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 | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Through AQAL Eyes

Part 1:
A Critique of the Wilber-Kofman
Model of Holonic Categories

Mark Edwards

The proposition of holonic categories neither addresses the key problems nor is it in accord with key components of Integral theory.

Ken Wilber and Fred Kofman have recently proposed a theory of holons that is based on the definition of separate categories of holonic types. Their model comes in response to ongoing confusion in the developmental propositions of many social and environmental theorists. The concerns raised by Wilber and Kofman are important ones and need to be addressed by a comprehensive clarification of the holon construct that is consistent with the principles of Integral theory. However, I contend that the proposition of holonic categories neither addresses the key problems nor is it in accord with key components of Integral theory. This essay will outline the main weaknesses and inconsistencies in the model of holonic categories. It is the first of four essays that look at the whole topic of holons and their part in the applied use of Integral theory. A second essay will present my alternative approach to the topic of holons. In this essay I review and attempt to fully integrate the currently somewhat uneasy relationship between the holon construct and Integral theory's AQAL framework. With the integration of these fundamental pillars of Integral theory the need for holonic categories becomes redundant. Interested (and courageous!) readers are referred to this essay, "Through AQAL Eyes, Part 2: Integrating Holon theory and the AQAL framework, and the proposition of an Integral Theory of Anything", which is also on this website. The third and fourth essays will cover methodological issues and present some examples of how a more integrated Integral holon theory can be utilised in applied settings.


Ken Wilber (2001) and Fred Kofman (2001) have recently proposed a typological model of holonic categories that builds on Wilber's previous statements on this topic. They state several reasons for presenting this more detailed description of discrete categories of holons. The most pressing issue centres on the very common mistake among social and environmental theorists of mixing different types of entities to form developmental hierarchies that are not valid from either a theoretical or applied perspective. One of the most common confusions results from the jumbling up of individual and social entities to form holarchies that are based on invalid heuristics such as size or quantity rather than true developmental progressions. Quite rightly, Wilber and Kofman are concerned that these invalid holarchies can result in propositions that subordinate the independence and inherent rights of individuals to those of larger collective entities such as political states or biosphere ecologies. This confusion of individual and social entities, or holons, is just one example of what is called the 'mixing problem'. The mixing problem occurs when theorists incorrectly combine holons from different developmental domains and ontological stages and end up proposing invalid holarchic series. This is a common and serious problem in many philosophical, psychological, and environmental approaches to hierarchy and evolution.

A second issue of concern, and one which also requires some clarification of the holon concept, is the difficulty in attributing developmental potential to what may be regarded as piles and heaps of just random stuff that fills up much of the physical universe. There seems to be a vast difference in the developmental potential of various entities and some just don't appear to have the characteristics of true developmental holons.

The Wilber-Kofman strategy

The Wilber-Kofman (see Note 1) strategy for overcoming these problems is to identify and define basic holonic categories so that the mixing problem and other confusions can be avoided from the start. They propose two basic categories of holons - the sentient and insentient categories. Each of these is made up of two further types of categories. Sentient holons include individual holons and collective holons. These categories are proposed to sort out the issue of mixing holons from different holarchies. The insentient holons, or entities, include artefacts (the products of holons), and heaps (random piles of unconscious stuff). The insentient categories are intended to distinguish between those phenomena that have true holonic potential and those that don't. The guiding, and very worthy, concern in the Wilber-Kofman approach to holonic categories is the identification of clear criteria for ensuring the developmental health and evolutionary validity of holarchic systems.

Figure 1: The Wilber-Kofman Model of Holonic Categories

Wilber and Kofman's concerns over the lack of clarity and misuse of the holon construct are well founded and a review of this important aspect of Integral theory is very necessary for the further explication the model. Unfortunately however, I believe that the Wilber-Kofman typology of holonic categories does not resolve any of these problems. Their idea of a specified number of holonic categories falls short in several key respects. Most importantly, the holonic categories are defined by factors that are at odds with some fundamental principles of Integral theory. Additionally, as several commentators have pointed out (Eddy, 2001; Goddard, 2001; Smith, 2001; all on Frank Visser's website), there are many significant logical inconsistencies in how these four holonic types end up dividing reality. These inconsistencies result in a range of practical problems that raise grave doubts about the actual Integral nature of such divisions in the first place. In drawing out these problematic theoretical and applied implications of the typological approach, I am not suggesting that Wilber-Kofman actually propose or would support these things, I am simply pointing out that the holonic category approach logically results in some very strange and very non-Integral implications.

Holons as the "building blocks" of Kosmic reality

The house of holons

The holonic categories model is based on the concept that the Kosmos consists of holonic "building blocks". Wilber's first holonic tenet is that, "Reality, as a whole, is not composed of things or processes, but of holons" and he has said more recently that, "The entire Kosmos is composed of sentient holons. It may contain insentient holons, of course ... but its bricks are sentient holons." Brian Eddy (2001) and Gerry Goddard (2001) have pointed out a number of problems with this idea that the Kosmos is composed of holons. Although it is quite legitimate for holons to be sometimes loosely regarded as "building blocks", this view tends to raise them to a quasi-objective status that overshadows their interpretive and referential nature. They are first and foremost a way of perceiving the Kosmos. Holons are not the "building blocks of the Kosmos" because, as Wilber has pointed out, they are simply not objective entities in the first place. As Goddard rather emphatically puts it, "the holon is not the way things ultimately are; holonic logic is the way we are forced to see and interpret the 'way things are'". The holon construct is a way of making sense of reality that can incorporate and integrate our scientific, cultural and philosophical approaches to knowledge. To this end, holons are points of reference that enable the application of Integral theory principles to the various topics that it investigates.

Objects, processes, or experiential 'thingies'

If the holon construct finds a true place within Integral theory then it cannot be regarded either as objective whole/part thingy or as a subjective interpretation of reality. Holons are developmental reference points that are arbitrarily (see Note 2) identified on the basis of subjective, intersubjective, and objective grounds. Because the boundaries of holons will always be partially the result of subjective and intersubjective experience they can never by simply regarded as objective 'things', processes, entities or events. Because they will always be grounded in the objective reality of the Kosmos they will always be more than simply imaginative creations of individual minds or cultures.

Wilber and Kofman make it very clear that they do not regard holons as objective things or processes, but they do not point out that holons are also interpretive reference points that derive from the contextual application of Integral theory. The key problem here is that, in seeing holons as "buildings blocks" there is a tendency to strive for some objective definition of holons and holonic categories and not to recognise the equally arbitrary and provisional nature of all holons and holonic systems. This, combined with the tendency to see the TOE presentation of Integral theory as a representational map of the Kosmos (see my Part 2 of this series of essays), creates a dualistic and rather mechanical relationship between holons and the rest of the AQAL framework. The result of this combination of a building block view of holons with a reified presentation of the AQAL model is clearly seen in the Wilber/Kofman proposition of sentient and insentient categories of holons.

The sentient and insentient categories of holons

The unbearable lightness of being a quark

The sentient/insentient category of holons uses the criteria of sentience to differentiate between entities that are in a true developmental holarchy, e.g. atom, molecule, cell, tissue, organism from those that aren't, e.g. sand grain, sand pile, sand dune, desert. This quality of sentience is a very general term that can be used interchangeably with ones like interiority or (proto)consciousness or prehension. The use of sentience/interiority as a distinguishing criterion for holonic categories introduces a number of very problematic issues into the typological approach to holons. Not the least of these is the difficulty in reconciling the proposition of an insentient category of holons with the fundamental principle of Integral theory that all holons have interiority and exteriority, i.e. subjectivity (consciousness) and objectivity (behaviour).

Wilber has explored in detail the issue of the interiority of all levels of being, including the very rudimentary physical levels of the Kosmos, on many occasions. As he says, "Consciousness is synonymous with depth, and depth goes all the way down" (1995, p.112) and that, "depth itself is present from the start (or wherever there is a boundary)" (1995, p. 539). Wilber's writings have, for many years, championed the re-subjectifying of the objective Flatland world that has been the scourge of Western culture for several centuries now. It is difficult to reconcile this core theme in Integral theory with the proposition that huge portions of the Kosmos should now be relegated to the Flatland of insentience. This, as Brian Eddy says, "literally 'kills' much of our observed reality". Furthermore, Kofman applies this holonic category of insentience to many different types of entities. These include entities that, i) appear to have no coherent interior form, ii) appear to have no developmental potential, iii) might be seen to be the products of other holons, iv) seem to be randomly brought together, v) might be groups of individual or collective holons that are not in communication with each other. Clearly this is a category that could include immense numbers of entities, objects, systems, processes, and strangely even many collections of various types of sentient holons.

In fact, Wilber and Kofman do not regard insentient holons as true holons in any accepted sense of that term. They are defined as lacking interiority, having no self-organising capabilities or unifying coherency, and cannot develop in any dynamic, independent or creative way. As the Wilber-Kofman model defines it, holonic reality only refers to a particular subsection of what we see and experience in the Kosmos, and much of the observed universe is actually made up of insentient and non-holonic entities. If this is true then the theory of sentient and insentient categories of entities is fundamentally at odds with the re-subjectifying intent of many core Integral theory principles.

Some non-Integral implications of the sentience/insentience categories

When we do accept this very non-Integral juxtaposition of sentient and insentient entities, we immediately run into inconsistencies. The sentient category includes such things as quarks, atoms, molecules, and crystals because these all can be placed into the holarchical series of individual holons. Examples of insentient holons (Wilber, 2001; Kofman, 2001) are puddles, rocks, dust, piles of sand, tools, all technological items, and for Kofman all language, all forms of art, human cultural products, spiritualities, and individual and collective holons that are not in contact with each other. All these are examples of the insentient artefacts or heap categories. From these holonic divisions we end up with the strange distinctions that,

  • separate water molecules are regarded as sentient holons, while a drop of water, which contains many emergent properties that individual water molecules do not possess, is insentient and therefore not a holon;
  • a single crystal is a sentient holon, while a rock of crystals (e.g. granite) is not sentient and is "just a random heap of stuff";
  • a single quark has interiority and is a sentient holon, while the initial cloud of subatomic particles that followed the Big Bang would be classified as an insentient, non-holonic heap;
  • separate subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, and crystals are all classed as sentient holons in the Wilber/Kofman model, however, in nature these entities almost always exist in "random piles" or collectives such as space dust, rocks, geological masses, atmospheric clouds, pools, oceans, and nebula; which means that the great bulk of entities that comprise the fundamental levels of the Kosmos belong to the insentient Wilber/Kofman category of "heap";
  • the heap category includes a considerable proportion of the observable world of organic matter, which is made up of random piles of dead organic materials such as leaf matter, decaying wood, marine plant matter, and decomposing biological forms - all this organic material would be apportioned to the insentient "heap category".
  • a tissue or organ artificially grown in a laboratory is an artefact and therefore insentient, while a naturally created tissue or organs is a sentient holon;
  • artefacts and heaps which are all composed of sentient atoms, molecules or cells are not regarded as having any form of interiority whatsoever, be that non-localised, distributed, prehensive, or primordial;
  • both collective holons and heaps might be seen as having a type of distributed and non-local interiority, however only collective holons are regarded as sentient holons;
  • forms of life that are created by other holons are classed as insentient holons because they are artefacts, and consequently, the many very specific forms of life that are produces through modern reproductive, agricultural and genetic sciences are all insentient artefacts;
  • all art forms, all language, all cultural products are all insentient entities or artefacts, that can be separated from their creator individual or social human holons;
  • any group of isolated individual or collective holons, including humans, can be regarded as "a heap" (Kofman)

All these rather strange propositions are either clearly stated by Wilber and Kofman as examples to illustrate their holonic categories or else they are the direct logical implications of their categories of separate sentient and insentient holonic types. None of them make any sense from the Integral perspective that sees all aspects of the Kosmos as possessing some form of interiority. All follow from the unfortunate attempt to identify objective boundaries between holonic types.

Size matters but sentience matters more

One of the very valid reasons for Wilber and Kofman proposing these sentient and insentient categories is to quarantine sentient holons, which conform to all of the twenty holonic tenets, from those that might only trivially be regarded as existing in a part/whole relationship. For example, many series can be proposed that are based on just the simple relationship of size and yet each element in that series can be regarded as a part/whole. Take, for example, the following series - sand grain, sand pile, sand dune, desert. Each element is a part/whole yet each is clearly not developmentally associated with the others. The series is not a true developmental holarchy. So, a hierarchical series that is built on the part/whole quality in itself is simply not enough to qualify for being a holarchy or a true developmental series on. A valid holarchy must be built up of holons that possess all the other developmental qualities outlined in Wilber's twenty tenets or holonic laws and not just the part/whole quality. The Wilber/Kofman separation of sentient from insentient holons is an attempt to distinguish between entities that are in a superficial part/whole relationship and true holons that fully conform to the twenty tenets. Kofman says,

"When the distinction between holons and heaps is lost , size substitutes [for] organisation as the 'direction of ascent'. The consequence is that the Omega point becomes simply the biggest heap of all and Divine Nature is reduced to the god of flatland: 'the System'" (2001 p.12).

But the problem is that there is no need whatsoever to propose separate categories of holons to deal with this issue of distinguishing trivial size hierarchies from true developmental ones. The Integral analysis of the part/whole series itself, and of all hierarchies in general, determines whether it is truly developmental or simply related to some other non-developmental quality like size or shape or weight. And that Integral analysis of the hierarchical series would be based on all of Wilber's twenty holonic tenets.

Separating entities into permanent categories of holons does nothing to untangle hierarchies based on spatial inclusion from those based on developmental inclusion. For example, the fact that a hierarchical series is based on size or some other non-developmental factor does not mean that its constituent elements might not be holons in other developmental situations. In the series – worker, group, department, national division, multinational corporation – all the elements may be seen as holons in other contexts. But in this particular series they do not form a developmental holarchy because the series is based on a part/whole ordering of organisational size and not on true developmental criteria. I point this out because the sentient/insentient categorisation of any element does not determine the validity of the holarchic series. I have briefly shown here that it is very possible to have a non-developmental hierarchical sequence which is comprised of sentient holons, such as individuals and groups. So the division of sentient from insentient elements (or of 'heap' elements from holonic elements) itself does not help us in judging whether a series is developmental or merely superficially based on a simple part/whole relationship. Again this brings us back to the necessity to judge the holonic potential of entities within the context of the twenty tenets and the nature of the holarchy/hierarchy that is being proposed and not through any prior assumptions about sentience or insentience of the elements of those series.

Where does sentience begin? Or more correctly, How long is a piece of string?

There is another reason why the separation of sentient from insentient holons is simply not necessary. Where developmental issues are concerned, it is axiomatic for Integral theorists to raise the matter of subjectivity, sentience, consciousness, prehension (or whatever one may wish to call it). And, of course, this often leads to debates over where a boundary should be drawn to locate this interior aspect of an entity. In terms of biological evolution, the debate often circles around the issue of where in the evolutionary tree consciousness actually emerges. Wilber has repeatedly refused to enter into this debate for very good reasons. He has recognised that the point at which you talk of the emergence of a particular level or form of consciousness is completely arbitrary. What matters first, from an Integral perspective, is not where in the holarchy a certain level of consciousness is attained, but that it is recognised that subjectivity/interiority (in its many different forms) goes "all the way up and all the way down" and, I would say, all the way sideways throughout the entire Kosmos.

It might be proposed that self-reflective consciousness begins with the higher primates, or that affective consciousness begins with mammalian life, or that somatic consciousness begins with reptilian life. Such debates over where the various forms of consciousness arise is not the key issue for Integral theory. The most crucial issue is that consciousness or interiority not be regarded as limited to one form of life or to one level in the tree of life, and that it be acknowledged as a ubiquitous and unfolding presence in all aspects and forms of reality. The division of holons into sentient and insentient categories runs completely counter to this core Integral principle.

The unfortunate aspect of all this is that there is no need whatsoever to propose that large portions of the Kosmos are insentient in order to distinguish entities with immense transformative potential from those with only limited potential, or seemingly no potential. Integral theory has always acknowledged the inherent possibility for transformation that all entities in all corners of the Kosmos possess. Some of those entities, like biological life, have a greater capacity to uncover that potential in a relatively shorter time span. Other entities, like basic material or geological ones, require a much greater time frame to express their inherent transformative powers.

As the geological history of our planet shows, geographical masses and marine environments can develop over time into ever more complex geo-environments and can even, in time, generate and transform into the emergent biosphere. Why then should we deny holonic status to those entities, forms, heaps, and piles that inhabit the geosphere when it is so clearly part of developmental history of the Kosmos? The very real difficulties that exist in objectively recognising that transformative power or in drawing clear boundaries around geospheric holons is no argument against attributing to them true developmental potential (see Brian Eddy's paper for further discussion of these ideas). The same might be said of holons in the biosphere or sociosphere but that does not stop us from recognising the transformative potential of those domains.

Figures 2 and 3 below are intended to show how time is related to the rate of transformative change is each of the various spheres of development in the Kosmos (see Eddy, 2001 for a much more detail treatment of this topic). The more developed the evolutionary level the greater the rate of change. But even the most primordial levels exhibit transformative potential given enough time. This is represented in Figure 2 as a spectrum of transformative potential. Each level has a characteristic capacity for transformative change. The lower levels may need billions of years to display their potential for development. Within these immense periods even the most random and seemingly inert collections of physical materials and particles evolve into new forms. If even widely dispersed physical particulates in the depths of space can display transformative qualities, how can we categorise anything in the Kosmos as random "heaps" or "piles" that are without developmental "purpose".

Figure 2: The relationship between transformative potential
and time for some key evolutionary domains

Figure 3 continues this theme with respect to the gradual emergence of new collective spheres or development. The figure is intended to illustrate the concept that all spheres are built on each other and emerge out of each other and that there is a continuous spectrum of both interior and exterior structures. This means that sentience is also continuous quality that never reaches zero and that is always present in some way in each evolutionary sphere no matter how primordial and fundamental it may be.

The Flatland of Insentient Holons

The category of insentient entities denies interiority and full holonic status to much of the material Kosmos. As I have already pointed out, it seems that one key reason for the proposition of an insentient holonic type is to separate high developmental potential (e.g. sentient life) from low developmental potential (e.g. insentient rocks). On the face of it, this seems a reasonable strategy. However, the problem is that there is no need whatever to propose this division in the first place. Figure 3 shows that the difference in transformational potential of the various evolutionary levels is a factor of the particular dynamics of emergence that pertain to each level. There is no need to explain the very different rates of change for each evolutionary sphere via the separation of holonic categories. The Kosmic Holarchy itself works out this division via its holarchic levels. The lower the holarchic level the less potential there is for speedy growth and easily observable transformation. In these lower domains it is also harder to draw boundaries around entities that exhibit transformative activity and behaviour because they also have a greater span than their more evolved counterparts.

These two factors of larger span and slower rate of transformational change mean that the developmental capabilities of the spacio-sphere (for want of a better name) and the geo-sphere are very often underestimated or even completely overlooked. In Integral theory, however, slow or nebulous transformation never means that there is no potential or no interiority or no sentience or no possible boundary that can be drawn to investigate these potentials. The AQAL framework of evolutionary levels is founded on the ubiquitous nature of these potentials and accordingly recognises the differences in speed of developmental change and in span of developmental boundaries. And in doing so it always recognises that all entities - be they clearly bounded biological organisms, nebulous intergalactic dust clouds, massive geological forms, or poorly defined material heaps - have a propensity for transformation. Consequently, Integral theory perceives all entities and collections of entities in the Kosmos as possessing some level of both interiority/sentience and exteriority/behaviour that are subject to transformative potentials. All entities, systems, processes, events and activities will always, therefore, have some characteristic form of internal and external patterning around which we can draw valid holonic boundaries when we wish to see, experience or investigate them in a true developmental context.

The "heap" category of entities

The Eye of the Categoriser

One central feature of the Wilber-Kofman categorical model of holons is the reliance on various criteria for allocating a phenomenon to a specific holonic categories. It seems to me that the outcome of applying these criteria might be much more associated with the classifier's own level of knowledge and expertise than with anything else. This is especially true of the division between the "heap" category and other holons. One researcher might see puddles, sand dunes and piles of dust as belonging to the category of 'heap', but that might only be due to a lack of knowledge of the developmental dynamics involved in those types of entities and environments. To specialists on aquatic, geological, or desert environments, the seemingly inert and randomly assembled entities such as puddles/ponds, sand dunes/beaches, or piles of dirt/rocks may each be regarded as a complete holonic ecosystem in themselves (again see Brian Eddy's very insightful remarks on this issue). And this criticism may be extended to every "thing" that might be defined as a heap under the holonic category system. Eddy says that the practical application of the heap category (2001, p.2),

"fails to accommodate the possibility for very different (subjective and intersubjective) viewpoints and justifications as to why some things are placed in the 'sentient' bin and other things placed in the 'non-sentient' bin."

I completely agree with Eddy's view here. This might ultimately mean that the holonic category of 'heap' will only ever be used by researchers who have no expertise or no interest in those collectives that they are categorise as heaps. To the uneducated eye, an engine is a dissociated heap of twisting and turning blobs of hard metal. To the expert mechanic, it is a thing of functional beauty, coherency and potential. Because Integral theory ultimately sees the Kosmos as the subjective and objective manifestation of the Nondual Ground, it assumes that all things, processes, entities, systems, and experiences are imbued with some element of that Being, and therefore are always possessive of developmental interest and value.

"The Secret Life of Dust"

A recently published book, "The Secret Life of Dust" by Hannah Holmes discusses this very topic of how we underestimate the generative powers of "heaps" of stuff, and, in this case, of clouds of randomly flung out interstellar 'dust'. The book considers the transformative qualities of aggregates of particulates from stellar dust clouds to more everyday piles of otherwise innocuous particles. Just to give an idea of the transformative power that Holmes attributes to this 'heap' entity, I quote at length from a review of her book by Amazon.con:

Some see dust as dull stuff, useless at best, and sneeze-inducing at worst, but in the hands of author Hannah Holmes, dust becomes a dazzling and mysterious force. As Holmes says, dust is a messenger, and air is its medium. And by the end of this fascinating journey through The Secret Life of Dust, we cannot help but agree. Humble dust, we discover, built the very planet we walk upon. It tinkers with the weather and it spices the air we breathe. Billions of tons of tiny particles rise into the air annually-the dust of deserts and forgotten kings mixing with volcanic ash, sea salt, leaf fragments, scales from butterfly wings, shreds of T-shirts, and fireplace soot. And eventually, of course, all this dust must settle. The story of restless dust begins among exploding stars, then treks through the dinosaur beds of the Gobi Desert, digs into Antarctic glaciers-and probes the dark underbelly of the living-room couch. And there is good company on this journey: Holmes gathers for us a delightful, and, by necessity, highly inventive, cast of characters-the scientists who study dust. Some investigate its dark side: how it killed off dinosaurs and how its industrial descendants are killing us today. Others sample the shower of Saharan dust that nourishes Caribbean jungles; and still others venture into the microscopic jungle of the bedroom carpet. Like The Secret Life of Dust, all of them unveil the mayhem-and the magic-wrought by little things.

This says to me that a 'heap' of dust can be many things but never an inert, random, pile of innocuous stuff. If one researcher can regard a single atom as a true holon and as, therefore, a sentient entity, then surely another can draw a boundary around a pile of dust and regard it as having some primitive form of prehensive interiority and developmental capacity. There are environmental engineers whose professional expertise focuses on the study of sand dunes, beaches, soil movements, underwater dunes, riverbanks, and lakebed environments. All of these are basically piles of sand yet they display very unique and complex forms of patterned behaviour. There is no logical reason why a pile of sand can't be regarded as a holon that possesses some form of interior patterning that grants it a particular identity and relationship to its surroundings. As such it can be studied to reveal its transformative characteristics and potentials. From this perspective, distinctions made between sentient collective holons and insentient heaps will have much more to do with the investigative eye, analytical purpose, and expertise of the researcher than with any notion of objective holonic categories.

Relational Exchange and Atomic Sex

One of the defining qualities of the heap category is that there is "no relational exchange between its components" (Kofman) and hence "no intrinsic pattern or form" (Wilber). This criterion seems to contradict Wilber's previous statements on the dynamic relations that are present between all bodies, be they physical, mental or spiritual. He has stated previously that a physical body exists, "in a system of relational exchange with other physical bodies - in terms of gravitation, material forces, and energies, light, water, environmental weather, and so on" (1995, p.66). The assertion that there is "no relational exchange" occurring between the component parts of material stuff is mistaken on two counts. First, it denies the very real and transformative properties of simple physical relations. Second it seems to regard the distance between the elements in a heap as some type of barrier to the exchange of transformative or interactive properties. For example, the proposition that piles of dust have no intrinsic pattern of relation exchange discounts the fundamental power of physical, chemical and biochemical forces to create and co-ordinate material structures. Physical relations, and by this I mean the relations of one physical object to another, one leaf to another, one speck of dust to another, are very patterned ways of interacting and to discount this as a very crucial form of "relational exchange" makes no sense from a mainstream science perspective, let alone from an Integral one.

The Wilber-Kofman definition of their "heap" category as having no relation exchange with anything else, no form or intrinsic pattern, and no coherent interior seems to disregard the Integral view that each part and each whole in the Kosmos contains and exhibits relationship, interiority, form, and identity. Integral theory fully acknowledges the relational power and the dynamic exchanging of physical being and of physical forces. To deny this quality to aggregates of physical bodies, let alone emotional, mental and social ones, is anathema to Integral theory's view on the transformative power of all forms of relational exchange, even fundamental physical ones. Figure 4 shows that the type and complexity of relation exchange for a holon or holonic system is a product of its developmental depth. The shallower the developmental depth the more fundamental and simplistic the profile of relational exchange for that entity. However, there is no point at which relational exchange reaches zero because no entity or system of entities has zero developmental depth - it's turtles all the way down". Consequently, there can be no such thing as a "heap" or a collective entity that possesses no capacity for relational exchange in Integral theory.

Figure 4: Relational Exchange and the Pace of Development

The figure is intended to illustrate the idea that there is no zero level of relational exchange any where in the Kosmos, and that, consequently, any form, no matter how fundamental it may be, will have some type of relational exchange with other forms no matter how distant they may be. This increasing complexity of relational profile of entities is always based on the pre-existence of very fundamental physical relations which apparently have no temporal or spatial limits. The more fundamental the profile of relational exchange the more time may be needed for that exchange to effect obvious transformational change. The boundaries that identify, describe, and define the forms or structures that are involved in these relational exchanges are limited only by our powers of observation and imagination. These boundaries are not limited to those entities which Wilber and Kofman would categorise as individual holons. For example, we might draw boundaries around different collections of gas clouds in interstellar space and observe their relative movements. Or, we might draw a boundary around a certain ecological habitat and observe its transformation relative to other nearby habitats. Or we might draw a boundary around a set of irrational beliefs and observe their transformation in response to some therapeutic intervention. The categories of holonic elements that can make up a holarchic series are not four (see Note 3) as proposed by the Wilber-Kofman model but are infinite in number and are, as I have said, limited only by our individual and collective powers of observation and imagination.

The Bottom of the "Heap"

The second problematic aspect of the proposition that a 'heap' has "no relational exchange between its components" lies with the issues of distance and with the proximity of the 'components' of a heap. It appears that the heap category is reserved for entities made up of non-interactive and separated components. The Wilber-Kofman definition of heap assumes that the distance separating its constituent parts forms an impenetrable barrier to any form of patterned co-ordination between these parts. Again, this proposition does not concur with either modern mainstream physics or with other aspects of Integral theory's statements on the exchange of physical relations.

The physical sciences of today, with their theories of quantum cosmology and wormholes, attribute powerfully transformative qualities to various forces and physical effects that extend over immense distances. We know from the current work on the creation of galaxies and stars that gravitational forces can exert a very creative influence over particles that are separated by many millions of light years. Apparently there seems to be vast amounts of relational exchange happening between the constituent dust and gas particles that make up interstellar clouds even though they are separated by unimaginable distances. The calcium in my bones can attest to the power of that primitive type of relational exchange. In fact, it might well be said that the physical and chemical universe, as we know it today, is based on relational exchanges that occurred between the components of very randomly dispersed and primordial 'heaps' of space dust. Consequently, it is a very non-Integral proposition to regard the relational exchanges between the physical or chemical or biochemical constituents of random piles of insentient 'stuff' as negligible or nontransformative. If the very dispersed and primordial interactions that occur between dust particles in interstellar dust clouds clearly display forms of relational exchange that lead to transformational events (such as the formation of galaxies and planets), it seems reasonable to suggest that there might, in fact, be no collective entities or "heaps" anywhere in the Kosmos that actually conform to the Wilber-Kofman definition of "formless", "unpatterned", without "design", "unstructured", or "non-relational".

The artefact category of entities

Which came first the chicken or the artefact?

As with the other holonic classes of sentient holons and heaps, the insentient artefact category also suffers from a basic lack of logical consistency and does not sit well at all with many principles of Integral theory. The most immediate issue I have with the distinction between holons and their products is the methodological problem associated with drawing a firm objective boundary between the two. To give one rather obvious example, if artefacts are the insentient products of holons then a major part of the human body is an artefact and not essentially holonic (hair, nails, teeth, outer skin layers, breast milk, waste materials, etc). The category of artefacts, as defined under the Wilber-Kofman system, can, in many circumstances, include atoms, molecules, organic materials, and even living creatures such as genetically manipulated organisms. So it seems that the category of artefacts can include entities that can be regarded as sentient and full holons in one instance and insentient and non-holonic in another. And the reason for this is that the category of artefact has nothing to do with any inherent permanent trait that might be regarded as "insentience". It's simply a functional category whose constituent elements can be included or not depending on the situational context. Sentience has nothing to do with whether an entity is the product of another holon or not. Are test-tube babies artefacts? Are the tens of millions of domesticated animals that are the result of thousands years of selective breeding artefacts? If I have the sequence right, I understand that biological life actually followed the evolution of the physical Kosmos. Does this mean that all biological holons are the artefacts of physical ones? Clearly it is not necessary to connect the idea of sentience to the idea of holonic product. So I say again that sentience has nothing to do with whether an entity is the product of another holon or not.

I completely agree with the suggestion that the category of artefact might be a very useful one in the analysis of holons (as long as they are also regarded as having interiority). But this category will always be an arbitrary one that is made up of entities that are artefacts in one context and true developmental holons in another. Therefore it is not possible to ascribe the characteristic of permanent insentience to an artefact. It is not possible or desirable to classify an entity as forever belonging to this category because in one context an entity can be a sentient holon that produces artefacts and in another context it can itself be regarded as the product of a holon. Once again the categorisation process is best left up to the holarchic context that is described through applying the twenty tenets and not by a presumptive and permanent classification of entities.

To be or not to be other-organised

The artefact category relies heavily on the distinction between the criteria of self-organisation that defines holons and the lack of such a capacity in the insentient artefacts and heap categories. On this matter geologist Brian Eddy (2001, p.3) remarks in his essay,

"Herein lies the problem with the [Wilber-Kofman] definition of artefacts and heaps, in contrast to sentient holons. To say that 'artefacts' are produced by holons, but have no internal, or inherent means of self-organisation, suggest that only sentient holons are capable of producing artefacts. This is entirely incorrect, as I know of many proven examples in the Earth Sciences that demonstrate self-organisation'! In fact, among the lowest of Turtles we see exhibitions of self-organization that perturbates all higher level holons."

Eddy refers here to some geological materials as being the product of other geological holons. He makes the point that the self-organising capacity of rocks and other geological 'artefacts' (of the holon of 'planet earth') gave rise to the oceans and the atmosphere, which in turn laid the foundations for the development of life. So even at the very lowest geological levels the capacity for self-organisation is present in the products of fundamental holons.

While higher holons do organise and place structure upon other objects to produce tools, instruments, and artefacts, once they have been made those products manage to independently retain that organisational capacity, for a period at least, without continuous intervention from the more advanced holon. The capacity to self-organisation is certainly a quality of higher holons. My point is, however, that the products of holons must have some facility for self-organisation, even if in a very rudimentary and humble way, otherwise it could not sustain that organised form in any durable fashion. Self-organisation is, by any other name, the capacity to retain an individuality and an identity and I would say that all entities, products, objects, systems, and events posses some level of individuality and identity. Every 'thing' possesses a level of self-organisation and therefore there is no entity in the Kosmos that would conform to the Wilber-Kofman definition of artefact.

Computers are people too you know

It is a very worthwhile exercise to differentiate between self-regulated complex entities that have a deep level of interiority from other produced complex entities that don't. For example, it is crucial for Integral theory to point out the inherent problems associated with the Artificial Intelligence approach to consciousness. However, there is no need to create a separate category of insentient artefact 'holons' to do this. Complex entities like computers, which have a minimal level of internal depth, will be identified as such though the application of the laws of holonic development (the twenty tenets). All holons have interiority and therefore will always have the capacity for internal transformation and that capacity is always present not matter how low on the holarchic scale that interiority may be. Computers are seen by AI enthusiasts as possible contenders for future forms of advanced 'life' because they perform very complex functions and complexity in AI terms equals life or consciousness. In AI circles the quality of interiority is irrelevant to the issue because you can observe complexity without ever postulating anything about interiors. Why not them just leave consciousness out of the question from the start and just try to simulate complexity as the stand alone generator of life/intelligence. AI is not interested in interiority full stop. They are only interested in observable complexity. The Turing test is only about testing for observable complexity. And so the creation of a category of interiorless "holons" such as artefacts does nothing to alleviate AI enthusiasts of their Flatland fever.

In fact, it adds fuel and strong argument to the AI fire. As I have said previously, when we create separate categories of "holons" that do not have interiority, but which can be nonetheless very complex, a large part of the Kosmos becomes subjectless and a part of the mythology of Flatland. Of course, it is not the intention of the Wilber-Kofman model to propose such a situation, on the contrary. But this, unfortunately, is the logical and direct implication of creating the very non-Integral division of sentient and insentient holonic categories such as artefacts. The Integral theory position on all this is that all objective entities have interiors, all products of holons have interiors, and all individual or collective phenomena have interiors because they all reflect to varying levels and degrees the subject/object nature of the Kosmos. Hence, it is antithetical to this axiom of Integral theory to propose an interiorless holonic category such as the Wilber/Kofman category of artefacts.

The strangely dissociated world of the "artefact" category

Kofman puts into the insentient artefact category all human cultural products like "poems, songs, novels, dances and other artistic expressions", "Plato's philosophy", "language", "living things", "mythology and theology" and all "spiritual systems", and all "organizations" in both their "physical" and "conceptual forms". And so, under the Wilber-Kofman model, all these are "entities with no interior dimension". This presumably means that language can be separated from individual and social human holons, and that it can then be regarded as an abstract product dissociated from the sentient interiority of human holons. From this 'artefact' perspective of culture all dance art forms, as artefacts with no interiority, can be separated from the human holon of the dancer. All language can be separated from the speaker or thinker of that language and all philosophies can be separated from the creators of those systems of thought.

This holonic category world of insentient artefacts separated from their sentient human origins is indeed a strange place. Where, in this strangely divided world of the artefact holon, is the artefact of the painting without the interior creativity of the artist, where is the artefact of theatre without the interiority of the actor, and where is the artefact of spirituality without the interior universe of the contemplative? Surely, this is not the world that Wilber and Kofman really intend to be created from their various holonic categories. Unfortunately, however, this strangely dissociated world is precisely the absurd logical outcome of their proposition that there are insentient holonic products that are categorically separate from holons that have interiority and subjectivity.

The individual and social holon categories

The single collective and the social individual

Unlike the distinction of sentient and insentient holons the proposition that there are such things as single holons and collective holons does not run counter to any Integral theory principle. This simply means that you can draw a boundary around something that has a very defined boundary and call it a single or individual holon or that you can draw a boundary around a group of entities and call them a collective or social holon. But it is not consistent with basic Integral principles to propose that there are pre-existing individual holons that can inhabit only certain individual Quadrants or that there are permanent social holons that can only exist in certain collective Quadrants. Integral theory has the basic axiom that each holon exists across all the Quadrants. Social holons have an individuality and a unity that is completely unique to that social holon. Individual holons, which are often collections of many different entities, possess collective qualities that are fully present in unique ways in each individual. So individual holons can be seen as very social entities and social holons can be seen as very individual ones.

Given that collective holons possess individuality and individual holons posses collectivity, how can there be a firm objective separation between collective and individual groups of holons and how can they be permanently separated into distinctive categories of holons? Symbiotic relationships between organisms are very common, if not ubiquitous, in nature. And it has been more recently recognised that these relationships are essential for the viability of these organisms. The human body, like many complex organisms, includes many millions of other organisms within its skin boundary and depends on them for its survival. There are many organisms in the mouth, on the teeth, in the alimentary canal, and on the skin without which we would not survive. In terms of its biology then, the normal healthy human body may, for many purposes, quite reasonably be regarded as a collective holon. Similarly the behaviour of groups can be understood in some instances only when it is regarded as an individual holon and as a single system. Group think, mob behaviour, herd instinct, and bystander apathy are all examples where collectives can be best understood in terms of a unified consciousness rather than as a collective of separated interiors.

There can be collective and individual holons just as there can be functional holons, values holons, spiritual holons, time holons, relational holons, mathematical holons, interpersonal holons, and organisational holons. But, what determines a holon to be individual or social or whatever is not some pre-existing holonic category but the holarchic context in which it is subjectively experienced and/or objectively observed. It is the developmental holarchy itself that proves whether a holon validly belongs to it or not. And it is the AQAL framework together with the twenty holonic tenets that together provide the analytical tools that provide that proof. Hence, there is no need for separate individual and collective categories to ensure holarchic validity, even if they were capable of carrying out that task.

Where do I begin?

As with the division between sentient and insentient holons, the definitive separation of the individual and the collective relies heavily on the ability to make objective statements about what consciousness is, where it begins and where it ends. As both the history of philosophy and the findings of modern neuroscience show us, this is a very, very tricky base on which to ground any theory of categories. The category of individual holons is defined as having "localised interiority or consciousness" and the category of social holons as having "non-localised consciousness or intersubjectivity". But the difference between a localised subjectivity and a distributed intersubjectivity can be a very fine thing in many instances. The studies on split-brain patients, multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia and many neurological conditions show that individual consciousness can be a very diffuse phenomena with many different loci of subjectivity. In healthy individuals consciousness can also be very fragmented and uncentred through fatigue or, in areas such as emotional awareness and proprioception, can be regarded as spread out over the entire nervous system and even the entire organism. Where higher faculties are in consideration, for example in language abilities, the skin boundary can hardly be considered as a defining or localised border of consciousness.

Even at the most rudimentary level it is impossible to say where in the brain consciousness can be located. Many prominent developmental psychologists (Vygotsky, Rogoff, Wertsch) see the individual subject as so interpenetrated with the identity of their social environment that they find it extremely problematic to divide individual consciousness from collective identity in the first place. Integral theory itself sees the localised subject as intimately connected to non-localised social identity. It is a core principle in Integral theory that every human holon encapsulates the evolutionary dimensions of agency and communion and of individuality and collectivity. The point is that all this makes it very difficult to define what localised consciousness actually means, let alone identify it in an applied setting.

Where do we begin?

On the collective side, group consciousness, rather than being every distributed and non-localised quality, can take on a very localised and palpable form of identity. Marx's theory of class consciousness, and other social phenomena such as Zeitgeist, cultural milieux, mob consciousness, social engineering, herd mentality, Beatle mania, popular culture, the Jungian ideas of collective unconscious and collective archetype, are all examples of types of collective consciousness that have some significant form of agency and locality. At a more functional level, we can see that a type of personalised collective identity can result from powerful political and social structures. The Germany of the 1930's, the Soviet Union from the 1930's to the 1950's, the cultural revolution period in China, these are all historical situations where quite defined and local forms of collective consciousness were common. In these collectives the thoughts, feelings, actions, and social consciousness of huge numbers of individuals were subsumed in a type of unified consciousness that could determine the actions and speech of individual to a very fine degree. They also show how group identity can overtake a genuine sense of personal responsibility and freedom. In these instances individual identity can in some ways be seen to be surrendered to a centralised group consciousness that controls and determines individual actions with very little coercive force required for the control of the great majority of individuals. And the individuals who grew up and lived under these social regimes formed a significant portion of their self-identity out of that collective consciousness.

I have already mentioned that there are many prominent schools of developmental psychology that see individual consciousness as derivative of social identity. Activity theory, Rom Harre's theory of social being, the Vygotskian tradition of cultural-historical developmental psychology, and Rogoff's theory of participatory appropriation all place social identity as the generator of personal consciousness. As Wilber has pointed out, the task of trying to define individual being in contrast to social being is a very difficult one. He says that (1995, p.64),

The distinction between an individual holon and its social holon (environment) is not as easy to draw as it may first appear, because it's almost impossible to define what we mean by an individual in the first place. The word itself, from the Latin individualis, means not divisible or not separable; by that definition there are no individuals anywhere in the Kosmos. There are only holons, or dividuals"

For his part, Kofman (2001, p.7) says that,

"the individual and the social are not two different coins, one being of a higher currency than the other, but rather the heads and tails of the same coin at every currency. They are two aspects of the same thing, not two fundamentally different things (or levels)."

Given that the individual and the social are so closely connected it seems strange that these complementary facets should be divided into two fundamentally exclusive categories of holons. It becomes even more puzzling when we add to this the Integral principle that each and every holon has social/communal and individual/agentic poles. As Wilber says, "Every holon has four quadrants" and these, of course, include the individual-social dimension of evolution. To propose permanently separable individual and collective categories of holons is to impose a fundamental dualism at the heart of the Integral theory that is unnecessary. As I have pointed out previously, this does not mean that we can't have separate holarchies that are made up of individual entities or of collective groups. It's just that we don't need separate categories of holons to sort out the members of these very different holarchic series.

The invalid but commonly presented holarchic series of - atom, molecule, tissue, organ, mind, organism, ecosystem, biosphere, universe - can be sorted out without holonic categories (as is shown in a later section). They are not needed because the criteria for holonic development (the twenty tenets/AQAL principles) will themselves validate the authenticity of holarchic patterns. The above series mixes quadrants and developmental levels in a very typical way for many social and environmental theorists. But the issue here will not be solved by deciding whether each element in the series fits into the individual, collective, heap, or artefact holonic categories. As Brian Eddy (2001 p.3) comments, "it is not whether something is or isn't a 'holon', rather, the questions should be:

  1. What are the whole/part properties of the thing (holon)?
  2. What are the interior/exterior properties of the thing (holon)?
  3. What 'level' in the AQAL framework does the holon occupy?
  4. What relation does this holon have with other holons? ...and
  5. What is the nature of the process(es) that brought this holon into existence?"

Eddy is pointing out here that we don't need to talk about categories of holons, but instead, we need to investigate the properties of holarchies and holonic systems according to the principles of the AQAL framework and the twenty tenets (his five questions are all about these holonic laws). And I agree fully with his suggestion.

Fred Kofman's definition of social membership

There is another aspect of the typological approach to holons that is of particular concern and which arises directly from the attempt to permanently ascribe various to particular holonic categories. This is the proposition that social membership must be defined by equality in the interior level of development of individuals. I am going to treat this topic in some detail because it is such an important one. The issue has many important implications for Integral theory as a whole and I want to argue strongly against the theoretical propositions and practical conclusions that Fred makes in his paper in the sections dealing with holonic membership and how it is to be defined. I want to stress that in the following critique of Fred Kofman's definition of holonic membership, I draw out several logical but rather unhappy implications of his definition, some of which I am sure he does not intend readers of his paper to conclude. Nevertheless these implications are directly reliant on his approach to defining social membership and they need to be clearly pointed out.

My membership is bigger than your membership

Using the language of Spiral Dynamics, Fred says that, "a blue [less developed] individual can be embraced by an orange [more developed] group, but he cannot participate fully in it". In other words, he contends that to be a true member of a social holon, a person must be at the same or higher level of interior development as the group average. In justifying his definition Fred concludes that an individual with a severe mental health disorder does not "belong" and is not a "holonic member" of a group that functions at a higher interior level of growth. He is saying that people with serious psychological or intellectual disabilities cannot be regarded as members of normative social groups. This view not only ignores many core Integral principles but it also runs against much of the scientific literature on social development, community and group functioning, and disability studies.

Fred's view on social membership follows directly from his approach to definition of holons. It has already been noted that the Wilber-Kofman approach of holonic categories is intended to protect Integral theory from the mess that ensues when individual holons and social holons are mixed in a single holarchy. Fred's view on social membership is trying to resolve the allied problem of seeing the individual person as the bottom rung on social/organisational holarchies. He is trying to untangle the individual from social holons that would subsume individuals under the include-and-transcend holonic tenet. The following type of organisational holarchy is an example of this mixing problem - individual, group, department, organisation, institution, industry. Such a holarchy seems to see the individual holon as simply a part of the 'larger' social holons of group, organisation etc. Making a definitive distinction between 'part' and 'member' is the Wilber-Kofman solution to this type of mixing problem. However, Fred acknowledges the difficulty in this definitional task, saying that both individuals are "not well-defined" holons and that, "there are no such distinct 'things' as individual and social holons." So he must use another route to define social partness/membership.

Fred's reasoning goes like this. To define individual holons it is necessary to assess the interior level of consciousness (he apparently discounts the whole scientific tradition of objective observation of exteriors and behaviour as a way of assessing individuality). Similarly, social holons can be only be identified by assessing their "intersubjective consciousness" (again he neglects to consider the history of Western social sciences which have extensively studied collective identity through group behaviour and social function). So Fred relies exclusively on the vertical quality of depth to draw boundaries between individual and social holons. He moves the definitional task from things that can be seen and observed to things that can't. This injects a very murky element into the whole process of defining holons and their relationship to collective groups. To sort out true membership from just physical partness, Fred now wants to rely on the assessment of interior level of development. As he says, "In order to define a holon, it is necessary to establish its 'level' or 'depth' of consciousness".

As a result of this line of reasoning we end up with a definition of social membership that is expressed in terms of a simple equality of interior depth and does not include other aspects of Integral theory which are also highly relevant, such as behavioural participation or social inclusion. But even on the internal front Fred focuses on just one or two types of interior development and he neglects to consider the highly relevant Integral principle of developmental lines. This aspect of Integral theory stipulates that an individual (or a group) can have great variance in the interior development of different developmental qualities like interpersonal relations, affective style, artistic ability, mathematical ability, visual-spatial intelligence, and verbal intelligence. For all individuals some lines will be poorly developed, some will be moderately developed, and some may be highly developed. Many of them will often be relevant to the great majority of social group interactions. Fred simply equates interior development with the assessment on one or two lines of development such as cognition or morality and he does not consider the many other developmental streams that are engaged when people meet each other. Wilber has discussed on many occasions the diverse and complex nature of interior development and stresses that ti cannot be equated with the linear progression of for example, cognitive intelligence. Fred's definition of social membership leaves out any consideration of behavioural or social factors as well as many important internal developmental qualities.

Show me the colour of your IQ

Although I am sure that he doesn't intend them to be so, many of the implications of Fred Kofman's definition of social membership are rather unpleasant. The definition logically implies that people are not members of a community or group or society when they fall below the average or defining level of interior development of that community, group or society. If individuals fall below the qualifying level they are defined as social parts or 'physical' components of that collective group and cannot be considered as full members. Fred outlines a couple scenarios to make his point clear. One scenario describes a group of six individuals who grow up together and who form a rock band. All individuals play well and are each vital to the group's music. One of the individuals, Joe, who plays in the band "with great art" and whose fellow musicians friends "love him dearly" has a mental illness that has impacted seriously on Joe's cognitive and moral development. The scenario concludes with the statement that, "Joe is a member of the band in a physical way, but he is not a full member in a holonic way" and that,

"The necessary implication (albeit offensive to the extreme equalitarian (sic) perspective of the green meme) is that Joe cannot be a full member of the band" (Kofman 2001, p.12).

Well frankly Fred, I am afraid that not only some Extremely Meany Greeny Memies but also a few purple/beige-level Hells Angels 'members' might find this extraordinary conclusion rather "offensive". Defining social membership as a function of interior developmental level also logically results in the conclusions that babies/toddlers are not full holonic members of their families, that children and adolescents are not complete members of society, that people with intellectual disabilities are not true members of the wider community, that people with emotional disorders are not "full" members of emotionally healthy social groups, and that a significant majority of the elderly are not equal members of their communities. It also means that, if people with developmental delays want to be full members of a social group, they will need to find and mix with groups that also have the same developmental delays. Now, most surely Fred does not want us to reach such ignoble conclusions, but they are some of the logical results of applying his extraordinary categorical definition of social membership.

Some politically correct, relativistic barkings of a retro-eco Meanie Greenie Memey

Even from a more mundane level, the idea that people with intellectual disability are not contributing members of groups that are made up of more intelligent individuals is patently incorrect. Fred's conclusion that a talented musician with a severe mental health disorder is not a member of the band (made up of lifelong friends) he plays in is quite bizarre and rather worrying. There are many people with very severe intellectual and psychiatric disabilities who are active members of theatre companies, sporting groups, community organisations and businesses. In these social holons they participate as core contributing members at many levels. Fred has probably not heard of the inspirational L'Arche communities where the spirituality and life of these communities actually derives from, and is centred on, the membership and humanity of people with severe disabilities who live in those communities. I completely agree with Fred that individual and collective holons should not be mixed up but his 'solution' of defining holonic membership from an assessment of interior level of growth does not solve this problem, and, in fact, it create many new ones.

Fred's definition of holonic membership has not taken into account some core Integral principles. Of particular relevance here is the importance of spiritual revelation and of scriptural truths for the Integral model. One of the unique strengths of Integral theory is that it acknowledges the authentic spiritual revelations of the ages, and many these relate to the theme of social inclusion and community membership. What of, for example, the Jewish commandment to "love your neighbour as yourself", of Christ's choosing of the morally inferior outcasts of his day - the tax collectors and prostitutes - as his chief disciples, what of Paul's, "We are all members of the body of [the Kosmic] Christ", Dogen Kigen's, "All beings by nature are Buddha", and Mahayana Buddhism's revelation that all sentient beings are full members of the Kosmic Sangha. When Integral theory considers the issues of human holonic membership it also includes these truths in its developmental analyses and definition of social membership, holonic inclusion, and relational exchange.

This has nothing to do with the 'idiot compassion'. This has to do with the compassion of including those who have been too easily excluded from our communities in the past. Remember that the views of the healthy Green vMeme (like the 'views' of all healthy levels in the Holarchy) on issues of diversity, inclusion and pluralism must be included and integrated into the views of the higher Integral/Holistic worldviews and not simply discounted as green relativism. In the post-"Boomeritus" period we now live in, it might be easy to discount all this as just the politically correct, relativistic barkings of a postmodern retro-eco MGM. But Wilber clearly recognises that if we don't also include the integrative, descending, embracing, and multi-dimensional aspects of social holons then we throw half of Integral theory out of the involutionary window. As I have pointed out previously (Edwards, 2002), Integral theory is well suited to be a public champion for marginalised and excluded individuals because it includes the sensitivities of the healthy green meme as well as the inclusive social injunctions of the great spiritual traditions. It should be a voice for the full membership of people who have suffered debilitating psychiatric illness and not provide intellectual justification for their exclusion from any particular aspect of community life. I believe that Integral theory provides a much more sophisticated view on inclusion, membership and holonic relations between individuals with diverse developmental profiles than that accorded to it by Fred in his paper on holonic categories and holonic membership.

It is a pivotal Integral premise that a person can simultaneously be at a number of different levels on many developmental streams/lines of development. In practice this concept means that development is, as Wilber's says a "wildly idiosyncratic affair", and it also means that each person has some unique contribution to make to the social groups that they might wish to join and be members of, and, of course, this applies to people with disabilities as much as it does to anyone. Wilber included his principle of developmental streams to accommodate the huge amount of scientific literature that indicated a modular aspect to people's growth. In just the one area of intellectual development there are many studies showing that growth include numerous sub-streams of developmental activity (see, for example, Guildford's modular intelligence model where people can vary greatly on many different intellectual dimensions). This modular approach (Wilber's streams) means that there can be immense complexity in an individual's intellectual abilities ranging across the entire range of human involvements. An individual can have poor reading ability, excellent visual-spatial skills, moderate communication skills, a photographic memory, poor meta-cognitive and organisational skills, high emotional intelligence, and brilliant mathematical abilities living side by side. What does all this variety mean for Fred's definition of social membership?

By Fred's logic every individual person would be dropping in and out of collective membership of various social groups every minute of every day because we all vary in capacities and developmental abilities. But, of course and thankfully, this is not the way communities and social holons normally operate in the real world. People contribute to social holons in the way that they best can and we are accepted, by and large, irrespective of the developmental weaknesses that we may display in certain areas. I have the feeling that Joe's fellow band members would, to a person, laugh at suggestions that their 'loved' friend was not a full member of their band, even though Fred's unfortunate definition of holonic membership might predict otherwise. Fred's view is decidedly non-Integral because it sees membership in terms of unidimensional development within a single Quadrant and does not bring in the multidimensionality, multiple-streams, or Quadrant principles of Integral theory. The developmental streams aspect of Integral theory, which is so central that it ushered in a new 'phase' in Wilber's theoretical views (Phase 3), means that all development is modular and cannot be represented in terms of attainment on one or two dimensions of growth. All individuals will have varying levels of development on many different growth streams, and this complexity means that Fred's view of social membership is inadequate even according to the most fundamental of Integral theory principles.

Membership and living in a community

Wilber says that, "it is a travesty to refer to organisms as if they were mere "parts" of the great web of life, whereas they are rather co-members in that social holon". I agree with this statement and, applying this idea to the human sociosphere, I suggest that it is also a travesty to refer to people with disabilities, as Fred has done, as not members "in a holonic way" of the groups that they are intimately involved with. Wilber also says that, "An individual holon is deemed a member of a social holon when the individual holon follows the basic patterns, agency, or rules that define the social holon" (from Part II of "A Shambhala Interview with Ken Wilber"). I agree fully with this definition. But I would also say that the patterns that define a social holon (such as a community) are usually so many, so complex, and so accommodating to each individual's age, background, abilities, interests, occupation and social profile that the only basic rule for full membership that would cover this diversity is that the individual simply lives in that community/social holon or simply participates in the activities of a community group. If you physically reside in a community you are a member of that social holon, and you don't need to be at an equal or greater level of intellectual or moral development to be regarded as a participating 'holonic member'. If you play great music in a band with your friends, you are a full member of that band, and any consideration of cognitive capacities is irrelevant. As long as you live and operate in a particular community you are a member of that social holon. Participating and pursuing one's personal goals, however modest or mundane they may be, within a social holon is the definition of social membership and not some abstract comparison of internal developmental level. (It is true that extreme cases such as outlaw motorcycle gang members or completely anti-social individuals are not members of their community 'holon' but such individuals almost always select themselves to be non-members and anti-community).

Capturing "Beginner's Mind" is a sign of advanced attainment in Zen

Fred's definition of membership has negative implications for situations where personal development goals are pursued. His idea that membership is about equality of inner aspects of growth means that newcomers to developmental settings or groups should not be regarded as members of those social holons because of their lack of experiential knowledge or awareness. For example, his definition means that individuals who are new to contemplative disciplines are not members of the particular sanghas or spiritual communities in which they wish to practice. It also means that junior students are not members of the 'holon' of senior students. But, in fact, this is exactly the opposite attitude that true contemplative traditions engender in their sangha members. Authentic sanghas/spiritual communities recognise development and growth in awareness, but they do so without relying on such divisive definitions of membership. It is true that many spiritual groups use strong boundaries and progressive levels to identify and separate those who are regarded as developed senior students from undeveloped junior students. However, as the analysis by Anthony, Ecker, and Wilber has shown ("Spiritual Choices", 1987), this is always a sign of the high internal pathology of a spiritual group. When individuals practice together in sesshin, or in retreat, or in sacramental rituals they are all, without qualification, "members" of those sanghas irrespective of their particular level of spiritual attainment. Even at this relative level, Fred's concept of membership fails to capture the inclusionary and integrative power that all transformative communities and traditions possess to include all students and practitioners as members.

The three most important factors in evolution – diversity, diversity and diversity (oh yes, and Kosmic selection)

Finally and most importantly, there is a key developmental issue that Fred does not refer to and which is highly relevant to this discussion of social membership. This is that all social holons, like all evolutionary dynamics, depend on the generation of diversity in their membership base to maintain long-term health and survival. The community actually gains evolutionary power from including people of diverse developmental backgrounds and abilities and not by excluding them. Here is one rather materialistic example of this. Today, we have access to innovations like the telephone, speech recognition, voice-activated word processing, optical character recognition, infra-red switch activation and many other technologies because people with disabilities have been seen as vital participatory members of our community. All these technologies were originally invented to assist people with disabilities to participate in community activities. It was social diversity that generated their invention and applied utilisation. And the same point can be made regarding the benefits we draw from diversity in such areas as popular culture, sport, business, spirituality and politics. Society evolves through the healthy inclusion of as much diversity in membership as possible. Social stagnation and decline occurs when membership is denied on the basis of narrow and exclusionary definitions and practices.

The success and dynamism of nations like Australia, Canada, and the U.S. in areas as diverse as art, popular culture, science, business, and sport, is largely based on their ability to successfully integrate peoples and cultures from all over the world. Diversity is central to social development. This is true of indigenous cultures as much as moderns ones. It's as true of the sociosphere as it is of the biosphere. Fred's definition of membership as a function of homogeneity in developmental level is, in evolutionary terms, an invitation to severe pathology and ultimate decline in a community's cultural and structural growth. I have already mentioned that Fred's definition logically excludes children from being seen as full "holonic members" of their families and of their communities. This, of course, used to be, and still is the case in many countries. Happily however, this situation has changed in many parts of the globe and the full inclusion of children as family and community members has been one of the key factors in the social developments of the 19th and 20th centuries. Public education, the public health movement, human rights, state housing and welfare, the recognition of child abuse, and the focus on family supports and family values have all, to varying degrees come out of the inclusion of children as full members of their families, communities and society as a whole.

The developmental success of all healthy societies has been made possible by the inclusion of previously unrecognised and undervalued members of society. The history of social and cultural development tells us that the exclusion of individuals from social and community on the basis of a perceived lack of some fundamental quality is a sure recipe for evolutionary stagnation. Development in all spheres of life rests on a basis of diversity and Integral theory recognises that deeply in the multidimensionality of its psychological and social modelling. Fred's whole discussion of social membership ignores these key elements of Integral theory and of more mainstream social theory.

Reasons for proposing holonic categories

Wilber and Kofman identify many developmental and analytical problems that they argue can be solved through the clear definition of holonic categories. In the following I will outline these problems and show how the identification of separate holonic categories is not required to address these issues, and that they can be far more coherently addressed simply through the consistent application of the basic AQAL principles/twenty holonic tenets.

1. The mixing problem:- Holonic categories are required to untangle social and individual holarchies:

As I have mentioned previously, Wilber and Kofman are very concerned that many theorists confuse individual and social holarchies and end up with developmental hierarchies that, as Wilber says, make "individual holons subservient parts of social holons, instead of correlative members of social holons". These concerns are very well founded and, speaking more generally, it is absolutely crucial that Integral theory be able to validate and confirm authentic holarchic series. The correct sequencing of developmental stages is at the heart of any Integral analysis and the mixing of levels or holarchies or quadrants or developmental lines is something that the theory must be watchful of. The issue, however, is whether objective holonic categories are the best way to deal with these issues and whether they might even obfuscate the solution to these problems. I believe that the consistent application of the AQAL principles (of specific quadrants, levels, lines, and evolutionary/involutionary dynamics) and the holonic tenets (the twenty tenets or holonic laws) is fully sufficient to deal with these various mixing problems, and that, consequently, there is no need whatever for the very problematic categories of sentient and insentient holons, heaps and artefacts or for exclusivist definitions of social membership. The following presents some likely AQAL/holonic tenets candidates for sorting out these mixing problems that Wilber and Kofman have identified.

There are several holonic tenets and AQAL principles that relate to the several types of mixing problems. The most relevant to the issue of mixing individual and social holons are:

  1. the AQAL principle of developmental quadrants: Development can be seen to proceed according to certain dimensions. The minimum dimensions needed to gain a basic view of development are those of interior-exterior and agency-communion. These various dimensions can be expresses in holarchies to differing degrees. So that holarchies can give a valid picture of the development of holons, it is crucial that holons with different developmental characteristics not be mixed together from different quadrants. Hence a collective holarchy will not include holons that do not develop on a collective basis.
  2. Tenet 4 - Holons emerge holarchically. Holons emerge as wholes which include preceding parts and which themselves become parts of subsequent wholes. More developed holons embrace less developed ones and this "non-equivalence with inclusion" provides a basic means for checking the validity of holarchic series. This means that individual holons that have the potential for extremely developed levels of identity and social being, e.g. who can potentially reach transpersonal levels of growth, can't logically be included in social holons, such as ecosystems, that do not have that level of emergent potential. Hence consciousness holarchies that place ecosystems above human holons can be found to be invalid because they do not conform to Integral theory's developmental logics. This tenet also points out that there must be a clear developmental connection between the holons in a holonic series. They must be able to evolve into each other. If there are elements in a holarchic series that are not developmentally related then they probably don't belong in that series.
  3. Tenet 8 - Each successive level of evolution produces greater depth and less span. The biosphere incudes a great many more individual holons than the noosphere and consequently has greater span. Therefore it will not have greater developmental depth than any noosphere holon which means it cannot, therefore, be included in any biosphere holarchy. This also invalidates many holarchies that place very large holons like the biosphere, ecosystems, the Gaia holon, or the material universe above very deep holons like individual humans, or human social holons.
  4. Tenet 8 - Addition 1: The greater the depth of a holon, the greater its level of consciousness. This tenet means that one way of checking the validity of a holarchic series is to ensure that each holon in the series has an increasing level or potential level of consciousness. Human holons will always have the potential for transpersonal level of consciousness but biosphere holons will not, therefore they cannot be above them in a valid holarchic series.
  5. Tenet 9 - Destroy any type of holon, and you will destroy all the holons above it and none of the holons below it. If, in a type of thought experiment, we remove all holons that have the capacity for concrete operations/cognitions we would destroy almost all of human individual holons and virtually nothing of the biosphere. Therefore the biosphere cannot be higher or inclusive of individual holons in a holarchy of developmental potential.

These examples show that the AQAL principles and holonic tenets can be applied to sort out the mixing of collective and individual holons to form an invalid holarchy. And there are many more types of these mixing problems than just the one addressed here. For example, there are holarchies that mix subjective and objective states and there are holarchies that mix the evolutionary levels from different developmental lines. In these instances there are developmental principles from the AQAL framework and the twenty tenets, like the distinction between the various Quadrants, or between emergent transitional and basic structures, or between ascending and descending developmental dynamics that can be used to test for various types of holonic confusion and validate the relevant holarchic series. In any event, I believe that all of such mixing problems can be dealt with without any need for objective categories of different holonic types.

2. The Size problem: Development is equated with an increase in the physical size of a holon.

Wilber and Kofman are also concerned that many theorists often build hierarchies based on size, so that the bigger the entity the more inclusive it is purported to be. This reliance of size as the criteria for developmental level is a very common misuse of hierarchical inclusion. As Kofman points out, "When people attempt to order social hierarchies based on size (larger = more inclusive = more developed) they go exactly the wrong way" because size is often indicative of the span of a holon and not of its depth. These hierarchies often appear in the form atom, molecule, tissue, organ, organism, human individual, social system, planetary system, galaxy, universe.

Again there is no need to propose holonic categories to remedy this error. Tenet 8 addresses this issue completely - "Each successive level of evolution produces greater depth and less span". The universe of material reality cannot include individual or social human holons because, while it has greater span than either, it certainly has less depth. Therefore it is an invalid holarchy. Both Kofman and Wilber use this holonic tenet as the main argument against the size problem and I am arguing that this should be their strategy for all of the holarchic series problems that they have quite justly pointed out. This will remove the need for any definitive categorical distinction between types of holons.

There can, of course, be valid series of entities that are only concerned with showing the physical or size relations between holons, e.g. atom, molecule, rock, geological formation, tectonic plate, planet, solar system, galaxy, galactic structure, etc. If the purpose of such a series is to show that physical objects can be very small or very large or any size in between, then the series may be completely valid but it will have nothing to do with holarchical inclusion or development. If the purpose is to show some developmental progression, then the AQAL principles and holonic tenets must be used to verify, among other things, the holarchy's, i) ordering of emergent properties; ii) inclusion with non-equivalence properties; iii) size/span relations; iv) ordering and logical allocation of quadrants/level/line relations; iv) order of chronological appearance of holarchic items. Such verifications will be needed depending on the context in which the series is presented. If some developmental/holarchical relationship between the items in the series is claimed, then verification of that relationship is essential. But again, holonic categories will be irrelevant and completely unnecessary for these verifying procedures. What is required is the application of AQAL principles to establish a truly developmental progression of related holons.

3. Artefacts and consciousness: People can be incorrectly treated as simply a part of some larger hierarchy of functional or technological environments.

Wilber and Kofman quite rightly don't want some very advanced technological products of society to be regarded as having any comparable interiority to truly advanced individual holons such as human beings. Nor do they want humans to be included in environments as simply cogs in some physical or technological system. They propose the artefact category as a way of sorting out those entities that have no inherent subjectivity and high levels of external organisation, e.g. computers, from entities that have both high internal and external organisation. This stops the creation of false holarchies that are only based on external complexity. Such confusions are rife within artificial intelligence circles where exterior complexity is equated with interior depth. Although this is a very common problem, once again (I know this is getting repetitive), there is no necessity to create an insentient category of product entities, or artefacts, to counter such errors. The AQAL principle that every holon has four quadrants means that the creation of an insentient category of holons is not an Integral solution to the problem. Instead of running into the absurd problems of trying to work out whether language, or art, or religion are insentient artefacts of human social holons, we only need to look at the holonic nature of these types of entities according to the existing principles of the AQAL framework. The Wilber-Kofman artefact category includes entities which, like any entity, can be analysed in terms of the four quadrants, levels, lines, developmental dynamics, etc. As such they will have interiority, but that interiority will, through the AQAL analysis, be seen to be of a very undeveloped, narrowly mechanical, and distributed kind. The huge discrepancy between the level of interior self-organisation and external complexity for computers is clearly disclosed through this method. Yet this approach does not rely on creating a Flatland category of holons that excludes them from having any patterned level of internal subjectivity as the Wilber-Kofman model does. Intelligence comes in many varieties and one factor important generator of that variety is the degree to which internal intelligence links in with external complexity of behaviour. (The AQAL analysis of the gap between internal level of consciousness and external level of complexity could derive something that might be called a Discrepancy Quotient. This quotient could be a useful tool in assessing the success or not of AI projects. The bigger the quotient the further AI is from the goal of creating artificial forms of intelligence. At the moment of course the DQ is considerable. When computers begin to express the wish to switch themselves off it will be substantially smaller :-). )

Simply allowing the AQAL principles/twenty tenets to uncover the true holonic nature of the entities involved means that we also don't end up trying separate some 'artefacts' such as art, language, and spirituality from their human foundations as is the case with the Wilber-Kofman model of insentient artefacts. Their definition of the artefact category of holons is a quite abstract and even dissociated way of looking at human culture and at the productive activity of holons in general. The line between holonic producer and artefact product is very artificial in a great many instances. And the higher we go up the holarchy of consciousness the more artificial and dissociated this distinction becomes. As I have pointed out, the categorical approach to holons sees all cultural products as insentient artefacts. It seems to me that true art never produces products or artefacts, but even if we accept that terminology how are we expected to separate the works of art from the consciousness of the artist who created them. The same can be said of language and many of the entities that Kofman has identified as insentient artefacts. This is indeed a very strange way to divide human social experience. However, there is another more connected way of looking at complex social products such as technology, art forms and spiritual traditions.

This alternative perspective is also far more in keeping with the integrative intent of the AQAL model. It sees artefacts as belonging to the exterior/objective dimension of the interior being that produced it. In other words, the Wilber-Kofman artefact category is really just the exterior manifestation of the interior form of a holon which produced it. From this perspective the painting, sculpture or written poem is the objective aspect of the particular art holon and the cultural or consciousness experience that gave birth to this 'object' is the experiential wing of the art holon. There are not two separate categories of holons but a dynamic flow that includes subject-object and individual- collective in a dynamic and creative process. Sounds familiar doesn't it. Surely this is the way that Integral theory looks at the products of holons and not the artificially separated and very strange world that comes from a divided world of holonic categories. Wilber, in his wonderful discussion on art in his book, "The Eye of Spirit", suggests that art is found and created within the four-fold dynamics of the Maker/Artist, the Interpretation, the Artwork, and the Viewer. This, in other words is the holonic world of Intention (of the artist), of Culture (interpretation and meaning), of Behaviour (to make the artwork), and Society (the Viewer/s). As Wilber says, "art is holonic in its nature ... any specific artwork is a holon". So I ask where is the dissociated, insentient world of the Wilber-Kofman 'artefact' category of entity in all that.

4. Heaps and holons: True holons need to be separated from other entities that are just random piles of insentient stuff.

Wilber and Kofman think that there are some groups of stuff in the Kosmos that don't have any capacity for internal organisation or interior cohesion or transformational capacity and that true holons need to be distinguished from these random piles of stuff . As a result they created an insentient category of entities that can accommodate all the inert, lifeless, random piles that surround us everywhere. This might include much of what makes up our observable world - piles of dirty clothes, sand, dust, leaves, rotten wood, rocks, garbage, car bodies, rocks, bricks, interstellar material, galaxies and junk and whatever. The funny thing is that when you draw boundaries around these inconspicuous and apparently boring piles and blobs and observe them closely strange things happen. They become very interesting and begin to show very transformative properties. It may take a little time, maybe a few years, maybe even a few billion years, but watch long enough and out of these piles of dust and heaps of useless crap the unexplainable Kosmic Drive of Eros raises its eyebrow and suddenly micro-ecosystems evolve, planets form, life assembles itself, landscapes appear, oceans arise, and out of these dirty little random puddles of stuff little bugs drag themselves out on the dry land and stand up and say, "Let's hear it folks for all those random piles of insentient crap".

The truth is that each and every aspect of the Kosmos, in all its permutation and combinations, has the capacity for transformation and can be seen to contain interior levels of organisation and developmental potential. Seeing piles and heaps as interiorless and lifeless has more, I would say, to do with the ignorance of the observer than with anything else. The basic principles of the AQAL framework affirm that, wherever and whenever we draw boundaries, creative potential appears, and that potential can be best described, disclosed and appreciated through the application of all its principles/tenets of quadrants, levels, lines and holonic dynamics. Insentience does not come into the picture, but the potential for fundamental holons to get together and boogie certainly does. Integral theory does not need the category of insentient holonic heaps any more than it needs a category of transcendental, vengeful, demon holons to explain the presence of evil in the world.


Wilber and Kofman have proposed a theory of holon categories that they hope will help in verifying the developmental validity of holarchic series and the general relationship between holons and an Integral Theory of Everything. However, both in the practical application and logical implications of these categories there arise many inconsistencies and problems which run counter to core developmental logics of Integral theory. Most notably, the insentient categories in the Wilber-Kofman model seems to be in complete contrast to Integral theory's concern with re-subjectifying a Flatland conception of the universe.

On a more theoretical level, the question needs to be considered as to why the Wilber-Kofman categories of sentient, insentient, individual, social holons, artefacts and heaps themselves relate so closely to the four fundamental aspects of Kosmic evolution described in the Four Quadrants. It seems that Wilber and Kofman see each Quadrant as being comprised of the respective variety of holonic "building blocks". The following table outlines these correspondences.

TOE Quadrant Wilber-Kofman category
Experiential or Upper Left Quadrant Sentient-Individual-Subjective Holons
Behavioural or Upper Right Quadrant Insentient-Individual-Objective Holons (when these entities are produced by sentient holons, the Wilber-Kofman model refers to them as "artefacts")
Culture or Lower Left Quadrant Sentient-Collective-Subjective Holons
Social or Lower Right Quadrant Insentient-Collective-Objective Holons (when these entities have a minimal level of internal patterning, the Wilber-Kofman model refer to them as "heaps")

So the Wilber-Kofman categories merely repeat the four fundamental types of evolutionary pathways that are discernable in the Kosmos. From my perspective there is a very simple reason for this repetition. The categories are the end result of trying to fit quasi-objective holonic "building blocks" into a reified reading of the TOE/Four Quadrants map. The Quadrants become defined by solid categorical boundaries that are assumed to divide holons into separate categories (this idea is explored further in, "Through AQAL Eyes - Part 2 - Integrating Holon theory and the AQAL framework"). This is a very common misreading of the TOE presentation of the AQAL framework and represents a significant problem for Integral theory as a whole. This misinterpretation affects the way many Integral writers discuss the relationship between holons and the AQAL model. Figure 5 gives a graphical representation of this problem as it relates to the Wilber-Kofman categories. The end result is a simply a rehashing of what Wilber has previously identified as the secondary Cartesian Dualism, only this time it appears in an Integral theory guise.

If we see holons as Kosmic "building blocks" evolving along distinctive pathways in separated developmental Quadrants, then naturally we will end up with a system that proposes four categories of permanently separated holonic types (and their derivatives), i.e. the Wilber-Kofman typology. If we see holons as holistically inclusive of all quadrants, and able to be experienced and seen as a total function of the inner/outer and agency/communion dimensions then we do no restrict holonic types to certain quadrants. In this more holistic interpretation of the AQAL model, the Four Quadrants are seen as aspects of each and every holon rather than dividing lines that discriminate between holonic types (This whole discussion is taken up further in Part 2 of this series of essays). Figure 6 shows this more holistic conceptualisation of holons and no separate categories are required to integrate the holon construct into the AQAL framework. (For some ideas on the dynamics of Quadrant relations see my essay, " The Integral Cycle …" and the essay by Richard Slaughter both on this site).

The separation of holons into objective categories also has implications for the discussion of social membership. Kofman sees holons as inhabiting separate Quadrant spaces. In trying to resolve the membership-part dilemma Kofman's definition of membership reduces social relations to the comparison of only one or two lines of development within only the interior quadrant. This is where he feels holons are really defined. In the end this is a very reductive and non-Integral perspective to take on how to define holons. This reliance on equivalence in internal cognitive or moral development conflicts with several core principles of Integral theory. Fortunately, the valid issues of concern that gave rise to Kofman's devise definition can be very adequately dealt with through existing elements of Integral theory. From my perspective Integral theory provides a much more sophisticated outlook on social membership than the one presented by Kofman.

I am in complete agreement with Wilber and Kofman that there are very valid concerns to be raised over the various types of mixing problems that are commonly seen in the social science and systems theory literature. However, I believe that their approach is not up to the task of resolving these issues. From my perspective the whole model of separate holonic categories is deeply flawed and not at all compatible with the great bulk of Wilber's writings on Integral theory. In following essays I will present an alternative way of addressing these and other issues that arise from the relationship between holons and Quadrants. My position is that the categorical approaches to holons that have been proposed to this point are all based on the assumption that the four-fold nature of holons is somehow different from the four-fold structure of the TOE/AQAL/Four Quadrant's model. Instead of categories of holons, what is needed is a more consistent integration of holon theory (the twenty tenets) with a more interpretive perspective on the AQAL framework. From this integrative approach the AQAL principles/twenty tenets can be used to validate holarchies and the issue of social membership without any need for theoretically redundant categories of holons or exclusivist definitions of membership. And in subsequent sojourns into the weird and wonderful world of holons, I hope to show that this can be done in a way that is completely consistent with Ken Wilber's definitive writings on Integral theory.


  1. Throughout this essay I refer to the model of holonic categories as the Wilber-Kofman model. I understand that there may be differences between them on some aspects of the model but they are clearly in general agreement with each other on all the main points that I am critical of in this paper. Kofman says that his essay on holons was based on many hours of conversations with Ken Wilber and that Wilber "has spent many hours tutoring me on the intricacies of his thinking". In turn Wilber regards Kofman's paper as "superb" and that it was "based on many hours of discussion with me". So I hope I am not doing them a disservice to refer their respective approaches as the Wilber-Kofman model.
  2. I use the term arbitrary in the sense of an arbitrated decision, that is, a mandatory judgment that is made on the basis of all available evidence (including subjective, objective, cultural, and social evidence) and which tries to accommodate all involved parties. The term is not meant to suggest that holonic categories or boundaries are decided on a random or purely subjective basis.
  3. As to why the Wilber-Kofman model should propose four basic categories of holons is indeed an interesting question and I believe that the answer is intimately connected with how the relationship between holons and Quadrants has been viewed to this point. This matter is dealt with in the concluding section of this essay and in more detail in AQAL Eyes Part 2 of this series of essays.


Eddy, B. (2001a). Brian Eddy, Spectral Reflections : A Commentary on Discerning Holons

Eddy, B. (2001b). An Integral Approach to Sustainable Development. Unpublished manuscript.

Edwards, M. (2000). Mark Edwards, The Integral Cycle of Knowledge : Some thoughts on integrating Ken Wilber's Developmental and Epistemological Models

Holmes, H. (2001). The Secret life of Dust. London: Wiley & Sons.

Goddard, G. (2001). Holonic logic and the dialectics of consciousness : Unpacking Ken Wilber's Four Quadrant Model

Kofman, F. (2001). Holons, Heaps and Artefacts (and their corresponding holarchies)

Slaughter, R (2002). Knowledge Creation, Futures Methodologies and the Integral Agenda

Smith, A (2001). The spectrum of holons (Response to Kofman)

Wilber, K. (2001) On Critics, Integral Institute, My Recent Writing, and Others matters of Little Consequence: A Shambhala Interview with ken Wilber

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