Ken Wilber on Empiricism


We do not, for example, perceive a tree. What we actually see, what is given in our experience, is simply a bunch of colored patches. On this, empiricists, rationalists and Idealists all agree. The traditional empiricist then attempts to ground all knowledge in these sensory “givens” – the colored patches. But it is now widely acknowledged that you cannot derive knowledge solely from patches. Classical empiricism has run aground on just this impossibility…

..science approaches the empirical world with a massive conceptual apparatus containing everything from tensor calculus to imaginary numbers to extensive intersubjective linguistic signs to differential equations – virtually all of which are nonempirical structures found only in interior spaces – and then it astonishingly claims it is simply “reporting” what it “finds” out there in the “given” world – when, in fact, all that is given is colored patches.

For science to acknowledge the massive interior structures that it brings to the party is not to deny the objective intrinsic features of the exterior world; it is simply to recognize as well the reality and importance of the subjective and intersubjective domains responsible for generating so much of the knowledge…None of these structures can be seen or found anywhere in the exterior, empirical, sensory world. They are all, all of them, subjective and intersubjective occasions, interior occasions, Left-Hand occasions. And nobody has ever found a way whatsoever to reduce this knowledge to colored patches.

Of course, empirical science is free to go on its merry way without stopping to look at the interior tools it uses in its assault on the world. What it is not allowed to do, without self-obliteration, is to deny the existence or the importance of these tools. Yet that is exactly what happens when science degenerates into scientism and rejects in toto the existence of the interior dimensions, simply because none of them is a colored patch.

Empirical science depends upon these interior domains (subjective and intersubjective) for its own objective operation. But because they cannot be accessed by simple monological and objective and sensorimotor methods, empirical science, in its more brutish forms, has simply rejected these interiors altogether, interiors which not only allow its own operations, but also contain the within of the Kosmos.

This self-obliterating reductionism is not genuine science, it is simply science the village idiot. And as everybody knows, it takes a village to raise a complete idiot – the village oc collapsed modernity, in this case. Science becomes imperial scientism and falls into the simpleminded myth of the given, naively ascribing to its colored patches a great deal of what is found only in its conceptual apparatus, whose existence it has just denied.

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