An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has spent the last ten years living in Shanghai and Beijing, China. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at


Read Frank Visser's Reply: Stepping on Integral TOEs

Why Integral Theory
doesn't have a
big TOE problem

Response to Visser

Joe Corbett

Wilber's TOE is a visionary synthesis of how things may be in a general and as yet incompletely understood way.

In his recent article on Why Integral Theory is not a Theory of Everything, Frank Visser says toward the end of his article that “differentiating Integral Theory along the lines of I, We and IT is the best way to get a realistic assessment of the value of Wilbers theoretical proposals.” He then proceeds to describe the We domain as including society and politics (which it does not), and the It domain as a world of external matter and life (as if they could collapsed into a singular domain, which they cannot). I agree with Frank that differentiating Integral Theory along its descriptive lines is the best way to get a realistic assessment of its theoretical proposals, but those differentiations must first be properly demarcated.

The We domain is intersubjective, including values, beliefs, and culture, whereas society and politics, although inclusive of these (indeed as none of the quadrants can be abstracted as entirely separate from the others), are more properly described as the interobjective social relations of different groups and classes of people defined by their relative positions of wealth, power, and influence. The relation of the 1 percent to the 99 percent, or of men to women, for instance, is crucially one of interobjective position (justice/injustice, or balance/imbalance) rather than intersubjective identity and beliefs (good/bad, or us/them).

And as for the It domain, the Wilberian reduction of the exteriors to a singular world of third person abstraction has never sat well with me, precisely because it ignores the particularities of the different external domains, as if matter (things) and life (systems), or the body and political economy, weren't differences worth distinguishing in and of themselves. Rather than lazily clumping the exteriors together and declaring the discovery of a “big three”, I continue to advocate for the full articulation of a big four.

The second point I would like to make about Frank's article is at the beginning where he points out that most TOEs are about unifying the four major forces of nature, but that Wilber's theory is limited mostly to body, consciousness, and culture. I would beg to differ. As I outlined in my Blueprint for a Flying-saucer Engine, the four quadrants are in fact precisely the archetypal (truth/earth, beauty/air, goodness/water, justice/fire) or morphic-field patterns of the four forces of the cosmos, which themselves are the primordial informational seed patterns out of which these greater forms of complexity have emerged in the Kosmos through time.






Line (space)




Volume (cube)







Moreover, the notion of a fifth force in the evolutionary Eros of Spirit makes sense to me (and to others) not as a technical term but as a descriptive term for the expansionary processes in the universe, from the initial spark or cosmic insight of the big bang to the more recent evolutionary acceleration of the dark energy, and from the entropy-defying phenomena of life to the development of consciousness itself and complexification more generally, where no one, including the greatest physicists, biologists, or psychologists, really knows all of what's going on. Although metaphors and other linguistic tropes are always incomplete descriptions of the phenomena they point to, sometimes they are the best we have at given points in our understanding. And at other times, it's just better to understand the meanings of life as more than a set of sums leading to the number 42, or 23, even if that means sacrificing some technical details.

big toe

And this brings me to the critics of Wilber's evolutionary theory. Granted, Wilber may be no expert on evolution, and some of his understandings of it may be flawed, but I don't think his TOE is really meant to be a technical theory of everything. Rather, his TOE is a visionary synthesis of how things may be in a general and as yet incompletely understood way. His is a roadmap, not a technical manual. And to expect anything more is to be materialistic and reductionist in ones expectations. On the other hand, to expect Wilber to engage his critics for the better of his TOE and those who follow and benefit from it, that I think we can more reasonably have expectations about.

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