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 5:
Matter, Membership and Mutuality

Mark Edwards

"The problem is that Ken is working with his "mixed up" holon model and, in trying to ensure separation between individual and social holons (and their holarchies), he ends up dividing the indivisible." (¶ 219)


This essay is the fifth in a series that investigates the holon construct and how it fits into the structure and applied use of Ken Wilber's Integral theory. My basic contention is that a firm understanding and representation of the holon construct, and holon theory in general, is essential for the further development of Integral ideas and applications. I am a strong supporter of Integral theory and of Ken Wilber's immense achievements in developing a comprehensive model of human personal and social growth. To this point, however, I don't believe that Wilber has developed his model of holons in a theoretically consistent way and has still not integrated the basic principles of holon theory into his AQAL structure. Wilber's theoretical and philosophical writings are becoming ever more focused on the holon construct and it is therefore crucial that the basic elements of holons theory be well founded. In the following I highlight some deficiencies in Wilber current application of holon concepts and offer some constructive alternatives to progressing an Integral approach to holon theory.

In part four of this series I looked at some inconsistencies in the way that Ken Wilber and other Integral thinkers have defined and represented the holon construct. One of the major inconsistencies is that while Wilber states that each holon has four quadrants almost all of his applied use of the construct represents holons existing as separate entities in separate quadrants. This also means that he has individual holons in the upper quadrants and multiple holons in the lower quadrants moving around in a reified AQAL space. Wilber's "mixed up" holon is represented in Figure 1.

Readers are referred to previous essays in this series for a more detailed outlining of how Wilber misrepresents holons. In this essay I will look at how these definitional shortcomings have affected Wilber's most current writings. The areas that I will look at are:

  1. The representation of the behavioural quadrants as simply material
  2. The privileging of the interior quadrants
  3. An alternative view of social membership
  4. Relational exchange – how holons really commune-(icate)
  5. Collective holons and the regnant nexus (ruling pattern)
  6. Collective agency and governance
  7. Collective Superagency (and supercommunion)

1. The behavioural quadrant is not material

In "Through AQAL Eyes – Part 4" I made the point that placing "holons" in separate quadrants sets up an artificial boundary between the various quadratic aspects of a holon. One implication of doing this is to risk some sort of weak reductionism taking place. I believe this has happened in the way Wilber treats the exterior quadrants in general and the behavioural quadrant in particular. Wilber regards the interiors to be developmentally rich and varied and the source of depth in the world. In contrast, he regards the exterior quadrants to be monological affairs that are material correlates of where the real ontological action is – the interior quadrants. He does not grant the exterior quadrants the same developmental status as the interior ones because he regards the exterior quadrants as representing flatland surfaces only. As Wilber (2000), p.86 puts it,

"Flatland - or scientific materialism - is the belief that only matter is real ... Flatland, in other words, is the belief that only the Right-Hand quadrants are real."

Here we see that Wilber thinks that the Right-hand quadrants are "only mater", and that he actually has a Flatland view of the exterior quadrants. Flatland, for him, is the inability to see the interior quadrants not the inability to see depth in the exterior. For Wilber, the stages of growth in the exterior are developments of material complexity and not of developmental or ontological complexity. This view, that the exterior quadrants are "material", is reductionist and derives from an inappropriate definition and representation of the exterior quadrants of the holon construct. The following quote gives a clear indication of how Wilber views the exterior quadrants in general and the behavioural quadrant in particular.

In the Upper-Right quadrant, we can see the evolution of exterior or "material" or "physical" forms, as disclosed by modern science. These exterior forms include, in order of increasing evolutionary complexity, items such as: atoms, molecules, early or prokaryotic cells, true or eukaryotic cells, organisms with a neural net, organisms with a neural cord (e.g., shrimp), a reptilian brain stem (e.g., lizard), a limbic system (e.g., horse), a neocortex or triune brain (e.g., humans, with several higher "structure-functions" also listed). Those are all "exterior" or "material" forms, in that you can see them in the exterior, sensorimotor world. (Excerpt G , ¶ 34)
It is not merely that higher levels (of life and mind and soul) imprint matter or leave footprints in matter (which itself remains on the lowest level), but that what we call matter is the exterior form of each of those interior levels. (Except G, ¶ 36)

This understanding is flawed in several ways but the main point is this – behaviour is not simply material. It is true that neural cords, ganglions and brains are all physical/material forms but they are certainly not behaviours. In fact, seeing behaviour as represented by neurological complexity is one of the basic types of reductionism that Integral theory should be trying to avoid rather than foster. This is the heart of the problem. The exterior quadrants, in both their agentic and communal forms are not material, they are behavioural and Wilber doesn't seem to be concerned about the difference. Behaviour refers to the an organism's course of action, the activity of an entity, or the manner of a person's, animal's or object's conduct. If Integral theory defines personal and social behaviour as the movement of material then it is reducing human behaviour to mechanistic function. In so doing it misses the fundamental role that behaviour plays in the development of personal and social identity. When Wilber defines exterior behaviour as the complexification of matter he falls into the "ghost in the machine" view of human agency. A view that sees an interior "ghost" controlling exterior neural "machinery". Identity is a four quadrant AQAL affair.

Wilber refers to the UR quadrant as the brain/organism quadrant and sometimes as the behavioural quadrant. Although he often labels this quadrant as behavioural, he actually describes the developmental stages of this domain in terms of cellular and neurological structures. He also talks about the various levels in this quadrant as exterior correlates of the interior levels of consciousness in the UL. Figure 4 of Excerpt G from the Kosmos Trilogy Volume II gives a representation of how Wilber understands the relationship between the interior and exterior quadrants (see also figure 4.6 in A Theory of Everything). Wilber refers to the whole right hand of the Kosmos as "matter" and as "material states" that are correlates of interior levels of consciousness. He says that,

[Neural structures] are all "exterior" or "material" forms, in that you can see them in the exterior, sensorimotor world. But each of those material forms of increasing complexity has, as an interior correlate, a level of increasing consciousness. (Excerpt G , ¶ 34)

In contrast to Wilber's approach, a more valid Integral theory view of the Upper Right is that levels of behaviour are not merely correlates of interior levels. One could just as easily say that the inner levels of consciousness are correlates of levels of behavioural identity. No quadrant is simply a correlate of any other. They all arise together in their developmental layers. The exterior aspects of holons are not simply reflective of more real levels of consciousness. Behaviour is the flip side of intention. The two go together like the inside and the outside of a glass. Saying that the exterior is a material correlation of the interior is like saying that the outside shape of a glass is the result of the of the shape of its interior. The interior domains and the exterior domains are both needed for a full understanding of any holon's identity. If 20th century psychology has shown us anything it is that behaviour is not simply the result of interior intention. There is a correspondence between all the various structures and dynamics in all the quadrants. This is the Integral theory principle of homologous structures (Edwards, 2002). Corresponding levels and lines and dynamics are, in that sense, correlated with each other. But not in the sense that the right hand is derivative of the left or that the levels of behavioural quadrants merely reflect or underlie the developmental depth of the consciousness quadrant. Wilber believes that the exterior quadrants are made of "items that can be seen with the senses or their extension". He says that, "The upper right hand quadrant is what we most often think of as the hard sciences" (2000, p.50). And, as we know, the hard sciences study matter in all its various combinations and permutations. He regards the exterior as lacking depth and therefore as not requiring interpretation. The interior on the other hand is developmentally rich and has to be interpreted.

"History" requiring interpretation is simply the interior (LH) dimensions of all holons, and "nature" as empirically observed is simply the exterior (RH) dimensions of all holons (Excerpt C, Note 33).

Or, as he regularly puts it: "Surfaces are seen, but depth must be interpreted. And those are the right and Left Hand paths." To be honest I think that such views are quite naive. Wilber often warns of the "myth of the given", the mistaken view that objective facts are simply presented to us. But here he is saying that the entire behavioural and social domains are presented as surfaces (i.e. facts) that can be seen (and immediately comprehended). As I have pointed out previously (Edwards, 2000) interpretive and observational methods are essential for understanding both the interiors and the exteriors. Monological and dialogical knowledge can be applied to any level in both the left and right hand paths to knowledge. Dialogue and interpretation is just as relevant to the observation of exteriors as it is to the introspective observation of interiors. Can you look at a lung x-ray and immediately see the facts? If you see news footage of a guerrilla shooting at army officers can you immediately see the facts – are they freedom fighters or terrorists? You introspect your feels of increase heart rate – are you nervous or excited? The exterior "surfaces" of events can be completely clear and yet the "facts" are never "seen" they are all cases interpretations are completely dependent on other factors. The world of the exterior is as reliant on interpretive factors as the world of the interior. Wilber looks at the exterior quadrants and sees material surfaces. I look at them and see the developmental complexity of behaviour.

Behaviour is complex and developmentally rich and it is not simply a matter of empirical observation. (I have dealt with this issue in some detail in my essay "The Integral Cycle" and my criticisms of Wilber's view that the exterior quadrants are simply "seen" still hold.) Wilber seems to think that behavioural does not have any developmental depth and that it is best studied by physicists, chemists, biologists, and neurologists. I wonder what James Wertsch or Barbara Rogoff, two modern interpreters of Lev Vygotsky would make of that.

Remember in all this that the exterior quadrants are aspects of the holon (individual and collective). As such they are definitive of the self of the holon. Figure 2 shows this view of the holon as a quadratic self. The exterior behavioural quadrants in this Integral view of the holon are as definitive of self as any interiority. They are not simply the material surfaces of an underlying interior reality as Wilber often assumes. The exterior quadrants are the reality of the self in its activity, in its conduct and in its manner of action. And that activity will also always be developmental in nature. There is a developmental spectrum of behaviour that grows in complexity and integrative capacity just as the interior quadrants do.

Wilber too often simply sees the self-identity of the holon only in terms of its interior quadrants. Surely, however, the Integral view is that it is the whole holon, with all quadrants arising together, which defines the identity of that holon. (The views of the world's most influential developmental psychologist of recent times, Lev Vygotsky, support a much more behavioural notion of self-identity and I recommend that interested readers check out the Vygotskian and "activity theory" view of behaviour as a balance to Wilber's interiorist/Piagetian approach to identity.) Behaviour is as definitive of identity as any interior level of consciousness. The Right Hand exteriors quadrants are ontologically as rich and as involved in the formation of a self as any interior level. The self does not reside in the left hand quadrants. It arises in the balance of the unfolding of the AQAL matrix. Wilber would probably agree with this but his writings often assume subjective/intentional interiors to be the generative source of the other quadrants.

Although Wilber sometimes labels the UR as the Behavioural Quadrant, it's clear that he means this in the behaviourist sense as the activity of anatomy and physiology rather than any more complex understanding of human behaviour. As he says in SES, "[the UR] quadrant is the one emphasised by behaviourism". So it seems that Wilber's understanding of the exterior quadrants is that they are only material structures or processes of varying levels of complexity that can be known by empirical science and which harbour no ontological depth in the same way that the consciousness quadrant does.

Behaviour is not a material structure in the same way that consciousness is not just the parade of subjective images. Behaviour is developmentally complex not only materially complex. Is romantic behaviour the result of neurotransmitters? Can aggression, altruism, hatha yoga, Auslan sign language, or delinquency be explained in terms of neurology or chemistry? Yet all these are behaviours. Behaviour develops in stages just as cognition does, and that development is best understood in its own terms of activity and social conduct rather than the reductionist world of neurology. Why doesn't Wilber consider the development of behaviour in its own terms instead of using reductionist neural structures? Instead of brain anatomy why doesn't Wilber represent the exterior quadrants using a more developmental representation of behaviour? For example, why not use something like the following developmental series (with corresponding levels from the consciousness quadrant included to show the matching levels of ontological depth):-

Level of development
(ontological depth)
Behavioural levels of development (UR) Corresponding levels of Consciousness (UL)
Level 9 transpersonal behaviour psychic/subtle consciousness
Level 8 centauric behaviour vision-logic consciousness
Level 7 altruistic behaviour mature egoic consciousness
Level 6 goal-oriented behaviour perspectival consciousness
Level 5 role-based behaviour conceptual consciousness
Level 4 rule-based behaviour symbolic consciousness
Level 3 emotive behaviour impulse-image consciousness
Level 2 reflexive behaviour uroboric consciousness
Level 1 physiological behaviour pleromatic consciousness

Table 1: An integral description of the stages of development in the behavioural quadrant (UR)

This could be shown more simply as pre-normative behaviours (levels 1-3), normative behaviours (levels 4-7) and post-normative behaviours (8-9). It is quite puzzling that the creator of Integral theory should always use organic aspects of the brain to describe behaviour development. Of itself the brain does not emit behaviour. Reducing human behaviour to brain chemistry or structure is something that Integral theory should not be encouraging. Through using levels of brain structure as the archetype for levels of human behaviour Wilber is unwittingly reinforcing the old reductive perspectives on human activity. His use of the brain to exemplify objective evolution in individuals reinforces the very reductionist approach to human behaviour that has plagued Western psychologies for many decades, i.e. that consciousness/behaviour is reducible to neurology.

Contrary to common belief (and the belief of some neurologists), neuroscience does not actually tell us very much about human behaviour. It tells us a huge amount about brain chemistry and how that impacts on physiology, emotions, some aspects of basic cognitions, very basic human perceptual and motor skills but it tells us very little at present about every day cognitions, problem solving, social behaviour, ethical behaviour, organisational behaviours, motivations, interpersonal relations, reasoning and learning, community-based activities, religious behaviour, and political activity. The neurosciences have little, in fact, to say about 95% of what makes life worth living or what a lived life actually involves. Wilber, of course, knows all this and has said as much many times. Why then does he use brain structure to elucidate the stages of growth of objective human life?

My take on this baffling situation is Wilber does not fully appreciate that behavioural development for a holon is not about material complexification. Behaviour needs to be presented in its own terms in the UR and not in reductive neurological terms. If we see the holon in the context of its AQAL matrix then the exterior quadrants describe the development of that holon as much as the interior stages do. The exterior levels are not correlates or merely reflecting interior realities. They are not derivative of some more authentic interior holonic identity. Subjectivity does not come prior to Objectivity. They are holonically inseparable.

So, I propose that explain this propensity in Wilber to equate the exterior levels with simple material complexity by proposing that he has not yet fully integrated the holon construct with the AQAL model itself. As I showed in Part 4 of this series, Wilber often represents holons as separate entities in separate quadrants. This allows him to treat the developmental depth of interior "holons" and exterior "holons" in different ways. For example, he does not regard the exterior behaviour of a holon to have the same level of developmental power as the interior. For Wilber the interior is where all the really causal developmental action takes place. Hence he reduces the exterior quadrants to mere surface structure "material states" which are simple correlates of the "deep structure" holons of the interior. This view does not give equal weighting to all the quadrants of a holon.

Nowhere in Wilber's writing is there, for example, a spectrum of behavioural development (similar to that provided above). Why not? Exteriors evidence the Spirit just as much as interiors. The physical, emotional, intellectual, and interpersonal behaviours of a spiritual adept evidence their level of development just as much as any interior reality (if one has the eyes to see and the ears to hear). That is why they are often social revolutionaries who challenge social exterior structures as much as they opened up new visions for interior awareness. "You will know them by their fruits" means that the level of interior and exterior development are of a whole, they are not derivative of each other. They co-exist and co-create one another.

The material structures of the brain indicate that there are very advanced developmental potentials available to the individual, but not that they are actually in use. This is shown only through the behaviour of the whole organism/individual. The neuro-structures of the brain all exist on the material level, they are all – from the very simple neural chord level to the very complex neocortex networks – just different combinations and permutations of material forms and they can all be described in terms of the hard physical sciences. But the behaviours for which they form the material substrate cannot be investigated non-reductively through neuroscience because behaviour is not the result of neurological factors. In fact, it is well known that behaviour has ongoing influence on brain chemistry and functioning (this is the behavioural form of Sperry's "top-down causation"). For example, many major brain structures only become associated with a particular hemisphere once the dominant hand has been decided. The Right Hand quadrants are not defined by the physics of matter. They are defined by physical behaviours plus physiological behaviour plus reflexive behaviours plus goal-oriented behaviours plus social behaviours plus existential behaviours plus humanistic behaviours plus contemplative behaviours and so on.

(In a later essay I will show that Wilber's confusing position on how material complexity relates to behavioural complexity is due to a dimensional error in his AQAL scheme. Wilber is simply trying to put too much into the Upper Right behavioural quadrant. Under his new scheme the UR now contains behaviour, neurological development, subtle and gross energies, material/form complexification and the development of gross bodies. This is too much for one quadrant to hold without some reductionist fallout. Unfortunately, it's Wilber understanding of behavioural development that is suffering. His outlining of an Integral theory of subtle energies and subtle bodies is entangling a separate energy-form dimension with the exterior dimension of the behavioural quadrant. When this dimension is separated from the interior-exterior the whole issue of the complexification of material forms, as exemplified in the development of neurological form, and energies becomes much clearer. But all that, and much more, is for Through AQAL Eyes: Part 6.)

In summary then, I believe that Wilber's inconsistent modelling of the holon predisposes him to certain reductive ways that are at odds with the general intent of his Integral theory propositions. I have argued that this can be seen in his representation of behavioural levels of identity as simply material correlates of more primary interior realities. I will now argue that these reductive inconsistencies are also seen in the way that Wilber often privileges the interior quadrants in general.

2. Privileging the Interior Quadrants

The other side of representing the exterior quadrants as simply material substrates is that the interior quadrants are then seen as the real definite and causal agents for holonic identity. Wilber regards the interior quadrants as the centre of human identity and of human agency. He recognises some sort of mechanical exterior agency but even that he regards to be a derivative of interior consciousness. As he puts it in his latest writings:

Left-Hand holons involve consciousness and intentionality proper (i.e., agency as intentionality originates in the first-person spaces of free will but can be viewed from a third-person stance of determinism; when we refer to agency in the exterior or Right-Hand quadrants, it is the exterior correlates of interior intentionality that are meant). (Excerpt C, ¶ 387)
Right-Hand holons, for example, have agency only in the exterior sense of mass-energy impacts and registrations (where they follow physical laws, habits, rules, and regulations, including those of physical causality) (Excerpt C, ¶ 387)
the agency of the self or "I," the agency or pattern that determines whether something is internal or external to the self (Excerpt C, ¶ 297)
Individual holons have something like a sensitive centre--a locus of prehension--or an individual subjectivity, agency, and intentionality. ¶ 221

So for Wilber "proper" agency and purposiveness comes from the interior. The agency of the self is the "I", the interior of the individual quadrant. The centre of the self is "subjectivity, agency and intentionality". For him, it is this agentic "internality" or "I" that drives the pattern of development, and "determines whether something is internal or external to the self". But as we have seen, the AQAL matrix for each holon (individual or collective), clearly holds that agency has two forms - the interior form and the exterior form. Intention and behaviour are the two arms of the agency of a holon. Holons assert and form their identity through their consciousness and their activities. This understanding is very clearly communicated when holons are depicted as having four quadrants. Behavioural activity must be as definitive of human agency as interior intention. If exterior agency is seen as derivative of interior agency then we will have a very different (and non-integral) approach to explaining the formation of human identity and behaviour. Why then does Wilber clearly reduce such important holonic qualities as agency to the interior? Because Wilber sees the exterior "holons" as having agency only as a result of physical causality and he wants his holons to have a much deeper capacity for agency than that. The interiors are privileged to safeguard depth because Wilber doesn't see any depth in the exterior. This is truly an impoverished way of thinking about behaviour and an unwarranted privileging of interiority. This reductionism in Wilber's understanding of holonic quadrants stems, I believe, from the unrecognised ambiguities in the way he treats holons.

Each holon has two agentic drives – interior and exterior – and two communal drives – exterior and interior. This follows directly from the idea of the AQAL matrix. Figure 3 shows an Integral theory approach to holonic agency and communion that fully recognises that both interior and exterior quadrants contribute to the agency, or self-focused identity of a holon, and to its communion, or relational focused identity. This is true for both for both individual and collective hoons (for a collective holon substitute the term "system-focused" for "self-focused" in figure 3 and the same principles will apply). What this means in practice is that a holon's self-focused identity is derived from both experience and behaviour. Why, then, doesn't Wilber include both perspective in his understanding of agency?

Personal acts are the result of behaviours as much as cognitions. Social activity is as much the result of social roles as it is cultural meaning-making. This vision of agency allows Integral theory to escape the reductionist view that the exterior is determined by an interior executive consciousness that directs the material body's behaviour (the "ghost in the machine" fallacy). Cognitive-behavioural psychology acknowledges that concepts such as self-image, self-efficacy, self-concept, self-evaluation rely on behavioural and situational activity as much as on cognitive reflection. Wilber regards behavioural agency as a very mechanistic process of "mass-energy impacts and registrations" and the laws of "physical causality" but, as I have tried to explain above, behaviour is much more than the ecological rearrangement of matter. To put it simply, behaviour contributes to agency a variety of types of causality. Running in a bottom-up direction, these types of causality include (based on table 1) those based on physiological causality, reflex causality, instrumental conditioning, operant conditioning, goal-directed causality, existential-centauric causality, and so on.

Perhaps a very simple example of what I mean by behavioural agency will make the point clearer. There are many well-researched therapeutic approaches to depression where behaviour is used to initiate cognitive, affective and broad psychological change in a causal sense. There are a whole range of behavioural techniques aimed at reducing or stopping depressive cognitions and feelings by engaging in behaviours such as dancing, bushwalking, smiling, painting, doing crafty-type things, helping others, etc, etc. The idea of "retail therapy" is a humorous version of this very common and successful behavioural approach to instigating whole-of-life change. This is all very straightforward really. Wilber's view on agency doesn't take this behavioural approach to agency into account because he privileges the interior quadrants as the causal source for human development. For him the exterior "holons" are all material therefore they can only affect the agency of the very lowest level of material development – "mass-energy impacts and registrations". This is what comes from privileging the interior quadrants over and above the behavioural quadrant. It is Wilber's view that,

Interiors cannot merely be reconstructed by exchange of exterior signs--that makes no sense whatsoever. The entire string of communicative signals, at whatever level--atoms to ants to apes--can only get started (and stopped) with interior resonance. (Excerpt C, ¶ 482)

This has a touch of the "what came first the chicken or the egg" feel about it. The problem is that Wilber thinks it's the egg. "Interior resonance" is for Wilber where everything starts and stops. The Integral view is that beginnings and endings involve both interiors AND exteriors. Our beginnings are as much behavioural as they are experiential. Behavioural communication does not get started once interiors are in place. Behaviour informs interiors as much as interiors inform behaviour. The social self of the child evolves through the mediation of communication as much as it does through the development of internal cognitive structures. (Wilber needs to read more Vygotsky or Rom Harre's "Personal Being" to get a hang on all this.)

This bias towards the interior quadrants as the source of "proper" agency is evident throughout Wilber's developmental psychology where there are hundreds of references to the works of Jean Piaget, who focused on the interior cognitive development. In contrast, Wilber never mentions anywhere, to my knowledge, the work of Lev Vygotsky (who is currently the most quoted and influential developmental psychologist in the world) who had a social-historical focus for explaining human development.

The privileging of the interior quadrants is also evident in the way Wilber treats the topic of spirituality. I have written an essay on how Wilber accentuates the interior individual quadrant in his understanding of spirituality and religion and neglects the importance of the exterior quadrants (see the very poorly titled "Pushing for the Collective"). For Wilber, esoteric spirituality (e.g. meditative traditions, the interior quadrants) is the place of authentic spirituality and exoteric spirituality (e.g. sacramental traditions, the exterior quadrants) is the place of dogmatic religion. This is not an Integral view of spirituality. Here are some quotes that make it clear that he sees the interior as the real source of spiritual development.

Authentic spirituality ... must be, at its core, a series of direct mystical, transcendental, meditative, contemplative or yogic experiences. (Excerpt C, ¶ 166)
... when religion emphasises its heart and soul and essence – namely direct mystical experience and transcendental consciousness ... (Excerpt C, ¶ 167)

the founders of the great traditions, almost without exception, underwent a series of profound spiritual experiences. Their revelations, their direct spiritual experiences were not dogmatic proclamations (Excerpt C, ¶ 168) (emphasis in the original)

These quotes show that Wilber sees the source of authentic spirituality as experiential. A more integral view is that there is authentic religion in both the interior and exterior quadrants because they all have levels of post-conventional spirituality and religion. In all of Wilber's discussion of the core essentials of spirituality we see no mention of the spectrum of spiritual behaviours or social actions or anything pertaining to the transpersonal levels of the exterior quadrants. For example when he defines authentic spirituality he only ever mentions interior, experiential criteria. We see no mention here of the core revelations in all transformative religion on spiritual behaviour, moral action, social transformation, sacramental ritual, transformative personal behaviour, pilgrimage, physical posture, moderation in our behaviour, codes and commandments on inter-personal relationships, social responsibilities, challenging social ills, charity or any form of communal spirituality or practice.

Once again, I put a lot of this neglect of exterior forms of spirituality down to Wilber's misinterpretation of how the interior and exterior actually relate to each other. The exterior is a lot more than just the rearrangement of matter, just as the interior is a lot more than the flux of sensory perception. There are many levels of development that are embraced by each quadrant and these levels will correspond with each other. The interior and the exterior are, in terms of a holon's identity, a complementary unity. They are two sides of the same coin. Under Wilber's conceptualisations however, they are two separate coins occupying separate quadrants. Hence, one can be treated as independent to the other. This is not a very Integral picture of how quadrants and holons relate.

This privileging of the interior over the exterior occurs more frequently in Wilber's writings than might be imagined given that the model he has established clearly emphasises the mutual inter-dependency of the holonic quadrants. There seems to be an assumption here that transformation and evolution (and particularly cultural evolution) arises first in the interior of individuals and then influences the other quadrants. I simply restate my point here that if we see individual and collective holons existing within separate quadrants then it is highly likely that such reductionisms will occur. The focus on the interior levels as definite of agency and identity has a implications for Wilber's view on social membership and on how holons engage in relational exchange.

3. Wilber's view of social membership (and my alternative)

Developmental approaches to human growth need to be very careful with their handling of the topic of membership and social exchange. Wilber's current writings on membership and on how individuals become members of a common "we" are often not only inspiring but also groundbreaking in their implications for the philosophical treatment of these topics. However, there are also some aspects of his theoretical definitions and propositions that I find highly questionable. Once again, these areas of concern are usually related to the way Wilber utilises holonic concepts and principles. The ubiquitous use of the holon in the discussion of membership and relational exchange is evidence of its pivotal place in the application of Integral theory. The theoretical analysis of these topics is dependent on a clear and precise understanding of holonic structures, perspectives, and dynamics involved. I don't believe that Wilber's conceptualisation of these elements has yet reached a sufficient level of precision and clarity to proceed onto their applied use.

When not considered with the a sufficient level of detail and rigour the issue easily turns into a rather exclusive and uni-dimensional process. When some aspects of Integral theory are applied to this issue (interior aspects of growth) and others left out (exteriors aspects of growth), membership becomes a question of comparing "measures" of interior development rather than any more integral process. This is exactly what has occurred with Fred Kofman's very unfortunate paper "Holons, Heaps and Artifacts" on this topic for which, by the way, Wilber has expressed his full support (see "Through AQAL Eyes - Part 1" for my critique of Kofman's approach to holonic membership).

Membership is a crucial topic because it relates to the way that the "individual" enters into relationship with the "other" and the two become a "we" instead of simply a group of interacting entities. While Wilber's own treatment of this issue of holonic membership is much more sensitive to the complexities of the human world than Kofman's, it also suffers from a tendency to relate interiors only and his latest writings continue to show some peculiarly selective uses of Integral theory principles.

So what does Wilber mean by membership. Here are a few quotes. You and I are in a we when our intersections are internal to it, which, very simply, is the definition of membership. Individual

holons are members of a particular network, system, or communal holon when their intersections follow the nexus-agency of that holon. (Excerpt C, ¶ 402)
A compound individual is a member of a collective or group when its intersections with others in that group are following the rules or defining patterns of the group, which are whatever it is that makes that group an actual group or functional whole. (Excerpt C, ¶ 409)
Several different "I's" can be "inside" a "we," and that "insideness" is what is usually meant by membership. (Excerpt C, ¶ 100) You and I are in a we when our intersections are internal to it, which, very simply, is the definition of membership. (Excerpt C, ¶ 402)
We are members of a culture when the ways that we touch each other are internal aspects of the phenomenological space that we each mean when we say "we." (Note 45, Excerpt C)

So membership for Wilber is related to common "internal" intersections which are "interior aspects of the phenomenological space" of several individuals. It is the sharing of this "insideness" or interior pattern that equates to membership for Wilber. His membership is always a result of the capacities of the "We" quadrant, the interior quadrant of the collective, and never a result of the exterior quadrants of the collective (what I call the "Us" quadrant).

Now the first thing to notice about these quotes is that Wilber leaves out any mention of exteriority in defining membership. The reason he does this is because, as we saw above, the exterior for him holds very little developmental significance (beyond material complexification). The behavioural and exterior quadrants are all material flatland for him so they will play no part in the vertical process of developmental engagement. Wilber relies on interiority to define membership and the whole spectrum of relational exchange between holons in general. He leaves out a balanced consideration of the exterior quadrants in defining what social membership is and it emerges in collective life. From an Integral theory perspective that recognises the equal significance of the quadrants in holonic identity, Wilber's definition of social membership is an example of pure, unadulterated weak reductionism as figure 3 attempts to indicate. The figure shows that membership (N) is reduced to the intersection of holonic space for only one of the four quadrants. While there is intersection in the social quadrant for Wilber, it is only material intersection or "social strandship".

Wilber's view on membership (as with Kofman's) is, I believe, not an Integral theory view and is not up to the task of explaining the full range of dynamics involved in social membership, social acceptance and social rejection. To give just one example, a black indigenous Australian can have all the interior qualities of intelligence and moral development and completely understand and share all the interior rules and patterns of the governing social pattern but still be denied membership. In the same way a person with an intellectual disability can have severe delay in several areas of interior development and only have a very simple understanding of the governing pattern of a social holon but still be accepted as a full member of that group (despite what Kofman might think). Leave out the exterior and we leave out numerous significant factors that are involved in the issue of social membership in both its pathological and healthy forms. Between these two extreme examples lie a plethora of similar situations that Wilber's approach does not explain. Mainly because, I believe, his is not an Integral theory view of what constitutes membership or how it is achieved. He does not apply all the relevant holonic principles to define membership or to represent the process by which it takes place. In Excerpt C Wilber is focusing in general on understanding the "we" or the interiority of membership and so it is to be expected that he be concerned with the left hand quadrants to do that. But this is the very point. Membership is much more than the coalescence of a "we" it is also the formation and maintenance of an "us", i.e. the exterior of a "we". My point is that membership is not only about the left hand but equally about behaviours and social presences and roles and social identities and so and so on. Table 1 above makes it clear that the behavioural quadrant (and the social quadrant for that matter) are as inherently developmental and holarchical as the interiors. Why, then, should they be left out of the matter? The example that Wilber describes most fully concerning his understanding of membership is that of a chess game. He draws the analogy of two individuals playing chess who enter into the game via the rules that govern the players. Wilber's view is that the players are members when they share the governing pattern (regnant nexus) that is the game of chess. This sharing for Wilber is the intersection of their individual internal knowledge/feel for the rules of chess. As he puts it,

the rules of chess, developed over its long history, are its regnant nexus--the regime, pattern, or nexus-agency of the game. You and I are inside or "in" a game of chess, not when everything about you and me follows the rules of chess, but when our interactions in this game follow the rules of chess. If you or I break the rules, we are "out" of the game. Thus, you and I are in a game of chess (i.e., we are members or players of this particular game) when our interactions are internal to (or follow the patterns of) the regnant nexus of chess. (Excerpt C, ¶ 412) (emphasis in the original)

There are three points I'd like to make here about Wilber's analogy. These points are related to, i) the wide range of interior levels of involvement that often characterise social membership, ii) the Integral view that the exterior is as definitive of membership as the interior, and iii) that we always become members of social holons which, by definition, will include interior and exterior forms.

i) The wide range of interior levels of involvement that often characterise social membership.

Wilber chess example suggest that some similar level of understanding of the rules has to be involved for people to play chess together. This is not true. I am no grandmaster but I have a played the game for 30 years and I do enjoy the game. I am just beginning to play chess with my sever-year-old daughter. She learnt all the rules of the game in a few hours and enjoys following those rules at a very novice level. We both enjoy playing chess together. So what's happening there. There is absolutely no parity between my daughter's and my level of proficiency, experience or strategic understanding of the rules but nevertheless we share a game of chess as a social "we" for a whole range of social reasons. We are both "in" the game and having fun and creating community in that process.

And this sort of thing happens all the time in social gatherings. In healthy community life it's almost as if people interpret the rules to create vast arenas of inclusive intersections rather than seeing then as rigidly exclusive ways of refining membership. My point here is that these rules or the regnant nexus that Wilber talks about are extremely plastic in most situations and people with vastly different abilities and capacities can be "inside" a social/cultural event, can be interior to that regnant nexus and form a "we" with very little background being required. In most social situations the level of skill on the internal capacity relevant for membership and meaningful exchange to take place is hugely variable and multidimensional and constantly changing in the flux of cultural interactions. If this is true for the intellectual and rather abstract game of chess, then it's true of a great many other cultural happenings. At the general level of community building this involvement of people with vastly different abilities and backgrounds in social activities is very commonplace and is even one of the core characteristics of community. We each contribute what we can and that diversity actually supplies the lifeblood of any "we". From chess clubs to Zen sanghas, from schools to workplaces, from families to regional communities it is the diversity in interior and exterior skills and backgrounds that informs true community life. How then can we define membership in terms of some homogeneous level of interior development?

For example, to be a member of a residential community not much more than physical presence is needed. You can't avoid being a neighbour, meeting the Jones, participating in neighbourhood life in some way once you are physically present (whether you like it or not). Wilber 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" (both quotes 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) include exterior patterns that are often so flexible, so dependent on the social situation and so accommodating to each individual's age, background, abilities, interests, occupation and social profile that the only basic pattern or rule for membership that can often 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'.

ii) that the exterior is as definitive of membership as the interior

The second point is that a game of chess, or any game or social activity for that matter, involves much, much more than a internalisation of the rules of that game. When you and I are "inside" a game of chess our bodies, our shared physical environment, our emotions, our interpersonal behaviour, our desires, our communicative behaviour, our aspirations, our competitive behaviour all seem to pretty much come along for the ride. Being "inside" the game is a quadratic affair. The exterior is as important for the game as the interior even in chess (I find it interesting that Ken uses chess as his example for describing human social interaction, but even this rather abstract activity doesn't support his interiorist definition of membership). Wilber says that,

A compound individual is a member of a collective or group when its intersections with others in that group are following the rules or defining patterns of the group (Excerpt C, ¶ 409)

The problem is that Wilber tends to see these rules/patterns as interior operants. A more integrated (quadratic) view is that rules and defining patterns always include environmental and situational cues, physical behavioural, social customs and etiquette, interpersonal roles, social injunctions, sanctions and rewards. All of these aspects of human holons are intersecting when cultural rules and patterns are in action. Hence, every cultural event is a holistic engagement that includes all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all dynamics, i.e. cultural occasions are AQAL affairs. They are not defined by intersections of interior pieces of the jigsaw, but by the total engagement of the complete holon as it arises in the AQAL matrix. When we play a game of chess do we leave our behaviours and social roles behind? When we sit in sesshin don't we include ritual behaviour as a fundamental pattern of the Sangha's "we'? I am sure that Ken Wilber would yell out a resounding 'yes' to all of these questions but does his definition of membership does not.

We can only ever understand the process of membership, social acceptance and social rejection when the exterior quadrants are fully included in the definition. Social pathologies can only be understood when the judgement of exteriors are entered into the analysis. Wilber's definition does not explain why marginalised people across the world are denied social membership when they so clearly posses all the interior qualities to be worthy of it. His view also does not explain how communities can readily offer full membership when the outsider shares little of the interior cultural qualities that Wilber's interiorist definition relies on.

iii) that we always become members of social holons which by definition will include interior and exterior forms.

When holon's come together to form a cultural "we" all aspects of their identity is involved in some way. This means that the intersections that define a cultural event and its governing patterns (regnant nexus) will include interiors and exteriors, agentic qualities and relational qualities. They will include a variety of levels and lines and dynamics. So, defining these intersections always involves the application of the full AQAL matrix. Anything less is a reductive definition of membership. The arising of a cultural "we" means that a completely new social holon has emerged. This holon will in turn be a quadratic unit, that is it will be a complete holon. In shifting our AQAL gaze onto this new emergent structure we will again apply all of the principles of the AQAL matrix to this holon. A cultural event is not just the interior intersections of a group of individuals. It is an emergent holon with all qualities of any holon. Water is not defined by the intersections of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. It is defined by the emergent holonic qualities that arise in the AQAL matrix of water. In the same way social holons are not defined by the intersections of individual holons but by the AQAL matrix of that emergent social entity.

Wilber sees membership in interior terms and therefore thinks that membership is really only a cultural phenomenon and not a social one. According to Wilber we are 'strands' in a social group because networks of social groups lack depth and we can parts or strands in that network but not members. As he says,

cultural membership and social strand-ship are located in different dimensions of being. Those dimensions do indeed arise together, but not in physical space; they arise together in the AQAL matrix, whose interior dimensions do not rigidly line up with gravity, trees, towns, or rocks. That is why reducing the world to social and eco systems is to kill culture and consciousness (Excerpt C, ¶ 130)
Social holons are networks of shared exteriors or signifiers, but cultural holons are networks of shared interiors or signifieds: intersubjectivity versus interobjectivity, hermeneutics versus ecology. (Excerpt C, ¶ 130)

These quotes show up several weaknesses in Wilber's understanding of holon theory which lead to his reductive conceptualisation of membership. First, there is the mistaken idea that the exterior dimension of being, the social world is made up of physical objects – physical laws, trees, rocks and places – that lack significant depth (other than material complexification). I have already shown that this is not an Integral view of the exterior quadrants holons. Second, there is the idea that the interior and the exterior are separated, spatially ("not in [the same ] physical space") and ontologically ("in different dimensions of being"). This is a direct result of falsely separating holons into quadrants. For Wilber 'social holons are networks of shared exteriors" and cultural holons are networks of shared interiors". But as we have seen a social "holon" is always at the same time a cultural "holon". To put it more accurately there are no social quadrants of a holon that are separate from their cultural siblings. Wilber sets up an artificial holonic boundary, then privileges one quadrant (the interiors), then denies developmental depth to the other (the exteriors) and then says that membership is about depth which is, guess what, only to be found in the left hand quadrants. A more balanced view sees interior membership and exterior membership as actually co-creating each other.

In contrast to the arguments and definitions proposed by Wilber, I propose that a truly Integral approach sees membership as encompassing all aspects of our identity – consciousness, behaviour, values, and social roles. The resulting regnant nexus, the governing pattern, of the new social holon will also be represented as a complete AQAL matrix (holon) and be able to move through quadrants and levels depending on the social situation. That movement will follow a healthy pattern of inclusion (of possible members) on some occasions and a pathological narrowing of exclusion (of possible members) on others. From this more Integral perspective we can define membership, not just as the intersection of shared interiors, but as the intersection of shared interiors and exteriors, agencies and communions to form a new AQAL matrix. To put it another way membership is the intersection of shared selves, where a self is the arising of interior and exterior, agentic and communal identity. When two quadratic holons intersect their transactions will also be quadratic, i.e. holonic, in nature. It is this emergent AQAL matrix that defines the social holon and the membership process that flows into and out of it (see figure 5).

This more quadratic view of membership does not rely on a reductive deference to any particular quadrant or "hand" as Wilber's approach does. It view recognises membership as a quadratic process that does not privilege the interior quadrants. It also has more valid application to real social events because membership always includes definitive aspects of the exteriors at every level. As I have pointed out, this view of holonic intersection gives a far more informative view of the spectrum of social pathologies of membership as well as the healthy forms of social inclusion and cultural diversity.

4. Mutuality and relational exchange – How holon's commune(icate)

One of the means Wilber uses to describe how holons exchange relations, how they share their cultural innards, how they co-create a "we", is via the Spiral Dynamics language of values memes. Wilber gives an example in Excerpt C where he, a blue vMeme person at the conventional, normative level of blue culture, meets a yellow vMeme person at the post-normative, post-conventional level of yellow culture. On the basis of some rather selective Integral principles Wilber draws several conclusions about the relationship between the two individuals. I quote from the text.

if you are yellow and I am blue, and we exchange blue symbols, words, or tokens (blue signifiers), then we can usually reach some sort of mutual understanding at that level of depth ...You and I can therefore enter a blue worldspace ... and thus we can participate in cultural solidarity at that particular locale in the AQAL matrix (we can resonate both vertically and horizontally). (Excerpt C, ¶ 466)

Wilber is saying here that communication and relational exchange can always take place between two holons because, no matter how great the developmental difference, both holons will always be able to resonate with each other at some basic level. Hence, there will always be the possibility of both vertical and horizontal solidarity of some type. As Wilber says "we can resonate both vertically and horizontally". So, for communication to occur and therefore some (even if minimal) level of understanding to transpire, depth is irrelevant. Two different holons will always be able to find some communicative level of exchange because some shared level of development will always be present to both holons. Wilber even talks about the, "intersubjectivity or cultural solidarity that allows knowing and understanding to occur" between a cell and the scientist studying that cell.

While the blue and the yellow share a basic platform of development and can communicate about that common sphere of experience and action, Wilber says that "there is no way" for them to intersect about the yellow or unshared sphere that only the yellow is a "member" of. He says that,

both you and I can be a member of a blue culture; but only you can be a member of a yellow culture. Because I am not accessing a yellow phenomenological space in my own I-awareness, there is no way for our intersections to intersect in a yellow domain: we cannot actually run into each other in that world. (Excerpt C, ¶ 471)

This means that the basic shared level of exchange will be associated with the less developed holon's perspective, in this case the blue holon's worldview. Direct communication between the two is possible only when communicating about this shared level. Unfortunately for blue, Wilber argues, the higher levels will be inaccessible and invisible to him because he does not participate in that level of development. Figure 6 shows the communicative relationship between yellow and blue that Wilber describes. The figure shows the field that is available for direct communicative exchange (mutuality) and that which is inaccessible.

Notice that for Wilber the potential field for communication between the blue and yellow holons is determined by the depth of the lower holon. For Wilber, there will always be a field that is inaccessible for any mutual understanding to take place between two holons of different developmental levels. (I also hold to this as a basic starting point in the representation of holonic relations but there are many aspects of Integral theory that heavily qualify Wilber's strong form of the position.) But, whatever the relative levels of development, Wilber clearly maintains in the above passages that some shared mutuality can exist between any two holons. All this seems relatively straightforward. Unfortunately however, having just established that similar depth is not an essential aspect for communicative understanding and mutuality Wilber goes on to contradict these basic propositions.

depth only understands similar depth (Excerpt C, ¶ 474)
in order for mutual understanding to occur, holons must be surfing similar developmental waves. (Excerpt C, ¶ 478)
Vertical solidarity, then, means that two holons share a similar depth or level of consciousness, and accordingly this level of consciousness can form part of the fabric of cultural or horizontal solidarity that is prerequisite for mutual understanding. (Excerpt C, ¶ 475)
Particularly when it comes to holons that are "over its head," there is no mutual understanding because there are no shared signifieds there is no mutual understanding because there are no shared signifieds. (Excerpt C, ¶ 474)

Here we have Wilber talking of the "prerequisite" need for sharing a "similar" depth and "surfing similar developmental waves" and that there will be "no shared signifieds" and "no mutual understanding" when holons are out of their depth. This is completely contrary to his stated position that holons don't have to be of similar depth for some form of understanding to take place.

There is always an opportunity for shared signifieds and mutuality because holons will always share some level of basic development. To get back to Ken's chess example and the membership issue. You don't have to be of similar developmental depth to enjoy a game of chess together or to have a similar level of knowledge of experience in playing the game to regard each other as members of socio-cultural group of chess players. Sporting clubs must be the ultimate example of this. People of the greatest developmental variety can all be members of a football club because they all share the interest in the basic physical activity of the sport. More to the point, such clubs are often the very heart of a community in country and regional areas. Wilber's criteria of similar depth and interior intersections seem to be woefully inadequate to explain membership in these cultural environments.

To be honest here I think that Ken is just being sloppy. Lots of shared mutual socio-cultural interaction, understanding and communication can occur between holons of very different levels of depth. The example of a mature adult playing with a young baby or a pet is the classic example. There just needs to be a shared circumstantial need to communicate and two holons will always find a way to form some level of mutual understanding. But I would like to go a little further in this than just noticing that Ken sometimes gets a bit slack with his definitions. I want to look at how our two different holons, the blue holon and the yellow holon, can actually meaningfully communicate about the higher. Wilber's view on this is extremely clear. For him there can "never" be any mutual understanding about ideas, desires or needs related to the unshared levels of development of the higher holon.

I am blue and you are yellow. Under those circumstances, we will never reach a mutual understanding about your yellow ideas, desires, and needs, because I literally cannot see yellow phenomenological realities--they are all "over my head"--they are all Greek to me. (Excerpt C, ¶ 465)
we need to share not only perspectives but the same height or depth of those perspectives, or again, there is no phenomenological space in which we can collide. (Excerpt C, ¶ 479)

Wilber says that, even when expressed in shared communicative media such as a common language, the higher ideas and needs can "never" be communicated from yellow to blue.

Even if we share the same language with the same syntax, some of the semantic realities that can be carried by that language, such as yellow thoughts and ideas, will still be like a foreign language to me. I will hear the words (i.e., the written or spoken signifiers in the system of syntax), but never grasp their actual meaning (i.e., I get the signifiers in their syntax, but not the signifieds in their semantic (Excerpt C, ¶ 465)

I agree with Wilber that the lower does not experience the reality of the higher. However, I believe that it is far to strong, when speaking of the human sphere, to say that the higher can "never" be "understood" or that "there is no phenomenological space" in which the higher can be shared with the lower in some way. It is simply too exclusivist (and reductionist for that matter) an interpretation of holon theory to say that that some level of mutual recognition of the higher can "never" be communicated to the lower, or that without holons being at the "same height or depth" there can "never" be some communication of "actual meaning". I would like to identify five aspects of Integral theory that considerably weaken Wilber's strong position on the impossibility of some shared understanding of the higher being communicated to the lower.

i) A basis for communication about the higher to the lower already exists. We have seen that the higher and the lower do share developmental space. Higher holons can and do communicate all the time with lower holons. this includes parents with children, children with pets, teachers with students, moral leaders with the general public and the authors of sacred writings with their readers. But there is an additional method of communicating the higher that comes into play when the lower holon has verbal-rational capacities. Here the possibilities of real dialogue about he higher reaches a decisive turning point. This is because the verbal-rational realms are the realms of abstract concepts and so anything, even higher experiences and events, can be expressed in terms of verbal-rational conceptual language. The whole of sacred literature and scriptural commentary is testament to the fact that the higher can be communicated in terms of the lower world of rational conceptual language. The works of ken Wilber are also evidence of the possibilities that can be opened up once the rational conceptual level of mind has been reached by the lower holon.

The rational mind is the first stage that can act as a universal medium for communicating experiences, ideas, and realities from one level to the other. This does not mean that the recipient will experience or completely understand those communicated events but they will be able to encounter their reality via symbols, stories and analogies. Figure 7 shows that this abstracted process of communicating the higher knowledge/experience to the lower builds upon the already significant shared reality that two holons will always possess (as discussed above).

Once the verbal conceptual level of development has been reached in the lower holon there is no field that is completely inaccessible to some form of mutual understanding. (This is one reason why development in its personal and collective forms becomes so dramatically accelerated once an individual or a society reaches the level of conceptual knowledge. This is also why such increased development can end, [in both cases] in very dissociated developmental pathologies). So now we have the qualification that the lower can share in the higher in an abstracted way. That vicarious understanding and learning can take place and build upon the already substantial base of shared mutuality that will always be present.

ii) My second qualification to the proposition that the lower can "never reach a mutual understanding" of the higher lies with the fundamental Integral principle that holons are never uni-dimensional. They have multiple lines of development that pass through the levels in each quadrant. Wilber has identified about a dozen lines just for the consciousness quadrant and this number is probably repeated, more or less, in the other quadrants. This creates considerable complexity even in very fundamental holons. In human holons these lines of development will often be at different developmental levels. This is why it is so very simplistic to represent a human holon, personal or collective, as being at one particular level e.g. blue or yellow. It will be even more problematic to propose that mutual understanding and communication about one particular line cannot take place when one person is higher on one line, lower on another and the two are at a similar developmental level on other lines. Wilber rarely mentions this fundamental aspect of an Integral theory of holons. This is understandable in some ways because the lines of development add a considerable level of complexity to the model. It's unfortunate in other ways because lines are essential for any sort of genuine application of the model to everyday life. Speaking personally, any analysis of human social events (such as SDi) that does not take developmental lines into account isn't worth the paper its written on. Life is complex. Human holons are complex. Is integral theory going to be an accurate framework for modelling real social processes or not? Figure 8 attempts to show communicative exchange as it might be seen to occur between complex holons in a psychographic form.

So now again, we have a further qualification that the lower can share in the higher in an expanded way through some possible shared lines of development. The developmental gap between two human holons is very likely to be less than any unidimensional view of their respective levels can acknowledge. This is because there will generally be some line in the lower holon that is substantially more developed than it's "centre of developmental gravity". For example, in figure 8 above I have indicated that the blue holon may have a line of development that is actually at green. So there will be an expanded field for direct shared mutuality with the yellow holon because they both share a direct experience of some green aspects of development. Now, while it may be unusual for a blue holon to have some green characteristics, the point still holds that the developmental differential between holons will always be substantially less than their centre of gravity when the variation in their lines of development is taken into account. Consequently, there will be an increased potential for direct mutual intersection at these higher levels. (It may also not be unusual that in certain circumstances, such as personal crisis, this idea of intra-developmental variation may increase with the subsequent increase in the capacity for the "blue" holon to experience higher levels.)

Just as an aside, I believe that this more detailed approach to the developmental makeup of holons provides a more realistic platform for understanding the actual process of teaching and mentoring than the uni-dimensional approach that Wilber currently employs (and which is a hallmark of SDi). Good teachers are able to engage and support students at their highest levels of potential which is better characterised by the top level of certain lines of development rather than the student's "centre of gravity". Vygotskian views on scaffolding and the zone of proximal development may also be highly relevant here. This multidimensional approach to the higher engaging with the lower could also hold for collective holons and may open up a new approach to considering ways of supporting democratic and communal reform in underdeveloped countries.

So returning now to the issue of mutual communication, we have an expanded communicative field that combines: a) the pre-existing shared foundation of direct communication, b) and the possibility of vicarious understanding and learning made possible by the abstracting capacities of the rational-conceptual mind, and c) an expanded field of direct communication resulting from the consideration of the variation in developmental lines as opposed to a simplistic and unidimensional centre-of-gravity model.

iii) The third qualifier I want to mention here is one that Wilber himself has made much of lately. This is the proposition that all people of whatever developmental level (including babies) have daily access to, and temporary experiences of, the higher realms when the go to sleep. Although I think that Wilber has fallen into a severe case of pre-trans fallacy with all this, it is true that peak experiences and temporary plateaux experiences can give a taste of the higher to the lower. Given the strength of his recent statements on the common access that all humans have to the higher realms, Wilber should be even more cognizant of this potential channel for communication of the higher to the lower. While I am very wary of Wilber's current approach to states and stages, I think that it is highly likely that temporary states can give a powerful platform for the lower to understand the higher. the sheer power of the memory of a peak experience can be enough to change a life and make it more open to intimations of higher truths. these intimations will always, of course, be interpreted according to the worldviews of the lower but these experiences will still remain in some form in the psyche of the lower. This phenomenon of peak and plateaux experiences again qualifies Wilber's proposition that the higher and the lower can "never reach a mutual understanding about [the higher] ideas, desires, and needs".

iv) It's a great mystery that the lower ever seeks to understand and experience the higher. In doing so the lower must actually die to its current levels of identity. Wilber has written more intelligently than any one else on this topic. I would just like to comment here that although the higher cannot be fully experienced by the lower communication and some type of mutual understanding of the higher "ideas, desires" and needs" can occur even if in a reduced form. What, after all, is the great attraction for us in the words and stories of the great sages. Their stories, parables and pointing out exercises all convey a type of intimation of the higher to the lower. We glimpse something in the parable in the metaphor that we don't quite understand but which excites our soul to aspire to a deeper experience of who we really are. Parable and metaphor are the prime examples of what I am referring to here.

As I suggested above, when we reach the level of verbal-rational conceptual identity we can intimate and even understand in some way the higher through concepts that convey those levels to us in more familiar terms. For example, "Enlightenment is body and mind falling away", "All beings by nature are Buddha as ice by nature is water", "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all he has and buys that field." There is something in this conveyance of the higher through the terms of the lower that we do understand and which does communicate, however, vicariously some aspect of the higher. The use of parable analogy, symbol, art, poetry, story telling fairytale and paradox does convey that mystery. Why, because people are complex and because people are never simply at one vMeme level and because we have all experienced changing consciousness and transformation and crisis in some form. Parable is the means by which the higher communicates definitive elements of its experience to the lower in terms that the lower can understand and experience. This is why parable makes so much use of analogy. We are to the spirit as the child is to the parent. The kingdom of heaven is to our world as the sky is to the earth. Of course, this often ends in paradox and contradiction and mystery but even that communicates something to the conceptual mind.

v) The final aspect of integral theory which weakens Wilber's proposition that mutual understanding of the higher can "never' take place is that of the imbedded unconscious. I am not speaking here of the Mahayana principle that Wilber beautifully refers to as "Always, Already". That is a matter for the world of ultimate truths. All of my considerations come from the relative world of conjecture. I am speaking here of the desire for truth, for the higher, that arises mysteriously in the human heart through the intimation of its potential. Integral theory holds that the general pattern of potential transformation that a holon can experience is already mapped out in a type of probability wave. That potentiality is present in the future deep structures of the holon in what Wilber refers to as the embedded unconscious. It is the intimation of that higher potential that is awakened when we engage with the higher at any level. Just in being physically present something can be communicated. There is an intimation of yellow in blue that draws out blue's desire for transformation and which creates this capacity to understand the parables of the higher. I don't want to overstate this issue. But there has to be some element of the higher already in the lower for transformation to occur in the first place. I am merely proposing that that presence allows some level of metaphorical understanding to take place so that even while we now "see but through a glass dimly" there may come a time when we might see "face to face".

To recapitulate, it is a clear principle of Integral theory that the higher is not directly experienced by the lower. However, in human holons at least, there are several very relevant qualifications of this basic proposition that can open up the possibility of a mutual understanding arising about the higher's "ideas, desires and needs". These qualifying factors include:

  1. the pre-existing shared foundation of direct communication;
  2. and the possibility of vicarious understanding and learning made possible by the abstracting capacities of the rational-conceptual mind;
  3. an expanded field of direct communication resulting from the consideration of the variation in developmental lines as opposed to a simplistic and unidimensional centre-of-gravity model;
  4. the impact of peak and plateaux experiences on the communicative process;
  5. the capacity of the higher to be communicated through narrative, parable and analogy (this is associated with b);
  6. the mysterious intimation of the higher through the presence of the imbedded unconscious.

All these well-known aspects of Integral theory argue for the possibility of sharing the higher with the lower, of communicating in some way the higher to the lower, and of there being some mutuality between the higher and the lower even at the level of the higher. When all of these factors are added together it begins to look as if the field for potential shared mutuality and "cultural intersection" might be quite large irrespective of the developmental differential involved. So the size of the "phenomenological space" needed for mutual understanding to occur might actually be must less dependent on the similarity in developmental level between human holons.

Where does all this sit with Wilber's view of holons? Well, Wilber has rarely acknowledged the complexities that developmental lines (and the other factors that I have mentioned above) have for discussing the exterior or the lower quadrants. Again i say this is due to his lack of clarity in representing holons and describing them details of their structures and dynamics and how all that relates to the AQAL framework. How can he conceive of developmental lines in the lower quadrants when they are full little dissociated holon bumping around?

The omission of factors such as those I have mentioned has some very important implications for Wilber concept of membership. Wilber's rather limited definition of membership, relational exchange and of the possibility for communication between holons of varying depth might have some rather unfortunate implications for his treatment of social dynamics in general. Communication, like all holonic processes, is a quadratic business. It is not always defined by the lowest common denominator of shared experience. It is not simply the exchange of internal symbols and concepts. The exterior forms - the behavioural levels of development and the stages of social roles that we fulfil through life – these possess and transmit meaning as much any thought or feeling. In fact, the exterior can cut across the abstract nature of internalisations and be more direct in communicating higher truths than any shared interior. There is no finer example of this than the Soto School of Zen where teachings about one's true nature are transmitted and communicated through simple physical posture as much as anything else. As Hakuin Ekaku puts it, "this very body, the Buddha".

5. Collective holons and the regnant nexus (ruling pattern)

So, just to remind the intrepid reader where we are with all this, I am working through some of the implications of Wilber's limited approach to holon theory as exemplified in his most recent offering Excerpt C and G of the Kosmos Trilogy Volume 2. I have pointed to problems with how Wilber views the exterior quadrants, how he privileges the interior quadrants, and deficiencies in his definition of membership and his approach to holonic communication. Let's move now onto a more socio-political issue of the relationship between the individual (holon) and the collective (holon).

Wilber is, quite rightly, very wary of the possibility that holon theory be used to represent individuals as somehow subservient or completely subject to the will of the collective. He is also at pains to ensure that collective holons are not regarded under holon theory as big organisms that include individuals (as Andrew Smith attempts to show). These concerns are valid ones. He makes several distinctions in terminology to ensure that the individual holon and the collective holon are seen as very different entities. He is concerned that if we give the collective holon all the qualities of the individual holon such as a "single intentionality", a "sensitive centre", or a dominant "I," it might be viewed as something that subsumes individual human identity. I share these concerns and I believe that Wilber is setting up a very useful foundation for further elaborations on such topics. I do, however have some reservations on those propositions that are based on his interpretation of holons particularly in the way he represent the relationship between individual and social holons.

In order to preserve the dignity of individual and, at the same time, to recognise the power of social realities, Wilber makes a very important theoretical distinction in their relationship. This might simple be stated as follows: Individual holons are always affiliates of individual holarchies. Collective holons are always affiliates of collective holarchies. And holarchies should never be mixed otherwise the part/whole order of development is incorrectly represented (with subsequent errors in the analysis of their relations) (see my discussion on the need to define holons via their parental holarchies in "Through AQAL Eyes – Part 4"). I completely agree with Wilber on these matters. Holarchies need to be separated. The question I ask is, why then does Wilber (as shown in "part 4") continually represent individual holons and collective holons in the same holon or AQAL matrix. This is asking for trouble.

There are several areas where Wilber strikes problems because he mixes individual and collective holons in the same AQAL space and because he privileges interior quadrants over exterior ones. In this section I will look at his understanding of the "nexus of intersections" (and the associate concept of "regnant nexus").

Wilber defines his nexus of intersections as that overlapping of interior and exterior transactions or intersections that create a collective "we" space out of singular "I" spaces. The nexus is in other words a social holon. As Wilber himself says:

A nexus is simply another word for a network, a collective, a communal holon, a system, but it gives special emphasis to the relational space of togetherness that constitutes collectives. Since "nexus" has fewer established connotations than "system," I will generally use that term, although they both essentially refer to a collective holon, or an aggregate acting as a functional (LR) or meaningful (LL) whole. 354

So the nexus of intersections of individual holons is itself a collective holon. As a collective holon that "nexus of intersections" will have both interiority and exteriority, both an interior identity and an exterior identity. Wilber says that "you and I are not controlled by the we, only our intersubjective occasions are" and this is perfectly true. There are, however, two very profound shortcomings in this statement. The first is that the collective intersections are made up of not only inter-subjective meanings but also inter-objective events, not only interiors but also exteriors. The second is that these intersections include just about everything it means to be human. These intersections include bodies, actions, emotional intersections, sympathetic exchanges, cognitive discussions, ideas, attitudes and opinions, perspectives, empathetic resonances, communicative insights and creative dialogues. Seeing individuals as separate from the socio-cultural nexus is a very dissociated and abstract way of seeing how individuals and social collective meld together. When we have a social exchange with a true friend the "we" of this exchange includes bodies and brains, actions and emotions, minds and mouths, hearts and hands, eyes and ears, and symbols and sounds in an inclusive dance that includes individuality.

Whatever is left out of this social regnant nexus is hardly worth mentioning. It is not that there is simply an interior subset of the individual that is involved here. The two come together to form a new social holon that is far more encompassing and holistic than the intersecting sub-components interiors of two separate individuals holons. This is what is clearly indicated in figure 5 above. The nexus of the regnant nexus does not dissect out bits of shared interiors it impacts and therefore involves all of the members feelings, meanings, actions and roles. For a moment. That is the critical point. Intersections are defined by situations. We move in and out of situations and cultural membership in a holistic way. We are engaged and influenced and then we are not. "We" swim in a membership flux that involves all of "us" – all quadrants, all the time from birth to death.

The nexus of intersections is not separate from the individuals involved in the transaction. The nexus space includes not only cultural or hermeneutical space but also personal behavioural and social spaces. Through the examples he uses - the chess game, the exchange of memetic values – and the definitions that he proposes, it's clear that Wilber's nexus is chiefly about internal hermeneutical spaces. But even these examples includes bodies, emotions and spectators and social conventions and social roles as well as the rules of the game. I'd suggest that the regnant nexus includes all the levels of collective subholons from the level of engagement down. For example, if the cultural event is a game of football then this includes the intersections not only a shared understanding of the rules of the game but a sharing of the social roles of spectator, the membership roles of team affiliation, the affective roles of emotional support, and the physical roles of being present at the game. Hence spectators are always a major part of any game (and, as most champions admit when they are awarded trophies, the game belongs to the fans). Once again we see that, because he has an interior focus on defining relationships, Wilber's definition of membership bears no relationship with what happens in the real social world. He says that,

when we follow the rules--then you and I are in the game, i.e., we are members or players of this particular game; and somebody not playing this game is both external to and outside of the game, even if they are watching. (Excerpt C, ¶ 341)

Try telling a Collingwood supporter that they are external to and outside of a game of Aussie Rules. Spectators are part of the game because membership includes behaviour and without the behaviour of filling the stadiums, watching the game on TV, and supporting the teams there would be no "game". That's how vital the exterior is to the playing of the game.

For Wilber the social quadrant, the Lower Right, is always the exterior of a collective holon. This is because he always has individual holons in the upper quadrants and collective holons in the lower. Wilber defines the social quadrant in terms of material networks and systems. He refers to the social quadrants as an "ecosystem" being defined by "geographical space". The social quadrants is inhabited by "the insects around me" and "the worms under my house", or objects that, "follow the laws of sensorimotor, exterior, physical, or geographical spaces" and which are defined by "physical, ecological, or geographical location" and which follow "the laws of physics or ecology".

In other words, Wilber reduces the social world of collective social activity to a world of simple geographical and ecological space. This is exactly what he does to the world of individual behaviour. He reduces it to material complexification (when in fact behaviour is not something material). Look at this passage from Excerpt C (¶ 114)

When it comes to the exteriors, or the third-person dimensions of being-in-the-world, the insides and outsides of holons are usually easier to spot, simply because they generally do have some sort of mass-energy boundary (either a physical boundary with most individual holons, or a systems boundary with social holons; this includes gross, subtle, and causal mass-energy boundaries; and it includes "information" considered as data bits or "b/its" in a system) ... Here we are indeed talking about physical, geographical, and ecological boundaries--boundaries, more or less, that you can see in the exterior, physical world--such as inside and outside of my physical organism, or inside and outside of a local town, or the inside and outside of a galaxy.

Here Wilber reduces social behaviour and social systems to simple physical, geographical and ecological boundaries. But the social quadrant is much more than geography. Can you point to the legal system? Can you please show me the way to the taxation system please. I seem to have lost my democracy, have you seen it anywhere? And oh yes, yesterday I got run over by an online environment. Wilber thinks that the social system is defined by physical boundaries, you have got to be joking. He does to the social quadrant what he did to the behavioural quadrant. But behaviour is not material and society is not geographical or ecological.

The Integral theory view of holons holds that their is a social quadrant for all holons including individual and collective ones. The social quadrant for individual holons is the world of social roles. The world of performing the role of mum, dad, child, worker, businesswoman, postman, political leader, athlete, philosopher, criminal, guru, student, soldier, and monk. The social quadrant for individuals includes the functions of personal communication, leadership, economic consumption and production, parenting, and community roles such neighbour, householder, shopper, and student. The developmental levels of the left hand domain of values have direct correspondence to the developmental levels of the right hand domain of roles. Accordingly, the social quadrant for collective holons is the world of social institutions, social behaviours and systems. This is the world of families, villages, communities, tribes, social networks, peer groups, empires, nation sates, global communities and its functioning through legal, political and economic systems, systems of mass communications and entertainment, systems of religion and education. I have mapped out such levels of social development (in their healthy and pathological forms) for both the individual and collective holons in "Through AQAL Eyes Part 3" in some detail. And Ken wants us to believe that all this can be reduced to the world of matter, geography, ecology, physical boundaries and the laws of physics. "Bless us and save us, said Mrs O'Davis".

So, why does Ken do this? Why does he reduce so much rich social identity and life to the world of matter and rock and ecology? (Of course, he isn't trying to be reductive, it's the outcome of a mixed-up theory of holons that he is working from, as this and the previous essay are trying to show). Because once he reduces the social quadrant to simple geographical space, he can then say that it is the interior phenomenological space that creates collective identity, which for Ken is the interior space of the "we". And this old line about the exterior being a reflective correlate of the interior again gets introduced.

And, of course, any "we" has correlate "its"--any cultural nexus is wedded to a social nexus or system (although never in a simple geographical location, as we have often seen). (Excerpt C, ¶ 336)

So again we see that for Wilber the collective interior is where all the meaningful depth in the collective world resides. In one passage from Excerpt C he even reduces compassion, which is traditionally the behavioural exterior of the interior virtue of wisdom, to an interior quality. As he says:

developing interiors that can have compassion for all exteriors and interiors. ... all of these "I" and "we" identifications and affiliations are established by interior identities, values, and shared perceptions--not physical, ecological, or geographical location. They are Left-Hand, not Right-Hand, identities and boundaries, and hence they do not follow the laws of physics or ecology (Excerpt C, ¶ 109)

Wilber's famous four quadrants diagram from Sex, Ecology and Spirituality shows a social quadrant that includes complex governing structures, social networks and planetary communities and yet in his recent writing the social quadrant is becoming a world of ecological and geographical boundaries and "rocks". His original insight into social development is getting severely eroded through an increased focus on, and application of, his inadequate conceptualisation of holonic structures and AQAL quadratics. His "mixed-up" holon is causing, I believe considerable damage to his more applied analyses and elaboration. I have already shown that Wilber mixes individual and collective holons in the same holonic structure. This has implications for the indigenous perspectives that come out of those holonic structures. For example, he has perspectives that belong to collective holons coming from the lower quadrants of individual holons. This is a rather large topic which will be dealt with in a later essay but, for now, I only want to point out one major issue that is relevant to the current discussion. The social world of the collective holon is not the world of "its" but rather the world of "us". The outside of the collective "we" is not the world of the "its" of rocks and gravity it is the world of "us" of the exterior of the "we". Conversely, the exterior of the world of "I" is not "it" but the world of "me". The social quadrant is the world of our social roles, our systems our collective behaviour, our actions as social beings, our history, our social failures, our collective triumphs as developing communities and the domain which holds our potential for generating transformative societies of sustainable growth.

The social quadrant is the world of "us" not "its". It's perspective is our perspective. The social quadrant is "us". The social quadrant is not simply the world of rocks and physical laws and ecological webs as Wilber seems now to think, although these too belong to "us", because nothing is foreign to "us". Why does Ken think that the social quadrant whose perspective is that of "us" rather than the alienated world of "its". Quite simply because he hasn't address the fundamental relationship between quadrants and holons. Wilber has long confused holons and quadrants and their perspectives because the basic theoretical structure of the holon has never been settled. He has made assumptions about the perspective that holons take when the actual structure of his holon is a mixture of single holons and multiple holons. I'll leave it at that for the moment. (Stay tuned for Part 6 which will deal with all this, "Yes, and there's more").

So, the nexus of the collective intersections must be defined as a social as well as a cultural affair. And both have an equal part to play in the mystery of individuals creating collectives and collectives creating individuals. This is the phylogenetic form of what I call the Integral cycle. The quadrants co-operative in the creation and maintenance of the "I", the "Me", the "We" and the "Us". The regnant nexus, the ruling pattern, that generates this mystery is the Integral cycle that mutualises all the quadrants into individual identity and collective identity. As a result both individual and collective identity have their own types of agency and superagency.

6. Collective Agency and governance

Wilber's approach to collective agency is an interesting one. He seems to want to rule out any possibility of collective holons having a centralised form of agency while recognising that they occasionally do have just that. He says that, "systems in an individual often have a central agency, but collective systems rarely do" (how many "collective systems" have a Central Intelligence Agency for example :-). He argues that individual holons have a very localised superagency that has 100% control over every cell of their bodies and that this superagency is seen nowhere in collectives. He gives the example of his dog Daisy.

if my dog Daisy Mae ... decides to get up and walk across the room, 100% of her cells, molecules, atoms, and quarks completely obey her command and move across the room with her. ... 30% of her cells don't remain behind; half of the cells don't go one way and half another. Daisy's intentionality 100% subsumes the intentionality of her subholons, and they dutifully obey her commands without question.   No society, not even fascistic, has that degree of control over its members, because members are not literally units in a single huge organism. (Excerpt C, ¶ 216)

There are two points I want to make regarding the issues of individual and collective agency and governance. First, in spite of the example Wilber gives with his dog, individual agency can be a very haphazard affair. Second, collective agency can have an extremely precise level of control over its subholons. Let's look at individual agency first. Wilber says that Daisy has 100% control over her cells, her subholons. Of course, in a trivial sense this is not true at all. Every time Daisy moves a few cells are inadvertently left behind - her hair, skin, saliva, her breath, scent, etc. But a far more important exception to Wilber's example is that of disability. About 20% of people in the Australia, Europe, and the USA have a significant disability or health problem. The rate is much higher in many other countries. This means that for many their bodies do not follow the intention of their "senior holons". Muscles, limbs, thoughts, neural systems, organs, senses, and sometimes the whole body does not follow the intentionality of the person. What are we to say of agency in this case. We could look further a field and consider people who have a fear of public speaking, other types of phobia, metabolic obesity, physical illness, mental health disorders, cancer or who are physically unco-ordinated. This is not just an exceptional matter of pathology. In many situations there are instances where everyone has problems with their bodies not doing what we intend them to do. Individual agency starts to take on a very different look when we consider how very imprecise the link between intention and physical compliance actually is for individuals. (I am not talking here about the abrogation of an individual's responsibility to be seen as the author of their actions and behaviours. We are responsible for our actions. But that responsibility is always socially, situationally and developmentally defined. That's why civil societies don't recruit children as soldiers.)

Let's now also look at collective agency. Collective agency can, in many instances, have almost 100% control over the physical and intentional aspects of its subholons and even its member individuals. Consider that virtually 100% of drivers drive on the appropriate side of the road (except for the few stray dog hairs that one can never account for), obey stop signs, concede to give way signs, follow intricate road rules and eventually reach their destinations. The level of agency-compliance and direction-coordination necessary for the global road system to operate is very comparable to that of the human body. As Wilber says, "Daisy's intentionality 100% subsumes the intentionality of her subholons, and they dutifully obey her commands without question." Might not the same be said of society in regard to universally accepted laws and social conventions. How many people go out in public without some level of conventional dress, what percentage of individuals conform with social conventions on public behaviour, public laws, putting out the garbage, cleaning snow off pavements, mowing the lawn, paying rates, going to school, learning to read and write, living in a house, speaking to the neighbours (or not as the case may be), having a haircut, etc, etc. Collective agency is ubiquitous and compelling, and governs a whole lot more that just the selective intersections of some elements of the interiors of its members.

Collective agency has immense power to control, inform, initiate, inhibit, organise and create new forms of individual intention and behaviour. In it's pathological form we have the example of totalitarian regimes that literally dominate the behaviours and thoughts of its population. This is the leviathan phenomenon of the collective that subsumes individual freedom and intention. In such societies the level of domination of the collective over the personal actions and beliefs of its citizens is so extreme that parents are denounced by their children, students inform on their teachers, and private conversations between family members become the grounds for coercive control. Unfortunately, this level of collective agency over individual freedoms does occur and Integral theory has to have the theoretical tools to analyse and explain such social phenomena. Collective agency can be extraordinarily controlling. This control can extend to interior dimensions of identity as well as exterior ones. Personal beliefs, values and worldviews can be immensely influenced by such hegemonies. It can subsume individuality and form a pathological totalitarian sense of "I" and "Me" and "Mine".

At the sub-national level this phenomenon is clearly seen in the collective holons of lynching mobs, gang identity, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the like. usually these totalitarian systems of central command and control (hence the term "command economies") come into being and operate under the influence of very small numbers of individuals who form the ruling clique. Human history is full of cases where small yet brutal ruling groups held sway over very extensive and complex societies with large populations. Such collective pathologies, where the collective agency becomes so pathologically controlling of its members, is very similar to the instance where an individual holon, an "I/Me", dominates its sub-holons of body, affect, and interpersonal-self to achieve some abstract goal. This is the pathological workaholic, Type A personality, or perfectionist who disregards physical, emotional and interpersonal health to achieve status or some other dissociative objective. The person's subholons, in this instance of individual "dictatorship", are dominated to the point of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual illness and even death. When the dominating agency is balanced by a more holarchical agency and by more relational holonic drives then balance is restored to the human holon. In this sense the dominating agency must die to its pathological identity. Similarly, It's also very often the case that such hegemonies collapse after the death or defeat of a single key figure in that regime. In the century of Stalin, Mao, Franco, Breshnev and many others we have the classic examples where the death of the dictator was followed by a collapse in the ruling regime and an opening up of personal and social freedoms. Healthy individuals do not have a dominant super-agency that overrides the self-regulation of its subholons. Neither do healthy collective, but that doesn't mean they have got a form of super-agency or shouldn't have one.

From these cases we can see that both individual and collectives can have extremely controlling pathological forms of agency that are usually very localised. They can also both have balanced agentic drives that are sensitive to the needs of subholons and operate out of a more inclusive style of agency. Hence, it is not the level of control or centrality of focus that distinguishes the agency of individual and collective holons, but rather it is the type of holarchy that they come from in the first place. There is no need to define individual and collective holons on the basis of intra-holonic dimensions such as agency or interiority. There is no need to distinguish between them by finding differences in the holonic dimensions that describe holons. The job of keeping individual holons and collective holons separate belongs to those holonic tenets that describe holarchic relations, such as the span-depth distinction (see Through AQAL Eyes – Part 2 for a full discussion of this topic).

In other words, the agency of an individual holon is distinguished from that of a collective holon by the distinguishing features of their separate parental holarchies, not by any difference in the holonic dimension itself. Individual holons have both interior and exterior agency and collective holons have both interior and exterior agency. Both will display healthy and pathological forms of agency. Both individual and collective holons are compound holons. Therefore each will have an agency that is hierarchical in structure and so both will display superagency over their subholons. For collective holons the agency of the nation includes that of the regional community, which includes that of the town, which includes that of the suburban community, which includes that of the neighbourhood, which includes that of the family household. This is the same hierarchical structure as for individual holons. Yet Wilber says that,

with a collective holon, society, or system, there is no single superagency that swallows its parts whole (Excerpt C, ¶ 245)

But Integral theory says that collective holons are compound and it must follow, therefore, that there is a collective superagency that includes it parts, its subholons, whole. Collective holons do possess super agency, because they always include lesser social holons. Because Wilber mixes up individual and social holons and quadrants his collectives are sometimes left in the lower quadrants without any agency. This is why he so often turns the idea of a collective that has a distinctive agency into the "leviathan", "imperium", "a super-I that subsumes you and me into a single organism that then controls everything we think and do", a "really big critter" as if there is no alternative way of conceiving collective with a healthy, powerful and controlling agency. Is this Wilber's healthy American distrust of government showing through here. The problem is that collective superagency must be recognised if society is to develop in any way that is holarchically balanced. It looks to me as if Wilber's theories are pointing in one direction (the healthy need for strong balanced social agency and governance) and his interpretation of his theories are pointing in another (a suspicion and weakening of strong social agency and governance). Wilber is caught between denying collective agency while recognising that the collective has irreducible and powerful qualities that are not the result of aggregates of its members. Consider this quote:

the communal is not itself a compound individual but a dimensionality of compound individuals--namely, the dimensionality of their being-together, which cannot be reduced to them but exists nowhere else. A system is a convention of sentient beings, not itself a sentient being, and is composed of their intersections, but not merely their intersections: a system has emergent properties (as all holons do) that cannot be found in any permutations and combinations of its parts. (Excerpt C, Note 35)

There is a tussle here between recognising the holonic and irreducible nature of the communal while stating that it "exists nowhere else" but in individuals. In contrast to this, the Integral view is, of course, that the agency of the communal exists nowhere else but in the community. Wilber's confusion over this issue is very obvious when we look at how he represents holons with his mixing of individual and collective holons within quadrant domains (see figures 3a-c in "AQAL Eyes – Part 4"). As a result there is this ongoing vacillation in Wilber's treatment of the collective. It's an emergent holon with it's own compound holarchical nature one moment ("a life of its own") and the next it's an aggregate of individual intersections.

A communal holon--a culture, a family, a tribe, an ant colony, the prokaryotic network of Gaia, a weather system, a hermeneutic circle, a society, a crystal, an ecosystem, a system at any level--is not itself a compound individual but a collection, assembly, association, nexus, network, or system of mutually related compound individuals. (Excerpt C, ¶ 245)

Wilber is right here to say that a communal holon, such as a nation/state, is not "a compound individual" but he is wrong to say that it is a collection of individuals (however related). A compound collective holon has direct agency over its subholons. It is compound because it includes the subholons of family, social network, organisation, community, town, city, region, and province. A nation/state is a single holon and it will, therefore, have agency and communality and it will have interiority and exteriority and it have the various collective forms of holonic consciousness, behaviour, culture and society without qualification. Why doesn't Wilber clearly state these basic Integral theory positions?

Wilber says that the "the agency of a collective holon operates on its collective subholons not on individual holons". Let's say that the collective holon in question is a family. Is Wilber suggesting that the family does not "operate on" or seriously impact on the total life, internal and external, of the individuals who make up that family holon? Obviously not. What then does he mean when he separates individual holons from the operations of collective agency? At the wider level, nation-states govern the individuals that make up its citizenry and population. There is a powerful collective agency that significantly determines what individuals do, say and think from the day they are born to the day they die. If this control is also balanced by protected individual freedoms, rights, and responsibilities, what's the problem. It is a puzzling approach to suggest that collective holons do not govern individuals (see following quote) when representing the relations between collective states and its citizens. The word "govern" and the idea of "governance" actually belongs to this relationship between the collective and the individual. Governance is a social and public relationship not a private and interior one.

The Integral view is that both collective and individuals have agency because both come from distinct holarchic families. Each form of agency has interior qualities and exterior qualities that are both developmentally rich and holarchical. Both have their associated set of pathologies. Each type of agency has its own balance of social and individual rights and responsibilities. how we draw out these relationships in terms of holon theory is not yet clear. I would say that Integral theory does not yet have the basics in place to really explore the relationship of the individual and the collective holon. it does not yet have the theoretical tools to really look at holonic systems, that is, at various holons in interaction. Wilber's "I", "We", "It" and "Its" model is woefully inadequate in my opinion. Clearly collective holons govern individual holons, as seen, for example, in the basic reality that a state governs its citizens. Clearly, collective holons also include individual holons, for example families include their family members. I understand why Wilber needs to separate individual and collective holons but in his dualistic model of holons he ends up dividing the indivisible. The interior ends up as something separate to the exterior, and the interior intersections of individuals end up as something different to their non-intersecting interiors.

By mixing of individual and collective holons in a reified AQAL matrix Wilber is forced to make some fine definitional distinctions that end up going in some rather strange directions. For example, he splits individual holons into aspects that lie interior to and inside of collective holons (their intersecting interiors and exteriors) and aspects that lie exterior to outside of collective holons (whatever is left over). Such divisions lead him to propose that individual holons are not governed by collective holons (their intersections are) and that individuals cannot be oppressed by collectives (only their intersections can be).

"a "we" can grow and expand (can transcend-and-include), but in actuality this never involves the subjugation of individuals but simply the governing of their intersections" (Excerpt C, ¶ 426)
in pathological systems, it is intersections, not individuals, that are oppressed. (Excerpt C, ¶ 428)
The network or nexus of intersections does not directly control compound individuals but rather exerts its control on the system of exchanges of compound individuals. ¶400

Now, I understand that Ken is trying to ensure that collective holons are not seen as great big scary monsters that eat brave little individual holons for breakfast. But I think that it is quite obvious, whatever Wilber may say that collective holons do "govern", "include" and "control" individuals and that sometimes they unfortunately "oppress", "directly control" and subsume them in pathological totalitarian regimes and dictatorships. The problem is that Ken is working with his "mixed up" holon model and, in trying to ensure separation between individual and social holons (and their holarchies) he ends up dividing the indivisible. As seen in this quote on the relationship between the "we" and the individual holon.

a "we" never subsumes, includes, or governs individual holons but rather their inter-holonic exchanges or intersections (Excerpt C, ¶425)

Is Wilber saying here that families only include certain interior or exterior bits (intersections) of its members? Does he mean that states only govern certain interior or exterior bits of its citizens? These sorts of distinctions may help to resolve some artificial complexities in Wilber's own interpretation of holons but they certainly don't help me to understand real social relationships. I repeat that I agree fully with Wilber that individuals are not, and should not be seen as being, subsumed in the collective. The collective holon is not the aggregate mushing up of individuals. But, can't we fully acknowledge that individuals are sometimes included, controlled, subjugated, governed, subsumed and oppressed by collectives. Sometimes governments are "nasty big critters" and sometimes they govern individuals and the organisations they belong to in healthy ways. "We" are members of a society and that society governs "Us" in all the various meanings of that word "govern. I agree completely with Wilber's statement that,

You and I are not actual components, subholons, or parts of this "we"--you and I are not limbs of a leviathan such that 100% of you and me are all dragged across the floor when this monster "we" decides to walk. You and I are members, not strands--our individual "I's" are partners in a we, not parts of a we. (We are members of a cultural holon, not components of it: you and I are inside, not internal, to the we.) (Excerpt C, ¶ 335)

This is all fine, but don't we all (i.e. 99.9999%) drive on the appropriate side of the road, don't we all play the games of consumerism and of providing quality service to your customers (yes, even Benedictines), don't we try to get our kids to behave themselves in public, don't we all try to speak 'proper like' at dinner parties, don't we all wear neckties, or high heels, or nose bones to look nice, and don't we all obey our peer group's unspoken social mores that impact on 100% of our social behaviour. We don't have to be dragged around by the neck to conform and promote the governing rules, norms and customs of the collective. And we do so because civilisation depends on it. Social development depends on the collective governing the individual to a minute degree. Governments are supposed to govern individuals, they are supposed to regulate the lives of individuals and the organisations that belong to. That's what citizens should want them to do – govern. As long as the opportunity for freedoms exist and rights are secured what's wrong with collective governance. Collective governance (together with individual insight and action) is what got a lot of us out of stacking mud for the Sun King. Wilber is ambivalent about the power of the collective over individual lives. This ambivalence is shown in his recognition, on the one hand, that the social collective is universally important in individual lives and in his refusal to admit that collectives actually govern individuals on the other.

Individuals born into a social order are landed in a sea of communal contexts that exert enormous control over how they think, what they think, how they feel, what they feel, categories of justness, rightness, and truth (see, e.g., Mary Douglas, not to mention Durkheim). But those collective or communal nexus-agencies govern, as we will continue to see, not holons but only the intersections of holons with other holons (i.e., nexus-agencies do not govern all spaces in all holons in all quadrants) (Excerpt C, note 38)

Integral theory, as always, obliges us to retain the complexity of relationships and to resist reducing one type of identity to another. Collective holons do include and govern "Us" and not particular bits and pieces of our intersecting interiors. What that system of governance means and what civil contracts exists between the collective and the individual is something that Integral theory needs to consider more closely after it has its holonic house in better order.

Wilber is so suspicious of collective consciousness and social agency that he ends up defining it as a "set of governing rules" and a exterior "network" of "rules" similar he means to the rules of chess, I assume. The regnant nexus then becomes the "rules of social interaction".

"regnant nexus" as a term sounds just fine for a society, system, or collective holon, because a "nexus" is not really the same as a "monad," and thus a collective holon can plausibly have a set of governing rules but not a dominant-I. The rules of chess, for example, are the regnant nexus or governing rules of that social interaction. In other words--and again, if we are very careful--I think it is fine to refer to the nexus-agency of a societal holon or system as a regnant nexus or governing network (which is not, of course, a governing individual or dominant monad). (Excerpt C, ¶ 390)

In defining collective agency as a set of rules Wilber turns the collectives capacity for systemic-agency and self-organisation into the aggregate of individuals' intentions to follow rules. This results in a decapitated collective holon whose agency is derivative of individual intention.

All systems as such are self-organizing, and they are self-organizing because their members are sentient beings with intentionality. (Excerpt C, ¶ Note 31)

Here we have social agency defined by individuals' internalisation of governing rules. This is a reductionist understanding of a social holon. The defining pattern of a social holon engaged in activity (such as a game of chess) is characterised by its own levels of meaning, activity, experience, and roles that are not reducible to the internal worlds, experiences or feelings of the individuals engaged in that activity. Wilber's derivative view of collective agency reflects the weaknesses in his holonic theory. He explains the agency of a collective holon is terms of individuals' internalisations because his collective holons occupy the bottom two quadrants and individual holons the upper two (see figure 3). When represented like this, collective holons have an agency that is individualistic in essence (and individual holons have a communality that is about the intersections of individuals).

In attempting to understand individual and collective identity, Integral theory rejects reductionisms that see the collective in terms of individual qualities. It also rejects the contrasting view that the individual is a mere cell in a collective leviathan. The Integral perspective of individual and social agency is to see the partial truth in both views and to create something new out of that inclusion. There is (super)agency in the individual and there is (super)agency in the collective. Collective agency cannot be explained as the interaction of some individual quality. Wilber sees the collective holon as residing in the lower quadrants only (need I say it again that the collective holon, like all holons, always has all four quadrants). We all know that agency is an upper quadrant dimension so, hey presto, collective holons don't have the full range of agency associated with developmental holons. Wilber does concede that collective holons can have some form of interior and exterior agency. But, his definitions of those forms of agency are so reductive that they no longer retain any real holonic agency as Integral theory would propose of any holon. As we have seen, he sees the interior form of collective agency as the result of individual intention and, as the following quote shows, he sees the exterior form as the result of the laws of physics and biology. As he puts it:

Right-Hand holons, [Wilber's behavioural and social holons] for example, have agency only in the exterior sense of mass-energy impacts and registrations (where they follow physical laws, habits, rules, and regulations, (Excerpt C, ¶ 387)

It is evident that Wilber does not see the agency of collective holons in terms of an emergent, hierarchical capacity that has collective consciousness, collective direction, purpose, focus, activity and form all of which are not explainable in terms of individual thought or action. He does consider collective systems to be holistic in their own right but that holism is a network of material interactions, of "contacts and exchanges" between individuals. For Wilber, collective holism is merely the sum total of individual interactions. Against this rather mechanical view of systems, I would say that a holonic system (a collective holon) is more than the sum of its parts or members. While describing the four main "indigenous perspectives" of a holon Wilber describes the social quadrants in these terms.

The sum total of those exterior registrations and interactions is what we call a "system" (which is the Lower-Right quadrant: the whole system or network of interobjective exchanges) (Excerpt C, ¶ 227)

When we use the term "interobjective" to describe the Lower Right it is definitely not meant in the sense of a whole lot of objects interacting. Interobjective is meant to communicate the idea of holistic system, not the sum total of participating elements. Wilber, knows this, of course, but his understanding of the relationship between holons and quadrants doesn't always reflect this holistic view of the Lower Right. Wilber also seems to agree with Whitehead's statement that, "a society itself is ... an association of mutually-prehending compound individuals". (Excerpt C, ¶ 248). This is hardly a holonic understanding of a collective system. A collective holon is an emergent and developmental whole/part whose identity is not known through the sum or the "association" of its constituents. Where Wilber does recognise the holistic and irreducible nature of collective holons the shadow of the "mixed-up holon" looms large.

Of course, this collective holon can be looked at from the exterior or from the interior: interobjectivity and intersubjectivity. The main point right now is that this communal network or collective system is, in the LL, an inter-subjectivity, NOT an intra-subjectivity: the cultural nexus has no singular I within which all its member I's are dominated and subsumed; and, in the LR, it is an inter-objectivity, NOT an intra-objectivity: its "parts" exist in networks of mutually interdependent communions and are not simply components, cogs, or limbs of one big superorganism (Excerpt C, note 24)

In this passage Wilber recognises the truly holistic nature of the collective but does he recognise that a collective holon, like all holons, has two upper quadrants as well as two lower ones. The cultural quadrant of a collective holon doesn't have "intra-subjectivity" because that's the job of its Upper Left quadrant, the Collective Consciousness Quadrant. Wilber just doesn't see this as a possibility because for him, yes you guessed it, collective holons only exist in the lower quadrants. The "mixed-up holon strikes" again. What does the intra-subjectivity of a collective holon look like? Well, can I refer you to numerous tables in the middle of "Through AQAL Eyes –Part 3" where some 30 deep structure forms of healthy and pathological types of collective consciousness are identified and labelled. All of these 30 basic types of collective consciousness have 30 corresponding basic structures of collective behaviour. So, I have no idea what Wilber means by denying collective holons intra-subjectivity (which equates to holonic consciousness).

To summarise this section on agency I'll simply point out make the following comparison. Flatlanders (exteriorists, physical realists) deny that there is a developmental spectrum of interiors that helps to form personal and social activity. Interiorists (idealists, the ghost-in-the-machiners) deny that there is a developmental spectrum of exteriors that helps to form personal and social consciousness. By defining collective agency in terms of interior intentions and exterior "mass-energy impacts" Wilber is doing to collective and exterior agency what the Flatlanders do to the interior quadrants. He is denying them the possibility of a full developmental spectrum of behavioural and social forms of agency.

7. Collective Superagency (and Supercommunion)

Another confounding and rather technical issue here is Wilber's definition of super-agency. Superagency for Wilber is the integrative control that a compound holon has over its subholons. This is how he defines it.

We have seen that individual holons are themselves composed of other individual holons--they are compound individuals that are internally composed of other compound individuals (which we called agency-in-superagency). (Excerpt C, ¶ 312)

Wilber is using the superagency to describe the inclusive control that a senior, holon has over junior holon that lies within it. Clearly this inclusive control exists in all quadrants and in both the upper and lower quadrants – in the agentic and the communal. So using terminology that only relates to only half of the quadrants (the agentic ones) when describing a characteristic of the whole holon is, to say the least, extremely ill-advised. This way of thinking about the inclusive control that the senior has over the junior completely ignores the two communal quadrants. It would be fine to speak of superagency as long as one remembered that it refers to inclusive control in the upper quadrants. Complementing superagency would be the quality of supercommunion which is the corresponding integrative control that the lower quadrants have over the communal levels of development. This gives the far more balanced (and accurately described) proposition that a holon's powers of assertive control over its upper quadrants is always balanced by its relational control and power over its lower quadrants. So, there is always the superagency and supercommunion of the senior controlling, directing and integrating the junior. A much better way of thinking about the inclusive relationship of the senior over the junior is to see it as both superagency and supercommunion, or simply as superinclusivity. This is what Wilber is meaning through the use of his term "superagency" – he really means superinclusivity of both the upper and the lower.

The issue for Wilber is that once we define the integrative power relation of the senior to the junior as "superinclusivity" it becomes completely obvious that collective holons have it. Collective holons have both superagency and super communion because they are holons and all holons have superinclusivity due to their compound structure of subholons. Wilber's mistake is to define this inclusive relationship between senior holons and junior holons in restricted terms of upper quadrant superagency. Combining this with his confining of collective holons to the lower quadrants only (which don't have agency) ends up with collective holons with no superagency. Hence, Wilber believes that, "with a collective holon, society, or system, there is no single superagency". (Wilber does allow the communal quadrants what he calls "agency-in-communion" [another extremely poor choice because it uses terms from both upper and lower quadrants] but he should call this supercommunion or something similar). The following diagrams present a more balanced and clearer picture of the relations between senior and junior holons and show that individual and collective holons possess both superagency and supercommunion (which together comprise a holon's superinclusivity).

The wariness that Wilber has about collective superagency is well-founded when it is a concern over how social control far too often becomes pathological. But there is no question that collective superagency exists in many forms and that Integral theory has the analytical tools to describe it in holonic terms. There is also no question that supercommunion exists in collective holons. The welfare extremes that captured the public policy debate during the 60's and 70's in Scandinavia is, to my mind a good example of collective supercommunion gone slightly overboard. In a more moderate form supercommunion is the integrative power in a society that drives the relational tasks of raising children, supporting families and raising communities to the average level of development in that society. Collective superagency looks to political leadership, public policy, multinational corporate action, and legal obligation to control and integrate the societies subcultures or "subholons". Collective supercommunion looks to broad-based community involvements, and sustainable and sustaining growth through multisocial diversity.


My opening quote says most of it:

"The problem is that Ken is working with his "mixed up" holon model and, in trying to ensure separation between individual and social holons (and their holarchies), he ends up dividing the indivisible." (¶ 219)


Edwards, M.G. (2002) "The way up is the way down: Integral socio-cultural studies and cultural evolution". ReVision, 24, 21-31.

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

Wilber, K. (2000) A theory of everything: An integral vision for business, politics, science and spirituality. Gateway: Dublin.

Wilber, K. (2003) Excerpt C: The Ways We Are in This Together Intersubjectivity and Interobjectivity in the Holonic Kosmos.

Wilber, K. (2003) Excerpt G: Toward A Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energies.

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