Essential Integral, Lesson 1: Introduction to Integral Theory

After going through the Brief Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber, and summarizing the basic 20 tenets of Integral Theory in a series of 12 posts on this blog, I have decided to purchase the first Core Integral Course to study Integral Theory in more depth.    There are a total of three Core Integral courses:   course 1 (Essential Integral), course 2 (Advanced Integral), and course 3 (Postmetaphysics).    The first course, Essential Integral, is designed to give the person taking the course a thorough grounding in the basic factors of integral theory, and consists of 7 lessons, one introductory lesson, five lessons on the basic factors of Integral Theory, a lesson that integrates them all (naturally), and a summary review lesson.    I am going to cover one lesson each week for a total of 8 weeks it takes for me to complete the course, after which I will take the test and (hopefully) pass it!

Note:   These are my summary notes, and I hope that they give an idea to those wanting to learn about Integral Theory.  For those wanting to take the course themselves, I recommend going to 

to purchase the course as software to be installed or downloaded.    Reading my blog should not be considered as a substitute for taking the course, but as an “enticement to the excitement” of taking it yourself.


1.  The Integral Vision

What are the factors that are common between the various types of growth that a human being goes through in a lifetime, whether it be cultural growth, spiritual growth, psychological growth, or social growth  development.  One way to study this is to look at the various world traditions.  Is there a way to put together these various stories of human emergence into an all-inclusive or integral map that takes into account not only their similarities but also their differences?

The search for this map in the past few decades has

  • spanned various academic disciplines, from cognitive science to systems theory
  • crossed cultures from both Eastern and Western traditions
  • included experience gleaned from both physical and spiritual training disciplines

The integral map of these traditions can be distilled into five basic factors that hold the key to unlocking and facilitating human evolution.  These five factors of the integral map describe the contours of the various dimensions of your being.  By investigating these factors, you can help unlock more effective and more compassionate ways of being yourself, of being human.  You can use it in the service of solving problems from the personal all the way to the global scale.

2.  Meaning of Integral

One definition of “integral” is “having or containing all parts that are necessary to be complete.”  The general idea of the integral approach to solving problems is to consider the various approaches to a problem, and not exclude any one approach just because it does happen to perfectly fit with the others.  The starting point of the integral approach is the understanding that any entity that you consider is both a whole and a part of a larger whole.  Another crucial concept of integral theory is the realization that if you investigate that entity using different approaches, you may encounter different experiences and phenomena.

3.  Some Integral Pioneers

a.  James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934)

He is considered the first developmental psychologist who recognized that humans develop within three irreducible domains of experience:  the aesthetic, moral, and the scientific.  He made the first attempt to account for a development account of religious and mystical and religious experience.  His attempts to integrate religion and psychology were unmatched at the time; however, his accomplishments were overshadowed by psychology’s increasing focus on models that focused on external behavior rather than internal experience.

b.  Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

He was a logician and mathematician who did pioneering work in the philosophy of science.  He opposed the “positivist” school of philosophy which championed the idea of reductionism, the idea that all perspectives could be reduced into one.  He insisted that interior perspectives on life are a necessary and irreducible aspect of the universe.  He also came up with an interesting definition of evolution, as a creative advancement into novelty.  Post-modernism, which developed after the 1950s, critiqued Whitehead’s metaphysics, but the perspectives afforded by integral theory can redeem his ideas for a post-post-modern world.

c.  Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950)

He was an Indian philosopher and sage who synthesized a philosophical and spiritual system called “Integral Yoga.”  He saw the world as divided into two philosophical camps, those who believed in the ancient wisdom traditions and distrusted the modern worldview, and those who subscribed to the modern worldview and distrusted the ancient wisdom traditions.  These are both fragmented and partial ways of viewing the world, and was one of the first philosophers who tried to bridge the two by showing a deep understanding of both the concept of evolution as described by modern science and the insights derived from the world’s ancient traditions.  His work was prematurely disregarded because of the dominance of materialism and, later on, the rise of post-modernism.

d.  Jean Gebser (1905-1973)

Jean Gebser was a philosopher who specialized in the theory of phenomenology, the study of consciousness, in addition to being an accomplished linguist and poet.  He became dissatisfied with materialist explanations of the differences between cultures, and theorized that human consciousness goes through novel transformations.  These transformations are experienced in a similar way even across different cultures.  Each new level of consciousness is different than the previous one in that it includes the previous level, but expands it and is more open to experience.  One example of the growth of consciousness can be seen in the development of the visual arts, which in the course of development from medieval to modern art took on the ability to incorporate different perspectives and even time itself into the depiction of the subjects of the painting.  His insights are now gaining more recognition as developmental studies are coming once again into the mainstream.

e.  Jurgen Habermas (1929-present)

He is one of the most influential philosophers in the world today.  His theory of communicative action recognizes that there are different domains of truth that are irreducible, not just the objective domain of science, but the subjective domain of experience, and the so-called “intersubjective” domain of culture.  Claims of truth need to be internally verified within the appropriate domain.

His theories were also influenced by development theorists like Jean Piaget.  One of his lasting contributions to philosophy was recognizing that post-modernism did result in crucial insights, but it also lead to certain philosophical excesses.  This balanced critique of post-modernism is a crucial legacy for Integral Theory. 

These five pioneers share some common traits:

  • a fascination with growth, development and evolution
  • an unwillingness to reduce the interior dimension to the exterior (i.e., a rejection of reductionism)
  • a desire for a balanced understanding of the three domains of objectivity (represented by science), subjectivity (represented by consciousness),  and intersubjectivity (represented by culture).

3.  What is AQAL?

AQAL is an acronym which stands for “All Quadrants, All Levels”, the first two of the five basic elements or factors that compose Integral theory.  The five basic factors are

a.  Quadrants

b.  Levels

c.  Lines

d.  States

e.  Types

Each lesson will expound on one of these factors.  That means there are five more lessons, a lesson that integrates these five factors (naturally, given a course called Integral Theory), and final review lesson, for a total of eight lessons (including this introductory lesson).    Lesson #9 is actually the test of the entire course. 

4.  Course Introduction

The fourth section of the course contains the mechanics of how the course is laid out.

The next post will cover Lesson 2, the first factor of Integral Theory called “Quadrants”.


One Response

  1. Hi. I’m taking essential integral now. I failed the test my first attempt, but I’m planning to review my notes and try again. Your notes look great…Thanks!

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