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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Chris CharuhasChris Charuhas is author of the self-published Let's Get Integral: An illustrated introduction to Integral thought (2014), which can be downloaded as PDF for free from his website He is an information architect and former president of Visibooks, a publisher of illustration-based computer class textbooks. The book is also available as paperback at

Reposted from with permission of the author.

Let's Get Integral

Chapter 1: What is Integral?

Chris Charuhas

Just because you think at the Integrative level doesn’t mean you’re perfect.

Philosopher Ken Wilber uses the term "integral" to mean:

A synthesis of all the stages of consciousness and culture.

That’s the sense in which we’ll use it here.

But wait a minute: There are stages of consciousness? And stages of culture? Yes.

Are these stages hierarchical, like the progression up through different colored belts in karate? Yes.

So why would I want to "get integral?"

Because Integral thought represents a new, more sophisticated way of looking at the world. It promises to spark a leap forward in human affairs, similar to how scientific thinking did during the Enlightenment.

Okay, so what is Integral thought all about?

To answer that question, let’s begin at the beginning…

Human consciousness evolves.

The way people see the world can, and often does, change over time. Some examples might be:

A street hustling drug dealer becomes "born again" in prison.

He used to see the world as a place where you took what you wanted, by force if necessary.

Now he sees it as God’s domain, where His word is law and that law must be obeyed.

A bank teller takes a Dale Carnegie course to help her "move up" in the world.

She used to see the world as a place where you deferred to authority and knew your place.

Now she sees the opportunity to "win friends and influence people," and thus "better herself."

An editor known for working grueling hours begins taking afternoon naps.

He used to see the world as a place where you strove for excellence, pushing to succeed.

Now he sees "work-life balance" and a "natural lifestyle" as the way to health and happiness.

Human consciousness evolves in response to one’s environment.

A person’s worldview often changes when her environment does. That is, her worldview evolves. Changes in her living conditions can trigger evolution in her consciousness.

Person Change in environment Evolution triggered
Drug Dealer I'm in prison. My life stinks.
Life was pretty good for the drug dealer until he was sent to prison, an ugly, gritty, dangerous environment he could not control.
I'm ready, Mohammed.
He began reading the Koran and became a Muslim. Why? Religion offered him structure, stability, and a sense of higher purpose.
Bank Teller My old car broke down.
The bank teller would like a new car, but can't afford one on her salary. The executives' cars in the parking lot, by contrast, are shiny and new.
The sweet smell of success.
She wants a car like those who've "made it," so she takes a Dale Carnegie class that puts her on the path to "upward mobility."
When will you be home?
The hardworking editor worked long hours and drove himself into a heart attack, which served as a big "wakeup call."
Love my new yoga class…
He began eating better and working fewer hours. He now delegates work. He takes time to exercise, and is much more relaxed.

Human consciousness evolves through a series of stages.

The way adults see and deal with the world changes according to stages. According to the Integral model, the most common stages of consciousness are:

My life belongs to the tribe.
I defeat my enemies, demand respect, and feel no guilt.
I identify with my church/military unit/team.
If I've got the "right stuff," and work hard, I can succeed.
My relationships are what get me through and enrich my life.

These stages represent a hierarchy, so we’ll put the most expansive worldview at the top of the chart, and the most limited at the bottom. Here’s an overview of their characteristics:

Consciousness Worldview Positive Aspects Examples
Postmodern The Earth is a garden, and everyone living on it should get along. Sadly, the garden is polluted and conflict is prevalent. Sensitive, with a strong moral sense. Cares about the oppressed, the exploited. Diversity is prized. The Netherlands Martin Luther King Greenpeace
Modernist The world is a place of opportunity. It's also competitive. Achieve wealth and status, strive for excellence. Strong sense of justice and liberty. Implements meritocracy. Strategic, scientific. Periclean Athens Bill Clinton Wall Street
Traditional The world is a sinful place that requires law and order. Right and wrong are black and white. Strong sense of loyalty and duty. Friendship and generosity toward group members. Queen Victoria The Baptist Church The U.S. Army
Warrior The world is like a jungle. It's survival of the fittest. Do or die. No guts, no glory. Empowers the individual. Encourages initiative. Alexander the Great Drug Lords NFL Linebackers
Tribal The world is a mysterious place where spirits dwell. Honor my ancestors. Follow sacred rituals. Strong bonds to family and tribe members. Feels the power and grace of nature. The Shoshone The Navajo The Israelites

Each worldview also has its latent "bad side," its potential negative aspects. These negative aspects don’t have to be manifest, but when they do appear they’re often destructive.

Consciousness Potential Negative Aspects
  • Moral relativism.
    "What's right and just in our culture might not be in yours."
    Our reluctance to judge others can be taken to an extreme.
  • Aversion to hierarchy.
    "Everyone should be equal everywhere." We often ignore
    distinctions in expertise and capability among people.
  • Cultural myopia.
    We fail to recognize the positive contributions of other stages, especially the Traditional.
  • Materialism.
    I concentrate on the acquisition of stuff and status, and derive my identity from them.
  • Exploitation.
    People are "resources" to be obtained, used, and gotten rid of when they're no longer useful. So is the natural world.
  • Greed.
    Because my measures of self-worth lie outside myself, I constantly want more of the stuff by which I "keep score."
  • Intolerance.
    People who aren't part of our group are second-class citizens. People who don't share our beliefs are immoral.
  • Dogma.
    If we encounter facts that contradict our beliefs, we reject the facts. "The earth revolves around the sun? Not true."
  • Fanaticism.
    We have The Truth—it's all in our holy book. We have a duty to spread that Truth by whatever means necessary.
  • Violence.
    My impulsive nature and physical orientation means that if I get angry, I lash out in a physical way.
  • Ruthlessness.
    I'll do whatever it takes to maintain and increase my power, and avoid appearing weak. Torture, killing, beating, etc.
  • Egocentrism.
    I am the "Alpha Dog," and my wishes are paramount. I will be remembered for my glorious self and conquests.
  • Cruelty.
    People outside the tribe receive no mercy or solicitude. Captured warriors get flayed alive, cooked and eaten, etc.
  • Superstition.
    Our animistic beliefs prevent us from figuring out how the world really works. Evil spirits, not germs, cause disease.

Integral worldviews transcend and include all previous stages.

"Integral" means understanding each previous stage of consciousness. It means letting all the stages positively inform the way we think and act.

Integral thinkers "transcend and include" the Tribal through Postmodern stages. When we do that, we enter an Integral stage: the Integrative.

Consciousness Worldview Positive Aspects Examples
Integrative The galaxy is an interesting place, adhering to rhythms and patterns that we humans can understand. Everything evolves toward increasing complexity: matter, life, consciousness, culture. Let's cultivate balance and harmony to live together happily. Accepts everyone for who they are. Doesn't try to change them, tries to bring out the best in them. Insightful about others' feelings, thoughts, and motivations. Attentive, competent. Nelson Mandela RSA Animate videos Symphony of Science songs

Integrative thinkers can sometimes be egotistical, aloof, and impatient.

Just because you think at the Integrative level doesn’t mean you’re perfect.

Integrative thinkers can sometimes be egotistical, aloof, and impatient.

But people at the Integrative level are pretty decent, by and large. They try to employ the positive aspects of any worldview, depending on the situation. They work to help people at each stage contribute to their communities/our society/the world in a positive way.

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