would be a huge problem even were it not for the fact that the transpersonal data set, which they are creating their theories to explain, could hardly be more uncertain, i.e., as to which elements of it (if any) are valid, and which are spurious. Thus, even when reasoning clearly from that bad data, they end up effectively producing airtight arguments to prove how many integral angels can dance on the head of a pin, etc.—without having first bothered to properly ascertain whether such angels, and their auras and subtle energies, even exist.

Nathaniel Branden has given his own (partial) critique of Wilber’s transpersonal methodology in his (1999) The Art of Living Consciously. (Note that Branden explicitly considers kw to be “one of the most brilliant men I know.” So, he can hardly be viewed as being biased against Wilber.)

[L]et us ask: Why should we believe the mystics’ claims? On what grounds? Why should we even continue the discussion?
To this inquiry, Wilber mounts an interesting answer. It is given in his book Eye to Eye, which is an attempt to justify the validity of knowledge attained through “the eye of contemplation,” the mystic’s alleged tool of cognition....
[T]he process, we are told again and again, is in principle exactly the same as that by which one becomes a qualified scientist: knowledge is confirmed or disconfirmed according to whether qualified colleagues, having gone through the same steps, do or do not arrive at the same result. Experiments that are not reproducible or that do not yield the same results cannot be claimed to have revealed authentic truths. Therefore, in his or her own domain, the mystic’s assertion of knowledge is fully as reliable as the scientist’s....
In other words, it is reasonable to accept the truth of such [mystical] insights. Reason is still conceded to be the final arbiter. “It is logical to accept these nonlogical, nonrational insights because....”
That I regard the argument as fallacious is not my point here. My point is that, if one argues at all, there is no escape from using and counting on the very faculty mystics profess to have evolved “beyond.” And this is the ultimate dilemma of anyone who is too conscientious simply to proclaim “It’s true because I feel it.”
We may not always arrive at our insights by a process of reason, but reason is the means by which we ultimately verify them—by what is sometimes called “reality testing”—that is, integrating them into the rest of our knowledge and observations without contradictions....
So what are we left with? A collection of assertions [by mystics, including Wilber himself] about the ultimate nature of existence that are riddled with contradictions, defy reason and logic, convey no intelligible meaning, invalidate our consciousness, destroy our concept of reality—and that we are meant to take seriously while being told our limited development makes it impossible for us to understand them. If one does not have an intellectual inferiority complex and is not easily intimidated, this is not impressive.

Further with regard to the purported value of meditation in one’s own development, in Wilber’s (2000a) One Taste journals he states:

We now have abundant evidence that meditation does not alter or change the basic stages of the development of consciousness, but it does remarkably accelerate that development. Meditation speeds up evolution. It accelerates the remembering and the re-discovery of the Spirit that you eternally are. Meditation quickens the rate that acorns grow into oaks, that humans grow into God.

The closest that Wilber comes, in any of his books, to providing any actual evidence to support such claims is in his (1998) The Eye of Spirit:

[U]nlike most of the meditation teachers in this country, [Charles N. “Skip”] Alexander and his colleagues have been taking standard test of the various developmental lines (including Loevinger’s ego development, Kohlberg’s moral development, tests of capacity for intimacy, altruism, and so on) and applying them to populations of meditators, with extremely significant and telling results. The importance of this line of research is simply incalculable.

Yet, the endnote associated with that same set of complimentary statements offers these significant caveats:

This is not to overlook what appear to be some valid criticisms of some of the TM® research [e.g., as performed by Skip Alexander], including occasional bias in the researchers, inadequate methodology, and obliviousness to negative effects on practitioners. But even when those inadequacies are taken into account, what’s left of the research is still quite impressive.

One might have hoped that such highly relevant information would be featured prominently in the text, rather than being consigned to a tiny-font endnote. Such “valid criticisms” and “inadequacies”—i.e., red flags such as “occasional bias in the researchers, inadequate methodology, and obliviousness to negative effects on practitioners”—after all, might well be sufficiently disturbing for one to reasonably reject Alexander’s Transcendental Meditation®-based research altogether. (Indeed, given Wilber’s willing acceptance of aspects of that research which he wants to believe, one cannot help but wonder how much worse the methodology would have had to be before it was worthy of rejection. Knowing the dismally low standards of proof in transpersonal and integral psychology, one can only assume: “A lot.”)

Further, regarding the admitted “negative effects on practitioners” of meditation: Would a prominent warning about that not have been merely ethical, given Wilber’s continuing encouragement to others to take up meditative practice, even to the point of presenting that practice as a “moral imperative”? It is difficult to give voluntary informed consent, after all, when information is being withheld from oneself by persons whom one trusts to at least get that much right.

Interestingly, the CD and audio cassette programs of kw’s (2003c) Kosmic Consciousness talks contain the following phrase: “I mention Skip Alexander who was a real genius and a real pioneer in this, and I still recommend looking into his work.” That seven-second phrase, however, has been skillfully deleted from the online audio sample of the same program available on the Sounds True website.

Wilber continues, in the same audio program:

[I]f you take people who are [raising kids and making money] and they meditate about an hour a day, then about four years later, they’re two stages higher on any scale that we give them. Meditation is the only thing that’s been empirically demonstrated to vertically move people to that degree.

That would be impressive if it were true. But the only evidence which kw ever gives of such claims comes, again, from the endnotes in The Eye of Spirit, where we read:

For example, 1 percent of a college control sample scored at Loevinger’s highest two stages (autonomous and integrated), whereas in a similar sample of regular meditators, 38 percent reached those stages....
That 38 percent broke through this ceiling with meditation is quite extraordinary. Moreover, if the Loevinger test is slightly modified to be more sensitive to those at the higher stages, 87 percent in one meditating population broke the conscientious barrier, with 36 percent scoring autonomous and 29 percent integrated. Alexander et al. (1990), p. 333.

Wilber’s exposition then leaves one wondering: Does the original research describe an experimental methodology whereby people are tested to establish a baseline, then they meditate an hour a day for four years, then they are re-tested and found to be one or two levels higher? And was that done against a control group, who did no meditation? (Or, even better, to account for the influence of “expectation effects” in the test group, were members of the control group given an “anti-meditation” technique—such as pacing and focusing on problems—but told that it was a “meditation” which would have the same anticipated effects of psychological growth?) And were the members of the test and the control group randomly assigned from the pool of subjects?

Short of such an adequate methodology, Wilber’s own description of Alexander’s studies indicates only that people at the highest stages of Loevinger’s scale of ego development tend to meditate, not that meditation is what caused them to be in those high stages. That is a correlation, at best, not a cause-effect relationship; it could just as well be that independent evolution to the highest stages of Loevinger’s scale of ego development was what caused the same people to begin meditating, or that something else caused people to both grow/evolve/develop to the highest stages of Loevinger’s scale and to meditate.

Even if kw (and Alexander himself) hasn’t confused correlation with causation, though—and we will see shortly that they have thus confused things—he is still basing an awful lot of the practical side of his “integral religion” on a few admittedly flawed studies. As a basis for either a science or a philosophy, that is a miserably inadequate approach. Further, even if all of that were to turn out to be valid—and even if meditation, in spite of its frequent negative side-effects (to be detailed later), were to measurably advance one’s psychological evolution—there is still no necessary paranormal claim to any of it. That is, it still does nothing to substantiate the purported reality of the transpersonal levels of Wilber’s four quadrants.

If one actually makes the effort to wade through the relevant chapter in Alexander and Langer’s Higher Stages of Human Development, past the 40+ pages of “Vedic theory” and respectful references to the Maharishi’s “seven levels of consciousness,” one finally reaches the Research Appendix. There, all of the details of Alexander’s “solid and ... repeated” research (in Wilber’s unduly optimistic evaluation) are revealed.

Thus, from pages 331-2 of Alexander’s book:

In two samples (total n = 90) of maximum security prisoners followed over a one-year period, both long-term and new TM subjects significantly improved by one step on ego development in comparison to wait-list controls, dropouts, and those not interested in learning TM (controlling for pretest scores and demographic covariates). None of the four other treatment groups followed longitudinally [i.e., over the passage of time] changed significantly on this measure (Alexander, 1982). On the average, regular new meditators (who scored at a concrete operational level at pretest) improved from the “conformist” stage of ego development (corresponding to dominance of concrete thinking) to the “self-aware” level (corresponding to the onset of reflective functioning of the intellect); and regular advanced meditators shifted from the self-aware level to a “conscientious” stage (corresponding to a mature form of abstract reflection).
This advance of one step for the new meditators over a year period substantially exceeds that for college students over a four-year period (Loevinger et al., 1985), yet at an age (26–29 years) and education level (ninth grade) where such changes are unlikely to occur. Assuming [!] that the advanced TM subjects started at a comparable ego level to the new TM group, they advanced a mean of two steps during less than three years.

So that is presumably where Wilber has gotten his “four years” and “two stages” information from, in his Kosmic Consciousness claim that “if you take people ... and they meditate about an hour a day, then about four years later, they’re two stages higher on any scale we give them.”

The problem with Wilber’s presentation of that research, though, is that unless he has some other (unidentified) source for those claims, he is conflating several different studies into one—and that latter study, as he presents it, was never actually performed:

  • The prisoners in Alexander’s study did TM for one year, not four

  • From their one year of meditation, Alexander’s subjects stage-grew by one step (in comparison to the control group), not two

  • The college students in Loevinger’s 1985 study were indeed tested over a four-year period ... but they were not meditating as part of the study. (If any of them were doing other forms of meditation on their own, that is just one more uncontrolled uncertainty in that second supposed “control” group)

Even if Alexander’s prison-inmate subject study had otherwise been unassailable, it at most showed a one-step (not two) improvement in the psychological stage-development of its subjects over a period of one year (not four). Wilber’s “two steps” are based on an assumption, explicitly stated as such by Alexander, which may or may not be valid. Yet kw presents it, either foolishly or dishonestly, as if it had actually been inarguably proved in controlled studies. It is an assumption which is potentially open to all kinds of selection biases, etc.

You cannot tell from Alexander’s summarized write-up how the “new meditators” were chosen from the prison population. It is unlikely, at any rate, that the group was selected randomly from the inmates. In fact, since the study had a group of subjects who were “not interested in learning TM,” there was an inherent selection bias in its protocol. Comparing that self-selected group (minus its dropouts!) to Loevinger’s randomly-selected population (from a completely different study), by saying that “our meditators advanced more in one year than your normal students did in four,” is just about nonsensical. It certainly has none of the scientific validity which kw presents it as having. (Amazingly, that prison study was Alexander’s 1982 doctoral dissertation at Harvard.)

If Alexander had at least taken the self-selected prisoners who “wanted to learn TM,” and split them into one group which was given the “real mantras,” and another which was given fake or anti-meditation techniques, any measured differences between those two groups would have been impressive. As it stands, what he has done is just plain foolish, both in his own study and in the comparison to Loevinger’s competently executed work.

Plus, Alexander’s research was all done on practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. The results might well generalize to other forms of meditation, but one cannot merely assume, as Wilber does, that they will thus generalize.

Further, again from kw’s Kosmic Consciousness talks:

Another way to measure [the value of meditation] is to take the number of people that are at a particular stage of development in a particular development line like Jane Loevinger, and in her case, what she would call our level six, our integral level on our seven-level generic scale, she finds about 2 percent of the population reaches that stage. And after four years of meditation, 38 percent of people doing it reach that stage.

And again from The Eye of Spirit:

That 38 percent broke through this ceiling with meditation is quite extraordinary. Moreover, if the Loevinger test is slightly modified to be more sensitive to those at the higher stages, 87 percent in one meditating population broke the conscientious barrier, with 36 percent scoring autonomous and 29 percent integrated. Alexander et al. (1990), p. 333.

But: It was eleven years of meditation, not four, that got 38 percent of Alexander’s subjects to test at the autonomous/integrated level! From pages 332-3 of Alexander’s book:

A longitudinal study ... compared change in ego development over an 11-year period in graduates from Maharishi International University (MIU), where the TM program is incorporated into the college curriculum, to change in graduates from three well-known universities offering standard curricula.... From the pool of respondents from each of the control universities, students were matched as closely as possible with MIU graduates on gender, pretest age, and college class (i.e., cohort group). All subjects (total n = 136) were at least 19 years of age at pretest during the late 1970s. Most MIU graduates were currently regular in TM practice; most control subjects also indicated that they currently practiced some form of self-development, stress-management, or exercise program for promoting physical and mental health (although none practiced TM)....
Whereas at pretest 9 percent of the MIU sample scored at Loevinger’s higher “autonomous” and “integrated” stages, at posttest 38 percent reached these two highest stages.

So, when Wilber says that four years of meditation got 38 percent of subjects to the “integral level,” that’s just plain false, from a man who cannot even quote the protocols from a simple longitudinal study accurately.

(Likewise, ten years of TM practice underlay the study that had 87 percent scoring above the conscientious level. Page 333 of Alexander’s book makes that explicit.)

In the “38 percent” study, too, the meditators were self-selected, even though later being “matched up” (thus, potential rater/selection bias) against their control peers. So, that group went from 9 percent of them being autonomous/integrated to 38 percent of them being at those levels, while the control group had only 1 percent at those “two highest stages at both pretest and posttest.” In a total of a mere 136 subjects from MIU and three control universities.

Even if there had been no selection or rater bias involved there, having only 136 total subjects means that exactly one person in the control group was at autonomous/integrated before, and after, the testing. So, there we have inadequately small study sizes for measuring states of development that are rare to begin with.

Further, consider that people on the verge of breaking through to the higher levels, or those having an explicit interest in and expectation for psychological growth, etc., might well choose to meditate and/or enroll in MIU from that cause, thus introducing a non-causal correlation between meditation and psychological stage-growth as the study proceeded. (Such interests and expectations can affect one’s performance on written tests of maturity, too. That is, expectation effects apply to those tests, even if expectations themselves don’t create psychological stage-growth. Loevinger had to explicitly take that into account in planning the testing for her 1985 study. Alexander evidently has not proceeded with the same professional care.)

Given all that, Alexander’s studies, so valued and unduly praised by Wilber, have proved nothing.

The growth from 9 percent to 38 percent may well be causative rather than a mere correlation; who knows? But with Alexander’s shoddy selection protocols and otherwise, a four-fold growth from 1 percent to 4 percent in their “control” group could have been just as significant, and meant exactly the same thing. For the sample size used (i.e., a control group of around 65, presumably), that growth from 1 percent to 4 percent represents just a couple of people in the control group breaking through.

So there are issues there, not merely with regard to protocol, but even just in terms of basic statistical significance.

And, note that 9 percent of the final 38 percent were already at the integral level when the study began. Assuming that there was no measurable regression of the subjects’ levels in that study, then as far as growth to that level goes: Only 38% – 9% = 27% of the subjects grew to the integral level, of the 100% – 9% = 91% who weren’t already at it. That is, only 27/91 = 32% who weren’t already “spiritually evolved” managed to grow to the integral level. Over a period of eleven years. Conversely, 68 percent didn’t experience the same growth, via meditation.

And that’s supposed to be (in Wilber’s words) the “doorway to God”? Something that (even neglecting all of the serious problems in the protocol) only works in any significant way for one-third of the people, over a period of more than a decade of regular practice?

And for the two-thirds who did not thus grow, what might they have done productively with their lives in the hours which they had otherwise devoted to meditation? What have they lost, in sitting and chanting nonsense-syllables to themselves?

Interestingly, the above-mentioned study by Jane Loevinger, et al. (1985) showed female university students demonstrating a “slight but consistent loss” of ego development from their freshman to their senior years. That loss, in turn, “challenges one assumption of a widely accepted version of Piagetian theory (i.e., that stage development is irreversible).”

Conversely, though, as Loevinger notes, “Piaget can hardly be cited for the frequent assumption that moral or ego development occurs according to a strict stage sequence, rarely admitting of backsliding. In his study of the development of moral judgment, Piaget (1932) went out of his way to reiterate that there are no strict stages. Even with respect to capacity for formal operations, Piaget (1972) warned of backsliding in young adults outside their own specialties.”

(Wilber [1996] actually admits that such regression can occur, as does Alexander. KW, however, qualifies [via Stanislav Grof] the causes of that regression by saying that “under intense stress, or with certain types of meditation, or certain drugs, the self can regress to this [lowest] fulcrum and relive its various subphases and traumas, which tends to alleviate the pathology.” None of those factors, of course, have anything to do with being outside of one’s formop specialties. Nor was the regression found in Loevinger’s study merely a short-term, coping response to “intense stress,” etc.)

Obviously, if one can backslide from formop even just for being outside of one’s specialties, attempting to correlate such stages of psychological development with three other quadrants (objective, cultural and social), as Wilber does, would scarcely be possible. That is so even were there widespread agreement in the field of development psychology as to the validity of Piaget’s stages (which, as Meyerhoff earlier pointed out for us, there is not).

Of further interest, Loevinger notes that dormitory/fraternity/sorority life has been found to have a “constricting rather than a liberalizing effect with respect particularly to critical thinking,” and thus to one’s higher scoring on measures of psychological maturity. The worst possible combination for encouraging psychological growth, then, would surely be to live in a fraternity-like residence under a leader who can ostensibly do no wrong.

Ashrams, monasteries, and even integral institutes surely meet that criterion. Because even without living in residence in the latter, you cannot deeply question the “spiritually advanced” leaders if you hope to remain a member in good standing in the community. Rather, use your own mind in that environment to think critically about what you’re being fed, and you will very quickly be demoted to the status of pariah, as we shall see.

As critics of the Ayn Rand cult have noted, “when people identify too closely with their system of beliefs, they have no choice but defend them tooth and nail from any hint of cognitive dissonance.” That applies to integral beliefs and heroes just as surely as it does to Rand’s Objectivist ones. It applies to groups of skeptics and scientists, too, except that the proper application of the scientific method works to eventually sort fact from fiction, limiting the length of time through which one can fool oneself.

Never forget that when Max Planck spoke of new ideas in science being accepted not for any logic of persuasion but simply for the older generation dying out and being replaced by a new group who had grown up with the more-radical view of reality, he was not talking about religious believers being unable to think clearly. Rather, he was directing that observation toward the supposedly rational scientific community itself.

In Wilber’s (1999) response to John Heron’s “not even wrong” (as Wolfgang Pauli would say, quite rightly) critique of his theories, he again pretended: “[O]ne study showed that, among individuals who meditated for several years, an astonishing 38 percent reached those higher stages.” (Of course, the study in question again actually covered eleven years, not merely “several.”)

The astonishing thing there is that Wilber, in point #16 of that same response, actually referenced Michael Murphy, et al.’s (1997) The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation. So he knows very well—assuming that he has actually read that book, as opposed to having merely cited it without having assimilated it—how meditation, far from being the “doorway to God,” can utterly destroy people’s lives. For, in the final, “Negative Experiences” section in Chapter 4 of that book, we read:

Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; procrastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%....
Ellis (1984) stated that meditation’s greatest danger was its common connection with spirituality and antiscience. He said that it might encourage some individuals to become even more obsessive-compulsive than they had been and to dwell in a ruminative manner on trivia or nonessentials. He also noted that some of his clients had gone into “dissociative semi-trance states and upset themselves considerably by meditating”....
Hassett (1978) reported that meditation can be harmful. Carrington (1977) observed that extensive meditation may induce symptoms that range in severity from insomnia to psychotic manifestations with hallucinatory behavior. Lazarus (1976) reported that psychiatric problems such as severe depression and schizophrenic breakdown may be precipitated by TM.... Glueck and Stroebel (1975) reported that two experimental subjects made independent suicide attempts in the first two days after beginning the TM program.

That, not claimed-but-utterly-unproven psychological stage-growth even over decades of practice, is what any group (integral or otherwise) that encourages you to meditate, for whatever reason, is really offering you. (Note: Personally, I have had nothing but good results from meditation. Other people have not been so fortunate.)

Of course Murphy, with his deep transpersonal and integral biases and affiliations, cannot resist trying to put a positive spin on all that:

Though the rewards of contemplative practice can be great, they do not come easily.

So, if meditation is producing clinically psychotic behaviors in you, apparently you just have to “work harder” at it. (That is, of course, exactly the remedy which your teacher and peers will suggest. And to not go along with that bad advice is effectively to admit that you are not fit or ready for the “fast track to enlightenment.”)

Fear not, though: according to Wilber in his Kosmic Consciousness, CD 8 Track 9, prayer may be as valuable as meditation for psycho-spiritual growth:

Interviewer: So it’s possible that [contemplative] prayer could move you up two levels in a similar way as meditation?
KW: Yes, I believe, I absolutely believe that.... [Transcendental Meditation] has one advantage in that it’s such a lineage practice, so to speak, there’s a morphogenic field around it, if you will, it’s so well developed, that when people take up that practice, it has almost immediate effects. Other practices are harder to get into, they’re more sort of difficult. Zen is very difficult to do right; you have to practice it really for months, or even years, to really get into it. But TM, really within the first couple of sessions, you’re really kind of getting the hang of it [so] it’s an ideal type of meditation for research, because there’s a similarity in people that practice it ... you can actually learn something by looking at people who do it. And people who do it for a very long time get into some of these very profound states, including twenty-four-hour-a-day subtle constant consciousness....

Would “contemplative prayer ... show the same stage-movement as the other types of meditation”? It probably would, keeping in mind that:

  • The “research on meditation moving two stages” doesn’t actually exist, but is apparently rather just the product of Wilber conflating a number of different studies by Alexander, none of which were done with anything resembling proper protocols in the first place

  • Former accredited teachers of TM, who can certainly do the exercises properly, have been among its most vociferous critics (cf.

  • The “profound states” which Wilber mentions, including the simultaneous existence of alpha and delta rhythms in the brain, even if that has been measured exactly as kw gives it, present no parapsychological or transpersonal claim or proof. Rather, it can just as well be simply an untapped ability of the “purely physical” brain, with or without interior feelings having an ontological reality on top of that. The same thing applies for Witnessing consciousness in general: resting in That, with the internal feeling that one has “no boundaries,” doesn’t even remotely mean that one really is infinite in consciousness. (Comparably, subjective feelings of astral traveling do not mean that one really is doing that—i.e., doing it to the point of, say, being able to read a five-figure number off of a designated wall, which is how these things are easily and competently tested, and invariably found to not be what their imaginative proponents claim)

  • Zen is many times more a “lineage practice” than is TM: Fifteen hundred years of lineage and practice, versus a few decades for any widespread use of Transcendental Meditation. (Obviously mantra yoga in general is much older. But it is Wilber who is focusing specifically on TM, here, and touting the benefits of its “lineage.”) And how is counting or watching one’s breaths in zazen more difficult to learn to do, and make progress with, than is internally chanting a mantra?

So yes, prayer is likely just as (in)effective as meditation. Indeed, it is probably even a better option, as it doesn’t have the range of psychotic side-effects which meditation tends to have.

Either way, though, Wilber’s claim that meditation leads regularly to measurable psychological stage-growth is no more supportable than are his ideas on the “science of meditation.”

None of those realities, however, have had any effect whatsoever on kw’s claims for the purported transformative value of meditation, even as made in his most-recent (2006e) Integral Spirituality:

[M]editation can help move you an average of two vertical stages in four years.

In the same book, Wilber repeated his self-serving but utterly false claims that “whereas around two percent of the adult population is at second tier, after four years of meditation, that two percent goes to 38 percent in the meditation group,” and that proponents of Intelligent Design allegedly demand that “the Jehovah of Genesis” be the Eros driving the evolution of the Kosmos. All of those repeated untruths, of course, came from his pen well after the disproofs given herein were provided, online, even in his own Integral Naked forum.

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