What is Integral, in the most general and all-encompassing sense?



A few months ago, I hosted a discussion about the generalized definition of Integral. Several notable people joined and we recorded it. This was spurred by Brendan Graham Dempsey’s editing of the Wikipedia article for metamodernism and I saw that Wikipedia still has just a disambiguation page for Integral Theory, wherein it then links to Wilber’s version and also to Ervin Laszlo’s version in addition to offering links to Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga and to CIIS. I was wondering if there could be an actual article for Integral Theory in general and then also a separate disambiguation page with those links. You guys can watch the video linked below if you want, but I want to also offer this as a starting point for this new Wikipedia article, which would be intended to offer a generalized account of Integral Theory that would essentially distill the intersection between leading integralists including Wilber, Aurobindo, Laszlo, Gebser, and the more recent post-Wilber work of the last 20 years. Please read this and let me know what you think:

Integral Theory is an approach to integrating a wide diversity of thought into a single unified framework and it is often associated with the most significant thinkers of this genre, notably Ken Wilber, Jean Gebser, and Sri Aurobindo. While Wilber’s name is often attached to this term, it is possible to formulate a general definition of Integral Theory that isn’t specifically tied to the work of any particular integralists. In this, we can offer two definitions, each of which is probably essential to the generalized definition.
Integral Theory defined in terms of the historical development of philosophies: There are many approaches that we can draw from in our efforts to making sense of the world, to finding meaning, and figuring out how best to live our lives. These approaches were created and developed over the course of human societies and in all regions of the world. Each of these approaches tend to focus on some aspects of life more than others. One approach might focus heavily on a certain epistemic channel and a particular conception of ontology, while other approaches have quite different epistemologies and ontologies. Our contemporary world is increasingly interconnected, and we have an opportunity to integrate these diverse philosophies. Integral Theory attempts to do this and the most common areas of integration include, but are not necessarily limited to:
• Eastern and Western thought
• Urbanized and indigenous ways of life
• Analytic and Continental philosophy
• Science and the humanities
• Contemporary, Early Modern, Medieval, and Ancient intellectual traditions
• Rationality and spirituality
• Modernism and postmodernism
• Naturalism and subjectivism
A complementary definition that is based on the most common subject matter of this discipline: Integral Theory attempts to place a wide diversity of theories and thinkers into one single framework. At its most comprehensive, it can be portrayed as a “theory of everything”, which supposedly includes the living totality of matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit. This discipline tries to draw together an diverse array of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching. This often includes:
• Bringing ideas and philosophies together into a coherent and comprehensive worldview
• A recognition of big history, which is the full history of the universe, the Earth, and human civilization up to the present
• Incorporating the most up-to-date understanding of matter, life, mind, and culture and how they relate to each other within the natural universe and perhaps also including conceptions of soul and spirit
• A focus on the processes of development of the self, of society at large, and of consciousness in general
• A categorization of the variations of consciousness based on multiple dimensions, which might include stages, states, levels, types, etc.

Here is the video:


I haven’t watched the video, but with a quick reading of your generalized definition, what stood out for me as maybe needing to be included is about the quadrants. Not the content of the quadrants and without the necessity of using the word “quadrants,” but the general idea of them: singular-interior, collective-interior, singular-exterior, collective-exterior. (And of course, with the zones, it can get more in-depth, but these seem minimally necessary).

While I believe the quadrants are a main Wilber contribution, from the reading I’ve done of Aurobindo, while he did not use the same language, he too ‘got at’ this. This is such a simple, but to me, hugely important aspect of integralism, and of perspectivism.


The most general and all encompassing? Three lines:
Clean Up
Wake Up
Grow Up

In that order.

What I have noticed is that both Ken’s books and the community tend to be a bit light in the first and most important one, without which the other two get perverted.

Ironically the second one is also dodged quite a bit, perhaps to avoid religious debates because lots of people still want to cling to ethnocentrism with regards to practices of “waking up”. They want to believe their one little slice of waking up called Religion X can satisfy all of their waking up needs - and then try to shoehorn Integral through the lens of that one religion. Or, much worse - they have a product to sell and do not want to recognize their offering is only one drop in massive bucket.
This is Ironic because Ken’s biography clearly shows he used a dozen different religions and philosophies in his waking up journey.

What I see getting the most discussion is the “Growing Up” - AQAL and all the lingo and theories that go along with them. Yet without the Cleaning Up and Waking Up, Grown Up theories and solutions are easily perverted to cause more harm than the original problem. Then there is also the tendency to get stuck in intellectual masturbation mode where things are discussed endlessly with no actual positive result from any of it.

So quite simply - Clean up. Then Wake Up then after those two are accomplished, then spend the last 20 years of your life from 60-80 growing up, lol.


It’s interesting to apply this stuff to life stages.

When it comes to “growing up”, we tend to see the most rapid growth in the beginning and ending chapters of our lives, and a plateau in mid-life, which i imagine is due to the demands of family, career, etc.

But that mid-life phase is often when we focus on clean up work, I think, as we begin to notice how childhood wounds and traumas are limiting our capacity to meet the demands of family, career, etc.

Waking up becomes very pronounced toward the ending chapters, as our existential line begins to tug on our spiritual line a bit more. But of course we have lifelong waking opportunities — and the “feeling” of waking up can evolve quite a bit as we shift from one growing up stage to the next.

So personally, I suggest that people lean a bit more into growing up during mid-life, since it probably requires a bit more conscious attention to keep whatever momentum we’ve gained as young adults pushing us forward. And hopefully we can learn to do consistent cleaning up at every life stage — especially since failing to do so can severely limit our overall capacity to grow and awaken in this lifetime.


I believe this may be the age we were at when our culture “discovered” or more accurately, popularized this. But an example of cleaning up for teens is the “Boys to Men” project, which was not available as far as I know when I was a teen.


I just edited the Wikipedia article for Integral Theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_theory Note that it previously was just a disambiguation page that linked to other pages for the most notable versions of Integral, including Wilber’s and Aurobindo’s and Laszlo’s. Now it is a full article that gives a generalized definition of the term that can apply to Wilber’s work and also to Gebser and many others. Feel free to edit it as necessary, since it’s a wiki!


They reverted my edits but it is still available here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Brandonlee25/sandbox

@corey-devos I’m interested to get your thoughts. The point here is that Integral Theory is a genre of thought and practice that isn’t tied to any particular person’s work. The Wikipedia editors reverted my work because it was unsourced. But we might find a place for something like this, perhaps within Integral Life? If it is any merit to what I’ve put together, perhaps it could be useful?


Hi Brandon,

I was poking around on jstor and found several reviews on Wilbers work. These as references might get you past the Wiki gatekeepers. Also there are some new agey journals that you might reference - Corey has talked about them some.

Just a few thoughts on your description. In my estimation, Integral Theory’s “theory of everything” compared to Consilience (as an example) is very much limited to psychological (inner quadrant) and sociological (exterior, collective) realms. There is a slight attempt to bridge sociological into economics, technology, governance but no real work into these domains. It’s primarily to use these functional domains to further sociological engineering.
While 20 years ago, Ken scraped the surfaces with his mapping, it’s a stretch to position IT as all encompassing of everything. I think this “it covers everything” simplification is more to make it easy with a low resolution “solves all problems” mapping, which is also the primary drawback to finding purchase in the real world.

As others have said, most Integral concepts are ancient with very well developed practices, histories, ideologies that have already been tested at scale over eons.


Zaq Mosher created this document to help track the citations and the possible changes we will need to make for this Wikipedia article to pass muster. We might end up changing it to either “Integrative Metatheory” or “Integral Studies” since “Integral Theory” is mostly Wilber’s term and there are other integrative works that are quite distinct, such as Bhaskar’s critical realism, etc. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1u8OgT-tsCx_N2dy6_qK-JMkUccGJyPXtt5TSDgIn-uI/edit?usp=sharing