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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Magnus Riisager Magnus Riisager has a BA in philosophy and psychology from the University of Copenhagen, and he is soon to write his master's thesis on the mystical union, the Unio Mystica. He is deeply interested in meditation and Christian mysticism. His fascination with psychology and spirituality was ignited by the books of Carl Gustav Jung and the Danish spiritual teacher Jes Bertelsen.

The Integral

A Critical Introduction to
the Philosophy of Ken Wilber

Magnus Riisager

Is integration an utopia? In the end, does one of the quadrants in fact hold the True understanding?

Through the last couple of decades the American philosopher Ken Wilber (b. 1949) has worked on a big project; the project of integrating no less than all available and valid theoretical stances in one complete integral perspective on reality: The Integral Approach. In this article I will give a brief introduction to Wilber's project and some of his key concepts, and I will introduce some of the criticism that have been raised against his theoretical stance. Wilber's theories is used in practise in a great number of areas and therefore I find it important to make philosophical investigations into the consistency and reliability of his theories.

So, in what follows I will account for Ken Wilber's integral or integrating approach to an understanding of the nature of reality, which he presented for the first time in the book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality from 1995. Fundamentally, the integral perspective consists in generalizing overviews, which means that Wilber tries to bring together all the widely different - and apparently incompatible - theories that seek to explain the reality we live in. He wants to consider and bring together theoretical traditions from phenomenology over physicalism and systems theory to hermeneutics and post-structuralism in one integral perspective on reality. Presented in another way; the best of premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity. Among other premises Wilber bases his work on the conviction that no one is capable of 100% error; so in his approach he extracts the usefull elements from the theories that have survived criticism; that is, the theories which haven't been definitively rejected by the competing theories. Through this methodology it is Wilber's intention to credit the different theoretical traditions for their insights and at the same time make the point that each tradition has had a too one-sided focus in their project when they have argued that precisely their understanding was the True understanding. Besides the point that the integral approach is meant to be a leading attempt to integrate the available theoretical diversities, another of Wilber's main interests is to bring into focus the development potentials available to every human - especially the potentials that not all scientific traditions accept (the spiritual).

Wilber's project is big and overwhelming, and as he tries to bring together and integrate traditions which compete againgst each other, the grand question is whether this integration really works. Therefore, after having presented Wilber's integral perspective I will bring forth some of the critical objections that have been raised against his theory.

Holons and their four aspects

Starting with Wilber's ontological stance, he operates with the thesis that reality is organized in holons,[1] that is wholes which are part of larger wholes (Wilber 2000, p. 26). According to Wilber reality is organized primarily in holons and not in either processes or things: "Reality is not composed of things or processes; it is not composed of atoms or quarks; it is not composed of wholes nor does it have any parts. Rather, it is composed of whole/parts, or holons" (ibid., p. 41).

Every whole both includes and is included in smaller and larger holons, respectively. For example, the holon molecule comprises a number of holons - atoms - and at the same time the holon is itself included in larger holons - cells. Hereby, a hierarchy of the increasing complexity of holons is outlined. By virtue of his wholeness percpective, Wilber calls this hierarchy 'the great holarchy of being' or 'the Great Nest of Being', because the higher levels of complexity transcend and include the lower (Wilber 1999, p. 438). The higher levels transcend the lower, because the first mentioned has emergent (and integrating) properties which are not present at the lower levels. As we deal with emergence it is implied that the higher levels depends upon the lower, because the lower a holon is situated in the holarchy the more fundamental it is (Wilber 2000, pp. 54; 56; 59; 61; 64; 69). On the other hand, for a holon to be situated in a higher position in the holarchy means that the holon has a higher degree of significance (that is, it contains a greater depth). According to Wilber the degree of depth is equivalent to the degree of consciousness involved (ibid., p. 65). It is my opinion that you can read Wilber as thinking that consciousness in this connection shall be understood as the spectrum of experience and reaction of a holon, because holons interpret reality, and because the interpretation capacity of holons (the "width" or "depth" of their perception) is expanded the more complex they are (ibid., p. 67). Put in another way: A holon on a given level of development "experiences" the world, as the world can be "experienced" from that level. Below, I will return to the question as to how "big" the holarchy of being is, according to Wilber.

Wilber distinguishes between to types of holons; individual (e.g. humans) and collective/social (e.g. societies). The social holons make up the environments of the individual holons. The individual holons has a dominating and relatively lasting 'monad', while the social holons has a dominating mode of discourse (ibid., p. 72; Wilber 2006, p. 149).

As mentioned above, Wilber seeks to be as including as possible, and therefore he believes that the different schools of thought "on the market" all offer important insights concerning the nature and essence of holons. In other words; the holons of reality has to be looked at as both phenomenological occurrences, as constructed through discourse and language, and as scientific observable entities. And even closer defined; according to Wilber every holon must have both an interior and an exterior, and the interior and the exterior is each divided in both an individual and a collective aspect (Wilber 2000, p. 127; 2006, pp. 19-20; 253-4). Thereby, the holons have four aspects or dimensions,[2] and Wilber calls the dimensions I (individual interior), It (individual exterior), We (collective interior), and Its (collective exterior). (Wilber operates with three types of holons: individual (I+It), social (We+Its), and "complete" holons (with all the four aspects). Last-mentioned type of holon Wilber describes as an occasion in reality. Below, I will return to the problematic aspect of distinction between the three types of holons. In what follows I will only talk about the "complete" holons.)

Wilber assigns each of the four holon aspects a quadrant in a cartesian system of co-ordinates, and hereby he presents his AQAL-model[3] in the following way (the concentric circles represent holons):

Fig.1 - The four quadrants in the AQAL-model (from Wilber 1999).

Every holon has and can be looked at through the four quadrants, and thereby we can see that the four quadrants depict both the ontology of reality and the epistemological possibilities of knowing reality:

My position is that every holon has (at least) these four aspects or four dimensions (or four "quadrants") of its existence, and thus it can (and should) be studied in its intentional, behavioral, cultural, and social settings. No holon simply exists in one of the four quadrants; each holon has four quadrants. (Wilber 2000, p. 135)

As an example, you can observe the holon 'a depressed person'. Firstly, the person has a subjective experience of being down in the dumps and drained of energy (UL). Secondly, through neurophysiology you can possibly see that the person has a low content of the transmitter serotonin in his or her brain (UR). Thirdly, the person is positioned in a discourse wherein it could be common to talk about depression as an illness or a sign of weakness (LL); this intersubjective context can also strengthen the depression by having a marginalizing or victimizing character. And fourthly, the person lives in a country with a certain social structure that works with depressed people in a certain way (LR) (Dalgas 2001). So the four quadrants are correlated with each other, but can't be reduced to just one of quadrants' domain (Wilber 1999, p. 507; p. 508, n. 2).

Besides all holons having four aspects, they are as, earlier mentioned, placed in a holarchy of increasing complexity. In other words, according to Wilber reality is organized in a number of levels (of development). Regarding the right hand quadrants, their levels of development is based upon quantitative progressions, while the left hand quadrants' levels are based upon scales of value (ibid., p. 506-7). Fundamentally, the levels of development is in Wilber's eyes a product of evolution combined with creative innovation (ibid., p. 575-85).

For example, in the UL quadrant the holon 'man' can be at a given stage of development. Regarding the stages of development, the developmental psychologists of the West (Baldwin, Piaget, Kohlberg, Erikson among others) is - according to Wilber - fundamentally in agreement that today[4] we have the potentials for developing through a series of stages that can be called: archaic/instinctual, animistic/magical, egocentric/power oriented, conformistic/mythical, rational/formal, pluralistic, holistic, and integral (ibid., pp. 631-5; Wilber 2006, p. 22). So we can find ourselves on a stage of development where we have a pluralistic world view ("all is good"), and from there we can develop towards acquiring the holistic perspective ("all is good, but not equally good"); that is, we can become a larger and more integrating holon that transcends and includes the pluralistic holon.

In the UR quadrant we, as human beings, evolve from a fertilized egg to a certain level of being in the holarchy of the individual exteriors, as we develop a body with organs and a brain with a neocortex and so on. From this point we also possess the potentials for further development (although not as much as in UL) given the plasticity of our brain, and for example it is possible to develop towards a larger control of the functions of our bodies, which can be observed objectively.

Looking at the LL quadrant we can see that we are positioned in different discourses and cultural contexts, which - be being world views or Weltanschauung - all are part of a holarchy stretching from premodernity (worldview: archaic, magical, mythical) over modernity (rational and scientific) to postmodernity (pluralistic, holistic, and integral).[5]

Finally, it goes for the LR quadrant that we can live as citizens in a society that is placed at a given position in the LR holarchy reaching from hunter and gather societies over agricultural and industrial societies to informational societies (Wilber 2006, p. 22; 2000, p. 215).

Besides that holons are situated in certain achieved and lasting stages of development, they are capable of "tasting" other levels in the holarchy temporarily, according to Wilber; that is, they can be in different states (e.g. peak experiences). To be in states of greater holarchical complexity and integration helps facilitate a given holon's development towards becoming a more including holon (Wilber 2006, pp. 11; 140). This I will elaborate below.

According to Wilber holons just don't have the four quadrantic aspects, but within each of the quadrants they have subdivisions. As the degree of development in the subdivisions not always is the same, it means that holons aren't just facing a series of levels of development, but that they move along individual lines of development through the holarchy. For example, as a person you have reached different stages in your moral, interpersonal, psycho-sexual, cognitive, or emotional development (ibid., pp. 9-10; Wilber 1999, pp. 462-4).[6] Add to this that you can participate in a bunch of discourses with a varying degree of complexity et cetera. Maybe the problem with the depressed person is caused by a sparse development of interpersonal skills (UL), or that the person at his or her workplace is caught in a discourse (LL/LR) that neither communicates nor appreciates a high degree of tolerance.

Finally, Wilber includes a distinction of types in his AQAL-model. Types consists in the idea that every vertical level of development has a row of horisontal types, that a holon can be (ibid., p. 11); every level has a typological "coloring". Examples can be the types masculin and feminin (UR), the Jungian types of personality (UL), or societies with industry based on for example production of food or weapons (LR).

The potentials for development

If we return to the spectrum of for example our development as human beings, Wilber's stance is that generally speaking our psychological selves can - looking through the UL - develop from being egocentric over being ethnocentric to being world-centric (or as Wilber also calls it: a centering in body, mind, or Spirit). Likewise it goes for the LL quadrant that our cultural discourses are centered around either 'me', 'us', or 'all of us'. I the UR quadrant the general trisection of the physical energy levels reads: gross, subtle, and causal.[7] When it comes to the LR quadrant, societies can be organized as groups, nations, or a global community (ibid., p. 24). The trisections Wilber illustrates as follows:

Fig.2 - The three general holonic stages of development (from Wilber 2006)

Speaking of the subjective individual interior (UL) we have, according to Wilber, potentials for developing from a purely instinctual level to a complex integral level. As I mentioned above, he further believes that we can enter states of consciousness, which can facilitate our development towards higher levels. Here we are speaking of for example peak experiences. These states are organized horisontally from each of the vertical levels of development (that is, the states are variations of the vertical levels).[8] Regarding the characterization of the states themselves, Wilber turns to the spiritual and meditative experiences of the past millennia as a support and elaboration (cf. Wilber 1996; 1999; 2000, p. 301 ff.). According to the different spiritual traditions, the horisontal states can be divided in quite a few ways, but Wilber works with four major states (although he names the first three states by the same name as the energy levels of the UR quadrant, they are not to be mixed up!): 1) our normal waking state with a constantly operating discursive mind (gross); 2) states of visualizing, dreams, or meditation on form (objects) (subtle); 3) states as deep, dreamless sleep or formless meditation or experiences of tremendous emptiness (causal); and 4) the nondual[9] being/consciousness which is the ever present film screen whereon the other states are "played" (nondual) (ibid., p. 74-76). In this connection Wilber presents a model - the Wilber-Combs Lattice - which depicts the connection between stages/levels and states:

Fig.3 - The Wilber-Combs Lattice of the connection between
levels of development and states of consciousness (from Wilber 2006)

In the model it is illustrated how you on every stage of development in the UL quadrant can have experiences that transcend the normal discursive mind. But most importantly, the experiences will be interpreted according to the stage you have reached (Wilber 1999, p. 446).

To sum up Wilber's integral perspective, you can say that he extracts the - by his opinion - best insights from premodernity (the holarchy of Being, the higher states of consciousness), modernity (the sciences, the differentiation of the quadrants' domains), and postmodernity (the focus on pluralism, contextualism, and the intersubjective aspect - the LL quadrant). His intention is to lead the way to a post-postmodernity, where pluralism is taken from a relativistic to an integral level, because according to Wilber both pre- to postmodernity have had their limitations. In Wilber's eyes, premodernity wasn't aware of the interplay of the four quadrants and the levels of psychological development in the UL quadrant. Modernity differentiated the scientific domains and introduced the concept of evolution, but because of the strong rational scientific perspective it looked at reality only through the exterior quadrants; the exterior of the holons was the only thing being recognized. Postmodernity directed attention to the interior aspects of holons like premodernity, but because of it's focus on pluralism, context, and surface, postmodernity - as Wilber sees it - collapsed in a reduction similar to the reduction taking place in modernity where the qualitative hierarchy of being and the interiors (the essences) were overlooked. Through an integration of the knowledge of the different epochs the way is paved for the most giving wave of research and development.


Above I have presented Ken Wilber's integral AQAL-perspective. In what follows I will introduce a couple of critiques of Wilber's system and focus on the complex of problems concerning the nature of holons. I will also look at Wilber's allotting of relative strength to the methodology and contribution of the quadrants.[10]

The nature of holons

A fundamental critique has been raised against Wilber's conception of holons, that is, the idea that reality consists of holons all the way "up" and all the way "down. The critique says that if this is so we can't place a single ultimate holon (Wilber's Emptiness or Spirit) as a conclusion of the holarchy of Being, because Spirit qua holon itself will be a wholeness, that is part of a larger wholeness (that is, we are in for an infinite progres and regres, as holons also continue all the way "down" in the holarchy). But Wilber thinks that the infinite collection of holons in reality not is to be understood as a wholeness. Contrary to this he calls the collection the All or Kosmos, following the Pythagoreans (Wilber 2000, pp. 44-5). Whether or not a collection of entities is itself an entity has been debated intensely throughout the history of philosophy, so I will not deal further with this topic here. But one may ask if it would be so devastating to Wilber's system if he operated with a concluding holon of unity (frequently, he speaks of Spirit as a kosmic Unity). Because Spirit by Wilber from time to time is characterized in a manner like the Hinduistic principle of Brahman - that in an almost personal way throws itself out into a divine play with itself called lila (cf. Wilber 2006, p. 210) - perhaps Spirit could be placed as a concluding personal causal explanation of the Kosmic holarchy of Being. The personal explanations can - according to the arguments of Richard Swinburne - adequately account for the first causes in chains of explanation. This is not a capability of the scientific explanations (Swinburne 1979, p. 72 ff.).

Another criticism of Wilber's holon theory points out that it is not possible to line up a simple holarchy of Being, because it, as an example, goes for the UL that rational, logical mental processes apparently don't include emotional processes, and because it, as an example, goes for the UR that the neocortex doesn't include but is an independent layer "on top of" and "functioning together with" the limbic systems (Kazlev 2005).[11] In a couple of passages (e.g. Wilber 1997, p. 373) Wilber has described the holarchy of the UR as a branching tree rather as a straight line. He hasn't elaborated on this description, though.

As mentioned in my second endnote Wilber doesn't count himself as a panpsychist or dual aspect theorist, but instead he thinks of himself as a pan-interiorist; that is, he thinks all of reality's holons have an interior (how the interiors of the lowest or highest levels in the holarchy look like remains an open question - it's Wilber's opinion that the interior of for example atoms doesn't consist of feelings or experiences) (Wilber 2000, p. 118). But the pan-interioristic idea must remain a postulate, which Wilber also is aware of, though he thinks that it is only a postulate on the average level of human development (the rational-pluralistic) (Wilber 1999, p. 615, n. 15). Wilber directs our attention to the observation of the contemplative traditions of Earth that there exists higher levels of reality, which we have the ability to experience. And on our present evolutionary step it means that the highest stage a present human being can achieve is the integral stage combined with a realization/experience of the nondual Ground of Being (Wilber 2006, pp. 94-5). Not until this stage we are capable of experiencing the nature of reality, according to Wilber - a nature which because of the nondual "perspective" is nondual, that is, all hangs together in the great Emptiness/Spirit.[12] As Wilber puts it, the final argument (or injunction) for this conception of reality is: Develop, and see for yourself (cf. ibid., pp. 267-9). Besides the obvious critique of this "argument" (cf. de Quincey 2000, pp. 195-6), Wilber's statement shall be subjected to the four-quadrantic (quadrivia) way of investigation, and in this case for example the (healthy) scepticism from the LL quadrant will ask whether the "experience" of nondual Emptiness completely transcends discourse, culture, and context; that is, the possibility of the realization of nonduality just being a discursive form (put in a more harsh way: Can we at all trust the contemplative traditions?) (Katz 1978; cf. Harvat 2004).

Ken Wilber would answer the LL sceptic that precisely only by letting go of language (which is a fundamental practice in the spiritual systems) is it possible to transcend the discourses you are situated in. And precisely because you let go of language and the discoursive form (e.g. the split up of subject vs. object), the highest experience must remain ineffable and nondual.

As concerning the holons' relationship to the four quadrants, I explained above that Wilber operates with three types of (ontological) holons; individual, social, and "complete" (cf. Wilber 2006, pp. 145-9). In some passages (e.g. ibid., pp. 152; 254) Wilber talks about individual holons, as for example human beings, having all four of the quadrantic aspects. The question is, then, if it is meaningfull at all (or just superflous) to talk about the existence of different types of holons. Perhaps the trisection is justified by virtue of Wilber's distinction between on the one hand "regular" holons (individual and social) and on the other hand occasion holons (the "complete" holons) (cf. ibid., pp. 144-5). But then again - the concept of a holon was supposed to consist of both things and processes. The distinction between individual and social holons further seems arbitrary, when you in Wilber's books read that social holons are the environments from which the individual holons can't be separated (the 'organism-in-it's-environment' of systems theory); when you are dealing with an individual holon (e.g. a hunter with a flint axe) you automatically deal with a correlating social holon (e.g. a hunter and gather society) (Wilber 2000, pp. 91-2). So perhaps Wilber's theory works best if he sticks to the idea that the holons of reality is best characterized as processes (occasions) after all. And these processes have individual and social/collective dimensions rather than consist of individual and social entities: "They [the individual and the social] are, quite litterally, equivalent (but not identical) dimensions of each occasion. Each occasion tetra-arises and tetra-evolves" (Wilber 2006, p. 145).

The contribution from the quadrants

We can now direct our focus from the ontological constitution of the holons to the "content" of the quadrants themselves. Here we can start by looking at the UL quadrant.

As mentioned, the subjective quadrant constitute the individual interior of holonic occasions. And the different ways a subject experiences being a subject (that is, the interior of subjectivity) have been allotted positions in hierarchies of psychological and spiritual development by a great number of writers through the ages. According to Wilber, the great intelligences of West and East are in general agreement about the elaboration of the UL holarchy of Being (se above). However, Jeff Meyerhoff has - with a reference to the investigations of Sheldon White - pointed out, that for example developmental psychologists far from agree on the character of the specific psychological stages of development - the only thing they agree on is that children are getting better at everything with time (Meyerhoff 2006). To this comes that Wilber refers to the experiences of mystics (from East and West) as argument for, 1) that really advanced levels of development exist, and 2) that it is possible to be in subtle, causal, and nondual states of consciousness - where the last-mentioned, besides not being a regular state, is a direct realization of the holografic and Spirit-penetrated nature of reality. This last-mentioned part of the UL holarchy has, mildly put, been under heavy fire from the neuroscience of UR and the social constructionism of LL - a fact Wilber most certainly is aware of (cf. Wilber 2006, p. 43). But Wilber rejects the strong versions of the social constructionism with a reference to the self-refuting, relativistic element they contain (Wilber 2000, p. 193). But he also admits that the insights of post-structuralism (the dependence on context, the pluralism) shall be integrated in our understanding of reality (cf. the LL quadrant). As I see it, this move from Wilber can't totally save the phenomenologically experiences from premodernity. For although most of us can agree that the social constructionism hasn't succeeded in reducing all universal appearances to verbal (social) conctructions (cf. Favrholdt n.y.), you have to admit that the deep mystical experiences, in spite of containing universal elements, are a relatively little collection of experiences; it is granted to few people to have such experiences. And the fact that the greatest part of the mystical experiences comes from munks, nuns, yogies, lamas, tulkus and more, which are situated in spiritually fertile surroundings (contexts), is just petrol on the constructionist campfire. But maybe the mystical experiences can be saved by the observation that you can find a worldwide mystical agreement that the highest possible spiritual realization is trans-verbal and nondual Emptiness; a pure consciousness (cf. Forman 1998). Through a realization like that the mystic transcends the discourse he is positioned in and we then hear both zen monks in East (Suzuki 1983, pp. 43; 50) and Meister Eckhart in West (Eckehart 2002, p. 119) speak of the great Emptiness behind the phenomenal world. - Or is the mystic still lulled by the discourse of the monastary? And does the ineffability of the mystical union (unio mystica) entail that it can't be validated?

This topic is really large and as I only intend to introduce Ken Wilber's theories and a little of the criticism of them, I will at this point leave the open question about the strength of phenomenology. Hereafter I will focus on the intersubjective quadrant (LL) and the enclosed criticism.

Christian de Quincey has in an article argued that Wilber's formulated understanding of intersubjectivity as a linguistic exchange between two subjects is a rather weak version of proper intersubjectivity. According to de Quincey, the proper strong intersubjectivity consists in two subjects' experience (of each other) co-arising through and are created by their joint being-together. In the being-together intersubjectivity becomes the foundation of subjectivity: "It is ontological intersubjectivity relying on co-creative nonphysical presence, and brings distinct subjects into being out of a prior matrix of relationships" (de Quincey 2000, p. 188).[13]

As de Quincey sees it, Wilber incidentally reduces the intersubjective domain (LL) to the interobjective (LR) because Wilber almost exclusively describes the intersubjective exchange as being propagated by language. But the linguistic tokens are exterior entities, as de Quincey remarks, that is, they belong to the right hand quadrants. In a couple of passages Wilber writes that the LL quadrant have to do with meaning, but as de Quincey writes, meaning in Wilber's optics can only be propagated through dialogue and interpretation (ibid., p. 188). Hence, the LL quadrant is leaved empty: "In other words, it is the felt relational component of Wilber's theoretical psycho-philosophical work that is most conspicuously missing" (ibid., p. 191).

Ken Wilber has responded to de Quincey's objection by saying that de Quincey has utterly misunderstood and distorted his theoretical stance, and that he precisely allots intesubjectivity a fundamental role in Kosmos (Wilber n.y., part 1). De Quincey has subsequently responded (de Quincey n.y.) that he stands by his criticism and that Wilber in his response himself distorts the criticism in de Quincey's article. I will not enter further into this discussion as it has moved onto ad hominem territory. I will only remark that he inclusion of a strong understanding of intersubjectivity in the AQAL-perspective has some consequences for the relative strength between for example the UL and LL quadrants: Is the subjective perspective as fundamental as the intersubjective? Is it at all possible to "reduce" intersubjectivity to just a fourth of what constiture reality?

If we look at Wilber's description of the interobjective LR quadrant, it has been objected that modern evolution theory cannot fit into Wilber's teleological system (Chamberlain 2006). Wilber leans on modern evolution theorists like Ernst Mayr and Richard Lewontin and he includes their insights as descriptions of the LR perspective. But either Mayr or Lewontin would, according to Jim Chamberlain, let themselves be enrolled under Wilber's theoretical umbrella, which incorporates a telos in the evolution of the universe (Wilber 2000, p. 81); a drive towards greater and greater integration.

And finally, Wilber's ontological stance - pan-interiorism - meets severe opposition from the right hand exterior quadrants; that is, the physicalist camp. Here philosophers like Daniel C. Dennett, David Papineau, and John J.C. Smart stand ready to tell Wilber that the left hand interior quadrants in fact haven't an independent ontological status; they are reducible epiphenomenons on the physical reality. Wilber expresses the hunch and doubts of many people when he answers the physicalists, that they exclude some of reality in their theories. But the fact is that the physicalists have some very good arguments in support of their project (cf. Dennett 1988 + vol. 13, no. 10/11 of the Journal of Consciousness Studies). And how big a part of the physicalist doctrines can Wilber be able to or allow himself to integrate in his model?

Can Ken Wilber's generalizing perspective really integrate everything? Wilber often mentions that the specialist theorist that don't think their works fit in the AQAL model just are afraid of only having 25% right; that is, afraid that their theories no longer would reign supreme. But could it be that the AQAL model simply cannot include all? A doubt many thinkers have expressed (cf. Parker 2007; Visser 2006; Kazlev 2006, part 2; Meyerhoff 2006). Are the findings and insights of the four quadrants really too strong to "only" be allotted a fourth in the final perspective? Is integration an utopia? In the end, does one of the quadrants in fact hold the True understanding? And is the integral project thereby a wrong track, a blind alley, a shot in the dark?


With these questions quivering in the air I will close my introduction to Ken Wilber's philosophical project. I don't think I am entitled to conclude anything about Wilber's total system from the above presentation. But that hasn't been the intention with this article. I have only intended to introduce a - in my opinion - heroic mission, which - even though it doesn't succeed - contains some useful, salutary, and stimulating core intentions.


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Wilber, K. (1999): Integral Psychology. Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy - CW vol. 4 (pp. 423-717) (published as a separate book in 2000).

Wilber, K. (2000): Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The Spirit of Evolution, 2. revisited edition (first edition 1995) - CW vol. 6 (pp. 3-823).

Wilber, K. (2006): Integral Spirituality. A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World, Integral Books (Shambhala Publications, Inc.); Boston & London.

Wilber, K. (n.y.): 'Do Critics Misrepresent My Position? A Test Case from a Recent Academic Journal', from

Zahavi, D. (2001): Husserls fænomenologi, 2. revisited edition, Gyldendals Forlag; Copenhagen.


[1] A concept he borrows from Arthur Koestler. Koestler uses the concept in his book The Ghost in the Machine from 1967.

[2] Hereby Wilber can be said to place himself in continuation of the theory of science position which is called dual aspect theory; that is, the theory that maintains that physical and mental is two aspects of the same underlying substance. I will return to this subject later in the article as Wilber not sees himself as either a dual aspect theorist or a panpsychist, but rather a pan-interiorist (Wilber 1999, p. 615, n. 15).

[3] AQAL is short for "All Quadrants, All Levels, all lines, all states, all types". Below, I will go into details about the remaining aspects of the model.

[4] That is, because of evolution all the stages has not always been available to mankind.

[5] In this connection Wilber draws on among others Jean Gebser's classification of world views (Wilber 1999, p. 580).

[6] In this connection Wilber draws on among others Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (Wilber 2006, p. 7).

[7] The objective exterior of the holons (their "body") can be of either a material, gross level (regular physicality - solid, distinct objects), a subtle, energy based level (life, light, mental phenomenon, finer energetic states), and a causal level (the transcendental conditions of objective being; the total Kosmic energy field) (ibid., pp. 16-18).

[8] In Wilber's early writings (for example Wilber 1996) the states gross, subtle, causal, and nondual were placed vertically in extension of the levels of development. This ordering was not adequate, because it is possible for a person to experience for example subtle states even though that person only has reached a mythical stage of development. Thereafter Wilber i collaboration with Alan Combs invented the Wilber-Combs Lattice (Wilber 2006, pp. 88-89).

[9] The concept nondual implies that in this "state" there exists neither subject nor object; the Kosmic consciousness is neither split up or divided.

[10] Ken Wilber has and has had many critics through his academic career (as Christian de Quincey remarks, either you love or hate Wilber). For a list of published critique of Wilber's position see for example

[11] Cf. Wilber 2000, p. 103, where it appears that Wilber forces the concept 'holarchy' onto Paul MacLeans account of the observation that the reptilian brain, the limbic systems, and the neocortex can be seen as a hierarchy; that is, that they not necessarily include each other, as if it was a holarchy.

[12] Since all of reality "hangs together" in Spirit, the distinct appearances that we qua human beings experience must be a form of aspects of Spirit; i.e. we are speaking of a kind of dual aspect theory. Wilber rejects in a footnote this thought by writing that since Spirit/Emptiness is formless, it can't have any aspects (Wilber 1999, p. 508, n. 2). In my opinion, hereby a gap between Spirit and the phenomenal world, and the question becomes: how does Spirit hang together with the appearances of the world? What is the relation between them, and how does the individual mind move from experiencing the phenomenons to experience the Cause? Wilber's statement appears to me to be a single minor self contradiction, which I won't use more space to deal with.

[13] Cf. Edmund Husserl about the intersubjective constitution (Zahavi 2001, p. 169). For Husserl intersubjectivity as such doesn't come before subjectivity - rather, they are complementing dimensions (ibid., p. 182).

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