An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Integral World Forum

Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".


Report on the JFKU Integral
Theory Conference, July 2010

Hugh & Kaye Martin

Integral Theory is concentrating its attention almost exclusively on one small corner of a much broader field of inquiry.

When you play Scrabble, do you notice how play sometimes gets scrunched down into one small corner of the gameboard? People keep coming up with ingenious new words, but they are confined to a shrinking and increasingly congested space. That's the way we often felt about the July 2010 Integral Conference at JFK University. Stimulating and often brilliant, but generally limited to one small (but highly important) section of the Integral gameboard.[1]

At a conference with so many enticing speakers, I like to browse. To get the lay of the land, I circulated among three or four presentations during each workshop session, gleaning the essence, and then filling in by reading the appropriate papers. In the course of those three days, I overviewed some remarkable presentations by Kegan, Smith, Cook-Greuter, Forman, Esbjorn-Hargens, Visser, Combs, Marquis, Hubbard, Ganti, Parlee, Roy, Whetton, Golin, Fuhs, Zeitler, Ingersoll, Meyerhoff, Reams, Gafni, Hamilton, Schlitz, Fischler, Laske, Smith, Walsh, Anderson, Ross, O'Fallon, Patten, Winton, and Stein, among others.

In almost every case, the underlying subject was AQAL, and the underlying assumption was that some version of AQAL was representative of or virtually equivalent to Integral. In other words, the primary or exclusive subjects of inquiry in most of these presentations were the parameters of Quadrants and Levels – with Lines, States, Self, and/or Types occasionally thrown in for good measure.


We found ourselves asking throughout these presentations, 'All well and good, but what about Wilber's other parameters?' 'What about all the factors of human growth delineated in Integral Psychology and other seminal works that constitute Wilber's extended Integral Operating System (or IOS)?' [2]

Yes, Quadrants, Levels, Lines, and States are extremely important, but what about other Wilber concepts relating to the Dimensions of the growth process? What about the Great Nest, Map, Wave, Trait, Transformation, Ladder, Correlative Structure, Chakra, Spiral, Realm, Plane, Sphere, Physio-Biosphere/ Noosphere/ Theosphere, Terrestrial Realm, Plane of Existence, Celestial Plane, Stream, Height & Depth, U-shaped Pattern, Pathology, and Pre/Trans Fallacy?

Yes, Self and Types are important, but what about other Wilber concepts pertaining to the Participants in the growth process? What about Proximate & Distal Self, Self-System, Archeology of Self, Ego, Bodyself, Felt Body, Culture, Role, Voice, Gender Type, Agency vs. Communion, Eros vs. Agape, Enneagram, Subpersonality, Shadow Self, Functional Invariant, I-I Self, True Self, and Soul?

What about Wilber concepts that are aspects of the Processes by which growth takes place? What about Fulcrum, Embedding, Metabolism, Horizontal Translation, Vertical Transformation, Actualizing the Great Nest, Uncovering, Methodology, Modules of Integral Life Practice (ILP), Treatment, Therapy, Evolution & Involution, Transcend & Include, Sociocultural Evolution, and Waking Up?

What about Wilber concepts that are features of the Guidance and Orchestration of the growth process? What about Navigation, Integration, Spirit-in-Action, Integral Institute, Full-Spectrum Therapist, Witness, Seer, Pure Consciousness, and Spirit?

Ken Wilber is one of the great generalists of our time. He may not get all the particulars right, but he is terrific at sketching out all the elements worthy of consideration. Wilber's Integral Psychology is perhaps the most structurally-sophisticated of his works. Despite its apparent simplicity, this remarkable book goes furthest in delineating all the factors that constitute a complete theory of human development.

If we ignore or underestimate any of those factors, we run the risk of overlooking some of Wilber's main contributions to human thought.


In our view, AQAL is just one important corner of a much broader Integral gameboard. Wilber's expanded IOS enumerates many of the other important squares on the gameboard. Our own work endeavors to show how all those squares can be arranged into a cohesive gameboard pattern.

We circulated these ideas among numerous attendees and speakers – both during our own presentation, AQAL, the Next Generation, and in subsequent conversations and correspondence. We received some adulation and variety of critiques. To reinforce my own tottering self-esteem, let me start first with the adulation: “This is fantastic!  Answers to many long-standing holes in the 'theory of everything'…”  “Liked your ingenious approach.”  “You have done an amazing amount of work.  “Appreciate your archetypal Journey of Life.  Much easier to grok.  Thanks!”  “Excellent presentation.  I like the humility with confidence.”  “I appreciated your mindfulness of models as evolutionary, encouraging us to look at a model with evolutionary eyes…”  “Great overview – inspires me to explore!”

Over a dozen distinguished speakers from the conference offered objections, constructive critiques, and friendly suggestions – some of which I summarize, not verbatim: 'That's just too big a playing field for Integral Theory to absorb right now.' 'That approach would require too much reconfiguring and retooling.' 'Your aims and objectives are much different from ours.' 'Your new theory is complicated and hard to follow.' 'Integral Theory is broader than Human Development alone.' 'This approach is not meta-theoretically rigorous enough.' 'Concentrating on Wilber is passé.' 'Your proposals are not framed in a language that is sufficiently academic.' And perhaps my favorite: 'Who the hell is Hugh Martin?'[3]

All valid points, but the central issue remains: Integral Theory is concentrating its attention almost exclusively on one small corner of a much broader field of inquiry. By limiting itself to a few major concepts, Integral becomes not a 'Theory of Everything,' but a 'Theory of a Few Very Important Things.' By failing to show how the full range of concepts fit together, it ceases to be 'Integral' at all.

We are not claiming that our ADAPT Model is the answer. Any valid revision of Wilber's AQAL and IOS will ultimately require the collaborative efforts of many authorities on the Integral worldview. However, we are confident that we have struck upon some key points of discussion that must be addressed before Integral Theory can evolve to its own next level.


According to Strauss & Howe (Generations (1991) and sequels), cultures may evolve over decades of time through a mechanism we call the Generation Cycle. A Generation is the biological period of life, normally about 20-25 years, between the time one is born and the time one first procreates. According to the authors, dynamic cultures repeatedly pass through a Generation Cycle consisting of four characteristic Generations:

  1. Prophetic Generation: Conceives a new cultural vision and a new impetus for change;
  2. Reactive Generation: Reacts against or detaches from the dominance of the Prophetics;
  3. Civic Generation: Fills out and implements the vision of the Prophetics;
  4. Bureaucratic Generation: Institutionalizes and standardizes what once was the Prophetic Vision.

After the four Generations are complete, the cycle repeats all over again – but at a higher level of development, with a new Prophetic Vision.

The transition from old to new Vision is sometimes an arduous and painful one. Adherents to the old system experience its departure as the death of an old and dear friend. The original Prophetic Vision that began as a force for expansion and liberation can become in its later stages an entrenched tyranny that must be resolved before the next Vision can be embraced.

Integral Theory is itself a culture that is progressing through a Generation Cycle – in this case telescoped into 40-50 years, instead of the normal 80-100. In this schema, Wilber is of course the Prophetic; incisive critics and skeptics like Visser and Meyerhoff are perhaps the Reactives; brilliant actualizers like Cook-Greuter, many speakers at the conference, and the JFK Conference itself are the Civics; and the Bureaucratics are the natural tendency in all of us to cling to old, established truths.

We by no means presume to see ourselves as the next Prophetics. However, we may be among the first to see the glimmering outlines of a new Vision. We hope through our work to turn the eyes of others toward that emerging light.


Hugh & Kaye Martin have contributed six book-length studies on their ADAPT Model to Integral World – several of which consistently rank among the Top 50 in IW's readership rankings. Hugh & Kaye are best qualified as integral practitioners and theorists because they have lead integral lives. Both have richly diverse backgrounds in a multitude of fields: personal transformation, natural medicine & health, artistic & creative expression, teaching & education, societal change, natural & cultural environments, advanced academics, and marriage & family. Hugh received his degrees at Swarthmore, Penn, and UC Berkeley. Kaye received her degrees and certifications from Cal State Fullerton and Bauman College.

For Hugh & Kaye Martin's JFK Integral Conference presentation, "AQAL, the Next Generation", click here: For descriptions of Hugh & Kaye's studies on Integral World, go to "The Next Generation of Ken Wilber's AQAL". Hugh & Kaye's next publication on Integral World will include an extended PowerPoint slideshow that explains the entire ADAPT Model.

Please address you comments on this article directly to Hugh and Kaye Martin, [email protected].


  1. Our title is intentional hyperbole. At this point, AQAL is by no means a tyranny. However, as this article will show, AQAL is certainly showing evidence of becoming unnecessarily narrow and restrictive.
  2. Yes, Integral Theory is more than human development. But not a whole lot more. The vast majority of conference presentations applied Integral to some aspect of human growth. Furthermore, human growth is the developmental system we know most about. Therefore, it yields the most detailed set of parameters upon which to base any Integral model that aims to be comprehensive. (For more on these issues, see footnote 3.)
    Human development is a huge field that subsumes many other more specialized fields – such as parenting, teaching, counseling, therapy, organizational consulting, academic research, and the orchestration of one's own personal growth and self-improvement. From a wider perspective, human development encompasses all areas of human endeavor where people grow and evolve – fields as diverse as psychology and education, history and economics, science and technology, art and music, literature and film, ecology and metaphysics, ethics and social activism, health and sexuality, religion and pop culture.
  3. In case anyone cares, here are our short answers to these objections:
    1. Too big a field. You don't have to play on the bigger field until you need it. In the meantime, just recognize it's there.
    2. Requires too much retooling. You have the option of retooling, but you don't have to. If you concentrate on AQAL, just acknowledge that you're specializing in one very important niche.
    3. Different objectives. Very true. Integral Theory as an academic discipline often seeks to identify the fundamental structures of reality. Integral Theory from our perspective seeks to identify the structures, sequences, and systems that make human life significant and rewarding.
    4. Too complicated. The basic model of ADAPT is simplicity itself: Life is a journey; the journey has a map, a set of voyagers, a ship, a captain. The complexity only comes as we drill down into the nested holons beneath the main concept to explore the details.
    5. Broader than human development. Answered in footnote 2.
    6. Not rigorous. Like any social science, a full-bodied Integral Theory will always be half-science, half-art. The rigor of Meta-theory is extremely important. But that level of rigor can sometimes inhibit the flashes of brilliant intuition that brought us Integral in the first place.
    7. Wilber is passé. Any good theory builds on the best work that's gone before. The colossal contribution of Ken Wilber is a place all of us have to start.
    8. Not academic. Wilber himself was often judged not sufficiently academic by many speakers and panelists at his own conference! What chance have we got?
    9. Who's Hugh? If you're wondering if we're important enough to be worth your attention, read the extended bio at the end of AQAL, the Next Generation, and judge for yourself. We're best qualified as Integral theorists and practitioners because we've lead Integral lives.

Comment Form is loading comments...