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.


Where Does the Integral Worldview Most Require Rebalancing?

Joseph Dillard

Integral Global is the Facebook presence of Ken Wilber, a site overseen by Corey DeVos with comment moderating support by Robb Smith and Bruce Alderman. I thought Integral Global would be a good place to ask the following two questions:

  1. We are all aware of the multiple strengths of the integral worldview or we wouldn't be here. What, in your estimation, are the weaknesses or limitations of the integral worldview?
  2. What do you see as the necessary correctives for Integral 1) theoretically, 2) behaviorally? What does an embodied Integral feel like to you?

Integral Global

I posed the title as a question because the Integral worldview may not require rebalancing. I certainly did not think it did for many years. Ken Wilber has clearly worked very hard at creating a map that is inclusive and balanced. His position is that most of the complaints regarding Integral AQAL come from a lack of understanding, creating straw man arguments. To a large extent, I agree. Before I get to the answers various integralists gave to these two questions I want to list some of the many strengths of the integral (AQAL) worldview. Integral AQAL is:

  • Inspirational;
  • Includes and transcends;
  • Provides a road map for self-development, and
  • Provides a model for integrating macrocosm and microcosm (holons and the four quadrants);
  • Emphasizes empiricism;
  • Emphasizes application via its Integral Life Practice (ILP);
  • Recognizes enlightenment as an unfolding rather than a static phenomenon;
  • Pre/Trans Fallacy; AQAL
  • Prioritizes rationality as a pre-requisite for the transpersonal;
  • Identifies core lines;
  • Identifies tetra-mesh;
  • Attempts to balance agency and communion and integrate them via higher order (didactic) synthesis;
  • Creates a highly effective map of dysfunction at different levels of development and proposes correlated “treatments” for them;
  • Successfully generates maps and practices that both expand on and broaden application of Integral AQAL.

This is by no means a complete list, but it does serve the purpose of illustrating the broad and significant value and benefit of integral AQAL as a form of cognitive multi-perspectivalism, map, and worldview.

Now let's turn to various Integralist responses to my first question,

1. “We are all aware of the multiple strengths of the integral worldview or we wouldn't be here. What, in your estimation, are the weaknesses or limitations of the integral worldview?”

“It doesn't have the ability to actually lift people to higher developmental levels. it can only show them what those levels are, and the danger in that is that people will think they are at a higher developmental level just because they can understand the description of it, kinda like when scientists think they can understand the operations of a cell simply by a description of what is happening, which doesn't get at the underlying depth and complex structure of what is actually involved.”
“Ivory tower thinking. Getting lost in books, models and systems (along with over-intellectual vocabulary). A false sense of superiority. Too much focus on self-development and not enough on the world. Retreat into the UL quadrant when the world becomes too ugly. I know I'm guilty of many of those.”
“The Wilber combs matrix is the proof of the deficit. It is a law of nature that the differentiation of one force into two must be witnessed by another. Consciousness separates from thinking. The soul combines intelligence and will with love for wholeness. Otherwise they are just ivory towers and not the realization of the divine.”
“Models about consciousness development do not integrate that souls live many incarnations. The state of knowledge of the previous life is transferred to the new incarnation in a certain way, as well as the learning tasks that could not be solved. For many subjects, three or more lives are needed. These challenges have greater significance than stages and stages.”
“Overemphasis on cognitive line (in theory and practice)
  • Too much ascender orientation (in theory and practice)
  • Being totally out of touch with reality (in practice)
  • Feeding/attracting narcissism (in practice)
  • The map itself is Orange (theory)
  • MGM is a bullshit construct. What Ken refers to as MGM has nothing to do with Green. (in theory and practice)
  • Trying to make the territory fit the map (in practice)
  • Lack of representation for relationality and dynamism (theory)”
“The "tier" thing.”
“Labeling others, confusing the map with the terrain, assuming one is more developed than others, or placing oneself in a higher stage. Which is more integrated...the ability to understand the concepts of the matrix intellectually...or the ability to be One with all that is?…”
“IQ (needed for most to understand the complexities of integral) does not create EQ (embodied intra and interpersonal intelligence ) or SQ - social and community intelligence.”
“Folks who think they are integral. . .and with every fiber of their being attempt to smote out of existence the Integral Vision = those who proudly ride the 'Epistemic Injustice', lane. WHY? In Ken Wilber's words from The Eye of Spirit p.349
"....the embedded-unconscious is the home of the self's defenses at any given level. Precisely because the self is identified with a level, it must defend that level against threats--and ultimately, defend it against death (until the self "dies" to that level, differentiates from it, disembeds from it, turns it from proximate to distal, from attachment to detachment). Prior to that point, the self-system will dissociate, repress, displace, project, distort, or otherwise alienate any aspects of self or other that threaten this identity, that threaten its life, that threaten its present level of development and adaptation. This is the "horizontal" battle of life and death that occurs on every level of development, until all deaths have been died, all subjects have been transcended, all selves diembedded, and there stands instead the radiant Self that is the Kosmos at large."
* Epistemic injustice is injustice related to knowledge. It includes exclusion and silencing; systemic distortion or misrepresentation of one's meaning or contributions; undervaluing of one's status. . . - wikipedia * (All) first tier folk think their worldview is the only one worth having. . .
"No matter how much yellow or second-tier facts and evidence we present to green, green cannot agree with us. Having a 'dialogue' on the issues is close to worthless."
"If we present second-tier ideas to orange or green, they look at us like we're nuts. But when we present third-tier ideas to second tier, they often look at us like we've lost our minds."
- Ken Wilber's quotes from, Boomeritis - A Novel That Will Set You Free.”
“It is hyperanalytical and only synthetic in (that) way, which ultimately cannot be organically synthetic.”
“One weakness is that many haven't embodied it. Integral can really feed the intellect. Hence we see so many on this site speaking abstractly about integral, or taking the Pomo notion that any perspective is integral ....while falling very far short of imparting a sense of an integral value system or worldview. This can be true in each stage..... but I find integrals cognitive complexity can attract those at lower stages and just inflate separation.....”
“Runs the risk of turning people into karma chameleons or people pleasers because they try to understand and incorporate all perspectives. This tendency is doubly toxic when coupled with a Green ambition to widely market "spiritual" commodities and services.”
“Definitely a strong bias in regards to post modern stage; much criticism of this stage I find it about the down sides of modern stage!”
“As aurobindo put it, if the mind transcends but the soul (ego) does not, nothing is gained.“
“The community, for all the reasons so well put by others above. Most specifically: (ironically) lack of self awareness, performative self contradictions, confirmation bias, raging egos, self aggrandisement and the burning need to label anyone that disagrees with them as 'mean green'. (Usually those last ones are punching up, based upon their behaviour.)
Me, I love the books and the work. It helps me a lot in life. I love the words of a number of individuals within the community and I'm sure I would like those folk in person. As a whole, though, I find 'the community' way too political and polemic.
I think the main thing that bothers me is the extremes of disagreement and all the very childish behaviour around those disagreements, usually by (presumably) grown men.
One of the key things Ken's work brought home to me was right at the beginning when he was working it all out. No one is wrong all the time. Everyone that is doing ok by their own standard has at least a little bit of the truth, even if only by accident. Looking for what we have in common instead of acting like British parliament (kinda on a really really bad day, in other words) is kind of futile.“

Here is my own list of some of the limitations that integral is struggling to integrate, to include and transcend:

  • Lack of emphasis on social justice.
  • Over-emphasis on self-development. (Under-emphasis on collective development.)
  • Lack of emphasis on the moral line in general
  • Assumes the cognitive line leads when in fact, the moral line leads
  • Lack of emphasis on ethical behavior in the LR
  • Relegation of human relationships to the LL
  • Absolute Truth as an intellectual and moral dodge
  • Over-reliance on intuition and mystical authority
  • Discounts science where it challenges teleology
  • Problematic uses of “spirituality”
  • Confuses states and stages by assuming (following Vedanta) that states imply stages
  • Tends to ignore/repress criticism via discounting (lower tier thinking)
  • Elitism/exceptionalism
  • The map is not the territory. (Cognitive multi-perspectivalism is not polycentrism)
  • Conflates prepersonal with transpersonal (violates its own Pre/Trans Fallacy)
  • Discriminates against those who do not prioritize the cognitive line.

Here are the answers I received to the second question:

2. What do you see as the necessary correctives for Integral 1) theoretically, 2) behaviorally? What does an embodied Integral feel like to you?

“1. Awakened to the inner collective, all the significant dimensions of the self, in a hierarchical proportionate context.
2. Stabilized access to the views of soul and witness.
3. Culmination of self authorship stepping over into the transpersonal. The self we are authoring is no longer purely personal evidenced in a palpable care for an increasingly larger whole...”
“I think a big limitation is that not many people actually have a world view! For example (how) much do you post about Israel and Palestine vs Indonesia and West Papua or Ethiopia and Tigray etc. etc. etc. I think it is really hard to actually have a world view. Maybe we are many generations away from achieving it?”
“Leaning too heavily on a frisky grid as a model of reality.” (Wilber once referred to the scientific explanation of evolution as “frisky dirt.”)
“The core is ethics/morality embodied in wisdom. Part of that embodiment can be in the form of commodities, but at it's heart it requires a commitment that cannot come from merely strategic or transactional relationships. I think John Vervaeke, for example, has a general sense of this kind of wisdom. I want to learn more about their approach. I've outlined an ethical theory in Self, Society, and Spontaneity (pointedly available for free) focusing on a social or collective sense of wisdom, but it only frames understanding. These kinds of wisdom emerge out of specifics of time and place across all dimensions of collective well-being, such as lines and stages. In that respect, the goods and services aspect of a spiritual endeavor can help, but only if they are motivated by a commitment to that wisdom. It's not easy to navigate the difference.”
“Shadow work, shadow work and more shadow work.”

I didn't receive as many answers to this second question as I did to the first. Clearly, it is easier to complain and focus on problems than it is to maintain a solution focus. Here is my list. Integral would benefit by placing a:

  • Greater emphasis on behavior, (Because naming what is integral is a LL theoretical and a UL intentional activity while what IS is a state of beingness, which includes behavior.)
  • Greater emphasis on collective, less on self/individual development.
  • Greater emphasis on accountability, ie. Calling out hypocrisy and censorship as non-integral behaviors.
  • Defining and requiring moral behavior - but only when it limits the rights/freedoms of others, by asking, “Am I (or they/it)
    • respectful?
    • reciprocating?
    • trustworthy?
    • empathetic?
  • Greater emphasis on worldviews that are not simply cognitively but experientially multi-perspectival.
  • An awareness of and appreciation for transpersonal varieties of multi-perspectivalism.

The priorities and blind spots of integralists vary, but on the whole they create a profile. It includes such elements as:

  • An emphasis on self-development over the well-being of collectives, particularly out-groups.
  • Interest in and in pursuing mystical experiences.
  • Emphasis on a “spiritual” or “transpersonal” dimension of life.
  • A tendency toward idealism and elevationism.
  • An emphasis on hierarchy, structure, and agency over heterarchy, process, and communion.
  • A tendency toward teleological, metaphysical, religious, and “spiritual” explanations for life.
  • A tendency to de-emphasize secular explanations and to frame them as “materialistic.”
  • Identification with a certainty of the righteousness of personal intent.
  • A general lack of interest or focus on how they are viewed by out-groups.
  • Elitism and exceptionalism, justified as earned meritocracy.
  • Psychological geocentrism and heliocentrism.
  • Cognitive multi-perspectivalism.
  • Lack of awareness of their own prepersonal ideological biases, prejudices, preferences in their worldview.
  • Avoidance of thorny/prickly issues of social justice.
  • A general tendency to avoid conflict and, if in conflict, to not do it well, instead resorting to primitive defenses such as changing the subject, ad hominem attacks, and simple ignoring.
  • A lack of recognition of the importance - or even the existence- of collective, subjective sources of objectivity in the LL.


We all have a natural tendency to prefer our own worldview or we wouldn't have it, and therefore to advance and defend it over other worldviews. The result is an inherent and inevitable tendency toward elitism and exceptionalism that is always present and needs to be identified and objectified if we are not to simply spend time in self-justification rather than in dismantling our addiction to our sense of self. How important is it to point out the elitism and exceptionalism that is baked into Integral AQAL in particular and idealisms/ideologies in general? The challenge is that calling out elitism, exceptionalism, and hypocrisy is easy to do; it is low-hanging fruit, while at the same time it opens us to the charge of sanctimonious self-righteousness and virtue signaling. It is a difficult charge to defend against, because to do so can always be seen as simple psychological denial.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon integralists, including myself, to accompany criticisms with possible solutions, and to put the majority of time and energy into producing realistic alternatives. However, if we do not first recognize how, when, and where we are stuck we can easily find no reason or use for the solutions proposed. Therefore, calling out the limitations of Integral AQAL has its place, and it is incumbent upon Integral, beginning with its leadership, to take those limitations seriously and attempt to provide realistic reframings and behaviors. Much to its credit, Integral Life Practices do a very good job of this.

What are your thoughts on these two questions? What, in your estimation, are the weaknesses or limitations of the integral worldview? What do you see as the necessary correctives for Integral?

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