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

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Giorgio Piacenza Giorgio Piacenza is a sociologist student in the Certificate program leading to a Master's degree in Integral Theory at JFK University.


Bold Reflections
on Integral Theory

Giorgio Piacenza Cabrera

Carefully pondering in Peru while undertaking online Integral Theory courses via JFK University, I experienced some insights on the usual themes normally inquired. If you are already conversant with the basics of “Integral Theory,” you might find some of these reflections thought provoking.

On the “Forgotten” Buddha Nature...

Regarding the “Heart Sutra of Vajrayana,” it is said that, since form changes, it has no real substance and is empty. This, form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form and, to this, Ken Wilber intelligently adds that we have to take into account that within modernity humanity discovered that Form was Evolving in biological and in other material aspects. Off course, this is an important observation that needs to be seriously considered by today's Buddhist thinkers as now there might be a need to understand the non dual Mahayanist embrace of “evolving” phenomena differently. Now, whether, “Buddha Nature” is empty (and the same as form) or can essentially stand on its own may also change the equation.

I must say that I always felt particularly uncomfortable about the continuous need to counteract the alleged nihilism under which Buddhism might be interpreted. Interestingly, I found that there is a less known but historically important school of Tibetan Buddhism, one in which the concept of an “essence” is salvaged. This school borrows from Nagarjuna but also from the Tathagatagarbha Sutra as well as from nine other sources which can be coherently construed as “essentialist.” Needless to say, I think that this unique way of understanding the Dharma or its Buddhist theoretical underpinnings would make Buddhism more approachable to many Greek, European, Islamic, Hebrew and Indian forms of non dual mysticism. An example of this school of thought is found among the (once politically repressed) Jonang Monastery monks which espouse a tradition called “Maha Madhyamaka” or “Zhentong” which Ken Wilber and other intelligent integral theorists would do well to revise in order to boost their discourse on Non Duality. The tradition affirms that all phenomena are empty except for the Buddha Nature which is not empty of itself. This unique emphasis which also heavily relies upon subtle interpretations of Nagarjuna's work, as well as other ancient sources, has consequences for our understanding of Buddhism and by extension, of aspects of Integral Theory. In fact, our understanding of the word “Spirit” and “Ground” could become more compatible with some basic mystical and theological insights of the Medieval (European and Islamic) era which, in spite of being culturally positioned in the “pre-integral” “Amber” “Mythical” stage, was also in the (unfinished) process of establishing highly sophisticated versions of ideas on “God,” ideas which could now enrich our “Integral stage” understanding. For more information go to:

More on the “Buddha Nature”

The “self” (understood as a subjective cohering entity capable of choice and of coordinating a personality self-system) is not fixed, not a process, not being as structure, nor being as becoming. It is essentially not definable in descriptive terms and, even these 'not' or 'negative' definitions, are not completely applicable. Nonetheless, what we can experience and categorize as holonic and describable phenomena, all epistemic phenomena (those that can be distinguished and named by reason or logos) in most Buddhist ideologies can also philosophically and experientially understood as “empty,” or to lack their own self-standing substance, to be contingent and dependent, except (in the Maha Madhyamaka-Zhentong system) for the Essence of self, also called in Buddhist circles "Buddha Nature."  While Nagarjuna seems also to affirm that “Buddha Nature” is empty, in the Maha Madhyamaka-Zhentong system this is differently understood. Thus, indeed, “form is emptiness and emptiness is form,” but Essence of self, might escape this non dually-inspired distinction. As the teaching of Maha Madhyamaka-Zhentong states “The Buddha Nature is not empty of itself.” Thus, I think that we have an opportunity to reconnect a traditional and unique Buddhist understanding with Greek, Western, Indian-Vedanta and Islamic insights concerning a Transcendental “Being”, “Essence” and “Substance” and, by doing so, to enrich philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism.

“Buddha Nature” (which can normally be distinguished from the idea of “Atman” in that it is more like a permanent potential for enlightenment) could perhaps now be also understood as a completely actualized, Absolute Being. As a major proposal of Medieval philosophy states: Essence and existence coincide in God-Self, in Absolute Being, in the non dual Godhead, which is perhaps better expressed in “apophatic” style (negative theological definitions) than in “cataphatic” style (positive and “in excelsis” theological definitions), a Godhead which, under this view is not unlike a more encompassing version of what "Buddha Mind" can be. 

This “nature” would remain, both as a potential for all sentient beings (if contingently understood) and as the only actual Being whose essence (not understood as a phenomenon) is existence. This Essence is absolute actual existence to itself and potential realization to every sentient being mired in contingency. This Essence sustains all forms of finite being that –in reference to itself- is nothing but empty

On Whether There are Interesting Models Complementing Integral Theory…

In Archie J. Bahm's second tier theory called “Organicism,” the eight more widespread metaphysical answers in relation to the nature of reality are distributed along two axes in specific positions that can be said to derive (under a different nomenclature) from the subjective, the objective, the individual and the collective dimensions. The axes formed derive from complementary poles that interact dialectically, forming holons which preserve the part-whole principle but also offer other dialectical aspects for analysis.

While in Integral Theory the quadratic axes are defined by four externally placed “dimensions,” in Organicism, the axes are formed by their extremes representing four logically derived “positions” or characteristics that arise with polar analysis. The latter are first placed as the extreme positions that generate the axes but, then, four other in between positions can also be placed along the lines.

The patterns observed by Wilber at home when he saw that all theories could be grouped in four large categories, the “aha” moment derived from induction were analytically deduced by Bahm using what could be understood as the basis of holons: complementary poles. So, in relation to the quadratic aspects of reality, we can say that they can be “deduced” as well as “induced.” In my view, this gives support to the possibility of intelligible structures accompanying the observable, empirical, induced quadratic pattern and this is important to go beyond the need to intellectually surrender to the post modern dislike of “a prioris” and to the idea that only that which is experienced exists.

When the eight more widely known metaphysical solutions to the question of the nature of reality are placed along the axes of Organicism, all of them become mutually necessary and Organicism itself (placed at the center of the axes) becomes a Second Tier system-inclusive metaphysical position that (just like Integral Theory) states that the truths of the main metaphysical systems are all correct but the negation of each other's truths is not).

In the vertical axis, these metaphysical systems are: Vedantism, Neutral Monism, Boodin's Creationism and Dualism. In the horizontal axis they are: Spiritualism, Emanationism, Emergentism and Materialism. In the first axis, the extremes “Vedantism” and “Dualism” represent the “Individual” and “Plural” dimensions, respectively. In the second axis, the extremes “Spiritualism” and “Materialism” represent “Interiority” and “Exteriority,” respectively.

I must say that, due to the need to maintain a dialectical approach, Boodin's “Creationism” relates to a more participatory idea about God as a creative energy, not the idea of an utmost all-powerful God that creates “ex nihilo.” I think that this is a limitation of models that represent contingent existence, as the Integral Model does (whether they'd be disclosed inductively or deductively). This is also why there's a need to study or improve on models of the origin of the cosmos which integrate “ex nihilo” creationism with emanationist approaches. For instance, in this regard, I think that Rabbi Yitzchak Luria's Kabbalistic “model” should be considered.

Among other models, that possess holonic-quadratic-dialectical characteristics which are previous, similar and complementary to Ken Wilber's own quadratic discoveries, I think that the “Jung-Pauli Quaternio,” the Andean “Chakana” and E.F. Schumacher's “Four Fields of Knowledge” (for more information go to: "Integral Quadrants in History" ).

On Mysterious Objective Phenomena that –Like Integral Theory- Challenge the Reduction of Life to a Form of Materialist Determinism…

Objective reality is not perfectly stable. Its exterior patterns can shift and do shift, often in relation to 'dimensions of existence' that could shed light on how Interiority and Exteriority relate, occasionally in association with meaningful Interior experiences. The scope of associated 'mysterious' (or mystifying) phenomena transcends but includes most people's interests in the field of psychology, philosophy and mysticism. Generally speaking, until now, a vast majority of 'Integral Practitioners' have been more inclined to see Integral Theory in terms of the practical psychological and developmental applications but, for the Theory itself and for the 'Integral Theory Movement' to be truly inclusive, and fundamentally transformative, I think that an equivalent interest in the realm of cutting edge research related to the nature of 'pliable' patterns of reality is now absolutely necessary. Perhaps it's a matter of a lack of personal sentiment and inclination, in spite of the cognitive capacity to think in multi-systemic, 'Integral' ways. While I partially applaud modernizing and post modernizing the overarching reality-defining conceptual systems associated with mysticism and with the 'Great Chain of Being', submitting the future of Integral Theory to modern and post modern agreeable modern and post modern sentiments is not welcomed. For Integral Theory to genuinely represent a viable integration of Interior-Exterior Individual and Collective 'dimensions' and experiences of 'reality', research on the possibility of realm interaction embracing these dimensions needs to be considered. I mean that, mostly stable exterior physical patterns may interact with other (perhaps 'subtle') patterns associated with realm-transcending aspects of individual and collective Interiority.

If –as is normally claimed- for 'Integral practitioners' every major school of thought has elements of truth that 'need to be recognized and honored,' where's interest or acknowledgement of genuine phenomena associated with 'schools of thought' that recognize seemingly capricious but active and –perhaps partially controllable- objective phenomena in pioneering areas like Subtle Energy Research and Engineering (see Stanford material sciences professor W.A. Tiller's “Simulator” research which, apparently, has demonstrated the local modification of the space-time continuum with practical applications). What about areas of interest such as collectively verified ectoplasmic spirit materializations (Google “medium William Thompson”), “subliminal phenomena” (Google “F.W.H. Myers”), “acausally” related meaningful coincidences (Google “Synchronicity, Carl Jung), UFO witnesses or contactee and abductee testimony and evidence (go to the Disclosure Project, or watch in You Tube this September, 2010 valiant press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC: and/or ask yourself about the reality of collective experiences of visible energy “Xendras” experienced within the South American ET contact group 'Mision Rahma'.

While, oftentimes, the tendency of recurrent paranormal experiencers and believers is to over speculate in an 'unscientific way,' Integral practitioners ought to study every major aspect and include objectively verifiable phenomena in their research on the nature of reality and the applicability of the theory. What about remote viewing (Google Charles Tart, David Morehouse) and Presentiment Research on Future Emotions (Google Dean Radin, Dick Bierman and H.S. Scholte)? Some recent experimental findings apparently overcoming the fact (discovered by B. Libet) that awareness of a decision may occur after unconscious brain activation (suggesting that our subjective experience of free will is an illusion).

Shouldn't more of us “Integral Theorists” be trying to follow Dr. Rupert Sheldrake's experiments and see why alleged “morphogenetic fields” may relate more with interiorities than classical, determined matter? And where's “integral interest” in psychokinesis, including “retrocausal psychokinesis” (Robert Jahn, Princeton U.'s PEAR lab). Where's our interest in something as crucial for what it means to be alive as “survival research” (IANDS, Victor Zammit,)? Will we recognize that “Instrumental Transcommunication” (try ) seems to provide unique objective evidence of the physics and deeper meanings of inter realm communication? What about the “temporal backward referral” debate? Think of the efforts of the University of Arizona's “Center for Consciousness Studies” pertaining the “mind-body problem”. Maybe find out more of the debate mentioning the works of Benjamin Libet, Stuart Hameroff, Paul Davies, Roger Penrose and others. Here are some sources:,,

What about genuine (occasionally physically and collectively) verifiable shamanic phenomena that transcend the known limits of lineal time-space objective causality? What about possible genuine or objectively verified, (but still non-scientifically explainable) healing miracles, usually associated with Mythic or 'Amber' stage belief-centered cultures? Can there be intervention upon physical matter coordinated by highly evolved beings situated in higher subtle planes? What kind of interactions between subtle levels of matter and gross physical matter (interactions perhaps amenable to be disclosed by a bold “Integral” combination of science and philosophical metaphysics) can explain any of these events?

How much of the (often dismissed and often considered 'not credible' 'imaginative' 'mythical' or 'otherworldly') phenomena discovered in –what were once more clearly demarcated- cultural stages should be incorporated for all-inclusive and scientific research with a genuinely 'Integral' mindset? How 'Integral' can we really be if we push aside these fundamental matters that may inform us of the interphase between exterior, material reality and Interior meaning and simply consider them as “pre-scientific” “culturally” or “collectively” useful, ''mythic” and perhaps “misguided?” How would our essential understanding of the unfoldment of holons improve by reconsidering inter-realm phenomena?

Can we consider what lies in the future as metaphysically (and physically) potential in relation to our 'present' or actual experiences? Retrocausality is being gradually verified in an objective manner and. If Integral Theory is to be able to shed light, predict or, perhaps, serve to guide other theories able to predict upcoming findings, it might behoove us to learn more about these 'mysterious' phenomena that also -from a quantum theoretical perspective- seem to cross the apparent boundaries between Interior and Exterior phenomena in ways that an attachment to a preference for exteriorly stable structures does not serve. Perhaps, find out about the maverick work of Jeff Tollaksen and Yakir Aharonov in the article “Back From the Future” written for Discovery Magazine by Zeeya Merali or, perhaps, be inspired by “Listening to Our Future Selves, Reviewing Our Pasts” by Cynthia Sue Larson.

On AQAL's Incompletion and Boodin's God…

John Elof Boodin (1869-1950), a Swedish-American philosopher who –among several books- wrote one titled “God and Creation,” presents a view of Creationism that is compatible both with a dialectical AQAL model (based on the dialectical mutual complementarity of the ideas of “parts and whole”) and with its theoretical “parallel” and also Second Tier model, Archie J. Bahm's “Organicism” (dating decades before the 1990's). This “alternative-parallel” model starts with the dialectical relation between complementary poles in general and focuses on those that have traditionally been described by philosophers as “metaphysical poles of existence” (for instance, “finite-infinite” “quality-quantity” “cause-effect” “particular-universal” “free-determined” etc). Bahm also briefly focuses his attention on AQAL's fundamental “part-whole” as he develops a way to analyze polarity in very rational ways using all the possible meanings implied in polar relations.

J. E. Boodin's God is a creator but, since “Organicism” is a relational model (like AQAL), God participates through his energies with Creation. This kind of participatory approach finds a place among the eight metaphysical positions that Archie Bahm found to fit in his model which (as already mentioned) essentially replicates the logic behind AQAL's quadratic structure.

As I have said, Bahm found a Second Tier philosophy (he didn't call it as such but to all effects, according to Ken Wilber's general definitions, among others of inclusivity, I'm sure that it is Second Tier). He did it by analyzing complementary poles (two elements which -even if being opposite- are in an inextricable relation with each other), In trying to observe the possibilities of which poles prevail and or how they implicitly need each other, he came up with two crossing lines defined by their extreme “positions” which basically are: 1) “Aspectism” or that which cannot be divided because everything is an aspect of it; 2) “Dualism” or the idea that both poles are equally real; 3) “One pole-ism” or that which sufficient by itself without reference to an 'other' exterior to it; and 4) “Other pole-ism,” or that which is other to the self referent pole is what is real, meaning that the “other” completely defines the “one pole.”

Bahm's model remains linked to a comparative dialectic. I speculate that, assuming that there is an answer as to the 'nature of reality' the question may have been: What is? And the answer may have been: It is this, it is that, it is only this, it is this and that.

Returning to the lines defined by their extreme positions, in the vertical line a gradient can form between the extreme defining positions of the 'non divisible' (a position akin to AQAL's “Individual Dimension”) and the 'duality position' the position that asserts that reality is more than one (akin to plurality or its origins).

Since Bahm was a philosopher of comparative religions, he placed eight of the main metaphysical answers as to the nature of reality along the two axes or crossing lines. This vertical line holds “Vedanta! as a metaphysical position in one extreme and “Extreme Dualism” opposite to it, but in between (closer to the Vedanta position) is the intermediate metaphysical position “Neutral Monism” (which affirms that two opposite defining aspects of reality are subsumed under one third fundamental. Also, along this vertical line (and closer to Extreme Dualism), another intermediate position comes up which is called “Creationism.” This is the position that should correspond to the “radical other” kind of God (found in most Christian, Jewish and Islamic creation theologies) the all powerful God that creates “ex nihilo” by fiat. Nonetheless, interestingly, this is the only major world-renowned metaphysical position among the eight that doesn't quite fit in. In fact, to make it fit in, Archie J. Bahm needed to consider J. E. Boodin's proposal for the creator God, a creator which is participatory or a God that doesn't remain absolutely unaffected by creation (as in a traditional understanding of Christianity, God is only immanent insofar as He remains as Spirit untouched by any kind of contingency). Soon, I'll return to this important point with which I'll try to show that both Bahm's' theory-model “Organicism” or its twin theory-model, Wilber's “AQAL” are incomplete because they cannot accommodate this traditional view of God, but first I'll list the remaining types of metaphysical positions corresponding to positions along the horizontal line.

This horizontal line is defined by two extremes. One refers to that which is based on itself and this corresponds to an extreme which Bahm refers to as “Spiritualism” or “Idealism” meaning that only that which is understood as without reference or need to anything else or anything exterior is real. This is a radical self-referent subjectivity. Its opposite position is “the other” or that which is exterior and Bahm used “Extreme Materialism” to illustrate it. In this view, only matter is real, only matter exists. Now, the intermediate positions: Closer to “Spiritualism” is “(Boodin's) Creationism,” in which God creates but in the sense of an intelligence creatively organizing through His energies the already given cosmos. Then, closer to “Materialism” we have “Emergentism” in which, based upon matter, awareness, consciousness or interiority may emerge.

As said in other writings, “Organicism” is “Second Tier” because (among other reasons) the ninth position, occupying the central point where the lines cross, corresponds to Bahm's acceptance that the posits of all eight metaphysical positions are true but also that the negations of each other posits is not true. Thus, it is a theory/model that integrates several important fundamental metaphysical ideas (some of which serve as the root conceptual assumptions of religions and political ideologies) that were traditionally held as incompatible.

Well, finally, after that entire preamble, in a more “integral” model, there should also be room to accommodate the idea (and mystical perception) of a traditional God that creates out of nothing and remains unaffected by contingency. It is not that we ought to go back to an exclusive “mythic stage” state of understanding in detriment of other forms of modern and post modern understanding, but that, by considering God along with a “Tetralemma” of conceivable possibilities we could say that: God is This (the recognized reality, nature, etc), God is Other (absolutely transcendent, unaffected, indefinable Other), God is both This and Other, God is neither This nor Other. Since both AQAL and Organicism relate with experiential contingent understanding, both the Non Dual God of the mystics and the utterly transcendental God (also of the mystics) is not represented. This thinking of possibilities or of what is conceivable -tetralemma style- transcends what is defined by Organicism or AQAL that find their limit in expressed or actual reality interpreted through comparative/associative reasoning. In fact, both Bahm and Wilber acknowledged that their models are about contingent reality (understood in a way in which one factor needs another to be defined). One factor is defined by the existence of its opposite.

It's true that, among religious metaphysical systems in the history of the world, traditional “Creationism” is an oddity (because deity has seldom been conceived emphasizing its Transcendental disconnection so much) but it is required to complete what is conceivable about God in relation with experience and with what is. This the reason why I'm searching for an even more integral philosophy that would be able to model the traditional Semitic and Christian creator God and –in my view- this philosophy/model/theory would have to come to terms with God both emanating the world and God creating the world ex nihilo out of pure power. Preferences need not be with substance of empirically detectable existence defined a la Aristotle (in order to pay homage to modern-post modern discoveries and sentiment). Preferences need not be with a pre-existent Being always embracing or involving, but gradually diminishing (perhaps in appearance, perhaps in actuality) into lower levels of ontological limitation.

To say that the insightful understanding of “Non Dual Spirit” escapes the AQAL Model because this model represents the relative and contingent world is correct but, what is not generally realized, is that the traditional concept of a Creator that remains unaffected by its creation (or contingency, or the relative world) also needs to be incorporated in the AQAL model more explicitly by equating “Him with that Non Dual Spirit. As some of the most inclusive thinkers and mystic in the Catholic tradition (like John Scottus Eriugena) knew, the inexpressible Absolute, (perhaps better referred to in negative “apophatic” terms) somehow could also be best theorized in theological and philosophical terms by reconciling Platonism with Aristotelianism.

The God that can be seen under the eyes of relativity or contingency either under “Organicism” or “AQAL” is a God conceived under a finite perspective. Even the Second Tier, inclusive dialectic of these systems, remains at the threshold before Non Duality or the Absolute. The central point of Organicism (equal to the empty space where AQAL's quadrants are drawn) represents a polar relation that becomes the radical freedom of mutual immanence as when in the Taoist yin-yan relation, the within of the within is found. This infinite recursive within relation finally escapes the dialectics of the comparison of two elements, even if complementary and may come to represent that which is totally free (as the traditional Semitic and Christian God) and that which is called “Buddha Nature” in other quarters. These two understandings need not be divisive for the integral awareness.

The highest levels of Christian, Jewish and Islamic mystical theology developed a sophisticated understanding that surpasses simplistic referrals to a “mythic era” and can complement sophisticated Eastern ideologies, like Nagarjuna's. One such possible path of resolution producing more integral elements of reasoning impinging upon Platonic and Aristotelian preferences and upon Non Dual Buddhist and “Absolute Other” Semitic and Christian preferences may –for instance- be Rabbi Yitzchak Luria's unique understanding of “Tzimtzum” or the way Infinite God may have occulted His Being to create ex nihilo finite worlds.

On the Integral Age…

In the “Integral Age” (if there's to be one), both the ideas Emanation and “radical” Creation must come to terms as Platonism and Aristotelianism also must. The long held dichotomy (probably representing inborn psychological tastes or preferences) must come to an end or be superseded by a historical integration without parallel.

The fact that the AQAL Model (in its origins and still today) is partially favorable to Plotinian Emanationism and now also (in its orthodox, and also partially misguided “post metaphysical” stage) to objective, empirical verification (following the communal 'injunction,' 'experience,' 'verification' guidelines), means that the next stage of integration in the Theory must come to terms with the profound divided philosophical preferences that have illumined thinkers for –at least- the last 2500 years. Metaphysics, if well understood (in its profound scope), is here to stay…and be renewed.

On the Interiority of Artifacts…

Doesn't everything, every holon, possess Interiority? Conceivably, human artifacts do have some interiority, at least in terms of their inter-atomic relations, the way they code information, the rules by which they organize their molecules and maintain a structure or are available for modifications and interaction with their environment. Since autopoiesis is still such a mystery and, knowing about these Interior or “interior-like” qualities of small elements of matter, would it be adequate to suggest that, perhaps, the 'simple' level of interiority of artifacts (maybe also giving rise to a general pansychism) might relate with the interiority of individual users and of shared cultural meanings and 'acquire' such interiorities? Perhaps autopoiesis is potentially inherent in ANY physical holon and such a holon may be 'impregnated' by or 'resonate' with the interiorities of self aware individual users and, even, those interiorities found in their cultures. This may begin to explain some cases in which psychic individuals acquired information by holding an artifact or by being near artifacts.

On the Subtle Realms…

We definitely need a clearer map of the “subtle realms” since (according to an ever growing body of information based on tradition and experience) they range all the way from archetypical forms to ghostly lower astral phenomena, low, middle and higher astral abodes of sentient life, psychic phenomena, healing energies, the intra atomic level, the “zero point,” a possible dualist-interactionist mind-body connection, interior aspects of matter, perhaps consistent with the discovery of “dark energy” and so much more. Also (adventuring a bit into the risk of losing credibility), I might add that, subtle substances-energies may combine in different proportions with “denser” physical matter, producing a variety of subtler and denser levels of what we call “matter.”

I think that the “Body, Mind and Spirit” categories also refer to three distinct ways to define the exterior substance that accompanies interiority and that these can be combined in different proportions to create a variety of worlds with differing challenges and possibilities of experience, disclosure and expression. Perhaps human sentience might one day continue unfolding in subtler varieties of material worlds as some extraterrestrial beings briefly interacting with our known physical earthly realm seem to do.

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