Integral

From Second Renaissance

1. Summary

1.1 Integral Studies

An integrated approach to studies pursues a holistic view: an integration of mind, body, and spirit; an integration of material and spiritual values; and an integration of Eastern and Western philosophies and worldviews. 

Integral studies attempts to synthesize the fragmentary aspects of contemporary thought and culture into a meaningful whole. It is an approach to studying the world that requires the researcher to consider several different perspectives, paradigms and theories, and to engage in dialogue across usual boundaries between disciplines, cultures and philosophies.

1.2 Integral Theory

Integral theory is American philosopher Ken Wilber’s attempt to bring everything anyone has ever learnt from any culture into one framework. 

Wilber’s AQAL is the basic framework of Integral Theory. It suggests that all human knowledge and experience can be placed in a four-quadrant grid, along the axes of “interior-exterior” and “individual-collective”. Wilber presents it as a metatheory that attempts to explain how academic disciplines and every form of knowledge and experience fit together coherently. WIlber refers to it as “a theory of everything”.

2. Central Ideas and Claims

2.1 Integral Studies

According to the Institute for Integral Studies (IFIS), an integral approach requires the researcher to: 

  • “simultaneously hold several perspectives (paradigms, theories, lenses, voices, metaphors, categories …)”; 
  • “engage in dialogues across usual boundaries (of paradigms, disciplines, cultures, languages, institutional roles, thinking and communication styles etc), and to actually deepen and broaden one’s understanding through these dialogues”; and
  • “develop an awareness of the possibilities and limits of conceptual-verbal understanding, and creatively include complementary forms of generating insight and connection.”

A particular focus within integral studies is the exploring of the interplay of mind, body, and spirit. The California Institute of Integral Studies states: “integral education connects the spiritual and practical dimensions of intellectual life. The integration of the wisdom traditions presents an evolution of consciousness that has never been more relevant and crucial than it is today.”

2.2 Integral Theory

Wilber’s integral model distills the major components of all known systems and models of human growth into five simple elements. The five elements are: states, levels, lines, types and quadrants.

The purpose of the model is that those using it can know they are engaging with all areas of study, all sectors, and all cultures. Kilber explains: “If you are trying to fly over the Rocky Mountains, the more accurate a map you have, the less likely you will crash. An Integral Approach ensures that you are utilizing the full range of resources for any situation, with the greater likelihood of success.”

In addition, by mapping all domains, the Integral Map allows all groups or sectors within the mapped territory to be aware of one another and therefore communicate. The Integral Map therefore can facilitate cross-disciplinary knowledge.

Another phrase used to refer to the Integral Map is Integral Operating System, or IOS. If you are running any “software” in life, whether it be business, a hobby, a relationship, the IOS can allow you to operate with the most effective programmes available. 

The five elements of the Integral Theory:

2.3 States of Consciousness

States of Consciousness refers to the different modes or levels of awareness that individuals can experience. Some common examples of states of consciousness include, waking state, dreaming state, meditative state, flow state, altered states, and peak experiences.

2.4  Stages or Levels of Development

States of consciousness are temporary; one drifts from one to another. Stages of consciousness on the other hand are permanent. Stages represent the milestones of growth and development; they are enduring acquisitions. For example, once a child develops through the linguistic stages of development, the child has permanent access to language. There are all sorts of ways to divide up stages of development, and therefore there are all sorts of stage conceptions (just like temperature can be conceived of in celsius, fahrenheit, kelvin). 

2.5 Lines of Development

People are unevenly developed. Some are highly developed in logical thinking, but poorly developed in emotional feelings. Some people have highly advanced cognitive development but poor moral development. We can think of these multiple intelligences as domains of development or  “developmental lines”. Intelligences grow and develop through stages. There are many different ways of measuring or conceiving stages of development. In this instance, for example, if we were to measure development in the following three stages (or levels), egocentric, ethnocentric, and worldcentric, and consider there to be five key intelligences (or lines), cognitive, emotional, kinesthetic, interpersonal, moral and self-identity, by charting the major stages of development of intelligences we can see various lines unfold.  

This psychograph can help us visualize and understand our own strengths. In this way, the Integral Approach can facilitate one to operate with knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses.  

2.6 Types

‘Types’ simply refers to items that can be present at virtually any stage or state. For example, one common typology is the Myers-Briggs (whose main types are feeling, thinking, sensing, and intuiting). One can be any of those types at virtually any stage of development. These kinds of “horizontal typologies” can be useful, especially when combined with levels, lines, and states. The important point is that by using the Integral Approach, or IOS, you are able to check any situation – in yourself, in others, in an organization, or in a culture – and make sure that all appropriate types are included so as to be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible. It is also important to note that with any typology, there are healthy and unhealthy versions of a type. Being aware of an unhealthy type is just as important as being aware of a healthy type as a way to understand, communicate and operate most effectively, just as it is important to understand our own strengths and weaknesses, or lines of development.

2.7 Quadrants 

But how do the above all fit together? It’s one thing to simply lay all the pieces of the cross-cultural survey on the table and another to spot the patterns that connect all the pieces. With the Integral Approach, Wilber claims to have discovered the patterns. These patterns are together referred to as AQAL, shorthand for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types”. AQAL is just another term for IOS or the Integral Model.

Major languages use the first-person, second-person, and third-person pronouns – I, you, and it. While “we” is technically first person plural, within integral theory “we” is used as the second person, as when I talk to you, we are having this shared experience. 

What if rather than “I”, “you/we” and “it”, we varied the first, second and third person pronouns to be “the Beautiful”, “the Good”, and “the True”. First-person refers to Beauty; beauty which is subjective. Second-person (or “you/we”) refers to Goodness, or the ways that you and I treat each other – in other words basic morality.  Third-person (or “it”) refers to objective truth, which is best investigated by science. So the “I,” “we,” and “it” dimensions of experience really refer to: art, morals, and science.

Every event has all three of those dimensions. You can look at any event from the point of view of the “I” (how I personally see and feel about the event); from the point of view of the “we” (how not just I but others see the event); and as an “it” (or the objective facts of the event). An integrally informed path will take all of those dimensions into account, thus arriving at a more comprehensive and effective approach. Within integral theory these dimensions – I, we and it – are referred to as quadrants and are the foundation of the integral framework or IOS. There are four quadrants (the third person is divided into singular and plural – “it” and “its”).

The four quadrants display the “I” (the inside of the individual), the “it” (the outside of the individual), the “we” (the inside of the collective), and the “its” (the outside of the collective). All four quadrants need to be included in any integral view.

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2.7 Tying it all together

All four quadrants show some sort of stages or level of development. In the Lower Left, for example, the “we” expands from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric. This expansion of group awareness allows social systems—in the Lower Right—to expand from simple groups to more complex systems like nations and eventually to global systems.

Each quadrant has this unfolding nature, which can include expanding spheres of consciousness, care, culture, and nature. In short, the I and the we and it can evolve. Self and culture and nature can all develop and evolve.

States occur in all quadrants (from weather states to states of consciousness) and there are types in all of the quadrants, too.

So, to bring it all together, Wilber explains: 

“the extraordinary complexity of humans and their relation to the universe can be simplified enormously by touching bases with the quadrants (the fact that every event can be looked at as an I, we, or it); developmental lines (or multiple intelligences), all of which move through developmental levels (from body to mind to spirit); with states and types at each of those levels.”

2.8 Application

Wilber outlines certain areas which would benefit from the application of the Integral Model, including medicine, business, and combating climate change. In the context of medicine, for instance, Wilber explains that the approach taken in conventional medical practices focuses on the Upper-Right quadrant, dealing almost entirely with the physical organism and applying physical interventions: surgery, medication, behavioral modification for example. The Integral Model claims that every physical event has at least four dimensions, and as such even physical illness must be looked at from all four quadrants.

3. History 

The term “integral” was first used in a spiritual context by Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) , an Indian philosopher and yoga guru, to describe his spiritual teachings. In his teachings, integral yoga refers to the process of the union of all the parts of one’s being with the Divine. This spiritual teaching involves an integral divine transformation of the entire being, rather than the liberation of only a single faculty such as the intellect or the emotions or the body. According to Sri Aurobindo, “true integral perfection in being and in nature” cannot come by one kind of realization alone, or “by the exclusive pursuit of a single line of identity”. But rather, “an integral consciousness with a multiform dynamic experience is essential for the complete transformation of our nature” -  Sri Aurobindo in The Synthesis of Yoga.

Sri Aurobindo’s work has been described as Integral psychology, and has influenced others who have since used the term in more philosophical or psychological contexts.

Wilber introduced his integral theory in 1977 with the publication of The Spectrum of Consciousness. Beginning as an attempt to synthesize eastern religious traditions with western structural stage theory (describes human development as following a set course of stages of development), Wilber’s ideas have grown more inclusive over the years, to the point where he now describes it as “a theory of everything”. 

4. Key Actors and Bodies

5. Key Texts

  • Wilber, K. The Spectrum of Consciousness.  Theosophical Publishing House, 1977.
  • Wilber, K. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.

6. References

  • Wilber, K. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.
  • Wilber, K. Introduction to Integral Theory and Practice. AQAL, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2005.

7. Further Reading 

  • Wilber, Ken. A Sociable God: Toward a New Understanding of Religion. Rev. ed. 2005. Boston: Shambhala, 1983.
  • Wilber, Ken. Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. Rev Ed. 2000. Boston: Shambhala, 1994. 
  • Wilber, Ken. Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm. 3rd ed., Rev. Boston : [New York]: Shambhala ; Distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 2001.
  • Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston, Mass.: Integral Books, 2007. 
  • Wilber, Ken, ed. Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening. 1st ed. Boston: Integral Books, 2008.