Equipped with a new evolutionary understanding of the human psyche as it unfolds through multiple structures of development, Ken noticed a core confusion that made it very difficult to discern between the lower stages and the higher stages. Trans-rational mystical experiences were often being dismissed as pre-rational fantasy, postmodern values were being erroneously projected onto pre-modern cultures, and pre-modern impulsiveness and hedonism were being celebrated by the postmodern counterculture. Rather than viewing psychology as a developmental process running from pre-rational to rational to trans-rational, a person was seen as being either rational or not—resulting in the trans-rational baby getting thrown out with the pre-rational bathwater.
This misconception between “pre-” and “trans-” became known as the pre/trans fallacy, one of Ken’s most popular and profound theoretical contributions, and continues to help us make sense of many of the central conflicts and confusions running through Western psychology and academia.
The pre/trans fallacy actually formed one of the major fault lines between two of modern psychology’s greatest founders, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, both of whom stood on opposite sides of this fallacy—Freud would reduce spiritual states to a resurrection of infantile feelings, while Jung would elevate pre-rational mythology to trans-rational glory. The pre/trans fallacy allows us to put the pieces together into a more comprehensive whole, to liberate and integrate the genuine insight offered by these two pioneers, and to detangle their brilliance from the misunderstandings that were so rampant before this developmental view finally emerged.
Excerpted from Volume I of the Ken Wilber Life Footnotes collection:
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