Using his prodigious intellect, and building on existing human knowledge, Ken Wilber has created an all-inclusive - or 'integral' - map or framework of reality.  Using this, no matter what is being considered, all 'bases' will be covered, whether we are examining the universe or human beings or sub-atomic particles.  Reality (as experienced by human beings) can now be better understood.

In developing his framework, Wilber's approach was to assume that in their quest for knowledge, all humans were well-intentioned: that none had set out to mislead.  Traditional knowledge has survived because it contains important truths, particularly in relation to consciousness - truths largely lost to scientific and industrial/technological cultures.  The discoveries of modernity and post-modernity have made stunning contributions, including the scientific and technical discoveries from The Enlightenment to today.  Not least of these is the impact of structures of consciousness on our capacity to understand (more on this follows).  Wilber asked himself 'What must the universe look like for all this knowledge to be valid?'

Before we discuss his framework, it's important to look at two aspects of the methodology for acquiring valid knowledge: the 'three strands', and Integral Methodological Pluralism.  Feel free to skip over anything that doesn't resonate: Integral Theory has a way of 'growing on you' over time, helping you to see more clearly and thus developing your own consciousness so you can better engage with the world.

The Three Strands of Knowledge

Although usually applied to the 'hard' sciences, the 'three strands' apply to knowledge in any domain.  These strands help us to distinguish wider truths from individual interpretations: discernment and confirmation are crucial.

  • The first step is the injunction (a set of instructions to be followed).  The instructions will vary according to the domain.
  • By following the injunction, an experience (or data) will be produced.
  • The data (from step two) needs to undergo verification by a community of those who are qualified to do so - who have followed the first two steps, and who have the cognitive capacity to interpret the result.

Different types of data emerge from different injunctions.  What is commonly understood as empirical science reveals sensory data, or 'sensibilia'.  (Our bodily feelings are also sensibilia).  When we engage with logic or mathematics or rational thought, we encounter 'intelligibilia'.  When we engage in contemplation and explore inner experience, or phenomenology, we can acquire what Wilber has called 'transcendelia' (or transcendental 'data').  Each is a valid way of knowing, and each is 'scientific' in the broadest sense.  Further, there are different validity claims for the various types of injunctions.

It should be acknowledged too that a 'bodily' way of knowing exists, which we'll explore in due course.  Bodily knowing (to come).

Integral Methodological Pluralism

Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) is a collection of practices and injunctions informed by the observation that 'everyone is (partially) right'.  For IMP, each practice or injunction enacts and therefore discloses (part of) a different aspect of reality.  Briefly, these practices and injunctions are:

  • non-exclusion - acceptance of the truth claims that pass the validity tests for their own paradigms in their respective fields
  • enfoldment - some sets of practices are more inclusive, holistic, comprehensive than others, and
  • enactment - various types of enquiry will disclose different phenomena depending in large part on the quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types of the inquirer (see below).

As with many 'Integral' ideas, it usually takes quite some time to fully appreciate, absorb and integrate IMP into your way of being.

Major Points of Integral Theory

Because integral theory is so all-encompassing, we'll list some major main points.  Each will be expanded on later.

  • Reality is more than the objective physical material world.  Our inner experience is equally a part of reality.  Another way of saying this is that reality is multi-dimensional.  (See also the subheading titled 'the Two Truths Doctrine' below).
  • Awareness is ever-present.  Everything we know arises in our awareness.  Our awareness or consciousness is what supports everything we know.  Another way of looking at it is that consciousness is the 'page' on which all of our knowledge is inscribed.  Further, consciousness goes 'all the way down' (and up).  Even atoms have proto-awareness of other atoms, and similarly with cells and organisms and all life.  In other words, consciousness is inherent in existence or being.  More ...
  • Hidden structures of consciousness affect what we can be aware of.  Invisible social/cultural and psychological processes have a profound influence on our understanding.  Put in other words, what we are aware of is dramatically influenced by our depth of awareness, which is closely related to our stage of development or our altitude.  These technical terms are unavoidable, but will become clearer as you engage with them.  For the moment, we're simply outlining Integral principles.
  • The importance of states.  In human beings, these are inner states of consciousness, invisible from outside (e.g. 'peak experiences').  A state of an entirely different type is the weather, which is a 'state' within the environment.  More technically, states are the temporary occurrence of any aspect of reality within each of the four quadrants (see below).
  • The cultural nature ('situatedness') of knowledge.  The dominant worldview in the West is founded on science - that the physical world is the real world, and that space, time, matter and energy are the fundamental components of reality.  Postmodernism presents another worldview, as do traditional religions and non-Western cultures.  All have something valuable to offer, as we shall see - and all are partial.
  • Evolution and Eros, creativity and emergence

    On a macro level, some force drives evolution, progressing from the quantum level through to manifest matter and life.  In scientific circles, this is called emergence.  Emergence can provide one answer to the age-old philosophical question: 'Why is there something rather than nothing?'

    On an individual human level, each person proceeds through stages of development as we grow from infancy to maturity: what we know and care about increases.  On a broader scale, humanity evolves from magical and often-barbaric beliefs like human sacrifice to more more caring and ethical stances.  Some creative force is in operation.

  • Radical Inclusiveness. This means appreciating and valuing all of reality, and is expressed as Integral Methodological Pluralism or IMP (see above).  But only the higher states of consciousness are fully capable of embodying such a wide embrace.  Though an 'integral' view supports what is healthy at each stage of development, it requires discernment and humility in its application, because our own human consciousness is forever fallible.  Prior to developing an integral consciousness, almost all of us need to take sides on issues: we think our viewpoint is the only correct one, and we're unable to see the value and importance of the (apparent) opposite polarity.  Only an integral perspective recognises the value of all earlier stages.  Less-inclusive worldviews are perhaps the greatest obstacle to peace between human beings, whether in personal relationships or internationally. 

    But if you have a capacity to clearly and honestly examine your own beliefs and values, this is a pointer to an expansion of consciousness, which in its full incarnation is known as 'second tier' consciousness.  At second tier, there is an appreciation of the apparent opposites, or the paradoxes, of life - the capacity to value everything.  For example, there is no longer an avoidance of part of reality, valuing primarily personal comfort and pleasure (and emphasising exclusively a belief that we must 'be positive').  No longer does one's life motivation centre around seeking confirmation of what one already believes; rather there is the openness to look for truth in what we don't yet understand.  Further, from second tier, there is a deep appreciation that all of life (including the painful) is important and necessary, that it couldn't be any other way.

  • The AQAL framework or map.  'AQAL' is shorthand for 'All Quadrants, Levels, Lines, States (see above) and Types'.

    The Quadrants are at the heart of Integral Theory, and the fullness of what they disclose is one of its most complex aspects.  The quadrants represent the four dimensions (or perspectives) of every 'occasion' (or event, or moment-in-time), repeating endlessly as each moment unfolds.  In respect of human beings, the quadrants represent the individual and the collective, the interior and the exterior.  These correspond to the subjective (inner experiences, intention), the objective (body and behaviour), the intersubjective (culture), and the interobjective ('systems', including the environment and technological, economic and political structures).  Another way of explaining the quadrants is to say that, taken together, they disclose the various aspects of reality - they literally bring our reality into being.  For more detail, follow this link to Quadrants and Zones.

    Levels refer to 'waves' of complexity (or stages of development) within each dimension (i.e. quadrant).  Levels are not rigid, but they do represent a pattern and a sequence that cannot be bypassed.  Some human beings who are at quite a high wave of development will nevertheless reject all hierarchies, seeing them as marginalising and excluding.  But this is true only of dominator hierarchies.  Hierarchies can represent waves of increasing inclusion and embrace.  Nor can we reasonably deny that there are levels of science and religion, from folk sciences and religions (such as witchcraft, alchemy and paganism) to mythic creation science to rational science (at which stage agnosticism often arises) and beyond.  Click on this link for a diagram of levels of development by quadrant.  An important feature of healthy development is that it transcends and includes previous levels, integrating and including their truth but transcending the limited view of the earlier level.

    Human beings also have specific talents, which are the lines of intelligence including aesthetic, interpersonal, emotional, logical, kinaesthetic (physical capacity) talents, and so on.  Types refer to such aspects as masculine and feminine, and the Myers-Briggs typologies of feeling, thinking, sensing and intuiting.   More widely, types are the variety of styles that aspects of reality assume in the various domains (e.g. types of festivals in the cultural arena).

  • The 'Two Truths Doctrine' refers to the existence of two realms - the everyday relative or manifest world, and the unmanifest or Absolute realm.  (Actually, they're not two, but now we're getting complicated!)  Almost all of the foregoing relates primarily to the physical (or 'relative') world.  We often don't recognise unmanifest reality, or we're unable to put it into words.  Until we reach a certain level of awareness we also suffer from illusions relating to the manifest world.  Given that many in Western society will (rightly) reject mythic versions of the unmanifest, they should also be aware that at higher levels of consciousness, the existence of the unmanifest world becomes incontrovertible.  The more humility we can adopt in the face of what we don't yet know, the easier will be our growth into higher awareness.  It's also worth recognising that there are different interpretations of the unmanifest, from magical and mythical through deism and agnosticism (and even atheism) to the higher transpersonal levels.

    Anyone who's continued reading to here will have a level of awareness well above the average.  There is seemingly no end to our ability for deeper or higher consciousness, but its development is expedited by certain training (including meditation), and by associating with people at equal or higher levels of development.

  • Integral Post-metaphysics replaces perceptions with perspectives, and is derived from the quadrants and zones.  Perceptions depend upon the belief that what is real is 'out there', awaiting discovery by our senses.  Postmodernism highlighted the error in this way of understanding.  Instead, what is real (to human consciousness) is made up of 'inputs' from the four quadrants.  In Integral Post-metaphysics, very little needs to be explained by calling on metaphysical (or supernatural) beliefs.

The Importance of a Framework

The truth about reality lies outside our conceptualisations of it.  All we know is our interpretation, our conceptualisation(s).  Yet through deep inner exploration, it is possible to experience that truth.  And a framework or map dramatically helps us towards fuller interpretation of our experience.  One of the tragedies of current Western culture is that too often intellectual knowledge is dismissed as irrelevant.  An integral view recognises the value of the intellectual, logical capacities and the emotional/intuitive aspects.

Love (as both Agape and Eros) and compassion are important foundations.  But love is not enough.  Without embodying the bigger picture, we cannot help humankind as a whole to progress.


An integral perspective sees that everything has a purpose, whilst acknowledging that human pathologies and shadow distort reality, and that waves (or levels) of consciousness are incremental.  Discernment, courage and humility are called for in our desire to grow and to support the growth of others.  Typically, one of the last things we realise is that our own beliefs and consciousness need further development.  Beyond that, we'll often be challenged by the restricted perspectives of those at a lower wave, and this can be personally painful.  Loneliness is a common result.  At the same time, it's possible to rejoice in the goodness, truth and beauty of integral's wider embrace, and perhaps a feeling that at last we've found our purpose - the ongoing expression through our way of living and being-in-the-world of consciousness's never-ending expansion (Eros) and love (Agape).  Any personal pain is alleviated by a deep inner realisation that, apart from following our ego's wishes, there is no choice.

An understanding of the zones leads to an entirely new way of appreciating human endeavours and the search for meaning.  We no longer need to depend upon unsupportable metaphysical claims for our understanding of the universe and reality.  Matters of ultimate concern are now seen quite differently, as we shall see.

Work is ongoing at the Integral Institute on the implementation of integral consciousness in such diverse arenas as health (including medicine psychology, psychiatry ... ), the environment, business and leadership, education, politics and spirituality.