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.


Are We Clever Apes
With Guns?

Limitations of Self Development and
Evidence for Overall Development

Joseph Dillard

When we survey global civilization, which is largely exported Western culture and neoliberal economics, what we mainly observe is a prepersonal moral structure.

Bruce Alderman, philosopher and professor of integral studies at JFK University in Berkeley, California, proprietor of “Earpy's Integral Saloon,” an iconoclastic watering hole for drunken integralists as well as for its “Dr. Jekyll” antithesis, “Integral PostMetaphysical Spirituality,” on Facebook, wrote me the following question in a post:

Bruce: “Joseph, can you explain what you mean when you say most people are pre-personal or operate from the pre-personal most of the time? On the one hand, I think it's true we mostly navigate the world taking 1st- and 2nd-person perspectives, and shift to 3p or higher when certain contexts demand it. But the pre-personal, in object-relational or psychodynamic terms, is locked in 1p -- and for an adult is what we would characterize typically as a personality disorder.”

What follows was my response to Bruce as well as a bit more of our dialogue, followed by a fuller fleshing out of some of my arguments.[1]


Wilber says that to advance from level to level core lines must tetra-mesh. I agree. He also says core lines are at least cognitive, self-system, and moral. I agree.

Wilber has not convinced me that the moral line tetra-meshes, that is, evolves the way he claims it does. He follows Kohlberg, even expanding on his model by adding a post-post conventional stage, which basically has interior quadrant moral judgment represent morality as a whole—all four quadrants. But this is incorrect, because neither Kohlberg nor anyone else has been able to show a correlation between the development of moral judgment and moral action in the UR and LR. Case in point: Barack Obama, constitutional scholar who would easily pass Kohlberg's post-conventional assessment of morality if not Wilber's post-post conventional criteria. So what is Obama's actual level of moral development, and how does that impact his overall level of development if the moral line indeed must tetra-mesh to advance level to level? Well, the victims of his innumerable international crimes would be wrong to call him personality disordered but would not be wrong, in my opinion, to rate him as mid-prepersonal, fluctuating between amorality and immorality in his role as president, and being a sterling human being in his home life. I agree with such an assessment.”

As a psychotherapist with a long-term interest in self-development, quite familiar with Mark Forman's "An Introduction to Integral Psychotherapy," for example, it seems clear that Wilber, following mainstream developmental psychology, has painted mid-prepersonal as a deranged state, minimizing, ignoring, or simply being blind to what it means to be healthy and balanced at mid-prepersonal. That level has a lot of important, necessary, positive characteristics, and if they are not integrated, people have an unstable foundation on which to grow. Large chunks of their development become fixated; they become unbalanced, and the more they focus on developing this or that line (like cognitive and spiritual intelligence) without that strong foundation, the more they invite their collapse, generally for moral reasons (see Gafni, Cohen, Da Free John, and partially Wilber).

“Cognitive-based morality is about judgment and intention while socially-based morality is about behavioral ethics which are determined largely by others via social norms and laws. We are subject to these and they control our ability to morally tetra-mesh. If society as a whole is stuck at mid-prepersonal (an assumption of many, like Frederick Laloux, whom I have read), it is unlikely that individuals within it are going to evolve much beyond that societal mean. Of course, we all think that we are up there at 2nd Tier, vision logic or above, because we judge our morality by our interior quadrant intentions rather than by the objective assessments of outgroups—those who do not necessarily share our worldview but are very much affected by our choices. When we take the perspectives of outgroup determinations of our morality, in the LR, into account, we end up with a totally different profile. It doesn't mean that we or society are personality disordered, despite fascinating documentaries like "The Corporation" and sociopathic policies carried out in our names, but it does mean that we need to seriously reconsider the possibility that our authentic level of overall development is mid-prepersonal, due to moral limitations of the LR collective, and that self-identification with our leading line, cognition, and our belief in our specialness due to our mystical experiences, means we are 2nd Tier. For me this is exceptionalism, hubris, and it is endemic. It is splitting the culture and deconstructing civilization. So I am not being phony humble when I say I believe I am authentically mid-prepersonal. I really do.”

“I have taken dreams and dreaming seriously since I was thirteen. It comprises approximately five years of our life span. It is largely ignored, minimized, mischaracterized, or dismissed. Integral hardly speaks of dreaming, and Wilber's approach, which appears to me to be largely Jungian, applied to all levels, does not do what needs to be done: Integrate the dream state and waking identity. Dreaming is a solidly mid-prepersonal state of awareness. The fact that we have not even begun to integrate it is another reason why I believe I am not so far off in believing our overall level of development is much closer to mid-prepersonal than to anything represented by the level of our cognitive and self-system lines.”

Bruce: “Thank you. Can you provide a brief profile of midprepersonal—what it looks like, how it shows up internally and externally? Midprepersonal in my understanding would likely correlate to the cognitive and moral sophistication of an 18 month old... which is too stark for me

Think healthy canine with language skills: limbically centered, functionally amoral. Or, a clever ape with AK-47s and nukes.

Bruce: Okay. Yes, that's too stark for me; I don't think we're that bad off. If we're so largely ensconced in the prepersonal, that casts any understanding of 'personal' itself into serious doubt.

Yes, I think it's pretty stark. Rather dystopian. But the reason it's not so for me is that I view most people as not having achieved healthy mid-prepersonal balance. Societal, familial scripting, etc. has taught us to run off and leave the mid-prepersonal as quickly as we can without first stabilizing and then gradually building on it.

We are taught to pursue excellence over balance. We are taught to be addicted to drama instead of to become healthy limbically. We are taught to discount the primal representative of healthy mid-prepersonal, the dream state. We identify with self development rather than overall development, the difference being the inclusion of the lower right quadrant—our larger, collective social identity, including our outgroups. The personal self, identified with the self-system line, can and does evolve quite nicely along the lines elaborated by Wilber. The self-system has demonstrated that it can relatively easily reach personal levels and identify with vision-logic. The concept of overall development stuck at mid-prepersonal does not challenge the development of the self-system line.

Bruce: “It depends on the culture, of course. In the US, or a highly competitive "rising" society like South Korea, the drive for advancement likely leaves important prepersonal dimensions of our identity undeveloped—and later growth involves a looping back and reintegration and balancing. But to operate, in contemporary social contexts, primarily prepersonally would be to operate essentially sociopathically—without capacity for empathy, recognition of 'others' as distinct from ourselves, etc.”

I don't think so, because that assumes the self-system stays at mid-prepersonal. The self-system normally advances far beyond the mid-prepersonal. There is an important and fundamental distinction between self development, in which the cognitive line leads (following Wilber) and with which the self-system line normally identifies, and overall development, which includes the constraints of external quadrant moral development, which self development largely ignores, and in which the moral, not the cognitive line leads. This is a huge difference with major implications for our assessment of our actual level of overall development.

Our assessment of mid-prepersonal has been distorted by our association of it with the findings of researchers in self development, who mostly focus on what can go wrong at that stage, painting a very primitive, stark, and negative picture of the mid-prepersonal as locked into the 1p—1st person perspective. But the mid-prepersonal as a stage of overall development is not locked into 1p. It contains all stages of personal development attained, so it contains 2p and 3p at its mid-prepersonal stage.

But even the mainstream now promotes portrayals of highly cognitive self-system evolved individuals that it still perceives as essentially mid-prepersonal. Trump and Hitler, for example. In fact, everybody's favorite villain at some point gets called "narcissistic," "sociopathic," or "personality disordered."

One's center of gravity can remain at mid-prepersonal and thrive in contemporary culture. You can be a CEO, politician, musician, or even a college professor (present company excluded, of course" Ha ha!).

When one thinks about this more broadly, in terms of the self-development of animals, we realize that what mid-prepersonal identification is really all about is grounding in an emotional self, with further language, 2P and 3P as an adaptive veneer in the service of mid-prepersonal emotionality.

Think about the people you know who spend their lives in (emotional) drama or addiction—also grounded in mid-prepersonal. They can be geniuses on any line, gurus, whatever. Their center of gravity remains a pre-rational, prepersonal emotional identity.

Two esteemed Harvard professors, Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhardt, collaborated in influential research validating austerian neoliberal economic policy.[2] It was found to be a fraud, which they denied. This is a case of folks with status, power, money, and intelligence—these scholars know more about econometrics than I ever will—that used their personal level resources in the service of prepersonal, pre-rational, emotionally-based biases. If they can do so and be blind to the evidence thereof, you and I can do so as well in our own lives and remain blind to how our emotions have entrapped our rationality. Too stark? I don't think so.

For this distinction between the mid-prepersonal as a stage of self development and as a stage of overall development to make sense, we have to be willing and able to differentiate an UL perspective from LR perspectives—how others, particularly outgroups, perceive us. We aren't used to doing this. We judge ourselves by our intentions while others judge us by exterior quadrant criteria - what we do. Are we respectful? Are we trustworthy? Do we reciprocate? Are we empathetic?

When we survey global civilization, which is largely exported Western culture and neoliberal economics, what we mainly observe is a prepersonal moral structure: "might makes right," and "profit over people." While most individuals do not live this way, governments, corporations, and global economic systems largely do, and they control where the money, power, and status flows.

The result is a mid-prepersonal reality of emotionally-based relational exchanges focused on the addictive accumulation of wealth, status, and power, often justified in the name of another relational exchange—safety. It is the emotional nature of these exchanges that makes them prepersonal. These same relational exchanges can and do operate at higher levels, and it is the amoral and/or immoral nature of these activities that is mid-prepersonal: "It's nothing personal; it's simply our job to kill you and appropriate all your resources."

Defining overall development

To describe the mid-prepersonal stage of the development of identity, as developmental psychology does, is not the same as describing the mid-prepersonal as a stage of overall development. The mid-prepersonal stage of overall development includes not only the mid-prepersonal stage of self development, but all personal and transpersonal stages of self development as well. Overall development includes identity but transcends it; therefore, the mid-prepersonal as a stage of overall development will contain the elements associated with traditional psychological developmental theory for all self development stages, but will place them not only in a broader context, but reframe their functions from a broader perspective. Therefore, the mid-prepersonal of overall development will have access to the entirety of self development, because it is a stage of a perspective or line that includes self development as a sub-holon.

While self development is primarily a personal perspective, whether 1p, 2p, or 2p, and regardless of quadrant, overall development is, in contrast, a collective perspective. However, it is an error to conflate its collective nature with that of this or that stage of self development that is collective in emphasis, such as mid-prepersonal, early and late personal.

Overall development contains whatever levels of self development have been attained but is not anchored in the perspective of self (psychological geocentrism) or Self (psychological heliocentrism) in this or that role or world view. Instead, it accesses a multi-perspectival identity in which fully autonomous perspectives are on an equal footing, in terms of identity, with the selves of self development. The result is not dissociation or possession, but a non-local perceptual framework analogous to that which exists in the cosmos, in which every point is the center and every perspective, as an emerging potential, is not only equally accessible but valid and worthy of respect.

The affective centrality of the mid-prepersonal level of overall development has to be differentiated from that of the affective nature of self development, which contains only primal, fundamental emotions of comfort, pleasure, fear, anger, and rage. This is a very limited emotional vocabulary. However, as the affective sub-line of the self-system evolves, an entire garden of emotional possibilities emerges. To whatever level of differentiation and subtlety these exist in the individual, that level exists at the mid-prepersonal level of overall development. Therefore, it can no longer be shoehorned into the conceptual box of personality disorders.

Self development becomes cognitively multi-perspectival subsequent to late personal. Wilber calls this stage “integral-aperspectival” or “vision-logic.” However, life and its autopoietic priorities within us are much more than self development. Overall development, as considered here, is not centered on the development of identity or the self, as is obvious from the lack of concern that nature has for our safety, health, or life. Instead, overall development is multi-perspectival in not simply a cognitive but an experiential sense, which means that it is centered on the constantly emerging, endlessly creative, kaleidoscopic priorities of life itself, whatever they may be, not on individualized manifestations of it. The multi-perspectivalism of overall development is not cognitive but experiential, yet contains cognitive multi-perspectivalism as a sub-level of development within it.

Overall development is not to be equated with social psychology involving the LR, because it remains psychology, or UL-centered self development. Overall development is rather to be contextualized as a broader holon that takes into consideration all four quadrants of self development. It recognizes how and why self development is limited by factors that transcend its ability to control, such as the inertia of physics in global warming, runaway economic processes, chaos theory, and outgroup perspectives of ethical behavior.

Overall development, as defined here, is also different from one's “center of gravity,” a term used by Wilber in The Religion of Tomorrow, (Chapter 3), to indicate “the most general identity of the overall relative or conventional self-sense.” “Center of gravity,” is defined by Integral Life as

A phrase used to describe an individual or group's central point of development. An individual's center of gravity typically hovers around their level of proximate-self development in the self-identity stream. In groups, it usually 'resides' in the dominant mode of discourser.”

Wilber therefore associates “center of gravity” with the level of development of our sense of who we are and how selves communicate. It refers to our identity, as the climber of the developmental ladder, whether we are awake, dreaming, or having a mystical or near death experience. In contrast, overall development both incorporates and de-centralizes the self and self development.

Overall development is a hypothetical, inclusive and transcendent line with its own linear progression. While self development focuses on self-control, self-esteem, and self-actualization, overall development focuses on the genesis of creativity. Instead of being centered on ontological selves (grammatically, nouns and pronouns), overall development centralizes processes (verbs, adverbs) and their connections (prepositions). Overall development is not a “thing,” archetype, collective unconscious, or morphogenic field, but a diffuse cloud of emerging potentials that precipitate out of near-entropic chaos and randomness.

Overall development is centered on priorities of two foci, neither of which is centered on the self. The first is “life compass,” which is disclosed by interviewing multiple perspectives that reflect priorities that are often at significant variance to our own. The second foci not centered on the self is “evolutionary autopoiesis,” or the emerging potentials within species self-organization. This is not an orthogenetic or teleological concept, nor does it refer to developmental processes beyond natural selection and variability. However, it embodies not only physical and biological, but noospheric evolutionary possibilities.

Because integralists think a lot of multi-perspectival, vision-logic thoughts, they may readily conclude that their overall development is post-personal, and if they have had transformational mystical experiences of energic, devotional, formless, or non-dual union, it is not unusual for integralists to conclude that they are stabilized at some transpersonal level of development. AQAL itself does nothing to dissuade us from this delusion, but instead affirms that we are uncovering the ever-present “I AM” that we actually are. AQAL strokes our ego: “I am smart enough to understand this stuff; I have experienced mystical oneness; therefore, I must be 2nd Tier!” Overall development views all this as happening within any level of development, but most likely within mid-prepersonal, due to the amoral and immoral nature of the moral line when viewed from the LR, blocking tetra-mesh.

Accessing overall development

Self development involves the development of physical, emotional, cognitive, and transpersonal aptitudes that are pre-requisites for the recognition of, much less access to, any trans-self levels of overall development. While fields of creativity are the particular province of overall development and can be accessed at any stage of self development, the object at the mid-prepersonal level of overall development is to focus on the ethical foundations of all relational exchanges to achieve balance, rather than focus on line excellence, while removing barriers to a grounding in overall development.

I slowly woke up to the differentiation between self and overall development due to the confluence of several factors: years of professional identification with alternative perspectives from dreams and life issues; a recognition that the dream state remained non-integrated yet a constant source of both conflict and creativity which required integration; a recognition that the dream state typifies mid-prepersonal awareness in many ways; a realization that Integral AQAL did not adequately address issues of social justice in the LR; recognition that the core moral line was not tetra-meshing and that various self development lines were running off and leaving ethical behavior, creating serious imbalances; a reappraisal of the mid-personal; and a realization, due to a study of the influence of cognitive biases and distortions, that for most people, most of the time, the cognitive line serves the interests of prepersonal preferences, not the other way around.

I believe the concept of a holon/line of overall development that transcends and includes self development is empirically falsifiable by several means:

  • Show that the moral line is not a core line;
  • Demonstrate that the moral line, including objective ethical behavior, does indeed tetra-mesh within itself, level to level;
  • Show that the moral line does indeed tetra-mesh with the other core lines of cognition and self-system;
  • Demonstrate that LR assessments of ethical behavior by outgroups is not necessary for overall development (it has already been demonstrated that it is not necessary for self development).

Are we clever apes with guns?

It is difficult to minimize the implications of a species that not only creates the ability to instantaneously vaporize the civilization it has built up painstakingly over thousands of years but to annihilate all loved ones and future generations in the process; one that exploits its environment until there remains nothing left to sustain it; one that knows full well that this is occurring but passively acquiesces to its own destruction and extinction. Such a species is controlled not by rationality but by prepersonal emotions and cognitive distortions rooted deep in its inherited nature. Pretending that somehow, if it simply continues to develop its self, that the necessary missing pieces of development will somehow miraculously materialize is a delusion designed to reduce cognitive dissonance and protect a hubristic self-sense.

Until and unless we start putting the moral line first, with emphasis on ethical behavior in the LR, self development cannot expected to bring us any different or better results than it has to date. However, by making an experiment of doing so, we stand a good chance of balancing our overall development at a healthy socio-cultural-psychological mid-prepersonal stage, from which we can authentically continue our development as a species.


[1] I have modified my responses in some places to add clarity.

[2] John Cassidy, "The Reinhart and Rogoff Controversy: A Summing Up",, April 26, 2013.

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