Integral Theory: A Meta-Map of Reality
Integrate: [verb] to coordinate or blend into a larger, unified whole.
In my spiritual autobiography I wrote about Ken Wilber's integral theory, which I discovered in 2001. Wilber's theory resonated with me because it explained everything I had learned and experienced in my life up to that point (and it still includes everything I have experienced since then). In integral theory I found an orienting framework for truth, and it remains the best framework I have found so far. This section and its links give an overview of integral theory. The information is from materials I prepared for several classes on integral spirituality that I taught at local churches.
Throughout history maps of reality have been created by religions, philosophers, scientists, and historians. The integral model developed by Wilber attempts to integrate all of these various maps into a composite meta-map of reality, and show how they all fit together. Regarding the need for an integral model, Wilber has written:
An integral approach means, in a sense, the "view from 50,000 feet." It is a panoramic look at the modes of inquiry (or the tools of knowledge acquisition) that human beings use, and have used, for decades and sometimes centuries. -- From Ken Wilber’s introduction to Integral Medicine: A Noetic Reader
I am often asked, why even attempt an integration of the various worldviews? Isn't it enough to simply celebrate the rich diversity of various views, and not try to integrate them? Well, recognizing diversity is certainly a noble endeavor, and I heartily support that pluralism. But if we remain merely at the stage of celebrating diversity, we ultimately are promoting fragmentation, alienation, separation. You go your way, I go my way. . . – which is often what has happened under the reign of the pluralistic relativists, who have left us a postmodern Tower of Babel on too many fronts. It is not enough to recognize the many ways in which we are all different; we need to go further and start recognizing the many ways that we are also similar. . . . Building on the rich diversity offered by pluralistic relativism, we need to take the next step and weave those many strands into a beautiful web of unifying connections, an interwoven tapestry of mutual intermeshing. We need, in short, to move from pluralistic relativism to universal integralism – we need to keep trying to find the One-in-the-Many that is the form of the Kosmos itself. (From A Theory of Everything, pg. 112.)
I have attempted to create a comprehensive map of human nature (which is a little less grandiose than it sounds). Everybody knows that you don't want to confuse the map with the territory, which is definitely true. But you don't want a totally screwed-up map, either. So in order to make as few mistakes as possible, I basically took over 100 of the best maps . . . drawn by various cultures – East and West, premodern and modern and postmodern – and attempted to combine the enduring elements of each, along with whatever new insights I might add. The result is called "integral" because it attempts to be widely inclusive, combining the various truths in a way that is as coherent and comprehensive as possible.
What often happens if a person studies this integral map is that it begins to make room in your psyche, in your being, in your soul, for all the parts of you that were disowned, whether by society, your parents, your peers, whomever. An integral approach even makes room for those who did the disowning to you. -- Introduction to Soulfully Gay, by Joe Perez
The five major components of the integral model are listed below. To learn more about a component, click on it.
The integral model is open and evolving, because the universe, humanity, and our knowledge are open and evolving. It is currently in it’s fifth iteration. It’s concepts and ideas are subject to change as knowledge and evolution continue to unfold. Wilber writes:
Does this mean that the great contemplative traditions...are partial and limited? I'm afraid so, yes – but then, so is any system that we could ever come up with, including ours. Even if we produce what we feel is a perfectly integral model at this time, a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, a million years from now, our “complete system” will look something like a flea on the elephant of the system that the future will disclose. Of course our systems are always partial, and of course new ones will always dwarf our discoveries. But we persist in attempting to be as integral as we can be at this time, because even a little bit of wholeness is better than none at all.
The information in this course has been gleaned from Ken Wilber's books and CDs (most often the CDs Kosmic Consciousness and The One Two Three of God). Books by Wilber that provide basic information about integral theory include:
The Integral Vision
The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Reader
A Brief History of Everything
A Theory of Everything
The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion
Reflections: A Personal Journal