Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.


Reposted from Healing Integral with permission of the author.

Spiral Dynamic Colors

Joseph Dillard

The following is taken from “Healing Integral,” which is available as a free or “pay what feels right” download here. In either case, the text is requested by emailing [email protected]. A summary of “Healing Integral” has been posted on and is available here. Those who share a solution focus on increasing the relevance of Integral for the world are invited to join our working group, the Integral Healing Reading Group on Facebook.
Wilber needs to return to the classical spectrum if he must use color metaphors at all.

The advantage of using colors to indicate levels of development boils down to shorthand. It is less klunky and more user-friendly for Integral to use "green" than "late personal." Unfortunately, by doing so, AQAL has encouraged people at mid-personal levels of cognitive development and beyond to wonder if it takes itself seriously. If it does not take itself seriously, you and I need not either. While it may seem trivial, the Wilber-5 developmental color scheme remains anchored to Beck and Cowan's color choices in ways that distort its usefulness and intelligibility.[18] As most students of Integral know, "Spiral Dynamics" is the name of the work of Beck and Cowan, based on the research of Graves, regarding color descriptions of what Integral calls levels of development. For purposes of egalitarianism and in an attempt to reduce issues of hierarchy, Beck and Cowan gave developmental levels color names that are arbitrary.[19] Beck and Cowan were trying to de-emphasize stages of development and instead emphasize flow, process and the interchangeability of different world views dependent on whether you are at work or at a football game. As noted in the chart below, early, mid- and late prepersonal are beige, purple and red; early, mid- and late personal are blue, orange and green; Wilber's vision-logic is represented by yellow and early, mid- and late transpersonal are represented by turquoise.

There are several problems with this approach. The first and most important is that these color designations of developmental levels, because they are arbitrary descriptions of actual evolutionary processes, are destined to be superseded by different, less arbitrary descriptors, rather like the metric system has won out over "feet and miles" everywhere except the US, Myammar and Liberia, and will eventually become the norm there as well. Beck's colors are not founded on reason, logic or anything experiential. If Beck and Cowen had not been caught up in being politically correct egalitarians they would have figured that out.[20] If Wilber had not been intent on demonstrating his flexibility and commitment to pluralism and egalitarianism he would have followed his instincts and stayed with his original formulations in Wilber-1, which were rational, in that they followed the electromagnetic spectrum. Instead, he adopted the Beck-Cowen usages.

These color designations, because they are arbitrary, constitute jargon. Jargon is defined by Merriam-Webster as "the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group," or "obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words," "confused or unintelligible language," "strange, outlandish or barbarous language or dialect," In other words, using this color shorthand constitutes a form of inscrutable elitism to an outsider who stumbles across a sentence such as the following: "As the Left had added a green branch to its orange foundation, the Right added an orange branch to its amber foundation."[21] This is almost worthy of the I Ching. If you are not a matter of the elite community of believers this is gibberish.[22] If you are describing a set progression, if you want to make sense and be consistent, if you want to affirm rationality as a precursor to late personal or any higher level of development, you need a naming scheme that is also a logical progression. If you want to use colors, fine; then you follow the order of the colors of the spectrum, as the chakra system does, for example.

A third problem with color designations, arbitrary or otherwise, is that people learn and use these words and may not have the faintest idea of their associated traditional stages in AQAL. They know that "green" stands for equality and the acceptance of everybody, but they are not necessarily familiar with the term "late personal," which is really the foundational reality these terms are supposed to point to. They may know that "red" represents nasty, selfish ethnocentrism but have no idea what you are talking about if you refer to late prepersonal itself. I have run into several such examples on internet forums where I have posted using the pre, mid- and post designations and gotten confused, blank or otherwise unintelligible responses from people who could only relate to these stages in terms of arbitrary color jargon. If you have a rational color scheme that follows the electromagnetic spectrum you at least have a visual metaphor that can help people relate to the names of the various stages.

This arbitrary color scheme demonstrates how a desire to be inclusive of the contributions of others, be simple, friendly and not over-intellectual occasionally has led Wilber to over-rule his generally excellent reasoning ability. However, Wilber has recognized this problem by making what to me appears to be a half-hearted attempt to return to the electromagnetic spectrum he used before he became enamored with Spiral Dynamics. It appears Wilber was unwilling to give up Beck's arbitrary association of green to late personal, presumably because he built so much of his subsequent writing around it, but it remains an unfortunate and unhelpful allegiance because it has thrown off the entire progression.[23] Let us compare Spiral Dynamics, Wilber's more recent amended Wilber-5 version, based on the electromagnetic spectrum, and the progression when it follows the electromagnetic spectrum:

Color stages in Spiral Dynamics, Integral Theory and the light spectrum
Color stages in Spiral Dynamics, Integral Theory and the light spectrum.

Wilber was clever to use infrared and magenta at the beginning of his Wilber-5 sequence, because he could then keep Beck's ethnocentric "red" and continue up the spectrum in a logical fashion. But he is stumped at green, because he then has to either abandon Beck entirely and all of his previous uses of green in his writings, or else he has to maintain some semblance of the spectrum. He continues on afterward with shades of green-blue (teal) and turquoise (blue-green). Therefore, the thinking appears to be 1) an allegiance to out-of-place green; 2) a secondary allegiance to the electromagnetic spectrum. I am suggesting that this compromise is the transcendence of pre-rational jargon over common sense. Wilber needs to return to the classical spectrum if he must use color metaphors at all. For me, at least, the use of colors is a victory of warm and fuzzy friendliness over clarity.

You will notice that because Wilber commonly uses more developmental levels than there are major colors of the electromagnetic spectrum, that I have added another, teal, or green-blue, where I think it makes the most sense to preserve classical (that is chakra-based) associations of colors to developmental levels and the electromagnetic spectrum. However, one could add blue-green (turquoise) instead of teal and get the same result, or they could add some other color, someplace else, like Wilber did with Amber in Wilber-5. I have not given a color designation for the non-dual because it is by definition ineffable. However, the traditional chakra system would have probably associated the non-dual with the color white. I am hardly claiming these color suggestions are a perfect solution, only that they are a much clearer and rational association of colors than that which AQAL presently uses. It is merely a suggestion toward a future revision; I will be quite happy to see an even clearer and more logical association of color descriptors with the basic stages.


Just like people followed Wilber and Integral from his original spectrum-based level designations, they can and will follow him back to a spectrum-based color system if reason wins out over other influences. It is not only important to evolve beyond pre-rational arbitrary habitual practices into rational usages that include the pre-rational, it is essential. Reason and belief tend to be more adequate than belief by itself, and second, anything that wants to claim it is trans-rational and transpersonal has to contain both belief and reason. Because the color scheme of Spiral Dynamics is arbitrary it is pre-rational and cannot claim to be trans-rational because it does not pass the tests of mid-personal rationality.


[18] Helfrich, P. "Ken Wilber's AQAL Meta-Theory: An Overview", February 2008,

"Beck's color system used in SDi is different than the Wilber-5 schema added in 2006. The main difference is that Beck selected colors based on the feeling tone expressed at each stage and Wilber attempted to return to the color spectrum of the Eastern chakra system while preserving elements of the Spiral Dynamics hierarchy. However, the general developmental altitudes are equivalent."

[19] Helfrich, P. "Beck selected colored based on the feeling tone expressed at each stage".

[20] This provides an interesting example of how different developmental lines can be within the same person. Beck and Cowen created a system that is pre-rational, but justified by the affirmation of late personal values. This is not unusual when ethical zealotry is put before tetra-mesh.

[21] Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction p. 34.

[22] Here is another example from an earlier, Beck-dependent period of Wilber: "every infant born in that society still has to start at level 1, at beige, at sensorimotor instincts and perceptions, and then must grow and evolve through purple magic, red and blue myth, orange rationalism, green sensitivity, and into yellow and turquoise vision-logic (on the way to the transpersonal)." Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything, Shambhala, 2001, p. 56. Even with his helpful descriptors Wilber recognized that the color coding did not stand up to scrutiny and so revised it to his current electromagetic spectrum-derived version.

[23] Ben Levi: “As someone who has been teaching Spiral Dynamics with Dr. Don Beck for ten years, I would like to offer the following reasoning for why he and Cowan chose the colors they did, which end up making a lot of sense intuitively as well as rationally.

“First, they understood that Clare W. Graves based his theory on the dynamic tension between “I/me/mine” focused value systems, and “we/us/our” focused value systems. They wanted to incorporate that powerful idea (which I have not seen other developmental models incorporate) into their color scheme, so they went with “warm” colors (Beige, Red, Orange, Yellow) for the “I/me/mine” value systems, and “cool” colors (Purple, Blue, Green, Turquoise) for the “we/us/our” value systems.

“Given those constraints, the colors can be intuited in the following sequence: Beige/survival is the color of desert sand, which relates to basic survival of the individual. Purple (tribal) is a cool color which can be seen as relating to tribes. Red/egocentric is obvious in that it focuses on the individual and their ego-based identity. Blue/absolutistic relates to patriotism (”true Blue”). Orange/StriveDrive is the next warm “I/me/mine” color in the spectrum after Red. Green/communitarian makes sense from the standpoint of its environmental focus. Yellow/integral is the next warm color after Orange. Turquoise/holistic is the next cool color after Green (excluding Teal, which could be confused with Blue or Green).

“Thus the color scheme Spiral Dynamics uses is quite rational, once the I/we dynamic (which drives the Spiral toward greater complexity) is understood.” Ben Levi, comment, Spiral Dynamic Colors. IntegralWorld.Net.

My comment: Why “I/me/mine” are “warm” colors and “we/us/our” are “cool” colors is not inherently obvious, nor is there any progression among the colors within each of those choices. Nor is there any reason why “I/me/mine” and “we/us/our” should correlate with the polarities of agency and communion. The implication is that agency is selfish while communion is loving and compassionate. Do we really want to go there?

Beige is the color of a lot of things besides sand and desert sand can be a lot of colors besides beige, like brown or reddish. Do you understand what desert sand has to do with “basic survival?” I don’t either. Beige as early prepersonal is not intuitively obvious. "Purple (tribal) is a cool color which can be seen as relating to tribes.” How about its association with royalty or with the pineal, as in violet? Those associations are much more obvious and therefore more “intuitive” and closer to being rational, although they are themselves only rational within their own cultural schemas.

Regardless, the SD color scheme speaks for itself - it’s not a rational progression until one shares the world view of SD, a rather small and provincial one that is not going to win out over the electromagnetic spectrum for various reasons, the major of which is that the electromagnetic spectrum is innate in a sensory sense. In contrast, the SD color scheme is rational based on a particular type of noospheric world view which doesn’t make much sense even when it is explained. I find it curious that someone would argue that it is rational, just because someone had some scheme in their mind that to them was rational. That’s like saying that a flat earth or reptilian world view is rational, once you buy into the crazy foundational suppositions of the associated world view.

Of course, one can also argue this about the electromagnetic spectrum, because all rational suppositions finally are based on delusional world views of one sort or another, and the electromagnetic spectrum is based on the delusions of sense-based experience.

However, to use that argument to say that all positions are equally delusional is ridiculous. Some positions and world views are more delusional than others and some are more rational than others. Therefore, I am not saying the SD color scheme is not rational; it is, within its world view. I am arguing that the electromagnetically-derived color scheme is more rational, because its world view is more rational and intuitively obvious to more people. If the argument is for generating a belief system based on what is most intuitive and rational for the most people, that is, reflects associations based on the most broadly held and therefore most commonly understood and easily accepted world views, then it is difficult to argue that the electromagnetic spectrum is not far more rational and intuitive.

This is why I scratch my head at Wilber’s continued allegiance to it. On the one hand, its simplicity is a bow to pre-rational and prepersonal elements in his audience; on the other hand, such a bow perpetuates a lack of growth into the personal and beyond.


Frank Visser, "A More Adequate Spectrum of Colors? A Comparison of Color Terminology in Chakra-Psychology, Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics", June 2017, (FV)

Comment Form is loading comments...