Anthropology,Consciousness,and Spirituality:A Conversation with Ken Wilber
Grant Jewell Rich
Pettengill HallBates College4 Andrews Rd.
ME 04240optimalex@aol com
an interview with author Ken Wilber, whose work on consciousness overthe last twenty-five years has been tremendously influential. His work blends"Eastern" and "Western" approaches and has influenced scholars in psychology,philosophy, and religion, as well as in anthropology. His work on transpersonalpsychology is especially well-known, and his first book,
The Spectrum ofConsciousness
,arguably marks the beginning of transpersonal
Frances Vaughan has referredto Wilber's work as the "work of genius." Daniel Goleman once listed Wilber amongthe "ranks of the grand theorists of human consciousness" including "Ernst Cassirer,Mircea
and Gregory Bateson." Wilber discusses the scope of the consciousnessproblem
contributions to the field that anthropologists might be well suitedto make.
Key words: consciousness, theory, interview, relativism.
You've written volumes on the theme of consciousness. For example in yourbooks
Theory of Everything
you develop comprehensivemodels of consciousness that seek to integrate Eastern and Western
of thinking,ancient and modern models of thought, and you've examined consciousness at everylevel from the atomic to the psychological to the sociological to the spiritual. Firstoff, how do you define the scope of consciousness?
It's one of those interesting things consciousness, because an aspect of it isfirst person, so it's something you can't really describe or define very well. Becausepart of it is experiential it's like saying how would you define a sunset, or how do youdefine a tasty piece of apple pie, or how do you define making love and so on. I thinkit's one of the difficulties of the field in that we want to, on the one hand, try to befairly scientific about our approach to consciousness, and science tends to studythings which are merely objects: rocks, trees, ecosystems, and so on. So it can giveyou pretty good objective definitions of objects, but when a part of what you'restudying
subjective, then it gets a little slipperier, and that
certainly the case withconsciousness. If you look back at the traditions, on the one hand, and by traditionsI mean the great wisdom traditions or the spiritual traditions, on the one handconsciousness is part of our own individuality. But most of the traditions maintain
American Anthropological Associat43