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.


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Toward Polycentrism

Part 5: Decentralizing Identity with Polycentrism

Joseph Dillard

Our identity is formed and maintained largely by the different perspectives we encounter in life. These in turn generate our sense of control, life direction, meaning, and our relationships with others. This essay series explains varieties of this fundamental and adaptive ability and how limitations in how we approach perspectives can go wrong, creating undue personal suffering and even societal collapse.

Now that we have differentiated prepersonal multi-perspectivalism and cognitive multi-perspectivalism, psychological geocentrism, heliocentrism, and polycentrism, as well as two varieties of polycentrism, and investigated how misuse of foundational relational exchanges, failure to use triangulation, and lack of ethical congruence block the development of polycentrism, we can consider how our scripting by the prevailing socio-cultural zeitgeist, in any age, predisposes us to groupthink that represses and shuts down any genuine growth into polycentrism. We can then consider how phenomenologically-based polycentrisms address these issues.

Problems with self development

Self-realization, self-actualization, self-esteem, self-discovery, self-exploration, self-contemplation, self-examination, self-observation, self-questioning, self-reflection, self-scrutiny, self-searching, soul-searching, self-analysis, self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-recognition, self-absorption, self-centeredness, self-concern, self-involvement, self-knowledge, self-revelation. self-concept, self-image, and self-perception all have one thing in common: self, whether called ego, Self, or soul. Self-development is the holy grail of psychology, religion, spirituality, morality, ethics, and the vast majority of philosophy, economics, and politics. This self can be individual or collective. If it is collective, it is typically an ingroup - some collective that we identify with, a family, occupation, religion, nationality, ideology, the environment, or the Kosmos. Those worldviews that focus either on non-self, as some forms of philosophy, religion, and spirituality do, or on the collective, say in morality, ethics, religion, spirituality, philosophy, economics, or politics, do so largely because it benefits the self and self-development in one way or another. For instance, the neti-neti (not this, not that) of the via negativa of Hinduism and Buddhism is meant to generate an objectivity of others, experience, and the self so as to access either the Self or enlightenment, that is, psychological heliocentrism, in which our identity is one with a non-dual, inclusive yet transcendent All. That is, identity and worldview exist largely to support and validate psychological geocentrism and its transpersonal variation, psychological heliocentrism.

Life is generally approached in all these fields as a duality of self and other, the individual and the collective, ingroups and outgroups. There is nirvana and the absence of nirvana. Some social/conceptual forms, such as capitalism in economics and libertarianism in politics, favor the individual while other forms, such as socialism/communism and liberalism favor the collective. This duality also exists between the unitary (the self, individual) and the multiple (the collective, others). The result is not only psychological and metaphysical dualism but a disownership of the individual and unitary nature of the other and collectives, on the one hand, and of the collective, multiple nature of self. The problem created by the first variety of this dualism, the disownership of the individual and unitary nature of the other, is the discounting of others, leading to their exclusion, repression, exploitation, and destruction. The problem created by the second, the denial of the collective and multiple nature of the self, is alienation from creativity, potentiality, and development past the echo chamber of the self.

Wilber's integral holonic quadrant model presents a genuine and effective resolution to this dilemma by making room for intrasocial collectives in the interior collective quadrant, something we are not used to doing or even contemplating. We readily recognize outgroups in the exterior collective world of our experience but are far less likely to do so in the interior collective world. Dreams provide a universal proof of this concept. The “others” that we experience in our dreams are experientially “not self” and outgroup members - particularly villains, antagonists, and threatening events or objects. These don't exist in objective, exterior collective reality, yet these relationships are “real” and objective enough when they are experienced in dreams, even lucid ones.

We can see how the dualism basic to self perception is well summarized in Wilber's four quadrants of holons. The individual is oppositional to the collective and the inner oppositional to the outer. The self, which is interior, is oppositional to others, who are exterior. What PEMs do, as an experiential discipline, yoga, or integral life practice, is break down these dualities. They do so by the process of disidentification with self and identification with both exterior collective, “real,” other people and objects as well as with interior collective, “fantasy,” dream characters, images, metaphors, symbols, fantasies, chimera, daydreams, delusions, figments, or hallucinations. This second group is comprised of interior “others,” as viewed from the perspective of the self, and which are still perceived as not-self, non-self, or outgroup members. They are not reducible to the collection of roles that are subsumed within our self-image and worldview or to “shadow” disowned “parts.” They are “other” not because they are “real,” a category associated with the exterior quadrants and our interior individual sense of self, but because they are perceived as lacking reality.

The reason why such perspectives are not granted a similar ontological reality and legitimacy as we confer upon both ourselves and objective others is due to a failure to take a thorough phenomenological approach. Rarely do we suspend the assumption that elements of the interior collective quadrant are unreal. Psychological geocentrism, as well as most forms of heliocentrism, assumes either the unreality of mental images in the interior quadrants, on the one hand, or their complete “otherness” as objective realities existing in other dimensions, as Shamanism and mystical experiences do. Polycentrisms, such as Integral Deep Listening, suspend such assumption during interviewing, affording unicorns and Voldemort the same reality as we assume ourselves to possess. This is a temporary conferring of conditional reality, in order to fully access outgroup perspectives. It is not a radical assumption of reality like that made by Shamans or spiritualists. This can also be understood as the temporary suspension of the distinction between rationality and irrationality, something that the self is very reluctant to do, because the assumption is that relinquishing of self-control is a hallmark of immaturity at best and insanity, decompensation, depersonalization, schizophrenia, and possession, at worst. Disidentification from the self is assumed to be a step beyond irrationality to full melt-down. Disidentification from Self is assumed to be a journey into nihilism and meaninglessness, or worse.

However, from an ethical perspective, disidentification affords a similar degree of respect to outgroup perspectives that one desires for oneself. This not only upholds and reinforces respect, but reciprocity, while generating empathy. It also creates a conceptual foundation for building trust where it did not exist before. After all, who wants to trust a whimsical, imaginary mental or dream image which is obviously fantasy? Is that smart? The answer is “no,” in the arena of self-development. However, in the context of the non-dual integration of the individual and collectives, the self and the other, it makes better sense than feeding both alienation and discounting of the other and outgroups, which is what the common over-emphasis on self-development typically does.

While both self-development and self-control are essential, there exist multiple perils that ensue from an unbalanced over-emphasis on self-development. This is the plague of modernism, post-modernism, meta-everything, and the West, including western society, culture, religion, and spirituality. It is the blindness of many Western integrals, liberals, and progressives, who I call “WILPs” for short, based on my own, personal experience, being a card-carrying WILP, with over a fifty-year identification with self-development not only professionally, as a clinical psychologist, but personally, as an introspective idealist. It took me decades to figure out that polycentrism takes us beyond the cul-de-sac of the dualism between self and other, beyond self-development and pervasive groupthink submersion in collectives.

The Underlying Problem: Over-identification with non-polycentric worldviews

Some worldviews are more delusional than others, and some delusional worldviews are much more toxic than others. For example, saving Ukraine from Russia has become more important to many Westerners than saving the planet from climate change, keeping their populations from freezing in the dark, maintaining the viability of Western industries, or even avoiding the risk of an all-out nuclear war between the West and Russia. The Foreign Minister of Germany has stated that supporting Ukraine is a higher priority for Germany than respecting the preferences of voters.[1] It is even more important than preventing a Ukrainian-caused melt-down of the biggest nuclear reactor in Europe.

Polycentrism is out of reach as long as we allow ourselves to be governed by the injunction: “Fear or ignore outgroups.” It also remains out of reach as long as we imagine cognitive understanding of outgroups (cognitive multi-perspectivalism and familiarity with “maps,”) is a sufficient substitute for actual identification with their perspectives and worldview. Phenomenologically-based varieties of experiential multi-perspectivalism in particular stay out of reach as long as we only include objective, “lower right,” exterior collective “others” in our immersion in outgroup worldviews and identities. Authentic, full-blown polycentrism requires both: identification with both foreign societies, beliefs, and cultures as well as with foreign intrasocial, or internal collective perspectives.


This is one major reason why cognitive multi-perspectivalism falls far short of polycentrism. Intellectual study of outgroups does not generate polycentrism because it allows the subject of our investigation to be held at arm's length via objective analysis, using science and objectivity as tools to strengthen our psychological geocentrism. Typically, due to baked-in cognitive biases, we see what validates and strengthens our identity and worldview while ignoring or discounting the rest.

All worldviews, because they are partial, yet accepted as accurate representations of reality, are delusional, but those which consult multiple outgroup perspectives are less delusional than those that do not. What makes worldviews so fundamental to our ignoring of basic relational exchanges, failure to triangulate, and lack of ethical congruence is our identification with them. The relationship is mutual and symbiotic: we think we are our worldview and our worldview defines, structures, and creates the boundaries of our identity. This boils down to psychological geocentrism that is only superficially multi-perspectival, including those worldviews that support our psychological geocentrism while rejecting those that do not. For example, those who have mystical experiences weave them into their identity with the result that psychological heliocentrism supports psychological geocentrism. As such, the Self is a grandiose inflation of the self, making heliocentrism functionally a subset of geocentrism.

Exceptionalism is fundamentally psychological geocentrism posturing as multi-perspectivalism. I claim to support democracy and human rights, for example, while in practice I favor those individuals, nations, economic, cultural, and social policies and forces that validate my psychologically geocentric worldview. For example, I demand that my sovereignty be respected (see the Monroe Doctrine or the mandates of NATO) while ignoring that of Russia, China, Iran, Palestinians, or other nations or groups that have worldviews that challenge my own. Ignoring my discounting of the sovereignty of others while defending my own, I justify my stance by proclaiming my allegiance to democracy and condemning authoritarianism. Sadly, the tendencies toward exceptionalism and elitism apply to all meritocracies because excellence has a strong tendency toward strengthening and fossilizing our sense of self. Just as we need psychological geocentrism, we need meritocracy, and to point out their limits is hardly to disparage their importance or necessity.

Groupthink: what it is and why we do it

According to social psychologist Irving Janis, who coined the term, groupthink occurs when a group reaches an unanimous decision regarding some course of action despite factual information that dictates a different course of action. The eight symptoms of groupthink listed by Janis are

  1. illusions of invulnerability,
  2. collective rationalization,
  3. belief in the inherent morality of the group,
  4. outgroup stereotypes,
  5. direct pressure on dissenters,
  6. self-censorship,
  7. illusions of unanimity, and
  8. self-appointed mind guards.[2]

Groupthink is characterized by a loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking by ingroup members, who avoid presenting alternative solutions or controversial issues. An inflated certainty that the right decision has been made creates an “illusion of invulnerability.” We can see this in the shock in the West by the failure of its sanctions against Russia following the onset of the Ukrainian war. So certain were Westerners that the sanctions were the right decision that they were totally unprepared for not simply the failure of sanctions to weaken and collapse Russia, but for the widespread inflation of energy prices, with business and industry closures and the intense social disruptions that followed.

Groupthink causes ingroups to overrate their own decision-making ability while significantly underrating the competencies and resiliency of their outgroup opponents. In fact, all eight of Irving's criteria for groupthink can be seen in the West's shock and outrage at the incorporation of the Donbass, zaporizhzhia, and Kherson into the Russian Federation, as if this outcome was never predictable and lay outside the realm of possibility. This stance reflected

  1. illusions of invulnerability, in that both Ukraine and the West remained certain Ukraine would win the war;
  2. collective rationalization, in that the West would win because it was on the side of democracy and always has managed to get its way in the world;
  3. belief in the inherent morality of Ukraine and the West, in that because they are on the side of “right,” the incorporation of ethnic Russian Ukrainian territories by Russia was claimed to be against international law even though the same forms of legitimization used by the West to assert the independent status of Kosovo were used by Russia;
  4. outgroup stereotypes, in that Russians are aggressors and autocrats, even though the populations of these territories voted overwhelmingly for incorporation into the Russian Federation;
  5. direct pressure on dissenters, in the form of censorship and lists of individuals targeted for assassination by Ukraine;
  6. self-censorship, in that those in the employ of Western governments and media know full well that if they point out the obvious neo-Nazi nature of Ukrainian government or military, or multiple war crimes, or present Russia's perspective, that they not only will not gain status and promotion but may quite likely be fired;
  7. illusions of unanimity, in that groupthink is a self-validating echo chamber; and
  8. self-appointed mind guards, in that victims of groupthink self-censor, in this case authentically and independently expressing outrage at the incorporation of Ukrainian territories into Russia, although these people are in fact parroting the mainstream narrative.

It is not unusual for groupthink to produce dehumanizing actions against outgroups. For example, Russian musicians, athletes, family members of politicians and corporate leaders, and even cats and trees, among many others, were sanctioned by the West. It is also not surprising that up to the time of this writing, very few voices in the West have been calling for either negotiations for peace in Ukraine or for the end of sanctions on Russia. Instead, pervasive groupthink calls for a doubling down on failed strategies, a sure sign that groupthink is not based on an objective, realist appraisal but instead is ideologically driven. This means groupthink is pre-rational and uses reason to support, validate, and enforce a prepersonal worldview in which right and wrong are more important than reason and pragmatism.


There are good reasons for groupthink. Imagined, feared, and real peer pressure generate conformity, which is reinforced by a desire to be accepted and liked and a fear of being disliked and rejected. Such desires and fears are often reality based. Acceptance can lead to job opportunities, promotions, and status, while rejection can lead to severe personal punishment. Groupthink capitalizes on this human need to be accepted by fellow ingroup members, whether that group is a family, schoolmates, peers at work, or the members of a club, religion, or political affiliation. Because it increases our acceptability within our ingroup, groupthink is adaptive. We are more comfortable with ourselves because we feel we are making a statement of our own individuality to fellow group members, even though in reality we are parroting the “party line.” We avoid criticism and ostracism, while perhaps irritating the right outgroups, which serves to justify our collective ingroup identity and our special role in validating that common identity.

It is probably delusional to imagine that we can ever escape groupthink. If we rebel against one variety we merely assimilate into a different one. It is probably a comfortable delusion to imagine that our particular group, say of 2nd tier integralists, is free of groupthink because we understand the concept and therefore can identify and avoid it. Ingroup members are confident that they are autonomous actors, making their own decisions freely, never viewing themselves as sheep in a flock. They can see how that description fits others, particularly others in outgroups, and they can also see how in the past they have been victims of groupthink. However, we reassure ourselves that this time it is different; this time we are thinking and acting for ourselves. We may even deny that we are members of any ingroup, while outgroup perspectives see very plainly that we are. In any case, the dire economic disaster currently befalling the West is a testament to how destructive groupthink can be.

It therefore appears wise to assume that right now we are subjected to groupthink but are so subjectively immersed in it that we don't recognize it. Only with time and distance may we gain the objectivity necessary to recognize the context that conditions and largely determines our choices today and the largely illusory autonomy and independence we experience.

Are we the most propagandized population in history?

It is difficult to tell if we are the most propagandized population in history, but it sure seems like it. Perhaps everyone in every age has been heavily propagandized. However, it was not until the twentieth century and the rise of mass media that propaganda began to be studied by governments as a way to produce what Chomsky and Hermann, following Walter Lippmann, called “the management of consent.” Perhaps the difference now is that the concept of propaganda is widespread and the public knows that it is being persuaded continuously to develop preferences that align with the interests of businesses and governments.

Paradoxically, hardly anyone believes that they have been propagandized, just as we resist accepting that our choices are the product of groupthink. We all consider ourselves free-thinking agents who spot propaganda and the persuasion of marketing, see through it, and make decisions based on our own independent judgment of value, ethics, and utility. However, this is almost certainly a fundamental and pervasive human delusion. We need only look back on earlier years of our lives at what we have done, where we have lived, what we have bought, who we have chosen as friends, and what fashions, styles, and habits we have adopted. If you are like me, that thought experiment produces cringeworthy results, with thoughts like, “Why did I waste my money on that?” “Why did I hang out with those people?” “Why did I wear my hair and dress like that?” The answer is pretty obvious: while I thought I was thinking for myself, I was echoing familial and socio-cultural scripting that I shared with other sheep in my particular flock. It therefore is predictable that in twenty years I will look back at my current preferences and be embarrassed at just how much what I assume today to be autonomous thought is, in fact, groupthink.

Similarly, we can look at Germans living in the 1930's and see how they were conned, gamed, and scammed into buying into a particularly pernicious form of groupthink. We say to ourselves, “How could good, ordinary people have done that? I wouldn't have fallen for that! How could they have been so naive and foolish?” The reason we don't understand how and why normal people could be so gullible, making decisions clearly against their own interest, is because we lack polycentrism. We don't understand what it was like to be a German in the 1930's because that zeitgeist is not our reality. We don't know what it is like to live into a country that lost a major war and many of its young people, to live through a massive depression, and to be humiliated by the terms of surrender. We don't know what it is like to be given hope in such circumstances by a strong leader that created jobs, resurrected the economy, and gave everyone pride in their nation. However, we do know, or at least should know, how easy it is to identify enemies without and within as a way of creating national unity and thereby marshaling support for the priorities of ruling elites. In this regard, we are no different in our groupthink than that of the Germans of the 1930's.

This is a very difficult conclusion for most people to accept. Defenses immediately come up. We think, “But I know more and understand more than pre-WWII Germans! I can't be so easily fooled!” History proves us wrong. We are consistently and repeatedly fooled into choosing between Pepsi and Coke, the lesser of two evils. We consistently and repeatedly choose moral self-righteousness over reason and pragmatism. We consistently and repeatedly have preferences based on emotion and “intuition” rather than functionality and utility.

The passage of time creates the objectivity that we lack in the here and now. We can laugh or be embarrassed at the mistakes of our youth; it is easy to look at Germans of the 1930's and be amazed at their collective, consensual blindness. It is considerably more difficult to gain such objectivity regarding our own groupthink. Our ingroups won't challenge our comfortable, mutually validating delusions. They will reinforce groupthink while challenging peripheral issues that validate their open-mindedness and objectivity while not threatening group cohesiveness or challenge the basic premises that hold the group together. We will argue about gender or abortion while our economic security is being stripped away by elites. This is why we need polycentrism. Unless we are willing and able to access both social and intrasocial outgroups that possess objectivity that we lack, in relationship to our groupthink, that groupthink will control us and shape our lives to its priorities while we are, all the while, certain that we are acting as autonomous, intelligent, compassionate individuals. We need polycentrism, and we need it badly.

Using polycentrism to wake up out of delusion and groupthink

If the sources of delusion and groupthink lie in a combination of biological cognitive programming and familial/socio-cultural scripting, then the sources of clarity lie in the infusion of perspectives that lie outside those formative and conditioning influences. The problem is that psychological geocentrism takes any and all perspectives and weaves them into narratives that validate our current identity and worldview. Therefore, clarity requires the cultivation of an integral life practice that disidentifies with our identity and worldview, identifies with outgroup perspectives, and tests the adequacy of those perspectives. This has to involve a repeatable methodology because our psychological geocentrism is constantly reasserting itself due to our immersion in experiences that reinforce our familial and socio-cultural scripting. Those include advertising, pervasive current political and ideological narratives, our self-talk, our nighttime dreams, and our addictions.

We might think, “I can do non-phenomenological multi-perspectivalism by identifying with outgroups, such as the global south and taking up the perspectives of the environment and its needs, as best as I can.” This is indeed an important step beyond cognitive multi-perspectivalism, the creation of heuristic maps like AQAL, to personally identifying with the needs of social and environmental outgroups. The reason this is not sufficient is because when we do so we are still prisoners of the current global zeitgeist and groupthink. This is true regardless of the age we live in and will continue to be true two thousand years from now. However, phenomenologically-based varieties of multi-perspectivalism are not prisoners of socio-cultural zeitgeist because the perspectives which are interviewed exist partially outside of time and space. They are partially not products of our personal and collective scripting, our relational exchanges, and our personal psychology. That percentage that lies outside, no matter how small it is, is not non-existent, and it evokes emerging potentials that are both authentic and much less products of groupthink than we are. While non-phenomenological forms of multi-perspectivalism generate polycentrism in the external collective quadrant of objective relationships, phenomenologically-based forms do so in both objective and interobjective, external collective and internal collective, social and intrasocial relationships. This is a huge and critical difference, and one that is required if humanity is to escape groupthink, scripting, and find and follow its life compass.

PEMs access “concrete objectivity,” meaning they access subjective sources of objectivity that reframe the life issues most central for us in ways that make them more understandable and solvable. For example, one man was experiencing insecurity, both in a new relationship and toward his finances. We can view that as fear that bridges the foundational relational exchange of economic security and the higher level relational exchange of security in relationships with others. This insecurity personified itself as an elephant that was standing behind and over him. The elephant had a great memory and said it thought too much, ways in which it was like Tom and generated insecurity. However, getting in touch with this elephant allowed Tom to access emerging potentials it represented that he tended to ignore, overlook, or discount, including confidence regarding his love relationship, the future, and toward solving the problems he sees. Tom would no longer would see problems and be scared of not seeing the solutions. Tom could test this outgroup, polycentric approach to dealing with his insecurity by practicing becoming and adopting the worldview of this elephant when he was feeling insecure in his love relationship, about the future, or about finances. When he did so, did he feel less or more insecure, or the same?

This is an example of how PEMs provide recommendations that can be operationalized and empirically tested. Are there other practices that provide this concrete objectivity? Meditation does indeed provide objectivity, but of a sort that is global and non-conditioned rather than anchored to specific daily life issues to which we seek solutions, like our financial and love relationship insecurities. Due to the global nature of disidentification with self that meditation cultivates, it is non-specific. Meditation intends to access reality and enlightenment, not outgroup perspectives. Can drug trips provide the varieties of objectivity accessible via PEMs? While drug trips do indeed access outgroup perspectives, they are unpredictable and difficult to assimilate into our ongoing identity. Consequently, they are not reliable vehicles for solving specific life problems. Shadow and parts work, as well as integral life practices, do provide concrete objectivity, but build psychological geocentrism or heliocentrism in the cause of self-development. The self sets the priorities and interprets the findings. [3]

Phenomenologically-based multi-perspectivalisms provide concrete objectivity in a number of ways. First, they access priorities and perspectives that are much less conditioned by the combination of biological cognitive programming and familial/socio-cultural scripting than are our identity and worldview. Second, disidentification and identification with outgroups is repeatable rather than unpredictable, differentiating PEMs from meditation, drug, and psychic experiences. Third, PEMs access an unlimited variety of outgroups. Fourth, these outgroups are concrete, anchored in a particular dream, life issue, or narrative, rather than diffuse and global. Fifth, PEMs constitute an empirical practice in that they are based on the three strands of empiricism (instruction/injunction, application, validation by those already competent in the methodology, including other interviewed emerging potentials). Sixth, the perspectives revealed by PEMs collaborate in the choosing and regulation of one's integral life practice. This is in contrast with the normal procedure, in which our psychologically geocentric self chooses our life and practice priorities. Seventh, PEMs generate increased clarity without claiming to produce absolute clarity or truth. In this regard, PEMs are not ideological or metaphysical. Eighth, because any perspective provides source material for practice, PEMs span the realm of sacred to secular, integrating the non-dual and the realms of duality. Ninth, because PEMs give priority to those perspectives that prove their credibility via the applicability of their recommendations to solving real-world problems, the practice provides a vector for development that is not outgrown. Tenth, this vector, comprised of the consensus recommendations of multiple interviewed perspectives, provides a stable and reliable source of direction, authenticity, and life meaning. This concrete objectivity is more stable than any currently fashionable zeitgeist, more authentic than any priority chosen by the self or Self, and more meaningful because it merges us with the priorities of holons that include yet transcend our own and those of our familial and socio-cultural conditioning.

While we can never escape groupthink entirely, we can become more aware of ways we are subjectively immersed in various varieties of it and take steps to minimize its negative effects on our lives. In this regard, polycentrism is invaluable, because we are accessing subjective sources of objectivity that are not enmeshed in our familial or socio-cultural groupthink to nearly the degree that we are. This is a powerful advantage of polycentrism. Trapped in psychological geocentrism, we lack the objectivity to see how we are prisoners of groupthink. By becoming, identifying with outgroup perspectives and taking on their worldviews, we recognize our submersion in groupthink in ways and to a degree that previously was invisible to us. This is because perspectives and worldviews that interviewed emerging potentials express and personify are typically indifferent to group norms. For example, if you interview Russia, “Putin,” or “Xi,” you will get perspectives that will include your own but add their own to yours. There is no assumption that these perspectives will echo those of the “real” Russia, Putin, or Xi. There is no assumption that these perspectives will be “real” or “true” in an objective sense. What is hypothesized is that they will reframe Russia, “Putin,” and “Xi” in ways that more accurately and completely reflect your emerging potentials and the priorities of your life compass. This includes the possibility that you will be forced to look at resistance and evil that you would prefer to ignore, as a first step to reintegrating such elements into a worldview that includes but transcends your own.

In another example, if you interview an object like a toothbrush or the sun, it is likely to score low on empathy, indicating that it cares little what others think about it and spends little time wondering what others think. This sort of response could easily be mistaken for indifference or amorality, but that is typically not the case. Such perspectives want to be heard and accepted for what they are and how they want to express themselves. They want to be respected by being listened to, and respect is a core ethical value all people, life forms, and interviewed perspectives appear to share. It is a radical hypothesis that reveals radical truth. By demonstrating respect toward imaginary elements and giving them a fair opportunity to speak, provide their perspective and recommendations, we are creating conditions by which we can test their trustworthiness and determine whether they warrant our continued respect or not. In the process, we internalize a deep and global respect that is not normally accessed in social, exterior collective relationships. Because respect is a fundamental ethical value, the result of affirming it is enhanced credibility and authenticity. In terms of relationships, such authenticity and credibility are more valuable than all the mystical experiences, university degrees, status, power, and wealth in the world.

The role of life compass

There are few things in life more important than finding and following our own, unique life compass. It not only generates inner peace, but confidence, empathy, wisdom, acceptance, and objectivity.Our life compass is not our conscience or inner knowing. It is certainly not the same as the goals we set for ourselves, for our lives, or for our integral life practice. Our life compass is not a “thing” or noun, but a process, more like a verb, and also a connector and integrator, like a preposition.[4] It is a moving target, changing and growing as we change and grow, consistently providing priorities that transcend not only our inherited, familial, and socio-cultural scripting, but our priorities, that is, the priorities of self and Self.

In order to access the priorities of our life compass we need a methodology that allows us to access on a regular basis phenomenologically-based polycentrism, via the priorities of our emerging potentials. As stated previously, “emerging potentials” are defined not only as interviewed waking, objective others, but interviewed imaginary others, including dream characters and objects, the personifications of our life issues, characters from fiction, history, or current personal or geopolitical events, mystical, “psychic,” and near-death experiences, and synchronicities. Access to our life compass via interviewing and thereby accessing the perspectives and recommendations of our emerging potentials is what PEMs provide. Those methodologies also need to be able to test the method via triangulation, against real world conditions and feedback, as well as against our own experience and common sense. Without these things we are unlikely to grow beyond cognitive multi-perspectivalism and identification with our own priorities. For example, within the AQAL model elucidated in Integral Life Practice, it is assumed that we set the goals of our ILP, in conjunction with the guidance of the text and authoritative resources we know. PEMs take a different approach, based on the recognition that our own priorities are likely to reflect those of psychological geocentrism or heliocentrism, not polycentrism. PEMs attempt to set ILP priorities based on those of our life compass, as implied by a broad consensus of multiple interviewed emerging potentials. For the most part, PEMs reveal polycentric perspectives that are not socialized or scripted, or are socialized much less than we are. The experience of such perspectives provides permission to explore who we might be apart from groupthink or, to put it another way, to become a member of the intrasocial collective in the interior collective quadrant of holonic identity and to participate in its groupthink.

Transforming society, culture, and scripting, a child at a time

PEMs are best learned and practiced both alone and with others. Doing dream character and life issue interviews ourselves, both on individual elements and on various perspectives in a dream or life drama via Dream Sociometry, generates both autonomy and confidence in the methodology. Doing the same processes with others integrates interior quadrant healing, balancing, and transformation with relational, social, and cultural healing, balancing, and transformation. We get the validation that comes from watching others get unstuck, wake up, and come alive. We get support in waking up, growing up, cleaning up, and showing up from helping others to do the same. Interviewing others is to access emerging potentials that they and their interviewed perspectives represent for us, thereby hastening our own growth beyond psychological geocentrism and heliocentrism.

To this end, interviewing children and teaching them to interview us in turn breaks down parent/child, teacher/student, wise/ignorant, strong/weak dualities that children are normally hostage to and then duplicate and perpetuate for the rest of their lives, passing on the reality of those dualities to their children. There is no greater gift one can give a young person than to teach them how to access their emerging potentials and life compass and to help others to do the same. This not only provides them with a way to triangulate among their own desires and the demands and expectations of parents, teachers, bosses, and peers, but reframe their life issues in ways that move them out of scripting, drama, cognitive distortions, and cognitive bias.

When children learn dream character and life issue interviewing in a family setting, say over breakfast or in ongoing family meetings, polycentrism becomes their default life perspective. It becomes a natural extension of prepersonal multi-perspectivalism, which, as children, they do all the time. As they grow, both are supplemented by the higher order psychological geocentrism that cognitive multi-perspectivalism provides by generating maps and worldviews that integrate the sensory, emotional, cognitive, and intentional realms. Psychological heliocentrism then serves a healthy purpose by expanding the variety of state openings to interview.

As this child, participating on an ongoing basis in polycentrism with your family, you would then experience PEM polycentrism as natural. It's not unusual. It's the way you grow up. You assume it's something that families do. What sort of family culture do you suppose is being created? Put yourself in the perspective of yourself as a child in your family, but one that exchanges such interviews and supports the application of selected recommendations derived from them. What values do you imagine yourself learning as you grow up? Here are some possibilities.

  • You learn that listening to yourself is important. Most people are eagles that grow up in chicken yards; they spend their lives scratching and pecking without knowing that they were born to soar. They have never learned how to access their own innate life compass. By deeply listening to other innate perspectives that arise from your dreams and life issues, you shift your life priorities into closer alignment with those that are innate and that reflect authentic emerging potentials.
  • You learn that it's important to ask a lot of questions. That way you not only have better information on which to base decisions but you are less likely to jump to impulsive, reactive, or mistaken conclusions.
  • You have learned that many of your most certain assumptions and expectations can be mistaken, and that there is no such thing as a solid, determinant set of likes and dislikes. This is because there have been many times when you or your sister or brother have told dreams or shared life issues and you were sure you knew what they were about and what your brother or sister should do. But every time you found out that you were like a blind man grasping only one part of an elephant, that the information that came out of the interview was very different from what you had supposed to be true, but which made sense to your mother or brother, even if it didn't to you. It was practical, and everybody could put the recommendations to work and report back to each other on how it was working. When recommendations didn't work, you and your family had fun confronting the rabbit or icicle or whatever, demanding to know why it gave “bad” advice.
  • You learn that you can't trust your assumption that a dream is meaningless or that there is no easy or good solution to a life issue you can't solve.
  • You learn that parents are people before they are parents. As a child you know you need to respect and obey your parents, and as people your parents and you can show that you respect each other by really listening to what the other is saying, and show you are hearing, even if you do not agree. You know that the people in your family are more than just the roles of parent, child, worker, carpooler, student, sibling, and dog poop scooper.
  • You learn that there are more important things for a parent to do than to be a good parent, and that includes being a whole person. You learn that there are more important things for a child to do than to be a good son or daughter, and that includes being a whole person.
  • You learn that marriage is not only about love and caring. It is also about partners helping each other to be true to themselves.
  • You learn that maintaining and building your inner peace is more important than any relationship, even marriage. This is because without your inner peace you will not make good decisions or act in authentically loving ways toward yourself and others.
  • You learn that when you listen to a bunch of these dream characters, or personifications of life issues that are important to you, like Tom's elephant, that patterns of agreement, of common recommendations emerge, that point toward what is real and authentic for you and which reflect the priorities of your life compass.
  • You learn that you lack objectivity, and that you gain it by accessing, becoming, listening to, and applying the recommendations of interviewed dream characters and the personifications of your life issues.
  • You learn that interviewed perspectives often have better solutions to your life problems than you do.
  • You learn that families are about doing a lot more than just obeying parents; they are about sacred beings learning to support each other in listening to their own emerging potentials and supporting each other in their expression every day.
  • You learn that there is more to you than your waking personality. You discover that you can access perspectives that include but transcend you that are very wise.
  • You come to understand that your waking self is often too limited to be depended on to always make good decisions. It needs the opinions of wise people and it needs the opinions of wise emerging potentials that know you better than anyone ever could, in addition to your own common sense.
  • You learn that it is natural to use in your daily life what your dream characters recommend that you do to improve your life. When people tease you because you listen to what an iguana tells you, you wonder how they can be so foolish or afraid of becoming and listening to different perspectives, regardless of their source, when it is not only easy and fun, but makes life so much easier.
  • You learn that your family and real friends can and will support you in finding and following your own path in life.
  • You learn that when you ask personifications of your life issues and dream characters for their advice you make better decisions than when you insist on doing things your own way.

Likely Consequences

As this young child, what might be the consequences for you of holding these values as you grow up and live your life?

These principles could be expected to generalize into who you are at school, how you treat your friends, how you react to cruelty, impatience, or anger in others, how you go about solving problems that arise, and how you think about yourself. As your family members interview each other over weeks and months, you watch your parents and your siblings honestly share their issues and take responsibility for them. This encourages you to do the same. Because no one in your family is blaming anyone else for their problems, you do not either. Instead of worrying, you grow up experiencing your parents and family members focusing on solutions. Instead of feeling like you have to pretend that you are more confident than you are, you see your parents giving themselves permission to admit their limitations and fears and ask for help, even from you. Instead of wasting your time comparing yourself to others you build your confidence and self-esteem around your relationship with your interviewed emerging potentials. Because they do not compete with you, you do not grow up seeing life as a win/lose competition but as a cooperative exchange based on suspending assumptions, asking respectful questions, and verifying advice in your own life. Because your parents are honest and open, you are too. Relationships that are both intimate and honest are natural and easy for you.

Deep Listening to your inner support community shows you how to wear your roles of child, gender, race, nationality, and group as if they are clothes that you take on and off. They aren't really who you are, so you aren't afraid of losing them. If people do not like one of your roles, you do not take it personally, because it's not who you really are. For example, you ask tons of questions at school. You know it annoys some of the other students and even some of your teachers. However, you know you're at school to learn, and if something isn't clear to you and you do not ask, whose problem is that? If you ask and other people are annoyed, whose problem is that? If someone makes fun of your father, you do not take it personally, because you know that most of what people say is about them; it's not about you. Besides, you are not protective of your ingroups, be they family, religion, or nationality. Instead, you see yourself and others as members of both intrasocial and external social and natural collectives. If someone makes fun of you because you tell them you and your family talk to ostriches, clouds, and bricks, you will understand that they just do not play the same healthy games that your family does, and if they did they would probably like it. They just do not understand! When you flunk a math test, instead of thinking that you are a failure you talk to the different friends you have made of feathers, trees, and toilet brushes. You ask their help in problem solving what you need to do differently. Maybe they help you find one that likes math and can do it well. You make friends with those emerging potentials with helpful aptitudes and attitudes and ask them for their assistance as you work on learning math. They may direct you to a tutor or on line site that provides the support you need. If there is a death in your family, you are very sad. You also know, from past experience with your family life issue and dream interviewing group, that dead people can show up in dreams. You also know that emerging potentials cannot die because they are never born. As a result, you can miss those who die but still feel connected to them, deep down inside.


In this series of essays we have looked at how we establish our sense of self out of early childhood immersion experiential multi-perspectivalism, that is, out of those experiences, people, thoughts, and feelings with which we identify. We humans then embark on a self-reflective project of self-development, in which we project our identity and worldview onto our experience and find ourselves in conflict with those projections that threaten our constructed identity. We see this process perhaps most clearly in our nightmares. Those which we do not integrate into our identity are “not-self,” or outgroups. At some point, self-development becomes a cul-de-sac because it confirms the reality of our worldview, self, and Self. We cocoon ourselves in a mentally constructed iron maiden that slowly suffocates us. Our sense of who we are polarizes, identified with ingroups while opposed to or discounting outgroups. Instead of learning that we are a figment of our imagination, yet a figment that has real consequences for others and the planet, we instead spend our lives rationalizing our identity and actions, regardless of how exploitative and depraved they may actually be

Self-development, intelligence, meritocracy, and even enlightenment do not prevent our personal surrender to either addictions, the blindness of ideology, or groupthink, on the one hand, or the collapse of entire civilizations, on the other. Five hundred years of Western civilization, promoted and maintained by the best and the brightest, is crumbling before our eyes, in spectacular fashion. As of this date, in the fall of 2022, there exists very little self-awareness in the West that extends beyond groupthink. Most people remain on board with backfiring sanctions on Russia, choosing to cut entire nations off from foundational relational exchanges necessary for individual and collective survival, indicating a broad-based absence of polycentrism in an area that is life or death for Western societies and culture. How are we to explain the widespread and common ignoring of the massive evidence that Ukraine is a Banderite regime that uses its citizens as human shields and continues to bomb the largest nuclear power plant in Europe? The inability, unwillingness, or both, to identify with the perspective of Russia, but instead double down in Western socio-cultural groupthink is currently unfolding with catastrophic consequences. Again, to identify with a perspective is not to adopt it. One can try on different clothes, hang out with different people, investigate different philosophies and ideologies without thereby endorsing them. So why should anyone have a problem with identifying with an outgroup perspective, like that of Russia?

The result of identifying only with ingroups constitutes a hardening of psychological geocentrism/heliocentrism and the rejection of outgroups and polycentrism. The West is not making a priority of ensuring access to fundamental relational exchanges, like food, shelter, safety, and health for outgroups, in this case, Russians. As a general principle, at some point those outgroups, whether objective and external (tribal, national, or ideological) or interobjective and interior (conflictual, addictions, groupthink), rise up and overthrow us. Our current drama with Ukraine and Russia is simply the most concrete and explicit example of how this is a universal principle that exists for all humans in all ages.

We have seen how another result of our failure to embrace polycentrism is that our decision-making is hobbled by a lack of consultation of intrasocial outgroups. Because they are partially self-aspects, they know ourselves and often recognize our blind spots better than we do, providing forms of objectivity exterior others cannot access. A third consequence of our failure to embrace polycentrism is that we imagine our self-righteous intentions justify whatever we do, regardless of how exploitative or self-destructive they might be.

The development of polycentrism comprises one piece of a solution to intrinsic, deep-seated human delusions. The supplementation of psychological geocentrism and heliocentrism with both non-phenomenological and phenomenologically-based polycentrism is important, necessary, and effective. It is not a utopian pie-in-the-sky, impractical solution, despite the fact it is strange, even bizarre, for many people and is neither understood nor appreciated as a practical methodology by almost everyone. When we access emerging potentials that point toward the priorities of our life compass we outgrow our grandiose infatuation with ourselves. Our identity fundamentally becomes collective and interdependent rather than personal or even transpersonal. Who we are and what we do still matters, but only so far as we contribute to the healing, balancing, and transformation of the whole, particularly to outgroups - those individuals, groups, dream characters, and personifications of life issues that we are blind to, ignore, exploit, or denounce. Because polycentrism presents an approach that is precisely the opposite of solidarity, resistance is to be expected. PEMs teach us to personify and interview that resistance, as one more core and key outgroup to respect and listen to in a deep and integral way.

While the presentation in these essays has been intellectual, polycentrism is throughly experiential. I didn't develop these understandings as a result of philosophical conjecture, but rather as a result of interviewing hundreds of dream characters and personifications of life issues of my own and countless others, over more than forty years. You can experience and learn one variety of PEM polycentrism by going to IntegralDeepListening.Com and exploring both the video curricula and the various interviewing protocols. It is such personal immersion in the methodology, with its emphasis on becoming, listening to outgroup perspectives in a deep, integral, and respectful way, and then testing their recommendations in your life that one develops both an understanding and confidence in the methodology and in polycentrism itself. If you do so, by all means share interviewing with others, particularly children. There is no greater gift that I know of than to teach others to access their own emerging potentials that point them toward the priorities of their own unique life compass, which in turn helps them to heal, balance, and transform both relational exchanges and generate congruence between professed intent and our behavior toward each other, the planet as a whole, and our own intrasocial communities.


  1. “Even if Germans take to the streets over energy prices, Berlin must support Ukraine by maintaining sanctions on Russia, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told a conference in Prague on Wednesday.
    While much of the German cabinet was at a working retreat in Castle Meseberg outside Berlin, Baerbock was in Prague for a conference dubbed 'Democracy's Clear and Present Danger: How Do We Respond?' organized by the NGO Forum 2000.
    “f I give the promise to people in Ukraine — 'We stand with you, as long as you need us' — then I want to deliver. No matter what my German voters think, but I want to deliver to the people of Ukraine,” Baerbock said at one point.
    “ have to be clear that this holds on as long as Ukraine needs me,” she said, referring to the EU embargo against Russia.
    “We are facing now wintertime, when we will be challenged as democratic politicians. People will go in the street and say 'We cannot pay our energy prices'. And I will say 'Yes I know, so we help you with social measures.' But I do not want to say 'Ok then we stop the sanctions against Russia.' We will stand with Ukraine, and this means the sanctions will stay also in wintertime, even if it gets really tough for politicians.”
  2. Janis, Irving L. (1972). Victims of groupthink; a psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin.
  3. While we, our waking identity or self, which is largely psychologically geocentric, interprets the findings from PEM interviews and the application of interviewed character recommendations, phenomenologically-based interviewing suspends assumptions and interpretations until information is gathered. This is a major reason why Integral Deep Listening is “deep,” implying the phenomenologically-based suspension of waking interpretation, based on respect, in order to access, identify, and integrate the perspectives of interviewed emerging potentials.
  4. These associations initially spring from Wilber's pronounal understanding of the four quadrants as “I,” “We,” “It,” and Its.” It is elaborated by Bruce Alderman's concept of philosophemes, explained in his outstanding essay, “Sophia Speaks,” and which I adapt to non-phenomenological multi-perspectivalisms in the introduction to Dream Sociometry.

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