The Integral Vision: Origins and Applications

Ken Wilber Audio, Conversations, Integral Basics, Perspectives

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Gaspar Segafredo, the Editor-in-Chief of Argentinean cultural magazine Myriades 1, interviews Ken Wilber on the origins of the Integral approach, how it applies to important real life issues, the dangers of post-modernity, and the mechanics of growth and development.

The Origins of the Integral Vision

In this introduction to the Integral Vision, Ken is asked, “How would you define what you do?” As a leader in the field of Integral studies and application, Ken goes all the way back to the beginning: a medical student at Duke University who couldn’t get any of the important questions answered from a traditional educational setting. What’s the meaning of life? Why am I here? What’s the good life? What is the Good, the True, the Beautiful? Fundamentally, what is important in human life? And so he set out on his own. Are these questions that you are asking yourself too?

“My books simply reflect the territory that integral people are already at, and I think that’s why there’s been a fair amount of interest in my work, because it’s just providing a clarifying map of where people are already living.”Ken Wilber

Having written The Spectrum of Consciousness when he was 23, Ken began the life-long pursuit of trying to understand the meaning and importance of being human at a remarkably early age, having since expanding his work into over two-dozen books, each building on the insights of the one before. Life, Ken believes, is a developmental affair. From archaic, to magic, to mythic, to rational, to pluralistic, to integral and beyond, there is no one answer to the meaning of life. The meaning of life literally develops along with the structures of human consciousness, in complementary and simultaneous growth through states of consciousness, where “wakefulness” progresses from waking-gross, to dreaming-subtle, to deep-dreamless-sleep, to ever-present nondual. Thus there are really two “axes of enlightenment” — one in structures of consciousness, and one in states of consciousness.

Gaspar and Ken end by talking about the fact that Ken isn’t imposing an Integral framework on anyone — he’s giving people who are already at an integral level of development a map and a way to talk about what they are already experiencing, but don’t have a language to talk about their deepest insights and intuitions into life. All we do is help provide the most complete map and language for the Integral developmental wave of development as we can — and we’d love to have you listen in and help unfold and express this blooming edge of consciousness.

Communism, Postmodernism, and a Woman’s Touch to Leadership

Here Ken discusses some concrete examples of integral thought as it applies to real life issues, including the rise and fall of communism and postmodernism. But first he is asked: “Is war, dictatorship, ecological destruction, and other contemporary issues related to the excessively masculine structure of society?” In other words, does the future salvation of the human race require a woman’s touch?

Ken begins by talking about some of the general dynamics of the masculine and feminine impulses, as they relate to specific aspects of the Integral model. There are essentially four main drives for every sentient being in the universe: on the one hand there are the drives toward agency (self-preservation) and towards communion (relationship), both notable masculine and feminine characteristics, respectively. We can think of these as “horizontal drives,” in that they describe how beings operate with other beings on the same level. There are also the two “vertical drives” of self-transcendence (Eros) and self-embrace (Agape), which are also often seen as masculine and feminine drives. Historically, there has indeed been a general emphasis upon agency and Eros in the overall structure of society, with a significant lack of the more feminine qualities of communion and Agape. And of course, we would ideally like to have a proper balance between both masculine and feminine dynamics, across the board.

However, it’s not as easy as just getting more women into the government before these feminine qualities begin to be more fully integrated into society. Although women are generally more associated with the feminine, many women are primarily masculine in nature. Some are simply more comfortable with masculine characteristics, and have been their entire lives, while others have been forced to sacrifice their femininity to the hyper-masculine climate of business and politics. Either way, what we need is not something like a 50/50 quota system to get more women into positions of power, but to collectively redefine these positions of power so they include the feminine characteristics of communion and embrace, and we can then begin electing people who fit this new vision of leadership.

“Right now the very leading edge of thinking is still postmodern… and that’s part of the problem right now, our leading edge thinkers are at a dead end.”Ken Wilber

Gaspar then asks Ken if communism was perhaps an attempt to honor the more feminine characteristics of communal living, but failed due to a primarily masculine implementation. Here Ken reintroduces the concept of structures of consciousness, which in Jean Gebser’s terms ranges from archaic, to magic, to mythic, to rational, to postmodern, to integral, and beyond — each stage transcending and including the previous ones, spiraling upwards all the way to the bleeding edge of evolution. Alongside these stages of consciousness are different modes of techno-economic production, including foraging, horticultural, agrarian, industrial, and informational. What happened, Ken explains, was that Marx was essentially trying to create a postmodern system of governance — one that was pluralistic at its core — but the system was being introduced to societies with a largely pre-industrial agrarian base, which could not support the lofty ideals that Marx had intended. It was an idea a full two stages before its time, and was thus doomed to failure, having been turned into the absolutistic fundamentalism that typically defines agrarian-stage consciousness.

Ken and Gaspar continue to discuss a few other topics, including the shift from individualistic to more communal impulses and the rise and fall of postmodernism in the 20th century. All in all, this is an absolutely wonderful interview, ideal for long-time integral students and newcomers alike, and we invite you to enjoy!

Taking Perspectives on the Culture Wars

Here Ken discusses the difference between modernity and post-modernity, and how an Integral Approach exposes the difference between flatland pluralism and a truly developmental, Integral view on growth and distinctive maturity….

Gaspar begins by asking if democracy, the United Nations, and human rights fundamentally stem from “pluralism.” The answer, as the evidence shows, is yes and no. Modernity, starting with the Western Enlightenment, attempted to free itself from dogmatic mythic religion, and declare that all humans are equal. In fact, enacting that impulse has been more of aprogressive movement — not a historical moment in time — that continues to this day. First it was that all (white) men are equal, then including all African (black) men, then including women, then including children.

In a very real way, postmodernity finished the Enlightenment project that modernity started, wherein all human beings — regardless of race, religion, creed, sexuality, etc. — should be accorded the same fundamental human rights. But postmodernity and the pluralism it encourages can, and has, often gone too far in its impulse to equalize. It has even gone so far as to deconstruct nearly all meaning whatsoever, which reveals the narcissistic and nihilistic core at the center of a glorious impulse taken to its pathological limits. This is where an Integral Approach comes into play.

“Postmodernity just came in and completed the project of Modernity — so it was an attempt to include all of humanity; the bad news is that 70% of the world population is pre-modern, and isn’t even ready for the truths of the Enlightenment.”Ken Wilber

An Integral Approach takes the many gifts and insights of pluralism, and then finds the patterns that connect. All views have their right to exist, but that doesn’t mean that all views are equal. Here, Gaspar and Ken explore developmental studies, and how — universally, research shows — people move from egocentric (I, me), to ethnocentric (you, us), to worldcentric (all of us), to (all sentient beings) Kosmocentric. This is not merely an academic consideration. This is a reflection of the world we all live in, where 70% of the world population is at ethnocentric or lower (to put it bluntly, Nazis or lower).

Here, Gaspar and Ken discuss developmental stages in terms of the ability to take perspectives. For example, egocentric can take a 1st-person perspective, ethnocentric can take a 2nd- person perspective, worldcentric-modern can take a 3rd-person perspective, worldcentric-postmodern can take a 4th-person perspective, and integral-Kosmocentric can take a 5th-person perspective (and beyond). All of those stages of development, and stages of perspective-taking, are allowed, included, and embraced in an Integral Approach. The question is, how can we help people grow into more mature, complex perspectives? This is one of the many fascinating topics that Gaspar and Ken explore in this introductory, yet leading-edge, dialogue…

The Architecture of Growth

Ken discusses the mechanics of individual and collective growth, the role of leadership in human development, and the recent disasters of American foreign policy.

“What’s needed really is a higher level of consciousness — and it’s hard to create, but it’s coming. As the Africans say: if you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. We have to go far, quickly.”Ken Wilber

It is becoming increasingly obvious to more and more people that the current state of humanity is simply unsustainable, causing more damage, fragmentation, and suffering than our world can possibly contain. During the 2008 TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conference, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore had the following to say about sustainable living in the 21st century:

An elegant summation of where we are as a species, and where we need to go from here, phrased in such a way that nearly every participant in the conference would most likely agree with — at least on an intuitive level. But what does it all really mean? When addressing an issue as enormously complex as human growth and development, we must have access to a framework comprehensive enough to make sense of the entire dizzifying range of human experience — otherwise the more closely we look, the less clear the details tend to become. Without this sort of framework, we cannot even begin to unpack Gore’s deceptively simple statement, which contains within it some very subtle — but deeply provocative—suppositions:

  • human growth exists, and is comprised of multiple levels of consciousness
  • our current levels of consciousness are not advanced enough to address our current problems
  • growth is difficult
  • growth is inevitable
  • we need to grow individually
  • we need to grow collectively
“The problem is this unilateral ‘we’ve got it right, my way or the highway,’ particularly in a world whose international mode of discourse is at the pluralistic level. To go down two levels and have the mode of discourse be amber/traditional is disastrous — and that’s the concern with George Bush.”Ken Wilber

Fortunately, we do have a framework to make sense of each of these points, to connect the invisible dots of human knowledge, to literally pull ourselves together as a species and secure our place as stewards of this venerable and vulnerable planet. In this conversation, Ken rolls the blueprints of human development onto the table, exploring the architecture of conscious evolution. He offers an in-depth discussion of both individual and collective development, noting some of the symmetry that exists between these two different types of growth, while pointing out the crucial differences that often make growth and development such a complicated topic to approach. He also talks about how the Integral framework informs his own writing process, as he constantly finds new ways to communicate the Integral vision to a wider and wider audience. Finally, Ken and Gaspar explore the role of leadership in collective growth, applying many of the theoretical points they covered to real-world situations — most notably the legacy of American politics, the disasters of George W. Bush, and the impact that “First World” and “Third World” societies have upon each other.

Go far, go quickly, or go nowhere. This is the existential ultimatum we are now faced with — evolve or die — and only the Integral vision can offer us the tools we so vitally need to move into the next phase of evolutionary maturity. The integral model is the first such framework to accomplish this, truly accounting for every product of human ambition, every observation of the human mind, every yearning of the human soul — honoring every possible facet of the living jewel that lies at the heart of the human condition. Indeed, the Integral vision represents the future of evolution in this remote corner of the galaxy—and with every small step individuals take into integral consciousness, the more immanent mankind’s next giant leap becomes.

Written by Corey deVos

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”.