Tag Archives: Wilber

Integral 102

This is a sequel to Integral 101, posted a few months ago here on the universe, and also recently on my new blog, imiponointegral.wordpress.com, which is a site for an organization I plan to start, which will study political and cultural issues from an integral point of view.

Why are you unhappy?

Because 99.9 percent of everything you think,

And everything you do, Is for yourself,

And there isn’t one.

– Wei Wu Wei

Ken Wilber notes that there are two threads in religions – one that consoles the self, the exoteric, and another that obliterates it, the esoteric. The first he calls translation, a reinterpretation of reality meant to console the self. The second he calls transformation, a deconstruction of reality which points to the reality in the quote above – that there is, in fact, no self at all (at least not one separate from other selves).

In the film Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon’s character “schools” a Harvard graduate student, not on history, but on the ways the student will view history as he progresses through his program. What we think of as the stable self is, in fact, highly unstable. This instability has two dimensions: it is unstable from moment to moment (this is bad), and also over long periods. This second form of instability is positive, as it is development itself. Having gone through phases of historical understanding, Will Hunting knows that these are predictable stages of understanding.

The first human stage dates to the tribal period in which connections to tribe and kin meant life or death. In this phase, connections to one’s close group are the only ones that matter. Wilber relates these phases to the chakra – the first phase’s focus is survival, it’s color is red. In the second stage, early states or empires claim  allegiance. In this phase the idea of “civilized” people, as opposed to “barbarians” begins to emerge, as in the Hellenic nations which shared a code of honor which did not apply to non-Greeks. This stage’s focus is reproduction, its color is amber. The third stage is modernity, which corresponds to nation-states and their reliance on reason and science. Its emphasis is ambition, its color orange. Developed countries tend to have a center of gravity at this level, with approximately half of its citizens at this level, and slightly less than half at lower levels. The fourth stage is postmodernity, and emerging level of development found mainly in academia, among environmentalists and artists. Its emphases are diversity and compassion, its color green. About 10% of modern societies’ citizens are at this level. The fifth stage is the first of the integral levels, at which a postmodern aperspectivial confusion gives way to a more holistic view that begins to reintegrate the insights of religion that are jettisoned at the orange level and critiqued at the green level. Its emphasis is balance and its color turquoise. Between two and five percent of the populations of advanced societies may be at this level, and perhaps much fewer. The level(s) above turquoise are so exceptionally rare that only a few individuals in history have reached them/it.

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Integral 101

First premise: there is spirit. For all the rhetoric of the atheists, there is overwhelming evidence of a realm beyond what traditional science describes, including cutting-edge science itself, such as quantum mechanics. While it has been co-opted by many new age and other groups, quantum mechanic shows that reality is closer to what has traditionally been described by mystics. In fact, in his book Quantum Questions, Integral philosopher Ken Wilber shows through their own writings that the great quantum physicists were, to a man, mystics. But the primary evidence comes from what may be called the “wisdom traditions,” of all cultures and religions, which when viewed in their proper context – as metaphors – show a stunning degree of agreement on the nature of reality. More on this below.

Ken Wilber

Second premise: there is evolution. For all the rhetoric of the creationists with their alternative intelligent design, the fact of evolution (and it is a fact, natural selection as its mechanism is a theory) is nothing less than consciousness becoming conscious of itself.

With those premises out of the way, Integral theory is a map that integrates the major domains of reality: the physical (biology, physics), the social (sociology, anthropology, political science), and what could be called our interior (psychology, religion, philosophy), into a meta-system. And here is where it collides with one of the prevailing approaches of academia: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a view that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews, even within an individual. It is suspicious of meta narratives, or grand narratives that claim to be independent of their cultural context. Because Integral makes this claim to be cross-cultural, it violates postmodernism’s prime directive. And yet Integral sees postmodernism as a high level of consciousness development, and it is this development that makes up the next component of Integral theory, and to which we turn next.

Postmodernism ignores psychology

Postmodern theory denies, or at least opposes all heirarchy, and for good reason, oppressor heirarchies have dominated the last millennia of history – the Catholic Church, authoritarian governments, bureaucracies, the military and police forces have forced often arbitrary structures of domination on countless millions in the name of power and order. But few would deny that parents can and usually should have fairly authoritarian control over their children, precisely because they are developing. Indeed, there is an entire field in psychology devoted to this, Developmental Psychology. In order to oppose all hierarchy, it becomes necessary for postmodernism to ignore at least the developmental aspects of psychology. This is why you probably won’t see postmodern developmental psychologists. So we see that accepted and valid forms of hierarchy do exist, but in Arthur Koestler’s terminology, these could be called holarchies – they consist of wholes (individuals) which are simultaneously parts (of larger structures, such as societies).

Development and evolution

Developmental Psychology shows that individuals go through stages, each of which consists, in a general sense, of a gradual reduction in egocentrism or narcissism. Most people understand this either explicitly or intuitively, but tend to assume that this development simply stops somewhere around age 18 or 21, and that after that, we are all basically equal. This is what Robert Bly has scathingly called the “sibling society” – a society without even legitimate heirarchy.

Here the wisdom traditions as diverse as Buddhism and Gnostic Christianity agree that development – of what we’ll call consciousness – can continue through multiple stages toward what we could call enlightenment, nirvana, or a state of grace. It is by understanding this cross-cultural map that one can see the direction of (you might say) evolution, whether personal or societal. Societal evolution or development reflects the “center or gravity” of a society. Education obviously becomes a major factor here, but it also tends to produce narcissism, which is precisely what development is meant to avoid, and we’re back where we started. So the type of education is important here, and an Integral theory can provide the map needed to avoid such regression.

Below is Ken Wilber’s Integral map, which shows the four quadrants, or domains in which development (evolution) occurs. It is divided into sections based on the interior (thought, theory, ideas) and exterior (physical objects), individual and collective dimensions:

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