Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Brad ReynoldsBrad Reynolds did graduate work at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) before leaving to study under Ken Wilber for a decade, and published two books reviewing Wilber's work: Embracing Reality: The Integral Vision of Ken Wilber (Tarcher, 2004), Where's Wilber At?: Ken Wilber's Integral Vision in the New Millennium (Paragon House, 2006) and God's Great Tradition of Global Wisdom: Guru Yoga-Satsang in the Integral Age (Bright Alliance, 2021). Visit:



Re-Uniting The One
and the Many

or Learning to BE INTEGRAL, Part One

Brad Reynolds

“Alas, my friends, we must overcome the Greeks!”
—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyful Science, 1884

I find it somewhat humorous that the on-going debate between myself, Frank Visser and David Lane, here on Integral World, in many ways epitomizes the great dualistic fracture that has penetrated Western philosophy since its most ancient days in Greece: idealism versus materialism, mysticism versus empiricism. Personified in the towering figures of Plato and Aristotle, who have influenced every Western philosopher, including many scientists, for nearly twenty-five centuries, and even the esoteric theology of the most populous religions on the planet, Christianity and Islam, our debate on Integral World seems to fall within the limits of this primary dualistic split. Or at least it seems to me. It is what we could call an argument over the “two faces” of the One Divine: The One and the Many.

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

This contentious argument shows up today, in many ways, as the Great Debate between science and religion, between biological evolutionists and creationists (or between evolution-by-chance and Divine Design), between modernity and mysticism, and, most fundamentally, between exteriors and interiors. This is encapsulated by the dualistic division between Plato and Aristotle, the “Ascender” and “Descender,” respectively. In this regard, let me highly recommend a recent book I came across that brilliantly highlights this dichotomy and struggle: The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (2013) by Professor Arthur Herman. Each chapter in this remarkably well-written and researched book (a lifetime of study) covers the inheritance of Plato and Aristotle in nearly every aspect of Western philosophy and religion, science and politics (and even economics), from Plotinus to Darwin, from Augustine to Einstein, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx, and so on. Dr. Herman summarizes:

Mysticism versus common sense; religion versus science; empiricism versus idealism: The School of Athens [painted by Raphael] is in fact an allegorical painting about two contrasting but highly influential worldviews that have shaped our world, in a perpetual struggle for the soul of Western civilization.
Seen in this light, the West's greatest thinkers, theologians, scientists, artists, writers, and even politicians have found themselves arrayed on one side or the other in a twenty-four-centuries-old battle between the ideas of Plato and Aristotle and the two paths of wisdom they represent….
One path—Plato's path [the Ascenders, toward The One]—sees the world through the eye of the religious mystics as well as the artist. It finds its strength in the realm of contemplation and speculation and seeks to unleash the power of human beings' dreams and desires.
The path of Aristotle [the Descenders, toward the Many], by contrast, observes reality through the sober eyes of science and reveals the power of logic and analysis as tools of human freedom. “The fact is our starting point,” he said, and meant it.
Over the centuries, Plato's and Aristotle's ideas have managed to pull and tug Western civilization in conflicting directions…. The battle between Plato and Aristotle [has] raged on into the modern age…. It is the greatest intellectual and cultural journey in history.[1]

I am trying to propose, along with other integral thinkers, most notably Ken Wilber, that this debate is ultimately an illusion, a split or fracture with very real consequences, based on a sense of separation created by the activity of the ego-I, or our sense of feeling we are a separate entity “in here” living in the world “out there,” each with our own perspectives. Integral Philosophy shines a Nondual Light showing a way out of this dualistic Cave of shadows and illusions. By BEING INTEGRAL we do not have to make any one perspective wrong (or the other right), but show how each is simply partial or incomplete. Both modern science and traditional religion can be “transcended-and-included” with a genuine Integral Philosophy grounded in nondual spirituality. This is the task of real philosophy, as the ancient philosophers knew and practiced, yet modern ones in their abstraction have forgotten or dismissed. Only the Nondual Heart, awakened in Enlightenment (the epitome of the mystic's vision), is capable of integrating these two opposing but vital views of the rationalist-empiricists and mystic-idealists. Only this nondual realization, even here at Integral World, will resolve this dangerous dualistic dilemma.

Both Plato and Aristotle, in other words, are “correct but partial” (as the integral motto famously states). Both science and spirituality have something to offer us; religion and mysticism are each true, even though religion itself seems to be engaged in an on-going (and false) battle between exoteric beliefs and esoteric understanding, faith and direct experience. If all opposing views aren't transcended by seeing them from the perspective of nondual wholeness, then they fracture into dualisms and unsolvable dilemmas. The integration of “The One” (or the Divine) with “the Many” (or the Creation)—also known as the “two truths” of the Absolute and relative—is the most pressing need for the future survival of the human race because it entails the peaceful co-existence of science and religion, materialism and mysticism, even between ego and ego-transcendence. Until science and religion, grounded in spiritual realization, find a way to unite harmoniously as the “marriage of sense and soul,” as Ken Wilber once put it (following Oscar Wilde), we will continue to fight over disruptive dualisms, divisive politics, unfair economics, environmental degradation, and every other non-ego-transcending disasters.[2]

Simply put, only by embracing Nondualism—by seeing The One and the Many as united, not separate—will we ever heal this fractured, tortured history of the Western mind, a perspective that now encircles the entire globe influencing whatever culture or religion a person may be born. Only an awakened integral approach will relax the grip materialistic reductionism has on the human mind, such as proclaimed by scientism (or the belief that only science is correct). Only then will science and spirituality cooperatively exist side-by-side and work together, each revealing its own truths and serving humanity as a whole.

Integral Philosophy, in this case, is a true world philosophy, one capable of uniting the currents of West and East, North and South, often spoken about as the unification or “marriage” of science (and reason) with spirituality (and religion), even if each mode of knowledge acquisition needs to retain its own domain of expertise. Like a healthy marriage, each will be whole in themselves but will work together for the greater good, not argue (or cripple the development of their children). This means both can influence one another in a positive way, for, in truth, they are always already looking at the same One Divine Reality, just from different perspectives. Therefore, it does us no good to champion one over the other, as Integral Theory maintains.

Evolution does not need (or require) Spirit to be added to it, since evolution is already Spirit-in-action as a whole. This includes its elusive “chance” or “necessity” that science claims is the driving force (or reason) behind all evolutionary processes because every factor operative in the cosmos is always already Spirit. The observations of science already live within Spirit, therefore religion too can gain from science, for example, by jettisoning its own mythic limitations (again, ideas usually grounded in the ego). Real science and real religion can counter and correct bogus science and bogus religion by working in harmony.[3] This is what a genuine Integral Theory proposes, and this is the perspective I wish to promote, not side with one view over the other. We need to recognize the value of both exteriors (the Many) and interiors (The One). This is why, for instance, I actually agree in part with some of Visser's critiques on Wilber's presentation of biological evolution.[4] Once again, Professor Herman offers an encapsulating summary:

The point is, this kind of contradiction is nothing new in Western culture. History may not repeat itself, but ideas certainly do. The tension between our material and spiritual selves has always been there, embedded in Western history by the legacies of Plato and Aristotle. It has inspired one breakthrough after another, in the clash between Christianity and classical culture; the battle of the books between Renaissance humanists and the schoolmen; and the culture wars between the Romantics and the Enlightenment. And of course it runs all through the current clash over Darwinism and Creationism or “Intelligent Design”: a battle founded, in the last analysis, on the irreconcilable contradiction between Plato's God and Aristotle's Prime Mover.[5]

In this case, by supporting Enlightened Nondualism, or seeing the world as Spirit-in-action (or as the “body” of God), I prefer Plotinus over either Plato or Aristotle, Nagarjuna over Nietzsche, Spinoza over Descartes, as some examples. Nonetheless, I find that all of these Wise Masters and Philosophers fall within the universal embrace of the Perennial Philosophy and Integral Theory. Therefore, we can learn and gain from them all! Science does not have to be dismissed if a person is integral, nor does mysticism need to be rejected if one loves the discoveries of science. But it is imperative that we heal the division—that each of us individually reconcile both views within ourselves as a gesture of wholeness—and thus face the fractured dualism that has haunted Civilization for millennia, even prior to the Greeks (for they too arose from those who came before them, their wisdom watered from the fountains of the great ancient civilizations of Egypt, Crete, Mesopotamia, India, and China, including the shamanism of Mongolia, and so on).

Today we stand at the precipice of a new millennium, yet are being crushed by the wars of the past. Heck, we can't even agree on what is “Integral” here at Integral World! The so-called New Age is doomed if we don't overcome this fracture, which is why most people are now pessimists, cynics, or nihilists, agnostics, atheists, or fundamentalist believers. Or, perhaps worse, just materialists and consumers with no idea what's going on. If we cannot “transcend and include” the Old Age of past regrets and dualistic battles, we will fight the same old battles, re-fight the same old wars of hatred and division, each claiming superiority over the other. Yet this time scientific weapons and the world-wide proliferation of guns, backed by industrial force (and scientific inventions) could easily depopulate our human race and destroy the biological diversity of the Earth that has taken nearly a half billion years to create. Nothing could be worse for our survival and fitness, yet if we are not careful to look ahead, and see further into the depths of consciousness and cosmos, to recognize and cultivate our full evolutionary potentials, then we will become nothing but dust in the wind. Nothing but a failed evolutionary experiment (which is certainly possible).

Most simply, the ego-I and all its tribalisms, or the dangerous tendency to break into separate camps (or points of view), must be overcome if we are ever to see the light of day. We will never be able together to leave the Cave of Illusions if we're overwhelmed by the dualistic knowledge of the Many blinded to The One true Divine Light that is its Source-Condition, its Ground and Goal (and purpose for Being). Integral Theory points one way out—led by the integral theories of Ken Wilber, for one—which is why I am so passionate about these matters. But we must open or use ALL the “Eyes of Knowing” (physical, mental, spiritual) to access the full spectrum of our human potentials (prepersonal, personal, transpersonal). Otherwise, we will indeed die and perish from the Earth… and thus fail to further evolve.

Western Roots in Ancient Greece Dualism (and Eastern Wisdom)

W e owe it to ourselves, to our future children, to all Earthkind, to reverse this trend, to heal the dualisms and see the Light revealed in Nondual God-Realization. If we fail to see the prior unity of The One, the true light that is the Source and Condition of the Many, arising as both “this world” and the “other world” as One World (or “uni-verse”), then we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes. We must turn the corner and awaken into Nondualism so that we see (and practice) a truer Divine Vision beyond the limits of the past and its mythic religions! Only nondualism integrates the Absolute—The One (or interiors)—with relative phenomena—the Many (or exteriors)—an understanding that is vital to our future survival (and world peace).

The Integral View sees and embraces both views of idealism and materialism, of spirituality and science, as being One and United, thus rejecting either's claim to superior status. Plato and Aristotle were actually both students of Socrates, the wise Sage of Athens, yet each became a Master in their own right. Nonetheless, they all stood on the shoulders of the Pre-Socratic philosophers, other great Masters who came before them, the true roots of the Western mind, Socrates' bibliography. We would do well to listen to them all, since their knowledge arose from the Awakened Heart (or the depths of consciousness), not just from the rational mind, which they also used quite adequately (as logos). Indeed, some scholars today are now acknowledging with more frequency that many of the Pre-Socratics probably touched base with Adepts and Yogi-Brahmins from the East (including those from Egypt and Persia, for certain, and most probably India, including the teachings of the Upanishads and other yogic or psycho-spiritual techniques).[6] Indeed, real wisdom is a global truth or philosophia perennis (Perennial Philosophy).

As Westerners, and now as global citizens, we must come to understand (and then transcend) our inherited divisive dualisms, to see unity-in-diversity, as did the mystical philosophers of ancient Greece, if we are to truly know ourselves. “Know Thyself” they famously declared (etched into the stone walls of their most sacred temple at Delphi). As Richard Tarnas explained in the opening pages of his acclaimed The Passion of the Western Mind (1991): “Our way of thinking is still profoundly Greek in its underlying logic, so much so that before we can begin to grasp the character of our own thought, we must first look closely at that of the Greeks.”[7] Lying at the root of the ancient Greeks are two principal traditions: one, that of Orphism and the Mystery schools, or the spiritual teachings of The One (or the unchanging Eternal Absolute beyond space and time), which includes the immortal soul; and two, the “scientific” one of the Pre-Socratics, who embraced not only The One, but also the Many (the ever-changing relative phenomena of space-time).[8] These two approaches would then be integrated with Plato, led by Socrates, but then fractured by Aristotle's revolution… and the rest is history, our history!

The wisdom of the Pre-Socratics embodied a scientific or rational (if not experimental) investigation into the universe, while also integrating a more sophisticated mystical approach to life and existence (although their philosophies would differ slightly, they were united in essence). By shunning the mythic explanations offered by the Olympian gods and goddesses (such as those given by Homer and Hesiod), the popular religion of their day, they discovered a greater harmony by uniting The One and the Many, since the dualistic split was not yet borne in their minds and hearts (as it is in ours today). All of this wisdom and knowledge, then, was perhaps best epitomized with Plotinus (205-270 CE), from the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria, hundreds of years after Plato and Aristotle lived, the last great ancient philosopher not influenced by Christianity, who saw the Many as overflowing in the abundance (and love) from The One.

Indeed, the Pre-Socratics themselves, beginning in Ionia (the Greek colonies on the western shores of Asia-minor or modern-day Turkey) with Thales (630-545 BCE) and Anaximander (610-547 BCE), stood on, and studied under, the great wisdom traditions of Egypt-Crete, Babylonia-Persia, and even India itself, integrating them all but offering something more. Although they were Greek (or Hellene) by race and ethnicity, culture and custom, the leading Pre-Socratic philosophers were truly cosmopolitan or “world citizens” living at the intersection of trade routes covering the inhabited ecumene. They were also Yogi-Mystics, and ascetic disciplined practitioners of contemplation and meditation, who realized that true wisdom must be cultivated under the guidance of a competent Master (often called a “Guru” in the East). This time period was not called the “Axial Age” for no reason;[9] it was the lever or fulcrum of collective consciousness development expressing the awakened mental-ego structure among the advanced-tip few, turning us towards the modern mind.[10] Nevertheless, in its wake there has been a loss of Spirit leaving modern man in search of a soul (as Carl Jung phrased it):

The living spirit grows and even outgrows its earlier forms of expression; it freely chooses the men in whom it lives and who proclaim it. This living spirit is eternally renewed and pursues its goal in manifold and inconceivable ways throughout the history of mankind. Measured against it, the names and forms which men have given it mean little enough; they are only the changing leaves and blossoms on the stem of the eternal tree.[11]

We can still learn from both Plato and Aristotle, and the Pre-Socratic integration of mystical wisdom with rational thinking, because they embody our diversity and divergent perspectives, even in the Modern Age. Science may indeed be supplemented by a deeper spiritual understanding supported by a genuine Integral Vision. But we must dig deeper than many philosophers of the past and most scholars today have yet gone. Their dualisms, as are ours, are an illusion yearning to be transcended and healed in wholeness. The wisest have always taught, whether East or West, by the Nondual Vision grounded in an Enlightened understanding, one that even transcends-and-includes philosophy itself (as well as science). Therefore, if we side with either science or spirituality, with a religion of words and beliefs or transcendental mysticism, at the exclusion of the other, we simply continue the age-old battle that must be transcended-yet-integrated if a peaceful world is to ever be realized. If we truly want to “Know Ourselves”—know the depths of our psyche as well as the source and condition of the material cosmos of matter-energy (for they are ultimately One)—then we must BECOME INTEGRAL.

Only then will we find and celebrate the peaceful co-existence we all need and desire so much as one whole human race. To BE INTEGRAL is to live together by supporting one another in recognizing a spectrum (or hierarchy) of existence and consciousness evolution, one that is always already whole and One. Science and spirituality need not be divided, but need to be integrated by allowing each its own domain of expertise. But first we must discover their unity within. We must genuinely BECOME INTEGRAL ourselves in order to create an authentic Integral World. This is what I, and Ken Wilber (among many others), propose in the sacred marriage of science and spirit. To anyone who resists this wisdom, we offer guidance by pointing to The One holding the Many in the holistic embrace of love and light.

The One Creating the Many
(graphic by author)


  1. Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light (2013), pp. xxi-xxiii.
  2. See: Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998); "Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul." — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  3. See: Ken Wilber, The Marriage of Sense and Soul (1998), pp. 169-170.
  4. For example, I agree Visser is partially correct (as my essays have stated) in that Wilber could do a better job when focusing on biological evolution (and natural selection) in supporting its findings, instead of always critiquing its reductionism (which is what Wilber usually does; see my essay: "Unenlightened Science"). Nevertheless, I maintain that Visser is mostly wrong when his uses that critique to undermine Wilber's entire integral enterprise and thesis which states that evolution is Spirit-in-action situated within the Divine Reality of The One (as is the entire Kosmos). Thus, by knocking down Wilber's Integral Metatheory, Visser only shows how poorly he understands Spirit or the real Godhead ("God beyond God") and the unifying principle of the Nondual Heart (beyond the Ascending and Descending currents). Hence, I maintain (along with Wilber), we must use ALL the Eyes of Knowing (physical, mental, spiritual) to truly BE INTEGRAL, including the all-important Eye of Spirit (or transpersonal contemplation and awareness).
  5. Arthur Herman, The Cave and the Light (2013), p. 570 [some title caps added].
  6. See, for example: Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought (2002); Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom (1999); Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution (1998); Linda Johnsen, Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece (2006, 2016); S. Radhakrishnan, Eastern Religions and Western Traditions (1939, 1989).
  7. Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (1991), p. 2.
  8. See: F. M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy (1912, 1991), p. 143, 1n: "It is noteworthy that whereas all the philosophers of the mystical tradition (Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Empedocles, and Plato) assert there is only one cosmos [The One], the scientific tradition (Anaximander, Anaximenes, and the Atomists) admit 'innumerable worlds' [the Many]."
  9. See: Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (1953, 1976); Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2007); Robert Bellah Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (2017); John C Landon, Enigma of the Axial Age (2016); The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations (1986) edited by S. N. Eisenstadt.
  10. See: Ken Wilber, Up from Eden (1981, 2007); Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin (1949, 1985); Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (1954, 1973); William Irwin Thompson, Coming Into Being (1996), etc.
  11. C G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul (1933), p. 244.

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