Integral Theory

The Four Quadrants: A Map of All Knowledge and Human Experience
The Four Quadrants: A Map of All Knowledge and Human Experience

The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that: to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.

– Ken Wilber

What is Integral Theory?

During the last 40 years we have witnessed a historical first: all of the world’s cultures are now available to us. Knowledge itself is now global, that means that also, for the first time, the sum total of all human knowledge is available to us. What if we took literally everything that all the various cultures have to tell us about human potential and put it all on the table? What if we attempted, based on extensive cross-cultural study to use all of the world’s great traditions to create a comprehensive map that included the best from all of them?

Over the last several decaces, Ken Wilber and others have lead a search for this comprehensive map of human potentials. This map uses all the known systems and models of human growth – from the ancient shamans and sages to today’s breakthroughs in cognitive science – and distills their components into 5 simple factors, factors that are essential elements to unlocking the and facilitating human evolution.

This is the integral approach.

Holons

A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part. Holons are self-reliant units that possess a degree of independence and can handle contingencies without asking higher authorities for instructions. These holons are also simultaneously subject to control from one or more of these higher authorities.

A hierarchy of holons is called a holarchy. The test of holarchy is that if all instances of a given type of holon cease to exist, then all the holons they were part of must cease to exist too. Thus an atom is of a lower standing in the hierarchy than a molecule, because if you removed all molecules, atoms could still exist, whereas if you removed all atoms, molecules, in a strict sense would cease to exist. Ken Wilber’s concept is known as the doctrine of the fundamental and the significant. A hydrogen atom is more fundamental than an ant, but an ant is more significant.

Quadrants

Each holon can be seen from within (subjective, interior perspective) and from the outside (objective, exterior perspective), and from an individual or a collective perspective.

All four perspectives are complementary, rather than contradictory. It is possible for all to be correct, and all are necessary for a complete account of human existence. Each by itself offers only a partial view of reality.

Each quadrant is as valid as reality in the others; no quadrant can be reduced to the others. No exception. For instance, your felt emotion is not less real than electro-chemical reactions in your brain. It is the same “thing” but looked at from a different perspective, both being real.

Second Tier

Levels

Levels in Integral Theory refers to stages of evolutionary development of individuals, organizations, societies, and indeed our species as a whole. It is based on the works of Clare W. Graves, Don E. Beck, and Christopher Cowan, and became a part of Integral Theory through collaboration between Don Beck and Ken Wilber.

These levels or stages of development describe how our various value systems influence our world views, with the intent being to replace skin pigmentation or ethnic categories with an understanding of value systems. Graves was able to prove through various studies that these value systems have a greater influence on affinity and the ability to collaborate and see other people’s point of view than race or skin color. Don Beck achieved historic success using these principles to help bring an end to Apartheid over the course of 63 visits to South Africa.

Moving through the various different levels is dependent on cognitive development (different levels are available as a person grows into adulthood), and life conditions supporting a move to the next stage. No level is inherently positive or negative, each has their gifts and problems and each new level a person moves through is developed as a response to solving the problems encountered at the previous level.

Click on a level to view details

Holistic

World centric – Starting 50 years ago

Authentic irony, Ecology of perspectives

Quest: Peace in an incomprensible world Transrational perceptions, AQAL

Pitfalls: pathologies of the soul

.1% of the world, 1% of power

Integral

Integrated individualism – Starting 70 years ago

Live fully and responsibly. Integrate the whole spiral

Quest: Integral synthesis – to balance the whole Evolutionary streams awaken, integrate diversity with discernment, healthy heirarchies (holoarchies)

Pitfalls: aborted self-actualization, existential angst, bad faith, withdrawal

1% of the world, 5% of power

Sensitive

Age 15-21 years years Social Democracies -Starting 150 years ago

Seek inner pease within a caring community. Power with solidarity, human rights activism

Quest: affectionate relations, beneficial resolution, dialogue and consensus

Method: appreciate diverse views, listen well, consensus, empathicize group needs, marginalize no one

Pitfalls: inauthenticity, lack of discernment, directionless attempts at consensus, hostile towards heirarchies, flatland

10% of the world, 15% of power

Achiever

Age 9-14 years/Capitalistic Democracies – Starting 300 years ago – Scientific Rationalism

Act from self interest, play the game to win, market driven meritocracy

Quest: material pleasure, defense of civilization

Method: excel, set goals, acheive, measure success

Pitfalls: identity crisis, role confusions, consumerism ecological crisis workaholism, denial of spirit

30% of the world, 50% of power

Rule/Role

Age 7-8 years/Late mythic, Nation States, Authoritarian, Conformist Religious – starting 5,000 years ago

Life has meaning, direction, purpose, predetermined outcomes

Quest: good vs evil, ultimate peace

Method: follow given rules, discipline, faith, know your role

Pitfalls: archtypal role identification, fundamentalism, facism

40% of the world, 30% of power

Impulsive

Age 3-6 years/Early mythic, feudal – starting 10,000 years ago

Be what you are and do what you want, regardless of consequence

Quest: heroic status, power, glory, rage, revenge

Method: align with power, take what you need, force, rule

Pitfalls: anxiety, depression, phobias, excessive guilt, terrorism

20% of the world, 5% of power

Magic

Age 1-3 years/Tribal order – starting 50,000 years ago

Magical thinking, keep the spirits happy and the tribe safe

Quest: safe mode of living, security

Method: petition to gods or powers with ritual

Pitfalls: narcissism, omnipotent fantasy, tribal conflicts

10% of world, 1% of power

Instinctive

Age 0-18 months/Survival bands – starting 100,000 years ago

Do what you need to stay alive. Pure narcisstic behaviors.

Quest: food, water, warmth, shelter

Method: scavenge whatever you need

Pitfalls: primitive developmental psycho pathologies, autism

First Tier

Lines of Intelligence or Development

If you were to hear that someone was intelligent, what’s the first thing you think of? Is it doing well in school? Rocket science or brain surgery perhaps? Lines of Intelligence adds needed depth to our typically reductive ideas of what it means to be intelligent by answering questions such as “why is it that a person with an IQ of 160 can find themselves unable to apply that cognitive ability in many situations?”

Lines additionally expand on the Levels of Development, if a person’s value system is predominantly green, for example, they are likely not green across the board. Our example follows a well meaning gent by the name of Gil. Gil is a 30 year old working in new product development in a large company. He is passionate about new ways people can share experiences, and always tries to respect others and put their needs first. At this point in his life, his Lines of Intelligence are as follows.

Click a title to learn more

Click the circle to see Gil’s lines

Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Cognitive Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Emotional Intrapersonal Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Emotional Interpersonal Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Somatic Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Moral Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Spiritual Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
Willpower Instinctive Magic Impulsive Rule/Role Achiever Sensitive Integral
View all lines descriptions

Cognitive Abstract:

The cognitive line refers to the capacity to take on different perspectives. Development through this line begins with a person believing their own perspective is the ultimate truth, and moves through various different stages towards a universe that contains infinite perspectives and possibilities. Progression through the cognitive intelligence line enables being able to take the perspectives of others around you, imagine conditional possibilities, and hold contradictory ideas simultaneously allowing the charting of a path forward in a complex world.

Gil’s Cognitive:

Gil has the capacity to understand the views of others in relation to his own, and frequently works towards an outcome that will be suitable for everyone. This is a “world centric” perspective, so Gil identifies with humanity as a whole regardless of race, religion, or nationality. He strives for equality and inclusion, and prefers to collaborate with diverse perspectives in any endeavor, believing that this creates a richer result.

Emotional Intrapersonal Abstract:

The emotional intrapersonal line refers to the capacity to introspect and report what you see, feel and think. This is often referred to as emotional intelligence or self awareness. Development through his line begins with blindly following every experienced impulse or desire, and moves through various stages towards an ability to identify the source of the felt experience. Progression through the intrapersonal line enables a person who is experiencing very strong emotions such as anger, desire, or terror in a given situation to take a step back and assess whether those feelings are in fact being triggered by the current situation, or are from old wounds or a misinterpretation of events. They can then consciously choose how, or if, to act or express.

Gil’s Intrapersonal:

Gil is a person who has always strongly identified with his own feelings, and although he deeply cares about other people, he is ruled by his own needs and impulses. On occasions this results in hurt and arguments, he feels very confused and misunderstood by those around him often wondering why his good intentions aren’t enough. He doesn’t notice when he’s raising his voice, or that he took the last cookie, and will often storm out of a room if frustrated or angry.

Emotional Interpersonal Abstract:

The emotional interpersonal line refers to the ability to register what another person is feeling and the interaction between your own and their emotional states. This is often referred to as empathy, and involves reading verbal and non-verbal cues, it also determines a person’s ability to relate socially and communicate with others. Development through this line begins with seeing others as no different than objects such a chair or a smart phone – they exist to serve your needs -and moves through various stages towards the ability to deeply feel another person’s experience. Progression through the interpersonal line expands a person’s ability to have more and deeper relationships, and better navigate social situations. People who are very high in this line are experienced as charismatic and draw people towards them.

Gil’s Interpersonal:

Gil is affable and easy to be around, most of the time. Although his awareness of his own feelings is limited, he has an instinctual ability to read people and adapt to their changing moods and needs. He is an effective communicator who can command and keep the attention of the room during presentations. He has many friends and is generally well liked at work.

Somatic Abstract:

The somatic line refers to bodily awareness, strength and coordination. Development through this line begins with an infant learning their body exists and is separate from the world, and proceeds through an ever increasing awareness of how to move through various environments. Progression through this line usually depends on where a person applies themselves, but can include things like athletics, surgery, art, dance, and control of one’s breath.

Gil’s Somatic:

Gil has a general awareness of his body in most environments, and doesn’t have difficulty navigating through the world. He goes to the gym occasionally and tries to generally stay healthy, but his investment in his body and physical skills is limited as his interests lie elsewhere.

Moral Abstract:

The moral line refers to the capacity to tell the right thing to do in a given circumstance. Development of this line begins with the egocentric – what is the best thing to do for me? It then moves to the ethnocentric – what is the best thing to do for my group – country, race, creed, etc., where the definition of the right thing to do is governed by laws and doctrine. It then proceeds to a world centric morality that considers the right thing to do based on an internally driven sense of conscience and fairness.

Gil’s Moral:

Gil’s decisions are driven by a desire to positively impact the individuals and communities he encounters and generally make the world a better place to live. He treats everyone equally, donates to charity and volunteers his time to help those less fortunate. He is an honest person, and does his best to always represent what is true and what he feels is right and fair.

Spiritual Abstract:

The spiritual line refers to the capacity to explore what really matters to you. Development of this line begins with no awareness or ability to look inside, grows through being told what’s important by authority figures, and later moves into being able to develop an internal sense of purpose and the value one has to offer to the world.

Gil’s Spiritual:

Gil feels deeply connected to his personal purpose, which is to leave every situation better than he found it through his own creative expression. This is what attracted him to his current role of building new products to connect people with each other. He has yet to discover the specific personal expression of that purpose, and is happy to contribute in his current role until he discovers the unique gift he has to offer the world.

Willpower Abstract:

The willpower line determines the actions a person chooses to take. Without willpower, a person can have deeper understanding or clearer seeing, but will not realize actual change or impact. Willpower is the ability to set a goal and see it through to the end despite obstacles.

Gil’s Willpower:

Gil is most successful following through on his goals and commitments when he is driven by a desire to win or succeed. If he can’t see the clear path to something tangibly getting better, he has trouble doing what he knows he should even if he feels like it’s the right thing to do. This sometimes leaves him with feelings of guilt or shame, which he hides with excuses and a defensive posture.

Types

If levels describe a person’s values, and lines describe a person’s development through various capacities, types can be described as their individual expression of those values and capacities. When we talk about someone’s personality, we are usually referring to a conglomeration of their types.

Types are an important element to consider as they complete the portrait of an individual and are sometimes conflated with levels or lines. An example of this is observing someone yelling at someone else and assuming they are at the red level (impulsive rage) in that moment, where they may just have an aggressive anger style. Dozens of ways to assess types have been developed over the past several decades such as Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, choose the typological system that works best for you.

Types are rarely binary, a person usually exists somewhere on a spectrum between different types, and may evidence different type based behaviors in different situations. Some examples of types can be seen below.

Anger style:

Everybody gets angry on occasion, anger style describes how we express this very powerful and sometimes frightening emotion. Understanding the way a person responds in a conflict situation can help everyone involved resolve that conflict more easily and with less pain. This is simply an element of someone’s personality, having compassion without judgement for styles different from one’s own will help improve communication.

Aggressive

aggressive person

People with an aggressive anger style will typically raise their voice and speak and act very forcefully when upset. The experience can be intense and uncomfortable, but an aggressive anger style person will typically tell you exactly what’s going on with them. One knows where they stand with an aggressive anger style person during a conflict.

Passive Aggressive

People with a passive aggressive anger style rarely show their anger directly, and will sometimes express the opposite of what they’re feeling – smiling and pretending everything is just fine while seething on the inside. This anger will often manifest at a later date in off-handed comments or actions. If the aggressive person strikes with one grand blow, the passive aggressive person inflicts death by a thousand cuts.

Passive

passive person

People with a passive anger style will typically shut down during a conflict. The force a passive person exerts is to withhold whatever it is the other person wants from them. This can be amplified in a conflict with an aggressive person who will push very hard for what they want, enabling the passive person to cause extreme frustration.

Assertive

assertive person

The three above anger styles all come with noise that can get in the way of clear communication. We are born with or develop one of those original three can, with work learn to express anger in an assertive style. This involves overriding the impulse to yell, smile, or withhold, and state the need or hurt in the clearest way possible. Assertive anger can be as loud as aggressive anger, but where aggressive anger often triggers the other person further and often extends a conflict, assertive anger seeks to express what they need to express, understand the needs of the other, and bring the conflict to resolution as quickly as possible.

Social Comfort:

Social comfort refers to a person’s desire/enjoyment around being alone, being in a small group, or being in large groups. People don’t always show up the same way in different situations, for example it’s possible to be extroverted in a work setting, but be more shy and introverted in casual social situations, and vice versa. Social comfort is a spectrum between introversion and extroversion, it is uncommon to find a person who’s 100% introverted or extroverted.

Introvert

introverted person minding their own business

Introverted people are often referred to as quiet or shy. It can be difficult for an introverted person to express themselves, but there’s nuance as to how introversion manifests in person to person. Multiple of the following can be true about an introvert at the same time.

Social Introverts are what people usually picture when they think about introversion. They prefer to socialize with small groups rather than large ones, or in some cases, no group at all. Although they may appear shy, there is no anxiety involved.

Thinking Introverts are more comfortable focusing on their inner thoughts and ideas, rather than what’s happening externally. They are thoughtful and introspective and can get lost in a fantasy world of their own creation.

Restrained Introverts prefer to consider many variables before they speak or act. They are likely to sit quietly and listen in a meeting or social situation only offering their thoughts when asked or at the very end.

Anxious Introverts are not very confident in their social skills, and try to avoid social situations. They often have a tendency to ruminate on past perceived failures and future things that may go wrong. They feel self conscious around others and need alone time to recharge.

Extrovert

introverted person minding their own business

Extroverted people are often described as positive, talkative and sociable. Their outgoing, vibrant nature draws people to them, and they have a hard time turning away the attention. They tend not to dwell on problems and are more likely to engage in risky behavior. They thrive off the energy of others and are sometimes uncomfortable being alone for too long. Extroverts outnumber introverts by about 3 to 1.

Preferred Role:

Preferred role describes how active a person feels comfortable being in the decision process from situation to situation. Who is choosing the restaurant or the movie in a group of friends? Who is taking partial information at work and making the best call in order to proceed? Who is guiding the conversation, and who is contributing? Frequent arguments around decisions usually indicates a group of mostly leaders, and inability to make rapid decisions usually indicates a group of followers.

Leader

aggressive person

People with the leader type experience less pressure or stress around making rapid decisions causing people to naturally look to them for guidance. Leaders, regardless of whether they have that role in any given situation, often find themselves becoming impatient with excessive discussion and will move to make or facilitate a decision. Having the leader type does not mean a person is comfortable having that role, there are many reluctant leaders who inhabit that role as a means of serving others.

Follower

aggressive person

People with the follower type prefer getting on with doing their work without being bothered with decisions and other distractions. They are perfectly content to be good at what they do without dealing with the politics or pressures of leadership. A follower doesn’t have strong feelings regarding most choices, their passion lies in their craft. Their flexibility and skill focus tend to make them very valuable assets.

Implementation Style:

Implementation style refers to a person’s approach to making progress towards a goal or performing their job/function. Unlike some of the other types above, this type tends to extend across areas of a person’s life. Similar to other types, this speaks to a person’s comfort level and skill, a theoretical person can act practically and vice versa, it just takes much more energy to push through the discomfort leaving less energy available for the task at hand.

Theoretical

aggressive person

A theoretical person loves to talk ABOUT a given function, as opposed to actually performing the function themselves. They spend an extensive amount of time reading about and studying their job/interests, and can describe the totality of how it all works. They are encyclopedias of knowledge which are typically very happy to share with anyone who asks.

Practical

aggressive person

A practical person will seek just enough knowledge necessary to understand a task before jumping right in and getting started. They prefer to learn by doing, making mistakes and adjusting as they go. A practical person’s knowledge often lives in their body, and they may have difficulty describing what they do unless asked in context while they are in motion.

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