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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Sergey Badaev graduated from the Moscow State University in 1979 as a biologist and did some research work in ecology and genetics. Then he switched to teaching and now works as a freelance English teacher (ICELT certif., Cambridge Univ.). He lives in Moscow, Russia and can be contacted at badaev57 at mail dot ru.
AQAL's Weak Points
This article analyses the weak and controversial points of AQAL and puts its practical applicability into question.
AQAL ("All Quadrants, All Levels") is ascribed a key role in the integral theory by Ken Wilber. It is promoted by Wilber in his books as the complete and the most comprehensive map. Its five elements – states, stages, lines, types and quadrants – are presented as irreducible categories of manifest existence or architecture of Kosmos. This article analyses the weak and controversial points of AQAL and puts its practical applicability into question.
(1) States and Stages
Originally, states were short term characteristics and stages were long term characteristics of consciousness. New stages appeared as peak experiences or temporary states and then, through practice, became sustainable, stable features of consciousness. The idea and the goal of spiritual practice was to turn states into stages.
With the Wilber-Combs lattice, the stages that were previously presented as the higher stages of consciousness are now presented as just states which never get stages. It radically changes the whole concept. That means there are some states which becomes stages and there are some states which never become them. Moreover, what was previously presented as the descriptions of higher stages of consciousness is proved to be just the descriptions of higher states. Do we have anything that can be accepted as the descriptions of higher stages then? What is the role of states on the horizontal axis of the Wilber-Combs lattice? Does one really need to experience them to attain higher stages of development?
Actually, lines are some aspects or features of consciousness. As consciousness is too complex phenomenon and the word 'consciousness' is used as a case-word (M. Minsky) we use 'lines' for the purpose of description and research. Lines are taken as relatively independent in their development and each line is assumed to follow the same stages. These premises lead to some serious problems.
It is widely accepted that there are types of personality. Still there is practically no research on how different personality types go through different development stages. When we try to measure development through measuring stable features of personality we cannot clearly discern developmental stage and constitutional features of personality. We cannot even be 100% sure that all personality types go through the same development stages. We can claim it only as a hypothesis which has to be tested.
These are a real Achill's heel of AQAL. All the previous components of AQAL refer to consciousness and more or less accepted in the field of psychology. Quadrants obviously do not refer to consciousness and it is not so easy to say of the quadrants what they are. Apparently, they should be taken as a way to describe any object (holon) in the Universe. If so, they sound as an odd term grouped with the other AQAL components. If we want to describe consciousness, why do we need any quadrants? If we want to describe a volcano or a snow flake, why do we need stages, states, lines and types?
The quadrants division into 'internal' and 'external' is very problematic. Though Wilber claims that this division is fundamental from a epistemological point of view, obviously these words, if taken in their plain meaning, are relative and imply spacial relations. The same object in one respect can be internal and in other respect can be external. Wilber tries to ascribe those terms philosophical meaning of such oppositions as subjective and objective or ideal and material.
When we take subjective/objective as the synonyms for internal/external we have a problem with qualifying thoughts and feelings of another person. They are subjective as far as they refer to the consciousness and at the same time they are external for us. Generally speaking, when we apply four quadrants for a description of an object (holon) in the Universe, should we put into Upper Left (UL) quadrant our own subjectivity or that very object's subjectivity?
When we take ideal/material as the synonyms we have to be clear what we mean as ideal or material. Traditionally, the sum total of the Universe united in one big whole with time and space is considered to be material or physical world. From this point of view all the processes which we signify with the case-word 'consciousness' are material because they all have duration in time and location in space. So, they are material and subjective at the same time. But if we take a number or an abstract notion we would consider them ideal but would have a difficulty to find them a proper place in the quadrants. They do not have time-space location and at the same time are not subjective.
The only example of practical application of quadrants that Wilber gives in his books is the example of a thought 'to go to a grocery store'. The subjective experience of this thought is put into UL quadrant and the corresponding neurological processes are put into Upper Right (UR) quadrant. But what if we write this thought on a piece of paper? Piece of paper is in UR quadrant but what is in UL quadrant? And where is the thought itself?
Thoughts are expressed verbally in a language. The language is a part of a culture. It connects a person to other people. But let us take some feeling, for example, hunger or pain. We may put the feeling itself into UL quadrant, the neurological processes into UR quadrant, but what should we put into lower quadrants? Apparently, there is no corresponding content there.
Despite Wilber's claim, the quadrants do not have any fundamental character. To some extent they may be used as a tool for description of four human domains: psychological, physical, personal relationships and social.