How is Ken Wilber’s color scheme better than Spiral Dynamics?


I would love to receive feedback on my longread “A More Adequate Spectrum of Colors?”

Is Wilber’s color scheme better than that of Spiral Dynamics, as he claims in his The Religion of Tomorrow?

If yes, why? If not, why not? Does it matter?


Hi Frank, just a quick heads up to say that I notice that a number of your posts and comments seem to be linking back to your own website, which is skirting fairly close to our “no spam” policy. Let’s be careful about that.

As for your question, it all just seems so… inconsequential, I guess? Like the integral version of arguing about what color labels to use in your file cabinet, or how many angels can breakdance on the head of a pin. I understand why Ken wanted to reconfigure the colors so it is arranged in more of an intuitive and natural spectrum — but even that feels somewhat arbitrary to me. I mean, “amber”? Hell, “magenta” isn’t even in the natural spectrum!

The colors simply denote “comparable altitudes” across a number of developmental lines, and do not (and should not) convey any meaningful data in and of themselves. We can make broad generalizations, sure – this set of altitudes are “pre-conventional”, this set is “post-conventional”, etc. But I think the colors can easily be replaced by something equally arbitrary like “fulcrum 1, fulcrum 2, fulcrum 3, etc.” Hell, Ken could have used “polka dots, stripes, and paisley” and it would have no significant bearing on the notion of altitude itself.

The SD colors were just as arbitrary, of course. Orange representing “the fires of industry”, for example. It was just poetry, not meta-theory. Which is cool, I love poetry.

And that is kind of the point — these labels need to be arbitrary. They need to be “empty signifiers”, if you will, or else the signified meaning of whatever term you settle on would need to apply accurately to every single line of development at that stage. So you can’t use terms like “magic, mythic, rational” for overall altitude, because wtf does “mythic-level kinesthetic” even mean?

Which is why I personally find myself resistant to involving chakra colors into any naming convention, and also since that would immediately turn off certain segments of the potential audience that may otherwise be very amenable to integral ideas. But I also understand why Ken was going for the overall symmetry of the natural spectrum, and I loved his eloquent discussion of the topic in RoT despite the fact that, again, it all feels so inconsequential to me at the end of the day. Which is a good thing, I think.

That said, here are a couple advantages for each model that come to mind.

Advantages of Ken’s spectrum:

  • Aligning with the natural light spectrum helps convey the hierarchical (holarchical) nature of development.

  • Creates some critical distance between the AQAL and SD models, each of which include/emphasize different methodologies and make different claims.

  • Allows us to come up with cool titles like “Full Spectrum Mindfulness” :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Advantages of SD’s spectrum:

  • Newly identified stages between already known stages can be more easily added to the holarchy (e.g. no need to figure out what to use between “teal” and 'turquoise" if later research discerns a new stage in there, as Susanne Cook Greuter and Beena Sharma seem to be discovering between “amber” and “orange”.)

  • You can more easily teach these stages as “types” for people who are not yet ready for the full integral download, which expands your toolkit for stage-appropriate introductions to the material.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

The posting of links to Integral World was done at the request of the person I replied to, because he didn’t have “infinite time” to go through a website that wasn’t really “user friendly” (take that). Will avoid that.

Regarding your take on your colors, which represent your own opinions, not Wilber’s. You seem to downplay the relevance of ANY choice of colors, in contrast to Wilber who argues it matters very much (that was his whole point of leaving the SD scheme). So for him they are not empty placeholders at all. He even provides energetic considerations to ground his own choice of colors.

So if the choice of colors matters, it is important to do it well, in my opinion. I understand the pragmatic reason for not changing your color palette every decade or so, but “a more adequate spectrum of colors” can in principle be replaced by “an even more adequate spectrum of colors”. It’s all a matter of the better argument.

Are the SD colors really arbitrary? They are evocative and follow the simple rules of color psychology. That gives them an initial intuitive appeal that Wilber’s colors lack (but of course that might be subjective). You may personally be put of by the reference to chakra colors but Wilber makes a big point of it in RoT.

Where you see “an eloquent discussion of the topic” by Wilber I see a hasty ad-hoc argument, careless and full of self-congratulation (“they got the colors wrong”, “it can easily be addressed”). No awareness of the arbitrariness of colors, just “wrong”. Not a very sophisticated treatment of the subject at all.

As you can read in the color essay I link to, my verdict is: Wilber’s new colors scheme is unbalanced, and heavily biased towards the reddish part of the spectrum (5 out of 6 personal colors are reddish!). Wilber: “which are low frequencies of raw, “violent” color associated with anger, hatred, and so forth” (p. 691)

As I mention towards the end, even simple color psychology offers a more relaxed interpretation, with all primary colors being included, where obscure and contentious esoteric considerations are replaced by a simple evocative color psychology that can be understood by anyone.


Wasn’t that why you asked this question? To start a conversation and get our opinions on the issue? Or was this just a setup so you can tell us how wrong you think Ken is? You even ask, “If yes, why? If not, why not? Does it matter?” My answer is, “it doesn’t matter” and I shared my thinking as to why. I already know Ken’s stance, it’s okay to have a different perspective. We are not fundamentalists over here.


But surely, Wilber’s “opinions” matter most in the context of Integral Life. That’s why I bring them in. And comparing them to your own gives relief to Wilber’s ideas. That’s the great thing about comparative study.

  1. In general it would be nice if the concept of a universal developmental spectrum was, as much as possible, correlated to the natural spectrum of colored radiation visible to human eyes.

  2. I don’t have a “preference” between Wilber and SD because they indicate two different things. SD is more specific. It refers to a particular developmental line or cluster of evolving traits – rather than to general altitude of structural simplexity.

  3. Use of the chakra model of colors is a bad idea, in my opinion, because (a) these energy systems do not necessarily appear under their conventional cartoon color scheme (b) the chakras are not a very good model for developmental stages. When I give talks, I prefer to use these more like “lines” than “levels” for a variety of reasons.


I read Frank Visser’s analysis of “Colors” at the link and think it is well researched, well written, articulate, and useful explanation on how colors have been used and defined. He makes a reasonable argument that at this time, where several color schemes have been created and have proven to be conceptually related, perhaps the authors of the spectra come together and harmonize across them.

Personally, I think of the color schemes as different representations of similar concepts. If all schemes were developed at the same time, I would expect them to be quite similar. But they were done in their own respective silos. Now that they exist, additional work could be done to align them.

This is the “sausage making” part of any domain of knowledge and it needs to be done well enough to be clear and the basis for everyone to commit to the terms, concepts, and their representations. Changes break old things but cross-maps make comparison possible for older sources. But going forward we could forge what is called an “ontological commitment”. We agree to terms, or in this case, colors, and what is meant by them. This is the essence of “integration” in action.

This forum is a good place to raise it as a suggestion. But it is not a place for a vote from the community. The work would be the hard, conceptual wrestling match between the people who have really thought about it with the goal to simplifying across the literature, so the larger audience is less confused. Each of the color spectra have been done in silos, well-conceived and informed ones, but not with standard agreement in mind, more as a critical jumping off point.

I would be delighted to see Wilber, Visser, Beck/Cowan, and anyone else with stakes in this game come together and iron this out. It would reduce confusion across the board and start filling in the legend for a larger, clearer map. And if I think down the road to how I might visualize all aspects of AQAL in an immersive, multi-dimensional space, I would vote for the natural spectrum with the addition of white and black, some geometry, and animation of the forces at play upon them.


An interesting discussion! Thanks for raising the issue.

My own sense is that Wilber’s color scheme works “better” for his Integral theory, while the SD color scheme works “better” for SD.

It’s unfortunate that these two schemes are so similar yet with so many differences. I have at times felt frustration at the need to “translate” across from one color scheme to the other. It would indeed be a relief if the founders of each got together to work out a single system.

But I don’t see any obvious workaround for the advantages of each color system for its own scheme. For example:

The SD scheme alternates between warm and cool colors to reflect the shift back and forth between emphasis on agency vs. communion as we go up the levels. This is a real and important distinction and, IMHO, well worth preserving.

On the other hand, I find the use of the rainbow spectrum up the Integral levels to be hugely insightful and resonant. Among other advantages, it also allows for sub-distinctions to be added as we further refine our theory (such as magenta, Corey :slight_smile:).

Regarding chakras. Speaking for myself, I find the resonance between Integral stages and chakra levels to be hugely valuable. I use it when I am talking to others about these levels – in part because this is how I cognize it, and in part because I’ve found it an effective way to communicate to others. Even if they don’t “believe” in chakras, they grasp the underlying structure right away.


Ken speaks of this in “The Religion of Tomorrow” page 691 “The actual order of the colors of the developmental spectrum turn out to be important, for reasons given by traditions themselves - each chakra, for example, has a color, and these colors occur, from lowest to highest, in the same order as a natural rainbow, because the actual energies of the chakras are said to be manifestations of the same Kosmic energies producing rainbows – reflecting the “unified” nature of the Kosmos itself. So there is a reason that the chakras run from “infrared” (or more accurately crimson”) and “red” at the low end, which are low frequencies of raw, “violent” color associated with anger, hatred and so forth, to green smooth colors in the middle representing more advanced/evolved levels, or bands, of both colors and consciousness, to blue indigo at the highest end with their smooth, soothing, peaceful tones. As more and more research is done into “energy medicine” and “subtle energies,” … Spiral Dynamics also uses colors for its 6 - to - 8 basic levels in the values line, but its assignments are totally off according to Tantric traditions. Violet or purple, for example, is assigned by Spiral Dynamics to one of the lowest levels (Magic), whereas for traditions it is one of the very highest levels…" he goes on to say “I regret not addressing this colors problem from the moment I started using Spiral Dynamics as an example of my work on levels and lines–it has contributed to an inadequate scheme becoming fairly widely dispersed; but, I suppose, better late than never to correct it.” He goes on to give scientific reasons for the colors as well.

“The Religion of Tomorrow” has given me so many answers to questions that had been rattling in my mind for decades, keeping me stuck and unable to move beyond what I felt as inconsistencies and basically a distrust of anything that remotely used the word ‘religion’ in a sentence. This book is so much more.


Hi angelica,

I know and i have reviewed that tome in 7 parts on

One part is devoted to color theory and I demonstrate how off balance Wilber’s color scheme is (a large preponderance of reddish hues in the sphere of personality, absence of yellow and blue as primary colors, etc.)

Especially when following the rainbow matters (and this is a contentious issue) it is incomprehensible why Wilber chose his colors in such a hurry. It is now an awkward hybrid between the light spectrum and Spiral Dynamics.


Hi Frank, to me this is not a stumbling block to “growing up” through the developmental stages, states and including all the various levels and lines. Being stuck on the colors seems counter productive to both Integral or SP perspectives.

How are you incorporating your interpretation into your everyday life? And have you actually read Ken Wilber’s book “The Religion of Tomorrow” yourself? Seems odd you would need to quote things from another website instead of your own experience of the book if you had read it. Many of the things you bring up in other comments on this website are answered in much of the Integral theory and perspectives in books written on the subject by others besides Ken W.


Of course, one could use numbers instead, colors are not needed. But if the claim of scientific and/or esoteric accurateness is made, to denounce a system like SD that has been effective in real world situations, this needs to be evaluated.

Have I read The Religion of Tomorrow? I just told you I reviewed it, in about 100 pages. So yeah, i read it from cover to cover.


You read it and have a point of view. What I wonder is where in your own life experiences you used effectively either the SD or Integral perspective in the real world? Has it had an impact on you or others around you? Evaluation comes from real life experiences, I believe. I only ask this as I am truly interested.


Naomi - I seem to be’stuck’ with the below chakra color scheme learned in 1970s TM training, not finding it easy to ‘think’
(Blue violet) Violet, highest level
Indigo (ham) throat area
Green, heart center 'Yellow (ram) ’
Power center ‘Fire in the belly’
Orange , sexual center Red, earth,anger,etc.
(Red violet)
Hopefully, a consensus will be reached to aid in conversations in this area in the near future.
Your comments were very interesting.


Never really got into the colour notation myself. I was always interested in the content of the stages and how they clarified/gave context to what was going on around me. For example, when I reflect back on a mediation session I need a degree of freedom and flexibility to encounter the myriad of lines, stages, states that are going on within the mediation process.Trying to ram that content into colours meant giving up nuances and flavours that were important in the process.
IMHO for those who have difficulty in grasping what is going on with all these lines levels stages et al, the colours can be a good scaffolding to rely on until the framework is solid enough in their understanding. Once the understanding is there the colours lose their purpose as scaffolding and become a straightjacket.(Who wants to look at scaffolding when there is a cathedral inside it?).
Of course, it is possible then to look at the value of colours in their own right rather than as scaffolding, but that’s not been of any interest to me- yet.