16 - Pre/trans Fallacy and States and Structures

I have written before on the fact that Wilber tends to confuse the state and structure aspects of stages (especially with respect to advanced spiritual development).

Of course states and structures can be defined in various ways.

In this context, we are dealing with their holistic meaning. In direct terms a (primary) state characterises the (empty) spiritual disposition which underlines experience at any given stage; a (primary) structure then characterises its (formal) phenomenal nature in the dynamic configuration of poles that defines the stage.

Both states and structures have also more specific secondary expressions, which interact with their primary meanings. Thus actual experience can be characterised by a variety of states (relating to affective, emotional and volitional aspects). Thus the holistic spiritual state (characterising a stage) could be communicated through affective feelings of joy, grief, anxiety etc. cognitive control patterns such as discipline, alertness and volitional attitude such as desire and intent.

Structures also have secondary concrete expressions that are dictated by a variety of factors such as cultural, environmental and personality factors.

For example I would contend that the structures that are typically used by the mystical traditions to convey the spiritual meaning consistent with the "higher" spiritual stages are largely of a secondary rather than a primary nature.

Clearly from a dynamic perspective every stage - in primary terms - is characterised by the interaction of state and structure aspects (as emptiness and form) though the precise balance - in any context - can vary considerably.

Now in dealing with the "higher" spiritual stages, Wilber tends to confuse structures with the permanent attainment of states. He gives the impression that the transpersonal is somehow beyond structures of form (which is very mistaken from a dynamic perspective). Thus for example he offers no clarity on the precise nature of bi-directional cognitive structures that typify appropriate intellectual interpretation of the "higher" levels. As these structures are required for an integral - as opposed to a merely analytic - treatment of development this is indeed a major omission.

Thus in his terms Wilber accepts that it is possible to have peak experience of advanced spiritual states at any stage of development (for example mythic) but that permanent attainment of such states (as enduring traits) requires appropriate development of the higher stages.

However the implication of this position is that there can indeed be some link as between prepersonal and transpersonal stages. Wilber unconvincingly tries to maintain the consistency of his core position on the separation of pre and trans with respect to structures by arguing that spiritually lucid childhood experiences are generally reduced to the structures of the prepersonal stage.

However if this were fully the case there would be no way to distinguish lucid from confused experience of the spiritual. As always to do justice to such experience we need to preserve a proper dynamic context. Therefore at the moment of an actual lucid experience, the spiritual state will be implicitly supported by its appropriate phenomenal structure (or alternatively the structure by the state). Now subsequently after the event the interpretation may well be reduced in terms of the habitual understanding of a lower stage. However a degree of authentic awareness (i.e. of the higher stage) will remain so that one will to a degree remain dissatisfied with the lower level interpretation. This in turn - especially for those with an inherently strong mystical disposition - could act as significant catalyst for rapid spiritual growth so as to realise in a more permanent manner the meaning that has already been experienced on a temporary basis.

The point is that not only are structures and states related for all spiritual experience (whether temporary or otherwise) but that the distinction as between temporary and permanent attainment is always of a relative rather than absolute nature.

Everyone has some attainment of higher stages (however brief and shallow the experience). Likewise no one - in this life - achieves absolute total attainment of pure spiritual states (or structures). Development necessarily remains on a continuum between these two extremes (where pre inevitably interacts with trans and trans with pre respectively).

There is another major problem with Ken Wilber's treatment of spiritual states, which Mark Edwards has perceptively pointed out in two contributions to the Reading Room of "Integral World".

This relates to the fact that when using the terminology of waking, dreaming and deep sleep states to characterise the nature of the gross, subtle and causal realms respectively, Wilber sometimes mistakenly equates the natural phenomena of dream and sleep (applicable to everyone at whatever stage of development) with experience of the subtle and causal realms.

However for the most part - as Edwards argues - (natural) dream and sleep states relate - using discrete Wilberian definitions - to prepersonal rather than transpersonal experience. So Wilber in his anxiety to link up the great domains of experience (gross, subtle and causal) with the most natural states available to humans (waking dreaming and sleep) in this respect is guilty of one of his own pre/trans fallacies (i.e. ptf-2).

The root of Wilber's problem (in terms of his own definitions) relates to the inadequate way he which he attempts to link states to structures.

Because using such terminology we have only 3 states (or possibly 4 when we include a pure nondual state) we seem to have more distinct structures than states with respect to the various stages of development.

This then - for example - leads Wilber to arguing that the waking state can support earlier prepersonal structures (though the reverse is not the case).

However in dynamic terms this asymmetrical type distinction as between states and structures makes little sense.

In order to provide a balanced interpretation we must recognise that each stage is characterised both by a unique state (and unique structure) which in dynamic terms are interdependent.

Thus if we are to use the terminology of waking, dream and sleep and nondual states we must recognise that all these (except waking) have complementary confused and mature expressions.

So once again - returning to the confusion pointed out by Mark Edwards - this arises due to an inadequate delineation of states.

Using Ken Wilber's own terminology, dream, (deep) sleep and nondual states can be of either a prepersonal or transpersonal nature. For most people - because of insufficient development of the transpersonal realms - (deep) sleep and dream activity will predominantly relate to pre rather than trans experience.
However - because in dynamic experiential terms pre and trans (and trans and pre) are complementary - the possibility of occasional peak moments of awareness (during normal sleep) still remains. However - because of a natural dulling of differentiated appreciation - these are perhaps even less likely that when the waking state is operative in experience.

If therefore Wilber accepted the inevitable complementarity as between both pre and trans notions then it would pave the way for seeing the mythic realm as a (confused) version of the psychic/subtle, the magic realm as a confused version of the causal and the archaic realm as a confused version of nondual reality (i.e. in the final movement in development towards nondual attainment).

As Edwards points out however, in sometimes equating dream, (deep) sleep and nondual with the mature interpretations of stages, Ken is - for the most part - guilty of his own pre/trans fallacy (as in practice most experience of these states tends to be of the confused rather than mature variety).