Paul M. Helfrich

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Thought As Passion

Making Ken Wilber Accessible

March 2004

If you want a well researched, thorough overview of the work of Ken Wilber, then Frank Visser’s Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion is a great choice. It covers a broad scope and is a relatively easy read. That’s the short version.

The long version must take into account Wilber’s five periods or models to date. Visser’s book nicely introduces the first four periods in a general way, and sets the stage for further study of the oeuvre. Wilber-5, so-called, has emerged in the last few years and will be published for the first time in the upcoming Kosmos, Vol. 2 (whose working title is Kosmic Karma and Creativity). One of the novel aspects of Wilber-5 is what he calls a post-metaphysical approach (among other things), which relies on empiricism in the three great domains of body, mind, and spirit. So the jury is still out on the niggly details of Wilber-5, and how its critic’s will respond. But one thing is certain, once published it may be easy to misconstrue criticism of this Visser opus because it’s NOT Wilber-5 and appropriately focuses on the influence of the perennial traditions in Wilber-1 through Wilber-4. But to Frank’s credit, he mentions Wilber-5 several times and acknowledges that Wilber’s views continue to develop.

Having said that, if you really want to get inside Wilber’s head, or at the very least, into his heart, then it’s appropriate to study his work beginning with Wilber-1. Why? First, Wilber is a developmental, evolutionary, transcendentalist thinker and doer. It’s apt to see how his theory developed as it was informed by his own bodily, mental, and spiritual growth. Second, even though Wilber no longer recommends his first two books, The Spectrum of Consciousness (1977) and No Boundary (1979), they’re required reading because we can trace the “integral impulse” at work from the very beginning along with what are now acknowledged flaws (the so-called pre/trans fallacy in particular). That integral impulse included nascent awareness that the three great domains of body, mind, and spiritual science must be included in any integral approach. Put another way, it reflected Ken’s precocious understanding that transcendental experience is not solely pathological, and properly developed could greatly inform human development. He also refined transpersonal psychological theory to include the full spectrum of consciousness, from body to mind to soul to nondual spirit, along with identifying appropriate pathology and therapies.

Thus, Visser’s book handles Wilber-1 through Wilber-4 with the skillful means of one who is far more than a journeyman with the material. In fact, Frank includes a great deal of biographical material that provides a human face and heart, background in the transpersonal field in general to situate Wilber’s oeuvre, major critics, a summary of their differences, as well as his own critiques. He also includes a thorough bibliography of Wilber’s work that alone is worth the price of the book! In the closing chapter Visser offers further insights and suggestions that may help refine the inchoate Wilber-5 model based upon his theosophical background.

In summary, if you’re seriously interested in learning about Wilber’s work, this is a great place to start. Ken personally recommends A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality (2000) because it’s concise, and A Brief History of Everything (1996). Together, they give a full accounting the major insights of Wilber-1 to Wilber-4, now called AQAL: all quadrants, levels, lines, states, types (and the kitchen sink. It is a thorough model :-)).

All in all, let’s give Frank Visser a hearty congratulations for a job well done!

(Here’s a link to a recent Wilber article called Integral Spritituality on

© 2004 Paul M. Helfrich, All Rights Reserved.

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I am currently the Pedagogical Coordinator and Music Teacher for Grades 1-4 at the Westside Waldorf School in Pacific Palisades, CA for the 2023-2024 academic year.

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