The AQAL Trinity, Joe Corbett

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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].


The AQAL Trinity

Joe Corbett

Eros has an inseparable twin in Thanatos, but it also has a correlate in Agape, the descending involutionary principle of soulful loving embrace.

Perhaps the most frequently repeated phrase in all of integral discourse is Truth, Beauty, and the Good. It has become the general mantra to indicate the essential nature of the AQAL, not just one trinity among possible others, but THE Trinity of the AQAL. Because this trinity is often used to represent the totality of the AQAL as a four-quadrant reality, yet only accounts for three quadrants in the limited sense of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person perspectives, with the exterior quadrants reduced to one external world of impersonal material existence, this trinity is an incomplete representation of AQAL reality in its totality, something that pretends to represent that totality but does not, and therefore it is a false Trinity.

Moreover, by repeating this incomplete, false trinity over and over like a mantra, the effect it has on the integral community as a whole is to distract and mislead it away from the socio-political and economic issues of Justice in the LR quadrant. And this is the real sin of this false trinity, it acts as a kind of hypnotic agent putting integral analysis and followers to sleep with regard to the role and place that the will to power and money has in our everyday lives, and in our cultural, psychological and spiritual development. I have gone into the argument of why Justice should be the philosophical archetype in the LR quadrant on an equal footing with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness elsewhere, so I will not go into that here.[1]

Eros and Thanatos
Eros and Thanatos

If Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are not in fact the genuine Trinity of the AQAL that represents it in its full totality, then what might be the True Trinity of the AQAL? We can start with the central fact of the Kosmos, at least from a human perspective, and that is its expansive proliferation into diversity and complexity as it evolves to ever higher forms of embedded holoarchies, from strings to atoms to molecules to life to advanced consciousness and so on. What this central feature of the Kosmos seems to be is creativity itself, the capacity for self-organization and the generation of emergent novel forms from previous forms. We can give this feature the name of Eros, and it is most definitely a characteristic of the upper-left quadrant, the realm of Beauty and the source of creativity itself, Mind.

However, as we all know, the universe (or Nature) is not all about fun and playful creative games, for it is also a harsh and destructive place to be, a place not just of self-organizing emergence but of chaos and decay, of random disorder and death, of darkness and entropy. This in fact is probably the greater part of what the universe consists of, not of evolution but of entropic decay. We might even say, as some biologists suggest, that life is entropy's way of quickening and maximizing itself, so that ultimately Thanatos (entropic death) trumps Eros (creative emergence) in the game of evolution, and in the long-run of the evolution of the universe as a whole it most certainly does.

This points to a mysterious paradox, that in order to have life, consciousness, and order there must be death, the unconscious, and chaos. They are inseparable, like yin-yang, a single psychophysical unit of information-matter, and indeed they constitute the twin of the Kosmic Trinity. Whereas Eros is the conscious and creative principle of an ascending evolution into greater complexity, Thanatos is the unconscious and cyclical process of the body, born into the world as young and new only to leave the world as old and decayed. The body (UR) also has a shadow aspect to it, it keeps the score of our experiential traumas and unresolved growth issues, and it comes back to haunt us (satanically) in psychological and physical health problems. We might therefore designate the twin of the Trinity as the Christ-Antichrist aspect, the light and darkness of the Kosmos embodied within us as one mind-body duality (Eros-Thanatos).

Eros has an inseparable twin in Thanatos, but it also has a correlate in Agape, the descending involutionary principle of soulful loving embrace rather than the ascending evolutionary principle of freedom and creativity. This is the interior understanding of a larger whole (LL), a kosmic collective mind, the wisdom of the over-arching Mother/Father archetype, so to speak, which, in my previous essay on Trans-Darwinism, I likened to a subtle guiding teleology that comes from the depths of the informational ground of the universe, the implicate order or Kosmic Form-container that holds all potentialities past, present, and future for each and every thing in the universe in relation to each and every other thing, biasing the universe towards the coordinated order of meaning, purpose, and functional fit rather than random chaos and disorder.

Through the embrace and guidance of Agape the Kosmos is given focused direction and form, as indeed loving parents and culture does for individuals. But what the third part of the Trinity does is bring Eros-Thanatos and Agape together in a timeless dance of seamless and undivided wholeness. This is Spirit in the LR, the interobjective connections of the whole in dynamical flow from moment to moment, an eternal now of undivided wholeness in creative-destructive flickering in and out of existence, the autopoietic kosmos. This is also the Bohmian holomovement of the implicate order unfolding into the explicate order and then enfolding back into the implicate in constant and continual informational feedback loops of the universe communicating with itself, at each and every point in space and at each and every moment in time. This Spirit can even be seen in the strategic manipulations of classes within society and nations within the global order to better their position in what can only be described as a will to power, the LR-in-action.

Of course, Eros-Thanatos, Agape, and Spirit, the true AQAL Trinity, each take their essence from the quadrant domain from which they quantum-archetypally emerge, but in reality each operates in all the quadrants simultaneously. To use just one example from the LR, societies are born and reborn during times of creative activity, but as routinization sets in and the spirit of the founding leaders withers and decays, so these societies inevitably die and disappear. All the while, however, these societies are guided and inspired by past exemplars, present opportunities, and future prospects of what they could become (for instance, as capitalism looks to its rags-to-riches stories, finds fortune and promise in the on-going process of globalization, and reluctantly hopes in its more sober moments for a smooth transition to a sustainable socialism). And I have already mentioned above how Spirit can be seen directly manifested in the will to power of socio-economic and political formations, as the class and nation-state conflicts and positions of power that have shaped and transformed the human world throughout history.

Whether the Kosmic Trinity is expressed as Eros-Thanatos, Agape, and Spirit, or as Explicate Order, Implicate Order, and Holomovement, what is clear from this articulation of the AQAL is that Truth, Beauty, and the Good are not THE Trinity of anything but of ones own incomplete and false consciousness.


[1] One thing I could add here is that the scholastic distinction between a quadrant and a quadrivia is sometimes used to justify the exclusion of the LR from having any archetypal status of its own, since “social holons or artifacts have no interior perspective of their own”. As Wilber says, a deer has a perspective, but a picture of a deer does not, and Gaia is a collection of interacting parts but not an organism. Well, that may be true of a picture of a deer and of Gaia, but it is not true of a social class which has class consciousness and acts in its own interests, or of a corporation, which is a legal person with a mission statement and policies and procedures that can be considered as a kind of formalized interior perspective. Likewise for nation-states, which have distinct interests and laws that give them a formalized perspective on the world. Moreover, all the social roles people occupy, from fireman and police officer to parents and teachers have scripts that they follow by virtue of their social position, not from an inter-subjective bonding. A fireman does not come to a burning house and ask the owners permission if he can put it out. So the idea that social holons have no perspective of their own simply isn't true in many cases. And the idea that justice is some generalized inter-subjective consensus (LL) à la Habermas' ideal speech situation rather than a function of power and the structure of social relations (LR) à la Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault is naïve and groundless. Finally, Plato's notion of Justice comes mainly from his discussion of an Ideal society, of how the different parts (caste-classes) of such a society would fit together. In other words, for Plato Justice is a matter of the functional fit that the different parts of society have to each other. It is about the proper balancing of these relations, however “proper” may be conceived. Justice is not the content of an Ideal Form, but is itself an Ideal Form, a universal rather than merely a culturally relative form. All cultures have different notions of justice, but what they all share in common is how power and wealth is to be distributed in that society, which is a function of its inter-objective social relations (LR).

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