Ken Wilber, humor, and laughter

by Rolf Sattler

Ken Wilber wrote: “TRANSCENDENCE RESTORES HUMOR. Spirit restores humor. Suddenly smiling returns. Too many representatives of too many movements – even many very good movements, such as feminism, environmentalism, meditation, spiritual studies – seem to lack humor altogether. In other words, they lack lightness, they lack a distance from themselves, a distance from the ego and its grim game of forcing others to conform to its contours... They should all trade two pounds of ego for one ounce of laughter”(Ken Wilber. 1999. One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber. December 7).

Well said, but does Ken Wilber walk his talk? In talks and conversations he can have a sense of humor and laugh. But apart from few exceptions such as his novel
Boomeritis, I scarcely detect humor in is books. In over 8oo pages of his magnum opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality I could find only one joke. With his critics, if he does not ignore them completely, he often appears rather defensive or even aggressive. After all, he considers his AQAL map “the most complete and accurate map we have at this time” (Ken Wilber. 2007. The Integral Vision, p. 18). Thus, defending this most complete and accurate map appears very serious for Ken Wilber and lacks lightness. Kaisa Puhakka, in “A Call to Play,” invited Ken Wilber not to hold on too tightly to his position because such tightness “tends to lead to a solidification and closing of one’s “position” with regard to the view or theory. Dialectical engagement of the theory, on the other hand, fosters the kind of flexibility and openness that allows for genuine evolutionary change” (Kaisa Puhakka in Rothberg, D. and S. Kelly, eds. 1998. Ken Wilber in Dialogue. Quest Books, p.398). Puhakka emphasizes that flexibility and openness require a lightness characteristic of play. And in play we can joke and laugh, also about ourselves, not only about others (see also Anthony Judge. 2010. Enacting Transformative Integral Thinking through Playful Elegance).

As far as Wilber’s critics are concerned, many of them appear also defensive or even aggressive, and humor is often missing. I too may fall into this trap at times and I apologize. However, I am trying to include more jokes in my writing (see, for example,
Science: its Power and Limitations, and my book in progress Materialism, Holism, and Mysticism - A Mandala (especially the Introduction).

"Laughter and humor are therapeutic allies in healing." (Billy Strean. 2008.
The HoHo Dojo. New York: Random HAs, p. 92). They can be healing for body, mind and spirit because they can reduce or remove tensions and blockages. They can contribute to a profound sense of well-being.

I want to end this short note with a joke related by David C. Lane and Andrea Diem-Lane. They wrote:
“An often told joke concerning Albert Einstein perhaps reveals best the tentative nature of science and it findings:
Student: Dr Einstein, Aren’t these the same questions as last year’s physics final exam?”
Dr. Einstein: Yes; But this year the answers are different.” (
David Christopher Lane and Andrea Diem Lane: The Shiva Nature of Science). What applies to science, also applies to philosophy, religion, and spirituality.

See also Laughter Quotes and McGuinness' parody "The Most Important Conversation of Our Time! Ken Wilber/Andrew Cohen Dialogue"

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