This post focuses more specifically on Ken Wilber’s exact thoughts on the nature of magical thinking versus real psychic powers so that they can be compared more precisely to what the Ageless Wisdom teachings say on the matter. This post is also connected to the Six Stages of Discipleship, especially the stage of Chela on the Thread, where we are told we need to become much more clear on the difference between lower and higher psychic powers.
In the Ageless Wisdom teachings we talk about higher and lower psychic powers. Higher psychic powers are considered Intuitional or Buddhic in nature. They include the use of the mind to analyze, investigate, and look carefully at what is going on. The books From Instinct to Intuition and Esoteric Psychology, Vol II by Alice Bailey, both talk a lot about this. In the Integral teachings they call “higher” psychic powers “Psychic” (or adult psychic). “Lower” psychic powers are called “Magic” (connected to childish magical thinking).
Below is the transcript, which I took the time to create, of an audio on Ken Wilber’s exact thoughts on this topic. You will see his thoughts very much line up with what is taught in the Ageless Wisdom teachings. I hope you enjoy it.
KEN WILBER — On Magic vs. Psychic (We would call it Emotional vs. Intuitional)
Audio Version link is here:
Transcript is here:
They call it a “trans-rational soul initiation.” Nature spirits, sprites, entities to make plants go faster and make it rain, etc. “Well, Houdini the greatest magician of his time, he spent the last second half of his life, he offered $25,000 dollars to anybody that could convince that those kinds of things were happening and not a single person passed the test. …the pictures that Arthur Conan Doyle presented of fairies…. (these were frauds, the girls later confessed when they were in their elder years and showed in a documentary how they cut out pictures and put them on hat pins to photograph). … I mean Houdini just shredded it. You just have to be careful because of the tendency to want magic in our lives, and the main reason, and I will talk now even about structural magic, it certainly includes what can look like magic in the subtle dimension, but in structural magic there is all of this wonderment, all of this magical stuff that can happen. Kids watch Saturday cartoons and super heroes because they really think you can fly through the air, you can do miracles. People at the level of magic Christianity are in it because they want to walk on water, they want to turn water into wine, they want to raise the dead and do all sorts of magical feats. And, there’s that strong desire, particularly as we grow up and go through the magic stages, if those are too rapidly, or harshly, or abruptly cut off particularly if we have really rational partents or scientific parents, it can still leave an attachment to those stages. And, that means an addiction. And, that means an ongoing subconscious lust for real magical things. And, we are willing to see things that might not be there. Now they might be there. But, there’s a lot of factors that can lead us to want to see them there, when they might not be.
And, the trick again is how tightly we hold on to the magic stage itself, that all human beings go through. And, if we want to hook it to chakras loosely, the oral stage is chakra one, the emotional sexual stage, genital stage, is chakra two and that’s combined with magic. And, in the third stage that is when intentionality and power comes online in the third chakra. He has guts, and that’s the gutsy thing to do and so on. So, magic with fantasy thinking and things like voodoo (classic magic is voodoo where you make a doll representing a real person, then stick a needle in the doll and the real person suffers, that’s pure magic). The thing representing the object is confused with the object. And, then to hurt the representation of the object is the same as hurting the real object. These aren’t differentiated. And, that’s where magic as a childhood, not actually psychic, process occurs. And, if people too rigidly repress that, push it away, transcend it too harshly, then they are left with a fixation to that magic drive. They’re left with a tendency to see magic in the world around them, because it gives them great pleasure. They’re addicted to it after all.
And, so they want to see it in all sorts of places. They’re willing to believe evidence that to most thinking people isn’t that convincing. Or, it certainly looks a little bit suspicious. You look at the thousands of pictures of UFO’s that have been (laughing) that believed by many, many people. Most of which look like somebody took a tin can and threw it in the air kind of thing. So, there’s always that tendency. And, we have to be really careful about that. So, whenever that can happen we are left with an addiction to magic. So, what we want to have is the capacity to hold magic in awareness, but not exclusively, so that we think only in terms of magic. So, that that’s our actual viewpoint. We’re actually looking from magic at the whole world. We’re not looking from our higher levels — amber, or orange, or green, or teal. At magic, we are looking as magic, we’re looking from magic. And, that’s where we get identified with it. That’s where it’s not helpful. That’s where it can be very, very, very misleading.
And, so we want to be very careful about that. We want to transcend and include magic in a way that we still have access to it, it still provides elan, vital, and all the fun, juicy, creative, wonderful types of things the magic, childhood stage has, so that in a sense we can be childlike, but not childish and be able to have a direct touch with that magic stage. But, the magic stage is a stage. And, it was given up universally by every single group of humanity on the entire face of the planet, as they moved from magic/mythic, and then mythic, and then rational. And, virtually, I think why did the original magic tribes, all at mythic… if that was the idealised state, if they were really in a state of Eden where everything was perfect, why did every single one of them give it up with no exceptions? As soon as horticultural was discovered, virtually every foraging tribe moved into horticultural. And, that’s because it was more effective, more efficient. The magic was supposed to accomplish things. You do a rain dance and it automatically rains. After doing that for several thousand years, and it was increasingly noticed that that didn’t really often work, less and less faith was put in it. At Wounded Knee, a horrible example, but at Wounded Knee the Native Americans did the ghost dance. Which, they were certain that the ghost dance would prevent white men’s bullets from killing them. And, they were all slaughtered. Magic doesn’t work and that’s why it was given up.
Question from Jeff: How about psychic phenomena, Ken, like telepathy, precognition, remote seeing, that sort of thing?
Response from Ken: That is something different. Because first of all that tends to happen, the less a person is doing it for narcissistic reasons or egocentric reason, if they are doing it for their own achievement or own accomplishment, they tend not to do it very well on scores of actual psychic phenomena. So in other words they have to be developed into higher second and third person perspectives. If they are still at first person, egocentric, they have very, very poor scores on actual psychic phenomena. Individuals that are up into third person perspectives, world centric, fourth person perspectives, there’s a great deal of evidence that certain types of paranormal phenomena do indeed occur. There’s a meta analysis of scientific tests showing that it’s rather beyond doubt that there are certain paranormal events that do happen. And, so those are – the evidence at least so far — is that those do indeed exist. But, that’s the difference between trans-rational psychic phenomena and pre-rational magic phenomena. They are different ends of the developmental perspective. They have very different rates of success. And, of course not all psychic phenomena work. But, there are some people that do tend to be gifted at that. They are mostly at least in that line at the higher levels of development. Those at lower levels, doing for personal gain, personal benefit, personal achievement, they tend to do very, very poorly. And, study after study have tended to demonstrate that face.
So, what you have to be careful about is somebody can have an experience of a truly paranormal phenomena and then they loose all critical capacity. And, anything that looks pre-rational, goofy, infantile it is, they think it’s real. They loose the capacity for judgment. They don’t know how to say, “Ok wait. I’m looking at this through many different perspectives. I’m looking at it carefully. It doesn’t absolutely counter-act or violate certain physical laws. It does seem to be including this or including that. This seems to be real.” We do have studies if we are trying to look at people’s capacity for thought reading, or remote viewing, if it is done carefully, there is a much higher rate of success of those happening. If you have a five year old child doing it, not very good results.
So this has been the problem is that because magic and psychic look similar they’re confused. And, then people stop making distinctions between them entirely. It’s another version of the pre/trans fallacy. And, so all of a sudden because people have some paranormal events occur they want to go back and say everything that’s not rational is paranormal. And, they want to see everything that children are doing as being absolute psychic and the evidence for that is minuscule. So, we have to be careful. We just can’t ditch our discriminating awareness. I mean it’s one of the most important things we’ve found as we’ve looked at these overall capacities there’s a huge difference between somebody who thinks that he and he alone thinks he is Jesus Christ and somebody who realizes that he is Jesus Christ and so is everybody else.
And, you know what the difference is? About four different personal perspectives. And, the asylums are full of people from first person perspective who think that they, and they alone are Jesus, and saints and sages who are named annually who think that they are one with Jesus and so is everybody else, and their goal is to help people realize that. That looks similar; it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum, and we’ve got to separate those. And, we’ve got to separate childish magic from adult psychic.”
May 12, 2017 at 12:23 am
Wow, it’s not often I disagree this strongly with Ken Wilber, but I don’t see how he can say that First Nations people gave up magic, when actually they were torn apart and repressed, and have had their ceremonies made illegal. If magic didn’t work on bullets it could just as easily be the case that they were using the wrong tool. They had no magic for bullets but assumed what they had would work (or felt they had no choice but to try.) I base this on a conversation I recently had with a Hawaiian elder who spoke about Hawaiian medicine people who were unable to stop the 1918 influenza with magic because they’d never encountered such diseases before. And so you may assume that magic doesn’t work, but actually magic worked well enough that they hadn’t the need for an immunity to the diseases we rational people carry carried with us be they physical, cultural, or psychological.
My questions for Ken Wilber are these: How could magic-based societies have survived for so long if they were merely delusional? And how can you discount all of the paranormal/ufological accounts based on frauds and “magical” thinking and then ask everyone not to do the same for your equally preposterous spiritual mapping? If the answer lies in the pre- trans- fallacy then do some research on those things you laugh off as pre-. There’s pre-aplenty to go around, but all of it? No. Not all of it.
May 12, 2017 at 2:08 pm
First of all thank you so much taking the time to comment. Since I am not Ken Wilber I certainly cannot answer for him. Your point about did First Nations people give up magic or were they forced to surrender it is interesting. For me I view the pre-trans fallacy and magic as follows. Pre is magical thinking. It really doesn’t work. Try this yourself. Cast a spell. Do you get results? Do it twenty times. Do you get any results? 100 times. Any results? If the answer is no, then clearly you have magical thinking. If the answer is yes, then you are a powerful magician! Certainly in my opinion there are some shamans, magicians, mages, whatever you call them, who do get results. Actually, many scientists are doing fantastic magic as well. The difference between pre and trans is whether you get results or not. And, whether you can admit that your method is not working. Or, you can demonstrate that it does and can repeat it reliably and effectively at will.
May 16, 2017 at 2:07 am
I’ll agree with that definition. And to that end, of course, the popular post-modern equivalent is “We create our own reality.” I have friends who believe that and get upset when you ask them to do it.
It’s amazing that we have such limited time to be alive and we waste it with delusions of grandeur, war, and so on. It miiiiiiiight make sense if we were immortal and had all the time in the world to do every dumb thing. But really, how strange is it that we’ve got limited time and yet for thousands of years have spent it making stuff up, mainly to feel okay about our inevitable death?
Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful response. Much appreciated.