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

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Chris Dierkes was a contributor to the now defunct Integral webzine, and to Indistinct Union. He is co-creator of the Beams and Struts blog, of which he is the religion editor.

Integral Consciousness and The Future of Evolution

A Philosophical Review

Chris Dierkes

From Steve's recent piece in Integralworld:

Thus I contend that as integralists it is our cultural duty to try to build cohesion within the integral movement and to exhibit a sense of ownership and commitment to this emerging new worldview. This integral perspective is bigger than any one person's philosophy, and so I hope that the opinions and scholarship on this website will continue to evolve in a way that demonstrates this truth.

The bulk of this review will be philosophical (debate of ideas) in nature, but I first want to congratulate Steve on what I think is an excellent and profound book[1]. I agree wholeheartedly with the thoughts expressed in the above quotation and think they include but extend beyond Integral World alone to integral discourse in general. Steve's book exhibits exactly what he calls for in this quotation—integrity, bridge-building, honest respectful criticism/debate, and praxis.

I found the book well written, clear, and concise. I commend and recommend it enthusiastically. While I disagree with a few very minor points, overall I think it is a major contribution to the field of integral studies and thought.

Particular highlights to my mind:

  • The Chapter on the History of Integral Thinkers (Ch.7), placing both himself and Wilber within a historical frame.
  • The book demonstrates that the integral worldview is larger (does not rise or fall with) one theory or one version of integral. I hope others take up similar projects and publish their integral writings (paging Mark Edwards).

Steve in the same piece quoted above, calls himself (while critical at points), still a “Wilber ally and supporter.” That's an important point to keep in mind while reading of their differences. The common ground is much deeper than any differences—though the differences are not minimized or hidden either.

I will look at those differences under four headings: philosophical-public spirituality; developmental lines; artifacts; and minimalist metaphysics.

A quick sidenote before that analysis. I'm leaving out politics, which as the first of the triad named in McIntosh's subtitle is clearly of utmost important to him. His work in fact first came to my attention through his call for a World Governance Federation. Until Wilber comes out with his three-volume work on Politics-Terrorism with his full-fleshed discussion of Integral-ocracy, then a comparison I don't think can be usefully done. I imagine such a comparison however will be very rich.

I will say that while I'm in general very sympathetic to McIntosh's views on Governance, though I'm not as optimistic as he is as to how quickly such a reality could emerge.


The primary distinction both in order and importance, I believe, is the notion of a philosophical spirituality (or as Steve calls it in his recent post on this site, “a natural theology”).

McIntosh writes (p.129):

In addition to the work of carrying forward the best and negating the worst of the spirituality of previous worldviews, integral spirituality must also develop an agreement around a boundary line that preserves the commons of integral spirituality from attempted colonization by authoritative belief systems”.

McIntosh believes rather than serving a particular religious outlook, integral spirituality should emphasize values (beauty, truth, and goodness as paramount). “Metabolizing” these values, argues McIntosh, releases energy for human cultural evolution, moral achievement, and communal vitality, particularly for the creation of an integral culture.

He further distinguishes (via the ying/yang symbol p.141) within The Big Three, an active/contemplative (1st and 3rd person perspectives?) dyad to each. e.g. Art: expression and appreciation. This notion of emphasizing in the commons, the Big Three as intrinsic values at the Heart of the Kosmos and ones around which different religious practitioners can coalesce in order to do good in the world and build the integral worldview, is a major addition and Steve is rightly to be praised for that unique contribution.

I think however his fear of encroaching colonization is not as well founded.

The “colonization” McIntosh is concerned with is that of Wilber's Buddhism. McIntosh writes:

Although he [Wilber] does reject the guru label, he does make authoritative proclamations about the nature of spiritual reality, he does advance his personal belief system as though it were an empirical matter of fact, and he is an enthusiastic evangel of his Vedanta/Vajrayana religion (p.155).

The Vedanta-Vajrayana system McIntosh refers to is the system of states, stages, and body-mind complexes: i.e. waking-gross, dreaming-subtle, dreamless sleep-causal, and Nondual Suchness.

Though Wilber has certainly argued that he thinks that model is the most specific and best of the mystical maps, it is by no means the only one he is employing. Wilber has repeatedly pointed to the spiritual genius of Plotinus (e.g. Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality) and compared The Enneads with the V-V scheme. Not to mention Wilber's incorporation of Aurobindo (as Wilber understands him), from the Upanishadic not Vedantic line of Hinduism.

The work of the perennial philosophers argued that a basic fourfold scheme was taught by the native Chinese, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic worldviews.

My own work on Indistinct Union, has analyzed the native Christian mystical tradition in light of AQAL. The Christian mystic Dionysius in the 5th century wrote of the three stages to the Christian journey: purification, illumination, and union. Meister Eckhart added the fourth (indistinct union). That understanding has nothing to do with the Vedanta-Vajrayana scheme, but it does replicate the basics of the states. Purification: gross. Illumination: Subtle, and so on.

There are still differences in interpretation and as Wilber has argued in his recent post-metaphysical turn, interpretation of mystical experience (LL-intersubjective) is just as important as the experience itself. The interpretation and religious identities shape the contours of the experiences of the spiritual path.

In other words, I, simultaneously, think Wilber's formulation of states, structure-stages, and states-stages is unsurpassed in its theoretical clarity and breadth, yet I remain a Christian (not a “anonymous Buddhist”) or feel that my Christianity has been “Buddhized” in any way.

So while Wilber, as a Buddhist certainly uses the V-V scheme most often, I don't agree that it is simply Ken evangelizing.

Within the integral community, Wilber's interpretations of different mystical authors and schools are not universally accepted. Alan Kazlev has criticized Wilber's read of Aurobindo. Edward Berge has written often of disagreements within Buddhism, even Tibetan Buddhism, as to Wilber's Yogacharic affiliation. I think healthy debate already exists in the integral-sphere and the integral spiritual commons is not that vulnerable to an all-out invasion.

So while I agree, colonization of the philosophical realm (which does need a separate sphere from religion and science) is something to be vigilant about, I am not as concerned that such is currently going on with Wilber's writings.

I believe that Wilber's work is unmatched on The “Science” of spirituality. Or rather, with Wilber's recent work Integral Spirituality, I believe it is better to speak of a Big Four (not Three): Spirit, Morals, Art, and Science. In that categorization, Wilber for me is the prime cartographer of Spirit. And what Steve has opened up is the Morals of spirituality, with his discussion of a commons, values, and praxis; in fact the Moral Study of Integral period. [In my opinion, the best theorist/practitioner on the Artistic side in the integral community is Matthew Dallman].

Though I imagine that Steve would see my interpretation as just reinforcing the trend he fears.


The second disagreement (though slight in the wide view) concerns the nature of developmental lines. First the agreements between McIntosh and Wilber. Both find a deep wisdom in the theoretical line flowing from James Mark Baldwin, through Piaget, continuing into the developmental psychologists today. They both agree there are different lines of development, that the lines develop in a holarchical order, and that order can be reconstructed by psychologists and researchers.

Wilber's view of developmental lines emphasizes that the lines are relatively independent, that the organizing principle of them is the self (self-system), and that the lines are a measure of the degree of consciousness.

McIntosh criticizes Wilber's understanding of lines with a number of sub-points, too many to analyze in detail here, but which can be boiled down to (I think) the following: there is another organizing, high-order synthesis, working on the lines—namely the Spiral. This means, practically, that the lines are not so independent and are not to be seen as degrees of consciousness—for that latter point is again, for McIntosh, part of Wilber's belief system and not scientific (more on that point later).

McIntosh groups the lines into three categories: cognition, emotion, and volition. The Spiral (p.264) is depicted within the circle of volition exercising a pull on the other lines.

This debate reflects back a traditional medieval Christian theological discussion about whether the will (McIntosh) or intellect (Wilber) is primary. McIntosh's Augustinianism to Wilber's Thomism as it were.

Though the notion of three groupings of the lines is not entirely different (though not exactly the same as either) Wilber's breaking the lines into three camps: 1)cognition 2)self-related lines (e.g. defenses, psycho-sexual) and 3)values (values, morals).

No one has the magic key yet for developmental lines, much less for the cause(s) of transformation. Rather than argue a priori for which system is better, I think another criteria might be in order. Given that integral (at least according to both McIntosh and Wilber) consists of enacted reality, perhaps a better way to judge the relative merits and demerits of the two views on development, is to see what “results” in terms of human people come out of the different integral streams and their praxis.

The upshot of the distinction, for me, is how these views inform the primary method of practice inculcated by the different theorists.

For McIntosh, the practice is the philosophical spirituality, the “natural theology” of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, hoping to create a intersubjective, integral culture with some teeth. Wilber, on the other hand, generally (though not exclusively) leans to individual transformation via meditation—and placing hope in individual leaders.

I think McIntosh's volitional priority is a direct outcome of his adherence to Spiral thinking: namely that life conditions are mover and shaker of the Kosmic system. Life Conditions require, it seems to me, will to overcome, endure, move with, and ultimately shape life conditions. That's not to argue for or against, just as what I see as an important correlation between those points of view.

Only to say, the Spiral and Spiral thought (at least to date) does not leave a place for states of consciousness. While I admire what McIntosh is trying to do, by leaving out discussion of a specific understanding of Spirit per se in order that persons of different traditions can come together for public good and exploration of philosophical truth, I think it borders on leaving the spiritual up to the individual. He uses the word “personal” on a number of occasions in regard to spirituality: does personal mean individual? Or worse, individualistic?

McIntosh also does not describe in detail as has Wilber (Integral Psychology) the exact stages of the lines (regardless of one's view on the question of their exact relationship to each other), their healthy and pathological versions, possible therapy modalities for each, the theorists most closely associated with different lines of research/inquiry. Though there is no reason in principle such data could not be included in McIntosh's model, for now it is more abstract in scope.

Playing the both-and game again, I think a way forward is to say that when it comes to the forerunners/prophets, the lead figures of a new developmental stage, Wilber's emphasis on meditation seems more appropriate. But when it comes to a large scale arising of a new worldview/culture, life conditions are strongly involved, and McIntosh's guide for an integral culture could be more effective on that front.


Wilber-5, the so-called post-metaphysical Wilber, calls for a “naturalistic” turn to the question of spirituality and evolution. It lays great emphasis on the intersubjective and interpretive dimension to all experience, including spiritual ones.

McIntosh, following the view of the Spiral, sees a dialectic always at play: individual-leaning stages followed its antithesis (communal), and then reverse.

On page 218 McIntosh writes:

Just as nineteenth century scientists used early microscopes to see the previously invisible germs that were causing so much suffering in the world, integralists can use their philosophy's new understanding of the internal universe to see and actually make contact with the previously invisible structures of consciousness and culture.

I'm left with the question: employing concepts like “an integral canon”, The Spiral, “previously invisible structures of consciousness”, The Good/True/Beautiful, etc. whether Steve is veering back towards a reification of the Kosmos. That is, that these invisible structures of the Kosmos already exist, though hidden, simply waiting to be discovered (internally) and described—rather than shaped and co-created through enaction and repetitive embodiment. Praxistically, the question then is whether we humans are just filling in the surface content of an otherwise already-set Kosmic architecture. It's a question I have from reading Steve's book; I'm not certain that is what he means or intends.

In Wilbr-5, the stages of consciousness are probability waves (as reconstructed by human minds), not static, pre-determined blocks, a view I find more beautiful and containing more depth. Post-metaphysical AQAL points to the intrinsic relational nature—“objects” are not objects first and foremost but rather 3rd persons apprehended by 1st persons.

In a Wilber-5 AQAL view, there is no reason per se for each stage to have to follow, a la Spiral thinking, a thesis-antithesis structure (particularly regarding predominance of individual/masculine/warm coloring versus communal/feminine/cool coloring). In fact, one of the hopes of the integral 2nd-tier world is to balance this predominance of quadrants & types in previous first-tier systems.

Given that in an AQAL post-metaphysical view, the Kosmic higher stages are wide-open, to be filled in by enaction, phenomenology/broad empiricism, and interpretation, there is a hope to have an AQAL (all quadrant, levels, lines, types) view. The more Spiral-influenced thinking may be right, but I think it's important to point out this distinction between the two theorists.

McIntosh calls his view “minimalist” metaphysics and that while he understands Wilber's rejection of the term “metaphysics”, still he “can not agree that integral philosophy is strictly post-metaphysical in the manner that thinkers like Habermas require (p 213).”

I don't want too paint too stark a contrast here however. Post-metaphysical AQAL for Wilber (as McIntosh also notes) does contain metaphysical elements as no philosophy can be completely lacking in them, but hopes to minimize the metaphysical postulates as much as possible.

McIntosh also agrees with Wilber that all perceptions are always already perspectives, though he (McIntosh) doesn't go into much more detail/depth on the topic other than to say that perspectivalism does not “negate the ontology of the objective dimension of reality or otherwise eliminates metaphysics from our worldview (p.211).” Which accords with Wilber-5—which does not reduce everything to idealistic perspectives; only that notions of objectivity, which still exist and can be persuasively proven, arise within perspectives. But since, in Wilber's view, even the stages are Kosmic habits, then the objective only arises within a perspective, i.e. what is true is discovered only from certain worldspaces. The reason to articulate from what perspective an objective fact arises from is that this truth is not-locatable in the Kosmos without such an address.

The realization of the Spiral itself only arises at a certain point in the Kosmic adventure. It then re-translates everything back down the curve in light of its findings, but it is a re-translation, re-imagination based on a new understanding.

Steve is clearly open to this perspectival turn, but doesn't (as far as I can tell) really explore the topic. My suggestion would be for him to do so in a subsequent piece, giving a perspectival turn to Spiral thinking, which to date, I believe has suffered from an excessively pre-set ontology. I would be very interested to see what comes out of such an exploration.


The last theoretical difference is over the content and understanding of the Lower Right Quadrants (Its).

McIntosh writes:

These artifacts clothe the internal systems of human culture with the external manifestations of art, technology, and human organizations, but these [hu]man-made constructions cannot be accurately described as 'self-organizing systems of Dynamic Its' (that a quotation of Wilber). p.221

The crux of the matter for McIntosh is that prior to the large-scale emergence of the noosphere, Wilber's four quadrant model works perfectly. The activity of say a hunting-tribe of chimps is (when viewed from the 3px3p plural perspective) a dynamically organized ITS, that is the intersection of their communal physical objective activities.

With the rise of human culture, however, it is design that plays the key role.

McIntosh again:

That is, according to Teilhard, whenever consciousness evolves, it always requires a corresponding evolution in the complexity of the external structures that contain it. And as human consciousness advances within the developing noosphere, the corresponding development of human social artifacts 'stand in' for the lack of significant biological development, thereby supporting the growth of consciousness with artificial complexity. (italics in original). p.333

McIntosh believes that Wilber's incorporation of social systems theorists like Luhmann into the quadratic frame is at the root of this mistake. Instead of viewing the quadrants as views of holons, but rather as simply the arising of subjectivity, intersubjectivity, objectivity, and artifactual/organizational technologies, the map is more clear at the point of the noospheric emergence.

As McIntosh himself notes, the social systems theorists are not wrong so much as incomplete—they tend to apply biological systems theory to human noospheric social organization (for Wilber the inside view of the outside plural).

Though the work of social systems theorists do work well in relation to networks, especially computational, informational and communication systems. (see for example, John Robb's brilliant analysis of global terrorists organizations as open-source autopoeitic networks combined with artifactual technological platforms).

Wilber has written elsewhere that the notion that the four quadrants are the view of a single holon is a condescension to pre-quadratic language. I think it has been a singularly bad condescension and more confusing than helpful on balance. Better I think to say simply “an occasion arises” and that it has these four dimensions—including the artifacts as designed noospheric exterior collectives.

Mark Edwards has written eloquently on the problems of reducing the rich 2nd-person point of view into the Lower Left “We”. Now Steve has pointed out difficulties with reducing the Lower Right simply to biological analogy in the noosphere, leaving artifacts in a strange no-man's-land position relative to the rest of the quadratic view. That distinction may increasingly become more less useful as human technology is placed more and more within the human biological substrate, even for some patients with motor difficulties regaining use of bodily functions through their consciousness with the aid of an implanted chip.

In which case, is the chip a 3rd person? Or is there a cleft in the universe from the biosphere (with the four quadrants) to the noosphere (with only three holonic quadrants plus artifacts)?


Integral thought for the 21st century is coming of age, finally starting to feel its oats. McIntosh's irenic and confident tone I think speaks to that reality.

McIntosh ultimately comes down on the primacy of circular and interpenetrating Triads, an almost uber-Hegelianism with 3x3s multiplying in all directions, like an Orthodox Christian monk circumambulating and incensing the altar of the Kosmos, blessing it with the prayers and self-crossings in patterns of The Triune Unity (a number of perfection).

There is the Big Three: Good, True, and Beautiful. Or Morals, Science, and Art.

Alternatively, it is Consciousness, Intersubjectivity, and Objectivity (Self, Culture, and Nature). Within Consciousness: Cognition, Emotion, and Volition. Within his Political Structure: Three Branches, with Three Chambers within each Branch. And so and so on. (see pp. 293 and 317)

What I mean is that I see Steve's ultimate view of the Kosmos as an act of worship (liturgy in its root meaning); it is a confession, a doxology, an act of praise. A story. As a story I think it is best judged on the level of truthfulness and goodness—how much of the former does it express and how of the latter does it engender in its hearers.

It is a metaphor (just like Consciousness/Godhead-Only). It is true (good metaphor) and partial (eventually breaks down). Remembered in that light, it is a great work of immense beauty, truth, and goodness.


[1] Steve McIntosh, Integral Consciousness and The Future of Evolution: How the Integral Worldview is Transforming Politics, Culture, and Spirituality, Paragon House, 2007.

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