What is integral theory

Plea for a comprehensive cultural concept of life and holistic awareness

In the integral theory (also integral world view or integral philosophy) is a comprehensive world philosophy which aims to unite apparent opposites such as premodern, modern and postmodern world views, west-east wisdom teachings and spiritual insights, scientific thinking and philosophy of science in one concept. The positive and life-affirming thing about the integral approach is that, in contrast to the doomsday scenarios and conspiracy theories that are currently circulating, no fatalistic end-time apocalypses are touted for the year 2012/2013, which should fill us with fear and terror and would like to promise the end of the world. Integral theory, however, dares to attempt to master the dispersion of the various scientific disciplines and to pursue philosophy in a holistic, theoretical and practical way. It does this by mediating between the many different currents of thought and approaches to action and trying to show the context in which the totality of all ideas and theories can be viewed as correct. In this respect, the integral theory is a metatheory that derives descriptive and explanatory but also prognostic, creative and recommendatory statements for the future, with the aim of advancing us humans in our individual development as well as in the context of collective progress.


Real-life model for explaining the world


The integral approach, which has become increasingly important and widely recognized over the past two decades, is essentially a new model for systematically recording and explaining the world. The concept is not an abstract castle in the air but is life-friendly and practically founded. The integral philosophy has already found its way into various areas of society such as economy, medicine, psychology, politics, art and culture or ecology and is used here in concrete terms. Experience shows that every area and every discipline that uses this model is able to reorganize itself more comprehensively, more effectively and more efficiently.


Modern pioneers


Already in the first half of the 20th century. Various modern pioneers, including theorists, developmental psychologists, philosophers and wise men have laid the foundations for an integral view of the world and man, including James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934, development-oriented approach: aesthetic, moral and scientific experience), Jürgen Habermas (born 1929, communication theory: subjective, intersubjective and objective consciousness), Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950, philosophy: integral yoga) or Abraham Maslow (1908-1970, Humanistic Existential and Transpersonal Psychology: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). Developed at the same time Jean Gebser (1905-1973), one of the first consciousness researchers oriented towards cultural studies, his concept of integral consciousness, with which he established a kind of structural model of the history of human consciousness.


Ken Wilber and the Integral Theory


Let us now come to the currently most important protagonist of the integral approach and representative of a post-postmodern, postmetaphysical and postrational spirituality and opponent of the Philosophia perennis (Latin perennial philosophy), the American philosopher and author Ken Wilber (born 1949), who deals with the Combining modern research, philosophy, science, religion, meditation as well as insights and spiritual experiences of mystics - and thus to the very core of the integral theory.


The Integral Operating System (IBS) or AQAL


Wilber shows the positive and negative sides of different worldviews, philosophies and traditions within one theoretical frame of reference, one Theory of everything (Theory of Everything), which is why his approach is called Integral Theory. For this purpose, he developed an integral or comprehensive map, the so-called Integral Operating System (IBS) or AQAL for short (All quadrants, all levels), which consists of five main components: Quadrant, Levels (or stages of development), Lines (or multiple intelligences, streams of development), conditions and Types (see Figure 3).


The four Quadrantinside-individual (I),outside-individual(IT),inside collective (WE) and outside collective(YOU) describe the inside and the outside of the individual and the collective. According to Wilber, the quadrants depict all essential features of the cosmos itself and thus implicitly our world and penetrate all areas such as Self and Consciousness (from archaic to integral), Brain and organism (Organs, nerve cells, bones, limbic system, etc.), Culture and worldview (medieval, modern, postmodern, etc.) as well Social systems and the environment (from clans, ethnic tribes and constitutional states to holistic communities and integral networks).


Wilber defines milestones in growth and development Levels of consciousness, or steps or waves (egocentric, ethnocentric and world-centric; or: body, mind, spirit; or: gross, subtle, causal; or: group, nation, global)that have parallels to other tier systems such as Jean Gebser (Cultural development from archaic to magical, mythical, mental to integral), Don Beck (Spiral dynamics value systems), Maslow (Hierarchy of needs), chakra levels, or similar. All levels are permanent and include the level below, i.e. the knowledge or awareness experienced and acquired is continuously developing.


Another important point in IBS is the distinction between development levels and -lines, such as. cognitive, interpersonal, psychosexual, emotional or moral currentsthat are often confused. For example, a person can be at a high level of spiritual development, but overall have a poorly developed moral intelligence or vice versa.


As a base-States of consciousness Wilber differentiates between Waking, dreaming and Deep sleep as well as depths beyond that meditative-mystical (Yoga, prayer) or changedStates (Drugs) as well Summit experiences (Music, nature, etc.). Each state is temporary and exclusive and can manifest itself at any level of consciousness. It may well happen that temporary conditions are transformed into permanent traits.


Every state, every line and every level can be different Types express, such as male or female, plus (+) or minus (-), active or passive, rational or intuitive etc. (see also Myers-Briggs type indicator).


Integral Life Practice (ILP)


If you apply the IBS or AQAL model to your own personal growth in everyday life, Integral Life Practice (ILP) comes into play - according to Wilber, the most holistic and effective way to individual and, as a result, social-institutional transformation that is currently available gives.


The aim of the ILP is to implement the findings from the practical experience of the integral map, which concern the 1st person (ICH), for yourself and to accelerate personal growth in all quadrants, levels, lines, types and states. Various Core and additional modules with appropriate exercises for integral practice from Integral Institute developed (see Figure 1).


Core modules


Selected example practices


physical, subtle, causal

Aerobics, yoga, workout


Thought scheme, point of view

Reading and studying, working with AQAL, mental training


Meditation, prayer

Transcendental Meditation, Prayer, Zen, Kabbalah, Compassionate Exchange, Integral Exploration



Gestalt therapy, cognitive therapy, dream work, psychoanalysis, art and music therapy

Additional modules: Ethics, sexuality, work, emotions, relationships


Figure 1: Core modules of an integral life practice, own illustration based on Wilber, 2009, p. 170 f.


Objective, intersubjective and subjective observations


The latest scientific findings show that for development in a single quadrant it is more effective and therefore makes sense to work in parallel in the other areas, since the quadrants correspond inside and outside (as inside, so outside; as above so below) . According to Wilber, the problem with modernity is that, above all, many scholars and scientists only specialize in one quadrant, mostly the ES or SHE quadrant, and deny the existence of the others. This is a consequence of the collapse of the cosmos and our world, a catastrophe of modernity, which vehemently denies the inner dimensions of its reality. Hence the assumption of the author, today in 2012 we are confronted with a multitude of different doomsday theories, end-time apocalypses, would-be redeemers and sect gurus, who seemingly unknowingly tend to focus on prerational and sometimes very fearful levels of consciousness such as the animistic-magical or the to throw back mythical or even in worlds of power gods, which however no longer correspond to modern culture and worldview. If this observation is transferred to Wilber's AQAL model, the imbalance between inside and outside as well as individual and collective approaches becomes very clear.


The good, the true, the beautiful


Wilber justifies this imbalance with the increasing differentiation that has arisen through modernity, leading to a dissociation of people from Good ones (Moral - WE), True (Science ES) and Beautiful (Art / Aesthetics - WE). Industrialization and overproduction (in the right quadrant) ultimately brought about a subjugation of value systems (in the lower left quadrant), whereby important knowledge of the great wisdom traditions were collapsed, resulting in a disenchantment of the world (Weber) or a colonization of the spheres of values ​​by science (Habermas) is the same (cf. Wilber 2007, 2006).


Practical applications for all areas of life


Still are Morality (the good, intersubjective truth), science (the true, objective truth) and art(The beautiful, subjective truth), which Wilber likes to call the abbreviated version of the four quadrants, a lasting truth about our world (Wilber 2007). Because that is the case, it is now more worthwhile than ever to promote interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge in the theoretical frame of reference of an IBS or AQAL, including all areas of application and activities such as art, dance, economics, psychology, politics, ecology, spirituality to be recorded and classified. Wilber is convinced that this integral map is a wonderful means of communication for effective and efficient interaction between the various disciplines and areas of society or approaches and points of view. And - to put it in the words of the author, a logical-stringent and therefore credible, strategic-visionary and application-oriented, sustainable and thus long-term promising integrating concept and instrument for restoring the natural balance of our living environment, and thus possibly also for the healing, or to put it provocatively, maybe also the salvation of our world.


Reduced complexity The integral map


For the purpose of simplifying Wilber's very complex philosophy, the author finally dares to attempt to summarize the most important collected findings of Wilber's philosophy in an abstract and model-like form in a self-constructed integral map. An explicit explanation of the model is not given at this point for editorial reasons. From the author's point of view, a further individual analysis in order to gain a deeper understanding of the complex matter and to derive concrete measures for individual and collective practice (e.g. professional fields of work such as integral cultural management or integral art and culture) is necessary and recommended, as it is extremely instructive, inspiring and useful for the conscious discussion within the scope of one's own discipline, philosophy and practice of life. In short: A very personal gift for each and every one of us with many stimulating impulses for a more conscious and sustainable design of our world!


Figure 2: Integral map for a comprehensive, cultural life practice, own illustration constructed based on Wilber 2011, 2009, 2007 and others





Figure 3: The 4 quadrants of an integral organization, own illustration based on Wilber, 2011, p. 360.

Readers are invited to read and study the following publications and online portals in order to deal with the topic further, which the author essentially uses as the basis for the article "Integral Theory and Life Practice Plea for a Comprehensive Cultural Concept of Life and Holistic Consciousness" served:


Further literature and web links on integral theory

Publications Ken Wilber

Wilber, K., Patten, T. et al (2011): Integrale Lebenspraxis. physical health. emotional balance. mental clarity. spiritual awakening. Kösel publishing house. Munich.

Wilber, K. (2010): Science and Religion. The reconciliation of knowledge and wisdom. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag. Frankfurt am Main.

Wilber, K. (2007a): Integral Vision. A Brief History of Integral Spirituality. Kösel publishing house. Munich.

Wilber, K. (2007b): Integral Spirituality. Spiritual intelligence saves the world. Kösel publishing house. Munich.

Wilber, K. (2006): Integral Psychology. Ghost. Awareness. Psychology. Therapy. Arbor Publishing House. Freiburg.

Further specialist literature

Amarque, T. (2010): How we became who we are and what we can become. A little history of the evolution of consciousness. J. Kamphausen Publishing House. Bielefeld.

Beck, D. E., Cowan, C. C. (2007): Spiral Dynamics. Leadership, values ​​and change. J. Kamphausen Publishing House. Bielefeld.

Coast Makers, M., Haberer, T., Coast Makers, W. T. (2011): GOTT 9.0. Where our society will grow spiritually. Gütersloher publishing house. Gutersloh.

Gebser, J. (1995): Time slump. Novalis Publishing House. Schaffhausen.

Gebser, J. (1966): Origin and Present. Foundations and manifestations of the aperspective world. dva. Stuttgart.

Wellensiek, S. K. (2010): Handbuch Integrales Coaching. Beltz Publishing House. Weinheim & Basel.

Wielens, H. (Ed.) (2006): Leading with heart and mind. Authentic and integral to a new culture of corporate and personnel management. J. Kamphausen Publishing House. Bielefeld.


Author: Birgitta Borghoff, [email protected]

The KM Magazin January 2012 with the focus on "Doomsday" sheds light on the Integral Theory of Ken Wilbers, p. 33 ff.