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The Integral Vision at the Millennium

Ken Wilber

excerpts from
Introduction to Volume Seven
of the Collected Works


This essay presents a concise general introduction to Wilber's work. The excerpted version available here excludes a few sections (specifically, those dealing with critical theory, boomeritis and topical issues) in order to provide a more approachable overview of Wilber's integral philosophy, particularly his use of Spiral Dynamics. See also "The Rise and Fall of Ken Wilber," an excellent short article exploring why Wilber's ideas have not yet had more cultural influence. More links below.

Continued from PART 1...


      Since all of the above can sound like platitudes, cliches, and slogans unless we can actually supply details backed by reputable research, allow me to very briefly sketch the specifics of a postgreen integral map of human possibilities. This simple overview of an integral vision will also serve to set the books in this volume into the context of my work as a whole. ... Since we have already used Spiral Dynamics as one example of some of the levels or waves of consciousness unfolding, we can continue to use that model, and then plug it into an "all-level, all-quadrant" conception, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1
FIGURE 1. Some Examples of the Four Quadrants in Humans

      With reference to Figure 1, we might note several items. The four quadrants—which you will find fully explained in the books in this volume—simply refer to four of the most important dimensions of the Kosmos, namely, the interior and the exterior of the individual and the collective. Here are some quick examples:

      The Upper-Left quadrant (which is the interior of the individual, and which in the simplistic Figure 1 only contains one stream and eight personal waves), actually contains a full spectrum of waves (or levels of development—stretching from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit; or again, from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to integral to transpersonal, not as rigidly discrete platforms but as interwoven nests); many different streams (or lines of development—the different modules, dimensions, or areas of development—including cognitive, moral, affective, linguistic, kinesthetic, somatic, interpersonal, etc.); different states of consciousness (including waking, dreaming, sleeping, altered, nonordinary, and meditative); different types of consciousness (or possible orientations at every level, including personality types and different gender styles), among numerous other factors. Taking all of these items into account allows us to utilize the important research findings from developmental studies, but also place them in a larger context that suggests their important but limited contributions, complementing them with an understanding of multiple modalities, dimensions, states, and types, to result in a richly textured, holodynamic, integral view of consciousness.

      Let us focus, for a moment, on waves, streams, and types. Waves are the "levels" of development, conceived in a fluid, flowing, and intermeshing fashion, which is how most developmentalists today view them. Carol Gilligan's three major moral waves for women—selfish, care, and universal care (i.e., preconventional, conventional, and postconventional)—are typical of the holarchical levels or waves of development. Why does she maintain that these stages are (her word) "hierarchical"? Because each stage is a necessary ingredient of its successor, and thus stages cannot be skipped or reordered, as her research confirms. [19]

      Through these general waves of development flow many different streams of development. We have credible evidence that these different streams, lines, or modules include cognition, morals, self-identity, psychosexuality, ideas of the good, role-taking, socioemotional capacity, creativity, altruism, several lines that can be called "spiritual" (care, openness, concern, religious faith, meditative stages), communicative competence, modes of space and time, affect/emotion, death-seizure, needs, worldviews, mathematical competence, musical skills, kinesthetics, gender identity, defense mechanisms, interpersonal capacity, and empathy. (You will see some of the evidence for these independent modules presented in The Eye of Spirit; more extensive references can be found in Integral Psychology).

      One of the most striking items about these multiple modules or streams is that most of them develop in a relatively independent fashion. Research is still fleshing out the details of these relationships; some lines are necessary but not sufficient for others; some develop closely together. But on balance, many of the streams develop at their own rate, with their own dynamic, in their own way. A person can be at a relatively high level of development in some streams, medium in others, and low in still others.

      I have indicated this, also in a very simplistic fashion, in Figure 2. Here, I am using just four major waves—body, mind, soul, and spirit, each of which transcends and includes its predecessors in increasing waves of integral embrace (a true holarchy of nests within nests within nests). Through those general waves pass various developmental streams. I have selected only five as examples (cognitive, moral, interpersonal, spiritual, and affective), but you can see the uneven development that is theoretically possible (and that empirical research has continued to confirm often happens).

Figure 2
FIGURE 2. Waves and Streams

      This model sheds considerable light on the fact that, for example, some individuals—including spiritual teachers (and Presidents)—may be highly evolved in certain capacities (such as meditative awareness), and yet demonstrate poor (or even pathological) development in other streams, such as the interpersonal or psychosexual.

     This also allows us to spot the ways in which the spiritual traditions themselves—from shamanism to Buddhism to Christianity to indigenous religions—might excel in training certain modules, but fall short in many others, or even be pathological in many others. A more integral transformative practice might therefore seek a more balanced or "all-level, all-quadrant" approach to transformation (see below).

      As for types, see Figure 3, which uses the enneagram as an example. What I have done here is take only one developmental module or stream (it can be anything—morals, cognition, defenses, etc.), and I have listed the eight or so levels or waves of development through which this particular stream will tend to unfold (using Spiral Dynamics as an example of the waves). At each level I have drawn the enneagram as an example of what might be called a horizontal typology, or a typology of the personality types that can exist at almost any vertical level of development. The point is that a person can be a particular type (using Jungian types, Myers-Briggs, the enneagram, etc.) at virtually any of the levels. Thus, if a person is, say, predominately enneagram type 5, then as they develop they would be purple 5, red 5, blue 5, and so on (again, not in a rigid linear fashion, but in a fluid and flowing mesh). [20]

Figure 3
FIGURE 3. Levels and Types

      And this can occur in any of the lines. For example, in the moral line, a person might be predominately enneagram type 7 at the green wave in the context of the workplace; under stress, the person might move to type 1 at the orange wave (or even blue wave); cognitively, the person might be type 4 at turquoise, and so on. Notice, however, that what the enneagram alone cannot spot is the shift in vertical levels; an orange 7 under stress might go to orange 1, but under real stress, the orange 7 will regress to blue, then purple. These are not just different types, but different levels of types. Again, by combining horizontal typologies with vertical typologies, we can make use of second-tier constructions for a more integral view.

      For many radical feminists, male and female orientations also constitute a type. Based mostly on work by Carol Gilligan and Deborah Tannen, the idea is that the typical male orientation tends to be more agentic, autonomous, abstract, and independent, based on rights and justice; whereas the female orientation tends to be more permeable, relational, and feelingful, based on care and responsibility. Gilligan, recall, agrees that females proceed through three (or four) hierarchical stages of development, and these are essentially the same three (or four) hierarchical stages or waves through which males proceed (namely, preconventional, conventional, postconventional, and integrated).

      The reason that many people, especially feminists, still incorrectly believe that Gilligan denied a female hierarchy of development is that Gilligan found that males tend to make judgments using ranking or hierarchical thinking, whereas women tend to make judgments using linking or relational thinking (what I summarize as agency and communion, respectively). But what many people overlooked is that Gilligan maintained that the female orientation itself proceeds through three (or four) hierarchical stages—from selfish to care to universal care to integrated. Thus, many feminists confused the idea that females tend not to think hierarchically with the idea that females do not develop hierarchically; the former is true, the latter is false, according to Gilligan herself. [21] (Why was Gilligan so widely misread and distorted in this area? Because the green meme eschews and marginalizes hierarchies in general, and thus it literally could not perceive her message accurately.)

      As you will see in The Eye of Spirit, contained in this volume, I have summarized this research by saying that men and women both proceed through the same general waves of development, but men tend to do so with an emphasis on agency, women with an emphasis on communion.

      This approach to gender development allows us to utilize the extensive contributions of developmental studies, but also supplement them with a keener understanding of how females evolve "in a different voice" through the great waves of existence. In the past, it was not uncommon to find orthodox psychological researchers defining females as "deficient males" (i.e., females "lack" logic, rationality, a sense of justice; they are even defined by "penis envy," or desiring that which they lack). Nowadays it is not uncommon to find, especially among feminists, the reverse prejudice: males are defined as "deficient females" (i.e., males "lack" sensitivity, care, relational capacity, embodiment, etc.).

      Well, we might say, a plague on both houses. With this more integral approach, we can trace development through the great waves and streams of existence, but also recognize that males and females might navigate that great River of Life using a different style, type, or voice. This means that we can still recognize the major waves of existence—which, in fact, are gender-neutral—but we must fully honor the validity of both styles of navigating those waves. [22]

      Finally, a person at virtually any stage of development, in virtually any line, of virtually any type, can have an altered state or peak experience, including those that are called spiritual experiences, and this can have a profound effect on their consciousness and its development. Thus, the idea that spiritual experiences can only occur at higher stages is incorrect. However, in order for altered states to become permanent traits (or structures), they need to enter the stream of enduring development. [23]

      The point is that, even looking at just the Upper-Left quadrant, a more integral map of consciousness is now at least possible, one which includes waves, streams, states, and types, all of which appear to be important ingredients in this extraordinary spectrum of consciousness.

See Also: "An Outline an of Integral Psychology" at



But individual or subjective consciousness does not exist in a vacuum; no subject is an island unto itself. Individual consciousness is inextricably intermeshed with the objective organism and brain (Upper-Right quadrant), with nature and social systems (Lower-Right quadrant), and with cultural settings, communal values, and worldviews (Lower-Left quadrant). Again, each of these quadrants has numerous waves, streams, types, and so on, only a pitifully few of which are indicated in Figure 1. But in the following pages, you will find a wide variety of examples from each quadrant, as they relate to art and literary interpretation, feminism and gender studies, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and religion.

      The Upper-Right quadrant is the individual viewed in an objective, empirical, "scientific" fashion. In particular, this includes organic body states, biochemistry, neurobiological factors, neurotransmitters, organic brain structures (brain stem, limbic system, neocortex), and so on. Whatever we might think about the actual relation of mind-consciousness (Upper Left) and brain-body (Upper Right), we can at least agree they are intimately related. (The exact relation of mind and brain is explored in detail in Integral Psychology). The point is simply that an "all-level, all-quadrant" [AQAL] model would certainly include the important correlations of states, waves, streams, and types of consciousness (UL) with brain states, organic substrates, neurotransmitters, and so on (UR). There is now occurring an extraordinary amount of research into organic brain states and their relation to consciousness—so much so that most orthodox researchers tend to simply reduce consciousness to brain mechanisms. As you will see in the following pages, the insidiousness of this reduction of Upper Left to Upper Right is detailed in both The Eye of Spirit and Brief History (and Integral Psychology and SES), and it is a reductionism that is fully avoided when we take instead an all-level, all-quadrant approach, which refuses to unwarrantedly reduce any level, line, or quadrant to any other.

      The Lower-Left quadrant involves all those patterns in consciousness that are shared by those who are "in" a particular culture or subculture. For you and I to understand each other at all, we need, at the very least, to share certain linguistic semantics, numerous perceptions, worldviews that overlap to some degree (so that communication is possible at all), and so on. These shared values, perceptions, meanings, semantic habitats, morals, cultural practices, ethics, and so on, I simply refer to as culture, or the intersubjective patterns in consciousness.

     These cultural perceptions, all of which exist to some degree in subjective spaces in consciousness, nonetheless have objective correlates that can be empirically detected—physical structures and institutions, including techno-economic modes (foraging, horticultural, maritime, agrarian, industrial, informational), architectural styles, geopolitical structures, modes of information transfer (vocal signs, ideograms, movable type printing, telecommunications, microchip), social structure (survival clans, ethnic tribes, feudal orders, ancient nations, corporate states, value communes, and so on). I refer to these interobjective realities in general as the social system (the Lower-Right quadrant).

      As you will see in the following pages, the integral approach that I am recommending—and which I simplistically summarize as "all-level, all-quadrant" (or even simpler: "the holonic approach")—is dedicated to including all of the nonreducible realities in all of the quadrants—which means, all of the waves, streams, states, realms, and types in any and all dimensions, as disclosed by reputable, nonreductionistic researchers. All four quadrants, with all their realities, mutually interact—they "tetra-interact" and "tetra-evolve"—and a more integral approach is sensitive to those richly textured patterns of infinite interaction.

      I sometimes simplify this holonic model even further by calling it a "1-2-3" approach to the Kosmos. This refers to first-person, second-person, and third-person realities. Notice that, in Figure 1, the Upper-Left quadrant involves "I-language" (or first-person accounts); the Lower-Left quadrant involves "we-language" (or second-person accounts); and both Right-Hand quadrants, since they are objective patterns, involve "it-language" (or third-person accounts). Thus, the four quadrants can be simplified to the "Big Three" (I, we, and it). These important dimensions can be stated in many different ways: art, morals, and science; the Beautiful, the Good, and the True; self, culture, and nature. The point of an "all-level, all-quadrant" approach is that it would honor all of the waves of existence--from body to mind to soul to spirit—as they all unfold in self, culture, and nature.

See Also: "Introduction to the Integral Approach (and the AQAL Map)" at



Thus, what can we say about a more integral model of human possibilities? Before we can talk about applications of an integral vision—in education, politics, business, health care, and so on—we need to have some general notion of what it is that we are applying in the first place. When we move from pluralistic relativism to universal integralism, what kind of map might we find? We have seen that a more integral cartography might include:

      Such are a few of the multiple factors that a richly holistic view of the Kosmos might wish to include. At the very least, any model that does not coherently include all of those items is not a very integral model.



The holonic model that I suggesting is an attempt to opt for the latter option. The applications of this model—in education, spiritual practice, politics, business, health care, and so on—will be explored in the Introduction to Volume 8 of the Collected Works. In the meantime, let us return to our major points—the impact of an integral vision on both the leading edge and the average mode—and note the following:

     One of the main conclusions of an all-level, all-quadrant approach is that each meme—each level of consciousness and wave of existence—is, in its healthy form, an absolutely necessary and desirable element of the overall spiral, of the overall spectrum of consciousness. Even if every society on earth were established fully at the turquoise meme, nonetheless every infant born in that society still has to start at level 1, at beige, at sensorimotor instincts and perceptions, and then must grow and evolve through purple magic, red and blue myth, orange rationalism, green sensitivity, and into yellow and turquoise vision-logic (on the way to the transpersonal). All of those waves have important tasks and functions; all of them are taken up and included in subsequent waves; none of them can be bypassed; and none of them can be demeaned without grave consequences to self and society. The health of the entire spiral is the prime directive, not preferential treatment for any one level.



Because the health of the entire spectrum of consciousness is paramount, and not any particular level, this means that a genuinely universal integralism would measure more carefully its actual impact. I have long maintained that the real revolutions facing today's world involve, not a glorious collective move into transpersonal domains, but the simple, fundamental changes that can be brought to the magic, mythic, and rational waves of existence.

     Human beings are born and begin their evolution through the great spiral of consciousness, moving from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to... perhaps integral, and perhaps from there into genuinely transpersonal domains. But for every person that moves into integral or higher, dozens are born into the archaic. The spiral of existence is a great unending flow, stretching from body to mind to soul to spirit, with millions upon millions constantly flowing through that great river from source to ocean. No society will ever simply be at an integral level, because the flow is unceasing (although the center of gravity of a culture can indeed drift upward, as it has over history—see Up from Eden). But the major problem remains: not, how can we get everybody to the integral wave or higher, but how can we arrange the health of the overall spiral, as billions of humans continue to pass through it, from one end to the other, year in and year out?

      In other words, most of the work that needs to done is work to make the lower (and foundational) waves more healthy in their own terms. The major reforms do not involve how to get a handful of boomers into second-tier, but how to feed the starving millions at the most basic waves; how to house the homeless millions at the simplest of levels; how to bring healthcare to the millions who do not possess it. An integral vision is one of the least pressing issues on the face of the planet.



Let me drive this point home using calculations done by Dr. Phillip Harter of Stanford University School of Medicine. If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of only 100 people, it would look something like this:

     There would be—
      57 Asians
      21 Europeans
      14 North and South Americans
      8 Africans
      30 white
      70 nonwhite
      6 people would possess 59% of the world's wealth
      and all 6 would be from the United States
      80 would live in substandard housing
      70 would be unable to read
      50 would suffer malnutrition
      1 would have a college education
      1 would own a computer

     Thus, as I suggested, an integral vision is one of the least pressing issues on the face of the planet. The health of the entire spiral, and particularly its earlier waves, screams out to us as the major ethical demand.

      Nonetheless, the advantage of second-tier vision-logic awareness is that it more creatively helps with the solutions to those pressing problems. In grasping big pictures, it can help suggest more cogent solutions. It is our governing bodies, then, that stand in dire need of a more integral approach. It is our educational institutions, overcome with deconstructive postmodernism, that are desperate for a more integral vision. It is our healthcare facilities that could greatly benefit from the tender mercies of an integral touch. It is the leadership of the developing nations that might appreciate a more comprehensive vision of their own possibilities. In all these ways and more, we could indeed use "an integral vision for a world gone slightly mad"—and that is the central topic of the books in this present volume.



      Let us return, then, to the issue of how to more effectively implement the emergence of integral (and even transpersonal) consciousness at the leading edge. What is required, in my opinion, is not simply a new integral theory, but also a new integral practice. Even if we possessed the perfect integral map of the Kosmos, a map that was completely all-inclusive and unerringly holistic, that map itself would not transform people. We don't just need a map; we need ways to change the mapmaker.

      Thus, although most of my books attempt to offer a genuinely integral vision, they always end with a call for some sort of integral practice—a practice that exercises body, mind, soul, and spirit in self, culture, and nature (all-level, all-quadrant). You will hear this call constantly in the following pages, along with specific suggestions for how to begin a truly integral transformative practice in your own case, if such seems desirable to you.

© 2000 Shambhala Publications.

The full text (includes all footnotes) from which this has been excerpted first appeared as the Introduction to The Collected Works of Ken Wilber, Volume Seven, published in 2000 by Shambhala. Find it here. More can be found at Wilber's own site, especially in the writings archive, and a longform critique of Wilber's work is available here.

see also:  The Kosmos According to Ken Wilber (Shambhala Sun interview)

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