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Jim O'Connor has had an interest in theories of everything and the integral worldview since the mid 1990's. He can be contacted at .

Further Thoughts on the Organic-Integrative Model

Jim O'Connor

1. Introduction

In this essay I would like to add some points to my previous paper A New Model of Development on the organic-integrative model of development [1].

I also try to show (again) why I believe Andrew Smith's One-Scale Model offers a more accurate model of existence than Ken Wilber's AQAL paradigm, and a more fertile avenue for the development of integral theory. In some places I simply raise questions that I believe need answering, without attempting to answer them myself. In these cases it is my hope to stimulate further discussion about the relative merits of the various models.

2. The Context – Overview of My Model

It might be useful to begin by giving a brief overview of my schema so that my comments on individual and collective development can be set in context.

2.1. Overview

In my version of the one-scale model, existence is divided into (at least) four discreet levels: the physiosphere, the biosphere, the noosphere and the theosphere; each of which is further subdivided into several stages. Following Smith, each level begins and ends with an autonomous holon, and stages in between consist of intermediate holons of increasing complexity. As outlined by Smith in his book Worlds within Worlds [2] and elsewhere, intermediate holons consist of groupings of holons from (only) the previous stage, leading (schematically) to a nested structure, whereas autonomous holons consist of groupings of holons from all stages of the level, leading to a mandalic structure.

2.2. The Physical and Biological Levels

The first two levels, the physiosphere and biosphere, are just as Smith describes them in Worlds:

atom (autonomous)
supramolecular structure
subcellular organelle
cell (autonomous)

cell (autonomous)
simple cell unit
complex cell unit
simple organ
complex organ
organ system
organism (autonomous)

2.3. The Noosphere

The next level, the noosphere, is made up, in the same fashion, of increasingly more complex groupings of organisms. As on previous levels, in healthy development connections between holons in the noosphere are always heterarchical; therefore when individuals associate together to form small groups, the connections between the individuals are heterarchical; when these groups join together to form larger communities, the connections between the groups are heterarchical; when communities join together to form nations, the connections between the communities are heterarchical; and so on. This is important because, on the whole, most complex societies have not followed this path of healthy development, and so we have the situation where some communities stand in a hierarchical relationship to others, and exert power over them (particularly in the economic sphere).

Because most societies have not followed this healthy path of development (which I term the organic-integrative), it makes it hard to state definitively what the stages of healthy social development will be, as we have few (if any) examples to work with. We can, however, state with certainty what the first and last holons of the level are; and can speculate that intermediate stages consist of progressively more complex groupings of individuals, giving us something like the following.

organism, or individual (autonomous)
simple group
complex group
very complex group
integral society (autonomous)

By analogy with lower levels, we know that the final stage, the integral society, allows holons from all previous stages to maintain a relative autonomy within the overall structure.

One point to note is that during ontogenetic development through any particular level, the developing entity does not pass through the stages in the order they are presented above. Instead, it achieves a rudimentary autonomous form (i.e. the final holon of the level) early in development and then grows by the progressive complexification of this structure. This is easiest to see in action on the biological level where the developing organism achieves an autonomous form early on in its growth. A contention I made in A New Model is that this is the case for healthy social development also, and that to achieve an integral society it is therefore not necessary to pass through all the stages in between.

2.4. The Theosphere

Smith ends his account of the holarchy with the final stage of the noosphere, as he believes that this is the highest stage we can meaningfully talk about at present. In my view, however, at least one higher level (possibly two) can be shown to exist and can be mapped using the one-scale model.

To build the next higher level we proceed as we did on previous levels. That is, we take instances of the final autonomous holon of the previous level and group them together heterarchically to generate new entities. To construct the theosphere we would therefore need to begin grouping many societies together in this fashion.

Now, if we treat the world in which a society lives (its worldspace) as being essentially an artefact of that society, created, presumably, by some idealist mechanism, then this next level of the holarchy is created by grouping together not specifically many societies, but many such worlds. And I believe that such a higher-order holon can be shown to exist.

Many esoteric traditions, of East and West, take it for granted that there exist many worlds in the Kosmos, some of them material (like our own) but with most of them existing in a subtler form on higher planes. Beings (or rather, their consciousness) migrate between these worlds according to their patterns of karma. The Eastern traditions call this system samsara or the 'wheel of life'.

This process of grouping worlds is how I believe we can build a theosphere within the one-scale model, and if we proceed in this way then we end up with a rich and coherent model of reality as a whole, and one that has the capacity to explain many facets of individual and collective development.

It may also be that one day this 'wheel of life' conception will be shown to be equivalent to the ‘many worlds’ interpretation of quantum theory, in which a virtually infinite number of worlds exist in parallel with one another and interact through the medium of information exchange [3]. The leading exponent of this view, David Deutsch of Oxford University, refers to this system of worlds as the multiverse. To put it in technical language, then, the multiverse is a complex system, traversed by consciousness according to the law of karma, in which the different realms (heavens, hells etc) form basins of attraction.

In this model, then, the theosphere looks as follows:

single realm (autonomous)
simple realm grouping
complex realm grouping
very complex realm grouping
samsara (autonomous)

2.5. Consciousness

In his one-scale model, Smith proposes that we view consciousness as an entity that originates outside of the holarchy altogether, and which then becomes associated with the holons within in.

Instead of this, I would like to propose that consciousness is an emergent at the level of the theosphere (i.e. an emergent from the interactions of realms), which then 'flows downward' into lower order holons (particularly autonomous holons) endowing them with the individual awareness that we know in our own experience. Although I am unable to formulate a coherent argument for this, I believe that if we model the emergence of consciousness in this way then we end up with a more accurate model of existence. I will leave it to others to decide as to whether they agree with this approach.

2.6. Individual Development

One of the key insights that allows Smith to dispense with Wilber's quadrants is that individuals derive their internal psychological structures directly from the higher order holon (the society) in which they participate. Or, put more generally, the internal world of any holon is the result of it 'looking up' at the higher-order holon in which it is embedded. Thus, in Smith's model, a separate quadrant is not necessary to map this.

In my view, the psychological structures do indeed result from the individual looking up at the society in which he finds himself; but I would also apply this rule to the next level up, and say that the stages of transpersonal development (the psychic, subtle and causal) result from the individual looking up at the various stages of the next higher holon, the theosphere. This offers an explanation for why psychological and transpersonal development consist of such different varieties of experience – the psychological level is traversed by the individual ‘looking up’ at his society, and results in mental development, while the transpersonal level is traversed by the individual ‘looking up’ at manifest existence as a whole, and results in the development of consciousness, which is an emergent at that level.

In any case, individual development always starts with the archaic (endocept) and then generally proceeds in a straight line toward the average point reached by the society as a whole. As I outlined in A New Model, if the society has a healthy, integral (autonomous) structure, then individual development will pass through a series of intermediate stages that also have such a form, and which all deserve to be called vision-logic. In other words, the individual will always be centauric, and development consists of the progressive complexification of this structure. I call this organic-integrative development. If, however, the society is structured as a hierarchy, with some individuals or groups exerting dominance over the rest (i.e. if it is centralised), then individual development will pass through a series of hierarchical stages, with each subsequent stage repressing the previous one. The aperspectival stage is the apotheosis of this process [4]. Following Washburn, I call this structural-hierarchical development.

It is an open question as to what the stages of organic-integrative development are, and in what ways they may be similar to the stages of structural-hierarchical growth. However, I would repeat the following two points, which I first made in A New Model:

1) In structural-hierarchical growth, development is pushed into increasingly dissociative, cognitively-biased, flatland forms of the organic-integrative stages.
2) Stages of organic-integrative development all deserve to be called vision-logic, which I define as a wholesome mode of cognition that integrates the body, emotions and reason, and which sees the world as a vast web of interbeing. This worldview becomes increasingly richer as the inner world of the centaur becomes progressively more differentiated.

For completeness, then, on the psychological level the stages of structural-hierarchical and organic-integrative development look as follows:

Structural-Hierarchical Development
archaic (autonomous)

Organic-Integrative Development
archaic (autonomous)
intermediate centaur 1 (autonomous)
intermediate centaur 2 (autonomous)
mature centaur (autonomous)

2.7. Individual Transpersonal Development

In this model, transpersonal development begins when the kundalini energy awakens, which can happen at any point during psychological growth for individuals close to the organic-integrative path. The model predicts (correctly, in my view) that entry into the transpersonal is marked initially by consciousness transcending the gross realm, and that transpersonal development on the whole is characterised by the individual making contact with (or looking up at) successively higher stages of the theosphere.
I don't believe we have any reason to doubt the general schema of transpersonal development as outlined by Wilber (the psychic, subtle and causal). I would only point out that this model predicts that each of these stages is structured as an autonomous holon.

Individual development through the transpersonal level of the holarchy, therefore, looks as follows:

Transpersonal Development
psychic (autonomous)
subtle (autonomous)
causal (autonomous)

2.8. The Level Above The Transpersonal

As I first outlined in Development in the One-Scale Model, I believe that a level above the theosphere exists, and is marked by the emergence of a purer, higher form of consciousness that could be called emptiness. When entry to this new level commences, the individual transcends the lower form of consciousness entirely and makes contact with its higher-order version. And because he has now transcended the theosphere - the interacting realms - he is also at this point liberated from samsara.

I would further speculate that the first stage of this new level is what the traditions refer to as the non-dual.

Here, then, is my overall schema of individual development: [5]

And here is my attempt to show, schematically, how the process of the repression of both the libidinal energies and of spirit occurs as the individual spirals away from the organic-integrative path.

3. Comparison of The Organic-Integrative and Structural-Hierarchical Models

3.1. No Autonomous Holons in Wilber's Model

Since inventing his AQAL holarchic model Wilber has implicitly claimed that all holons have what Smith would term an intermediate structure (see diagram 1), the so-called 'great nest', but we now know that this is not the case. Some holons are constructed not just of heterarchical groupings of holons from the previous stage, but of holons from all stages of the level, with these holons existing in semi-autonomous forms, in what I would term a mandalic rather than a nested structure.

In Worlds and his other papers, Smith has shown in detail how it is necessary to make the distinction between intermediate and autonomous holons in order to accurately map the physical and biological levels of the holarchy; and in Development in the One-Scale Model I attempted to show how doing so also leads to a more accurate model of psychological development – one that can explain the so-called superior integration of the centaur, as I will come to shortly.

Judging from the discussions between Smith and his critics it seems that few people appreciate the significance of the intermediate/autonomous distinction (although no-one apparently disputes it), but it means that in this regard AQAL is a poor model of existence and the one-scale model is a superior one.

It seems to me that those who wish to keep the quadrant model must at the very least find a way to integrate the distinction between intermediate and autonomous holons within it for it to be an accurate map of existence.

3.2. The Structure of the Centaur

One consequence of a failure to distinguish between intermediate and autonomous holons is, on the psychological level, an inability to account for the superior integration of the centaur. It is quite widely accepted that the centaur has a different structure to the previous mental-level stages (c.f. Washburn, Jung and early Wilber) and that the centaur integrates all lower psychological structures in a mandalic rather than a nested fashion. For example, here is how Wilber describes the centaur in The Atman Project [6]:

"This stage is variously referred to as the "integration of all lower levels", "integrated", "self-actualized", "autonomous". (page 45, my emphasis)

"That is, because consciousness is no longer identified with any of these elements to the exclusion of the others, all of them can be integrated: the body, the persona, the shadow, the ego - all can be brought into a higher-order integration". (page 45)

"Presumably, then, actual autonomy (and self-actualization), would result, and could only result by definition, with the conscious emergence of this totality - a type of shift of identity from any of the fragments (ego, persona, body) to their prior and higher integration". (page 47)

I believe these excerpts clearly suggest that the centaur is structured as an autonomous holon, yet Wilber's transcend-and-include model, lacking the distinction between intermediate and autonomous holons, is unable to account for this fact.

It is essential that we have an accurate model of the centaur if we are to have a true understanding of psychological health and pathology, and of how development takes place. If we believe, as Wilber apparently does, that the centaur has a nested rather than a mandalic structure, then we will not properly understand how the roots of the psyche are integrated in a healthy psychology, and in our prescriptions for development we may end up advocating what is, in effect, pathology. Washburn, for example, has linked this incorrect understanding of the centaur with the so-called 'Ascender' pathology of attempting to reach the transpersonal heights without properly integrating the pre-personal depths [7].

3.3. The Autonomous Holon of the Mental Level as Higher Consciousness

As should be clear, the available evidence suggests that the autonomous holon of the mental level - the stage of psychological integration - is the centaur. I state this again because in Worlds Smith puts forward the view that the autonomous holon of this level is a state of higher consciousness that identifies with the planet as a whole.

It is not clear to me, however, why a process consisting of the development of mental structures should suddenly produce higher consciousness, even at the autonomous holon of the level. I think part of Smith's reasoning here is that because this holon transcends and includes all mental structures (which are essentially its sub-holons), it itself is therefore beyond mentality, and thus deserves to be called higher consciousness. But if we accept this then it leads to the issue of where to situate both the centaur and the transpersonal stages of development within the resulting schema. I see no way of resolving this problem using the Gurdjieffian model that Smith favours. The best way forward, I believe, is to recognise that the autonomous holon of the mental level is the centaur, that the transpersonal constitutes a whole new level, and then carry the debate onward from there.

3.4. The Transpersonal Stages Are Not Continuous with the Psychological Stages

In the model I am outlining, the transpersonal stages of development form a level of the holarchy that is separate and distinct from the psychological stages, and which is characterised by the individual 'looking up' at a completely different holon. As I pointed out earlier, this offers us an explanation for why psychological and transpersonal development consist of such different varieties of experience. In Wilber's 'spectrum' model, however, the two types of development form a single, smooth continuum and thus Wilber offers no plausible explanation for the obvious phenomenological jump that occurs at the transition from the psychological to the transpersonal stages.

In trying to justify this 'spectrum' model Wilber is forced to rely on what, in my opinion, is an unconvincing argument that transpersonal development is the simple continuation of a process of increasing interiorization that is begun during psychological growth. This argument fails to do justice to the major differences between psychological and transpersonal development and as it stands it also fails to explain why experiences of mystical union should be the natural culmination of such a process of psychological interiorization.

Again, it seems to me that few people appreciate the significance of this point, but it means that in not recognising the existence of discreet levels of development Wilber's spectrum approach is inferior to the one-scale schema. I believe that at the very least, those wishing to keep the AQAL model must find a way of incorporating the stage/level distinction, as outlined by Smith, within it for it to offer an explanation for the significant phenomenological differences that exist between mental and transpersonal development – differences which are definitely in need of a more plausible explanation than Wilber has thus far offered.

3.5. Development Through One Level Does Not Have to be Complete For Development Through the Next to Begin

In this model the transpersonal is entered when the kundalini energy awakens and the individual experiences a transcendence of the entire gross realm. Given the appropriate spiritual practices, such an awakening can be induced at practically any place on diagram 3, but it occurs most naturally and most stably at points close to the organic-integrative path.

There is, therefore, no need for a certain stage of psychological development to be reached before transpersonal development can be embarked upon. Thus this model avoids the 'stage skipping' problem (or how individuals in earlier epochs could stably realise the transpersonal) that exists with Wilber's model.

Also with regard to Wilber's spectrum approach, the question has been raised as to why the esoteric traditions of the past have never discovered the stages of psychological development (archaic to centaur), if these are supposedly a prerequisite for entry into the transpersonal. With the model I am presenting here, the answer to this question is that as the psychological and transpersonal are two different types of development that can occur largely independently of each other, the traditions had no need to discover the psychological stages. All they ever needed to know about the mental level was how to attain the organic-integrative path (a much easier task in simpler times), from where they could concentrate their focus on the development of consciousness.

3.6. Many Spiritual Experiences Occur Within the Centaur

Not all spiritual experiences are necessarily experiences of the transpersonal. A great number of 'higher' states are the result of spirit flowing down into the gross body-mind, rather than the individual transcending the gross realm altogether. The model I am presenting here predicts (correctly, I believe) that if an individual has not experienced a transcendence of the gross realm then he has not experienced the transpersonal, but rather an altered or dhyanic [8] state within the centaur.

I believe a good number of mystical phenomena, such as OBEs and psychokinetic abilities, are the result not of development into the transpersonal as such, but occur as spirit flows downwards into the centaur, spiritualising the gross body-mind.

A distinction therefore needs to be made between the individual ascending into the transpersonal and spirit descending into the centaur when the various mystical phenomena are being categorised, or confusion can arise. For example, Wilber's description of the psychic stage as 'nature mysticism', or a union with the gross realm, sounds more like a dhyanic state within the centaur than a true experience of the transpersonal.

I believe that when applied to individual development the one-scale model has the capacity to handle these distinctions and to provide a framework within which the different mystical phenomena can be more accurately categorised.

3.7. Interbeing vs. Systems Thinking

The inner world of the centaur is one in which every element interpenetrates every other element, creating an Indra’s web of aesthetic resonances. The resulting worldview is well described by Thich Nhat Hanh in the following poem:

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-“ with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper” elements. And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”

This mode of perception should not be confused with 'systems thinking', which is a purely cognitive (intellectual) event. Interbeing of the type described by Thich Nhat Hanh is a mode of cognition that integrates primary and secondary processes in an aesthetic perception of the world, a la Arieti. The secondary process provides the ability to differentiate the various elements and hold them to be separate, while the identifications of the primary process allow them to interpenetrate one another. (Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem is based on the primary process mechanism of identity by contiguity, but similar poems could be written using identity by similarity or identity by the part/whole relation). 'Systems thinking' is a product of aperspectival cognition, and is essentially a flatland version of interbeing proper. It is a mode of cognition where whole and part are fully differentiated (allowing the ‘system’ to be comprehended) but are not allowed to flow into one another via feeling.

My contention is that all stages of development on the organic-integrative path have a worldview based on interbeing and that this worldview becomes increasingly richer as the inner world of the centaur becomes increasingly more differentiated.

I am uncertain how interbeing fits into Wilber’s model – I assume he would assign it to a certain level of development (possibly the non-dual). I would be interested if any Wilberians could offer clarification of this issue.

3.8. Collective Consciousness

Turning to the collective sphere, one of the arguments put forward by Wilber as to why a society does not constitute a holon of higher-order than the individual is that a society does not possess a locus of prehension, or a unified consciousness, whereas the individual does. Smith has his own response to this point but here I would like to offer my own [9].

I believe that what determines whether a holon possesses a unified consciousness or not is how close it is to having an autonomous structure. The organism, being an autonomous holon, has such a unified consciousness, whereas our society, being (in its current state) an intermediate holon, does not. I would argue, therefore, that if a society should ever come close to the organic-integrative path and therefore closer to having an autonomous structure then that society will possess a unified consciousness.

I am arguing that consciousness is an emergent at the level of the theosphere and that, once arisen, it flows down into lower-order holons, endowing them with awareness. In heterarchical, organic-integrative societies, as consciousness flows down it retains a unified form - differentiated yet integrated - so that individuals retain an individual self-sense while still participating in the consciousness of their society. However, as it flows downwards into hierarchical, non-integrated, societies, consciousness becomes fragmented, and the individuals within the society experience a sense of awareness that is separate from that of their fellow citizens.

4. Comments on the Integral Society

Turning now to the integral society, I would like to make the following points:

4.1. The Integral Society as Necessarily Global

I believe that the view that an integral society is necessarily global or 'planetary' is something of a myth. As well as being Smith's position as I understand it, the integral-as-planetary view is also an implication of Wilber's model, in which collective stages of development past the aperspectival (or 'early vision-logic') all have as their foundation global structures of governance based on a planetary worldview and an 'informational' infrastructure. But can we think of any reasons, apart from the predictions of a particular model, why a vision-logic society should necessarily be global?

At least one integral theorist, working it appears from the SD model, is now even calling for a world government [10]. While I understand the thinking that lies behind this, I would strongly suggest that it is misguided. Pushing the decision-making and regulatory structures of the world a level further away from the people than they already are in the nation state will accomplish nothing toward encouraging unalienated, centauric consciousness amongst the general population. Attaining the centaur surely requires that individuals govern themselves in a free and self-regulating society, and that they not abdicate responsibility for this to some far-away legislative body. And as I pointed out in A New Model, a world government would by underpinned by aperspectival awareness, which is not the rather healthy sounding ‘early vision-logic’ that Wilber claims, but is a dissociative mode of consciousness based on a flatland worldview. The emergence of a world government, therefore, would signal our firm entrenchment in flatland.

4.2. The Integral Society as Dependent on the Internet

And with regard to the infrastructure, why should the establishment of a spiritual society be dependent upon the existence of the internet? Spiritual communities have existed for thousands of years without it. Why could not an entire spiritual society exist without it too? I believe Wilberians need to formulate an answer to this question if they are to justify working from Wilber's schema of collective development.

In my model information technology, as the infrastructure of the aperspectival stage, is seen as being largely the product of a cognitively-biased, dissociative worldview. It is in essence an attempt to externalise in the material world a network that should be internalised in the centaur as the interbeing worldview.

As Wilber explains in detail in the second part of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, dissociative modes of consciousness also view the world as a network, but as a flatland network (the 'great interlocking order' or, as I would term it ‘systems thinking’), and I believe we need to beware of slipping into just such a worldview when espousing the 'global village' and 'global brain' type philosophies subscribed to by many information technology advocates.

As I pointed out in A New Model, an integral society would be structured so as to allow the maximum flow of information through the social network. Now, it might seem that the internet is a tool that could facilitate this flow, but in reality this depends on the quality of the communication it is mediating and therefore on how centauric the individuals are who are using it. In itself it is not indicative of a society that is on the verge of the spiritual. In my model the amount of information a communication transmits is determined by the degree of felt-meaning that it invokes in the receiver. Societies where this felt-meaning (and thus the information content) is greater are those that are closer to the organic-integrative path, whether this felt-meaning is transmitted by advanced technology or even just orally.

4.3. The Structure of the Integral Society

An advantage of the one-scale model is that by drawing analogies between different levels of the holarchy we gain a starting point for exploring how an integral society might be organised. We can be fairly sure, for example, that the integral society is the autonomous holon of the social level. This being the case, we would expect it to consist of holons from all stages of the level; that is, from relatively lone individuals right up to communities of a high degree of complexity, all existing in semi-autonomous forms and interacting with one another through the medium of information exchange (or, in my model, meaningful communication).

Although this initial insight has yet to be developed by Smith or anyone else, it does give us a basis from which to start, and I would encourage others to begin working out its implications.

4.4. Hierarchy vs. Heterarchy as a Type of Social Organisation

I realise that by advocating heterarchy over hierarchy as a type of social organisation, I may put myself at odds with some in the Wilber camp who believe in the existence of what Wilber terms 'actualisation hierarchies' (as opposed to 'dominator hierarchies'), which supposedly arise at second tier. But what does Wilber actually mean by the term 'actualisation hierarchy'? As far as I am aware he has never attempted a definition, given any examples of such hierarchies, or outlined how they might function [11]. I believe it is incumbent upon him to do so.

In addition to this, Wilber has attempted to define pathological hierarchy as 'power concentrated in the hands of a few' [12]. From this we can infer that one of his definitions of 'healthy hierarchy' must be 'power in the hands of the many', which is, of course, not a hierarchy at all, but a heterarchy. So it seems to me that even following Wilber’s line of argument leads to the conclusion that an integral society would be structured heterarchically.

My own view is that we need to draw a distinction between hierarchy as a principle of how higher levels of the holarchy emerge and hierarchy as a way of organising society, a distinction which is blurred in Wilber's work. I believe that when this distinction is understood we can say that yes, when holons interact they produce higher levels of complexity that arise hierarchically, but the interactions themselves are always heterarchical. And it is these interactions that determine the structure of a society.

So, as I stated earlier, when individuals interact to form a community, the community is a higher stage of the holarchy that arises hierarchically, but the interactions between the individuals are (or should be) heterarchical; when communities interact to form a nation, say, then the nation is also a higher stage of the holarchy that arises hierarchically, but once again the interactions between the communities are (or should be) heterarchical, and so on.

The impression one gets is that Wilber acknowledges that higher levels of the holarchy arise hierarchically, and that this forms a 'natural' hierarchy, and then jumps from there to assuming that some kind of 'natural' hierarchy must exist in human affairs also, based, presumably, on the development of the individuals involved. But this is to confuse a nested holarchy with a ‘command and control’ hierarchy, and to attempt to use the existence of one to justify the existence of the other. However, as I have tried to point out, if we are attempting to structure our society around the implications of a holarchic model, then by analogy with how holons commune on other levels heterarchy is the most logical option.

4.5. Moving Toward the Integral

4.5.1. Between Hierarchy and Heterarchy

As a fully heterarchical society is something of an ideal case it may be useful to consider the structure of societies that lie somewhere between the two extremes of complete hierarchy on the one hand and complete heterarchy on the other, and look at the mechanism that may move a society from one form to the other.

To this end, I believe that the transition from a centralised society in which some groups exert dominance over others, toward a decentralised, heterarchical, society, can be seen as a process of gradually 'softening' the various social hierarchies that exist, until they are phased out altogether.

Using network theory it is possible to measure the average distance, as a number of connecting links, between two nodes in a network or, in this case, between two people in a given society. One quantity we can thus ascertain is the average distance between an individual in a position of authority (a politician, a judge, a member of the police etc.) and an individual toward whom this authority is administered. I would like to suggest that those societies for which this distance is shorter will be more heterarchical and thus closer to the organic-integrative path.

We can thus say that in those societies for which this distance is shorter, individuals will be more centauric and will therefore exhibit less pathology in their psychological makeup. Conversely, individuals in those societies where this distance is greater will exhibit more pathology, and particularly those of the types outlined by Wilhelm Reich [13] and Erich Fromm [14] in their respective studies of the effect of hierarchical social systems on the psychology of the individual.

And if we recall that in A New Model I defined a connecting link as a pathway of meaningful communication the conclusion we reach is that those societies that are healthier, and in which individuals exhibit less pathology (i.e. are more centauric), are those in which individuals are either directly in meaningful communication with those in authority or, at least, are not too many such links removed from them.

This conclusion should not surprise us. It is in essence saying nothing more than that in societies where individuals are closer to governing themselves, or are in meaningful communication with those who govern them, they are more centauric.

4.5.2. Social Integration

When politicians talk of 'social integration', they almost always mean a type of 'horizontal' integration where you take the people at the bottom of the hierarchy and integrate them with each other. However, the line of thought I am following here suggests that equally important, although usually neglected, is a type of 'vertical' integration, where the distance between those in authority and those toward whom this authority is administered is lessened. I believe the integral community should endeavour to foster both types of integration, at all levels from the local to the global, as a key part of its agenda.

This means that when we use such phrases as 'making democracy closer to the people', what we are really talking about, in terms of viewing society as a network, is lessening the number of connecting links of meaningful communication between those at the bottom of the hierarchy and those in authority.

In other words, creating pathways of meaningful communication between different levels of the social hierarchy has the long term effect of bleeding pathology out of the system.

4.5.3. Confinement and Neurosis

On an interesting and related issue, in a discourse available from the Dawn Horse Press [15] Adi Da puts forward his view on the source of human psychological disturbance. He begins by observing how animals exhibit symptoms of neurosis when they are placed in confinement, before going on to suggest that the same mechanism is operative in human beings, and that humans also exhibit symptoms of disturbance because they are, or at least feel, confined. Adi Da's conclusion is that this sense of confinement is caused by the 'self-contraction' that he talks about in many of his writings.

This observation that confinement causes neurosis is certainly a perceptive one, and in an ultimate sense Adi Da may be right about the cause of such disturbance. However, I would suggest that the more overt forms of human neurosis have a more worldly explanation, and are actually the result of confinement not by the self-contraction as such, but more simply by hierarchical social structures [16].

This of course dovetails nicely with the views of some psychoanalysts, particularly as I noted earlier those following Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich and other similar theorists. Reich in particular argued that confining social structures, mediated by the family, cause an armouring of the body-mind that closes down the natural flow of vital energies, resulting in various forms of neurosis. I would only add to this that such social structures need not be the more obvious forms of totalitarianism that have existed throughout history, but any culture based around the centralisation of power. In organic-integrative societies the social structures are decentralised, open and flexible, and individuals are always centauric, so neither the armouring of the body-mind nor the resulting disturbance would be expected to occur.

This suggests that the correct response to the various social ills that have their roots in human disturbance is not to close society down with tighter structures of control, as this will increase the general sense of confinement and thereby accentuate the disturbance that is causing the problem in the first place. Any attempt to solve the problem in this way will create a vicious circle whereby each effort to ‘stamp out’ the disturbance will actually in the long run make it worse, and will in addition close down the flow of spiritual and vital energies in the population. The correct long-term solution to such problems is to open society up via a gradual and intelligent decentralisation of power, while simultaneously working to promote ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ integration throughout the social hierarchy.

5. Responses to A New Model

5.1. Organic-Integrative and P2P

After reading A New Model Michel Bauwens of the Peer-To-Peer Foundation [17] wrote to me drawing my attention to his own papers on this site, and suggesting similarities between the organic-integrative and P2P models. Rather than go into the details here, I have included in the appendix an email I sent to Michel outlining my own comparisons of the two approaches. Michel's response, as well as a short commentary by him on A New Model, are available on the Peer-To-Peer Foundation website [18].

5.2. Washburn

Michael Washburn wrote to me after I asked him to read A New Model and, while broadly appreciative of the article, he pointed out that I was incorrect to state that his own model recognises no stages of development higher than the centaur. While this does not significantly change the arguments made in the paper, I am nevertheless happy to correct this error on my part.

5.3. David Icke

A couple of responses to A New Model questioned my use of David Icke as a source.

I realise that Icke is a controversial author and that many people no doubt see his work as an example of magical thinking on a grand scale. While I understand this viewpoint I have to disagree with it. Icke has certainly made claims that I would not try to defend, however these are largely around issues peripheral to his main thesis, which is that the West is heading in the direction of becoming a totalitarian, 'total surveillance' society, and that this is being driven by a group of people (largely named by Icke) who operate in the shadows of our democratic political systems. This is not idle speculation on Icke's part – he has amassed much evidence for this during the course of his research, including the testimony of former 'insiders', and in my opinion he argues his case well.

I believe it is important that members of the integral community at least be familiar with Icke's work, even if they don't accept it, so that they can take it into consideration when viewing future world events. I personally would like to see a debate about Icke's worldview within the integral community, with particular emphasis on how it fits in (or otherwise) with the various different models of development [19].

Although a detailed outline of Icke’s thesis is beyond the scope of this essay, in terms of the overall schema I have presented it does have a rather natural explanation, which I would summarise (rather simply) as follows: the available evidence suggests that the West is heading toward a highly repressive and centralised form of the aperspectival stage of development on the structural-hierarchical path (whether this be by accident or design), and should this come about a similarly repressive internal psychology, one impervious to both spiritual and vital energies, will become established in the population.

However, as anyone who has read this far will do doubt have realised, the validity of my model in no way depends upon Icke’s views being correct. It is possible to completely discount Icke’s thesis and still accept the schema of development that I have presented.

As a final word on Icke, his latest book, which purports to be an extensive summary of his research to date, is called The David Icke Guide to the Global Conspiracy (and how to end it), and has just been released. Having read it I would say that it is a good summary, but by no means a substitute for reading his earlier work, which is better-sourced and in which he goes into more detail as to how the agenda is actually being implemented.

6. Conclusion

In this essay I have put forward a few more points on the organic-integrative model of development, and tried to show how I believe it offers a more promising schema of psychological and transpersonal growth than the other existing models.

If I could emphasise only one point it would be to again suggest that the one-scale model offers a rich and fertile avenue for the development of integral theory. I realise that some contributors to this site believe that the scope of Smith's model is nowhere near as great as that of AQAL, and while this may in some senses be true, I would point out that the model is still in its infancy, and much of the work in applying Smith's insights to the social and psychological levels has yet to be done. It is also the case that the one-scale model lends itself to exploration in different directions than AQAL (for example its integration with the work done on scale-free networks) and so is valuable for this reason also. I would encourage more people to engage with Smith's work, and in particular to begin working out its implications for individual and collective development.

Appendix A – E-Mail to Michel Bauwens on Organic-Integrative and P2P

Hi Michel,

I have been working through your essays posted in Frank Visser's Reading Room and thought they were both very interesting - you make many good points and if I had read them previously I would have referenced them in my own article. I particularly liked "P2P and Human Evolution".

I am in broad agreement with most of the points you make but I also noticed a few areas of difference. I thought it might be helpful if I tried to outline what they are.

The definition you give of P2P in section 2.1 is very close to the definition of the organic-integrative society that I gave in my essay - the only minor point were I would differ is when you say that P2P exists "in order to produce something" - I think this perhaps narrows the scope of P2P unnecessarily and would preclude applying P2P to some areas where this is not the case (for example in the area of co-operative spiritual enquiry, for example). Other than that I think we are in agreement.

Another difference I have is perhaps just a point of emphasis. I would emphasise that the type of internal subjectivity exhibited by individuals in a true P2P (or organic-integrative) society is centauric (or turquoise in SD terms). This is not a point you make explicitly but you come close when you talk of P2P individuals overcoming the subject-object split (as Andy Smith has pointed out, autonomous holons, of which I consider the centaur to be an example, have no concept of the subject-object distinction).

Another point of difference we have is when you state that P2P networks became possible with the advent of the internet and "information abundance". This is a tricky issue, and perhaps I didn't state my position too clearly in the article, but basically I see the technological base of a society as being largely peripheral to whether that society is organic-integrative or not. In other words (and I admit that I haven't thought this through fully) I think it is entirely possible to have a fully organic-integrative culture without any form of information technology at all (except perhaps the printing press), and in which the flow of information occurs almost entirely through face-to-face communication.

To push this a little further, in my model each stage of development has an integrated and a dissociated (flatland) form. The integrated version lies on the organic-integrative path while the flatland version lies on the (Wilberian) structural-hierarchical path. This means that the mature vision-logic stage also has a flatland form, which I see as being the aperspectival stage on the structural-hierarchical path. The aperspectival also functions as a network but it is a flatland network, and its participating individuals still inhabit a flatland worldview that is based on a repressive internal psychology, rather than true vision-logic.

I think it is possible that a network society that is based too much on communication-via-technology could have a very strong tendency to slip into this flatland form, especially if the economic base of that society is still largely centralised. The consequence of this is that individuals remain dissociated (i.e. at the aperspectival stage) even while seemingly engaging in a lot of networked communication.

For me, the key issue as to whether a society is organic-integrative or not, is the quality of the information flowing through the network, which in my view, and as I outline in my article, is related to the amount of felt-meaning that it invokes in the receiver. I agree that the internet and other communication technologies have led to a vast increase in the amount of communication that is going on, but in my view much of this communication is largely meaningless and thus does not actually have much information content.

So for example, I would say that individuals using internet music sharing networks to exchange the latest output from the pop music world would actually be contributing less to the flow of meaning than two individuals sharing Mozart or Beethoven in a personal setting, as the former type of music does not actually invoke much felt-meaning in the listener when compared to the latter.

So I would say that the internet and other communication technologies have the potential to contribute to the creation of an organic-integrative society; the issue is the psychology of the individuals doing the communicating (i.e. are they truly centauric), and the quality of the material being shared (i.e. is it meaningful).

Another point which is probably just a difference in emphasis is in the nature of the information commons. I would see this in more aesthetic terms as comprising the great works of literature, music, poetry, philosophy, religious texts and so on (the "classics") rather than the more technical commons that you describe in your essay. So I would say that in these areas it is not so much a case of "building the commons" as engaging with the commons that already exists. I see no reason why your arguments about the nature of P2P could not in principle apply to these areas, so as I say, this is probably just a difference in emphasis.

I thought the three scenarios for the future of P2P that you outline in section 7.1.C were very interesting. My own view is that your second scenario is the most likely in the foreseeable future. I base this on the work of David Icke and the idea I outline in my article that we are heading for a highly centralised form of the aperspectival stage of the structural-hierarchical path. But even if your third scenario is the correct one, I think we would need to be careful that the network we create is based on true vision-logic and the communication of felt-meaning, rather than a flatland version based on the networked communication of dissociated individuals.

The final point of difference that I would highlight is that in your essay you base your account of the evolution of P2P on the Wilber/Beck model of development, whereas in my essay I use Andy Smith's One-Scale model. I personally accept Andy's critique of Wilber's holarchy and believe that Andy's own model offers a more fertile avenue for the development of integral theory. The problem with gaining a wider recognition of the value of Andy's work as things currently stand is that Andy is a scientist and therefore tends to focus his articles on the lower, material levels of the holarchy, which means that most readers don't really see the implications of his model for the psychological and social levels; this is something I have tried to address in my own essays.

Having stated these points of difference, I would like to say again that I am in full agreement with the majority of the points you make, and very much enjoyed reading them. It would take me a long time to list all the points I found interesting and that I agree with. I especially like your section 4.2.B "Equality, Hierarchy, Freedom" where you discuss P2P in the context of the democratic process. I hope very much that you will write more essays, particularly pushing for P2P to be accounted for in integral theory.

A point you made in your email to me was that we have no examples of organic-integrative societies to work with. I think this is a valid point and creates a difficulty for my model. However, given that I don't define an organic-integrative society in any terms dependent on the technological base of that society, I think we have seen cultures that approximate the organic-integrative structure. The examples I give in my article are ancient Greece and some aboriginal cultures.

I realise I haven't addressed most of the points you make in your articles, largely because I'm not knowledgeable in the areas that you write about, but I found your arguments very provocative. I believe, with the caveats I have outlined in this email, that the organic-integrative and P2P models are very compatible, and that each can very usefully inform the other.


Footnotes and References

1. All of my previous papers can be found in the Reading Room of The direct link for A New Model is:

2. Andrew Smith's online book, Worlds within Worlds, can be found via the following link:

3. According to David Deutsch the structure of the multiverse is determined by ‘information exchange’. This resonates strongly with Smith’s one-scale model where a similar analysis can be performed on the holons of lower levels.

4. As I said in the main text, the aperspectival stage, or 'Green vMeme' is the apotheosis of this process of repression. From Wilber, quoting Taylor:

The resultant "frameworkless agent" [pluralism, or the aperspectival worldview] says Taylor, "is a monster," motivated by the "deep incoherence and self-illusion which this denial involves." This hierarchical denial of hierarchy involves an ethics of suppression, (emphasis in original) according to Taylor, because "layers of suppression" (my emphasis) are required to so thoroughly conceal from oneself the sources of one's own judgements. (Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (2000) page 36)

Taylor is here clearly arguing that the aperspectival worldview is one inherently based on a repressive psychology. Wilber would probably argue that Taylor is describing only the mean Green vMeme and that a healthy version of Green exists in which there is no such suppression. But is this so? Is it really possible to inhabit a truly aperspectival worldview and at the same time accept the existence of an absolute hierarchy of development? Does not Wilber's critique of the mean Green vMeme actually apply to Green as a whole? The model I am developing here suggests that it does, and Wilber himself seems to unconsciously accept that this is so, as he often directs his attacks at Green in general rather than some pathological version of it. Put simply, if ‘healthy’ Green is truly based on an aperspectival worldview then how does it escape the criticism that Wilber levels at its ‘mean’ variant?

5. From this diagram it appears that psychological development must be complete before transpersonal growth can be embarked upon. However, this is not the case, as I shall argue later in the essay.

6. All three quotes are taken from Ken Wilber, The Atman Project.

7. See Washburn's essay The Pre/Trans Fallacy Reconsidered in Ken Wilber in Dialogue

8. The term 'dhyana' is one that I have borrowed from the Buddhist tradition, in which it denotes a state of contemplative awareness or absorption that could be termed 'higher consciousness' but which is still relegated to the 'mundane' or worldly sphere (the gross realm) and thus is not an actual ascent into the transpersonal. As I argued in more detail in my paper Altered States and Subtle Bodies in the One-Scale Model, I believe that states of dhyana (or contemplation) occur as spirit flows downwards into the centauric structure.

9. Even Wilber occasionally refers to societies as higher-order holons, showing, I believe, that this way of viewing things is the most natural, logical and parsimonious option. For example, in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (2000) page 27, Wilber says "All developmental and evolutionary sequences that we are aware of proceed in part by hierarchization, or by orders of increasing holism – molecules to cells to organs to organ systems to organisms to societies of organisms, for example" (my emphasis)


11. To be fair, in the footnote that I will reference in the following paragraph of the text, Wilber does allude to a 'massive literature' on the subject of hierarchy vs. heterarchy, a body of work which I confess I am not familiar with, and which may well explain what an 'actualisation hierarchy' is. As Wilber doesn't give any references for further reading in this area, I would call on him to either do so, or to give this subject a treatment in one of his future works so that we may all get some idea of the justification behind his claims.

12. Ken Wilber in Dialogue, page 362

13. Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism

14. Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom

15. Adi Da Samraj, The Divine Is Not the Cause, 00:27

"And, one of the places you tend not to see [animals periodically enter into a natural contemplative state] very much, or you see them do it less, are circumstances of confinement, such as zoos as they have been traditionally, or perhaps circuses that are not run properly, or where the animals are not treated properly. [When] animals lose their freedom of motion and their relatedness in the natural order of their own pattern, they become less contemplative and more disturbed. If you put a lion in a circus train car with the bars on it and all the rest, it will just walk back and forth, back and forth, and never stop, it seems - they lie down every now and then, of course, but they are disturbed by it, they become neurotic. They exhibit more of what human beings can identify as their own state of egoity. Why do you think human beings are disturbed? Why is human egoity what it is? If you observe how it appears in evidence in non-humans, it suggests that human beings are the way they are because they are confined. And not just confined by walls and bars, some people are, and they get very disturbed there, walk back and forth, get catatonic, or whatever their reaction, but they certainly get disturbed when they can't move freely and associate freely and engage in the patterns that they are habituated to. It's torment - to be isolated from other human beings is a kind of torture, unless you embrace it as a discipline and deal with the reaction, [which is] what solitaries have to do. So human egoity is a characteristic, observed otherwise in non-humans when non-humans are confined, and yet human beings exhibit this even when they are not in any circumstances that you might call confinement… You can be on vacation on Waikiki beach and look like you're having a swell time with your drink with the umbrella in it, laughing, and it's paradise. And yet if you really observe people under those circumstances they're still exhibiting forms of disturbance. And what happens when they leave the beach? What happens after they leave Waikiki? What happens after they leave Hawaii or whatever? If you see them in their life-span they are disturbed, they are always acting as if confined even when not apparently confined. So what's confining? It's the self-contraction. It's not the mere fact of the organism, it's the self-contraction of the organism that is the critical nature of egoity operative in human beings and which I am addressing."

16. We could of course speculate that the self-contraction itself can be accentuated by the prevailing social structures and is therefore greater at stages on the structural-hierarchical path. I certainly would not argue with such a conclusion.


18. This dialogue can be found by going to the above website, selecting the 'Blog' option from the menu and searching for "O'Connor".

19. For example, here is how my schema can encompass Icke's model of reality.

The 'this worldly' aspect of Icke's work, which he calls 'the five sense conspiracy' is, in my model, an attempt by a group of holons (individuals) on the social level to dominate, or stand in a hierarchical relationship to, other holons of the level.

The 'inter-dimensional' aspect of Icke's work, or the Asuric forces that take reptilian form, is an attempt by a holon in the theosphere (a world) to dominate, or stand in a hierarchical relationship to, other holons of the level, including our own world.

The 'matrix' that Icke discusses in Tales from the Time Loop, corresponds exactly to the theosphere in my model.

And finally, the 'time loop' that Icke discusses in the same book, can be seen, in this model, as a pathological structure, a sort of 'whirl pool' that has arisen within the lower stages of the theosphere and which is powered by the negative emotional energy of the individuals trapped within it - a type of 'mini samsara' within the larger system.

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