What's your biggest disagreement with Integral theory?

My goal for this post is not to criticize the work of Ken and Integral in a mean spirited way, but to critically reflect on Integral theory so that some of its potential shortcomings can be patched up (and perhaps included into the theory). I have spent a lot of time reading posts on Integral world, and although I disagree with some of the content and tone of the authors, I do appreciate any kind of critical evaluation which leads to more evolution and integration. I can say with a certain amount of confidence that anyone’s perspective on this topic will be an enlightening read for me!



I sincerely hope that this criticism is taken kindly and with an open mind.

I have a question which I suppose would also be a criticism of the Integral Philosophy/vision/mission which would revolve around the monetized verbose nature of the movement. Example: Have a question? We have a book, workshop, class you can buy to answer that.

I really enjoy reading Integral subjects but am constantly feeling the pinch in my wallet. There is a voice in my head that is starting to warn me that I am getting sucked into a spiritual community which is constantly asking for money.

I’ll keep buying materials to progress myself personally, but I feel deep hesitation in recommending the Integral Life membership to anyone without knowing more about the organization and management.

Asking about money is a sensitive subject and I am not asking for anyone to justify their position or monetization of their work. I appreciate and understand that Integral Life has bills to pay and employees to support but my heart would be less worried if there was transparency in these matters.

But are there free Integral resources I can legally forward to friends without incurring copyright laws.

I think there are a lot of really great potential answers to these questions, and I humbly look forward to hearing them. If its a matter of being none of my business, I also understand and thank anyone for their time in responding.



I, too, greatly enjoy reading much of the content on www.integralworld.net, but most of the critical evaluations I’ve read seem to object to the large lens through which Ken Wilber’s works appears to be looking through. Most of the time every critique seems to fit very nicely into the larger view represented by Wilber’s take on Integral Theory.

A lot of the authors appear (and even declare) that they are disagreeing with Wilber’s work, then when I read the critique, it appears like they are ultimately agreeing on the concepts, but have taken issue with the specific language used to convey the concept or the path taken to get there.

I’m not saying anyone is incorrect (though I certainly don’t agree with everyone’s conclusions) or that the works from both aren’t important, just that, to me, it really looks like everyone is painting the same picture. Some folks like to focus on the details and want to use pointillism (George Seurat), while others want use alla prima (Bob Ross) to paint the whole thing very quickly.

This is just my perspective, of course.

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I think that is a fair point, Jeb, and one that I have been concerned about for a while now – not necessarily with Integral life, but with other branches of the Integral movement, such as the cost of the programs at Pacific Integral (which I hear are excellent, I’ll just never be able to afford their $8,000 course). Of course people need to make a living, but these prices can give Integral a pretentious and elitist appearance, available only to those who can afford it, and to go full postmodern green, for mostly white, educated, upper middle class folks. This makes the movement seem insulated, and as an antidote, I would love to see a more grass roots approach – with free or very affordable programs for the public and geared to people from various socioeconomic backgrounds. I have long thought about offering a free class series on introductory Integral here in Portland OR, but am unsure with how to proceeds with this.


I think you hit the nail on the head with Integral world. I do enjoy reading disagreements about the specifics and minor details, and as Ken even said, IT is big picture, its our job to fill in the details, which I think promotes a healthy form of discourse in any community.


It is not that IT as a big picture is correct and we only have to quarrel about the details. The big picture itself may be in need of revision, especially when presented within the context of esoteric cosmology. In my opinion IT needs a healthy reality check from Big History - a summary of the origin story provided by science.

There are so many more interesting and rewarding ways to study the emergence of complexity than by postelating a spiritual drive behind it - which in my opinion does no more than beg the question.

We live in a universe that irresistably moves towards uniformity. At the same time, local pockets of complexity arise. How can that paradox be solved? By taking energy flows into account, that are set up by gradients in nature, the most important of which is gravity.

Birds (or rockets) don’t contradict gravity because they can fly. They do so only at the cost of enormous amounts of energy. Why then does Wilber think the growth to complexity somehow contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

Because he doesn’t get this paradox, apparently, and has to invent his own principle of what drives evolution, and deride the Second Law in the process. Until this weakness is addressed, acknowledged and remedied, IT wil remain as a zeppelin with a very thin thread to science.

It is not that IT requires this belief in a Spirit-in-action, it seems to be Wilbers own opinion to which he is deeply attached. And the resistance to address this fundamental critique bodes poorly for integrals ability to engage the world of science.

Until now, the only “defense” that has emerged is that science is orange and integral sees more colors and perspectives, but this is a formal reply that misses the point. It amounts to “see-erism”, the opposite of scientism. It does not add to our understanding of the emergence of complexity in the least.

So come on Ken, get out of your ivory integral tower and engage the world of real science! If only to strengthen your own case!

Frank Visser
Integral World

Thanks for your input, Frank. I appreciate your criticisms of Integral theory and have 2 questions:

  1. If you designed Integral theory from scratch, how would it differ from Ken’s presentation? Would you keep the fundamentals as they are, such as quadrants and levels? From what I understand of your work, your primary objection to IT is Ken’s “Eros” as the driver of evolution and other esoteric cosmological claims such as “spirit as the ground of being.” If claims such as these are omitted in favor of a scientific approach – would IT really look that much different?

  2. You say that resorting to a metaphysical “seer-ism” prevents Integralists from properly engaging the world of science. Is it not possible to integrate the leading discoveries of science with a spiritual/mystical cosmology (with both occupying their proper place)? In other words, are the two mutually exclusive?

I think that if “seer-ist” metaphysics prevents proper engagement with science, that is a problem, as one can just resort to mystical explanations instead of exploring scientific ones. But other than that, as far as I can tell, whether one accepts these claims or not doesn’t affect the practical implementation of IT’s quadrants and levels (and its applications to real world problems).

However, I think there’s no doubt that resorting to esoteric cosmologies has hurt Integral’s acceptance into the mainstream – which I do care about deeply, and presenting a purely secular form of IT to the mainstream public is very much in need. I know of several people who rejected IT because of its “woo woo” spiritualism, which is a shame, as they could have benefited greatly from the model. This can give the implication that one needs to be spiritual in order to accept IT – which shouldn’t be the case.

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Just as some people might reject IT because of its “woo woo” spiritualism, there are many who would reject it without the Spirit-in-Action philosophy. It wouldn’t be comprehensive, whole; it wouldn’t be Integral.



Are you referring to this essay of yours? If so, how would you address the critique that the essay conflates scientific philosophy and materialistic philosophy?


I know you weren’t exactly asking me, but I think Carl Sagan explains how the two aren’t mutually exclusive quite thoroughly in The Demon Haunted World.

“The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.” - Carl Sagan

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  1. I have no quarrel with AQAL as much as with the Eros-doctrine. I don’t even object to mysticism as long as it sticks to its own quadrant of subjective states.
  2. Science and spirituality can get along as long as they stick to their own domains. It is the crossing over that is the problem. By addressing the failures of science Wilber implies Spirit has relevance there as well.
    But he can never come clear about this for Spirit by definition works in mysterious ways.
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Why would Spirit-in-action make it more comprehensive? It would make it theological:

  1. Spirit focusses on our Earth, but that raises multiple questions: why Earth in this vast universe? A special creation after all?
  2. Spirit works on a cosmic scale, but why is it then ineffective even on our own moon? Not enough Eros to go around? Does Eros have preferences?

The really important question is: do we really need such a hypothesis? I think not, and not before naturalistic approaches have been thoroughly examined - which Wilber has failed to do.

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Have you not followed the whole winding-down vs winding up discussion on Integral World? Wilber has clearly misunderstood the cosmic energy economy.

The critic you refer to (Don Salmon) believes that everything happens in the mind of God (must be Shiva in his case), hardly a workable hypothesis. Thats why he has to reject materialism…

But he misses the point: we are not arguing for ultimate explanations, but for explanations at the meso-level. Its like saying: how can you believe in electronics if you don’t know what an electron really is!

Wow, Frank, I am both honored and intimidated that you have posed these questions to me, and truly I mean that. I am only vaguely, vaguely, vaguely familiar with your work, but I do sense from your first post in this topic that you have some blazing fire in the head and some blazing fire in the belly, and me, I’ve only got this tiny, thumb-sized flame in the heart, and some empty space elsewhere (and I don’t mean I’m an airhead, thank you.).

By the way, are you familiar with Ian Barbour and his work? I think he framed it under the caption “Religious Naturalism.” He had a degree in Divinity and a Ph.D. in physics, I remember his winning the 1999 Templeton Prize for his work in helping religion and science connect, dialogue. Perhaps one of his most notable phrases was something to the effect of “science may tell us what is possible, but religion can tell us what is desirable.” I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of his work, but that phrase has always been meaningful to me, and maybe we’ll come back to that.

I am certain I am no intellectual match for you, particularly when it comes to science subjects like Thermodynamics. (Let’s see, that’s the physics that deals with heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work; with four laws describing how these quantities behave under various circumstances and forbid certain phenomena, such as perpetual motion–right? Full disclosure: while I did know a tiny little something about thermodynamics, having tried, unsuccessfully of course, silly me, to apply the laws a couple of decades ago to experiences with subtle body kundalini shakti–so much heat! so much energy!–I did look it up before responding to this post.)

Do you have a sense of play? Because I can’t see myself getting through all these responses without a bit of it. To hold these subjects with a little bit of non-seriousness reminds me, at least, that both science and spirituality are interpretations of reality; they are not reality itself. Same goes for the Integral framework. This is where epistemic humility comes in–knowing that we don’t know. And when we know that we don’t know, might as well grin and bear it…

You say that Spirit-in-action makes IT theological. I tend to go to the source of words, and theology, deriving from the Greek ‘theos’ meaning God, and ‘logos’ meaning words, essentially means “god words” or more relevant, I think, “words about God.” So while Wilber et. al. who speak of Spirit-in-action are in a general sense speaking theologically, so is anyone who speaks of not-Spirit-in-action. In the most general sense, anytime we speak about Spirit, even to negate Spirit, we are being theological.

Which reminds me of a quote by one of the evolutionaries antecedent to Integral evolutionaries, Sri Aurobindo. “Faith is what we live on until there’s knowledge.” (In The Life Divine, I believe.) Everyone lives on some degree of faith, faith that the sun will rise in the morning, set in the evening, etc. and even atheists, who I believe have a place in the Integral conversation, have a faith in the absence of Spirit.

But Spirit-in-action applied to IT does make IT comprehensive/whole for me. I’ve always felt the AQAL model is both substantive and roomy enough for anyone to maneuver in; if one doesn’t relate to or like the spiritual components and references, one can leave them alone, extract them, and still have a functional, useful reality framework.

But without the spiritual components of Wilber’s theory/model, it simply would not be complete enough for many of us. If I can’t locate my direct experiential knowledge (knowledge, not faith) within a reality framework, then it’s simply not comprehensive or whole enough or large enough for me. And yes, those colors…perspectives: they speak to real things for many of us. And the “seer-ism,” that you say is the opposite of scientism; I’m not sure I totally agree with that, given that there are studies relating meditative states to physiological changes in the body, and studies showing how shamanic states of consciousness affect brain waves, for instance. So there is a little objective “science” documenting at least the effects of certain subjective, interior spiritual states, experiences.

As to “Spirit focuses on our Earth…why Earth in this vast universe…a special creation after all?” No, not a special creation; that honor, I think, would have to go to the first rock out, the speed-demon Mercury who every time it appears to go retrograde, four times each year my astrologer friend tells me, messes up communications and electronics, and we all know how important communication and electronics are to evolution…(a little woo-woo, a little play; couldn’t resist).

One of the stripped-down words I’ve used in the past for Spirit (and I’ve used and still use a lot of different words, depending on the stage perspective I’m taking), is Intent. Try that on for size: Intent-in-Action. Because it does seem that there is intentionality behind evolution, behind manifest creation. And indeed, it’s mysterious; can’t get around that, and who would want to?

So perhaps the moon is as it is due to Intent; perhaps the moon is intended as nothing more than a little light in the night here on the earth, or as a facilitator of romance on earth, or to help the oceans do their tide-thing, or farmers time the planting of seeds, or give astronauts something to do with their time…I don’t know. But why would you say Eros is ineffective on the moon? Because there aren’t complex, conscious life forms there? That’s kind of like asking why don’t rocks speak English?

Back to Intent, we know that with humans intent can shape perception, can shape both what one perceives and how that is interpreted. So I don’t think it’s that Eros has preferences, rather, humans have preferences tucked within their intent. Some people have an intent, consciously or unconsciously held, to “see,” to experience directly “who am I” and others don’t. Or, aren’t willing to use the methods in a disciplined and long-enough fashion that would reveal more of “who am I” and this thing called Spirit.

I’m pretty sure my responses here are not going to satisfy; maybe someone else can pick it up. But as Annie Lennox would sing “these are the contents of my head.” And why don’t you come over to the S-I-A team? you know, give peace a chance because all we need is love and we can’t live with or without you.

I need to hear some music!
Thanks for the challenge and the fun.


It may be that some people in the integral community have experienced subtle phenomena that one might call “telepathic” or “synchronistic”. These experiences are part of the reality that they are looking for a comprehensive map of. They seem to suggest that the world that humans experience can be thought of productively as primarily a mental phenomena. Many believe that the results of quantum experiments are compatible with the world that we experience being a mental construct.

When you dream, you have dream eyes viewing dream objects and you accept that is a mental construct. Perhaps when you are awake you have waking eyes viewing waking objects and it is also primarily a mental construct.

What we can be certain of is that we experience patterns of sensations. Where do these patterns come from? Where does are awareness come from? We may not be able to answer these questions in an absolute way, but you would probably agree that awareness has to exist before empirical observations can occur. Why then jump to the conclusion that the mechanical interaction of those patterns you perceive produce your awareness, or that your awareness is less permanent than the observations? Even if we are primarily living in a mental construction science can benefit us by helping us to describe the tendencies in the patterns we perceive. It seems well proven that describing these tendencies helps us to deal with suffering and for at least that reason science is a very good thing.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to induce synchronicity or telepathy so it’s difficult to correlate our observations. Suffice it to say, I doubt that so many independent people committed to good ethnics that have described these experiences would be completely lying or part of a conspiracy.

Maybe someday you will have some of these experiences and you’ll be able to explain them to all of us in a way that is consistent with good science.


Sagan, of course, like Einstein, referred to being in awe of the physical cosmos, nothing else:

No speculations about Spirit having a hand in worldly affairs or natural processes.

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R> When you dream, you have dream eyes viewing dream objects and you accept that is a mental construct. Perhaps when you are awake you have waking eyes viewing waking objects and it is also primarily a mental construct.

That would amount to idealism. There is perception and there is imagination. Naive realism says the world we percieve exists. Naive idealism says the world we see is imagined. But of course this is not tenable: we have been to the moon and back, so where did we go then? This subjective idealism (linking the world to an individual subject - what about all others, are they imagined?) is therefore sometimes expanded to objective idealism, where the world we see is imagined by some Subject, Spirit or God.

Of course, that brings in a host of other questions: how can we then see a world? How did we arise out of this universal consciousness? Why did this happen and when? Bernardo Kastrup is teaching such a view, see his “A Universe in Consciousness”. I found it hard to believe and no improvement over naive realism. Of course, our brain filters and constructs most of the input we receive from outside, but the cosmos is still there, even if we don’t look at it.

References to quantum physics are spurious because even if it is true that some kind of observation (not construction this time??) is impacting the quantum world, this doesn’t mean everything in the world depends on being perceived. That would be quite an issue in the past with no living creature on earth to do so. What does depend on our consciousness and is largely (of not totally) constructed is our knowledge of the world, not the world itself.

This is the epistemistology/ontology discussion Wilber has recently contributed to as well. In his view, objects in the world don’t really exist until they are perceived (by us?). Until then they merely “sub-sist”. This seems to me quite contrived because even if we didn’t know about or looked at them, supernova’s and quasars had quite a lot of impact in the past universe. Again, knowledge is our construct, perception isn’t, at least not “primarily”.

Is this a sincere question? The answer is no, I don’t have infinite time to navigate a website that isn’t very user friendly. If you want to leave links to the essays you are talking about, I would be very grateful. That is what I was attempting to ask you for in my original reply to you: a request for links to the essays which describe your position more thoroughly.

Perhaps you should revisit the Community Road Rules thread, as you appear to be engaging in ad hominem.

I was not referring to any particular person. I was simply asking about an important philosophical distinction, which when ignored gives many people a reason to dismiss your valid concerns. It’s unfortunate that you appear to have chosen to ignore acknowledging the distinction and declined from offering an explanation as to why you appear to conflate the two. If you have done so elsewhere on the internet, a link would be very helpful.

You’ve really lost me here. I’m not even sure to what you are replying. It sounds like you’re arguing with someone or something that I cannot see. If you are referring to something other than what I posted, please provide a link to what you are referencing. That would be most helpful in continuing the discussion and assigning meaning to these sentences.

I didn’t assert anything of the sort. I understand the context of what Sagan said and I think it still applies to the question posed by @HawaiianRyan , unless I misunderstood the question. Thank you for providing a link, it’s much better than the ones I originally considered.

It appears that you are approaching everyone in this thread in a combative way (replying as if someone has asserted an argument rather than offered an explanation or asked a question). Are you operating under the assumption that everyone here agrees with or believes everything the Ken Wilber says or writes?

I agree with a lot of what you have said in your essays and I was simply asking for more links to help facilitate a real discussion. Are you not interested in conveying your ideas and critiques in a helpful or easy to understand way?

I can understand your plight, we all exist in a sea of information, within and without integral. I am not even sure if the security of this forum allows me to post links, but let’s give it a try:

Integral Overstretch, Some reflections on "Integral in Action with Ken Wilber"

"Equilibrium is Death", Energy, Entropy, Evolution and the Paradox of Life’s Complexity

Why Ken Wilber Doesn’t Get the Cosmic Energy Economy

"I Would Not Bet Against Eros…, Ken Wilber’s General Theory of Evolution: Cosmological, Biological and Cultural

Why Self-Organization is Not a Cosmic Drive, Ken Wilber Fails to Understand the Basics of Evolution

These essays argue that Wilber’s take on the Second Law is contentious at best, but most probably uninformed.

The distinction between methodological materialism and philosophical materialism is valid, but these essays promote the first, not the latter. They argue that when doing science, it is more valid to rely on observable phenomena instead of introducing invisible forces. But fine, if they are taken to be a defense of materialism as an ultimate philosophy, I would very much like to hear what spiritualism has to offer in the clarification of empirical phenomena. That remains the focus - and this area is strangely undocumented in the integral literature. I am not against spirituality but against mixing these two domains.

I am very much interested in providing material for a real discussion. The thing is, I haven’t experienced an openness to debate within integral culture over two decades now. So while it is seen as a valuable to be “integrally-informed”, it is much less so to be “critically-informed”. That is the change of culture I have been fighting for. If that comes across as combative, you might very well be correct - thanks for the feedback. This is what being ignored does to you.


I can empathize with how everything begins to feel like a battle when your attempts to be heard or understood are misconstrued or ignored.

Thank you so much to hearing my plea! I’m so grateful for these resources and for your clarification regarding science’s use of methodological materialism.


This is a deep rabbit hole.

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