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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

A Suggestion for Reading
the Criticisms of My Work

on Frank Visser's "World of Ken Wilber" Site

Ken Wilber

I read the first page of Edwards's latest essay on exteriors posted on the Frank Visser "World of Ken Wilber" site, and again I am struck by how little it relates to what I have actually said, as a dozen students of mine have already told me.  My recommendation to theorists like Edwards is that they try to separate two very different tasks: (1) presenting their own good ideas in themselves, and (2) criticizing mine.  When somebody like Edwards tries to do both things in one piece, often in one sentence, it places a double burden on the truth value of the sentence.  I find very little truth in Edwards's work, although I find much truth in his own ideas (which usually happen to agree with mine more often than not, a fact that cannot be seen under the double burden).

In the first page of the aforementioned essay, Edwards does not fully or carefully define what I actually mean by "exteriors," a fact he himself acknowledges before ignoring it.  Based on that crucial misreading, a series of further misreadings follow.

Among other things, in my actual view, the "we" is not the end product of a series that starts with separate "I's" that are somehow added up into a "we."  This is a staggering distortion of my work.  In the one particular instance that he refers to, I was discussing one type of vertical building up of a "we" from its predecessor quadratic occasions.  But the "we" itself is essentially the LL quadrant, and as such it arises simultaneously with all four quadrants in any given moment.  To break the process into quadrants to discuss it, we can say that each "we" is a dialectic of development of its/thems, he/she/it, I/me, and thou/we.  The "we" goes all the way down, it doesn't pop out at the end.  Sheeeesh.

Further, the idea that I don't draw on exterior social development (of its, them, and they) is absolute nonsense.  George Mead, for instance, was one of my earliest and most extensive influences (among others).  But Mead isn't really exterior per se, he's zone 2.

Anyway, let me repeat (and further explain) the double burden that renders so many of Edwards's points categorically false and virtually worthless.  Consider two sentences:

(1)  "Water contains 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom." 

(2)  "John believes that water is made of 3 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom."

The first sentence is true.  But let us imagine that John also believes that water is composed of 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atoms.  In that case, the second sentence is false (but the first sentence is still true).

But if I make those two sentences into one sentence: "Water contains 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom and John thinks it is made of 3 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom," then that overall sentence is FALSE.  (In order for it to be true, both propositions must be true, and only one of them is).

Because Mark Edwards (and so many of the critics on the Visser site) combine their possible truths with a mis-statement about mine, their overall sentences and presentations are FALSE.  Most of Edwards's dual-meanings sentences, as far as I can see, are FALSE.  And this is truly unfortunate, because if these critics would divide their work into two completely separate essays—where the first essay describes their views WITHOUT EVEN MENTIONING MINE, and the second essay gives what they think Ken Wilber thinks about an issue—then they would avoid much of this lamentable falseness.

Their OWN views are often true and important (as in, water is 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen), but when hooked to a well-intentioned but nonetheless categorically false statement about my views, their overall presentation becomes false.  This is truly too bad, because then both the critic and I end up looking false.

Anyway, as students of my work know, people coming to the Visser site should understand that virtually all of the critics on this site are critics that I have not been in mutual dialogue with.  Hence, most of the actual statements about my views, as far as I can tell, are usually way off the mark, sometimes outrageously so.  Yet their own views often contain important contributions.  But by combining (1) their true propositions with (2) false interpretations of my work, their final presentation is accordingly false.  This is truly unfortunate in so many ways.

My work is so complex at this point, I offer the following advice: if you are interested in my work per se, trust few critics who have not discussed their criticism with me.  Critics that I am in dialogue with—as we will see, there are hundreds of them—do what happens in any truly dialogical situation.  Dialectical exchanges like the following occur:

Q: We can divide any occasion into four quadrants?
KW: Not exactly.  My view is that we need to include at least four perspectives.  I have never said there are only four quadrants.  In my opinion, each sentient being, or individual holon, has or possesses at least those four perspective-dimensions (I, you/we, he/her/it, they/them/its).  But there can be more, certainly in more complex compound individuals.  But I maintain that at least those four dimensions go all the way down.
Q: So a rock has four quadrants.
KW: No, a rock is a heap, not a holon.  So as a rock, it does not possess four quadrants.
Q: But the rock is an "it."
KW: Well, any object can be LOOKED AT from four perspectives, but only sentient holons POSSESS four dimensions or can LOOK FROM four perspectives.  So I myself, for example, can look at the rock from a first-person perspective, from a second-person perspective, and from a third-person perspective.  But the rock cannot look at me from those perspectives.  The four quadrants per se are perspectives from, not on or about.
(And, very technically, when we draw a four-quadrant diagram, we are giving a third-person view OF a sentient holon that POSSESSES first-, second-, and third-person views. That is, the AQAL map is our objective map or it-view OF a holon that HAS its own I, we, and it views, and the map itself captures none of those, nor is it supposed to, but rather simply reminds us of the perspectives that the particular sentient holon possesses and that we must take into account in any integral approach; the actual perspectives themselves cannot be engaged by our map knowledge, but only by the methodologies that bring forth the actual perspective-dimensions themselves—perhaps phenomenology, or hermeneutics, or positivism, or systems theory. The map itself is just a positivistic third-person abstraction—which is exactly what it is supposed to be, no more, no less: except this map DEMANDS that all the other methodologies represented or listed on the map—phenomenology, hermeneutics, etc.—actually be used when approaching the real territory. Tracing these fascinating intricacies is the task of an integral math of indigenous perspectives and their inherent injunctions or paradigms. The simple point for now is that the AQAL map is our third-person view OF a holon that itself POSSESSES first-, second-, and third-person views.)
People often draw a four-quadrant diagram and mix those two frameworks up, so they say things like, "A chair is IN the Upper-Right quadrant, correct?" Not quite. A chair can be looked at "from" the Upper Right of a sufficiently complex sentient being (e.g., I can see the chair as a third-person object), but the chair is not itself "in" the Upper Right (the chair does not itself POSSESS the capacity to register third-person its, because the chair per se is not a sentient holon but an artifact). The four-quadrants are POSSESSED only by individual sentient holons. But anything can be LOOKED AT from the four perspectives. I can give you a first-person view of the chair, a second-person view of the chair, and a third-person view of the chair. The chair can do none of those. I possess four quadrants; the chair does not.
Q: But the chair does contain individual or sentient holons.
KW: Yes, that's right.  The molecules in the chair, for example, are individual holons or sentient beings.  As such, each molecule POSSESSES four dimensions or four quadrants.  On its own level, a molecule can register objects (or "its") in its world, it has its own prehension (or "I"), and it can resonate with other molecules (or "we"). Like I said, I believe that in individual holons or sentient beings those three or four dimensions go all the way down.
Q: But you say a social holon does not possess four quadrants.
KW: Correct.
Q: But I don't see why not.  You can have the upper quadrants be agency, and the lower quadrants be communion.  Then even a social holon has four quadrants.
KW: Well, again, a social holon can be LOOKED AT from four different perspectives, or from four different quadrants, but does not itself POSSESS four quadrants.  The reason is that a social holon—the "we/its" of this dialogue right now, for example—this "we/its" does NOT possess an "I" or a dominant monad. There is no single "I" telling you and me what to say.  No "we/its" has its own "I."  That is why a social holon does NOT itself possess four quadrants, although the individual holons who are members of it do.
Q: I get it.  The "we" of this phone conversation does not have an "I." It has a nexus-agency, but not agency per se.
KW: Correct.  A sociocultural holon may have a dominant mode of discourse, but not a dominant monad.
Q: Got it.

That, incidentally, is a transcript from an actual telephone dialogue (with a few sentences added for clarity in parentheses for those not present).  You will notice that, as with all authentic dialogical occasions, mis-interpretations within the "we" are, or can be, apprehended as they arise and immediately corrected.  The critic can disagree with my position, but at least they see it accurately before they do so. Both the critic and I are within the hermeneutic circle.

You'll also note that this particular dialogue alone renders at least four essays on this site categorically false, essays that developed outside the hermeneutic circle of Wilber's actual views.

I am NOT saying that people can't criticize my work without talking to me.  Of course they can (and have and do).  I am saying, if you want to know what Ken Wilber's view is about a topic, better listen only to either Ken Wilber or people who are in dialogue with Ken Wilber.  Otherwise, please read critics like Mark Edwards, NOT to find out what my view is (although they constantly claim to know), but rather for any insights about their own views that they might offer, which are often very important and illuminating in their own right (and, of course, are often actually quite similar to mine).  But please keep these two items separate, and judge them independently.  That truly is all I am saying.

I would like to see critics such as Mark Edwards simply write essays like, "This Is How I, Mark Edwards, View Social Development," and not mention me at all.  That way we could at least hear his important work not saddled with the double burden.  But then, it wouldn't get posted on "The World of Ken Wilber," would it? 

And therein lies the entire problem with this site: it is burdened with the double burden.  The Visser site remains the greatest concentration of distortions of my work that I am aware of, for the simple reason that virtually all of the critics on the site are not in dialogue with me in any fashion.

(The rare exceptions are pieces like those of Fred Kofman, which came out of a direct dialogical criticism and extensive discussion with me, and hence ones that truly reflect my position and cogent criticisms of it.)

We are about to launch  There are over 20 domains in it—from integral psychology to integral politics to integral ecology to integral spirituality to integral art.  We are posting over 2000 pages of written material on the integral/AQAL approach to all of those domains, written by over 80 domain hosts and cohosts, with several hundreds of theorists in the dialogue.  In other words, all of this IU material was developed with theorists who are in constant dialogue with me and each other in various ways.  Frank Visser and Mark Edwards are not among them.  Nor are Ray Harris, nor Andrew Smith, nor....

For the very same reason, as many people know, I have strong disagreements with Frank Visser's book about my work (Thought as Passion).  Frank has monologically studied my work a great deal, but dialogically very little (and with regard to Wilber 5, there has been zero dialogical study or understanding).  In part this is due to unfortunate geographical distances.  I hope, however, that in the near future, Frank can become more involved with Integral University and thus enter the hermeneutic circle of those adequately reflecting my views before disagreeing with them, but we shall see.  He is certainly welcome to do so.

Of the hundreds of theorists who are in constant dialogue and dialectical interaction with me, their sharp criticisms of my position always hit the mark because they are always sure that they are criticizing my actual views.  If Mark Edwards and I were in dialogue about his essay, I would not let him get beyond the second paragraph without correcting a deep misperception he has of my view about exteriors.  Failing that, virtually everything else he says is false, simply because of the double burden.  Truly a shame that both he and I come off looking false under that burden, when both of us have so many true things to say on the topic.

I am the first to admit that, because I am not in dialogue with Mark Edwards, I might not be understanding his actual position.  If so, it just goes to show you....

I realize that some of these critics will say, "Well, I can't get in touch with Wilber, so I can't dialogue with him, so does that mean that I can't criticize anything he says?"  No, of course not.  I am simply saying that the further removed from actual dialogue with me that a critic is, the LESS LIKELY that they will correctly represent my view before they begin to criticize it, and that under this double burden, the less likely the criticism qua criticism is valid, as most of the essays on this site demonstrate.

(I also realize that, after reading this, dozens of people will contact me and, basically, demand to be in dialogue with me so that they can "accurately" represent my views.  And of course I will not be able to do so individually and on demand, so I expect a raft of essays about Wilber being afraid to really enter dialogue with people who disagree with him.  But take a look at the scholars who are the hosts and cohosts of IU.  Do you really think these people are "yes men"?  The only way that criticism will work is if you can demonstrate that hundreds of the finest scholars in the world are obsequious ass kissers.  Ah, gimme me a break....)

For those who would like to know my real position on these issues—as well as for criticism from aggressive critics who are actually in dialogue with me and therefore are at least seeing the target they are aiming at—I suggest people check out  We expect to go live sometime early this summer (2004). In the meantime, have a look at

By the way, we have received a tentative green light from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to offer fully accredited degrees.  This means that within a year or so, if things continue to go well, we hope to be offering accredited MS and PhDs in areas like integral psychology, integral ecology, integral art, integral politics, integral transformative practice, and so on.  This is a historical first, certainly for the United States, in that this will be the first time ever that fully accredited degrees in integral studies have been issued by an established and well-respected academic system of higher education.  If you are interested in these areas, please come and join us....

Ken Wilber

March 23, 2004

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