Polarity Map: Differentiation & Integration

“Evolution acts in the sense of simultaneous and interdependent structuration of the macro- and the micro-world. Complexity thus emerges from the interpenetration of processes of differentiation and integration.”Erich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe

The polarity of Differentiation and Integration is a fundamental dynamic in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, representing the intertwined processes essential for the health, evolution, and complexity of consciousness and systems. Differentiation is the creation of uniqueness and distinction, leading to diversity and individuality within a system. Integration is the synthesis of these diverse elements into a cohesive and functioning whole, fostering unity and interconnectedness. This polarity emphasizes the importance of both diversifying elements to create richness and complexity, and unifying them to form integrated and functional systems. It’s a continual dance of separating and joining, where each process complements and requires the other for holistic development.

Differentiation is the evolutionary process of creating distinct elements or parts within a system. This process is essential for the emergence of diversity, individuality, and complexity. Differentiation allows for the specialization of parts and the introduction of novel features and functions within a system, contributing to its adaptability and evolution. However, when differentiation is not accompanied by adequate integration, it can lead to dissociation, where the distinct parts become disconnected from the larger system, losing sight of their interdependence and role within the whole.

Integration is the counterbalancing force that synthesizes differentiated parts into a coherent whole. It’s not just about creating unity but about achieving a harmonious interrelation of parts within a larger system. This process is evident in the integration of molecules into cells, cells into tissues, and organs into systems. Integration is a universal drive towards unity and cohesion. However, its excess can lead to repression, where the unique qualities of individual parts are denied or suppressed, leading to a pathological homogenization or a “totalizing and dominating Wholeness” that negates the individuality and autonomy of parts.

“Differentiation produces partness, or a new ‘manyness’; integration produces wholeness, or a new ‘oneness.’ And since holons are whole/parts, they are formed by the joint action of differentiation and integration.”Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality

See the full polarity map here, along with:

Integrated Polarity
Unintegrated Polarity
Tips to Harmonize This Polarity
Tips to Integrate This Polarity