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

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Mark EdwardsMark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory (Routledge, 2009) .

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Through AQAL Eyes

Part 2:
Integrating Holon Theory
and the AQAL Framework

Mark Edwards

Every man is a holon.
(Arthur Koestler, 1967, p.190)

All holons have four quadrants.
(Ken Wilber, 1999, p.53)

Boundaries, instead of being a product of reality, there for all to feel and touch and measure, were finally seen as a product of the way we map and edit reality ... This is not to say that the world is the product of our imaginations ... only that our boundaries are.
(Ken Wilber (1981, p.38)


The following is the second essay in a series that deals with the rather abstract but crucial topic of holons and how they relate to the AQAL framework of Integral theory. In the first essay I critiqued the Wilber-Kofman model of holonic categories and in the following I propose an alternative conceptual approach to holons. My approach builds on the central propositions of Ken Wilber's Integral theory and attempts to fully integrate the various aspects of the holon construct with the various principles of the AQAL developmental framework. To this point, there has been a somewhat vague conception of the relationship between holons and the structural aspects of Integral theory. In particular it is not clear how holons fit into the AQAL[1] structural model of All (developmental) Quadrants, All (developmental) Levels, All (developmental) Lines, etc. My contention is that, despite warnings by Wilber to the contrary, holons are often mistakenly assumed to be some sort of separate quasi-objective entities which develop against the background of the Four Quadrants (the Wilber-Kofman model of objectively-defined categories of holons has added to these confusions). This dualistic notion of how holons fit into the AQAL model derives from two main misconceptions. The first is that reality is "composed" of holons and objective holonic categories. The second is that the AQAL model, particularly in its Theory of Everything (TOE) presentation of the Four Quadrants of Kosmic Evolution, is often regarded as a spatial-temporal[2] map of Kosmic reality. The result of these interpretations is the view that a holon is some objectively definable whatsit which spirals and develops within a vast Four Quadrants map of evolution. This common, and almost unconsciously, accepted perspective of the relationship between the holon construct and the AQAL framework is in dire need of review. The following is my attempt to integrate in a more consistent way these two foundations of Integral theory.

The holon construct and the AQAL framework are much more intimately related than has been commonly recognised by Integral scholars. In fact, I believe that the principles of the AQAL framework define not only the Kosmic All but the very structure of each and every holon, and that therefore the "twenty tenets" or holonic laws are essentially equivalent to the AQAL principles. The only thing that changes is the point of focus for the applying the model. Putting it another way, when AQAL is focused at the Big Picture level we end up with the Theory of Everything (TOE) view of the Kosmos (the Kosmic Holon[3]) as represented in Wilber's famous Four Quadrants diagram. When the AQAL framework is focused at the Little Picture level of everyday entities/events (chemical reactions, sentences, artworks, families, social conflicts, economies) we end up with ordinary everyday holons (that can be described and investigated through, what I call, an Integral Theory for Anything). The Quadrants are actually a way of showing the dynamic evolutionary/involutionary relationships that each holon, and not only the Kosmic Holon, is subject to. In essence, a holon is the result of applying the whole AQAL model to any defined set of phenomena. Holarchies set the context for this boundary drawing process and are themselves validated through the consistent application of AQAL principles and the 'twenty tenets'. This approach fully unites the holon construct with the AQAL framework and builds into Integral theory a more dynamic and relational approach to knowledge. One outcome of this integrative approach is that there is no need whatsoever to propose separate categories of holons, as Wilber and Kofman have done, to ensure that holarchies are not mixed. The non-Integral nature of the Wilber-Kofman holon categories (e.g. their proposal for an insentient category of holons) is the result of the dualistic separation of holonic properties from the AQAL framework.

In a Nutshell

The main points of the argument set out in the following essay can be summarised as follows:

1. Koestler's Holons and Wilber's Quadrants

Koestler's theory of holons was adopted by Wilber very early on in his writings (Phase II). The holon construct was incorporated into the developmental structure of Wilber's writings as a way of emphasising the hierarchical/holarchical nature of reality. Wilber's theory of holons has been considerably expanded with his explication of the twenty holonic tenets or laws. However, the ongoing development in Wilber's theoretical propositions (currently Phase IV) has not seen a commensurate review of how the holon construct relates to the core principles of Integral theory. This disjunction still reverberates through Integral theory as a whole, and the relationship between the holon construct and the AQAL framework remains unclear, despite recent attempts to the contrary.

2. Some Unresolved Questions

The uneasy theoretical relationship between holons and the rest of the AQAL model results in some important theoretical irregularities. First there is the unresolved problem of ideal types or categories of holons and how these fundamental categories of holons might be identified. Second, the lack of definitional regularity together with rather vague descriptive language of holons results in considerable confusion about the way that holons fit into Integral theory. The problem from the AQAL side has been the tendency for it to be reified into a representational Kosmic map - this is explored in more detail in Section 3. From the holon side the problem has been the tendency to ignore the propositional nature of holonic boundaries and to see the holon as some sort of substantive building block of the Kosmos - this is laid out in Section 4. These confusions result in some profoundly dualistic misreadings of how these main branches of Integral theory - the AQAL/TOE and holon theory – related to each other.

3. The problem with TOEs

When the AQAL model is only ever presented in terms of a TOE application it becomes very easy for it to be reified into a type of spatial-temporal map of reality. To borrow a distinction pointed out by Clifford Geertz (1993), the AQAL model is too often seen as a structural model of reality, rather than as an interpretive model for reality. As a structural model of reality it is then assumed by many to be a space-time reference map of the Kosmos rather than an interpretive tool for rendering more coherent the great complexities of the Kosmos.

4. The problem with Holons

Holons are too often seen as constitutive categorical entities from which reality is composed. They are assumed to be somehow inhabiting and evolving within the Four Quadrants developmental space rather than as points of reference identified through the use of the AQAL model itself. The recent proposition by Ken Wilber and Fred Kofman (Kofman, 2001; Wilber 2001) of a typology of distinct holonic categories has further added to this problematic process of objectifying holonic boundaries. When holons are seen as objective entities inhabiting the various TOE quadrants it becomes accepted practice to try to define them and permanently categorise them according to some set of "objective" criteria, e.g. sentience, insentience, individuality or collectivity. In this quest for a fundamental typology of holons many logical inconsistencies arise and the provisional nature of all AQAL and holonic boundaries is overlooked. If it is accepted that holons are quasi-objective entities that inhabit a Four Quadrant Kosmos, then it is logical to assume that their will be distinct types of consciousness holons, cultural holons, physical holons that somehow interact with each other across that Quadrant space. This type of double dualism is precisely what we find with the four Wilber/Kofman categories of individual, collective, sentient and insentient holons. Each holon incorporates all four developmental Quadrants, and it is this holistic vision of evolution-involution that is such a key feature of Integral theory[4].

5. Everything and Anything

The TOE application of the AQAL model combined with this dissociated conception of holons often results in dualistic misreading of holons and how they relate to Integral theory. There are many examples of this, for example that thought holons exist independently of their behavioural/physical holon counterparts, or that Integral theory assumes that holons can be fundamentally divided into independent categories along Four Quadrant lines. To avoid such interpretations we need to reframe our view of the AQAL model and to recognise the provisional nature of holonic boundaries. The first step in doing this is to see that the TOE presentation of Integral theory is not the only way of presenting the theory. It might be regarded as a Theory for Anything (that is, as an interpretive system for understanding any event) as much as a Theory of Everything. The Theory of Everything focus is really an interpretive snapshot of the Kosmic Holon. The AQAL model can also, however, be applied at the local level of ordinary holons to provide a more applied Theory for Anything. We can then more clearly see that each and every holon can itself be described in the AQAL terms of quadrants, evolutionary levels, developmental lines, states, and descending and ascending developmental dynamics.

6. The AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon

The view that all AQAL principles are inherent in any and each holon allows us to see the TOE presentation of the AQAL model as simply that application which represents the Kosmos as one dynamic holonic entity. The famous Four Quadrants diagram from SES is simply the AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon. It is the application of Integral theory to the ultimate Big Picture. In this sense the TOE presentation of Integral theory is a special case of the AQAL view of the All as a Kosmic Holon. And, of course, this is just one of an infinite number of levels of application of the theory.

7. The AQAL view of common holons

The AQAL model can also be focused down onto the experiences and activities of any local holon or holonic system. This perspective allows us to apply the whole of the AQAL model to any aspect of objective reality or subjective experience that we might which to investigate. In this sense, a common holon is the application of Integral theory to the intimate, local world of everyday reality.

8. Through AQAL Eyes - The AQAL model as an interpretive lens.

This integrative endeavour of bringing holonic theory and the AQAL/Four Quadrants structural model together can be greatly aided by seeing the AQAL framework as an interpretive "lens" rather than as a representational map. The AQAL interpretive lens can be focused down to apply to the structure and dynamic of any ordinary everyday holon (a Theory for Anything), and not only to the Kosmos as a whole (the usual TOE level of presenting Integral theory).

9. The Integral Holon

In considering the holon construct in the light of this more flexible interpretive approach, we find that the constitutive factors of the AQAL model, i.e. quadrants, stages, levels, lines, evolutionary and involutionary dynamics etc., are equivalent to those principles or tenets that describe the fundamental characteristics of all holons (Wilber's twenty tenets). This leads directly to the proposition that a holon (or a holonic system) is simply the result of applying the AQAL interpretive system to any specified set of phenomena. Therefore, there are no fundamental types of holons, as such. Holons are always defined according to a process of arbitration that is based on the experiential, cultural, and scientific sources of knowledge that provide the holarchic context for applying the AQAL framework.

10. Boundaries, Holarchies and Holons

Our imaginative creation of holonic boundaries is only limited by the holarchic context in which we apply the AQAL framework. This resolves the problems associated with attempting to identify some fundamental typology of holons. Within this context of an integrated holon/AQAL framework, some rules for applying the AQAL principles are discussed. All these are based on existing principles of Integral theory. In contrast, the Wilber/Kofman theory of holonic categories does not conform to some basic Integral axioms, for example, that all holons have interiority.

11. The Integral Cycle and the Integral Holon

A holon (or holonic system) is what we see when we look at reality through AQAL eyes. So whenever holons can be most fully described and analysed in terms of the basic principles of quadrants, stages, lines, states, and their dynamics (evolution, involution, ascent, integration, the Integral Cycle, etc). From this view a holon develops simultaneously through all four quadrants and the inner and the outer and the one and the many co-evolve (or as Wilber says tetra-evolves) in an intimate cycle of mutual interpenetration. The four faces of holonic reality do not merely co-relate or interact, they co-create each other in what I have identified previously as the Integral Cycle. Adapting some concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, the Integral Cycle is the tangential dynamic which complements the radial dynamics of evolution and involution.

12. Applied Integral Dynamics

Bearing these points in mind, when Integral theory investigates some topic it must employ all of the AQAL/holonic principles in its description of particular holons or holonic events. This branch of Integral theory might be called Integral Dynamics as it is based on the full integration of the principles of Integral structural theory with the basic dynamics of holonic/holarchic processes (i.e. the twenty tenets). The field of Applied Integral Dynamics opens up the possibility of a truly holistic science that can be used to investigate any applied topic. Some examples of the general characteristics of such an Applied Integral Dynamics are presented.

The foregoing integrative approach provides a more dynamic dimension to the quadrant structure of Integral theory in both its TOE/AQAL and its holon theory. It also allows a greater flexibility in applying the model to the full range of human experiences and knowledge. Uniting the holon construct with the AQAL framework allows Integral theory to test validate holarchies without recourse to the dualistic approach of permanent categories of holons. The significant problems, identified by Wilber and Kofman, of the inappropriate mixing of individual and collective holons and of using size to determine the order of holarchic series are also overcome through the integration of the twenty tenets (or holonic laws) with the basic principles of the AQAL framework. It is this integration of these laws and principles will validate holarchic series and not objective categories of holons. A holon is an arbitrary7 reference point that helps us to read the unfolding nature of holarchic reality through applying the tenets of Integral theory. It is arbitrary because the delineation of any coherent and useful boundary (where coherency and utility are defined through the balancing of objective, subjective, scientific and cultural knowledge) will result in a holon. Any thing, process, experience, system, entity, event, or any combination thereof, can be seen as holonic, as long as a boundary can be drawn around that "any thing" within an holarchic context. From this perspective, I propose that Integral theory can be regarded as a Theory for Anything as well as a Theory of Everything.

1. Koestler's Holons and Wilber's Quadrants

Arthur Koestler, the originator of the theory of holons (for he proposed it to be much more than just a new bit of jargon), proposed the holon/holarchy system as a way of overcoming the immense divide between the reductionist and holistic sciences and philosophies of thought that existed in the 1950's and 60's. Koestler saw the specific term "holon" as referring to any chosen point of reference on any of the holarchic chains of part/wholes. He saw, in the wider world, a multitude of various types of holarchies - individual, collective, functional, abstract, behavioural, evolutionary, artistic, and mathematical to name but a few. A holon was simply a part/whole unit, within some relevant holarchy, where one's investigative interest was focused. Koestler had no overarching theoretical model to ground holonic theory. But this lack also meant that there was no danger that his holon construct could become reified into some object/process by which reality was seen to be constituted.

In taking up Koestler's wonderful theory of holons, Wilber too has stressed the sliding and contextual, yet hierarchical, nature of holons. Yet Wilber has also recently proposed a model of objective categories of holons. And, in this context, it has taken on a semi-objective identity where it is seen as a constitutive element of reality as distinct from an interpretive system of reference that helps us make sense of the Kosmos. This is reflected in Wilber's statement that, "Reality in all domains is basically composed of holons" (2000, p.40). The problematic nature of this statement has been pointed out by Brian Eddy (2001) in his insightful essay on "discerning holons". If holons are seen as the composite elements of the Kosmos we run the danger of elevating their status into some kind of objective thing/process. Although Wilber specifically warns against objectifying holons into things or processes, the unclear relationship between holons and the rest of Integral theory has led to an attempt to objectively identify a fundamental typology of holonic categories (Kofman, 2001, Wilber 2001). However, this attempt to clarify the relationship between holons and the rest of Integral theory has only resulted in further confusion (Eddy, 2001; Goddard, 2001; Smith 2001).

Koestler's holons were not thought of as entities or objects but as systematic ways of relating theoretical structures. In other words, holons were arbitrary points of reference for interpreting reality. To quote Koestler (1967, pg. 55), "Whatever the nature of a hierarchic organisation, its constituent holons are defined by fixed rules and flexible strategies" (emphasis in the original). So holonic boundaries are posited and "fixed" only out of the relational rules and strategies that help us make sense of reality, or as I would put it, they are defined by the basic principles of the AQAL framework and the twenty holonic tenets. Wilber has creatively used the holon construct to highlight the holarchical nature of his AQAL framework. The framework is derived from an immense amount of scientific, cultural and experiential knowledge. In adopting the holon construct the AQAL model becomes more than just a new way of connecting existing fields of knowledge in a developmental overview. It is also a new way of looking at the referential "units" of that knowledge - holons. Built into the heart of the model is the concept that all developmental phenomena can be viewed as aspects of dynamic, holonic events that are nested within a holarchy of evolving/involving structural patterns.

The holons construct is critically important to the utility of the Integral model because it enables the AQAL framework to be focused on any point in the holarchy or, to put it another way, it enables any developmental event to be analysed in terms of an Integral methodology. As such, the concept of the "holon" does away with the endless quest of trying to find the fundamental parts or wholes that constitute reality and it releases us from the basis mythologies inherent in materialistic, mentalistic, animistic, relativistic, or idealistic conceptions of reality. Quantum physics, that most advanced of all natural sciences, now overtly recognises the completely mythological nature of "matter" (Davies & Gribble, 1992), and of ideas that regard reality as simply permutations of solid substance, empty space, and linear time. The AQAL model, when it is used as an interpretive schema, extends this demythologising awareness across all explanatory systems (including itself) and brings to the fore the holarchic and developmental nature of reality. With the idea of a nested holarchy of holons, Wilber has opened a vision of reality that does not fall into the errors associated with various forms of reductionism, elevationism or relativisim. In bringing Koesler's holon concept into his model, Wilber has not only opened up the possibility of a truly open-ended Theory of Everything but also a systematic theoretical approach towards any thing/process/event. However, I believe that this potential is currently being hampered by a lack of integration of these two core components of the theory, i.e. the Big Picture/TOE presentation of the AQAL framework and the more localised theory of holons.

Koestler's theory of holons was adopted by Wilber in the late seventies (during the second phase in the development of Wilber's theoretical base). This was at least 15 years prior to the great expansion of his ideas that culminated in 1995 in the publication of "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality" which introduced the Four Quadrants of Kosmic evolution (Wilber's Phase IV). As with Koestler, Wilber uses the holon theory to, "undercut the traditional argument between atomism .. and wholism". For Wilber to incorporate holonic theory into the later theoretical structure of the AQAL framework was easy at one level because both theories were founded on the idea of hierarchical inclusion. But both holons and the AQAL framework contain other core principles that are not based on the idea of whole/part inclusion - they both bring their own particular qualities to the corpus of Integral principles. And it is at these boundary lines that the full integration of these two fundamental aspects of Integral theory stills remains to be achieved. The Four Quadrants propose a basic structure to Kosmic evolution that demarcates the Inner from the Outer and the Many from the One. These are basic perspectives that emerge from the heart of the Integral Kosmos. Similarly, the holon construct is based on the fundamental distinctions between the higher (transcendence) and the lower (immanence), and between the dynamics of agency (preservation) and of communion (adaptation). I believe that it is here, at these lines of differentiation that the relational problems between holons and Quadrants are more clearly seen. And, as I hope to show, it is also here that the solution to these issue is to be found.

2. Some Unresolved Questions

Wilber's assimilative programme has recently reached a decisive point with the publication of his book, "A Theory of Everything" (Wilber, 2000). The work is chiefly concerned with applying the structural aspects of Wilber's Integral theory to fields such as politics, health, education, and science. It provides preliminary evidence for the immense potential that Integral theory has for the study of human society and of the many social problems the world currently faces. While the wide applicability of the Integral model is apparent in this work, a number of key questions remain as to its practical application and interpretation. Many of these uncertainties revolve around the use of the "holon" construct and how this concept relates to the structural components of Integral theory. The recent discussion on holonic categories (Wilber, Kofman, Goddard, Eddy, Smith on Frank Visser's Web site) shows how fundamental this issue is for the practical application of Integral theory. Do certain holons only exist in certain quadrants? Are there separate interior holons as opposed to exterior holons? How do the four drives/quadrants of each holon actually relate to the Four Quadrants of the TOE presentation of the AQAL model? Can the Four Quadrants model be used to represent the interaction of multiple holons? Is co-evolution or tetra-evolution of holons simply a type of interactive development or is it a more holistic process?

Along with these, there are associated questions concerning the actual interpretation and application of the Four Quadrants and the AQAL model itself. The Quadrants seem to impose a fundamental double dualism at the very heart of the Kosmos. How do these subject-object and one-many dimensions relate to the obvious holistic intent of Integral studies in general? Isn't it essentially dualistic to see the subjective human experience as "fitting" into certain sectors of the Four Quadrants framework while the objective, behavioural side of life resides in others? Does Integral Theory actually want us to see interior "thought holons" occupying the Left Hand quadrants of the Kosmos while exterior behavioural holons are segregated to the Right Hand quadrants of objective reality?

Some of these questions have received very considerable attention by a few hardy souls of late, while others remain unaddressed. In general, and despite the recent efforts of Kofman and Wilber to clarify some of these issues, I think that the whole area is still one of considerable theoretical confusion. Brian Eddy's essay on this matter has pointed out some very important yet largely unaddressed aspects of Integral theory's use of Koestler's holon theory. Eddy says that,

"The current wording used in the first tenet treats reality as something comprised of 'objects' only (holons), and pays no regard to the dynamics and continuum in reality. If we limit the first tenet to only the 'products' we observe in reality, without acknowledging the holonic nature of reality that produces these products, then we are limited to 'objectifying' from the get-go, thereby forced into reductionist schemes that contradict the premise of integral philosophy. More importantly, by acknowledging the holonic process of the Kosmos, we observe the continuum in all things, rather than limiting our view to discrete objects. By limiting our observation to the discreteness of reality is to subject ourselves, or limit ourselves, to 'dualism'.

In my opinion the resolution of such issues will not come through the creation of objective holonic categories or through the ever greater enumeration of their definitive qualities, nor by neglecting or minimising the importance of these questions for the theory as a whole. Only a comprehensive bringing together of the whole shebang of holons, holarchies, and quadrants/levels/lines will suffice for Integral theory to be presented and applied in a way that incorporates both the holistic and the analytical wings of the theory. In the following sections, I attempt to establish a more consistent theoretical perspective on the topic. One which, I believe, is completely in keeping with the key principles and holistic intentions of Integral theory. While the conceptual topic of holons is not one for the feint hearted, it is important for Integral theorists to work through and clarify as far as possible the basic conceptual orientation of the approach. As Integral studies becomes more applied and varied in its subject matter this need becomes more urgent.

It's my opinion that an applied Integral methodology will only be successful when the Big Picture/TOE presentation of the AQAL framework is more coherently integrated with the micro-level focus of the holon construct. As I indicated earlier, the real problems in achieving this integration arise when a reified TOE picture of AQAL links in with an understanding of holons as quasi-objective entities that somehow comprise reality. Let's deal with the TOE aspect of this first.

3. The Problem with TOEs

Theoretical models are useful because they simplify complex situations into their basic structural and dynamic components. Theories are, in essence, ways of drawing boundaries around phenomena and describing the relationships between those bounded entities and events. With over-arching models it is easy to sometimes overlook the provisional nature of the boundary drawing process and to think of them as absolute or at least axiomatic. If there is anything to be learned from the history of ideas, it's that all boundaries and all models are subject to the process of interpretation (as well, of course, as objective fact). This is particularly the case when the model includes some sort of graphical representation of the theory. An example of this is Rutherford's atomic schematic notion of a central positive nucleus being orbited by negatively charged electrons. This simple view of the structure of an atom was useful to a point but could not cope with more complex elements. The view today is that this solar-system view of atomic reality is not at all accurate and a much more complex model of three-dimensional fields is used to graphically represent atomic structure.

Wilber has always been clearly aware of this issue of boundary drawing (he has in fact written a book on the topic - "No Boundaries") and has expressly stated the open-ended and provisional nature of his Integral philosophy (for a recent example, see Wilber's response to Habermas and Weis, 2001). The TOE presentation of the AQAL model, most clearly seen in the famous Four Quadrants diagram[6], sets up the model to be, at least to some extent, a representational map of the Kosmos. The boundaries that mark off one quadrant from another, or one stage from another, are posited to in some way represent the qualities and processes of the Kosmos of relative truth. As with all graphical models, it's quite easy to read into the model more than is intended. For example, it's rather easy to read the Four Quadrants diagram as proposing that individual identity is completely separated from collective identity or that or that experiences can be isolated from behaviours. But it is not the intent of the model to concretise these dualisms. The model, in fact, is wanting to affirm that these aspects are always present together, rather than always separated. The developmental axes that define the evolutionary-involutionary ground are to show how interrelated and complex these dimensions are, not how opposed they are to each other. The boundary lines described by the principles of Integral theory are more usefully regarded as interpretive aids that bring the maximum coherency to our understanding of the world in a parsimonious way. To paraphrase Neils Bohr, a scientific theory is not about how the world is, it is about what we can say about the world.

In its usual TOE form, the AQAL framework is presented as an orienting map of universal or Kosmic Holarchy. It provides a multidimensional series of contexts that allows us to interpret and represent the course of Kosmic development in its most eminent forms. In this sense, the model is profoundly teleological, in that it is always oriented towards ever-more integrative and expansive structures. It might be seen as an expanding universal model of Kosmic potentials. But this overarching framework of quadrants and developmental stages is not simply a spatial map in which particular holons are intended to be situated and/or analysed. The Four Quadrants overview is a wonderful summary overview for the evolving/involving Kosmos, but it is not a space for positioning or investigating any specific holonic relation. Like the periodic table of atomic elements, the Four Quadrants model is not a representational snapshot of the space-time universe, rather it is a way of interpreting why the observed and experienced Kosmic reality feels and behaves the way it does.

There are many crucial misunderstandings that can arise when the Four Quadrants overview is presented as a representational map rather than as an interpretive guide to the Kosmos. These include:

The Four Quadrants are essentially dualistic: The Four Quadrants can wrongly be construed to be supportive of a dualistic understanding of reality. The four domains of developmental activity are then seen to divide the Kosmos along two major fault lines which draw clear distinctions between subject and object, of individual and collective, of experience and behaviour and of consciousness and material reality.

The AQAL framework is primarily a Theory of Everything: The TOE presentation of Integral Theory tends to raise the AQAL framework to the grand narrative level of a quasi-objective Kosmic map. We then envisage various holonic entities and qualities as somehow existing within this reified structure. The AQAL framework is then limited to be seen only in terms of an overarching model at the Big Picture/TOE level of application.

The Four Quadrants evolve via parallel mechanisms. The problem here is that the Quadrants are regarded as distinct evolutionary fields in which holons in each of the quadrants evolve in some sort of correlational fashion. There is formal correspondence and temporal association between these separate developmental domains. But, because the Four Quadrants define domains that distinguish between distinctive evolutionary pathways, their relationship is incorrectly regarded as merely one of association or at best correspondence and not of a mutual, holistic interpenetration. This ends in the unwarranted ontological separation of consciousness "holons" from behavioural "holons" and of agentic "holons" from communal "holons".

Integral theory is an interactional model and does not resolve the ubiquitous micro/macro problem of sociological theory[7]. This limiting of Integral theory sees the individual and collective Quadrants in interactionist terms instead of a more holistic framework. The individual world and the social world are misrepresented as indirectly connected with each other. The person and the collective are seen to be separated by space, by time, and by cultural distance through the mediational means of, for example, the electronic and print media. This more traditional reading of Integral theory does not see how it can shed new light on the micro-macro problem in sociological theory.

The AQAL model lacks the capacity to deal with cross-level mutualities and intersubjective realities. The AQAL model situates the whole of reality along the subject/object and one/many dimensions and there seems to be no place for relationships between holons that might develop within different evolutionary quadrants. In short, this unfortunately ends with the conclusion that the Quadrants model cannot map the mutualities between perceiving person and perceived person (see Goddard, 2000).

All these misreadings derive from the mistaken assumption that the TOE presentation of the AQAL model is the only way of representing the AQAL framework. The Quadrants as seen as representing the actual evolutionary domains of the Kosmos. These misinterpretations come as a consequence of the almost unconscious acceptance that the Quadrants are substantive realms where separate holons move from one level to the next rather like additive building blocks. This view has more validity in terms of the level-to-level development of holons but it is very misleading in terms of the separation of Quadrants. In other words, the TOE presentation of the AQAL framework is much more useful in picturing the spatial-temporal relationship between developmental Levels than it is in showing the spatial-temporal relationship between developmental Quadrants.

4. The problem with Holons

The holon construct is a core aspect of Integral theory because it provides the possibility of both holistic and differentiated forms of analysis. It allows for a unifying and integrated interpretation of the Kosmos that at the same time can provide for an analytical investigation of details/parts. They can do this because holons are reference points that lie at the boundary of both parts and wholes. They are developmental frames of reference. Unfortunately, the problem is that holons are too often seen as constitutive quasi-objective entities that comprise the Kosmos. Wilber's proposition that "reality is composed of holons" is like saying the surface of the earth is composed of grid references. Such statements set up holons as somehow objectively inhabiting and evolving within the Four Quadrants developmental space. From this view quasi-objective description of holons come a number of traps that many Integral writers fall into.

Reality is composed of holons: This unfortunate use of the model sees reality as being built up of holonic bricks. Holons become quasi-objective entities that together comprise the contents of the Four Quadrants map. When the Kosmos is seen as made up of holonic billiard balls we then try to define those various entities and end up seeing them in terms of absolute types or categories instead of arbitrary frames of reference (see Brian Eddy's essay on this topic).

Separate holons exist independently in each of the Four Quadrants: This very common misinterpretation sees specific holons as existing in specific quadrants and hence as developing along separate evolutionary pathways. For example, a separate thought holon exists in the experiential quadrant, while its neurological holon correlate exists in the material-behavioural quadrant. Such a reading of the AQAL model often results in a very dualistic applications of Integral theory in general and of holonic theory in particular.

Some holons have sentience and some do not: Once we see holons as objectively occupying the Four Quadrants developmental space, it then becomes necessary to see them in terms of separate categories that belong to each domain. This rather strange proposition encourages the view that separate holons exist in separate Quadrants, i.e. that sentient holons exist in the subjective Quadrants and that insentient holons exist in the objective Quadrants. This artificial separation results in the redundant proposition of the four categories of interior (sentient) and exterior (insentient) holons and individual and collective holons.

These types of dualistic interpretations of the AQAL framework can have very profound implications. In a recent fictional discussion of the Cartesian legacy for Western society (in a note to his novel, "Boomeritus"), Wilber describes the disastrous consequences of isolating individual holons in particular Quadrants. Through the voice of his fictional character Lesa Powell, Wilber (2002) writes,

"if you look at the four-quadrant diagram, the Cartesian (and eventually Kantian) ego can be pictured as a little person standing in the Upper-Left quadrant completely disconnected from the other three quadrants. This is the major epistemological mess that the downsides of the Enlightenment left us with".

How, then, can Integral theory halt this tendency to use the AQAL quadrants in such a dissociated and dualistic manner (described by Wilber as the secondary Cartesian dualism). If the ego of the individual doesn't go in the Quadrant for the interior of the individual person where does it go? From my perspective this is just another example of how the dualistic use of the Quadrants arises from our propensity to plug holonic 'building blocks' into the Integral TOE map as if it was a temporal-spatial representation of the Kosmos. The Wilber/Kofman categories of holons also run foul of this tendency. Their category model of holons assumes that the TOE-Four Quadrants space is actually inhabited by objectively definable holonic entities. Consequently, it relegates specific types of holons to particular Quadrants. The result being, of course, that they propose four objective categories of holons, each of which reflects the nature of the particular Quadrant space it inhabits - the four Wilber/Kofman categories of individual, collective, sentient and insentient holons. In my opinion this stamping of Quadrant labels on holon categories is merely reinstating the secondary Cartesian dualism on the whole/part nature of holons. It reinforces the representational map aspect of the TOE model and turns holons into 'building blocks'. And most importantly, the proposition of holonic categories puts an artificial divide between the Four Quadrants of the Integral TOE and the four quadrants of holonic dynamics.

A more integrative use of the model says that these four quadrants exist in each and every holon and that they do not divide holons from each other as much as show the relationships that exists within each holon. Holons do not exist in separate Quadrants divided by the evolutionary dimensions of inner-outer and many one. When we think of the AQAL model in that way we are simply repeating the mistakes of the secondary Cartesian dualism that divides mind from body, consciousness from behaviour, self from environment, and person from community. The following diagrams shows the different uses of the AQAL model. Figure 1. shows dualistic use of the model where holons are plugged into the Quadrants map or TOE model. In contrast, Figure 2. shows the Integral model as an interpretive focus for each holon[8].

Figure 1. is, from my analysis of their model, the Wilber-Kofman model of holons and how it fits into the TOE Quadrants. This is a completely inappropriate way of seeing representing how holonic theory and the AQAL theory relate to each other. It results in the segregation of sentient from insentient holons and of holonic individuality from holonic communality. It also reaffirms an inflexible use of the AQAL model a Big Picture map of the Kosmos (where events are plugged into AQAL) rather than a flexible and adjustable tool for mapping any event (where AQAL is applied to events).

Segregated ways of using the model do not occur so easily when the AQAL framework is seen as an interpretive tool which describes the particular characteristics of each holon. The TOE presentation of the model leads us to regard the model as an end it itself and this discourages and even hides the very adaptive and holistic application of the AQAL framework to any holon. Rather than seeing it a representational map of the Kosmos, the AQAL model is more usefully (and accurately) regarded as a interpretive filter. One that can untangle the complexities of any phenomena through its framework of interior, exterior, individual and collective developmental qualities, and the developmental dynamics of self-adaptation, self-preservation, and evolution and involution.

In the following section I want to discuss how the AQAL framework is best utilised as a flexible interpretive model for any holon, rather than only as a representation of the grand Theory of Everything level of the Kosmos. The AQAL framework can be applied at any point on the holarchic scale - all the way from the ultimate level of the Kosmos - the AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon - down to the intimate level of any ordinary holon - the AQAL view of the any common holon.

5. Everything and Anything

As I have pointed out previously (Edwards, 2000), there are several authors who have proposed very similar domains of epistemology to Wilber's Four Quadrants. These notably include Rom Harre (1984), S. Wapner (1983), and E.F. Schumacher (1972) who have outlined almost identical knowledge schemas. However, unlike these theorists, and contrary to popular notion, Wilber has developed his model from an empirical basis rather than a philosophical or purely theoretical one. In reviewing the immense body of scientific and cultural literature on developmental and evolutionary theories, Wilber has synthesised this knowledge to derive his two main generative factors of development - the individual-collective factor and the interior-exterior factor. These two developmental dimensions give rise to the four evolutionary-involutionary domains - the Four Quadrants. In mapping out this territory, Wilber has found a place for the unique contributions of a great many scientific and cultural perspectives and included them into a comprehensive, yet open-ended, Integral Theory of Everything.

The TOE perspective attempts to draw a comprehensive yet open-ended boundary around Everything and treat this Everything as a single canvas on which the Kosmic play of evolution is mapped out. The four great evolutionary/involutionary pathways allow us to get some handle on the extraordinary history of the Kosmos. These Quadrants describe the fundamental domains through which the unfolding and enfolding of Kosmic development can be interpreted. As Wilber has said several times, there is nothing particularly exclusive about these four domains here, they are simply the minimum number of dimensions he regards as necessary for us to make real sense of Kosmic complexity. This vision comes out of the a grand TOE application of AQAL model. However, it would be wrong to identify the framework only with this Kosmic level of focus. The AQAL framework can also be a way of looking at the mysteries contained at any point in any holarchy, be it Kosmic or common, ultimate or intimate. So the AQAL model can be as much a Theory for Anything as it is a Theory of Everything. It can be a Theory for Anything when it is seen as a scientific approach of immense flexibility and adaptability, where all its principles can be applied to the world of everyday events as much as to the great trends and events in Kosmic transformation.

Wilber has written on very broad applications of the AQAL framework, offering what he calls 'orienting generalisations' to assist in interpreting global historical, anthropological and cultural change. But he also clearly intends the model to be useful in understanding the very particular and localised levels of holonic development. To this end, the AQAL framework is actually capable of a type of methodological zoom adjustment that can move from the ultimate level of the Kosmos to the intimate level of the everyday. Consequently, Integral theory is best seen as a multilevel interpretive system that can give a powerful and valid account of everyday reality, not only within the context of a grand TOE vision of the all-inclusive Kosmic Holon, but also within the context of pragmatic everyday events and issues at the common holon level. In this more localised application of the model, the full holistic and process-oriented implications of the AQAL framework become apparent. The following diagram gives a graphical representation of this difference in focus.

Such a multi-level conception provides a brake on the almost reflexive tendency we have to reify the AQAL model into an inflexible structural map of Everything. Given that the model can be flexibly applied at any level we can better appreciate its interpretive power when it is seen as a interpretive tool for, rather than a rigid representation of, reality. The theory can then be used in a continuous scope of application for providing interpretive insight and objective information from the Kosmic to the local, from the Ultimate to the Intimate, from the transpersonal to the prepersonal, from the Transcendent to the Immanent, and at all points in between.

This range of application frees Integral theory from being categorised as just another grand Theory of Everything that neglects cultural variation or the personal world of the everyday. As a consequence, the full implications of Integral theory for all applied sciences become even more evident. While it seems that the development of an applied Integral studies is underway through the various branches of the Integral Institute, a more integrated theoretical and methodological basis is needed for this applied movement to flourish. This movement will not achieve its full potential if it falls into the segregated and quasi-mechanical methods of using the AQAL framework as described previously. An applied Integral science needs to be based on a consistent theoretical foundation for Integral principles to be fully utilised in these new fields. The perspective presented here means that any topic can be studied through using the entire range of AQAL principles to understand the evolutionary-involutionary dynamics of any holon or holonic system.

In contrast to the often dualistic understandings of the TOE presentation of the model, the AQAL framework can best display the intensely holistic nature of holarchic reality when it declares the four-fold nature of development inherent in the life of each and every holon. The four-fold nature that is a holon's Being-Action through Agency-Communion. From this perspective the mechanistic and dualistic applications of Integral theory can be avoided. Holons do not inhabit separate Quadrants because they each exhibit all the quadrants. The Four Quadrants of the grand TOE do not impose dualistic structures on an otherwise holistic Kosmos because the TOE/Four Quadrants map is itself a holon - the Kosmic Holon. Consequently, it is the result of the dynamic interpenetration of each of the Kosmic domains of Being/Action through Agency/Communion (this dynamic is described by what I call the Integral Cycle (Edwards, 2000; Slaughter, 2001). We see that each holon gives rise to the various developmental pathways that we can measure, interpret and experience, with the aid of the AQAL interpretive framework of consciousness (Being), behaviour (Action), individuality (Agency) and collectivity (Communion). In the following, I try to show how this new reading of the AQAL framework can bring a more holistic and coherent understanding of the relationship between holons, the dynamics of evolution and involution, and how they can be applied to the individual and collective domains of human experience and activity.

6. The AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon

To this point, in establishing the overall coherency and general validity of the theory, Wilber has concentrated on applying his framework at the Theory of Everything or Kosmic level of focus. Consequently, the well known version of the Four-Quadrants diagram is actually a meta-view of the Kosmic Holarchy/Holon. As such, the Consciousness Quadrant is a meta-map of the One as Kosmic Being, the behavioural Quadrant is a meta-map of the One as Kosmic Action, the Cultural Quadrant is a meta-map of the Many as Kosmic Worldview, and the Social Quadrant is a meta-map of the Many as Kosmic History. This point has already been made in the left hand section of Figure 3. Figure 4 is also an attempt to show how the TOE use of AQAL is really just another application of holonic principles only from a Kosmic Holon focus. The figure shows the ever-expanding set of Evolutionary/Involutionary phases as an attempt to situate all relative truth.

The true genius of Wilber's AQAL framework is that it gives, i) a holistic interpenetration of subjective, objective, unitary and communal aspects of evolution/involution for each entity in the Kosmos and, ii) that the mutual interpenetration of these developmental pathways can be considered at any level of scope, from the sub-atomic level, to the meso-level of human affairs to the meta-level of the Kosmic Holon. Of course, the Kosmic point of focus appeals to our evolutionary and teleological interest in trying to identify the goal and direction of Kosmic development. But this obsession with the Big Picture should not be pursued to the exclusion of the Little-Picture concerns of common, everyday holons. In fact, I believe that in focusing the AQAL framework down to the local level of ordinary holons we will really start to see the applied relevance of the model for understanding the truly integral nature of our world.

7. The AQAL view of any Holon

In pointing out the nested holonic nature of things and processes, the AQAL model does not leave us directionless in an ethereal void of endlessly sliding contexts. It also incorporates a number of well-grounded theoretical principles and developmental logics which provide guidelines for the interpretation of change and transformation at any holonic reference point. Consequently, the AQAL framework provides coherency and interpretability to the local-level of holonic activity and to the very human scale of everyday life events and occurrences.

In turning the AQAL focus from Everything to Anything we can see that any holon enjoys a subjective, a behavioural, and a collective pattern of participation with all other holons. The following diagram shows a single, ordinary holon from the local-level focus of the AQAL framework. At this more intimate focal point, the four faces of reality are more easily seen as mutual dimensions of the existence of all holons. Naturally the particular profile of basic, surface or transitional structures of common holons can vary in an infinite number of ways. The central point is that its core developmental nature can be better represented and interpreted through a local application of the AQAL schema rather than placing it within some area on the Big Picture/TOE map of the Four Quadrants diagram.

At the local-level focus the intimate interplay of all developmental quadrants, structures and drives is manifested in every holon. This application of the AQAL model is not merely a consideration of the influence of one quadrant on another, for example, of collective forces on individual members, or of interior intentions on exterior behaviours. When the AQAL framework is applied at the local level we really begin to get a flavour of the intimate interpenetration and presence of the many in the one, of the one in the many, of action in being, and of intention in activity. There is a flow between the quadrants that is fundamentally holistic and interpenetrative. This mutual interpenetration is seen at all ontological levels, for example, in phenomena like the wave/particle nature of light, the interdependence of organism and ecosystem, the complete mutuality of thought and behaviour, the interdependence of emotion and physiology, the complementarity of cellular genetics and corporal form, and the holistic connections between individual speech and cultural language. In all these instances the collective not only influences the individual but actually informs and interpenetrates its identity and structure. The exterior mutually arises with, in and through the interior and is not merely correlative with it, and vice versa.

Wilber talks about the coevolution of quadrant structures and in this sense each quadrant is fully present in each holon. Wilber says, "the 'unit' of evolution is not an isolated holon (individual molecule or plant or animal) but a holon plus its inseparable environment". Apart from the standard systems theory meaning of this statement Wilber is also pointing to the inseparable presence of the one/many and the inner/outer in all holons. In this way the Four Quadrants structure of Kosmic evolution/involution is fully present in the local activity and being of any holon. At the level of spirituality this principle moves to the front and centre of life's activity. In the words of Dogen Zenji,

"The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water ... The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its durations manifests that vastness of the dewdrop, and realises the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky."

8. Through AQAL Eyes - The AQAL model as an interpretive lens

Ken Wilber developed the Four Quadrants structure through a type of informal factor analysis that simplified the bewildering complexity of developmental data into the two central dimensions of the subjective-objective and the individual-collective. He placed these dimensions in orthogonal relation and combined them with his previously developed spectrum model of developmental levels and lines and developmental dynamics to derive his famous AQAL model. This model, far from being based on abstract theories and speculative ideas, is actually very empirical in its derivation. It lets the developmental facts speak for themselves in a way that can be logically interpreted and understood. The model is based on an enormous amount of empirical evidence (in the broadest sense of that term) and it acts as an interpretive filter through which developmental complexities can be untangled and translated into an explanatory system of great discriminative power and sensitivity.

Taken as a whole the model seems very graphical and oriented around certain dimensional structures that lend themselves to being reified into a type of spatial representation of development. I have pointed out, however, that the AQAL model might more accurately be regarded as an interpretive schema or an analytical lens which can be freely and flexibility focused at any point in the Holarchy - from its upper range at the Kosmic scale of the meta-holon of universality or, all the way down to its bottom range of sub-atomic holons. With this adjustable holoscope the intricacies and ambiguities of any holon can be investigated. When seen as an interpretive holoscope the great flexibility and adaptability of the AQAL model comes to the fore and it's real benefit as a Theory for Anything can be appreciated. The following diagrams show this interpretive lens analogue of the AQAL model, i.e. through AQAL eyes, in contrast to the Kosmic map analogue that is often used.

Highlighting the interpretive flexibility of the Four Quadrants model draws out the arbitrary nature of the boundaries of the holonic systems that Integral theory projects onto, and draws out of, fundamental reality. To quote Wilber once more, "This is not to say that the world is the product of our imaginations ... only that our boundaries are". These imaginative 'products' result from both personal and cultural factors. The AQAL lens, as a synthesis of an immense amount of personal, social and cultural knowledge, provides us with a very powerful interpretive tool to understand reality. The image of the AQAL model as a holoscopic lens helps us to move away from a segmented and categorical view of holonic reality. Through the AQAL lens we see the interpenetration of the various domains of developmental life in each holonic experience and activity. The four faces of experience, activity, meaning, and communion are built into the heart of our developmental journey. And it is the interpretive power of the AQAL lens that enables Integral theory to create this inherently holistic yet wonderfully differentiated perspective on reality.

In a following sections I will take a more systematic look at the relative application of the AQAL "holoscope" and see how this can help with the understanding and analysis of various topics. As I have said, Wilber and his colleagues have already begun this process with some aspects of the AQAL model being applied to the world of business studies, education, health and so on. But Integral studies has not, to this point, brought its full range of holistic principles to these areas. Before elaborating on this issue, however, there are a few points I would like to make about the full integration of the holon construct into the AQAL framework.

9. The Integral Holon

To this point in the debate over what holons actually are, it has been assumed that there is a basic difference between the Four Quadrants of the TOE application of the AQAL model and the four quadrants of any holon. The foregoing discussion should make it clear by now that I see the difference between the TOE Four Quadrants and the four faces of any holon as being simply a matter of scale, and of deciding where to draw holonic and holarchic boundaries. To put it more simply, I propose that the principles that define the characteristic boundaries of the Four Quadrants, and of the AQAL framework in general, are exactly the same as those that identify any holon. This means that the holon construct, their context of a particular holarchic series, and the AQAL framework in its TOE/Kosmic Quadrants format are brought into full integration. A holon is the result of our deliberate application of Integral theory to any reference point in any valid holarchy. This Integral Holon gives us theoretical purchase on the great mysteries of an evolving/involving Kosmos. From the reality of the subatomic world, to that of everyday life, to that of the ultimate potential of humankind, the AQAL analytical lens can be shifted and focused to reshape our understanding of the world and to help us imagine new futures. Holons are the analytical 'units' out of which that Integral endeavour can be pursued.

This is the reason why there is such similarity between the characteristics and qualities of every holon, i.e. Wilber's "twenty tenets", and the various principles that define the AQAL model itself. These similarities are not coincidental. Both describe the patterns that are characteristic of every holon. And so each holon will be characterised by its particular manifestation of AQAL quadrants, transformative levels, transitional lines, realms, states, and be motivated by the compendium of Integral developmental dynamics and drives. And the basic tenets that apply to any holon will reflect this correspondence. The following table sets out these comparisons and clearly shows that all holons are characterised by the principles of the AQAL model and that the twenty tenets are simply localised versions of AQAL's general principles.

Table 2 : Concordances between the "twenty tenets" of holonic qualities
and the main principles of the AQAL model at the TOE level of application
The basic qualities of all holons
(from the 20 tenets)
Corresponding principles from the TOE perspective of the AQAL model
Tenet 1: Reality can be seen in terms of an endless series of holonic relations The TOE model is a model of Holarchies - an "ever-expanding, no-upper-limit, no lower limit" whole/part view of the Kosmos.
Tenet 2a: Holons have agency, individuality, deep autonomy. This is the Individual pole of the Individual-Collective developmental dimension - the Individual Quadrants
Tenet 2b: Holons have communality, mutuality, and collective relationships This is the Collective pole of the Individual-Collective developmental dimension - the Collective Quadrants
* Holons have subjectivity, intentionality, and interiority This is the Consciousness pole of the Subject-Object developmental dimension - the Interior Quadrants
* Holons have objectivity, extension, exteriority This is the Behavioural pole of the Subject-Object developmental dimension - the Exterior Quadrants
Tenet 2c: Holons have a capacity for self-transcendence, and active transformation into greater wholes This is the Ascending Movement of Kosmic Evolution - the evolutionary developmental pathway of each Quadrant - the Eros drive
Tenet 2d: Holons have a capacity for self-immanence, and the active integration of its parts This is the Descending Movement of Kosmic Involution - the involutionary integrative pathway of each Quadrant - the Agape drive
Tenet 3: Holons emerge creatively and indeterminately This is the creative, ever-expanding, unpredictable and emergent quality of Kosmic evolution
Tenet 4: Holons emerge holarchically, i.e. through dynamics between hierarchy and heterarchy The Integral TOE model is the meta-map of the emergent hierarchic and heterarchic structures of the Kosmos
Tenet 5: Each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessors The TOE model represents the nested inclusion of all developmental levels within the open-ended Kosmic Holon
Tenet 8: Each successive holon level within a holarchy produces greater depth and less span The TOE version of the Four Quadrants represent holonic span (or frequency) within unending levels of evolutionary depth.
Tent 10: Holarchies coevolve - the inner & outer, agency & communal aspects of holons evolve together The Four Quadrants are the Kosmic dimensions of coevolution - Consciousness, Behaviour, Individuality, and Collectivity evolve in mutual conjunction.
Tenet 12: Evolution has inherent directionality The Four Quadrants show the navigational pathways of Kosmic evolution/involution
Tenet 12a: Evolution displays increasing complexity The later the evolutionary/involutionary phase the more complex the AQAL structure of Quadrants, Levels, Lines

* For some reason Wilber omits mention in his twenty tenets that holons have subjectivity and objectivity (or intention and extension), however, he does refer to these as fundamental characteristics of holons many times elsewhere. For example, "The brain is the outside, the mind is the inside - and ... a similar type of exterior/interior holds for every holon in evolution" (emphasis in the original, Wilber, 1995, p.108). (See also his discussion of intersubjectivity and of Whitehead's "prehension" concept on the Shambhala website).

Given the fact that both the AQAL Kosmic Holon and ordinary, common holons are both essentially 'holons', it should be expected that strong parallels exist between the AQAL principles of the Kosmic TOE and the twenty tenets of common holons. Every holon can be described through the characteristics of quadrants, levels, lines and the various Integral dynamics of emergence, non-equivalent inclusion, span/depth and transformation/translation. The only difference is that we usually think of common holons at the local level of reality and of the Four Quadrants at the Kosmic level of reality. Despite this difference in scale, however, Integral theory's methodology for describing and investigating holons will be exactly the same across all levels of holons, from the common to the Kosmic and from the most fundamental to the most significant.

10. Boundaries, Holarchies and Holons

Having proposed that the identification of holonic boundaries is an arbitrary process, and that there is no objective typology of holons, I want to now consider the means by which that arbitration takes place. Put simply, the drawing of holonic boundaries is itself the result of the balancing of the Four Quadrants. Boundaries are identified through the balancing of imagination, behavioural learning, cultural interpretations and social evaluations. At the risk of a setting off an infinitely regressive tautology, the holonic boundaries that we draw around phenomena are themselves the result of our particular aesthetic, functional, cultural and scientific interests. I have called this process elsewhere the Integral Cycle of knowledge (Edwards, 2000 also on Frank Visser's site). This means that, while holonic boundaries will always be arbitrary, they will always be arbitrated within a context of holarchic development. Integral theory proposes that reality makes the most sense when it is seen as holarchic and it is our Integral vision of that reality that produces holons.

There are no independent holonic categories which are separate from our imaginative creation and objective validation of such points of reference. As I tried to show in "Through AQAL Eyes, Part 1." The Wilber-Kofman theory of holons is completely misleading in this regard. Because the realities of truth, fact, and knowledge will always be evolving and transforming in an infinite number of ways, then the holonic series that we create will also be endless. There are such things as social, individual, and cognitive holons but these are not fundamental categories, they are simply the types of holons that are present in collective, individual, cognitive, holarchies. There are an infinite number of possible holarchies and of types of holons that belong to those evolutionary series. The validation of these series will depend, not on the categorical definition of holons, but on the application of the twenty holonic tenets. Individual holons can be excluded from collective holarchies, not because they inherently belong to a separate holonic category from social holons, but because they don't meet the criteria required to fit into a social holarchy.

As Wilber and others have pointed out, everywhere we look in Nature we can see, recognise and study systems of holarchies. There are holarchies that are concerned with social groups, mathematical propositions, personal identity, brain structure, life span development, musical sensibility, language capacity, sentence structure, technological invention, material complexity, artistic vision, chemical structure, environmental health, intellectual ability, cultural sustainability, problem solving, aesthetic appeal, spatial size, temporal relations, interpersonal skill, affective capacity, visual-spatial knowledge, environmental integration, functional utility, spiritual experience, athletic skill and creative potential. The holons that provide the reference points within these holarchies can be named according to the type of holarchy that is being experienced or studied or engaged with. Hence holons in the personal identity holarchy might be called self-identity holons, those in the athletic skill holarchy might be called athletic dexterity holons, those in the sentence structure holarchy might be called syntax holons, and so on. So it is the infinite variety of holarchies that define how we draw holonic boundaries. And because there are an infinite number of holarchies in the Kosmos there will be an infinite number of varieties of holonic relations. It is the context of the holarchic series that gives holons their particular categorical identity as validated via the principles of Integral theory. Hence there is no need to try to define categories of holons to ensure the validity of a particular holarchy.

Not only Wilber and Kofman but several other courageous souls have attempted to clarify the fundamental nature of holons from an Integral perspective (Goddard, 2001; Smith, 2001; Eddy, 2001). My position is that all these approaches are based on the false separation of the four-fold nature of holonic structure from the structure of the AQAL/Four Quadrants model itself (Smith's position is different in that he proposes a one-scale model of Everything, but he still holds to a holonic typology of sorts). This artificial delineation results in the proposition of objective categories of holons. In arguing for these definitive categories the arbitrary nature of holonic boundaries is overlooked. This results in an overly static and segregated view of holons and how they fit into the whole AQAL framework.

Wilber has recognised the "somewhat arbitrary" nature of drawing firm boundaries between individual and social holons, for example. He says that (Wilber, 1995, p. 64),

"The distinction between an individual holon and its social holon (environment) is not as easy to draw as it may first appear, ... because it is almost impossible to define what we mean by individual in the first place".

He refers here to the Integral principle that all holons have both agentic (individual) and communative (collective) facets and so sorting out holons into their respective holarchies is not always a straightforward process. As both Wilber and Kofman point out, the key consideration is that holons from different holarchies are not mixed up in that same holarchic scale. The typical example of this mixing of holons is the series:- molecule, cell, tissue, organism, ecosystem, biosphere, universe. This invalid holarchy mixes holons from various holarchies to produce a holarchic series that confuses such things as physical size with holarchic embrace and developmental depth with collective inclusion. As Wilber points out, such confusions are very common in discussions of hierarchy and development. But rather than proposing separate categories of holons to ensure that holarchies are not mixed, I maintain that holarchies can be validated simply through applying the criteria of the basic "twenty tenets" of Integral holon theory. Wilber has outlined these in terms of the basic "laws" of holons and they can easily be restated in terms of criteria for verifying the validity of holarchies (Wilber, 1995, p.55). Some examples of these reformulated criteria follow:

A valid holarchy must:

  1. be based on a series of holonic relations that is consistent with Integral developmental logics
  2. conform to the logics contained within the AQAL principles and the holonic laws (the twenty tenets);
  3. consist of qualitative levels that are defined through the properties of qualitative emergence, non-equivalent inclusion, and chronological indicators;
  4. always follow the Integral principle of holarchic embrace, i.e. that higher holons in the series must always include and integrate lower ones;
  5. will always display the AQAL principles of (at least) four evolutionary domains, qualitative levels (as defined above), developmental lines, states, and developmental dynamics of ascent/descent, creative emergence, transformation translation, etc.

Such restating of the AQAL principles/twenty tenets in terms of holarchies will provide validating tools for verifying holarchies. There is no need to propose strict categories of individual, social, sentient and insentient holons to ensure that invalid series like - atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, ecosystem, biosphere - are identified. Such holarchic series can be identified as invalid simply through the testing of the AQAL principles and the holonic laws. The series described above fails several of the tenets concerning span, depth, emergent properties, and holarchical embrace. Hence, there is no need to safeguard the veracity of holarchic relations by proposing categories of holons. We can do so much more systematically by applying the basic principles of Integral theory to the particular holarchic series with which we are concerned. This is how we overcome the dangers raised by Wilber and Kofman on mixing individual and social holarchies, or collective holarchies and heaps, or whatever. The answer to such issues already lies within the basic principles of Integral theory's criteria for holarchic development which are all based on the principles of the quadrants, developmental levels, lines, developmental drives, etc (see "Through AQAL Eyes, Part 1").

11. The Integral Cycle of every Holon

A holon, or holarchic system, is what we see when we look at reality through AQAL eyes, through the interpretive lense of Integral theory. If we investigate phenomena from an Integral perspective it will be in terms of the basic AQAL principles of quadrants, levels, lines, and the holonic dynamics of the twenty tenets. We see that a holon develops simultaneously through all quadrants and the inner and the outer and the one and the many tetra-evolve in an intimate cycle of mutual interpenetration. The developmental activity of the quadrants of a holon is not merely co-relational or interactive, it is co-creative and mutually generative. The Integral Cycle drives this mutuality of the four quadrants as they exist in the life of each and every holon. However, in the TOE version of the Four Quadrants this dynamic interplay is not so easily recognised.

The reification of the TOE/Four Quadrants presentation of Integral theory has objectified the axes of interior-exterior and individual-communal into distinct boundaries that separate the Kosmos into the four domains of reality. This is, in part, due to the divorcing of the TOE/Four Quadrants map from its holonic base. By reframing our view of the TOE/Four Quadrants and seeing it as just another holon, albeit the special case of the Kosmic Holon, we can gain a greater appreciation of the dynamic interpenetration of the inner/outer and individual/communal aspects which occurs at each level of development for each and every holon. A holon brings these dimensions together in as a unified field of dynamic interdependence.

The interplay of these dimensions operates through the particular levels of development that are being considered. For example, if our interest is in investigating electromagnetic energy, we can regard that energy in its individual form, as a photon, or in its communal form, as a wave/frequency, in its subjective form, as Einstein did with his thought experiments, or in its objective form, with Michelson's measuring of the speed of light. If our interest is biological we can look at an individual animal or plant in its individual form as an individual organism, in its communal form in the ecosystem, in its subjective form as an instinctive or prehensive organism, or in its objective form, as a behavioural or physical entity. In the spiritual realms we can look at the transpersonal levels in terms of both subjective experience and behavioural patterns in both their individual and communal forms. These views are all intimately connected and must all be taken on to achieve even a basic understanding of the particular subject of interest. Bringing the focus onto the specific dynamics and structures that characterise a holon stops us from seeing the Quadrants as divided by static lines of demarcation rather than as interpenetrating and complementary dimensions of life.

Wilber has made the point clearly that the elements that co-exist on the same ontological level interpenetrate each other, mirror each other, and co-create each other in a very intimate process.

...all the elements of a given level are ... mutually interpenetrating in fact. All in one and one in all - holographically as it were. This mutual interconnectivity of the elements of any single level is one-dimensional interpenetration with equivalence (Eye to Eye, pg.133)

I maintain that Wilber's view of mutuality for the one-many or individual-collective dimension is true for the equivalent levels of all four quadrants of any holon. So this 'mutual interconnectivity' within particular ontological levels (the "one-dimensional") occurs across the behavioural, the experiential, the cultural and social quadrants of each and every holon. The quadrants are a way of showing the dynamic relationships between evolutionary domains that each holon is subject to. The following diagram might make this clearer (its based on a similar one from my 'Integral Cycle' essay on this website).

I have proposed that the dimensions of the Four Quadrants/TOE are exactly equivalent to the dimensions that generate the four quadrants of any holon. In saying this, means that there is an issue of terminology (and perspective) that must be dealt with. Gerry Goddard (2001) in his writings on holon theory and the Four Quadrants has very perceptively identified a key problem in the relationship between the inner-outer dimension and the individual-collective dimension. I believe that my proposal for fully integrating Integral theory's AQAL framework with the holon construct overcomes the problems that Goddard has pointed out. This is done as follows.

In Integral theory the Four Quadrants of the Kosmos arise from the interplay of the interior-exterior dimension and the individual-collective dimension. Crossing these dimensions results in the well-known Four Quadrants of Consciousness, Behaviour, Culture and Society. But are these labels also applicable to the Integral axiom that, "All holons have four quadrants" (Wilber, 1999, p.53). In the case of holons, their four quadrants arise because of the same interplay of developmental dimensions. However, in holon theory these dimensions have, to this point, been given a slightly different nomenclature. There is no problem with the interior-exterior dimension but the corresponding holonic equivalent to the individual-collective dimension is usually known as the 'agency-communion' dimension. So the question is, how does the common holon dimension of agency-communion relate to the TOE/Four Quadrant's description of the equivalent dimension as 'individual-collective'.

The discussion by Gerry Goddard on the different types of relationship between the two poles of the inner-outer and individual-collective dimensions is highly relevant here. Goddard has pointed out in several papers that the Left/Right dimension of interiority-exteriority relates to the complementary poles of a single holon, while the Upper/Lower dimension of the individual-collective relates to two different holonic 'types'. He believes that this needs to be resolved and develops his own proposal for doing so. As he puts it, "the agentic-communal polarity needs to be more satisfactorily integrated into the model". He believes that the various poles of the agency-communion dimension and the individual-collective dimension are logically different relations and so cannot be equated with each other.

I agree with Goddard that these technical, but important, points have not been satisfactorily handled to date. Goddard's solution to these questions is to separate out all the different types of dimensions and build up a more complex relational model that he feels is fully in accord with Wilber's basic propositions. From my point of view the full integration of holon theory with the AQAL framework makes the solution to these issues very straight forward. The agency-communion relation is the core holonic drive that stresses the mutuality of individual and communal identity. It is this relation that is the most relevant to describing the dynamic interpenetration of the Many and the One that is present in each holon. The contrasting of an 'individual' against a 'collective' does not capture this dynamic either in terms of its internal logic or in terms of its ability to accurately describe the degree to which the poles of this dimension permeate each other. The agency-communion terminology does have both the descriptive power and the logical consistency to capture these dynamics. My approach is, therefore, to adopt the holonic nomenclature (and corresponding change in focus) of 'agency' and 'communion' in describing the dynamic structure of everyday common holons as well as the Big Picture Four Quadrants of the Kosmos (because it too is a holon). The terms 'individual' and 'collective' should, I believe, be reserved for describing the types of holarchies where we investigate the nested development of individuals and the nested development of collectives. The individual/collective comparison refers much more to relations between different holarchic series and only creates confusion when used to describe the connection between self-drive and communal-drive which is concerned with the specific qualities of a holon. The two developmental dimensions of inner-outer and agency-communion both refer to the polar dynamics of single holons and are logically related to each other. Together, these dimensions convey a much more intimate and interpenetrating relationship between the developmental quadrants of both the TOE/Kosmic Holon and the ordinary level of the common holon.

At several points in this paper I have argued against the adoption of holonic categories as a way of validating holarchic series. Consequently, I would argue against retaining the individual/collective labels as descriptive terms for basic holonic characteristics. I believe that the 'individual' and 'collective' terminology is not suitable for describing the mutual interpenetration of the Many and the One at any ontological level of any holon. In contrast, the 'agency-communion' dimension describes a relation that is mutually connected and complementary. Even the TOE presentation of the Four Quadrants should be seen in this light. The adoption of an agency-communion dimension in place of an individual-collective one conforms both the inner-outer and many-one dimensions to the holonic relationship that Goddard has perceptively identified. The dimensions that generate the four quadrants of any holon are then based on logically-related polarities. The individual-collective distinction is a misleading and inaccurate term to use when describing holonic dimensions because it confuses (yes, one might even say conflates) the inseparable mutualities of agency and communion, which refer to the life of a single holon, with the very different characteristics of individuality and collectivity, which refer to quite separate lines of holarchies. In summary, the agency-communion dimension refers to the mutual interpenetration of the One and the Many in each holon. So the holonic quadrants are the result of the interplay of the inner-outer and the agency-communion dimensions of development. In contrast, the individual-collective distinction does not describe a holonic dimension but two different types of holarchic series. The individual-collective term should be reserved to refer to separate holarchies (i.e., to distinct holarchic series that describe the development of individual entities or collective entities), and not to the drive dynamics of a single holon (whether that be common or Kosmic).

12. Applied Integral Dynamics

The idea that the whole set of AQAL principles and holonic tenets are present in each single holon has consequences for the way we investigate any aspect of reality from an Integral perspective. When Integral theorists/researchers rest their gaze on particular phenomenon and boundaries are drawn to communicate something about it, then the whole range of AQAL principles and holonic laws must be included as far as possible for that communication to be an Integral one. This branch of Integral theory might be called Integral Dynamics as it is based on the full integration of the principles of Integral structural theory with the basic dynamics of holonic/holarchic processes (i.e. the twenty tenets). The field of Applied Integral Dynamics opens up the possibility of a discipline or science that can be used to investigate any applied topic. For an analysis to be truly Integral it would require the consideration of:

1. Structural features: This primarily concerns the AQAL structural features of quadrants, levels, and lines. Hence an Integral analysis includes a consideration of:

  1. the dimensions of interior-exterior structures and agency-communion structures as they are expressed in the four quadrants
  2. all the developmental levels that a holon can pass through
  3. all the developmental lines that are salient to a particular holon

2. Internal Dynamics: The Internal dynamics of a holon come in two main varieties. Those that operate specifically within each quadrant and those that operate between quadrants.

  1. The within-quadrant drives and motivational dynamics include evolutionary forces expressed as a holon's self-transcendence, and involutionary forces expressed as a holon's self-immanence. These motivating drives are also known at the TOE/Kosmic level as the Ascending and Descending movements and as the Eros and Agape drives. At the Theory for Anything level they will manifest as developmental emergence and growth and as integrative stability and therapeutic healing.
  2. The between quadrant dynamics constitute the Integral Cycle of knowledge acquisition and development. The concept of an Integral Cycle is a way representing the mutual interpenetration of the quadrants and their constituent structures and the dynamic relationship that exists between the quadrant domains. The Integral Cycle can be considered to operate in any direction depending on the developmental issue under consideration.
  3. External Dynamics: The external dynamics of holons operate within what Wilber's refers to as cross-level analysis. When two or more holons encounter each other their individual structures and dynamics will interact in four basic ways. These are interactions that will support, maintain, or hinder, a) inner development, b) behavioural development, c) agentic development, d) relational development. The substance of these interactions will be filled out by the specific nature of the developmental levels and lines that will define the nature of the interactions. Clearly such interactions will be very complex and in many cases result in the emergence of unpredictable interactive features.

Analyses that do not include some consideration of all these elements of quadrants, levels, lines, internal and external dynamics will not be truly Integral. For example, it is possible to consider the development of a holon across all evolutionary quadrants and through all major levels of development but if the developmental lines of that holon are not considered the resulting analysis can completely lack the multidimensionality that is required for a truly Integral approach. In my view, Spiral Dynamics, even in its new SDi form, falls into this category. It still has not consciously incorporated the core feature of developmental lines. Hence its analytical tools of four quadrants and eight levels will not be sufficient to accurately describe any complex developmental phenomena. Ray Harris' recent analysis of the conflict between fundamentalist Islam and Western modernity is a good example of how to discuss a topic in terms of quadrants, levels, and also separate collective lines such as political, corporate, cultural, and religious lines of collective growth. SDi needs to do this in a much more deliberate and systematic way before it can truly lay claim to being an Integral approach to social development.


The foregoing has been an attempt to bring together in a coherent and logical manner the twin planks of Integral theory – it's AQAL framework and its holonic dynamics (the twenty tenets). The Wilber-Kofman model of holonic categories sets in concrete the dualistic division between holons and Quadrants and should be rejected as a way of describing the relationship between holons and AQAL. In contrast, I propose that the AQAL principles of Quadrants, Levels, Lines, and Involution-Involution, etc. are exactly equivalent to the basic tenets of holon theory and that they should not be falsely separated. This integration will allow a much more flexible and valid application of Integral theory.


Note 1: The AQAL model and the Four Quadrants - Throughout this easy the terms 'AQAL framework' or 'AQAL principles' and 'Four Quadrants' are used frequently. They generally have the same meaning as the usual Wilberian usage but there are some minor distinctions that should be pointed out. I use the term 'AQAL framework' as shorthand for the sum total of all the key propositions of Integral theory. These include the often mentioned All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States dimensions, but I also include in the AQAL term the All Dynamics principles of evolution and involution, ascent and descent, transformation and translation, etc. (see my essay on cultural evolution in ReVision Journal for a more detailed discussion of this issue). I use the term 'Four Quadrants' in its usual sense of the four specific domains of TOE/Kosmic evolution but also in the less common meaning of the four quadrants of any holon. The context will make it clear which meaning is relevant (in the TOE context the term is also always capitalised). I do not use the Four Quadrants term as an abbreviation for the full AQAL model. In this essay, I also propose that the AQAL framework, which is always presented in the Big Picture/TOE context, should be integrated with the Integral principles of holons (the twenty tenets) to form a consolidated Integral framework which might be seen as an Integral Theory for Anything. Hence, in later sections of the essay I refer to this larger consolidated set of integrated principles as the AQAL/twenty tenets framework. This AQAL/twenty tenets framework includes, i) all the structural principles of Quadrants, Levels, Lines; ii) all the developmental dynamics of evolution, involution, transformation and translation; and iii) all the holonic dynamics of the twenty tenets.

Note 2: The TOE as a representational map of the Kosmos - While some elements of the model, such as the All-levels and All Lines aspects, may be usefully thought of in terms of spatial-temporal terms, other elements, such as the All-Quadrants, can be misleading if used to spatially represent the relationship between different holons.

Note 3: The Kosmic holon and the common holon - I sometimes use the term common holon in contrast to the idea of a Kosmic Holon. I am not proposing that these are two different types of holons. I am simply pointing out that the famous Four Quadrants diagram is what we get when we apply the AQAL model to the Kosmos as a single Holon. The Kosmic Holon is the result of Integral theory's attempt to propose a Theory of Everything by drawing a holonic boundary line around the entire Kosmos of relative truth and understand it in terms of the AQAL model. The common holon is what we get when we apply the AQAL model at the normal everyday level of common holons. A common holon is the result of Integral theory's attempt to understand everyday life by drawing holonic boundaries around anything according to Integral principles of All Quadrants, All Levels, etc. In this sense the TOE presentation of Integral theory, via the Big Picture/Four Quadrants diagram, is actually a special case of, what might be called, a Theory for Anything. Integral theory, as a Theory of Everything is the application of the AQAL framework at the Kosmic level. Integral theory, as a Theory for Anything, is the application of the AQAL framework at Any level.

Note 4. This means that separate holons do not exist in separate quadrant spaces. All quadrants exist in full measure in each holon. To give an example, there are no personal thought holons which are separate from the cultural meaning of those holons which are separate from the behavioural/social expression of those holons. The personal thought, its meaning, and its material/physical expression are all completely, and without qualification, the same holonic event. The idea that a thought holon has a correlating but separate behavioural holon and a correlating but separate social holon is an artefact of mistaking the AQAL framework as a spatial-temporal model of reality. It is exactly this false separation of the subjective from the objective and the particulate from the communal that arises when the TOE application of the model is regarded as the only possible one. We do, of course, because of the inherent discriminative nature of language, use different words to describe the same holon when it appears in each of the quadrants but these descriptives do not mean that the holonic event itself is fragmentary. For example, we can use the term "thought" for the interior aspect of a holon. We can use the term "neurological activity" to refer to the exterior aspect of that same holon. We can use the terms "social meaning" or "cultural referent" to refer to the cultural aspect of that holon. We can use the term "social display or activity" to refer to the social aspect of that holonic event. But whatever terms are used, that single thought-meaning-action event is fundamentally one and inseparable holonic essence. This is why the integration of the AQAL model and the holon construct brings out so clearly the holistic as well as the analytical nature of the AQAL framework.

Note 5: Holonic boundaries as arbitrary lines - As in the first essay, I use the term arbitrary in the sense of an arbitrated decision or outcome. That is, a judgment that is made on the basis of all available evidence/circumstances (including subjective, objective, cultural, and social evidence) and which tries to accommodate all involved parties. The term "arbitrary" is not meant to suggest that holonic categories or boundaries are decided on a random or purely subjective basis. Boundary drawing is a process of human judgement that takes account of subjective, objective, intersubjective and inter-objective truths.

Note 6: Where to stop the Four Quadrants Diagram - Typically the Four Quadrants diagram shows the developmental pathways stopping at the existential/centauric/world-centric level of evolutionary growth. However, the point is that the diagram is intended to be open-ended and flowing out all the way to the farthest reaches of Kosmic Evolution. It is still an open-ended model of ever-more creative and embracing development within the All-Quadrants, All-Levels framework. The issue of when to stop the description of developmental levels is an arbitrary one, i.e. a judgement made on the circumstances. Remember that it a matter of holons "all the way up and all the way down" as far as human eyes and minds and their interpretive instruments can see and imagine.

Note 7: An Integral Approach to Unpacking the Macro and Micro Link: The prefix terms "micro" and "macro" are frequently used by Wilber and other social philosophers to refer to the contrast between individual/local levels of social analysis and larger collective/global levels of analysis. The debate over how these two poles of being relate to the issue of causation in the social realms has been a long and intense one. The whole history of the social sciences can be defined in terms of the stance taken by particular theorists on this question. This is known as the micro/macro problem and, to this point, there has been no resolution to these two very different levels of explanation for social phenomena. This topic is important and highly relevant to the present topic because the localised Theory for Anything application of the AQAL model must look at both the individual/collective dynamics as well as the object/subject dimensions that are present in each holon. Applying the AQAL model to social topics brings this issue of the individual and a collective nature of holons strongly into focus. In applying AQAL principles at the level of a holon it is not simply good enough to see its collective nature as a function of its membership to some group. According to Integral theory, the social nature of a holon means that the collective is, in some salient way, fully present in the very fibre of the holon itself. Under common usage of the terms, there is both a micro, or individual, nature as well as a macro, or collective, nature to each and every particular holon in the Kosmos. Let's look a bit more at what these distinctions might mean.

The micro/macro problem has been a matter of ongoing debate in mainstream social theory. As one social scientist has expressed it (Lam Vu, 1998), "It would not be exaggerated to say that the central problem of social theorising lies in ... variants of an overall micro-macro problem". I believe the AQAL model, in its more flexible guise as a Theory for Anything, offers a new perspective on this micro/macro problem and in the following I want to show how its interpretive capacity can shed some light on the sociological relationships between the one and the many, the part and the whole and the small and the large.

Wilber, following standard sociological convention, uses the terms "micro" and "macro" synonymously with the domain labels of "individual" and "social" respectively. For example, when Wilber states his eleventh holonic tenet as, "The micro is in relational exchange with the macro at all levels of its depth". He means that every individual holon is in relational exchange with its "social (or macro-) environment" at all developmental levels that it identifies with and/or includes. I want to make it clear that I do not use these terms synonymously and that I draw a strong distinction between the individual and the micro, and between the social and the macro. I use the term macro to refer to those aspects of holons that are about the "whole" while my use of micro is restricted to those aspects of holons that are about the "parts" of that whole. The macro view investigates holistic, emergent processes and qualities at the level of the holon itself in all quadrants. The micro view, in contrast, investigates the elemental, component parts of that holon, again in all quadrants. For example, a macro view of the human person may look at how personal identity develops, transforms and is maintained through the lifespan, while a micro view of that holonic process will want to investigate how certain psychopathologies are related to certain developmental sub-phases. The key point here is that both micro and macro levels of analysis can be carried out for any holon in any quadrant at any level or line of development.

An Integral use of the micro/macro terms will not see them as referring to particular levels in the Holarchy or to various Quadrants but to the types of perspectives and methodologies that are used to investigate the "part" aspect of part/wholes (holons) in contrast to the "whole" aspects of part/wholes (holons). To give another example, an Integral macro-level analysis of the human person would focus on the evolutionary, transformational, emergent characteristics of developmental life while an Integral micro-level analysis would focus on the involutionary, particular, submergent characteristics of developmental life. Each of these analyses would include intentional, behavioural, cultural and social examinations and sources of data.

This differentiation is an attempt to clarify the relationship between individual and social dynamics when using the holonic concepts of Integral theory. The issue of representing relations between the individual and the social has a long history in sociological circles. As one writer on modelling social dynamics has noted (Gilbert, 1996, p.2), "The relationships between micro and macro properties ... has exercised sociologists since the foundation of the discipline". The currently dominant way of dealing with difficulties in explaining the individual-social nexus in development is the interactionist approach (also known as the dynamic feedback model). These interactionist models are proposed so that causal explanations for human events aren't merely stated in either individualist or collectivist terms. The following quote from Gilbert (1996) summarises the interactionist model.

"In systems in which there is emergent behaviour, it is convenient to think of the emergent properties of the system as influencing the actions of the agents. Thus not only do the agent's actions at the micro level, when aggregated and observed at the macro level, constitute the emergent behaviour, but also the macro emergent behaviour can be said to influence the micro actions of the agents in a form of feedback" (Gilbert, 1996, p.6)

To my mind this interactionist or feedback explanatory approach has always been a rather inadequate compromise. While it to some extent evades the cruder types of individualist or collectivist reductionism, it is still essentially a dualistic and mechanistic method of conceiving complex developmental processes. I believe that Integral theory has the potential to overcome these problems through a much more intimate and dynamic connection of the individual and the social as well as the inner and the outer. In particular, the AQAL framework can bring a powerful sense of immediacy (that Wilber refers to as co- or tetra-evolution) to this holistic relationship. In bringing AQAL concepts into this issue, it is important that the terms micro- and macro- are unhooked from the individual-collective nexus. Alexander and Giesen (1987, p.1), in the seminal work on this topic, conclude that, "all attempts to link [the micro-macro split] to concrete dichotomies - such as "individual versus society" or "action versus order' are fundamentally misplaced." Unhooking the micro/macro terms from the individual/collective focus of analysis allows us to see the intimate presence of collective dynamics in the individual sphere and individual processes in the social sphere. We can then see that the micro includes both individual and collective processes as does the macro.

In a paper called, "To Unpack Micro and Macro: Link Small with Large and Part with Whole" Gerstein (1987) makes the point that, while their use in social science theory is very prominent, the concepts of micro- and macro- "have not been systematically analysed". In bringing some theoretical clarity to this problem Gerstein makes two key points that are of interest to the present discussion. These are, i) that the micro/macro distinction runs perpendicular to both the qualitative-qualitative distinction [Wilber's Interior-Exterior dimension] and the individual-collective or few-many distinction [Wilber's Individual-Collective dimension], and "by this standard, the individual person, household or firm cannot be treated as intrinsically micro or the society, nation or economy as unalterably macro"; and, ii) that macro-analysis should always be related to the study of wholes while microanalysis should always be related to the study of parts. Gerstein states that the macro attempts to explain the "scope and movement of general equilibria as a function of the major aggregate components of a [whole]" while the micro analyses the subunits or typical parts of that whole. These clarifications have direct relevance to the application of the AQAL model to the analysis of holons. The first important implications is that, because the micro-macro distinction is not related to developmental depth or spatial-numerical size, the investigation of any holon (or developmental whole), must include individual-collective as well as interior-exterior dynamics. Second, because the macro is about the whole and the micro is about the part, both macro-analysis and microanalysis can occur at any developmental level in the holarchy because part/holons go all the way up and part/holons go all the way down.

Bearing these clarifications in mind, I propose that an Integral use of the term "macro-" would refer to the analysis which focuses on the whole and undivided status and movement of a holon within the context of the AQAL/twenty tenets framework. In macro-analysis the purpose is to understand the scope and development of a holon as a function of the major aggregate structures and processes of the AQAL model. Complementing this, an Integral use of the term "micro-" would refer to the analysis of the constituent and subordinate processes and structures which characterises a specific holon. Integral macro-analysis must always involve all four quadrants because . Microanalysis within an Integral methodology is never reductionist because it always operates within a supplementary macroscopic and therefore holistic context. Macro-analysis within an Integral methodology is never elevationist because it recognises that a holon is always part of some larger context. From this perspective, the full explanatory power of the AQAL model can be brought to the specific macro and micro functioning of any holon or holonic dynamic. In bringing macroscopic and microscopic methodologies to the study of any phenomenon the experiential, behavioural, cultural and social dynamics of every holon can be investigated.

Note 8. In all of this it is important not to confuse holonic boundaries with skin or surface boundaries. A single holon can be made up from multiple entities but it will always have the basic holonic qualities of individuality and communality, subjectivity and behaviour, involution/evolution, partness/wholeness, etc.


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Davies, P. & Gribble, J. (1992) The matter myth: Dramatic discoveries that challenge our understanding of physical reality. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Edwards, M.G. (2000) the Integral cycle of knowledge and learning

Geertz, C. (1993) The interpretation of cultures. London: Fontana press.

Gilbert, G.N. (1996) Holism, individualism and emergent properties: An approach from the perspective of simulation. In, "Modelling and Simulation in the Social Sciences from the Philosophy of Science point of view", Ed. R. Hegselmann, U. Mueller and K.G. Toitsch, pg.1-13.

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Wilber, K. (2001) A response to Habermas and Weis: On post-metaphysical spirituality

Wilber, K. (2002) Sidebar E: The genius Descartes gets a postmodern drubbing

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