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

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Marty Keller is a native of the Detroit area. Graduated from the University of Michigan in 1973 where along with everybody else he fell in love with socialism, and has had at least ten different careers and political journeys since then. Came to California in 1983 and completed Masters Degree in Consciousness Studies at JFK University in 2004. He has always had a compelling interest in our political system, with a special devotion to the example of Abraham Lincoln as the quintessential American statesman. Recently completed 12 years of state government service, and 14 years in the Unity movement; now works to support disabled veteran business owners. He started writing commentary on Wilberian ideas with the WilberBlog in Jordan Gruber's now-defunct web site; has been posting desultorily on AQALBlog for the past eight years. Regularly unwelcome at Boulder-centric events.


Reposted from with permission of the author.

What Is ‘Integral’?

Marty Keller

I find no compelling evidence that any increasing numbers of us are making the leap, Wilberian and other assertions notwithstanding.

Over the course of the past two years I have begun paddling to more islands in the integral archipelago. It started with conversations with Jeff Salzman at the Integral Institute’s Daily Evolver, morphed into a year-long dialogue with Layman Pascal on integral politics on the Institute’s web site, went on to a reconnection with my old Log Cabin colleague Rich Tafel, now a senior fellow at Steve McIntosh’s Institute for Cultural Evolution, and finally leading to a handful of Facebook pages dedicated to various integral expressions.

I have been highly critical of a lot of stuff that I have read in many of these encounters, much of it based on my sense that there is a lack of intellectual and spiritual rigor in so much of what we are moved to say and communicate. Now I don’t like being critical—and I choose to notice the arrogance that much of my response seems to come from—mostly because I fancy myself a lover not a fighter. Still, something within compels me to keep diving ever deeper into this transpersonal realm, and to share what I discover with other inhabitants of the archipelago.

One source of discord might be a disagreement on exactly what “integral” is. If we all mean slightly different things, then we fail to have a useful dialogue if at the same time we assume that we have a common meaning for the word. We simply talk past one another and, if we’re not careful, assume something’s wrong with that other guy who just won’t get what I’m saying when in fact he’s thinking something slightly different.

The main sources of divergence seem to be from various Wilberians and Gravesians seeking to interpret Wilber's and Graves' work. It’s too bad Wilber went whole hog into Spiral Dynamics and then abruptly pulled back and recast the color scheme. Further complicating the picture was Don Beck’s development of Spiral Dynamics Integral and the break with Christopher Cowan. Also, since Spiral Dynamics concentrates on the vMemes, or the values line of development, it is not strictly speaking an integral model, which of course Beck sought to address with SDi.

Further aggravating the situation is the complication offered by the various iterations of Wilber’s map-making, of which at least five have been identified by Wilber. From Sex, Ecology, Spirituality through Integral Psychology, Wilber has offered slightly differing versions of the stages of the spectrum of consciousness, aka the Spiral. It was his adoption of Graves’ notion of “the momentous leap” from the personal to the transpersonal waves that introduced much of the variance of understanding among the integralites of what exactly lay on the far side of the leap.

Indeed, he originally adopted the term “integral” from Jean Gebser’s classifications of the waves of collective consciousness extensively chronicled in The Ever Present Origin. Gebser called the inchoate transrational emergence he detected back in the 1930s the “integral/aperspectival” wave. By that he meant that, contra the rational (orange) individuation stage which was characterized by the development of inner space that permitted self-reflection (individual self-conceptualization) and thus recognition of perspective itself, the awareness of perspective-taking as an activity of being was now arising among humans.

The final challenge to a consensus view of “the integral” is the scarcity of actual reporting from the other side of that Jordan River by our contemporaries. Indeed, plenty of reportage is available from mythic sources, going all the way back to the Vedas, but from people alive today I don’t find much. (I’m probably just not hanging out with the right people.) But that is unsurprising; I find no compelling evidence that any increasing numbers of us are making the leap, Wilberian and other assertions notwithstanding.

Second Tier = Transpersonal

So in the attempt to connect the integral dots, this is how I think of and work with “integral”:

  1. Integral awareness is a characteristic of the first waves of second tier, transpersonal consciousness. “Transpersonal” is a better word than “integral,” which in current usage invariably refers to the cognitive line of development and not to the center of gravity in teal (yellow in Gravesian nomenclature).
  2. The leap to second tier is momentous because the disidentification with my personal self-conception has no precedent in human history and thus has no reference points for communication of the experience. While it is analogous to the radical shift of identity from my tribe to my individual bodymind, at the same time it lifts identity out of a specific and limited locus into the realm of the transconceptual collective, freeing us from the self-contraction of “me” into the amorphous and expansive space of “us.”
  3. Since there is no collective brain, so too there is no collective thought or conceptualization. Thus the transpersonal is also transmental; how we “know” in second tier includes but transcends mental knowing. Some other mechanism exists in the lower quadrants that facilitates collective awareness, such that the collective (e.g., humanity) has a means of self awareness as a collective unity as opposed to as a collection of individuals.
  4. Thus second tier awareness is not fully accessible by first tier means. Neither emotion nor mentation are adequate to expression of aperspectival awareness; they are necessary but not sufficient.
  5. In first tier we have access to instances (peak experiences?) of second tier awareness in experiences ranging from the gross madness of the mob to the subtle mysteries of intuition and inspiration. But, as Wilber notes, we perforce interpret these experiences via our first tier perspectives. We cannot fully name these until we live in/from second tier.
  6. The “aperspectival” nature of second tier awareness is not recognition of multiple perspectives; that is properly in the realm of green. Rather, transpersonal awareness sees the unity of all perspectives and identifies with the generation of first tier perspectives rather than with the objects of those worldviews. If in second tier “I am humanity,” then “I” am aware of the universal human capacity to generate prepersonal and personal perspectives. The new object of “my” awareness is humanity as a unity; I am now the forest rather than an individual tree.

Almost all approaches to second tier experience shared among integralites is conceptual. While this makes sense given Wilber’s appreciation that the cognitive line of development invariably leads all the others, it creates a serious problem in the exploration of this radically different territory, because as I note above, second tier is transmental. Most of us confuse second tier cognitive awareness with actual second tier center-of-gravity awareness, but this is surely erroneous.

The work necessary to prepare to complete the momentous leap includes serious and effective shadow work.

The work necessary to prepare to complete the momentous leap includes serious and effective shadow work, for we are not able to identify as, say, humanity until we integrate all the dynamics of our personal identity. And we cannot integrate these while we remain unaware of them. Developing the capacity to regularly identify and withdraw projections is the sine qua non of the momentous leap. This also requires the commitment to notice judgements about ourselves and others and to release the imperatives these judgements demand.

Why? Because unless I “own” all the psychospiritual dynamics within, I remain chained to personal consciousness via projection of repressed shadow dynamics onto the “other,” the “not-me.” As long as I maintain the boundary separating me as a separate individual from the rest of us, I remain in first tier. Unless I recognize judgement as an act of violence and separation, I remain emotionally tied to maintenance of my personal boundary and righteousness. And that line will not vanish until I grok the truth that all my psychodynamics are in fact universal human psychodynamics flourishing exactly the same in all of us.

We evidence this awareness when we find ourselves called to scrutinize continuously our interiors for evidence of hidden and repressed beliefs and emotions so that we can instantly withdraw our projections and be with our self and the world as they are rather than as we have individually imagined them.

We also evidence this awareness when we begin to speak more and more regularly as “we” more than as “I,” when, for instance, in discussing politics we say that “we generate left and right” and focus on how we do that rather than on the things we do from left and right.

We evidence this awareness when we integrate and acknowledge what we discover in our subconscious without judgment, appreciating that experiencing and reacting to traumatic events early in our lives were inescapable elements of development not only for ourselves but universally for all of us.

As Wilber pointed out in his first book Spectrum of Consciousness the process in which the momentous leap is but a milestone is about expanding the boundary between what’s on the inside and the other side of our face. Everything “out there” (including, it turns out, the boundary) is but a projection. Withdrawing all projections eventually leads us to the experience of “no outside” (the “no boundary” of the title of Wilber’s second book), or non-dual consciousness.

The point is that the boundary between first and second tier is the distinction between self-as-I-the-individual awareness and self-as-we-humanity consciousness. At green I notice that everyone has his/her individual perspective; at teal (yellow) we are the multiple perspectives of mankind.

It Ain’t Integral Analysis If It Don’t Include the Analyst

Unless we acknowledge our own personal perspectives, we almost always speak with an absolutist voice.

In almost no “integral” writings do I see any attempt to demonstrate this awareness. Unless we acknowledge our own personal perspectives, we almost always speak with an absolutist voice, making assertions of truth that are in fact assertions of particular perspectives, histories, emotions, and circumstances. Indeed, these are “true” at their level; each level has its own integrity which provides a platform for certainty at that level. However, even at green where we begin to see multiple perspectives we recognize the partiality of those truths.

So nothing is “wrong” with speaking with an absolutist voice; it’s just generally not the voice of the transpersonal.

I did an analysis of a typical example of this failure in “Global Warming and the Cross Currents of Evolution” posted here last year where I analyzed the Institute for Cultural Evolution’s “Campaign Plan for Climate Change Ameliorization,” an element in its “Depolarizing the American Mind” aspirations. Steve McIntosh, Carter Phipps, and their colleagues have set about applying integral techniques to “fixing” poor broken America and healing our allegedly toxic political polarization. I noted the intellectual poverty of an integral analysis that completely leaves the analyst out of the discussion. “We” are nowhere to be found in ICE’s work except as an implied conception of “us” whose source is simply assumed to be good, whole, and self-evident.

An authentic integral analysis—and not one merely using integral cognition—starts from the perspective of “all of us.” And immediately it should be plain how difficult that is both to access and to communicate. Certainly from an orange/green perspective the attempt is arrogance itself, since from first tier we cannot apprehend “we” except as a projection of “me.”

Regardless, however, of the difficulty, the transpersonal is precisely that: beyond personal identity—not I-the-autonomous-individual, but we-that-also-includes-me.

Perhaps we can notice the distinction between seeing this conceptually and experiencing and communicating it from-the-inside-out, as it were. If first tier is monological, second is dialogical. There are almost no media for exploring and expressing this, and certainly exchanging the written or even spoken word among ourselves is wholly inadequate to the task.

The various commercialized evangelisms emanating from integralite sources, while mostly stuck in first tier assumptions, are nonetheless evidence of the push by Spirit to manifest in a radically different and deeper way.

Therefore it is my conviction that our insights about and even experience of the transpersonal will remain isolated on our separate little islands of the integral archipelago until we develop a dialogical communication tool that facilitates the “we” to shine through the various “I’s” that comprise the us.

The good news is that many of us are groping in the right direction, and just as the personal ego finally began escaping the tribal gravity, so too will the collective ego escape the gravity of first tier. Exactly when and how that will happen remains a mystery; but the very intentional work we are doing hastens the moment of emergence.

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