Integral Theory

In an earlier post I  touched very lightly on the thoughts swirling in my head about Charles Eisenstein and in that post I also mentioned Ken Wilbur who I started reading in earnest during and just after my college days about 15 years or so ago. I have continued to read books he’s published since and have also seen most of his videos on youtube as well as the many other writers and websites spawned from KW’s ideas. Ken’s Integral Philosophy has had a huge influence on me, but in the area of politics I think that he and others do not really get it right. And this is critical because politics is essentially the expression of philosophy in our physical world, and the consequences of getting it right or wrong will literally mean life or death for millions of people.

So I plan to do a series of posts covering my own take on philosophy, spirituality, politics, economics, and how all of that relates to my current “project” in rural Japan.

An Extremely Brief Introduction to Integral Studies

(I highly recommend reading any of Ken Wilbur’s books to get a more detailed picture of this. If you are completely unfamiliar with his work,  A Brief History of Everything is a good place to start. Or just do a web search.)

It would be a vast oversimplification to label Ken Wilbur’s work as “philosophy.” Ken has spent his life pulling together knowledge from a huge variety of sources, Spiritual and Religious teachings, Philosophers ancient and modern, Scientists in the fields of Biology, Psychology, Cognitive Development, History, Social Sciences, etc., and from this he has formulated what is known as Integral Theory.

Integral Theory is based on the premise that the universe is constantly transcending toward ever greater complexity, and that these transcendent layers of complexity are “holarchically” arranged (a termed coined by mixing the words ‘holistic’ and ‘hierarchy’), like an onion, each layer of developmental complexity transcends and includes the one underneath, yet with greater depth (more complexity), comes less span (fewer manifestations).  To illustrate this concept, integral thinkers often rely on a map like the one below:

The AQAL Map (All Quadrants, All Lines, All Levels)

Equally critical to understanding Integral theory is the recognition that all levels along each line in the holarchy are equally vital and real, yet clearly transcend and include the levels below it. Each level represents a complete whole, and yet also is a part of a greater more transcendant whole (this is referred to by KW as a “holon“).

A simple example of this is an organism. A dog for example is a distict whole, yet it is made up of cells, which are themselves distinct wholes. Now we wouldn’t say that a dog is simply a collection of cells. The dog is more than just that. The dog includes the cells and transcends them. You can continue that mental experiment up and down the whole line of biological development, or any other type of development; letters – words – sentences – paragraphs – novels for example. The same goes for the development and evolution of art, culture, language, consciousness, society, politics, technology, religion, and on and on and on….

Another important aspect to integral theory is that all lines are relatively independent, yet also interdependent as well. Higher stages in one line necessitate a certain degree of development along other lines. And all things must progress through each of the stages. In other words, a human will develop physically from single cell, to fetus, to infant, to child to adult, and all the while his mind and brain is developing as well. The person’s cognitive development requires the highly evolved and developed structure of his brain in order for his consciousness to transcend to the highest stages of consciousness. But no matter how developed and evolved man is, each person must still go through every stage, as each one acts as the foundation for the next (see illustration below). Each individual’s journey will progress or stop altogether based on both personal and environmental factors.

Below is a more concrete (but very generalized) illustration of the development of AQAL at each stage. It is common to refer to these stages by their colors. For instance the dominant forces in society in much of Europe, Canada, and the US today can be characterized as “Green.”

click to enlarge

I wanted to provide this very cursory introduction to Integral Theory because in the posts  that follow I will be using its terms and contexts frequently. In the next post on this subject I want to talk about what I see as the most appropriate political paradigm for a society dominated by second tier consciousness (which we will likely see in our own lifetimes). I’ll also talk about the distinction between Society and State and why these concepts became entangled during the 20th century and the shift from Orange to Green.


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3 Responses to Integral Theory

  1. ted says:

    It’s curious that you consider the US at Green. I’d always thought them in Orange, and slipping back into Blue, post Sept. 11.


  2. Hells teeth! And I thought compost toilets were your thing. I look forward to seeing you again and talking more than about bogs (Brit expression for the lav…… water closet). Happy new year.


  3. brodoland says:

    @ ted; Well of course there are vast segments of the country still operating at blue and orange or even lower (and will be for the foreseeable future–remember greater depth, less span), and I think that in the US the Republican party has traditionally catered to Orange and Blue, while the Democrats have largely catered to Green. But today the dominant social meme is pretty clearly Green and I think has been for at least several decades, regardless of which party’s president is in office. As we have seen, it makes next to no difference from a policy standpoint who is elected. Politics, Academia, and the Media (with one notable exception perhaps) are all very solidly in the green camp. Similarly in most other “First World” nations, by and large. Also it should be noted that a “Green” government can be every bit as violent and brutal as Orange, or Blue or Red, given the right (or I should say wrong) conditions. Green is not Integral. They still believe their worldview is the only “correct” worldview. In fact I would argue that the whole idea of wars to bring democracy to “X” people is an extremely Greenish notion; whereas orange would be inclined to overt imperialism, and blue and red to conquest. Of course, In the real world no political system will ever manifest as “purely green” or “purely orange, etc.” These are just convenient labels we use to define distinct stages. I will write on this in much more detail in following posts.

    @ Paul; Anytime man. I will invite you over for a christening of our first bog, once it’s set up! Happy New Year back!


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