In Pursuit of Wholeness: Making Room for Everything

Corey deVos Cognitive, Integral Basics, Integrative Metatheory, The Ken Show, Video Leave a Comment

Today we are going to talk about one of the most important and central ideas in all of integral theory: holons, which are wholes that are simultaneously part of other wholes.

This notion of holons — the idea that the universe is fundamentally made of whole/parts within whole/parts within whole/parts, turtles all the way up and turtles all the way down — this isn’t just important in a theoretical or philosophical sense. Understanding holons also helps us make better sense of the world that we live in, and our inner worlds as well. It’s immediately relevant to any number of culture war issues that we see these days, from abortion to immigration to vaccination to the various rights and responsibilities we have as national and global citizens. And it’s an idea that helps us recognize the many different kinds of “wholeness” we can see in the universe, and that we can pursue in our own lives — in our interiors and in our exteriors, both personally and collectively — and helps guide our own growing up, waking up, and cleaning up process.

NOTE: In our previous episode of The Ken Show, Ken gave us a stunning overview of his work, taking us through a summary of individual and social holons, the stages of development, the four quadrants, and the eight zones of integral methodological pluralism. Anyone who is looking the basics can check out that summary, “From the Big Bang to the Eight Primordial Zones”.

Written and produced by Corey deVos

Part 1 — Making Room for Everything


Become a supporting member to watch the full conversation

Humanity is entering the Transformation Age, a new era of human civilization, with Integral Consciousness rising at its leading edge. Our members don’t use Integral Life as just another media subscription they use weekly or discard. Instead, most stay with us for years, using Integral Life to learn Integral Philosophy and build an integral mind slowly, methodically and when they need it. We’re here to help you shape the future that’s emerging no matter where your life takes you.

Get Full Access For $1 (30 days)* Or explore all membership plans → * Trial price for the first 30 days, then $20/month. Cancel or switch plans in 2 minutes at any time.

Ken introduces the topic by describing the major themes of his latest book, Making Room for Everything, recently submitted to Shambhala to be published in 2023. This new book works directly with these different kinds of wholeness, and the different ways we can pursue wholeness in our 1st-person experience, in our 2nd-person relationships, and in our 3rd-person work and environments. Watch as Ken describes how the paths of Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up, Opening Up, and Showing Up all lead us to different kinds of wholeness.

Part 2 — Perils on the Path to Wholeness


Ken’s integral holonic theory is tremendously relevant for where we currently are culturally and socially. Not only in terms of the specific issues mentioned earlier (abortion, immigration, vaccination, etc. — all of which we’ve talked about in previous episodes), but also in terms of the overall regression and re-emergence of totalitarian thinking that we’ve been seeing in the over the last 10 years or so, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

When Arthur Koestler coined the word “holons” in his book The Ghost in the Machine, he was very concerned about people joining regressive communities as a way to seek a sense of wholeness that they were lacking:

As Koestler saw it, the desire to become part of something greater than ourselves can often lead us to participate with social systems that are in fact far less than ourselves, because we often choose systems that were created by lower drives from more primitive parts of the brain – more primitive subholons within us — namely, drives to oppress and dominate other people.

In Koestler’s view, if we do not have an accurate understanding of how whole/parts emerge – and if we do not know how to navigate the great chain of whole/parts that have already emerged in nature and in human society – then our own contradictory struggle to simultaneously be a whole, and to be a part of a greater whole, can lead us down some very dark paths.

This is why, when it comes to social holons, we try to be careful with our words. We are not parts of social holons, we are members of social holons.

Why is this so important? Well, just as Koestler observed, our drive to be part of something greater than ourselves can easily mislead us into becoming members of something that is far less evolved, and far more dangerous. We confuse two different kinds of drives – the drive to be a holonic part of a greater whole, versus the drive to be in community with other wholes who are similar to us.

This brings us back to the difference between ‘growth hierarchies’ and ‘dominator hierarchies’. One of the common features of totalitarian regimes everywhere is that they co-opt the language of growth holarchies and twist it into justification for dominator hierarchies, convincing people that either they themselves, or their ideology, is the “higher, greater whole” that we should all want to be part of. So let’s maybe try to keep an eye out for that, since we seem to be seeing a bit of a resurgence of this kind of thinking these days.

Part 3 — The Universe: Heap or Whole?

Become a member to watch

In his book “Science and the Reenchantment of the Cosmos”, Ervin Lazlo writes:

“The universe is not a world of separate things in events, of external spectators in an impersonal spectacle. It is an integral whole. Unlike the disenchanted world of classical physics it is not fragmented into material things in the disjointed domains of life and mind.“

He continues:

“The current finding of the universe is wholeness is the fruit of sustained investigation, based on observation and tested by experiment. It provides an entirely different image of the world than the mechanistic, materialistic and fragmented image we were taught in school. The cosmos that is connected, coherent, and whole recalled an ancient notion that was present in the tradition of every civilization; it is an enchanted cosmos.”

So the main question here is, would we consider the universe itself to be a whole, or is it a just heap, a chaotic pile of wholes, artifacts, and social holons? And if we agree with Lazlo that the universe is indeed a whole, and not a heap, would that mean the universe has its own interior, which many might label “God”? Would it mean that the universe exists in a community of other universes, since no holon exists in isolation and all wholes are also members of a collective? Might something like brane theory or multiverse theory help us account for the “community of universes” that our own universe would be a member of?

Part 4 — Emergentism or Panpsychism?


One of the persisting debates we see about mind, matter, and consciousness is this ongoing debate between “panpsychism” on one side, which believes that some form of consciousness or interiority is intrinsic to the universe at every level, versus “emergentism” which believes that consciousness emerges at a particular point in evolution, and cannot exist prior to that point.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about holonic theory is that its particular version of panpsychism (what Ken calls “paninteriorism”) — that all wholes have both an exterior dimension and an interior dimensions — is by far the most elegant and even aesthetically-pleasing argument. And also the most simple, because it doesn’t require any exterior “mechanisms” to produce interiority in the first place, only mechanisms to deepen that interiority as matter and mind continues to evolve together. And because it doesn’t diminish consciousness as a byproduct of physical processes — rather, holonic theory makes consciousness as primary to the universe as it is to our own felt experience, right now. After all, as Descartes pointed out, all objective phenomena in our awareness can be doubted. But we cannot doubt our own conscious awareness itself, which is ultimately the only genuinely self-evident “truth” we’ve ever known.

Part 5 — Could Stars Be Organisms?


Several episodes ago we talked about the different kinds of subtle fields and energies associated with different kinds of holons, and even social holons. One question I have is whether it is possible for non-living matter (atoms, for example) to form “living systems” that are capable of generating subtle energies that the atom itself is incapable of producing? Is it possible for social holons to display properties that are so much more complex than its individual members, even to the point of generating/conducting higher forms of subtle energy than its individual holons can? Might this be why we see such staggering complexity in things like ant colonies, which no individual ant is capable of? Is it possible that a social holon can be magnitudes “more intelligent” than the individual holons that compose it?

For example, let’s entertain a science fiction scenario where we eventually learn that stars are truly “living systems” that share many rudimentary properties of life — nutrition (atom-smashing), respiration (solar cycles), excretion (electromagnetic and particle radiation), growth (life cycles), death and reproduction (both via supernovae). Could stars be something like atomic organisms — giant single-cell proto-organisms made of plasma that eat atoms and excrete light?

And just like the gravity field a star generates will influence the emergence and physical self-organization of planetary bodies in its system, could stars generate an etheric subtle-energy field, which is commonly associated with living processes, and which would also influence the emergence and self-organization of living bodies in its system? Would this would make the probability of primordial life emerging throughout the universe much more likely, all feeding on both the electromagnetic and etheric energy of its parent star?

Is it possible that the living universe kickstarts itself right from the very beginning — that when we look at a galaxy in the night sky, we’re not seeing a collection of dead lights, but a community of living organisms?

We hope you enjoyed this episode of The Ken Show! Let us know what you think in the comments below, and also be sure to let us know if you have any questions for future episodes!



More Perspectives

From the Big Bang to the Eight Primordial Perspectives

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos

Ken Wilber offers a stunning introduction to the major components of Integral theory and practice — a guided tour that takes us from the very first forms to emerge in the universe, all the way to the eight primordial perspectives that all of our knowledge is constructed from.



The Science of Subtle Energy

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos

In this episode of The Ken Show we take a look at Ken’s “Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energy”, which offers an elegant summary of how these energies might be accounted for by integral metatheory and integrated with our scientific understanding of the universe.



On the Front Line of the Culture War — Give Me Some Real Examples, Not Just Theories!

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos

Watch as Ken and Corey offer their views on some of the most controversial policy debates of our time — abortion, vaccination, healthcare, capitol punishment, etc. — each of which has become a battle line in our constantly escalating culture wars.



Ask Ken a Question

FULL SPECTRUM MINDFULNESS

Full Spectrum Mindfulness is a groundbreaking new web course that combines Western approaches to Growing Up with Eastern methods of Waking Up, taught by one of the world’s greatest living philosophers of the mind, Ken Wilber.

Full Spectrum Mindfulness combines hard-hitting mindfulness practice with leading-edge discoveries in neuroscience and developmental psychology, giving you what you need to dramatically deepen your awareness and skill by awakening the eight major levels of evolution alive in you right now.

Learn how Full Spectrum Mindfulness can help you grow up

Previous Episodes of The Ken Show

The Momentous Leap to Integral Consciousness

The Momentous Leap to Integral Consciousness

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos explore some of the unique challenges that come with the transition to Integral stages of development — “the momentous leap” as it is often called. Watch as Ken and Corey try to bring a little bit more light to this particular path of transformation, and maybe leave a few signposts for fellow travelers along the way.
No Boundary: Ken Wilber Goes Back to High School

No Boundary: Ken Wilber Goes Back to High School

Ken speaks with high school students to discuss his 1979 classic, No Boundary. What follows is a lively and deeply insightful exploration of integral spirituality, Ken’s personal practice, and the path of awakening that leads us to nondual realization.
Integral Critical Theory: The 8 Zones of Racism

Integral Critical Theory: The 8 Zones of Racism

Ken and Corey continue their discussion of the 8 critical zones of integral metatheory, and apply them to the ongoing cultural conversation taking place around race, racism, and other kinds of bigotry that we continue to see in the world. This discussion is a great opportunity to not only learn more about these 8 primordial perspectives that are available to us, but also to see how they can be applied to social and cultural challenges and “wicked problems” such as these.
From the Big Bang to the Eight Primordial Perspectives

From the Big Bang to the Eight Primordial Perspectives

Ken Wilber offers a stunning introduction to the major components of Integral theory and practice — a guided tour that takes us from the very first forms to emerge in the universe, all the way to the eight primordial perspectives that all of our knowledge is constructed from.
Integrating Power

Integrating Power

Ken and Corey take an in-depth look at the multiple kinds of power we find in all four quadrants — interior and exterior power, individual and collective power — as they are expressed up and down the spiral of development.
The Science of Subtle Energy

The Science of Subtle Energy

In this episode of The Ken Show we take a look at Ken's "Comprehensive Theory of Subtle Energy”, which offers an elegant summary of how these energies might be accounted for by integral metatheory and integrated with our scientific understanding of the universe.
Ken Wilber Goes to High School: Sex, Ecology, Spirituality

Ken Wilber Goes to High School: Sex, Ecology, Spirituality

In this very special episode of The Ken Show we are joined by Aissatou Diallo, Zoe Tray, and Noah Delorme, students at Choate Rosemary Hall who have been studying Ken Wilber’s seminal book, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality for their senior year project. Watch as Ken, Aissatou, Zoe, and Noah unpack many of the core insights of SES and discuss the unique value Integral work holds for a new generation of thinkers, leaders, artists, and scholars.
Practice the Wound of Love

Practice the Wound of Love

Watch as Ken and Corey explore the ongoing unfoldment of love along the paths of Waking Up, Growing Up, Opening Up, Cleaning Up, and Showing Up. What follows is one of the most powerful, transformative, and touching conversations that Ken Wilber has ever recorded.
Marx, Mysticism, and Mathematics: Navigating Our Epistemic Collapse

Marx, Mysticism, and Mathematics: Navigating Our Epistemic Collapse

In this episode we continue our fascinating discussion about Integral epistemology, taking a look at the important but partial truths of Marxism, how we go about verifying and confirming spiritual experiences, and the involutionary/evolutionary nature of mathematics.
Integral Epistemology

Integral Epistemology

How do we know stuff? Like all of the great philosophical quandaries, it’s a fundamentally straightforward question that can lead us into an endlessly branching series of chicken-and-egg meditations on the nature of existence (ontology) versus the nature of knowledge (epistemology). In this fascinating episode of The Ken Show, we take a look at a dozen of the most popular schools of epistemological thought — idealism, pragmatism, empiricism, constructivism, etc. — noting their respective contributions and limitations, and how they can all be pulled together into a more Integral epistemology.
Awaken the Eye of Spirit

Awaken the Eye of Spirit

All of us possess three primary modes of perception that we use to disclose reality – the "Eye of Flesh", the "Eye of Mind", and the "Eye of Spirit". Watch as Ken and Corey explore these ideas and the many ways we perceive and interpret spiritual realities.
Integrating Shadow

Integrating Shadow

Ken and Corey offer a stunning overview of the psychological shadow. Ken describes several different kinds of shadow, how shadow can show up differently in all four quadrants, and the relationship between shadow, violence, and social transformation.
Coronavirus and a Course in Anti-Fragility

Coronavirus and a Course in Anti-Fragility

Ken and Corey respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by suggesting a far more comprehensive approach to health and healing. Watch as we take a tour through all four quadrants of healthy living — a much-needed guide to integral anti-fragility in the 21st century.
The Four Quadrants: A Guided Tour

The Four Quadrants: A Guided Tour

Ken and Corey take a in-depth tour through one of Ken’s most well-known contributions to integral philosophy: the Four Quadrants. Watch as Ken shares his personal story about the origins of the Four Quadrant model — the day everything came together — as he weaves 3rd-person theoretical descriptions of the model with his own 1st-person experience and creative process.
Big Time: Integral Historiography and You

Big Time: Integral Historiography and You

Ken unpacks his own approach to integral historiography, helping us to better understand our own place in history — and history's place in us.
Integral Social Justice

Integral Social Justice

In this stunning 3 hour discussion, Ken Wilber offers his own views around healthy and unhealthy forms of social justice, praising the healthy and legitimate efforts to enact social justice over the generations while noting how much of today’s broken discourse around social justice is helping to perpetuate multiple forms of injustice.
Wicked Problems: Gun Violence

Wicked Problems: Gun Violence

In this exclusive series, Ken and Corey take an in-depth look at America’s ongoing struggle with gun violence, using the four quadrants to track many of the most critical and commonly-blamed factors, conditions, and causes that seem to be contributing to this terribly wicked problem.
Kosmos: An Integral Voyage

Kosmos: An Integral Voyage

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos ponder the evolutionary mysteries of the universe, speculating on how abundant life might be in the kosmos, why we haven’t met any of our galactic neighbors yet, and what might happen if a UFO landed on the White House lawn. It’s a fun conversation — and one that takes its subject matter more seriously than you might expect. Whether you are a true believer of UFO phenomena or an iron-clad skeptic, you don’t want to miss this fascinating and far-reaching exploration.
The Varieties of Integral Spiritual Experience

The Varieties of Integral Spiritual Experience

Watch as Ken and Corey explore the path of Waking Up — a guided tour through temporary states of consciousness that include everything from emotional states to chemically-induced states to the direct, immediate experience of timeless reality, revealing an infinitely renewable source of energy, resilience, and creative inspiration that rests at the very center of you.
The Many Ways We Grow

The Many Ways We Grow

Human development is uneven, which means that we are better at some things than we are at others. Some skills come more naturally to us, and others are more difficult to acquire. Watch as Ken and Corey explore each of these developmental capacities in detail, offering a powerful summary of human potentials, talents, and intelligences — a comprehensive map of the territory of “you” that will help guide your own ongoing growth and development.
Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.

Start the discussion at community.integrallife.com