An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Mark EdwardsMark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology from the University of Western Australia. He has worked with people with disabilities for almost twenty years. He is currently writing a book on the interpretation of sacred writings from an integral theory perspective. Mark Edwards and his band “Myriad Things” have just released their new CD “Into the Sun”.

Part I: Wilber's Flatland | Part II: Piaget, Vygotsky, Harre | Part III: Cooley, Mead

The Depth
of the Exteriors

Part 1: Wilber's Flatland

Mark Edwards

"We are in possession of selves just insofar as we can and do take the attitudes of others toward ourselves and respond to those attitudes ... Our thinking is an inner conversation in which we may be taking the roles of specific acquaintances over against ourselves, but usually it is with what I have termed the "generalized other" that we converse ... In this fashion, I conceive, have selves arisen in human behavior and with the selves their minds."
George Herbert Mead (1925)
"Contemporary psychology is made up of two antithetical streams. First there is the thoroughgoing individualism of the cognitivists who conceive of human action as the product of individual mental processes. Freud, Piaget, and Dennett, each in their own way and each reflecting their own political and cultural assumptions, exemplify this strand. Second, there is the collectivism of the social constructivists, who conceive of human action as the joint intentional actions of minded creatures whose minds are structures and stocked from a social interpersonal reality. Wittgenstein, Vygotsky and Mead exemplify the second strand."
Rom Harre (1984)
"I propose that mental functioning and sociocultural setting be understood as dialectically interacting moments, or aspects of a more inclusive unit of analysis – human action."
James Wertsch (1995)
"the Right-Hand quadrants are all material"
Ken Wilber, 2000a, p.103


This is the first part in a series of essays on Integral theory's treatment of the Right Hand exteriors of behavioural and social development. As always my intention in working through the following issues is to strengthen the internal consistency and overall validity of Integral Theory. Often my essays focus on rather minor aspects of the model, but sometimes they do look at central features of the Integral framework that have broad implications for its theoretical development and practical application. And this is particularly true for the present topic of the exteriors of development.

Ken Wilber, of course, has been the driving force behind all of the development of the Integral model thus far, and his works have always and continue to be an inspiration for me. To this point (to my knowledge) Ken is still the sole Integral thinker who focuses on the development of the theoretical framework of the model. As a consequence, my aim of critically clarifying and offering alternative views necessarily involves the specific critique of Wilber's writings. The ongoing targeting of critical comment towards Wilber's writings (always constructive though I hope) can become rather tiresome for me as I am sure it can for those who read these essays. But there seems no way around this issue, if my purpose in offering alternative ways of interpreting Integral Theory is to be pursued. If there were other Integral thinkers working on the theory side of the model (as opposed to its applied utilisation in various fields, of which there are many), I would include their work in these critical essays as much as Wilber's. But, unfortunately, this isn't the case.

Those who do offer critiques of Wilber's writings, such as the contributors to the "Ken Wilber in Dialogue" book, Kirk Schneider, Albert Ellis, Andy Smith, and Jeff Meyerhoff (see Fischer, 1997 for an excellent, if rather out of date review article) almost always do so from outside of the model. These authors have their own theoretical models that they work from to comment on Wilber's ideas. However, I take a very different approach to these critics in that I work from within the Integral theory framework itself. I utilise Integral Theory concepts to consider the internal coherency of the Integral framework itself. I not only identify problematic aspects of the theory but I also try to show, as Michael Zimmerman puts it, "how integral theory has the resources needed to address the problems".

Typically, I try to reveal some aspect of the model I find unclear or problematic, trace this back to some interpretive inconsistency and offer alternative constructive suggestions for improving the coherency of the theory that is in accord with, what I believe to be, its definitive principles. And so it is with this present issue of exteriority and Wilber's treatment of the behavioural and social aspects of reality. This area of exteriority, behaviour and social development is one of the most fundamental aspects of any over-arching model of reality. It has also been for me the topic where Wilber has articulated some of his most puzzling statements.

In this opening essay of this series on exteriors I will try to identify problematic aspects of Wilber's definition and conceptualisation of holonic exteriors and of the Right Hand side of the AQAL model in general. In the following instalments I will look at other depth models of the exteriors and finish with a alternative suggestion on how Integral Theory can better conceptualise the behavioural and social domains of existence.

Complexity, structure and change

We often hear it said that the human brain is the most complex object in the universe. One jaw-dropping bit of trivia that really puts this into focus is that there are more possible permutations of connective pathways in the neural networks of one adult brain than there are atoms in the entire physical universe. The brain is truly a remarkable and mysterious organ. We don't hear it said quite so frequently that the same level of complexity and mystery also holds true for human behaviour. The human capacity for novel action, creative activity and for complex social performance is without parallel anywhere in the physical, chemical, biological or ecological universe. Human behaviour is without question the most varied, most dynamic and mystifying display in all the natural world. Nothing else even comes close.

How do we makes sense of this bewildering complexity? What regularities can give some hints about how human behaviour has evolved and how it is structured. One quality which human behaviour shares with all other aspects of the of natural world is that of development. Development is the enfolding/unfolding design that defines the structure of growth processes. Development is characterised by repeating patterns and systematic transformations at the ontogenetic, individual sphere, at the phylogenetic, collective sphere, and at all spheres in between. Many authors have pointed to the ubiquitous evidence provided in nature that developmental changes are expressed through regular structured patterns of transformation. I am not speaking here of the debate over the teleological nature of development, i.e. its propensity, or otherwise, to show progressive structural growth towards some identified evolutionary end point (see Gould, 1991). I am referring to the simple observation that life everywhere displays structured patterns in its growth and in its transformative dynamics. Ken Wilber (1995) has written extensively on this aspect of development from a Integral Theory perspective and his twenty tenets of holon theory outline some of the key patterns that can be recognised in the evolution and emergence of life.

In considering the nature of life and development, Integral Theory proposes that these systematic changes in structure occur within both the subjective, interior domains of life, the Left Hand domains, and the objective, exterior domains of life, the Right Hand domains. Both Left and Right Hand pathways are characterised by structural patterns of growth and integration. This is a fundamental principle of the theory. In many places Wilber stresses that both the interior Left Hand aspects and the exterior Right Hand aspects of existence must be included in any balanced understanding of reality.

... I think it's crucial to understand the contributions that both these paths have made to our understanding of the human conditions, because both of them are truly indispensible. (Wilber, 2000c, p.131)

However, in looking more closely at how Ken Wilber actually conceptualises and represents interior and exterior development, it is clear that he treats the two sides very differently. Wilber believes that the exteriors are made up of "holarchies of size, span and quantity" while he refers to the interior holarchies as "holarchies of value, depth and quality" (2000a, p.449). Such views are marked by a fundamental difference in the application of the AQAL framework. I am saying as loudly and as clearly as I can that a balanced application of Integral theory sees developmental value, depth and quality in both sides and that the characteristics of span, size and quantity are also applicable to both interiors and exteriors. Wilber finds no trouble in applying a developmental interpretation of the characteristic of size to both sides (Wilber, 2003e, ¶216):

On the interior domains, each senior holon is "bigger" in the sense of more inclusive, more expansive. ... Each interior senior holon transcends and includes its juniors and is thus "bigger" in the sense of being more inclusive and more embracing and more transcendentally expansive. Thus, with individual holons, each senior holon is "bigger," either in the physical sense of larger, or in the interior sense of being more inclusive and more expansive.

He sees no issue in proposing that span is a relevant characteristic of both sides. Tenet #8 of the holonic laws states that, "Each successive level of evolution produces greater depth and less span." Similarly, I see no problem in regarding the exteriors as holarchies that have the characteristics of depth and qualitative value. Behaving in a friendly manner is better than killing someone. Treating children with firm affection is better than abusing them. Stable social institutions are better than have corrupt ones. Democratic governance is better than mob rule. I have no difficulty in seeing which behaviours or social structures has more qualitative depth in these cases. Why then does Wilber differentiate so strongly between the two sides? At its very core Integral Theory is about the depth and transformative potential that is there in all aspects of the Kosmos. Why then does Wilber violate this principle and consign the Right Hand exteriors to the flatland world of shallowness while portraying the Left Hand interiors as the bastion of qualitative depth.

There are, naturally, many major differences between the interior and exterior domains of development. The differences, for example, between the coming into being of a subjective thought and the performance of an objective behaviour are extensive and significant. My concerns lie not with such distinctions in content but with the different way in which Wilber applies basic Integral principles to the exterior and interior domains of existence and reality. I have touched on these differences in previous essays and I want to spend a little more time focusing on these issues here.

The deep worlds of the Right Hand

In all of Wilber's writings since 1995 he has stressed the point that the Left Hand structures of development as ontologically rich and full of transformative depth while the Right Hand structures are materially rich but lacking developmental depth. For Wilber, the Left Hand quadrants display qualitative, evolutionary and deep structure complexification while the Right Hand quadrants display surface structure, mass-energy and material complexification. Wilber describes the Left Hand in terms of a spectrum of development stages or levels that demonstrate an ongoing and dynamic process of creative emergence. The Right Hand are described in terms of an ongoing complexification of simple material and physical forms. Wilber sees the Left Hand as multidimensional (all levels, all lines) and requiring dialogical interpretation to be understood, while he represents the Right Hand as unidimensional ("all material") and needing only simple empirically observation to be known. For him, the contents of the Left Hand interiors occupy a spectrum of developing phenomenological spaces while the contents of the Right Hand occupy the monological surface world of sensori-motor space. In summary, the interiors of the Left Hand for Wilber are the developmental worlds of ontological depth and the exteriors of the Right Hand are the flatland worlds of material surfaces.

In my opinion, Wilber's view of the exteriors are highly problematic and I see no fundamental principles within Integral theory that support these basic distinctions. There are plenty of elements in the model which point to many other differences between the interiors and the exteriors but I find nothing within the model itself that would actually supports Wilber's interpretation that the Left Hand quadrants are ontologically rich while the Right Hand quadrants are ontologically poor or that the interiors possess depth while the exteriors are shallow. The relevant literature on social development presents much empirical and theoretical evidence to support the notion that exteriors are just as developmentally rich and complex and causally creative as interiors. I suggest that the Wilberian position that the exteriors are flat, or simply about surfaces, or that they are material, or that they exist only in sensori-motor space, or that they are in any way less developmentally and ontologically rich than the interiors is simply a result of Wilber's particular interpretation of Integral theory axioms. His interpretations of the extensive literature on social/behavioural development are more a reflection of his own particular viewpoints than representative of some inherent aspect of the AQAL/holon framework itself.

In this series of essays I will present my arguments for this proposition that Wilber has misrepresented the exteriors, that he has underestimated their role and value in development and that he has misinterpreted the contributions of the social and behavioural theorists of the exteriors. I will also offer an alternative view that is consistent with the basic premises of a more balanced reading of Integral Theory. A view that also, I believe, allows Integral Theory to better integrate the many rich theories of the exteriors that have been put forward over the years. Of the great number of very detailed theoretical frameworks for explaining behavioural and social behaviours I have chosen the Russian socio-cultural theorists such as Lev Vygotsky, Alexander Leont'ev and their intellectual descendents James Wertsch and Michael Cole, the American social constructivists such as Charles Cooley, George Herbert and Herbert Blumer, and the Activity Theory practitioners such as Barbara Rogoff and Y. Engeström. I will also mention briefly some hierarchical models of development that have been popular in the fields of biology and ecology studies in recent years.

In this first part of the series I will present a summary of Wilber's views of the exterior quadrants of behaviour and social activity/structures and of his approach to understanding their position in the AQAL framework.

Wilber's Flatland Exteriors

Well before his proposition of a formal theory of holons, holonic exteriors and the Right Hand pathways of the AQAL framework (Wilber, 1995), it was clear that Wilber conceived of the objective, exterior world as a monological world of material objects and physical extension. This doesn't mean that he held the actual material-physical world of exteriors in low regard, or that he undervalued the critical part that the physical and chemical worlds play in development. It simply means that he regarded the world of nature and human behaviour to be an empirical world of matter, objects and sensation. Using the terminology of the ancient Vedantic philosophies, he often referred to the objective visible world (and our everyday experience of it) as the "gross realm" (Wilber, 1989). The gross realm includes all those aspects of reality "which are based on, or centred around, or take as their final referent the gross physical body and its constructs of ordinary space and time" (Wilber 1980, p.63). This gross world of "object constancy", "space time and matter", and "sensori-motor" events is known by the "eye of flesh" and "the five senses and their material extensions" (Wilber 1989).

With the introduction of the AQAL framework this gross realm of material objects, physical events, sensory stimulation and gross mentation became incorporated into Wilber's understanding of the exterior Right Hand quadrants as a spectrum of mass-energy complexification. In a recent excerpt from a forthcoming work, Wilber (2003a, ¶63) states that the Upper Right quadrant is the site of the complexification of "gross forms".

Increasing evolution brings increasing complexity of gross form. In the Upper Right, for example, we find quarks to protons to atoms to molecules to cells to complex organisms.

These Right Hand gross forms are constituted by a "spectrum of matter-energy" that occupies a gross sensori-motor space-time. As such, Wilber regards all exterior quadrants to be essentially made up of material entities. There are many passages in his writings where this is made very clear. The following are a few examples:

the Right-Hand quadrants are all material (2000a, p.103)
... holarchies include both interior (consciousness) and exterior (material) waves of development (2000b, p.12) all exteriors, including exterior intersections and exterior artifacts, are located in sensorimotor space (which, of course, is true for all exterior or RH occasions). (2003c, ¶ 434)
The [exterior quadrants] can be described in "it" language (or object language) and can be studied empirically (in behaviourist or positivistic or monological terms). The entire Right half, as we said, is something you can see "out there", something you can register with the senses. (2000, pp. 131-132)
In the Upper-Right quadrant, we can see the evolution of exterior or "material" or "physical" forms, as disclosed by modern science. These exterior forms include, in order of increasing evolutionary complexity, items such as: atoms, molecules, early or prokaryotic cells, true or eukaryotic cells, organisms with a neural net, organisms with a neural cord (e.g., shrimp), a reptilian brain stem (e.g., lizard), a limbic system (e.g., horse), a neocortex or triune brain (e.g., humans, with several higher "structure-functions" also listed). Those are all "exterior" or "material" forms, in that you can see them in the exterior, sensorimotor world. (2003a, ¶ 34)
The Upper-Right quadrant is the individual viewed in an objective, empirical, "scientific" fashion. In particular, this includes organic body states, biochemistry, neurobiological factors, neurotransmitters, organic brain structures (brain stem, limbic system, neocortex), and so on. (2000b, p.31)
[The Right Hand is] all empiricism, all monological gaze, all behaviourism, all shiny surfaces and monochrome objects – no interiors, no depth. (2003b, p.133)
As evolution proceeds to more and more complex gross forms, the increasing degree of gross complexity is accompanied by subtler and subtler corresponding (or signature) energy patterns. Since we are at this point focusing on individual beings, we have this: increasing evolution brings increasing complexity of gross form (in the UR). (2003a ¶65)

As is evident in this final quote Wilber does recognise that these mass-energy forms of the exterior quadrants do develop in a holarchic spectrum of levels. But he sees these levels to be differentiated only by their degree of complexity and not by any ontologically emergent or transformative quality in the same way that the interior levels are. They remain mass-energy complexes throughout their "development". Hence, unlike the qualitative development of the interiors, the higher levels of the exterior quadrants are no better, have no greater value, are no more desirable or more noble than the lower levels. So the spectrum of development in the Right Hand is a spectrum of increasing complexity of neutral surface forms only and not of ontological essence or qualitative development. As Wilber (2000a, p. 132) says himself:

Right quadrants are, in themselves, neutral surfaces, neutral exteriors, all of which can be fairly described in "it" language. You don't even need to engage the interiors of any of those holons: you don't have to engage in introspection or interpretation or meaning or values. You just describe the exterior form and its behaviour. Nothing is better or worse, good or bad, desirable or undesirable, good or evil, noble or debased. The surface forms simply are, and you simply observe and describe them.

There is no question that the increasing complexity evident in the evolution of animal neural systems is indeed a wonderful and important aspect of human evolution. The key point I want to emphasise is, however, that even the most complex formations in the cortex are still material, and behaviour cannot be reduced to material processes, no matter how complex those processes might be might be. Neurology will always be a "gross reductionist" endeavour (to use Wilber's very apt term) and, moreover, it aims to be exactly that. An Integral Theory view of behaviour should be able to better than that.

Because of the obvious material complexification that accompanies transformative development, it's quite easy to associate the material complexification of the Central Nervous System with holarchic growth. But whatever one thinks of the developmental nature of the CNS it is still only matter, and seeing all behaviours and social activities as simply the complexification of matter will always be reductionist; it will always depend on the reduction of higher levels of behavioural reality to lower levels. To discuss the powerful gross reductionist (and weak reductionist for that matter) propensity within neuropsychology, and the neurosciences in general, is one issue. To import these tendencies (the gross reductionist side at least) into an Integral Theory perspective of the Upper Right Quadrant is another thing entirely and it puzzles me greatly as to why Wilber has taken this approach. Why does he so grossly reduce human behaviour to the mass-energy forms of neural networks?

One way of trying to consider Wilber's position on this is to acknowledge that he does recognise the development of neurological structures in the Upper Right and that these structures can be seen to form a basis for higher behaviours. There are places in his descriptions of the behavioural quadrants where he talks of the "differentiation and integration" of these neurological structures. There is no question that Wilber does recognise a type of holarchic development in the exteriors, but he very clearly limits this holarchic growth to that of material complexity and the transformation of gross physical forms only. This view of material complexification still does not answer the fundamental issue of why Wilber reduces behaviour to neurology. Matter is matter, it is not behaviour. Matter does possess a very primitive form of transformative depth but in terms of human development and timescales the transformative potential of simple matter is minimal. Neurological structures do show a wonderful holarchic process of increasing material complexity where later neural structures include and integrate previous neural structures. But this is a holarchy of material structures. It is similar in a way to the macro-level holarchy of : geological systems / plate tech-tonic systems / planetary systems / solar systems / galactic systems / inter-galactic systems. This is holarchic series of material complexity. The degree of increasing complexity is related only to the one dimension of physical mater. The neural structure series that Wilber always presents as the example for behavioural development is similar in this regard. It shows increasing complexity of matter only and has nothing to say about the transformational development of behaviour in its own right. For this reason the development of material complexification offers for me no real justification for Wilber's grossly reductionist treatment of the exterior quadrants.

Wilber's deep interiors and shallow exteriors

Wilber takes a very different approach when considering the issue of complexity in the development of the interiors. He regards the differentiation between interior levels in a completely different manner to that of the exteriors. The interior levels are differentiated by qualitative, transcendental and non-equivalent levels of ontological depth. In contrast, the exterior levels of matter are differentiated by a unidimensional increase in complexity. Wilber refers to the holarchies of the exterior as "holarchies of size, span and quantity" while he refers to the interior holarchies as "holarchies of value, depth and quality" (2000a, p.449). Why should exteriors be regarded as lacking depth? Isn't there plenty of depth in the behaviour of a Steve Biko, or a Weary Dunlop, or a Hakuin Ekaku? Is their behaviour just a material imprint of some deep interior? In defining the exterior as "neutral surfaces" Wilber strips the exteriors of developmental depth and quality and equates them with material complexification. In contrast he sees the interiors as developmental rich and transformative. These conceptual differences are also reflected in the way Wilber graphically portrays the exterior and interior levels of development. The following is one of his most commonly presented diagrams for the representation of interior and exterior development (Wilber, 2000, p. 72).

Figure 1 makes clear Wilber's view that the various levels of exterior development are material correlates of the interior stages of growth in consciousness. They are not equivalent levels of emergent and transcendental growth. Notice that all the exteriors are labelled as material and that the exterior levels are represented in dotted lines to show that they are holarchical only in terms of material complexity and not in terms of the true developmental depth of the Left Hand quadrants. Because Wilber regards the exterior quadrants, i.e. the objective world of behaviour and social action, as essentially material and thereby lacking true developmental depth, they are for him a flatland of objective surfaces. Again, this suggests that he holds a view of the exteriors that is fundamentally reductionist in character. Wilber believes that the exteriors of behaviour and social activity are flat regions that do not possess inherent ontological depth (see also "Through AQAL Eyes – part 5").

Wilber has identified several types of flatland reductionism all of which confound our attempts to understand the world in an authentic and holistic way. The one that Wilber is most concerned with is the process of weak reductionism. The dominant form of weak reductionism is where theorists deny or greatly underestimate the validity of the Left Hand paths to knowledge and focus exclusively on the behavioural and social half of the story of life. This type of weak reductionism has been, as Wilber has astutely pointed out on many occasions, a blight on the healthy and balanced study of human nature. My concerns have nothing to do with this analysis. What I do find problematic is that Wilber takes the logically unnecessary leap from recognising the prevalence of weak reductionism to the view that the exteriors in themselves are flat and without qualitative and transformative developmental depth. There are many social theorists who have a primary focus on the behavioural/social genesis of human realities who propose a depth model of human development. It seems that Wilber does not recognise the possibility that developmental theorists who have an exterior behavioural/social systems focus can propose authentic depth models of growth that detail qualitative developmental descriptions of exterior realities (and often interiors as well). That Wilber sees the Right Hand as "flat" is supported in the following quote (2000, p.86),

Flatland - or scientific materialism - is the belief that only matter is real ... Flatland, in other words, is the belief that only the Right-Hand quadrants are real.

Notice that Wilber is referring here to the gross reductionist form of flatland, i.e., the idea that only one level of reality is needed to explain all others. He refers in particular to the very harsh form of gross reductionism known as scientific materialism. He says that this extreme form of gross reductionist philosophy is the same as the belief that the exteriors are the only reality. This can only mean that Wilber himself sees the exteriors as material, ontologically flat and without depth. He believes that if a theorist focuses only in the Right Hand Kosmos then you will only ever see forms of matter and not forms of behaviour. He entertains no possibility that a Right Hand theorist could have some alternative developmental view of external realities other than materialistic ones. Wilber believes Right Hand social and behavioural theorists to be flatlanders because he defines the Right Hand as flat matter. In fact, many theorists of the Right Hand are not flatlanders at all and they are not because the Right Hand itself is not flat.

Wilber equates the interior with ontological depth, the spectrum of development and the spiral of growth. He denies that the exterior can also have transformative depth, multi-dimensional development and be causal in growth. I am not contesting Wilber's very valid remarks that many social theorists are weak reductionists and that they undervalue the interiors. I am saying that this does not necessarily (or logically) make them materialists or gross reductionists. Wilber is right to say that most Right Hand theorists of behavioural, ecological and social systems are weak reductionists who deny the importance of the interiors. But this does not mean that they are necessarily gross reductionist flatlanders who have no conception of hierarchical development. Wilber is wrong to equate the denial of the interior with the denial of true depth. He does exactly that in the following quotes where he is discussing systems theory approaches to the exterior quadrants.

systems theory ... is a dreadful reduction of the interiors to flatland systems devoid of consciousness, care, compassion, value, meaning, depth, and divinity (2003d, ¶ 45)
[systems theory] flatland involved the denial of interiors, the denial of depth, the denial of the spectrum of consciousness and the spiral of development—all of those realities in the I and the We would be collapsed, crushed, distorted, or completely denied altogether. (2003d, ¶ 52)

So Wilber sees the denial of the interiors (or at least the denial of their developmental significance) as the denial all depth, all values, all meaning and all development. I maintain that this view is not warranted in any way. Integral theory states that development is a quadratic affair. It follows that development in the exteriors is not flat and that researchers of the behaviour and social quadrants can discover exterior depth and ontological development in those domains if they look hard enough. And many of them have done so. My reading of the American Social Constructivists and other exterior schools does not support Wilber's view that theorists of the exterior deny the reality of developmental depth, the spiral of development or even a form of interior consciousness spectrum. I find a lot of evidence that they had great regard for evolutionary development and for levels of growth and I will present that evidence in following essays.

In contrast to the developmental nature of social theories of growth, Wilber maintains that both the Upper Right and the Lower Right quadrants are nothing but "matter". He regards them as mass-energy complexes moving in sensori-motor space. All the behavioural lines of interpersonal behaviour, goal-directed behaviour, altruistic behaviour, aggressive behaviour, etc. and all the social lines of economic, safety/security, technological, social/political development, etc., are included in Wilber's exterior flatland world of matter. Looking at Wilber's understanding of the Right Hand in this light it seems that he is actually flattening the rich developmental terrains of the exteriors and reducing them to the menial level of "frisky" material activity. In so doing he is precisely emulating what the systems theorists and weak reductionists do to the interiors.

In a later section I will briefly outline two systems theory approaches that have had extensive application to ecological and social systems and which are based on a hierarchical, structural model of transformative development. These are Living Systems Theory and Biological Hierarchy Theory. Wilber is well aware that there are many hierarchical models in biology and ecology but, because he views all exteriors as material, he assumes that these hierarchies are without true depth, meaning, or developmental primacy. As I have noted before, Wilber sees the holarchies of the exterior as "holarchies of size, span and quantity" while he refers to the interior holarchies as "holarchies of value, depth and quality" (2000a, p.449). In Wilber's view the Right Hand holarchies are always invariably material and this necessarily disqualifies them from possessing any depth or qualitative development irrespective of holarchic that development may be.

My point in mentioning these models is to show that that there are some important Right Hand, Flatland, Web-of-Life systems theorists who have a developmental conception of the exteriors that closely parallels the developmental view that Wilber has of the interior. Why then does Wilber regard the "manifest world" of behaviour to be simply a progression of material, mass-energy complexes? Why does he regard matter to be the exterior form of every interior developmental stage when there are clearly developmental levels of behaviour that have nothing to do with material objects moving in sensorimotor space? Why does he reduce the exterior form of "every occasion" to a material form when behavioural forms clearly follow a transformative hierarchy of growth? I find it hard to come to any other conclusion about Wilber's ideas on such matters when faced with such very clear statements of his position as the following (2003a, ¶ 30)

In the manifest world, what we call "matter" is not the lowest rung in the great spectrum of existence, but the exterior form of every rung in the great spectrum. Matter is not lower with consciousness higher, but matter and consciousness are the exterior and interior of every occasion.

We don't explain artistic behaviour, altruistic behaviour or aggressive behaviour by analysing then in terms of "matter" moving through "sensorimotor space". And we don't need to continually reduce behaviour to Left Hand interiors to search for explanations of behaviour (for that, as we know, is weak reductionism). We must see behaviours in their own right as equal partners in development. In "Through AQAL Eyes – Part 5" I presented a table that outlined the deep structure levels that might identity the transformative stages of growth in behavioural development. Only the most hardline reductionist neurologist would attempt to provide a full explanation of each of these levels in terms of a mass-energy/material/neurological explanatory framework. All higher levels of behaviour require higher behavioural explanations and to reduce behaviour to neurological matter or to see them as material correlates of interior structures is inherently reductionist.

Level of development
(ontological depth)
Behavioural levels of development (UR) Corresponding levels of Consciousness (UL)
Level 9 transpersonal behaviour psychic/subtle consciousness
Level 8 centauric behaviour vision-logic consciousness
Level 7 altruistic behaviour mature egoic consciousness
Level 6 goal-oriented behaviour perspectival consciousness
Level 5 role-based behaviour conceptual consciousness
Level 4 rule-based behaviour symbolic consciousness
Level 3 emotive behaviour impulse-image consciousness
Level 2 reflexive behaviour perceptual consciousness
Level 1 physiological behaviour sensation (proto)consciousness

Table 1: Outline of deep structures in behavioural development (UR)
with equivalent and corresponding deep structures in consciousness development (UL)

It is indicative of his views of the exterior that Wilber has never presented any description of the deep structures of behavioural development that is comparable to the simple spectrum sketched out in Table 1. While Wilber has written many books on the interior levels of development in ontogenetic and phylogenetic consciousness, he has never hinted at there being a comparable developmental trajectory in the Right Hand quadrants. It seems that he believes no-one else has ever considered such a possibility. I also present this more balanced understanding of Left and Right Hand holarchic development for consciousness and behaviour in a graphic form in Figure 2 and of cultural and social development in Figure 3 and Table 2. These Figures and Tables are intended to show or at least present the notion that the corresponding levels between quadrants are not different in terms of their capacity to reveal depth or transformative capacity. All quadrants possess qualitative developmental depth and the exteriors are no less rich than the interiors in this respect.

The same developmental equivalence represented in figure 2 also applies to the Lower quadrants. The social structures and systems that are seen to emerge holarchically in the social spheres of evolution are equivalent in terms of depth and transformative power as the cultural domain of the Lower left. The following table and graphic are presented to illustrate this developmental equivalence.

Basic Structure Level Social Levels of development (LR) Corresponding Cultural levels of development (LL)
Level 7 global democratic institutions – (some aspects of the UN, NGO's) global civic culture
Level 6 democratic institutions (parliaments, judiciary, "social contract", governmental layers) national civic culture
Level 5 early nation/sates, monarchic institutions, empire - mythic culture
Level 4 feudal societies with associated institutions of slavery/bonded labour, local warlords/dukes magic culture
Level 3 early subsistence societies archaic culture
Level 2 survival societies typhonic culture
Level 1 animal societies (e.g. wolf packs, social mammal groups) uroboric culture

Table 2: Outline of deep structures in social development (LR)
with equivalent and corresponding deep structures in cultural development (LL)

Wilber's agentic interiors and the correlative exteriors

Because Wilber reduces behaviour to complexities in material forms he is also then forced to emphasise the interior Left Hand as the causal source of developmental agency. This is why he often talks about exteriors as correlates of the interior formative structures and denies the exteriors any developmental agency above that of "mass-energy impacts". The following quotes all suggest how Wilber sees the Left hand as the driving source of agency and that the Right Hand agency is merely the "mass-energy impacts" and its structures are "correlates of interior intentionality".

Left-Hand holons involve consciousness and intentionality proper (i.e., agency as intentionality originates in the first-person spaces of free will but can be viewed from a third-person stance of determinism; when we refer to agency in the exterior or Right-Hand quadrants, it is the exterior correlates of interior intentionality that are meant). (2003b, ¶ 387)
Right-Hand holons, for example, have agency only in the exterior sense of mass-energy impacts and registrations (where they follow physical laws, habits, rules, and regulations, including those of physical causality) (2003b, ¶ 387)
the agency of the self or "I," the agency or pattern that determines whether something is internal or external to the self (2003b, ¶ 297)
Individual holons have something like a sensitive centre--a locus of prehension--or an individual subjectivity, agency, and intentionality. (2003b, ¶ 221)
Interiors cannot merely be reconstructed by exchange of exterior signs--that makes no sense whatsoever. The entire string of communicative signals, at whatever level--atoms to ants to apes--can only get started (and stopped) with interior resonance. (2003b, ¶ 482)

Wilber is forced to propose that holonic agency is the sole province of the "I" (UL) subjective quadrant of intentionality because he sees the Right Hand as material entities which have no behavioural agency above "mass-energy impacts". This runs counter to the Integral principle that both upper quadrants are defined by the agency pole of the agency-communion holonic dimension. It also ignores the mountains of empirical and clinical research which show that agency, self-regulation and developmental growth is the result of both behaviour and consciousness and of interiors and exterior in general.

With a view that the exteriors are "material" it's no wonder that, for Wilber, the interior levels designate authentic levels of transformative emergence and ontological advance and that the exterior levels provide the substrate for those causal interiors. From this view interiors "produce" exteriors, levels of consciousness "conceive and create" the life conditions of the Lower right and consciousness "enacts and constructs" the conditions of the world.

An individual interior (subjective agency or intentionality, UL) produces exterior (UR) behavior, some of which produces artefacts, such as spoken and written words, tools, material products, and so on. (2003c, note 57)
Spiral Dynamics often says that "life conditions" bring forth various memes, but that is not quite right. What actually happens is that a new and higher level of consciousness (a new and higher meme) emerges, and it can conceive and create higher artefacts, which may become part of the LR quadrant of overall "life conditions." It is not life conditions that create the meme, but the meme that literally creates the life conditions. (2003c, note 58)
There is not a pregiven [exterior] world whose conditions elicit consciousness, but consciousness that enacts and constructs various worlds and conditions (2003c, Note 58)

These passages point to an assumption that the Left and Right Hands are unequal partners in the quadratic enactment of life and Kosmic reality. There is the assumption that the Left Hand creates, produces, enacts and constructs the emergent transformations that generate development. While Wilber clearly enunciates the principle that development is a "four quadrant affair" in many places it seems that he considers the exterior quadrants take a secondary, correlational role in the genesis of that affair.

This holds for both the behavioural and the social exteriors. Wilber's view is that the various social levels of "exterior factors" of "economic conditions, material wellbeing, technological advance, social safety net, environment" (Wilber, 2000c, p.21) are the exterior footprints in the material world of the transformative interiors. These material footprints reflect and are imprinted by the interior levels (Wilber, 2003a, ¶ 36.

It is not merely that higher levels (of life and mind and soul) imprint matter or leave footprints in matter (which itself remains on the lowest level), but that what we call matter is the exterior form of each of those interior levels.

So Wilber sees the exterior levels as material derivatives or the "exterior form" of "the higher levels (of life and mind and soul)". There are literally dozens of passages where Wilber refers to the exteriors as correlates of the interiors. Here are a few examples.

the material brain is the exterior correlate of interior states of consciousness (so that the brain is not simply part of the lowest of all levels, but rather is the exterior correlate of some very high levels) (2000a, p.445)
... states of consciousness have correlates in brain states – that all left Hand event have Right Hand correlates (2000a, p.445)
every Left-Hand event does indeed have a Right Hand or empirical correlate in the material (or objective) world (2000a, p.445

Each interior state of consciousness (from bodily consciousness to mental consciousness to spiritual consciousness) has some sort of correlate in the material/objective brain and organism (2000a, pp.445-446)

There are several points I want to make about Wilber's use of this "correlation" language. The first is that, while he very frequently and consistently talks of the exteriors being correlates of interiors he never refers to interiors as correlates of exteriors. I am sure that Wilber knows that correlation is no indication of a causal link. Why then doesn't he ever refer to the interiors states of consciousness as correlates of exterior behaviours? Because this is a one way process for Wilber – interiors drive development and exteriors fit in and correlate themselves to interior realities. In fact the corresponding levels of development in each of the four quadrants are all display correlational relationships. But this does not indicate any causal relationship. Rational thoughts (UL), normative individual behaviour (UR), conventional values (LL) and productive family and vocational roles (LR) are all highly correlates in modern urban populations. But this does not mean that thoughts (UL) cause behaviours (UR) or that values (LL) cause dictate employment patterns (LR).

The second thing to note about Wilber's "correlational" language is that he always refers to the exterior material brain state correlates of interiors states of consciousness. Apart from the obvious reductionist aspect of this approach there is the issues of value to consider. Wilber says that interiors can be arrayed in terms of a hierarchical order. No problem there. He then says that these interior levels have exterior material brain state correlates. Then he concludes that since exterior correlates are just material they can't be qualitatively compared. As he says (2000a, p. 447),

The EEG machine can only show that one brain state is different than another; it cannot say that one state is better than another

So we end with Wilber's (2000a, p. 447) proposition that the to make any judgement based on holarchic depth,

you have to rely on interior consciousness, depth and value recognition – holarchies of quality – while the EEG machine can only register holarchies of quantity.

So, first Wilber defines all exteriors as flat matter, then says that there are different material correlates of interiors, then says that because these correlates are only in flat matter then we can't rely on then to make qualitative judgements about anything. This is a very flawed argument. The exteriors are not material they are behavioural and social. The correlate of an interior experience or intention is an exterior behaviour and we certainly can judge the quality of someone's development through their exterior behaviour. The saying of Jesus of Nazareth that "By their fruits you shall know them" gets to exactly this point. The exterior is full of professional and legal codes, commandments, behavioural guidelines, social conventions, constitutional requirements, organisational regulations, and precepts that all provide a means for judging the relative quality of exteriors. Wilber reduces all this to brain states and says we have to rely on the interiors to judge depth. In fact, it's very clear that the Right Hand exterior has an immense and very sophisticated array of means by which to judge development. It has these means because it is not "all material" as Wilber unfortunately maintains. The Right Hand exteriors are rich and deep and developmentally dense. We can make qualitative distinctions about the exterior and uncover that depth and many theorists (and spiritual traditions) have done so despite what Wilber claims.

In an example considering the interior versus exterior assessment of depth Wilber presents the follow argument (2000a, p. 447),

You experience compassion and you know it is better than murder, while you are thinking that your brain will be producing brainwaves that can be registered on an EEG But although you know that compassion is better than murder, there is nothing on the EEG machine that says, "This brainwave is more valuable; this brainwave is more moral; this brainwave is more beautiful.

The interesting thing about this example is that compassion is first and foremost a behaviour and not primarily an interior experience. Murder is a behaviour and not a thought. We know that compassion is better than murder on the grounds of behavioural judgements as much (if not more) as on interior judgements. Children who are raised in brutal environments, e.g. child soldiers, severely abused children, have never had the behavioural guidelines to make judgements about the relative value of non-violence over violence. They have never interiorised behavioural codes that allow them to make moral judgements. This is why parents place behavioural boundaries around children's activities so that they can learn and develop behavioural as well as moral depth. But then, if we reduce all behaviour to matter, an EEG machine might well be just as good at parenting as frazzled parent. Luckily though brain states have very little to do with the real action of the Right Hand quadrants.

Wilber's points about various things being correlated with each other are useful only in that they all point to the unity of holonic growth. We have a spiritual experience and this will be correlated with interior emotional responses of awe, bliss, wonder (UL "correlates"), and with artistic creativity, meaning, and values (LL "correlates"), and with a need to socially share and communicate, help/serve others (LR) and with altruistic behaviours, devotional behaviours, contemplative behaviours (UR). Brains states come in there somewhere amongst the myriad of correlational factors that any major event can have in a person's life. All this simply means that interiors and exteriors are both to be held in equal regard. Both share the developmental rights and responsibilities that belong to any creative and emergent occasion.

I am simply arguing for the Integral theory principle that the exteriors are just as developmentally rich as the interiors and that the "correlational" exteriors are not the result of interior insights or expansions of consciousness. Sometimes interiors spur exteriors on to greater depth and exteriors encourage interiors to higher potentials. Neither hand is privileged in terms of instigating the transformative developmental process. The social exteriors create interior consciousness and vice versa. This topic is explored in more depth in a following essay.

Wilber's conception of development

In general, I would say that Wilber's initial theoretical focus on interior development (his first book was titled "the Spectrum of Consciousness") has never really been fully updated to accommodate the greatly expanded understanding of growth that the AQAL model demands. Wilber's concept of growth has always had an interior subjective focus. In one of his early books "The Atman Project" (Wilber, 1980) he stated the view that "Meditation is development" and that "meditation is simply sustained development or growth" (1980, p.93). While they are surely essential to spiritual development, the interior spiritual practices are far from being the whole story in spiritual development (see Edwards, 1999). To a certain degree, this bias towards the interior as the instigators of growth still remains. For Wilber, the exterior social world is not the initiator of development and growth is always described in terms of an interior structural transformation and never in terms of exterior social mediation. He has assumed that development is a process that works from the inside out, through the change in personal ontological identities and not from the outside in, through the mediation of social identities. But this need not be the case for all interpreters of Integral Theory. Although Wilber has not elucidated his Integral model in terms of the social mediation of transformation, Integral Theory itself is eminently suited to including this social perspective of change and has all the theoretical tools necessary to integrate such approaches.

Wilber's four quadrants all play a crucial part in the initiation and maintenance of developmental processes. He clearly states in "A Brief History of Everything" for example that (2003b, p.126),

The quadrants are all interwoven. They are all mutually determining, all cause and are caused by other quadrants.

However, the causal nature of the Right Hand is always presented by Wilber as one related to material causation and to the impact of technological devices and never as actual instigators of developmental transformation. In a previous essay I gave the example in the behavioural world of a very common approach to treating both reactive and endogenous depression. Depression is a mood pathology that is highly associated with negative, ruminative thoughts and images. One very successful aspect of treating depression is to require the person to engage in various physical activities in social situations, such as group exercise, dancing, sport, and therapeutic movement. It's the actual physical encounter with others in a social situation that initiates the recovery of a healthier interior, more balanced ideation and self-regulation of internal speech. Wilber's understanding of development sees the exteriors as "correlational" "substrates" which provide a substantive morphic form through which the interiors can do their transformative thing. The interiors are influenced by the exteriors but are not initiated by them.

Exteriors, persons and perspectives

Wilber often defines exteriors to be anything that is regarded as a third person "it" by a first person "I" or a second person "You".

exterior dimensions of any occasion as those aspects that can be seen or felt as a third person. In other words, they are those aspects of any occasion (or any holon) that you or I can be aware of but are not in some sort of communication with. (2003b, ¶69)
Exterior ... means any phenomena apprehended in a third-person perspective (i.e., any phenomena or holon in the Right-Hand quadrants: any phenomena in an "it-space"). (2003b, ¶ 65)

Such definitions might hold for reasonably well for the "it" world of rocks and shrubbery but what about third-person world of people? Wilber can consider his "Right-Hand or material quadrants" as "its" engaged in "mass-energy impacts" and get away with it, but other people! We do, of course, refer to other people in the third person all the time. Even partners, family and friends are often in the position of being the third person to us (the first person). We can also look objectively at other people, for example as third persons in a scientific study or family members when they are absent but does this mean that they are necessarily flatland "its" or objects that don't have depth. Wilber thinks that our conception of the third person must always be a material, one-dimensional, flat conception. To reinforce this view he always uses the pronoun "it" to refer to the third person even though the pronouns "he", "she", "they" and "them" are also third person objective pronouns and could just as easily (and much more appropriately) be used to refer to the perspective of the Right Hand quadrants (even when using Wilber's abbreviated perspectives "I-We-It-Its" model – see "Through AQAL Eyes part 7").

However, there are many instances in both informal (e.g. familial) and formal (e.g. scientific) situations where we use the third person but still retain a depth view of that third person. When I talk about my friend Bill to my friend Jill I still retain a depth view of Bill even though he's not physically present. I describe him as a thoughtful intelligent person who likes to go to art exhibitions. He isn't a flat material surface "it" when I'm speaking to her. He is a third person of depth with an interior as well as an exterior life. Similarly, there are many social theorists who study behavioural and social exteriors in the third person and yet, contrary to Wilber's arguments, still retain depth models of their behavioural exteriors as well as their minded interiors (this argument is laid out in more detail in a following section).

My point here is that not only the first person holon but also the second and third person holons will have both interiors and exteriors of varying depth. In effect, this means that all first persons (usually older than five years of age) will infer interiors and exteriors of varying depth on second and third persons. Consequently, there are several types of exteriors related to personal perspectives. There is the first person exterior. There is the observed exterior of the second person. There is the inferred exterior of the third person. There is the theoretical exterior of the Right Hand half of any holon. And there is the exterior surface of an object. Exteriors can also be anything that the holon considers to be exterior to its identity.

Wilber's definition of the Right Hand exteriors as "any phenomena apprehended in a third-person perspective" makes very little sense when one considers that many events, objects, phenomena and qualities, even subjective interior ones, can be referred to and apprehended in the third person or, as Wilber puts it, in "it" language. Wilber has also pointed out that any formal map of the Left Hand interiors (such as the Great Nest of Being, Piaget's model of cognitive development and Fowler's stages of Faith) are "simply a third-person map or description" and as such are apprehended in terms of "it" language. As Wilber himself notes:

I can take a third-person stance to my own interiors -- I can look at my own feelings. I can try to be more objective about myself, try to see myself as others see me, try to get a little distance from myself and see myself more clearly. As I begin to move away from my own immediate sensations, I can start to interpret, describe, or conceptualize that experience. I stay close to my own felt prehensions, but I begin to describe and conceptualize them in a type of "interior objectivity." In other words, I can take up a type of third-person or objective stance to my own interiors, apprehending them according to various concepts, theories, maps, or other schema-or even trying to see them as others might see them-thus taking an outside stance but still within my own interior horizon. (2003c, ¶54)

In fact, we do take this third person perspective of our own interiors all the time in everyday language, "My memory is quite bad, I've tried to improve it", "I had a mystical experience last year, it felt that I was part of everything, it was very meaningful, it lasted for only a moment but somehow it has remained with me". So to refer to something in "it language" does not mean that the original signified entity was necessarily an exterior object. Defining exteriors as any "aspects that can be seen or felt as a third person" means that even first person interiors can, on occasion, be defined as exteriors, as Wilber explains in the above passage.

Such considerations highlight the complex interdependence of definitions of interiors/exteriors and holonic perspectives. It also means that the inherent problems in Wilber's model of holonic perspectives are also brought into question when the relationship between exteriors and those perspectives is discussed. His model of "I-We-It-Its" simply cannot cope with the definitional requirements that the dimensional construct of interior-exterior demands. Exteriors are intimately connected with holons and there are six basic holonic perspectives. Consequently, exteriors have to defined, at least in part, through reference to those six perspectives. Not only does Wilber use only four perspectives instead of six, but his four are all clumped together in one holon depiction which attempts to stand for all the hori-zones zones of each of the six holonic perspectives.

Wilber's definition of exteriors as third persons is the reason why he regards anything in the exterior world, including our behaviour and environments and the behaviours and environments of others, as flatland "Its". In fact, there are first person exteriors, second person exteriors and third person exteriors just as there are first, second and third person interiors. Second and third persons aren't "Its" because they, like all holonic perspectives, have interiors and exteriors. This is also why Wilber can't find a real place to put the second person "You". He lumps the "You" with the "We" to form a "We/Thou" space because there is nowhere in his model to acknowledge the exterior of second person "You". All six fundamental holonic perspectives have both interiors and exteriors. Wilber can't fit these into his limited "I-We-It-Its" model so we end up with the strange bedfellows of the first person plural "We" sharing the same quadrantic space as the second person singular "You". To put it briefly and technically, Wilber's conflates the interior and exterior of the singular and plural forms of the second and third person holonic perspectives. (I don't particularly like the word "conflate" but if ever there was an instance to apply it, it's here). (Some further discussion of the relationship between the interior-exterior relations of holons and their associated perspectives is included in Appendix A.)

From Wilber's perspective the Left Hand is the subjective experience of a holons interiors. The Right Hand is the objective experience of that same holon. As he says (2000b, p.121):

The Left Hand is what the holon looks like from within; the Right hand is what the same holon looks like from without.

There are two things that I want to question about this approach to defining the interior and exteriors of a holon. The first is that, as we saw with an earlier quote, Wilber recognises that a subject can take an objective view of its own interiors. So on the one hand, Wilber is saying that thought are interior and matter is exterior and, on the other, he is saying that anything, any holon, any phenomena can be regarded as interior or exterior depending on one's perspective. Such a view turns Wilber's definition of interior and exterior into a very pliable and slippery character and allows him to place even cognitive therapy and clinical psychology as pure Right Hand disciplines as evidenced in the following quote from Wilber's summary of his psychological model (2003f Appendix C ¶7).

the Right-Hand approaches, including ... cognitive therapy (and remember, "cognition" is defined as "cognition of objects or its," and thus cognitive therapy is not so much an interior exploration of depths but simply a manipulation of the sentences one uses to objectively describe oneself; cognitive therapy in general works with "adjusting your premises" so that they match scientific, objective, Right-Hand evidence)

I am not concerned here with whether cognitive therapy is classed as a Right hand or Left hand method. What I do want to emphasise here is that exactly the same logic could be used to situate any method, or any process, or any discipline in the Right Hand. Zen practice could just as easily be regarded as the process of focussing on the "cognition of objects or its". This again shows how crucial the connections between perspectives and holonic dimensions can be. Wilber needs to address the issue of systematically identifying perspectives before any logically consistent definition of interiors and exteriors can be proposed. In the current situation people become "its" as soon as they leave the room; altruistic behaviour is "all material"; social institutions have the agency of "mass-energy impacts" and every "person" we meet or pass by or see on the TV is simply a "neutral surface".

Actually, I don't believe for a minute that Ken actually thinks that any of this is the case. Wilber wants to reclaim depth and inject developmental possibilities into our world and to promote the possibility of personal and social transformation. The problem is that his understanding of Integral Theory only sees these as possibilities for the Left Hand and not for the Right hand half of reality. His definitions of exteriors as third person "its" do logically lead us to the unfortunate and unreal conclusions that behaviours and social systems cannot initiate and cause interior transformation at both the personal and social levels (when, in fact, they can and do). The same goes with his view that all scientific studies of the third person exteriors must be flatland theories or heterarchical models of surface networks. They definitely are not, as I intend to show in subsequent essays. Wilber's premise that the exteriors are flat and material is seriously deficient in its capacity to elucidate the immense potential that Integral theory has to explore exterior modes of transformation. It also limits Integral theory's capacity to incorporate the very real developmental insights of the right hand behavioural and social theorists. The exteriors are in fact as deep and as rich as any interior. The presentation of the views of Mead, Vygotsky and others that will follow in subsequent essays is intended to provide evidence that this alternative approach is actually quite widespread amongst social and behavioural theorists of exterior development.

In showing that Wilber regards the exteriors to be material, I am not wanting to say that he doesn't think they are of great importance or that they are not essential aspects of an Integral view of life. It is clear that Wilber holds the Right Hand paths to knowledge in high regard and that he recognises the value of behaviour and social institutions to human development. I am simply trying to show that he thinks that the Right hand is only capable of discovering endless flat material change and that they cannot uncover rich insights into transformative development and qualitative depth in the behavioural and social worlds. And it is this underestimation of the depth of the Right Hand exteriors (and of Right Hand models of development) and the consequent primacy given to the Left hand interiors in developmental issues that I take issue with.

Wilber's interpretations of the exteriors actually seem to contravene some of the basic principles that underpin Integral theory, for example that agency is equally shared by both interiors and exteriors, that neuro-physiological explanations of behaviour are reductionist, and that the Lower Right is actually a quadrant of social development and not simply of material/technological complexification. Wilber's reductive approach is also unable to include the views of many depth theories of the Right Hand. This incapacity to deal adequately with social theories that take their lead from the exteriors seriously limits Integral theory's potential to develop a comprehensive and integrated social theory of its own. In the following essays I will give a brief outline of some of the depth-related social theories and show how their key findings can be situated within an Integral theory that sees the exteriors as true developmental partners to the interior worlds of consciousness and culture.

Conclusion to Part 1

To this point I have tried to show that Ken Wilber's understanding of the exterior quadrants of his AQAL model are deficient. There are fundamental weaknesses in his definition of the exteriors and in his analysis of the exterior qualities of behaviours and social activity and structures. Wilber clearly believes that both the behavioural and social quadrants are material and that they are defined by developmental spectra of increasing mass-energy complexity rather than a true holarchy of behavioural and social development. Because Wilber sees all exteriors as permutations of matter in sensori-motor space, he believes that all exteriors are neutral surfaces that possess no developmental depth and that require no interpretive analysis to be understood. The exteriors are third person its that do not possess full agency but only the physical agency of "mass-energy impacts". Since Wilber has such an impoverished conception of Right Hand aspects of reality it is only to be expected that he should consider the interiors as the initiators of developmental change and the source of real ontological transformation. He regards the Right Hand as describing "holarchies of size, span and quantity" while the left Hand describes "holarchies of value, depth and quality".

I maintain that all such distinctions between the Left and Right quadrants are not justifiable in terms of the basic principles of Integral Theory and that they are all the result of Wilber's particular interpretation of the AQAL framework and have little to do with it's its actual premises. A more balanced interpretation of the AQAL model sees the exteriors are just as causal, just as ontologically rich and just as structurally deep as any interior spectrum of growth. In the following essay I will show that this view is supported by a number of important developmental theorists who have focused on the structural development of the behavioural and social exteriors.


Exteriors should, in fact, be defined in relation to all the main perspectives of first, second and third persons and their interior-exterior hori-zones. According to Wilber's hori-zones model there are two exterior zones for each type of perspective. These are the inside of the exterior, or zone#3, and the outside of the exterior, or zone #4. Therefore, each first, second and third person perspective (singular and plural) will have a zone #3 exterior and zone #4 exterior. These exteriors will often mesh into common environments and shared social situations. As Wilber says (2000b, ¶ 153),

A hori-zone is a space of possible experience for sentient beings in general. A hori-zone is a meeting place of first, second, and third persons, as they mutually enact each other. Prior to perception is perspective, and a hori-zone is a swatch of the AQAL matrix scoped and felt by a particular play of native perspectives. The various hori-zones are some of the ways the Kosmos feels itself, moment to moment, nakedly.

The exteriors of the first person often reflexively mesh into those of second and third persons and it is in those shared exteriors that social holons are created and developed (however one imagines that process to occur) (sometimes even individual holons are created when a first person meets a second person!). Again this means that we undervalue the power of exteriors when we simply regard them as flat “its”. Acknowledging that exteriors are mutually shared and co-created between first, second and third persons, the array of some fundamental exteriors is presented in the following table.

Some Fundamental Perspectives of Exteriors
for First, Second and Third Holons (Singular and Collective)

  1. First person singular zone #3 – the inside of my exteriors
  2. First person singular zone #4 – the outside of my exteriors
  3. Second person singular zone #3 – the inside of your exteriors
  4. Second person singular zone #4 – the outside of your exteriors
  5. Third person singular zone #3 – the inside of his/her/its exteriors
  6. Third person singular zone #4 – the outside of his/her/its exteriors
  7. First person plural zone #3 – the inside of our exteriors
  8. First person plural zone #4 – the outside of our exteriors
  9. Second person plural zone #3 – the inside of your exteriors
  10. Second person plural zone #4 – the outside of your exteriors
  11. Third person plural zone #3 – the inside of their exteriors (Wilber's social autopoesis)
  12. Third person plural zone #4 – the outside of their exteriors (Wilber's systems theory)
  13. Third person plural zone #3 for individual holons (Wilber's autopoesis) – the collective/scientific view of the inside of his/her/its exteriors
  14. Third person plural zone #4 for individual holons (Wilber's empiricism) – the collective/scientific view of the outside of his/her/its exteriors

These 14 types of exteriors can be portrayed graphically as follows (Figures 4, 5 &6). There are many variants on these basic perspectives on exteriors. For example, the collective holon can have a perspective on all individual holons and vice versa. Wilber usually discusses perspectives 11, 12, 13 & 14. But it's clear that there are many other types of exteriors. The key point is that for Wilber ALL exteriors are material and therefore flat. My argument is that they are not. All holons whether they be first, second, third, singular or plural have depth and this depth is part of every holon's character and every social entity's perspective of reality.


Fisher, R. (1997) A guide to Wilberland: Some common misunderstandings of the critics of Ken Wilber and his work on transpersonal theory prior to 1995. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 37, 30-73.

Gould, S. J. (1991) Life's Grandeur

Wilber, K. (1989) Eye to eye. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1995) Sex Ecology Spirituality: The spirit of evolution. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000a) The collected works of Ken Wilber: Volume six. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000b) The collected works of Ken Wilber: Volume seven. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000c) The collected works of Ken Wilber: Volume eight. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000) A theory of everything: An integral vision for business, politics, science and spirituality. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

Wilber, K. (2003a) Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies: Excerpt G from the Kosmos Trilogy Volume 2. Available On-line at:

Wilber, K. (2003b) The Ways We Are in This Together - Intersubjectivity and Interobjectivity in the Holonic Kosmos: Excerpt C from the Kosmos Trilogy Volume 2. Available On-line at:

Wilber, K. (2003c) The Look of a Feeling - The Importance of Post/Structuralism: Excerpt D from the Kosmos Trilogy Volume 2. Available On-line at:

Wilber, K. (2003d) Sidebar E: The Genius Descartes Gets a Postmodern Drubbing Integral Historiography in a Postmodern Age. Online available at:

Wilber, K. (2003e) On Critics, Integral Institute, My Recent Writing, and Other Matters of Little Consequence: A Shambhala Interview with Ken Wilber. Available on-line at:

Wilber, K. (2003f) Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model (Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology). Available on-line at:

© Mark Edwards, 2003

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