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

Mark EdwardsMark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory (Routledge, 2009) .

Part I: Wilber's Flatland | Part II: Piaget, Vygotsky, Harre | Part III: Cooley, Mead

The Depth of the Exteriors

Part 3: Cooley and Mead
and the Social Behaviourist
View of Development in the Exterior Quadrants

Mark Edwards

For Mead the self emerges out of "a special set of social relations with all the other individuals" involved in a given set of social projects (Mind, Self and Society 156-157). The self is always a reflection of specific social relations that are themselves founded on the specific mode of activity of the group in question.

Clarifying Confusions

In any detailed discussion of Integral Theory principles relating to the AQAL framework, it becomes quickly apparent just how vague are the definition of many of its fundamental concepts. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of "The Exteriors". Ken says that

Exterior, on the other hand, means any phenomena apprehended in a third-person perspective (i.e., any phenomena or holon in the Right-Hand quadrants (Excerpt C, ¶ 64)

But does this mean that when a mystical experience is described (or even remembered) in third-person terms that it becomes an exterior phenomenon. Does it mean that my behaviour should be regarded by me as a third-person "it"? Does it mean that the interiors and exteriors refer to the same holon or do they refer to different holons or does the context continually alter depending on one's perspective? Does ken's definition of the "exterior" mean that the Left Hand paths refer to first-person holons and the Right Hand paths refer to third-person holons or do they both refer to third-person maps or knowledge quests? Does it mean that these exteriors are flat material objects or do they have some type of exterior developmental depth. Do the basic holonic tenets and structures that Integral Theory applies to the interiors have exactly the same application to the exteriors? Are we to think that the term exterior refers to the objective world of scientific research and abstract knowledge or to the real world of eating, meeting friends, watching TV and going to school? I could go on, but I am sure that you get my message.

The answers to such questions might, in part, be buried within Ken's existing writings but even if they are they are not immediately accessible. The clarification of these issues is absolutely essential for the clear definition of many Integral theory concepts. In any event, these very basic issues have still not been widely debated within Integral theory or an integrally informed community of thinkers and consequently, in my opinion, some of the current ways of presenting and applying the AQAL model are highly debateable.

In writing this series on exteriors I hope to expose some of these shortcomings and confusions problems and to bring to light other models of the exteriors that also pose interesting problems for the way Integral Theory currently divides reality. In this last essay on exteriors I will have a brief look at the American behavioural sociologists – Cooley, Mead and Blumer. These theorists present a strong challenge to Ken's current way of defining the exteriors. These American sociologists were some of the greatest pioneers of the behavioural and social worlds and, interestingly, they each propose developmental models that explain the worlds of consciousness and interiority in terms of exterior developmental dynamics. They were "flatlanders" who acknowledged the existence of interior consciousness and proposed models that saw interiors as the result of exterior depth! Now there's a challenge to test the non-exclusionary capacity of Integral theory IMP.

Theme Restatement

Before moving onto the American social theorists of development and, at the risk of repeating myself, I'll just restate my purpose in presenting the following material. I propose that:

  1. Contrary to the notion that Right Hand theorists are Flatlanders, there are several important schools of the exterior, socio-behavioural quadrants which hold a developmental view of society that values qualitative growth and transformative depth. These schools have much to offer Integral Theory given its current underestimation of the developmental importance of the Right Hand quadrants.
  2. These important developmental schools, while recognising the importance of personal and collective consciousness, see the primary source of transformative development in the exterior, socio-behavioural quadrants.
  3. Given i) and ii), these social models commit neither weak (quadrant) reductionism nor strong (level) reductionism and cannot be seen as Flatland theories that Wilber regards all theorists of the Right Hand exterior quadrants to be.
  4. There is a general lack of treatment and inclusion of social models of development within Integral Theory. For example, there is no reference to Vygotsky, Luria, Leontiev, Wertsch, and the CHAT (Cultural-Historical, Activity Theory) theorists in any of Wilber's works and very little reference to, or discussion of, many of the American social theorists of development. Wilber's view that the exteriors have no developmental depth (other than that of material complexity) and that they are "all material" does not take account of the findings of the social developmental theorists that the exteriors are just as developmentally rich, creative and complex as the interiors.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the preceding essays to this series on the Exterior quadrants I have offered a critique of Wilber's definition and characterisation of them and provided some evidence from Russian and Northern European developmental schools for a more sophisticated understanding of their developmental diversity and creativity. In the following I want to look at the views of the social theorists from the American tradition of sociology. The American sociologists and pragmatists have some very strong parallels with the developmental insights of the Russian cultural-historical schools. That we have two congruent explanatory frameworks for human development coming from such different social and intellectual backgrounds is indicative of the cross-cultural validity of these "Right Hand" approaches to social transformation. It also highlights the mysterious absence or severe under-representation of these models in Wilber's writings given that they were so heavily developmental in focus. My purpose in presenting summaries of these ideas is to show that the exteriors can be seen as domains of diverse qualitative development. Ones that are as rich in developmental levels and waves and as significant for the initiation of growth as those of the interior.

Charles Horton Cooley

Every student doing a first year undergraduate course in sociology hears about Charles Cooley. Cooley lived from 1864 to 1929. Even though he thought of himself as such, Cooley was an important figure in the development of American sociology. He is most famous for his analogy of the "Looking Glass Self" as a model for the self-reflexive nature of human development. The "Looking Glass Self" was a way of thinking about the co-creation of self and society via the social mediation of communication (the reflecting or mediating process).

Each to each a looking-glass
Reflects the other that doth pass.

It's an interesting little image, this picture of the Self that can only know itself through the reflexive capacity of others. Often very little more than this concept is mentioned about Cooley and his social model in sociology courses. In fact, Cooley developed an extensive developmental model of personal and social consciousness that had tremendous impact of all later generations of American sociologists.

Cooley wrote that, "Self and society are twin-born." They co-create each other. They both come into being at the same time. It is not a question of individuals developing and then coming together to form a society. Neither is it that societies create persons. Cooley's emphasis is on the organic link and the indissoluble connection between self and society. This is the major theme of most of Cooley's writings and remains the crucial contribution he made to modern social psychology and sociology. Cooley sees in the exterior quadrants the communicative environment that creates consciousness at the subjective personal and collective levels.

For Cooley, the objects of the social world were constitutive parts of a person's own mind and sense of self. Cooley wanted to resolve the conceptual barrier that Cartesian philosophy and scientific empiricism had erected between the individual and society. He wanted instead to focus on their interpenetration and mutual generation.

As with the Russian cultural-historical school, Cooley thought of the self not as first individual and then as social. He saw it as developing dialectically through communication. One's self-consciousness is a composite of ideas that we attribute to ourselves via the social external world of interpersonal relations. For Cooley there are no isolated selves. He said that, "There is no sense of 'I' without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they." Compare this view with Wilber's approach.

The transcendental growth of "we's" (to ever-wider circles) is the history of an unfoldment of "it" to "you" to "thou" to "we"--where I first meet a strange, alien, or foreign holon (human or nonhuman) only in its outside-exterior dimensions (UR) and thus treat it like an "it" or instrumental object; but then advance to the understanding that this holon (all the way up, all the way down) is a sentient being which therefore possess a real interior, an "I" or proto-"I" (UL), and thus this "alien" holon, or this holon merely in its otherness, is starting to be perceived ... in its second-person dimensions ... If that resonance succeeds at any level, then this foreign "you" (or outside-interior) has become a "thou" which is part of the newly-disclosed "we" (or shared-inside-interiors; first-person plural [LL]).

For Wilber the "We" is always the end point of human communality and communication. For Cooley and the social developmentalists the "We" is always the starting point from which the "I"s develop and become actualised. For Wilber, the "We" comes out of separate "I"s meeting each other as "aliens", "foreigners" and "strangers" and then communicating to (hopefully) develop some sense of cultural connectedness. For Cooley that shared cultural connectedness and communality is what creates individual consciousness.

Let me show this difference diagrammatically (as is my want). Figure 1 shows Wilber's process of community formation as described in the paragraph quoted above. In summary, Ken's view is that cultures are formed via the "history of an unfoldment of "it" to "you" to "thou" to "we"". So initially we have a bunch of "I"s separated and alienated from each other and experiencing each other as "it"s. Some of these "it"s begin to recognise the interiority of the other and regard it as a "you". This then develops to where some "you"s are regarded as internal to a relational "I-Thou" and the intersections of those "I-Thou" relations form a cultural "We". This quite valid way of considering the growth of the mysterious "We" assumes that separate "I"s pre-exist any cultural "We". In other words Ken's view is that culture is the result of the coming together and communing of separate "I"s and "it"s.

The social developmentalists and behaviourists like Cooley, Mead, Vygotsky and Wertsch hold a completely contrasting point of view. They start with the proposition that culture and society are developmental entities that form and generate selves, identities and "I"s. Figure 2 shows the consciousness formation perspective of these social theorists. For them culture, and more importantly social structures, institutions, tools, communications systems and artefacts, create the developmental niches from which reflexive consciousness arises. In the social behaviourist view there is an innate socio-cultural identity in each individual that predisposes it towards social evolution through communication and the manipulation of cultural artefacts. This process of development in the individual is reflective of the developmental nature of the social order.

I am not contesting that Wilber's approach to the development of culture is a valid and useful one. What I am proposing is that his understanding of the development of culture does not recognise an alternative exterior-based model. Ken's approach depends on the pre-existence of individual consciousness and interior development before the "We" of culture is created. The approach of Cooley, Vygotsky, et al is that selves are created out of the emergence of the exterior society. In the language of Wilber their model proposes that the "Its" quadrant is a necessary condition for any personal "I". This gives a completely different focus on how the socio-cultural matrix develops. Both views are needed. The social behaviourists and developmentalists tend to downplay the importance of individual maturation and Wilber does not acknowledge that personal and collective consciousness is also created out of the developmental depth of communicating exteriors. As he says,

Interiors cannot merely be reconstructed by exchange of exterior signs--that makes no sense whatsoever.

For Cooley the reconstruction of interiors via the social exteriors makes a lot of sense and he had every good reason to arrive at that understanding. Unlike the Cartesian assumptions that were prominent among European philosophers in the 19th century, Cooley saw that reflexive consciousness is not an immediate character of the individual mind. We are not first individual and then social. The reflexive self itself arises through communication. This view naturally assumes a high degree of communicability and agency within the collective "consciousness" of a culture. Interestingly Cooley himself says that (Cooley, 1962, p. 10),

We may view social consciousness either in a particular mind or as a co-operative activity, of many minds. The social ideas that I have are closely connected with those that other people have, and act and react upon them to form a whole. This gives us public consciousness, or to use a more familiar term, public opinion, in the broad sense of a group state of mind which is more or less distinctly aware of itself.

All this is a long way from Wilber's view of culture as the intersection of some aspects of the interiors of that culture's members. For Cooley culture was not the aggregation or intersection of interior elements of individuals. He did not assume that personal self-consciousness came prior to social consciousness nor did he assume that the consciousness of the individual was ever without cultural interiority.

psychologists and even sociologists are still much infected with the idea that self-consciousness is in some way primary, and antecedent to social consciousness, which must be derived by some recondite process of combination or elimination. (Cooley, 1909, p.)

Cooley's saw culture as a process within which the self and others emerge. He was a true developmentalist in that he recognized the evolutionary nature of that emergence in all domains - the individual, the cultural and the societal. His student Mead (1930/2001, p.703) says that Cooley held an, "organic view of history in which all factors must be recognized as phases of a unitary life-process whose primary category was that of growth". Ken Wilber could easily have been the author of that sentence. Wilber, Cooley, Mead, Vygotsky, Marx and Hegel come out of a very long and persistent philosophical heritage that recognises the unbounded evolutionary (and involutionary) nature of reality. Ken has a wonderful talent for seeing that evolutionary movement in the interiors of the self and within the interiors of the collective. Cooley and the other social developmentalists are the great visionaries who see that evolutionary thrust in the exteriors of human behaviour and social structures. While Ken has expanded his interior models to create his AQAL framework of interiors plus exterior quadrants, he has yet to fully appreciate the equivalent developmental power that the exteriors possess. Holding true to its claims as a general theory of development, Integral theory needs to review its current reductive understanding of the Right Hand quadrants and look to the insightful ideas of the masters of the exteriors including figures like Cooley, Vygotsky and Mead.

Acknowledging the genuinely developmental nature of the Right Hand will enable Integral Theory to embrace a more powerful understanding of society in its behavioural and institutional forms. Cooley had an intimate understanding that institutions were crucial in generating and sustaining communal development and personal growth. In previous essays I have argued strongly that any social entity, such as an institution, a nation, a group or a football team, can be considered to have a locus of agency that is present in that social holon's Upper Left quadrant as its consciousness and in that holon's Upper Right quadrant as its behaviour. This view is not far removed from the social developmentalists idea that society had a locus of interior and exterior agency. In recognising the developmental depth of the exteriors they subsequently recognised the possibility that society may also have developmental depth in its interiors. It is interesting to note that many theorists of the exterior such as Cooley clearly conceded the interior agency of collectives, i.e. societal consciousness, as well as their exterior agency, i.e. societal behaviour. It's as if, in seeing the developmental diversity of social institutions and organisations, they appreciated the possibility of interior levels of both individual and collective "minds". Cooley, for example said that,

An institution is simply a definite and established phase of the public mind. The great institutions are the outcome of that organization which human thought naturally takes on when it is directed for age after age upon a particular subject. (Cooley, 1909, p. 313)
These various institutions are ... organized attitudes of the public mind. (Cooley, 1909, p. 314)

The individual mind and the public mind were made of the same stuff for Cooley. This is not to say that he reduced one to the other or subsumed the individual within the social as in some leviathan collective. The connections that Cooley wants to focus on between the individual and the social are that same that he wants to draw out between the interior and the exterior. Colley wants to weave together the social process of growth and the personal process of growth in both their public and private forms. He does not want to privilege either, nor does he want to propose either as a flatland. For Cooley the exteriors are not simply material and the interiors are not simply epiphenomenal. In the following quote he uses the wonderful metaphor of music to make it clear that he sees the distinction between the individual and the collective as one of focus and methodology rather than one of kind.

MIND is an organic whole made up of cooperating individualities, in somewhat the same way that the music of an orchestra is made up of divergent but related sounds. No one would think it necessary or reasonable to divide the music into two kinds, that made by the whole and that of particular instruments, and no more are there two kinds of mind, the social mind and the individual mind. When we study the social mind we merely fix our attention on larger aspects and relations rather than on the narrower ones of ordinary psychology. (Cooley, 1909, p. 3)

Cooley looks at individual and collective behaviour and he sees right there in that activity the identity of the active agent. In Cooley's phenomenology when we see a child of four playing in the sand pit we see the mind of concrete operations and when we see a sage giving darshan we see the transpersonal nature of that individual. And the same goes for social collectives. The organisation of the exterior need not be reduced to some interior agency in exactly the same way that our interiority cannot be reduced to our behaviour. The following is one of the most profound and insightful paragraphs on the relationship between the interiors and the exteriors in any of the developmental literature that I have read.

This differentiated unity of mental or social life, present in the simplest intercourse but capable of infinite growth and adaptation, is what I mean ... by social organization. It would be useless, I think, to attempt a more elaborate definition. We have only to open our eyes to see organization; and if we cannot do that no definition will help us. (Cooley, 1909, p. 4)

Cooley means here that we only need to open our eyes to see the depth of the exteriors. It is there before us. It is no flatland that we are witnessing when we see a person behaving or when we see groups involved in social activity. This is the qualitative organisation of Spirit as the world of physical action, goal-directed behaviour, ethical behaviour, political activity, institutional systems, social norms, forms of communication, cultural products and technologies, social structures and community activity. The interior is not prior to any of this. The personal self is not the creator of social systems. They arise together and neither of them is a Flatland. The weak reductionism of Flatland occurs when we deny the developmental reality of either interiors and exteriors. Integral Theory currently sees the entire Right Hand of the Kosmos as a Flatland of "matter" in "sensori-motor space". Cooley's vision of the exteriors was much more interesting than that. He saw the interior self and the exterior society as intimately connected and reflective of each other. He had no time for understandings of the self that reduced it to an isolated egoic individuality.

Self and society are twin-born, we know one as immediately as we know the other, and the notion of a separate and independent ego is an illusion. (Cooley, 1909, p.5)

While Wilber acknowledges again and again that development is a quadratic process, it is also the case that he sees only levels of material complexification in the Right Hand exteriors and he does not see there the full spectrum of developmental potency that he has so eloquently described for the interiors. Wilber's writings started with his investigation of the interior quadrants and, although he has created a framework for a much broader conceptualisation of life, it is still from these interiors that he sees the driving force behind development. Wilber starts with the self and works from there. Cooley starts with society and communication and works from there. Cooley's self is a societal one. His view that the self arises in a social process of communicative interchange was taken up and expanded by one of the great figures in American social science, his student George Herbert Mead.

George Herbert Mead


George Herbert Mead (1863-1931) called his approach "social behaviourism." But this was no reductive behaviourism that reduced human motives to brain stem neurology (Hull, Watson) or instrumental learning (Pavlov) or operant conditioning (Skinner). Mead behaviourism was very different to that which Wilber always presents in his categorisation of academic disciplines. As away of understanding this difference let me tell a little story. The first thing to note about the observation of behaviour is that it is an interpretive process. I remember sitting in a behavioural science class many years ago and watching a video on aggression. The lecturer wanted the class to record the number of aggressive behaviours carried out by one child in a primary school playground. The video lasted something like three or four minutes. In a class of some 30 students the range of actual recordings of aggressive incidents made by members of the class went from 3 to over a 100. This simple exercise was meant to tell us that interpretation is as much a part of behavioural science as any artistic endeavour. More than this, it is also true that the understanding of why behaviours are carried out depends as much on the interpretive framework of the viewer as it does on any objective act. Behaviourism in and of itself in not reductive. A behaviourist can have a reductive interpretive model or come from a holistic interpretive standpoint. This is why Mead had no qualms about calling himself a behaviourist. For Mead behaviour was about the whole person and the whole person meant the society as well. For him there was no understanding of the personal apart from the social and so he adopted this term of social behaviourism to describe his school of sociology and philosophy.

Mead carried on with Cooley's insight into the twin-born nature of society and self. He developed an extremely sophisticated philosophy of how communication created the nurturing conditions for the emergence of mind in both its personal and collective forms. In his great work "Mind, Self and Society" (1934), Mead describes how the personal mind and reflexive self arise out of the social process. Instead of approaching human experience in terms of individual psychology, Mead looks at human affairs from the "standpoint of communication as essential to the social order." Individual psychology, and its development into increasing complex forms and identities, is intelligible for Mead only in terms of social processes. Mead's view is that the development of the individual's self, and of his self-consciousness within the field of his experience is pre-eminently social. From this perspective the social process is prior to the structures and processes of individual experience.

Mind, according to Mead, arises within the social process of communication and cannot be understood apart from that process which is fundamentally evolutionary. Communication for Mead, as it is for Vygotsky, begins as an external and social gesture that has external and socially mediated functions. These physical gestures become instituted with significance because of their social power and accrued interpersonal meaning. Only then, "can thinking — which is simply an internalized or implicit conversation of the individual with himself by means of such gestures — take place" (Mind, Self and Society 47).

The individual mind for Mead is a form of participation in an interpersonal and social process; it is the result of taking the attitudes of others toward one's own gestures and behaviour. This is a crucial point in Mead's developmental theory. Mead sees the exteriors as such a powerful force in the creation of self that he can say,

"In the process of communication the individual is an other before he is a self. It is in addressing himself in the rôle of an other that his self arises in experience.

The essence of Mead's social behaviourism is his view that mind is an emergent capacity that arises from interactional and reflexive dynamics within the social matrix. Mind is not a transcendent substance nor is it situated within an individual's physiological structure. Mead rejects the Cartesian view of the mind as a substance separate from the body. As I have already pointed out, he also rejects the radical behavioristic alternative that sees mind solely in terms of physiology or neurology. But he agrees with the behaviourists that we can explain mind behaviourally. His solution, however, is to go into the collective exteriors of social dynamics and find there the source of mind in shared linguistic behaviour. Clearly this view has its limitations but what I am trying to point out here is that Mead held a dynamic and developmental view of social behaviour that for him held the secrets of the emergence of interior, conscious and thinking minds.

Mead was never, it seems, exposed to the ideas of Lev Vygotsky. In any event he held a remarkably similar view of the part social action plays in the development of personal consciousness. Not only did he see the social world as the genesis of individuality but he also saw the social act as the crucial event in human development. His theory of "mind, self, and society" is, in effect, an evolutionary philosophy of social activity in the same way that Vygotsky's developmental psychology is an evolutionary philosophy of the social activity of mediation.

Reality, according to Mead, is "a field of situations". It is by way of the situational act that the relation between the individual and his world is defined and developed. In this Mead predated the work of people like Walter Mischel and other social psychologist who showed the determinant strength of situational factors in behaviour. Mead more than any other American sociologist warned against the individualist fallacy of locating permanent psychological traits within individuals "skins". I have often expressed my unease with the overly trait-like conceptual modelling that Integral Theory, especially when its uses the Spiral Dynamics vMemes labels, often employs when discussing the developmental characteristics of individuals and collectives. This person does XYZ because they are green or red or whatever. This country gets bogged down in this war because it is mired in the tribal feuds of this purple/red country. Such trait modelling is simplistic in the extreme when the situational and historical nuances are left out of the analysis. Both Integral theory and SD lack a fully developed situational dynamic in their models as they currently stand. When the exteriors are truly valued as equal partners in the developmental process then situational and social factors will, hopefully, be given a much greater prominence in Integral Theory than it has now.

Like Vygotsky, Mead defines the social act in relation to social objects or goals. Society is the emergent human phenomenon that grows out of the shared meaning we place on social "objects". It is by way of the social act that persons in society create their reality. Again like Vygotsky, Mead sees social events as being based on acts of significant communication and so human development is a process mediated and facilitated by communication. As Mead puts it,

"The self is something which has a development; it is not initially there, at birth, but arises in the process of social experience and activity, that is, develops in the given individual as a result of his relations to that process as a whole and to other individuals within that process" (Mind, Self and Society, p.135).

The individual, according to Mead, "can enter as an object [to himself] only on the basis of social relations and interactions, only by means of his experiential transactions with other individuals in an organized social environment" (Mind, Self and Society 225). Self-consciousness results from the reflexive turn where the individual takes the perspective of valued others toward herself. The subjective experience of self is a developmental outcome of the social structures and processes of human intersubjectivity.

As might be imagined, such a conceptual system that emphasised self, other, reflexive thought, and interactive communication was very much based on the idea of perspectives and Mead developed quite a thorough theory of natural perspectives. Mead's theory of perspectives ran both ways - "the world in its relationship to the individual and the individual in his relationship to the world" (The Philosophy of the Act, 115). Just like Wilber, Mead sees these perspectives not as naive perceptual idiosyncrasies of isolated individuals, but as representatives of "an absolute reality" that transcends all particular situations. For Mead personal and social perspectives actually form the "reality" of the world (The Philosophy of the Act 215). They are "there in nature". Mead's ecology was based on the primary proposition that reality is the overall "organization of perspectives". The parallels with Wilber's most recent discussions of indigenous perspectives is quite striking. For Mead reality is the stratification of the natural and social worlds into a multiplicity of perspectives, all of which are interrelated. Perspectival stratifications of nature "are not only there in nature but they are the only forms of nature that are there" (The Philosophy of the Present, p. 171).

Mead's theory of perspectives evidences his balanced view of interiority and exteriority. While he was a social theorist who recognised the developmental vitality of social systems and institutions, he also had a very clear sense of the intentional and active agency of the individual.

Here we have the organism as acting and determining its environment. It is not simply a set of passive senses played upon by the stimuli that come from without. The organism goes out and determines what it is going to respond to, and organizes the world. Attention is the foundation of human intelligence; it is the capacity of attention that gives us control over our experience and conduct. Attention is one of the elements of human freedom. (Mind, Self and Society, p. 25)

And again,

The perceiving individual cannot be explained in terms of the so-called external world, since that individual is a necessary condition of the appearance of that world. (Mind, Self and Society, p. 25)

So Mead, the social behaviourist, who has proposed an explanatory model of development that takes its starting point from the exterior social world of communication and social institutions, clearly has a place for consciousness, intention, subjective perspectives and an ideographic self. In other worlds a flatlander who enjoys climbing the Himalayas. And as we have seen Mead is not alone in this. Clearly there is something very much off the mark in Wilber's assessment that the theorists of the Right Hand are only interested in surfaces and are simply shallow behaviourists. There are, in fact, whole national schools of developmental psychology and sociology that do not conform to Wilber's definitions of Right Hand science.

Mead was balanced in his assessment of the inner life and the outer life. Yet he clearly was impressed by the crucial part that personal behaviours, roles, interpersonal actions, language systems, social institutions, public structures and organisational behaviours played in the emergence of both personal and collective identity. His understanding of the social exteriors is almost the mirror reflection of Wilber's view of the exterior domains. Mead sees depth and developmental power in the exteriors, while Wilber sees only, "the evolution of exterior or 'material' or 'physical' forms" (Excerpt G , ¶ 34). Mead sees the Right Hand exteriors of both individuals and collectives as sharing in evolving fields of action, while Wilber thinks that, "everything on the Right Hand has simple location, or location in the sensori-motor and empirical world" (1998, p.72).

Role-playing fills a central function in Mead's theory. By role playing he means more than just taking turns to act out certain characters in a game. Role playing for Mead is a dialectical process where self and other bounce off and recreate one another. Out of this dialogue development occurs. In my understanding of the holonic quadrants this role-playing activity occupies the Lower Right quadrant for the human personal holon. Role-playing has many levels and continues through qualitatively different levels from play, to games, to identities, to occupations, and to creative imagination of one's roles in later life. New selves are born out of these social roles in the same way that cognitive structures develop and generate new capacities for problem solving. Mead's "generalised other" forms out of the complete set of roles that an individual plays in their developmental history. When the individual can take on a view of herself from the perspective of that generalized other, self-consciousness is attained.

For Mead also the polarity of interiors and exteriors is not static, but continues throughout the life-cycle. In the following passage Mead considers the relationship between interior subject-self ("I") and the exterior object-self (Me").

The very existence of the self implies a not-self; it implies a not-self which can be identified with the self. You have seen that the term "self" is a reflexive affair. It involves an attitude of separation of the self from itself. Both subject and object are involved in the self in order that it may exist. The self must be identified, in some sense, with the not-self. It must be able to come back at itself from the outside. The process, then, as involved in the self is the subject-object process, a process within which both of these phases of experience lie, a process in which these different phases can be identified with each other — not necessarily as the same phase but at least as expressions of the same process (Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century 88).

The complex dialogue ("the subject-object process") that occurs between the interior and exteriors of a single identity creates the major developmental trajectory of that identity through its life. In being able to see ourselves as others might we set up the self is opened up to growth through the media of the social world. The capacity to take on roles is an outcome of that openness.

We have to realize ourselves by taking the role of another, playing the part of another, taking the attitude of the community toward ourselves, continually seeing ourselves as others see us, regarding ourselves from the standpoint of those about us. This is not the self-consciousness that goes with awkwardness and uneasiness. It is the assured recognition of one's own position, one's social relations, that comes from being able to take the attitude of others toward ourselves" (Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century 95).

Interiors and exteriors co-create each other in the personal sphere of human psychological identity and in the social sphere of human sociological identity. Interior meaning and exterior behaviour are complementary co-conspirators in the evolutionary plot that unfolds through the mystery of life. Behaviour and conduct produce interior levels and states of consciousness as much as intentions produce actions. This is the basic law of developmental organisation as Mead saw it. The world, according to Mead,

is organized only in so far as one acts in it. Its meaning lies in the conduct of the individual; and when one has built up his world as such a field of action, then he realizes himself as the individual who carried out that action. That is the only way in which he can achieve a self. One does not get at himself simply by turning upon himself the eye of introspection. One realizes himself in what he does, in the ends which he sets up, and in the means he takes to accomplish those ends" (Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century, p. 90).

Mead's philosophy could easily be see as a type of social systems theory or ecological field theory of the social world. But his is not a reductive flatland of gutted exteriors. Mead's system maps out an ecology of relationships between interiors and exteriors which are connected through the exterior world of communicative artefacts and the interior world of reflexive imagination. In other words Mead describes an intersubjectivity that is mediated through behavioural conduct and its products.

In Mead's social behaviourism both organism and its situational environment are active and evolving through qualitatively different orders of existence. Mind for Mead exists as much in the exterior world of social behaviour as it does in the intra-psychic consciousness of personal identity. As he says, "Mind lies inside of a process of conduct" (Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century, p. 345). This is why his utopia of a "universal community" was not a world defined by the level of inner personal development but a world defined by the level of external interpersonal communication.

"The human social ideal ... is the attainment of a universal human society in which ... the meanings of any one individual's acts or gestures ... would be the same for any other individual whatever who responded to them" (Mind, Self and Society 310).

This is a vision of a community where there is a perfect mediation of communicative gestures and utterances. Hence, Mead's utopia is one of communicative exteriors as much as meaningful interiors. Again this points to the radical importance that social exteriors held for this pre-eminent figure in American sociology and social psychology.

The symbolic interactionism of Herbert Blumer

Herbert Blumer (1900-1987) was a respected critic and student of George Herbert Mead. Blumer was the originator of the term "symbolic interactionism", an idea that had a important impact on the social theory and social methodology of a number of social sciences in post-war America. Blumer took a number of the major propositions of the Cooley-Mead school of sociology and raised them to be fundamental components of his social theory. These were:

  1. the importance of meaning to the individual as a behaving and an acting entity
  2. the primacy of direct empirical observation as a methodology
  3. the centrality of the "definition of the situation".

Taking these in turn, Blumer stated that all people act on the basis of the meanings that are vested in the objects and relationships that make up their social world. Being a Pragmatist, Blumer regarded the meanings of objects to be primarily a property of behaviour and only secondarily to be the result of the intrinsic value of the objects themselves. Such meanings are constructed and reconstructed through social interaction. Meanings are appropriated by the behavioural relations of significant players in a social situation. Consequently, meanings, for Blumer, are an driving force in any social event.

Second, meaning can be studied through the direct observation of the interaction of the individual with others. In this Blumer was again emphasising the importance of the exteriors. He granted to them, not just the empirical monologue of surfaces, but also, the interpretive and dialogical display of depth and meaning. In this Blumer again reinforces the notion that the exteriors, the appearances, the social objects that we see, hear, strive for, interact with, create, respond to and share with other are not just material. Behaviour and social systems are not material. They have meaning and therefore they have depth and in that Blumer was one hundred percent accurate.

Third, Blumer's symbolic interactionism is steadfastly situational in its interpretation of causality, motive and intent. The situational factors that were most noteworthy for him were those that accredited social meaning to situational objects. Situations demand that a meaning-making/interpreting process is used by each person in each situation. Most other schools of sociology, particularly those that come down from the Comte and Durkheim heritage of European sociology, treat the actual interaction of individuals as a medium through which other causative factors, such as personal intent or economic forces are channelled to produce behaviour. In symbolic interactionism, it is in the interactions themselves that form human behaviour and human social structures.

Blumer emphasizes the proposition (derived from Mead) that the individual self is a recognizable object or player in the field of one's own actions. Just as is the case with other objects, the 'self-object' emerges from the process of social and symbolic interaction in which other people are defining a person to himself/herself.

Where are we now

To this point I have tried to communicate a taste of how other theoretical visions of the exteriors, of behaviours, personal conduct, and social systems have seen them as a reservoir of developmental diversity and power. Wilber also recognises that there is a qualified developmental diversity and power in the Right Hand quadrants but that this power resides only in their base structure power as material forms. I have tried to convey an impression of how much more profoundly developmental the exteriors are than that. The spectrum of levels that make up the exteriors are not simple material "correlates" of causative interiors. Wilber knows that many models of the exteriors are not gross reductionist in their explanatory intent and that they have hierarchies aplenty. Gross reductionism is the explanation of a higher level in terms of the operations of a lower one. Seen for example, in the attempt to explain the complete functioning of the body in terms of simple organic chemistry (leaving out genetics, immunology, psychosomatics, behavioural medicine, etc). Wilber acknowledges the hierarchical holism that many exterior theorists have put forward. But he sees all these hierarchies to be flatland models of weak reductionism and maintains that they do not recognise interiors. What he accuses all developmental systems models of the Right Hand to be guilty of is the sin of weak reductionism. He says that they (1998, p.60),

included nothing but ITS, nothing but objectifiable processes scurrying through information loops ... or objective systems interacting with other objective systems ... in other words all you found was an objectifiable system of interwoven ITs.

Could this description validly apply to any of the models that I have outlined in the preceding pages? I don't think so. Do the developmental systems of Vygotsky, Luria, Harre, the CHAT theorists, Cooley, Mead and Blumer Obviously describe "objectifiable systems of interwoven ITs"? Perhaps in part they do. But they also describe objective systems of interwoven "I"s, "Me"s, "We"s, "Us"s, active subjects, selves, meaning systems and networks of consciousness. And even when they do describe systems of exterior social objects those systems are always evolutionary and hierarchical and, hence, giving voice to a type of Great Chain of Exterior Being.

Wilber believes that the Great Chain of developmental depth pertains only to the interiors. He says that (1998, p.60),

When modern empirical science rejected the reality of the interiors domains, it in effect rejected the entire Great Chain of Being, because all of the levels of the Great Chain except the lowest (the material body) happen to be interiors realities of the I and the WE, of the subjective and the intersubjective domains. To reject the interiors was to reject the great Chain and thus profoundly reject the core of the great spiritual traditions.

As I have suggested in previous scribblings, and as stated here by the man himself, Ken thinks that "all levels of the Great Chain ... happen to be interior realities". Such a view is actually a type of interiorist weak reductionism in itself. Ken doesn't see that the interior spectrum of levels of consciousness might have an homologous exterior counterpart that we might call the Great Chain (or Nest) of Behaving. Nor does he see that the interior spectrum of levels of culture might have an homologous exterior counterpart that we might call the Great Chain (or Nest) of Social Systems. As I have pointed out many times before, Ken does recognise that the UL and the LL have counterparts in the Right Hand domains but for him these are only Great Chains of Material Substrates. They are Great Chains of surface complexification and not of depth.

Even when no interior levels are actually referred to by a Right Hand model is that any reason to regard those domains as "all material". There are many hierarchical models in biology for example that outline hierarchical theories whose levels have nothing whatsoever to do with material complexifications. I'll briefly describe some of the principles of one of these models - Biological Hierarchy Theory (BHT).

BHT (Allen & Starr, 1982; Salthe, 1985; O'Neill, DeAngelis, Waide & Allen, 1986; Allen & Hoekstra, 1992; Ahl & Allen, 1996) is a sub-branch of general systems theory that has been particular application to the fields of ecology and biological evolution. BHT recognises that hierarchies occur in social systems, biological structures, and in the biological taxonomies. Hierarchy theory has a number of guiding principles that allow it to analyse complex systems and structures. These include (taken from a summary by Timothy F. Allen, Professor of Botany, University of Wisconsin Madison):

  • The notion of hierarchy: a hierarchy is a collection of parts with ordered asymmetric relationships inside a whole. That is to say, upper levels are above lower levels, and the relationship upwards is asymmetric with the relationships downwards.
  • Hierarchical levels: levels are populated by entities whose properties characterize the level in question.
  • The ordering of levels: there are several criteria whereby other levels reside above lower levels. Upper levels are above lower levels by virtue of such factors as: 1) context, 2) freedom/constraint, 3) behavioural patterns, 4) integrative capacity, and 5) containing and being made of lower levels.
  • Nested and non-nested hierarchies: nested hierarchies involve levels which consist of, and contain, lower levels. Non-nested hierarchies are more general in that the requirement of containment of lower levels is relaxed.
  • Duality in hierarchies: hierarchies appear result from a set of complementarities. For example the holon or whole-part notion of Arthur Koestler. The holon at once operates as a quasi-autonomous whole that integrates its parts, while working to integrate itself into an upper level purpose or role.
  • Complexity and self-simplification: This principle centres on the proposition that deep hierarchical structure indicates elaborate organization, and deep hierarchies are often considered as complex systems by virtue of hierarchical depth.

Now in reading these basic principles of BHT I am struck by how similar they are to the principles that govern the interior holarchies outlined in Wilber's books on transformation in personal consciousness and collective culture. Surely what these models are doing is describing the Great Chain (Or Nest) as it pertains to the biological and ecological lines of the exterior quadrants. The great systems theorist Ervin Laszlo understands the difference between a system of interconnected "Its" and a truly developmental system,

a new level of organization means a simplification of system function, and of the corresponding system structure, it also means the initiation of a process of progressive structural and functional complexification.

And this is exactly what many of the theorists of the Right Hand have found "progressive functional and structural complexification" that has nothing to do with matter or surfaces but with profound depth. These are not models of material complexification they are hierarchies of developmental levels of depth and that is why the principles that they uncover are so similar to those that Ken has so brilliantly revealed in his writings. It's just that they see those depths in the exteriors and Ken doesn't.

Summary and Conclusion

In this concluding section I will summarise some of Ken's views of the Right Hand exterior quadrants. I will then show how these are intimately tied up with his model of holonic perspectives (sorry to do this to you but it's necessary believe me). Finally, I will attempt to show how Integral Theory can include developmental models of depth in its framework and still retail diagnostic concepts such as the flatland critique.

Table 1: Ken's view and my View of the Exterior Quadrants

Ken sees the Exteriors Quadrants as: I see the Exteriors Quadrants as:
best labelled as the "It" and Its" quadrants best labelled as "He/She/It" and "They/Them" for the 3rd person only
"all material" all exterior levels, lines, types, dynamics, etc
domains of the flatland behavioural and social theorists domains of flatland and true developmental theorists of behaviour and social structures
domains of material complexification domains of developmental complexification
domains of empirical science and the observation of surfaces domains of empirical science, behavioural and social sciences, and the observation and interpretation of activities
monological domains that do not require or permit dialogical interaction domains that are grounded on the dialogical interpretation of observable data
worlds of interconnected "its" that are simply sensed and not interpreted worlds of interconnected "He/She/It" and "They/Them" with which we communicate
governed by physical and chemical laws of the hard sciences governed by physical, chemical, behavioural and social laws, regulations and tendencies
behaviouristic in the reductionist Watson/Skinner sense of that term behavioural in that they are based on the interpretation of the full range of human behaviour
realms of the physical organism and the material forms of society realms of the behaving organism and the collective forms of social development
realms that are described in terms of the third person perspective realms that are described in terms of the exteriors of first, second and third persons

In Table 1 I try to summaries some of the differences that exist between Ken's current view of the exteriors and what I believe is a more balanced and integral view of the developmental depth of the Right Hand quadrants. To mention just one anomaly here. Ken has never recognised that there are behavioural sciences, such as the CHAT theories, that are not reductionistic in either gross or weak forms. Where then, in his framework, are we to fit these non-reductionist behavioural models. Using his logic they don't fit into the UR because that is the domain of the physical and biological organism whereas the non-reductionist behavioural theories deal with the full spectrum of human behaviour. So, it seems that Ken's current AQAL framework has no place for some of the most important developmental models ever proposed. They just don't fit anywhere in Ken's current system (this is one reason why he never references them). The answer is quite straight forward to me – in defining the Right Hand quadrants as all material and monological physical surfaces moving in sensori-motor space, Ken simply isn't making use of the full capabilities of the AQAL framework. Consequently, the framework needs reviewing and I believe it needs to be reinterpreted along the lines that I am suggesting here.

The Right Hand is not solely the home of flatland reductionists any more than the Left Hand is solely the home of solipsism. Both have their forms of weak reductionism and both have their forms of gross reductionism but in their healthy state the investigators of both Hands have the potential to see, examine and depict the full range of human potentials that are relevant to the quadrants which they give particular focus. Integral Theory has not yet fully acknowledged the discoveries of the healthy investigators of the exteriors quadrants. And this is having adverse effects in specific areas across the whole of the AQAL framework as it is currently presented.

The issues of the relationship between the interiors and the exterior quadrants is intimately related with the topic of holonic perspectives. The reason for this is simple. When we specify a boundary, e.g. interior-exterior, we immediately introduce the question, "From whose perspective is that boundary drawn"? ken never really addresses this issue from a consistent standpoint. I have discussed before the problems with Ken's theory of perspectives. In summary, Ken is mixing perspectives with quadrants when they don't necessarily have anything to do with each other. While he (at times) acknowledges that there are six basic perspectives - the singular and plural forms of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons – he tries to squeeze all six into his "I-We-It-Its" model because he thinks each quadrants represents a different set of holons, and they don't. In fact, each perspective has all four quadrants because each perspective is a complete holon (see figure 3.).

So, as I have pointed our in a previous essay, there are, in fact, six different types of exteriors. Ken has never alluded to these different varieties of exteriors nor has he qualified his statement, "The Right Hand is all material" in any way. I take it then that he thinks all six basic types of exteriors are all material and monological worlds of "rocks and trees". I maintain that the CHAT theorists, activity theorists and social behaviourists all recognise the developmental depth that is inherent in each of these different types of exteriors. These pioneers of the Right Hand(s) are saying that My behaviour has depth, Your (singular) behaviour has depth, His/Her behaviour has depth, Our behaviour has depth, Your (plural) behaviour has depth and Their behaviour has depth. Ken doesn't fully recognise depth in ANY of these exteriors and this is distorting his treatment of some important social issues, e.g. social membership. Not only that, but he doesn't fully recognise that there are exterior sides to the 1st and 2nd persons, i.e. to "I", "You" (singular),"We" and "You" (plural) (or that there are interiors to the 3rd person for that matter). As he says,

Exterior, on the other hand, means any phenomena apprehended in a third-person perspective (i.e., any phenomena or holon in the Right-Hand quadrants (Excerpt C, ¶ 64)

This is just not adequate. I can speak of someone in the third person, e.g. a friend, and fully include and "apprehend" in that conversation an acknowledgement of their interiors. More importantly, if nations are to deal with each other in a civil manner they need to include in those dealings moral standpoints that depend on the apprehension of third-person interiors. Otherwise we get the brutal dehumanisation occurring that we currently see in the Middle-East. These matters need to be clarified before Integral theory is applied in a big way to the real social problems facing our world. And why might that be? Well let's take the problem of global terrorism and international security for example, which will be the topic of my next essay.


[1] I know that Mead was an influence on Ken in some way because he mentions this once or twice in the context of long lists of many other authors who influenced him. There is one very brief reference to Mead's concept of the "generalised other" in the on-line material to Boomeritis. There are also two or three passing references to Mead in Ken's books. For example, this is the only reference to Mead in SES,

At the same time this would open Grof's model to the vast amount of research (clinical, experimental, dialogical and therapeutic) on the formation of these intersubjective structures of competence (Piaget, Austin, Searle, Selman, Loevinger, Kohler, G. H. Mead, Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas, etc), research that, after all, covers an enormous amount of ground, which no comprehensive model can afford to ignore (SES, p.778-779)

Mead was a theorist of the inside and outside of the exteriors (zones 3 and 4) who was well aware of the existence of the insides and outsides of the interiors (zones 1 and 2). He described himself as a behaviourist, and indeed as a social behaviourist. Take the following quotes from his book Mind, Self and Society (Mead, 1934, sections 14 and 15) and judge for yourself if their author is a theorist of the exteriors, as I claim, or of the interiors, as Ken claims.

Consciousness is functional, not substantive; and in either of the main senses of the term it must be located in the objective world rather than in the brain-it belongs to, or is a characteristic of, the environment in which we find ourselves.
The opposition of the behaviorist to introspection is justified. It is not a fruitful undertaking from the point of view of psychological study ... it is true that introspection as a means of dealing with phenomena with which psychology must concern itself is pretty hopeless. What the behaviorist is occupied with, what we have to come back to, is the actual reaction itself, and it is only in so far as we can translate the content of introspection over into response that we can get any satisfactory psychological doctrine. It is not necessary for psychology to get into metaphysical questions, but it is of importance that it should try to get hold of the response that is used in the psychological analysis itself.

This doesn't sound very interiorist, does it? It is from the viewpoint of the "actual reaction itself", i.e. the social communicative gesture and act, that Mead wrote mostly on social, political, institutional development and the development of self. This is why I regard him as a theorist of the exterior.

The work of Cooley and Blumer is not discussed in any way in any of Ken's books that I am aware of. I find no evidence that the views of the pioneers of the exterior social and behavioural world that I refer to in my essays have had any influence on Ken's conceptualisation of the exterior quadrants. They may have influenced his work in other ways but in these essays I was concerned with how Ken view's the exteriors relate to those of the great theorists of the social and behavioural worlds.


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© Mark Edwards, 2004

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