Questions for Ken Wilber


Do you have a question for Ken Wilber? Post your most thoughtful questions below, and we may use them in a future episode of the Ken Show!

The Ken Show is a monthly free webinar with Ken Wilber and Corey deVos, usually hosted on the second Saturday of each month. The live show is available to everyone for free, and the recording is typically published a few days later for Integral Life members.

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Oh, I have so many! I need to sit on this one for a few hours, but I will be back with a question soon. Thank you Corey!


Well, I first want to say that The Religion of Tomorrow was the first book of Ken’s that I read where everything he was saying just clicked. It might be the 10 years that went by that was the reason. Since I’ve read it my life has changed a lot. It’s forced me to take seriously my relationships with people, and how I take care of my body, and how I succeed in life. My relationships and my physical body have been neglected for many years, but now I feel inspired to enter into those worlds again, with a new zeal, because I am able to interpret those dimensions spiritually, where before they were part of the world that didn’t exist. Anyways, I have to say that the book is the most useful book I’ve read, and I am very grateful that it was written.
Since I started implementing these other dimensions, interpersonal, and being more physically active and working on my persona, I’ve had better meditations.
So, to get to my question.
I think the states are probably the hardest parts for me to understand in the book.
I recently meditated and had an experience I’ve had once before. I was thinking about this girl, and my mind was going wild, imagery, and art, and love, it felt almost psychic and connected to her,(I’m guessing this was a subtle state) and I started noticing negative thoughts I was having about her. And so I focused on the navy seal Jocko Willink mantra “Extreme Ownership” regarding the negative thoughts I was having about a such a lovely girl. Because I like the girl so much, I was able to cut though the negativity, and the thoughts seemed to congeal, and there was white and the sense of self was not really there, memories and such were going away too. The fear came and it disappeared.
It seems to me that that was a causal state. Would you agree?
And if so, what exactly will the early signs of turia look like?
Anyways, some insight in this area would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you so much!


Early on Ken put states on top of stages. I totally understand why he changed this and don’t disagree, but it seems like there may have been something intuitive in this first thought as well. It seems like it gets harder to manage the complexity of higher stage experience in a healthy way without state development. I personally am finding at this point in my life, I really cant manage without it, where there have been times in my life where state devleopement was something I turned to only in crisis.

I was curious about Kens thoughts on this.


My question to Ken is: We have a lot of places to go for waking up but where do you go for growing up? I’m with the understanding that integral psychotherapy can help on this but in what way and to what degree?
When I was listening attentively to Dr. Susan Cook Greuter and Beena Sharma on Stages of Leadership, I asked them a question at the 53: 27 mark, which Corey was kind to provide them:

when you go down the line, is this where you begin to experience existential depression?

Dr. Greuter emphatically said yes; that it can be everywhere but particularly at the construct aware stage.
Beena Sharma added that

It happens at the five-six stage because at four five there is the deconstruction but there is a lot of there is a lot of meaning making that one can be anchored to and a sense of self but at five six when there’s a realization that I probably and I am an invention. I don’t exist and then that kind of questioning of one’s own identity is really extremely disorienting

I don’t expect you to believe me, but that’s where I am right now and the only comfort I have is reading books like Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Hannah Arendt, Irvin Yalom, Emmy Van Deruzen, and, of course, Dr. Greuter and Wilber. I’ve also read Micheal Washburn’s "The ego and the dynamic ground" which help me understand existential depression in depth. My problem is I don’t know where to go from here.
There is no one in the flesh who understands me- not even mainstream psychotherapist who just want to pump you up with drugs. I often feel alienated from family, friends, and women who look at me like I’m from another planet. I can’t help but feel demoralized about all this. Nothing means anything to me anymore and it’s as if I’m using my books as pacifiers.


Hi Ken. Is it true that Religion of Tomorrow is the first place you distinguished states as a product of involution and structures as a product/potential of evolution? I don’t recall hearing that before. If I’m wrong, where was that really significant distinction covered previously?

My question:
Doesn’t the states/involution, structures/evolution distinction require an adjustment to the Wilber-Coombs lattice? It feels like it does. I can’t quite grasp how–yet.


I have a question about horizontal development. I am an architect. One thing I know from this experience is my capacity for good design is not only limited by my personal ability, creativity etc, but it is also limited by the abilities of the craftsman who build my designs. I used to work with a design build company who employed world class craftsman. I left and started my own practice and I quickly discovered that my designs couldn’t be executed as I wished, so I had to adapt to the level of the builders. In the years following the builders I now work with have gotten better, so my designs can again get more complex.

This seems important. Capacity for complexity horizontally makes openness to complexity vertically easier.

I was listening to a podcast that postulated a theory that the Industrial Revolution started in England, as opposed to France, because there were more highly developed craftsman in England at the time to execute the ideas.

I am just curious about Ken’s take on the importance of horizontal development alongside vertical.


Greetings, Ken — For years, I’ve had a very fundamental question about the nature of social/cultural/evolution — one which, as far as I can tell, you’ve never addressed (please correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m far from having read all your works) It’s this: when we look closely at what happens in a major evolutionary shift, there is often an overlooked phenomenon: that something old and important has been lost, at the same time that something new, and (presumably) more important, has been gained. An example: the appearance of polyphony and vertical harmony, and the equal-tempered scale in European music, though obviously a marvelous (and as far as we know, unprecedented) quantum leap, which produced the wonders of the Western classical orchestral tradition, nevertheless eclipsed and totally vanquished another extremely beautiful and profound tradition of melismatic music; another example, more accessible to non-musicians, would be the effect of the invention of writing itself on poetry … according to a number of ancient accounts written during the transition, everyone (even the new poets who were their own scribes) admitted that the old poets, with their prodigious memories, who did not deign to write themselves, were far superior. A beautiful oral tradition was lost. Some might try to dismiss both these examples as based on esthetic subjectivity … I would disagree; but consider the far more important example of agriculture: recent research indicates that hunting-gathering peoples (until they were pushed off their best lands by civilized armies) had a much happier life than agricultural peoples … their average work week for basic necessities was no more that 20 hours (some say as little as 10-18 hours). Civilization, with its top-down, pyramidal structure (some would say, the original pyramid scheme;-) did not lead to a better life for most humans. Its achievements are magnificent, of course … but consider its destructive actions: organized war, environmental disaster, ubiquitous social misery, etc.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not suggesting that it’s possible, or desirable, to turn the clock back; nor am I indulging in romantic nostalgia. But all these examples (I could give you many more of them, but I’m sure you can find your own) suggest that evolution has a more complex nature than your present spiral indicates. I’m all for a Hegelian kind of “transcend-and-include” , but these examples show a significant and systematic failure of inclusion. I don’t pretend to have an explanation, but it’s almost as if there were some kind of “no-free-lunch” principle at work, so that a serious, and sometimes painful price has to be paid for many (though perhaps not all) evolutionary advances.

  • Note - there are many self-serving civilized myths about hunter-gatherers: such as that they lived in caves because they weren’t smart enough to build houses; that their lives were “nasty, brutal, and short” — including the widespread misconception that the average person lived to be only 35 or something (figures vary, but they’re all bogus calculations, based on averaging in infant mortality, which indeed was high — which doesn’t necessarily imply that people didn’t often live long, or that the quality of life wasn’t higher than that of the average city-dweller or peasant.

    [I’'d like to close on a slightly different subject, and say BRAVO for your widely-published unmasking of postmodernism, exposing its fundamental pretentiousness, confusion and “aperspectival madness”! ]


It sounds like you are asking about the concept of “transcend and include”.

I’m not sure I’m following you with your examples, could you clarify and/or back up your assertions?

My understanding is that the melismatic tradition has been incorporated in all the following evolutions of music: in the form of coloratura from baroque opera to modern day pop music.
If you are saying that some of the actual pieces of art produced from the form are lost, that seems to me to be an inevitable aspect of time passing, but we still have recordings of gregorian chants (and the people that perform them), so it’s not like the entire tradition was lost.

As for poetry, are you talking about the tradition of orally reciting poetry, or the tradition of memorizing long swaths of information? Perhaps, you are referring to something else? As I understand it, we still have children orally recite their poetry in their classes, as well as the poetic tradition of rap. The tradition of memorizing large swaths of information remains, but it has a diversity of forms including chess and go players who can recall an entire match, move by move, after the game has ended.

Happiness of hunter-gather times: I imagine that the high rates of death and discomfort from illnesses, genetic conditions, and natural disasters, as well as, infant mortality, inter-tribal rape, kidnapping, and slavery would put a dent in one’s happiness (we still have all of these occurrences in modern times, obviously, though due to technology, many of them are resolvable or reduced in proportion). In addition, the traditions of hunting and foraging also remain to this day. In any case, we do not have the data from hunter-gather times available to assert that they were happier. Also, why have you chosen happiness as the goal/marker of importance?

From my perspective, these examples illustrate both transcend and include. Perhaps you could clarify how you reached the conclusion that they are examples of a systematic failure to include?

Edit: Maybe the answers to these questions could be explored in your own topic. :slight_smile:


In his BATGAP interview with Ken Wilber, and he mentions that there are three groups of lines – the cognitive lines, the self-related lines, and the gifts (aesthetic, kinesthetic, etc.). He didn’t go into it in detail, but this is the first time I’ve heard him clumping the lines into three main groups. I’d like to read more about which lines he’s putting in which groups. Do you know if he’s written (or spoken) more about that anywhere? I’d like to see which lines he’s putting into which groups.


[First, my apologies to all readers for the length of this post — I don’t like over-long posts myself, but in this case I felt it was necessary, precisely because the phenomenon I’m addressing is unfamiliar to most evolutionary thinkers, and often misunderstood.]
Coda: when I say “failure of inclusion”, I’m pointing out a very real phenomenon, not the trivial one you seem to think — also, I’m not saying that it’s something that “shouldn’t” happen. The example of inclusion you give of inclusion (modern coloratura) is mistaken. Coloratura is not in any sense a survival of melismatic singing, and their vague resemblance is trivial. As for the tradition of Gregorian chant, it has been lost forever. What the monks sing today is a hypothetical 19th-century reconstruction of a long-dead tradition, with interpretations that are total guesswork, some of which are demonstrably inadequate, and others almost certainly wrong. It’s no substitute for a living tradition — nevertheless, I, like most listeners, am grateful that they at least made the attempt, however impossible the resurrection. Moreover, the equal-tempered scale is fundamentally out-of-tune, something which our ears have gotten used to; but if you practice singing and playing in an in-tune tradition, such as Indian or Mideastern music (as I have), then you’ll hear JUST how out-of-tune a piano really is, and then, maybe you’ll begin to understand what has been lost in the Western tradition …yet I’d be the last to say that equal-temperament shouldn’t have happened, and that I need to stop loving Chopin, and deny my ability to “shift ears”, so that his music becomes plenty harmonious enough for me!! … but I won’t go on about musicology, for it gets into a lot of technical terms, and your knowledge of the subject seems limited, to say nothing of the risk of boring other readers in this forum. Instead, let’s go back to the far more important subject of agriculture. Its extremely destructive effects on average human happiness and well-being are brilliantly described by Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Sapiens, which I recommend you read, if you haven’t.
And when you talk about :

high rates of death and discomfort from illnesses, genetic conditions, and natural disasters, as well as infant mortality, inter-tribal rape, kidnapping, and slavery,

… then from my point of view, you’re just dishing out that same old, ancient old, civilized propaganda, with all of its “nasty, brutish, and short” bullshit about “primitive” nomadic tribal life …yes, they had a very high rate of infant mortality — and that’s about the only true statement in all that list of stereotypes… But high infant mortality (the most ancient means of checking overpopulation) doesn’t necessarily mean that older youths and adults didn’t have a high quality of life; and it certainly doesn’t support that baseless old stereotypical image of ancient tribal people dying like flies after the age of thirty or so… for all we know, early bronze-age tribal nomads may have had a much higher adult longevity than the average of later civilized peoples. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t all that long ago, geologically speaking, that all humans were nomads, and had been living in tribes for at least 500,000 years (by far the most stable form of social organization ever discovered by H. sapiens) … then, less than ten millennia ago, those who refused to become sedentary were progressively forced to live in ever-more disadvantageous and degraded conditions by pressure from civilized peoples and their armies. The logic of civilization’s ancient, endlessly-repeated, self-serving propaganda isn’t all that different from the old, post-civil-war white supremacist’s argument, which used to point out the (then-incontestable) fact that shoeshine boys are always black men … and propose that as evidence that most of these people are incapable of anything but menial work.
I hope you understand that I am NOT saying that these failures (or if you prefer, “limitations”) of inclusion shouldn’t have happened … the fact is, such failures, or limitations do happen, and they are all over the place, if you look with an open mind, and drop the assumption that evolution is always about something (conveniently undefined) called “advancement” or “progress” . Just one example out of many: in the Phaedrus dialogue, Socrates warns against attempting to put any true philosophical teaching into writing, because writing inevitably distorts, and even betrays the living teaching (and, believe me, Plato is well aware of the irony…). Socrates never wrote anything; Jesus never wrote anything; Buddha never wrote anything; Lao-tse never wrote anything, until he was forced to … do you think all that is mere coincidence?
But again, I’m not claiming that this kind of evolutionary loss is something that needs to be fixed, or corrected. I don’t know if it’s even possible; and anyway, it’s beside my point. What I am saying, is that it’s something that is often overlooked, and deserves to be studied more, in an attempt to understand it … and that so far, I have found little or no mention (much less understanding) of it in any evolutionary theories, including Ken Wilber’s. My most general, basic point is that (unless I’ve missed out on a very important discussion somewhere) evolution is more subtle and complex than we have realized in any of our theories, so far. Should that come as a surprise?
{…The only possible exception I know of is Rudolf Steiner, who said somewhere that every evolutionary gain must be paid for with a loss (unless I’m mistaken… … I’m far from being a believer, or even knowledgeable about anthroposophy, but I do think the man had some amazing insights. }


I have been struggling with Steve McIntosh’s various criticisms of AQAL in his book “Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution”, namely his locating non-evolving artifacts in the LR-Quadrant (which seems to me a misunderstanding of what is to be found in the LR-Quadrant). I don’t get his definition of spirituality, nor his distinction of philosophy and religion or his conviction that Ken’s “religion” makes him biased. And then there is his idea that AQAL theory does not account for evolving meta-lines like his cognition, emotion, and volition lines. Has Ken ever responded to the criticisms McIntosh presents in his book? If yes, where can I find it? If he didn’t respond, why not? Or did he respond indirectly in one of his publications? If that is the case I would love to know where I can find it.


I’m wondering if Ken can cite some sources indicating the statistics behind the Tier 2 “tipping point” as well as the population statistics of other levels along the stage ladder. I’ve seen him state the population percentages in some of his work, but haven’t ever seen a source for that data.


This is an interesting criticism, and I too wonder where McIntosh is coming from given “All Quadrants, All Lines” means that there are lines that cover the evolution of cognition (the evolution of consciousness is probably a more valuable conversation). Emotion and volition are states and can’t evolve, so that’s a bit confusing as well.

Simply put, the quadrants cover a snapshot in a point in time (and thus, wouldn’t be applicable to a process like evolution), while lines cover a field of change over time. So a line should cover anything that has the potential to evolve.