Coming to Gebser not via Wilbur

I’m watching the YouTube stream of our first talk, and to respond to Marco’s question if anyone has reached Gebser through means other than Ken Wilbur—yes! Insofar as I have no experience with either and found Winter of Origins through a mailing list.

I’m interested in exploring Wilbur after EPO and am curious how the order will affect my impressions of him.

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I came to Gebser through William Irwin Thompson and not Wilber.

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Heh, heh, heh … I got to Wilbur through Gebser and quickly realized that Ken should have given Hans a lot more credit than he did. While Wilbur became widely popular I never saw that anything he added or modified really added any value to Gebser’s approach, which I found simpler, more to the point, and more well-founded.


Glad to have you all here. Coming from the world of Wilber (it’s Wilber with an ‘er’ btw; Wilbur always makes me think of the pig from Charlotte’s Web), I was getting a little worried.

You’re diving into the deep end, @kevboh. Some find Wilber hard, but he has also simplified and popularized himself in many different books and other media, so there are beginner’s access points. And, he’s an American and speaks in ways that are generally more familiar.

Gebser I’m finding particularly challenging, now that I’m digging in, partly because his knowledge of art and cultural history is so acute and his larger points are so intimately grounded in these historical examples. I think you have to engage with the details more, whereas as Wilber emphasizes what he calls “orienting generalizations” and the details don’t tend to matter as much to him; in fact they’re practically dispensable or interchangeable.

In any event, I hope you stick with it. I think David Foster Wallace would have appreciated Gebser. I could imagine allusions to him in James O. Incandenza’s fictional films.

As a random sidenote, I notice while I’m reading these first pages that my mind is also drifting to Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote with a similar sense of erudition (i.e., all the references to obscure writers and historical studies), albeit of course much more fantastically and playfully than the serious work Gebser is proposing.

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To great fortune I came to Gebser by Algis Mickunas and Noel Barstad, professors at the university I attended-- in days before, during, and after they were translating Ever-present Origin. Great times.

Regarding Wilber: I’ve read just one essay by him and heard him speak on two podcasts and, like Ed above, didn’t find any sort of added value from him. What I found distinctly lacking were, as Marco above points out, the “details”, what grounds Gebser’s insights so thoroughly in the notions of dimensions of consciousness.

Gebser and Wilber both present grand notions, ways of understanding the (entire) world-- past, present, and future. I’m recalled to the proverb, ‘Great claims require great evidence.’ I find that quite overwhelming evidence in Gebser’s work (and more, the more I look), but thus far very little in Wilber’s.


Heh, heh, heh … greetings from Freud, it would seem. :frowning:


Hi ED!

Yes, me too. After starting EPO I quickly realized that Gebser was a completely different game.

Wilber’s model, while more widely popularized in the US and especially the psychology/TP (transpersonal psy) world, is a completely different adaptation of Gebser’s non-developmental structures and consciousness phenomenology.

In other words, if we are going to talk about Origins – as in, where to start, and where to go from here in this intellectual and cultural moment – Gebser is a better place to start.


“Wilbur” misspelling is even common in otherwise well-edited books!

"Gebser characterizes it as perspectival…

It is this laying of a grid over reality. The perspectival consciousness slices everything up. Segments it. Analyzes it… That is the real reason why we picked up the Atomist hypothesis of the 17th century."

This is Wilber.

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agree agree agree~ more tied into the developing thought around origins and not simply extracted piecemeal.

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and I think Gebser himself would mention that this is indicative of the linguistic shifts from alpha to omega too. for Freud, the “antithetical” aspect of language made manifest~

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Ah, that’s a good point, Ari!

Georg Feuerstein told me on the phone once that Wilber had admitted to him that he hadn’t given Gebser enough credit, but Wilber also, to my knowledge, never corrected that shortcoming. I’ve never found such behavior good academic (or any other) practice, and I must admit that it really put me off Wilber because I started seeing his ruminations (and popularity) in a very different light. Newton had acknowledged his giants.

On the other hand, popularity, renown, a following can very easily go to one’s head, literally, and I can’t help but feel that Wilber fell prey to that as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hacking around on Wilber: he is who he is, he’s a very bright guy, and he’s done a lot to get people thinking about things such as consciousness that might still be dying off in their obscure languishing.

The lesson I learned from all this, I think, was not to fall for your own bullshit. It’s not easy, I’ll admit, but we’ve got to make the effort.


I think it is really really important to remember that Wilber was NOT an academic, meaning that he did not follow a normal academic protocol or path. In other words, his work was not peer or mentor reviewed to help clarify thought or avoid plagiarism. He “borrowed” work from Gebser without giving credit where credit was due. and because Gebser’s work was not translated into English until the 80’s, who would have known really? I believe it is called New Age (and somewhat disrespected) because of this very thing. In Academia, one has to reveal where the ideas originate. Wilber did not do that, and in fact, claimed the ideas were his own. Fundamentally, they really weren’t.
(I don’t believe that Wilber did an advanced degree or anything, and it shows~ that is really my point here)

Just a follow-up on this. Out of fairness to Ken Wilber, we should note that he did specifically acknowledge his use of Gebser, both in Up from Eden and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (and in other places).

Pps. 192-196 in SES (2000 revised ed.) contain Wilber’s interpretation of Gebser’s integral-aperspectival structure/world-modality. Pps 787–789 contain his critique.

I’d be really interested in discussing Wilber’s specific writings on Gebser and examining their merits once I feel I have a deeper understanding of Gebser on his own.

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agree. and in all fairness, I cannot comment too much on Wilber as I have not read very much of him. I will do so after this and give him a fair shake too.

I came to Gebser directly from the Eranos school of thinkers: in particular Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, and of course Carl Jung. Considering Gebser was at Eranos (he entered the right part of Switzerland at just the right time), and knew these people personally, this is entirely apt. It’s a shame Gebser never presented at Eranos. However, he was deeply influenced by the open interdisciplinarity that transpired there (he later organised conferences in a similar vein on the theme of the aperspectival world). This interdisciplinarity has profoundly influenced my own intellectual horizons.


love this! I definitely feel that his work is tied into all of these thinkers, along with Poincare and Otto Rank. glad you’re here!


This podcast re-introduced me to a forgotten Gebser (via Wilber) and to this ever-present website:

J. Johnson discussion with Stephen T. Harper

I realize this thread is approaching two years gone. I have ordered the book and hope to potentially tap into the “infinite conversation” to be had…or at least utilize the conversation here as some sort of virtual coursework material. Thank you Jeremy for keeping the eternal flame burning via this podcast.


The YouTube video lecture series by John David Ebert that Jeremy cites about ten posts up is also worth a look. That was my introduction years ago.

Prior to that, I had never even heard of Ken Wilber. By the time I had, his ‘quadrants’ and ‘levels’ model reminded me more of Spengler’s and Melko’s respective civilization charts than an emergent awareness of the whole. I suppose I will have to read something by Wilber at some point to be fair, but I’m in no hurry.

Jeremy has some of his own well-presentiated thoughts floating around YouTube as well, I believe.