Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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].


AQAL Musings on
the Nature of Reality

A guided meditation toward
a nondual science of the Kosmos

Joe Corbett

I am actually more faithful to the AQAL model than Ken Wilber himself by letting the layout of the model as a 4-trick pony speak for itself.

Below is a collection of musings on the nature of reality using the AQAL model framework created by Ken Wilber. These are, for the most part, unorthodox interpretations that Wilber does not necessarily agree with, although they are based on his original interpretation of the four quadrants. Where I begin to diverge with Wilber is by taking the notion of the Great Chain of Being, which plays a different role in his interpretation, and applying it literally to the four quadrant model, so that as far as Body and Mind are concerned I am in agreement with Wilber, but my conceptualization of Soul as corresponding to Culture and Spirit as corresponding to Society are not in agreement with Wilber.[1] Nevertheless, I think my interpretation has some precedent in how others have interpreted soul as a deep abiding connection to others through memory, and spirit as a higher form of society, particularly when Hegel famously thought of the State as a manifestation of Spirit in history, and how Marx saw the different forms of the mode of production in history as an objective unfolding of a greater human purpose.

From this rather unorthodox initial interpretation of the AQAL as an embodiment of the Great Chain, a whole series of other alternative interpretations follow. Among them is that the LRQ is literally the sum-total of all parts in an interobjective relational whole of unity to each other, wherein there can be inferred a kind of omniscient observer or Witness to the unfolding of all parts in existence from moment to moment, metaphorically known as “the eyes of spirit”. And indeed an empirical correlate to this objective “witness” can be found in the idea of the quantum vacuum fluctuations.

3D visualization of quantum fluctuations of the QCD vacuum
3D visualization of quantum fluctuations of the QCD vacuum (Wikipedia)

In the image above which is a simulation of the vacuum fluctuations, the activity of virtual particles in empty space are popping in-and-out of existence too fast to be detected, and it is this energy field that permeates our existence. This is what is happening at every moment throughout the universe, even in the emptiness within and between the atoms of your body right now, and it is what mediates and ultimately generates the interactions of all regular matter according to the standard model of quantum field theory (QFT) known as quantum electro-dynamics (QED) and quantum chromo-dynamics (QCD). In a sense, these virtual particle-antiparticle fluctuations are the cosmic eyes that actively observe the existence of things as they are from moment to moment, and in this computational witnessing generates them according to their past and future possible forms. They are quite literally the forms of the eyes of spirit-in-action Itself, and many believe it is the source of the so called Dark Energy causing the entire universe to expand at an accelerating rate.

Another name I give to these fluctuating virtual particle-antiparticle pairs, besides the eyes of spirit-in-action, is yin-yang or shiva-shakti condensates, the cosmic energy source for oscillating expansions (unfoldings) and contractions (enfoldings) at all scales of the universe. The implication of this view is that when we see with the eyes of the Witness, from the source perspective of the emptiness within, we are going back to that source perspective that the cosmos has of itself when it comes into being from moment to moment. In other words, the eyes of the vacuum fluctuations with which the universe sees itself arising and falling is at once the source perspective from which the mystical witness experience emerges within us.

We can see how this all unfolds within the AQAL in the Kosmic Dynamics Mandala below. As I view it, Rupert Sheldrake's morphic resonance is a formative mechanism in the LLQ. It is not a creative principle in itself, but only a principle of resonant memory, as discussed further below. Wilber calls the creative principle Eros, and he uses Alfred Whitehead's notion of the prehension of a subject's previous moment, from moment to moment, to describe the process of the unfolding of creative novelty in all 4 quadrants. Similarly, David Bohm describes the creative principle as the holomovement, the unfolding of the implicate orders into the explicate order, and then an enfolding back from the explicate into the implicate, from nano-second to nano-second, in rapid oscillations of unfolding-enfolding.

My conception of this process of creative emergence in Kosmic Dynamics is closer to Bohm's, as I describe the creative principle as a process in accordance with the standard model of QFT, whereby the quantum void acts as a witness through the eyes of spirit (or the virtual particle-antiparticle pairs that mediate all matter interactions in the LR), recording those interactions onto a memory surface or storehouse of space-time at the planck scale in the LL, which is then received by the future possible forms of the adjacent quantum field potentials that surround us in the UL, finally manifesting the physical forms of the universe at each moment in the UR. This creative process is none other than the Kosmic Dynamics of the 4 quadrants themselves at their most primordial level, and it all relies on the quantum field potentials of variation and adjacency in the UL for the emergence of truly novel rather than merely resonant forms, the New Man of our possible forms of being.

Crucially, I use the holographic principle in physics within this integral theory of Kosmic Dynamics. However the information of the 3D universe is stored not at the boundary of the distant edges surrounding the universe as postulated in the holographic principle, but as a memory on the one-dimensional surface of space-time at or near the planck scale, deep within the hidden interiors of the universe. Such memory storehouse, Kosmic Unconscious, or Akashic Field as it is more commonly known, is the realm from which morpho-genesis gives shape to the forms of the universe through entangled morphic-resonance between the q-bits of space-time (discussed below), in a kind of cosmic habit forming and memory recall process. This informational surface is also where the archetypal realm abides, with the deepest memory traces, patterns, and habits of biological species, cultures, and individuals, and possibly the source of such phenomena as reincarnation, aliens, angels, and ghosts. And although this memory field in fact underlies all 4 quadrants, its "specialty" domain or domain of origin is in the LL, the memory storehouse of culture and the bonds of intersubjective heritage, tradition, ritual, and love, on a kosmic scale of the Kosmic Unconscious.

Below is the nondual Trika Shaiva notion of the Ground of Awareness from an AQAL lens using Kosmic Dynamics. The flow of activity is from the ever-present vacuum fluctuations within and between all objects in the universe in the LR. This is also the cosmo-erotic energy vibration of shiva-shakti and yin-yang, which sees all and from which all arises and falls, the Knower. But notice that from a Kosmic Dynamics perspective the creative process itself is mostly carried out in the interior left-hand quadrants in an oscillating dialectic between the past and future forms of objects, as an unfolding of the past and an enfolding of the future into the next moment of the past, at every point in space-time from moment to moment, as in Whitehead and Bohm's notion of creative emergence. This Shaiva Tantra notion of the Ground of Awareness underscores how the experience of the empty witness in non-dual mysticism is often couched in the language of a second person metaphor (Awareness, Self), as we experience our own consciousness going back to the objective third person source of our (and the universe's) existence.

Getting back to fundamentals, Albert Einstein once said, “Gravity is a response to geometry”. In my view of integral foundational physics below, which humbly introduces the founding principles of the universe, gravity occupies the UR, corresponding to the body and other heavy (massive) objects, and it emerges from the geometric extension of the tetrahedral q-bit, the fundamental pixel of space-time in quantum gravity. It (object) from Bit (geometric information) is the principle of 3D manifestation, and essentially describes the movement of the interior of the UR (bit) to the exterior of the UR (it), or from geometric information (edges, surfaces, angles) to objects in the universe (tetrahedron), and by extension of space-time (and mass-energy) through edge-variation (UL), surface area repetition and enclosure (LL), and angular linkages (LR) between the pixels of the innumerable tetrahedron that constitute the fabric of space-time. I view this as a post-metaphysical ontology of the Kosmos, not inconsistent with quantum gravitational notions of spin-networks.

In my (space-time/mass-energy) view of integral general physics below, we can see that the movement of interior Bit to exterior It mentioned above is actually a movement from the LL to the UR, or from space to mass, linking the quantum level q-bit pixels of space-time memory to the interior of gravitational mass. Of course, all of these domains arise simultaneously, even though gravity is the first to emerge according to the standard model. But if we wanted to draw a series of cause-effect relations we might go from the LL (space) via the UL (time) to the UR (mass). However, it all begins in the LR, with pure energy (spanda, vibration, the cosmo-erotic love-making of shiva-shakti), the zero-point and inflationary field of the big bang itself, the dark energy of the nondual void where the witness abides, and from there it proceeds to the formation of (causal) space in the LL, and through (subtle) time in the UL to manifest existence in (gross) physical objects in the UR. This process then loops and repeats itself from moment to moment to give us everything that has ever been and ever will be in this universe.

The fractal generating mandala below shows how this process of Kosmic Dynamics is actually the language of the universe writing itself into existence using integral semiotics. In this mandala we see how fractals generate themselves through repetition and variation on a structural theme, which is also how language generates endlessly varied forms of shared meaning in structured syntactical patterns. Each new meaning is based on or comes in relation to an old meaning, and is structured according to rules for the formation, embedding, and organization of meanings. As with fractals and language, so with the forces, masses, space and time of the fundamental bits and objects of the universe. The cosmos generates, maintains, and replicates itself from moment to moment through the fundamental process of Kosmic Dynamics, as the cosmos languaging itself into Being.

Bringing this discussion back around in closing, the quantum biology mandala below shows that there is a continuity of this dynamic process from the micro to the macro scale of our physical and biological existence. Each domain described in the physics of Kosmic Dynamics has a correlate in the biological domain of the evolution of life, with stable traits, variation potentials, a memory storehouse, and an “all-seeing” whole that is the environment in which organisms live and die, arise and fall. It is through the dynamic process described above that not only the universe comes into existence, is maintained, and replicates from moment to moment, but that biological life forms do the same, as they are subsystems of the larger universal process of Kosmic Dynamics.

Furthermore, just as there is a continuity between the physical and biological scales of the dynamic I have been describing, there is also a continuity between the biological and the psychological, as well as between the psychological and the social scales of our existence, all the way up, and all the way down through the subsystems of the Kosmos. From the physical behaviors and extensions of the body to the possibilities and beauty of the creative mind and its self expressions, and from the soulful habits of the heart that lay deep in our unconscious to the rules of order by which we get a sense of our place in the world and the cosmos, we can see the continuity and intimate connection we have with the Kosmos from which we come, and of which we are an expression in self-similar form. As above so below, atman is brahman. We are fractal organisms of the cosmos itself as it echoes out from the mysterious origin from which it came, and toward which it winds back to its source through us.

In conclusion, the material world in which we live is infused with subtle potentials, causal archetypal soul-forms, and the nondual eyes of a spirit-in-action that is all around, within, and between us from moment to moment. Information and matter, the implicate and explicate orders, are like two sides of the same coin, inseparable like yin-yang or shiva-shakti oscillating in cosmo-erotic union, generating, replicating, and maintaining the Kosmos from moment to moment in a dual aspect monism that can only rightfully and poetically be called the Supreme God, the Self, and the Ground of Awareness, beyond which is only the Mystery.


[1]The failure of integral theorists to make this correlation between the quadrants and the Great Chain, and the claim that such a correlation is a conflation of quadrants with states, arises I suspect from the ingrained view of the AQAL as an essentially trinitarian model of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person perspectives following the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness archetypal format—known as “the big three”—rather than sticking to the quarternity of the full model along the lines of Truth Beauty, and Goodness supplemented by the proper fourth archetype of Justice for the LRQ. And in that sense, it could be said that I am actually more faithful to the AQAL model than Ken Wilber himself by letting the layout of the model as a 4-trick pony speak for itself.

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