Integral Theory

Extracted from a post Five Years Ago. Click here for more background on Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics.

An Extremely Brief Introduction to Integral Theory

(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 (known as AQAL – All Quadrants All Lines):

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.