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Phase 4 - All Quadrants All Levels (1995-2001)

The first form Ken Wilber's unified theory took was of a bifurcating Spectrum of Consciousness supported by a an underlying Ground of Being. This then gave way to a very different diagram - the involution-evolution pre-trans cycle. The final stage or metamorphosis of his cosmology, and the most sophisticated, is the holon-quadrant

The Big Three

In 1995 Wilber published his 800 page opus Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The core of its argument was a call to integrate "the Big Three"--the big three of art, morals, and science; or the Beautiful, the Good, and the True; or I, we, and it; or first-, second-, and third-person dimension. These are each associated with a pronoun:

"Sir Karl Popper's 'three worlds' (subjective, cultural, and objective); Plato's the Good (as the ground of morals, the 'we' of the Lower Left), the True (objective truth or it-propositions, the Right Hand), and the Beautiful (the aesthetic beauty in the I of each beholder, the Upper Left); Habermas' three validity claims (subjective truthfulness of I, cultural justness of we, and objective truth of its). Historically of great importance, these are also the three major domains of Kant's three critiques: science or its (Critique of Pure Reason), morals or we (Critique of Practical Reason), and art and self-expression of the I (Critique of Judgment)."
An integral theory of consciousness; Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4 (1), pp.71-92, 1997

Here we see Wilber's representation of the four quadrants, with the characteristics of intentional (individual subjective) , neurological (individual objective), cultural (collective intersubjective) and social or socio-economic (collective interobjective). In addition, each has its own pronoun, the personal pronouns for the interior quadrants (individual subjective being "I" and the collective subjective "We" or "You"), and the impersonal (including a plural "it") for the exterior ones.

Four Quadrants

Or in other word Arts (Upper Left), Morals (Lower Left) and Science (Upper and Lower Right ); the True (Upper and Lower Right ), the Good (Lower Left) and the Beautiful (Upper Left); and Self (Upper Left), Culture (Lower Left), and Nature (Upper and Lower Right).

And indeed anyone who has studied comparitive esotericism may have many examples of Archetypal triads. These might range from the theological trinities of many religions (Egyptian, Hindu, Christian, etc), to the early Vedantics (Being, Consciousness Bliss), Samkhyans (three gunas), Neoplatonists (Abiding, Precession, Return; and Being, Life, and Mind, etc), Gnostics, Kashmir Shaivites, Tantriks (three main nadis), and Taoists (three Tan Tiens), to twentieth century esotericists like Steiner (Thinking, Feeling, Willing, three streams of evolution, and the Three Fold Commonwealth), Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (Law of Three), and many others have done. However it seems to the present author that Wilber's triads don't match the conventional ones. The two left-hand quadrants are often similar - corresponding to Steiner's or Jung's feeling principle (Arts and Morals, or the Beautiful and the Good). The two right ones which he groups together correspond to the thinking principle. There is a match here with some of the polarities in Stan Gooch's Total Man. So it is not a true triad, but rather a quaternity, which indeed is the basis of Wilber's system.

The Holarchy

Four QuadrantsThis Phase of Wilber's work, further refined in follow up works like Eye of Spirit (1997), Integral Psychology (2000) and the grandly but appropriately named A Theory of Everything (2000), Wilber's edifice reaches its maximum complexity, with the development of a so-called "integral theory of consciousness." Here he incorporates the physical, neurological, social, cultural, philosophical, and spiritual dimensions of human consciousness, creating an even more detailed map than his earlier ones, known as AQAL - all quadrants, all levels.

This all-embracing worldview is based on the wholistic interplay of four distinct but complementary and interrelated, interweaving realities, each with its own set of correspondences. Essentially this is the mandala of traditional correspondence systems, but updated to the modern western secular multi-specialised world. Just like the Greek elements which matched hot and cold, wet and dry, Wilber contrasts individual and collective, interior and exterior.

Each quadrant even has its own Great Chain of Being, although Wilber himself rejects the latter term.

The Great Chain is perhaps a misnomer. It is not a linear chain but a series of enfolded spheres: it is said that spirit transcends but includes soul, which transcends but includes mind, which transcends but includes body, which transcends but includes matter. Accordingly, this is more accurately called "the Great Nest of Being."
Ken Wilber Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model (Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology)

In other words "a nested hierarchy of Spirit", or more accurately, "a nested holarchy of ever more embracing spheres of existence" [Reynolds, Where's Wilber At? p.8], each higher of which includes the ones beneath it. Here Wilber breaks with the Perennial Tradition of Huston Smith, Fritjof Schuon, and others; considering them too hierarchical; although there are also big problems with his own interpretation. In any case, Wilber interprets external link Arthur Koestler's concept of the external link holon, which along with the Four Quadrants replaces the Chain of Being as the basis of his metaphysics

"the world is not composed of atoms or symbols or cells or concepts. It is composed of holons"
Link to Amazon com A Brief History of Everything p.21.

According to Koestler, a holon is both itself a whole while at the same time being a part of a larger whole, so that reality becomes a series of nested Holons. But unlike Koestler, Wilber describes the characteristics of holons in terms of vitalism and teleology. Holons have drives to maintain their wholeness and their partness, they are units of consciousness. This Consciousness is diffused through all four of their quadrants.

"consciousness actually exists distributed across all four quadrants with all of their various levels and dimensions. There is no one quadrant (and certainly no one level) to which we can point and say, There is consciousness. Consciousness is in no way localized in that fashion. It is true that the Upper Left quadrant is the locus of consciousness as it appears in an individual, but that's the point: as it appears in an individual. Yet consciousness on the whole is anchored in, and distributed across, all of the quadrants intentional, behavioral, cultural, and social. If you "erase" any quadrant, they all disappear, because each is intrinsically necessary for the existence of the others."
Eye of Spirit p. 273

Thus all the four quadrants are simply four interrelated aspects of a single holon

The AQAL Holon

The AQAL Holon
A fundamental concept of the AQAL is that a holon cannot be reduced to any one of the four quadrants with the exclusion of the others. Doing so results in a partial and incomplete view of reality, as indicated by the one-sidedness of views that base themselves on only one quadrant, and doubt the validity of the other quadrants. Wilber applies the term "flatland" to those situations or systems of knowledge when the Left Quadrants (Subjective) are ignored in favor of the Right Quadrants. I read somewhere that there is also a corresponding "wonderland" to when the Right Quadrants (Objective) are ignored in favor of the ones on the Left, but this has never been verudfied. It's a great term though, so I might as well adopt it. While Wilber's formulation is original, he is by no means the first to present this insight; as Stan Gooch was saying very much the same thing 20 years earlier, in his book Total Man. Gooch's System A corresponds to Flatland/Right Quadrants, his System B to the Left Quadrants (what I call Wonderland).

Tied in with quadrants and holons is a detailed array of structures, levels, lines, and waves, designating the various evolutionary and psychodevelopmental stages that make up the "Great Nest of Being"

" "Structure" indicates that each stage has a holistic pattern that blends all of its elements into a structured whole. "Level" means that these patterns tend to unfold in a relational sequence, with each senior wave transcending but including its juniors (just as cells transcend but include molecules, which transcend but include atoms, which transcend but include quarks). And "wave" indicates that these levels nonetheless are fluid and flowing affairs; the senior dimensions do not sit on top of the junior dimensions like rungs in a ladder, but rather embrace and enfold them (just as cells embrace molecules which embrace atoms). These developmental stages appear to be concentric spheres of increasing embrace, inclusion, and holistic capacity."
Ken Wilber Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model (Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology)

Moreover, as the diagram indicates, each higher holon includes the ones beneath it, and is itself included in the ones above it. The whole thing is summed up in the following cosmological diagram

But while impressive, this diagram also contains a lot of arbitrary assumptions, and there are many inconsistencies between quadrants and levels, and indeed in Wilber's entire holistic AQAL philosophy, as explained here

It is at the Wilber-IV phase that he proposes 4 stages of his own writings, and critiques his earlier work. As he later explains, "the earlier books (are only)...useful in forming the subcomponents of a more integral theory." [Wilber, forward to Frank Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion 2003]. Of these earlier books, Phase I, which he calls his Romantic-Jungian stage, is the result of his own Pre-Trans fallacy, whilst Phase II with its Involution-Evolution cycle he sometimes refers to as (among other things) the Aurobindo/Wilber model [Eye of Spirit], thus associating his own misreading of Aurobindo with Aurobindo himself.

Wilber uses the word "integral" - meaning "to integrate, to bring together, to join, to link, to embrace. Not in the sense of uniformity...but in the sense of unity-in-diversity, shared commonalities along with our wonderful differences" [A Theory of Everything] to describe his philosophy. In 1999 some Sri Aurobindo followers expressed concern at Ken Wilber using the term "Integral Psychology" as a title for one of his new books, as this term has already been used by the Aurobindo community to refer to a spiritual/esoteric/occult psychology based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In the 1960s Swami Satchidananda had also adopted the Aurobindoan term "Integral Yoga" for his own completely unrelated teaching).  However, it seems that Wilber himself had actually adopted the term from Swiss cultural historian Gene Gebser (1905-1973) as early as the mid 1970s [Where's Wilber At? p.28 n.8]

Wilber's definition is much more limited than my use of the term, because he is concerned here only with one aspect, all--inclusiveness, and does not consider (at least not in his definition) the other, equally important aspects of evolutionary transformation (although this is implicit in his own developmental model) and Divinisation (which he denies in favour of old-fashioned Daist and Buddhist nonduality)

Wilber-IV and AQAL marks the beginnings of Wilber's Postmodernism, and postmodernistic techniques of criticism are enthusiastically applied to all fields of knowledge. Through his model, Wilber claims to have deconstructed the compartmentalized, disconnected worldview of science (objective), religion (subjective), and ethics (intersubjective) and replaced it with a more unified integrated one, with each area of knowledge going in one of the quadrants. Each quadrant has its own validity claim, its own relative, partial, but still totally authentic truth. With each type or knowledge there are specific types types of evidence and validation procedures. Thus he says

...Propositions in the Upper Right are said to be true if they match a specific fact or objective state of affairs: a statement is true if the map matches the territory - so-called objective truth representational truth and the correspondence theory of truth)....

In the Upper Left quadrant, on the other hand, a statement is valid...if it authentically expresses a subjective reality...not just truth but truthfulness or sincerity...

In the Lower Right quadrant of interobjective realities, the validity claim is concerned with how individual holons fit together into interlocking systems; truth in this quadrant concerns the elucidating of the networks of mutually reciprocal systems within systems of complex interaction...(the) functional fit. In the Lower Left quadrant, on the other hand, we are concerned not simply with how objects fit together in physical space, but how subjects fit together in cultural space. The validity claim here concerns the way that my subjective consciousness fits with your subjective consciousness, and how we together decide upon those cultural practices that allow us to inhabit the same cultural other words, concerns the appropriateness or justness of our statements and actions (ethics in the broadest sense).
An integral theory of consciousness

This is shown in the following diagram:

Validity Claims

The above represents a very profound approach, which can serves as contributing to the foundation for a new universal science. The only thing I would disagree with is, why only four types of validity claim? Yes I know this is tied in with the four-quadrant model, but one could equally posit seven (corresponding to Christopher Hill's Phoneix Evolution), seven or twelve (as in classical astrology), or more realities or perspectives of consciousness, each with their own truth and justification.

A bigger problem however with Wilber's ideas is his inability to incorporate esotericism, metaphysics, and occultism. For this reason I consider Wilber and his school (which includes the Mainstream Integral Movement) to pertain to the holistic, rather than the esoteric-gnostic, stage of transformation of consciousness and society. This limitation in Wilber's thinking would become progressively more marked in his later, "Post-Metaphysical" phase

In the late part of this present phase though, Wilber publishes Amazon com Integral Psychologywhich integrates over a hundred different psychologies and models of the levels of consciousness, East and West, premodern, modern, and postmodern; and the grandly but appropriately named A Theory of Everything, in which he proposes the intriguing idea of the "Human Consciousness Project" (A Theory of Everything, p. 7). This would involve the mapping of consciousness found in cross-cultural variations of the Great Chain or Nest of Being, the Four Quadrants, and the "waves and streams" of consciousness of the Spiral Dynamics of Clare Graves, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, to create an "all-level, all-quadrant" model of consciousness, equivalent to, or even greater than in scope and importance, the Human Genome Project.

internal link A Critique of Ken Wilber's "AQAL" Philosophy

Bibliography 1995-2001:

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality - 2nd Ed Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Shambhala Publications 1995, 2nd revised edition, 2000, 851 pages

A Brief History of Everything A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala, Boston & London, 1996, Shambhala Publications; 2nd edition, 2001, 330 pp

The Eye of SpiritThe Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad, 1997 Shambhala Publications, 432 pages

The Essential Ken Wilber The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader, 1998

The Marriage of Sense and SoulThe Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion, Random House, New York, 1998, Broadway; Reprint edition, 1999

One Taste One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber, 1999 , Shambhala Publications; revised edition, 2000, 356 pp

Integral Psychology Integral Psychology: Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy, 2000, Shambhala Publications; 303 pages

A Theory of Everything A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality, 2000, Shambhala Publications; 189 pages

Ken Wilber: Thought as PassionKen Wilber: Thought as Passion Frank Visser, 2003, 352 pages State University of New York Press

online essay An Integral Theory of Consciousness - on-line essay by Wilber.

Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model (Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology) - Ken Wilber

Critiques and Criticisms

web page Ken Wilber's Flawed Metaphysics - By Michelle Mairesse - critical review of The Marriage of Sense and Soul and A Brief History of Everything

internal linkA Glance at Ken Wilber's "A Brief History of Everything" - review by Arvan Harvat

web page The Promise of Integralism - A Critical Appreciation of Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology by Christian de Quincey, argues that Wilber is against the ontological significance of feeling. This essay launched a argument between Wilber and de Quincey. Ken Wilber's reply. de Quincey's counter-reply where he argues that Wilber completely misinterpreted his critique of the former's Integral Psychology, and that he also moreover fails to address the "hard" mind-body problem.

web page Ken Wilber - A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality - a down to earth critique, with some dollops of sarcastic humour. If you don't like Wilber, this the one to go to.

web page Some comments on Wilber's Models of Reality - concisely but powerfully argues that Wilber's four quadrant levels presented in A Brief History of Everything are inconsistent and badly formulated.


Wikipedia link AQAL - wikipedia page - the same on Integral Wiki

web page Wake Up, The AQAL Matrix Has You: AQAL Matrix Revolution - a funky presentation

web page Ken Wilber - basic concepts

web page Response to Ken Wilber's, "Integral Theory of Consciousness" by Garry Jacobs

web page Developing Leadership Capacity: Searching for the Integral - pdf html - applies 4-quadrants - SD paradigm to leadership


Biography and Ideas
Phase 1 - The Romantic Period
Phase 2 - The Pre-Trans Cycle
Phase 3 - Multiple Development - Holographic Mind
Phase 4 - All Quadrants All Levels
Phase 5: Post-Metaphysical

Kheper index page
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text content by M.Alan Kazlev
Four quadrant (AQAL) diagrams by external link Ken Wilber and Shambhala publications
page uploaded 15 June 2004, last modified 6 November 2009