Ken Wilber
A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality

Several people had recommended Wilber to me over the years. I was a bit hesitant to delve into any of his works as, on the surface, he appeared to be yet another new age guru along the lines of a Deepak Chopra. Then this book came out which from the publisher's description appeared to be something I may be able to get into since it was supposed to be concise and comprehensive. Plus, with a title like A Theory of Everything, even the skeptic in me was curious to see if any author could back up such a claim.

Well, my first instincts were correct. Wilber is just another new age guru doing whatever it takes to sell as many books as possible and try to build a sort of cult-like following. That's not to say that his works are completely worthless. There are some good things in his ideas but...

This book is loaded with contradictions and mumbo jumbo. But that's not the worst aspect. By far the most annoying component is the self references. Nearly every page contains one or more references to another title of Wilber's. He may as well have written a one page "book" which contained one sentence saying simply to read all his books. For that really is his "theory of everything"--to read all his books and get your friends and family to read them too. If you want his "exhaustive reasons" (p. 78) or details, he'll tell you along the way which of his other books you'll need to purchase and read to understand his points as they arise.

Wilber loves to categorize and classify everything in life, it seems, into a series of ranks or quadrants. I was first introduced to this quadrant approach several years ago by a human resources consultant who charged business executives hundreds of dollars an hour to tell them what color their personalities were so that they could understand their associates better. Everyone in the department who had their color given to them quit within a year so I guess it wasn't a very effective tool for the company.I guess their colors rendered them unable to work with associates and were better of if they were to work at home.

Anyway, Wilber, borrowing it seems from Beck and Cowan, assigns everyone a consciousness level color. There are better colors and lesser colors. Wilber, of course, has obtained the highest state of consciousness, the color turquoise. Only .1% of the population can claim such an elite rank and color. The rest of us, for the most part, are stuck back in red, blue, orange, or green. The real reason why we may not understand or agree with Wilber isn't because he is wrong. It is because we haven't evolved to his higher state of consciousness.

Nothing that can be said in this book will convince you that a T.O.E. is possible, unless you already have a touch of turquoise coloring your cognitive palette (and then you will think, on many a page, "I already knew that! I just didn't know how to articulate it"). (p. 14)
From the above it sounds as if he is more like a cult leader than one seeking a universal holistic system. The paradox/contradiction/hypocrisy doesn't end there. Throughout the book, and especially in Chapter 2, Wilber rails on Baby Boomers, calling them all egocentric, narcissists who care only about overvaluing their own selves. Hello? Can this really be coming from a man who sounds as if he thinks he is God's gift to humanity, the author of dozens of books he expects his audience to know by name and be completely familiar with in order to understand him, and the self-proclaimed articulator for the exclusive club of rare and special humans who have risen to the level of turquoise consciousness?

I do agree that decreasing narcissism and increasing one's ability to put one's self in another's shoes is an important part of mental maturation; I'm just not sure that Wilber is the best poster child given his, sometimes, less than humble, and self-referential, attitude. Robert T. DeMoss's approach on this subject, for instance, is far more straightforward, readable, and rewarding.

Another favorite of Wilber's is to toss around words like soul, spirit, and spirituality without explaining what he is talking about. In addition, these items are thought by him to be "higher" (see p. 65 for one of many examples where science is dubbed a lower realm) and better than things of a scientific or material nature. Indeed, us scientific materialists, secular humanists, and skeptics of those presenting claims without evidence are stuck back in an orange consciousness level, a full three levels below Wilber and the turquoise elite.

Not until page 73 (and even then only in a footnote at the back of the book which many people probably don't even read) does Wilber give us a clue what he means by his favorite word of "spirituality." In that instance, at least, the word is equivalent to "experience." Why not just say so? Probably because that is not what he always or usually means. Typically he is probably referring to the more pie in the sky, mystical meaning used by traditional religions. If he really thought spirituality was the same as experience then he could hardly knock scientific materialism like he does since it is based on experiments.

I was being a bit sarcastic above when I said that his theory of everything is to buy all his books. His actual theory of everything is pretty simple, nothing new, and hardly a true theory of everything (in the sense of what physicists are striving for which he uses as a comparison, albeit a comparison he thinks he can do better than since his theory is supposed to encompass all of life--which includes non-matter in his world--and not just the physical laws of the universe). Wilber's theory of everything is to "invite each and all to develop their own potentials" (p. 82) and to realize that "everybody--including me--has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace." (p. 136) These are important things, to be sure, but they can be found in dozens of self-help books, pop-psychology manuals, or liberal/non-fundamentalistic religious movements, and they aren't erroneously dubbed a "Theory of Everything."

I will wrap up this review with a mumbo jumbo, single sentence quote from Wilber's final paragraph. It contains many big and pretty words but little meaning to an Orange like myself. Perhaps you are a Turquoise and will recognize the call of the articulator of your higher state of consciousness.

The integral vision, having achieved its purpose, is outshined by the radiance of a Spirit too obvious to see and too close to reach, hence the integral search finally succeeds by finally letting go of the search itself, there to dissolve in a radical Freedom and consummate Fullness that was always already the case, and one abandons a theory of everything in order to simply be Everything, one with the All, in this endlessly fulfilled moment.

from the publisher:
A Theory of Everything is a concise, comprehensive overview of Ken Wilber's revolutionary thought and its application in today's world. In clear, nontechnical language, Wilber presents leading-edge models that integrate the realms of body, mind, soul, and spirit. Wilber then demonstrates how these theories can be applied to real-world problems in the fields of business, politics, medicine, and education. He also presents daily practices that readers can take up in order to apply this integrative vision to their own, everyday lives.

Topics include:

Ken Wilber is among the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, credited with creating a genuine world philosophy. The eight volumes of his recently published Collected Works include seventeen of his books as well as essays and other writings.
"A vision of breathtaking profundity and significance that maps with brilliant clarity Wordsworth's 'dark inscrutable workmanship that reconciles discordant elements, makes them cling together in one society.' Wilber gives us here a way to understand ourselves within the vast scope of the universe and time and all that we know as a species. He also gives us a way to operationalize that understanding and realize the full beauty and potential of our place in the family of things. May this integral vision unfold and find its multiflorous way into our hearts, our epistemologies, and our institutions for the sake of life itself and for the joys of wonder and awe." -- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, HealthCare, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School

"To my mind, Ken Wilber is the most sublime thinker since Plato and provides all of us with a vision of life and the cosmos which inseparable fuses spirit into the matrix of everything we say and do. Reading Ken Wilber is a must, and A Theory of Everything is the place to begin." -- Jim Garrison, President, State of the World Forum

"Written with astonishing lucidity about human development and spirituality, A Theory of Everything makes plain how these abstract and complicated ideas can be integrated into our everyday lives." -- Warren Bennis, Professor, University of Southern California, author of On Becoming a Leader

"I read Ken Wilber every day so I can be inspired by the most extraordinary mind of our times." -- Deepak Chopra

"Ken Wilber is one of the most creative spiritual thinkers alive today, and A Theory of Everything is an accessible taste of his brilliance. Like a masterful conductor, he brings everyone in, finds room for science and spirit, and creates music for the soul." -- Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor-in-chief, Tikkun magazine, author of Jewish Renewal and The Politics of Meaning