A Primer on Integral Theory


Integral theory is a school of philosophy that seeks to integrate all of human wisdom into a new, emergent worldview that is able to accommodate the gifts of all previous worldviews, including those which have been historically at odds: science and religion, eastern and western, and pre-modern, modern and post-modern.

Integral theory builds on the foundations of evolutionary theory. Evolution is well-established by science and is non-controversial for anyone with a modern or post-modern worldview. We “know” from ever-more sophisticated observation and analyses that the cosmos burst into being about 13.7 billion years ago, first as energy then as matter, arising as atoms and molecules that formed the heavenly bodies, including our home planet, Earth. On Earth we know that molecular evolution continued, creating cells (life!) then organisms which grew in complexity, from amoebae to sponges to fish to reptiles to mammals, culminating in the human being, the most complex entity in the known universe.

The whole process of evolution is accelerating exponentially: if all of known time is seen as a 24-hour day, life showed up in the last three hours, mammals in the last three minutes, and human beings in the last 1.5 seconds. The pyramids were built .07 seconds ago and “Hey Jude” was written .0007 seconds ago.

Integral theory adds to this understanding with the assertion that evolution is not limited to the exterior forms of reality (matter and organisms), but is also evident in the historical development of the interior aspects of reality, namely in culture and consciousness.

In very simple terms, an integral view of history maintains that the collective consciousness of the human race has evolved through pre-modern, modern and post-modern structures, and is emerging into a new structure of consciousness, which we’ll call the integral structure that is characterised by an ability to think and act from multiple worldviews (see Figure 1 below).

The leading living integral theorist is Ken Wilber, who has published over 25 books on the subject, including classics such as Up From Eden; A Brief History of Everything; Sex, Ecology and Spirituality and One Taste. He is featured, with scores of other integral experts, on the website, Integral Life.

Figure 1


Now let’s take a little tour of what Ken Wilber has offered us as the five main components of an Integral map: quadrants, states, stages, lines and types. It is said that we are to try and include all of these parts of the map in understanding our world, our relationships and ourselves.


According to Integral Theory, there are at least 4 primary dimensions or perspectives through which we can experience the world: subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective. These 4 perspectives, represented graphically, are the upper-left, lower-left, upper-right, and lower-right quadrants.

Figure 2

In the subjective—or upper-left—quadrant, we find the world of our individual, interior experiences: our thoughts, emotions, memories, states of mind, perceptions, and immediate sensations—in other words, our “I” space.

In the intersubjective—or lower-left—quadrant, we find the world of our colletive, interior experiences: our shared values, meanings, language, relationships, and cultural background—in other words, our “we” space.

In the objective—or upper-right—quadrant, we find the world of individual, exterior things: our material body (including brain) and anything that you can see or touch (or observe scientifically) in time and space—in other words, our “it” space.

In the interobjective—or lower-right—quadrant, we find the world of collective, exterior things: systems, networks, technology, government, and the natural environment—in other words, our “its” space.

What’s the point of looking at the world through a 4-quadrant lens?

Simple answer: Anything less is narrow, partial and fragmented! Integral theory maintains that all four quadrants are real—and all are important. So, for example, to the question of what is more real, the brain (with its neural pathways and structures) or the mind (with its thoughts and perceptions), integral theory answers: BOTH.

Moreover, we add that the mind and brain are situated in cultural and systemic contexts, which influence both inner experience and brain activity in irreducible ways.

What’s more important in human behavior? The psychology of the mind (upper left), or the cultural conditioning of the individual (lower left)? Integral theory answers, again: BOTH. What is more critical in social development? The habits, customs, and norms of a culture (lower left), or the products it produces (like gun and steel – lower right). Integral theory answers: BOTH.

All four quadrants are real, all are important, and all are essential for understanding your world.

While some might like to reduce reality to the mind (upper-left quadrant), and others to the brain (upper-right quadrant), and still others to the influence of cultural context (lower-left quadrant), and yet others to the effect of systems (“it’s the economy, stupid!” i.e., lower-right quadrant), integral theory holds that ALL FOUR QUADRANTS are indispensable. The more we can consciously include the four quadrants in our perspective, the more whole, balanced, healthy, comprehensive, and effective our actions will be.

And it all boils down to just four dimensions—it’s as easy as I, we, it, and its!–and helps a great deal to orient ourselves toward a truly comprehensive approach to climate change, contextualizing Jim and Lester’s discussion as an exploration of just one of four crucial dimensions of our interconnected world. By using the four quadrants as a guide, we take the full complexity of our 21st century problems into account while developing a roadmap to the next phase of human civilization.

SOURCE: http://www.kenwilber.com/blog/show/515


States are a fundamental part of the human experience. Every day we cycle through the three major states—waking, dreaming, and deep sleep—and we can also check in with our current state of mind, from happiness to dread, from confusion to clarity.

Some of these features refer to subjective realities in you, some refer to objective realities out there in the world, and others refer to collective or communal realities shared with others. Let’s start with states of consciousness, which refer to subjective realities.

Everybody is familiar with major states of consciousness, such as waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Right now, you are in a waking state of consciousness (or, if you are tired, perhaps a daydream state of consciousness). There are all sorts of different states of consciousness, including meditative states (induced by yoga, contemplative prayer, meditation, and so on), altered states (such as drug-induced), and a variety of peak experiences, many of which can be triggered by intense experiences like making love, walking in nature, or listening to exquisite music.

Figure 3

The great wisdom traditions (such as Christian mysticism, Vedanta Hinduism, Vajrayana Buddhism, and Jewish Kabbalah) maintain that the 3 natural states of consciousness—waking, dreaming, and deep formless sleep—actually contain a treasure trove of spiritual wisdom and spiritual awakening . . . if we know how to use them correctly. We usually think of the dream state as less real, but what if you could enter it while awake? And the same with deep sleep? Might you learn something extraordinary in those awakened states? How do you know for sure without trying it? In a special sense, which we will explore as we go along, the 3 great natural states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep might contain an entire spectrum of spiritual enlightenment.

But on a much simpler, more mundane level, everybody experiences various states of consciousness, and these states often provide profound motivation, meaning, and drives, in both yourself and others. In any particular situation, states of consciousness may not be a very important factor, or they may be the determining factor, but no integral approach can afford to ignore them.

SOURCE: http://integrallife.com/member/ken-wilber/blog/integral-operating-system-part-ii-states-and-stages


There’s an interesting thing about states of consciousness: they come and they go. Even great peak experiences or altered states, no matter how profound, will come, stay a bit, then pass. No matter how wonderful their capacities, they are temporary.

Where states of consciousness are temporary, stages of consciousness are permanent. Stages represent the actual milestones of growth and development. Once you are at a stage, it is an enduring acquisition. For example, once a child develops through the linguistic stages of development, the child has permanent access to language. Language isn’t present one minute and gone the next. The same thing happens with other types of growth. Once you stably reach a stage of growth and development, you can access the capacities of that stage—such as greater consciousness, more embracing love, higher ethical callings, greater intelligence and awareness—virtually any time you want. Passing states have been converted to permanent traits.

How many stages of development are there? Well, remember that in any map, the way you divide and represent the actual territory is somewhat arbitrary. For example, how many degrees are there between freezing and boiling water? If you use a Centigrade scale or “map,” there are 100 degrees between freezing and boiling. But if you use a Fahrenheit scale, freezing is at 32 and boiling is at 212, so there are 180 degrees between them. Which is right? Both of them. It just depends upon how you want to slice that pie.

The same is true of stages. There are all sorts of ways to slice and dice development, and therefore there are all sorts of stage conceptions. All of them can be useful. In the chakra system, for example, there are 7 major stages or levels of consciousness. Jean Gebser, the famous anthropologist, uses 5: archaic, magic, mythic, rational, and integral. Certain Western psychological models have 8, 12, or more levels of development. Which is right? All of them; it just depends on what you want to keep track of in growth and development.

“Stages of development” are also referred to as “levels of development,” the idea being that each stage represents a level of organization or a level of complexity. For example, in the sequence from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms, each of those stages of evolution involves a greater level of complexity. The word “level” is not meant in a rigid or exclusionary fashion, but simply to indicate that there are important emergent qualities that tend to come into being in a discrete or quantum-like fashion, and these developmental jumps or levels are important aspects of many natural phenomena.

Generally, in the Integral Model, we work with around 8 to 10 stages or levels of consciousness development. We have found, after years of field work, that more stages than that are too cumbersome, and less than that, too vague. Some of the stage conceptions we often use include those of self development pioneered by Jane Loevinger and Susann Cook-Greuter; Spiral Dynamics, by Don Beck and Chris Cowan; and orders of consciousness, researched by Robert Kegan. But there are many other useful stage conceptions available with the Integral Approach, and you can adopt any of them that are appropriate to your situation.
Egocentric, Ethnocentric, and Worldcentric

To show what is involved with levels or stages, let’s use a very simple model possessing only 3 of them. If we look at moral development, for example, we find that an infant at birth has not yet been socialized into the culture’s ethics and conventions; this is called the preconventional stage. It is also called egocentric, in that the infant’s awareness is largely self-absorbed. But as the young child begins to learn its culture’s rules and norms, it grows into the conventional stage of morals. This stage is also called ethnocentric, in that it centers on the child’s particular group, tribe, clan, or nation, and it therefore tends to exclude those not of one’s group. But at the next major stage of moral development, the postconventional stage, the individual’s identity expands once again, this time to include a care and concern for all peoples, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed, which is why this stage is also called worldcentric.

Thus, moral development tends to move from “me” (egocentric) to “us” (ethnocentric) to “all of us” (worldcentric)—a good example of the unfolding stages of consciousness.

Another way to picture these 3 stages is as body, mind, and spirit. Those words all have many valid meanings, but when used specifically to refer to stages, they mean:

Stage 1, which is dominated by my gross physical reality, is the “body” stage (using body in its typical meaning of physical body). Since you are identified merely with the separate bodily organism and its survival drives, this is also the “me” stage.

Stage 2 is the “mind” stage, where identity expands from the isolated gross body and starts to share relationships with many others, based perhaps on shared values, mutual interests, common ideals, or shared dreams. Because I can use the mind to take the role of others—to put myself in their shoes and feel what it is like to be them—my identity expands from “me” to “us” (the move from egocentric to ethnocentric).

With stage 3, my identity expands once again, this time from an identity with “us” to an identity with “all of us” (the move from ethnocentric to worldcentric). Here I begin to understand that, in addition to the wonderful diversity of humans and cultures, there are also similarities and shared commonalities. Discovering the commonwealth of all beings is the move from ethnocentric to worldcentric, and is “spiritual” in the sense of things common to all sentient beings.

That is one way to view the unfolding from body to mind to spirit, where each of them is considered as a stage, wave, or level of unfolding care and consciousness, moving from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric.

We will be returning to stages of evolution and development, each time exploring them from a new angle. For now, all that is required is an understanding that by “stages” we mean progressive and permanent milestones along the evolutionary path of your own unfolding. Whether we talk stages of consciousness, stages of energy, stages of culture, stages of spiritual realization, stages of moral development, and so on, we are talking of these important and fundamental rungs in the unfolding of your higher, deeper, wider potentials.

SOURCE: http://integrallife.com/member/ken-wilber/blog/integral-operating-system-part-ii-states-and-stages


Have you ever noticed how unevenly developed virtually all of us are? Some people are highly developed in, say, logical thinking, but poorly developed in emotional feelings. Some people have highly advanced cognitive development (they’re very smart) but poor moral development (they’re mean and ruthless). Some people excel in emotional intelligence, but can’t add 2 plus 2.

Howard Gardner made this concept fairly well known using the idea of multiple intelligences. Human beings have a variety of intelligences, such as cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, and so on. Most people excel in one or two of those, but do poorly in the others. This is not necessarily or even usually a bad thing; part of integral wisdom is finding where one excels and thus where one can best offer the world one’s deepest gifts.

But this does mean that we need to be aware of our strengths (or the intelligences with which we can shine) as well as our weaknesses (where we do poorly or even pathologically). And this brings us to another of our 5 essential elements: our multiples intelligences or developmental lines. So far we have looked at states and stages; what are lines or multiple intelligences?

Various multiple intelligences include: cognitive, interpersonal, moral, emotional, and aesthetic. Why do we also call them developmental lines? Because those intelligences show growth and development. They unfold in progressive stages. What are those progressive stages? The stages we just outlined.

In other words, each multiple intelligence grows—or can grow—through the 3 major stages (or through any of the stages of any of the developmental models, whether 3 stages, 5 stages, 7 or more; remember, these are all like Centigrade and Fahrenheit). You can have cognitive development to stage 1, to stage 2, and to stage 3, for example.

Likewise with the other intelligences. Emotional development to stage 1 means that you have developed the capacity for emotions centering on “me,” especially the emotions and drives of hunger, survival, and self-protection. If you continue to grow emotionally from stage 1 to stage 2—or from egocentric to ethnocentric—you will expand from “me” to “us,” and begin to develop emotional commitments and attachments to loved ones, members of your family, close friends, perhaps your whole tribe or whole nation. If you grow into stage-3 emotions, you will develop the further capacity for a care and compassion that reaches beyond your own tribe or nation and attempts to include all human beings and even all sentient beings in a worldcentric care and compassion.

And remember, because these are stages, you have attained them in a permanent fashion. Before that happens, any of these capacities will be merely passing states: you will plug into some of them, if at all, in a temporary fashion—great peak experiences of expanded knowing and being, wondrous “aha!” experiences, profound altered glimpses into your own higher possibilities. But with practice, you will convert those states into stages, or permanent traits in the territory of you.

The Integral Psychograph

Figure 3

There is a fairly easy way to represent these intelligences or multiple lines. In figure 3, we have drawn a simple graph showing the 3 major stages (or levels of development) and 5 of the most important intelligences (or lines of development). Through the major stages or levels of development, the various lines unfold. The 3 levels or stages can apply to any developmental line—sexual, cognitive, spiritual, emotional, moral,and so on. The level of a particular line simply means the “altitude” of that line in terms of its growth and consciousness. We often say, “That person is highly developed morally,” or “That person is really advanced spiritually.”

In figure 3, we have shown somebody who excels in cognitive development and is good at interpersonal development, but does poorly in moral and really poorly in emotional intelligence. Other individuals would, of course, have a different “psychograph.”

The psychograph helps to spot where your greatest potentials are. You very likely already know what you excel in and what you don’t. But part of the Integral Approach is learning to refine considerably this knowledge of your own contours, so that you can more confidently deal with your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others.

SOURCE: http://integrallife.com/member/ken-wilber/blog/integral-operating-system-part-iii-lines-development


There are many different models of types: Myers-Briggs, masculine and feminine, the Enneagram, even astrology. This article will help you understand types and how types can also evolve through various levels of development. There are two basic ideas here: one has to do with the idea of types themselves; and the other, with masculine and feminine as one example of types.

Types simply refers to items that can be present at virtually any stage or state. One common typology, for example, is the Myers-Briggs (whose main types are feeling, thinking, sensing, and intuiting). You can be any of those types at virtually any stage of development. These kind of “horizontal typologies” can be very useful, especially when combined with levels, lines, and states. To show what is involved, we can use “masculine” and “feminine.”

Carol Gilligan, in her enormously influential book In a Different Voice, pointed out that both men and women tend to develop through 3 or 4 major levels or stages of moral development. Pointing to a great deal of research evidence, Gilligan noted that these 3 or 4 moral stages can be called preconventional, conventional, postconventional, and integrated. These are actually quite similar to the 3 simple developmental stages we are using, this time applied to moral intelligence.

Gilligan found that stage 1 is a morality centered entirely on “me” (hence this preconventional stage or level is also called egocentric). Stage-2 moral development is centered on “us,” so that my identity has expanded from just me to include other human beings of my group (hence this conventional stage is often called ethnocentric, traditional, or conformist). With stage-3 moral development, my identity expands once again, this time from “us” to “all of us,” or all human beings (or even all sentient beings)—and hence this stage is often called worldcentric. I now have care and compassion, not just for me (egocentric), and not just for my family, my tribe, or my nation (ethnocentric), but for all of humanity, for all men and women everywhere, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed (worldcentric). And if I develop even further, at stage-4 moral development, which Gilligan calls integrated, then . . .

Well, before we look at the important conclusion of Gilligan’s work, let’s first note her major contribution. Gilligan strongly agreed that women, like men, develop through those 3 or 4 major hierarchical stages of growth. Gilligan herself correctly refers to these stages as hierarchical because each stage has a higher capacity for care and compassion. But she said that women progress through those stages using a different type of logic—they develop “in a different voice.”

Male logic, or a man’s voice, tends to be based on terms of autonomy, justice, and rights; whereas women’s logic or voice tends to be based on terms of relationship, care, and responsibility. Men tend toward agency; women tend toward communion. Men follow rules; women follow connections. Men look; women touch. Men tend toward individualism, women toward relationship. One of Gilligan’s favorite stories: A little boy and girl are playing. The boy says, “Let’s play pirates!” The girl says, “Let’s play like we live next door to each other.” Boy: “No, I want to play pirates!” “Okay, you play the pirate who lives next door.”

Little boys don’t like girls around when they are playing games like baseball, because the two voices clash badly, and often hilariously. Some boys are playing baseball, a kid takes his third strike and is out, so he starts to cry. The other boys stand unmoved until the kid stops crying; after all, a rule is a rule, and the rule is: three strikes and you’re out. Gilligan points out that if a girl is around, she will usually say, “Ah, come on, give him another try!” The girl sees him crying and wants to help, wants to connect, wants to heal. This, however, drives the boys nuts, who are doing this game as an initiation into the world of rules and male logic. Gilligan says that the boys will therefore hurt feelings in order to save the rules; the girls will break the rules in order to save the feelings.

In a different voice. Both the girls and boys will develop through the 3 or 4 developmental stages of moral growth (egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to integrated), but they will do so in a different voice, using a different logic. Gilligan specifically calls these hierarchical stages in women selfish (which is egocentric), care (which is ethnocentric), universal care (which is worldcentric), and integrated. Again, why did Gilligan (who has been badly misunderstood on this topic) say that these stages were hierarchical? Because each stage has a higher capacity for care and compassion. (Not all hierarchies are bad, and this a good example of why.)

So, integrated or stage 4—what is that? At the 4th and highest stage of moral development that we are aware of, the masculine and feminine voices in each of us tend to become integrated, according to Gilligan. This does not mean that a person at this stage starts to lose the distinctions between masculine and feminine, and hence become a kind of bland, androgynous, asexual being. In fact, masculine and feminine dimensions might become more intensified. But it does mean the individuals start to befriend both the masculine and feminine modes in themselves, even if they characteristically act predominantly from one or the other.

Figure 4

Have you ever seen a caduceus (the symbol of the medical profession)? It’s a staff with two serpents crisscrossing it, and wings at the top of the staff (see fig. 4). The staff itself represents the central spinal column; where the serpents cross the staff represents the individual chakras moving up the spine from the lowest to the highest; and the two serpents themselves represent solar and lunar (or masculine and feminine) energies at each of the chakras.

That’s the crucial point. The 7 chakras, which are simply a more complex version of the 3 simple levels or stages, represent 7 levels of consciousness and energy available to all human beings. (The first 3 chakras—food, sex, and power—are roughly stage 1; chakras 4 and 5—relational heart and communication—are basically stage 2; and chakras 6 and 7—psychic and spiritual—are the epitome of stage 3). The important point here is that, according to the traditions, each of those 7 levels has a masculine and feminine aspect, type, or “voice.” Neither masculine nor feminine is higher or better; they are two equivalent types at each of the levels of consciousness.

This means, for example, that with chakra 3 (the egocentric-power chakra), there is a masculine and feminine version of the same chakra: at that chakra-level, males tend toward power exercised autonomously (“My way or the highway!”), women tend toward power exercised communally or socially (“Do it this way or I won’t talk to you”). And so on with the other major chakras, each of them having a solar and lunar, or masculine and feminine, dimension. Neither is more fundamental; neither can be ignored.

At the 7th chakra, however, notice that the masculine and feminine serpents both disappear into their ground or source. Masculine and feminine meet and unite at the crown—they literally become one. And that is what Gilligan found with her stage-4 moral development: the two voices in each person become integrated, so that there is a paradoxical union of autonomy and relationship, rights and responsibilities, agency and communion, wisdom and compassion, justice and mercy, masculine and feminine.

The important point is that whenever you use IOS, you are automatically checking any situation—in yourself, in others, in an organization, in a culture—and making sure that you include both the masculine and feminine types so as to be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible. If you believe that there are no major differences between masculine and feminine—or if you are suspicious of such differences—then that is fine, too, and you can treat them the same if you want. We are simply saying that, in either case, make sure you touch bases with both the masculine and feminine, however you view them.

But more than that, there are numerous other “horizontal typologies” that can be very helpful when part of a comprehensive IOS, and the Integral Approach draws on any or all of those typologies as appropriate. “Types” are as important as quadrants, levels, lines, and states.

There’s an interesting thing about types. You can have healthy and unhealthy versions of them. To say that somebody is caught in an unhealthy type is not a way to judge them but a way to understand and communicate more clearly and effectively with them.

For example, if each stage of development has a masculine and feminine dimension, each of those can be healthy or unhealthy, which we sometimes call “sick boy, sick girl.” This is simply another kind of horizontal typing, but one that can be extremely useful.

If the healthy masculine principle tends toward autonomy, strength, independence, and freedom, when that principle becomes unhealthy or pathological, all of those positive virtues either over- or underfire. There is not just autonomy, but alienation; not just strength, but domination; not just independence, but morbid fear of relationship and commitment; not just a drive toward freedom, but a drive to destroy. The unhealthy masculine principle does not transcend in freedom, but dominates in fear.

If the healthy feminine principle tends toward flowing, relationship, care, and compassion, the unhealthy feminine flounders in each of those. Instead of being in relationship, she becomes lost in relationship. Instead of a healthy self in communion with others, she loses her self altogether and is dominated by the relationships she is in. Not a connection, but a fusion; not a flow state, but a panic state; not a communion, but a meltdown. The unhealthy feminine principle does not find fullness in connection, but chaos in fusion.

Using IOS, you will find ways to identify both the healthy and unhealthy masculine and feminine dimensions operating in yourself and in others. But the important point about this section is simple: various typologies have their usefulness in helping us to understand and communicate with others. And with any typology, there are healthy and unhealthy versions of a type. Pointing to an unhealthy type is not a way to judge people, but a way to understand and communicate with them more clearly and effectively.

SOURCE: http://integrallife.com/member/ken-wilber/blog/integral-operating-system-part-iv-what-type-are-you