What Is Integral?

Craig Hamilton described  Integral when he introduced an interview with American philosopher Ken Wilber for New Dimensions radio in 2006:

As citizens of the 21st century, we have more knowledge at our fingertips than any previous generation could have imagined. But as fields of knowledge become increasingly specialized, it gets harder and harder to see how all of these disparate strands of understanding could possibly integrate into a unified whole. How do science and religion fit together? Is one right and the other wrong? Or are they both telling us truths about different aspects of a single reality? Is there a theory large enough to embrace it all? And if there were, could it work to unite our fragmented world?  Ken Wilber has dedicated his life to finding just such a theory. Basing his work on the premise that, “everyone is right about something,” he has for the past three decades worked tirelessly to weave all fields of knowledge together into an, ‘integral, theory of everything.’

Ken Wilber didn’t invent the components used in the integral framework, but as mentioned, he has spent the last 35 years working to bring these components together into this meta-theory. In the same interview, Wilber himself summarized as follows:

In a sense, Integral just means a kind of super-holism.  The word itself, in a dictionary definition, means comprehensive, inclusive. The word itself comes from ‘integrate,’ which is to pull together the pieces to find a unity to the many fragments and parts and partialities that you find running around in the world. It’s a way ultimately to feel that there’s really a place for everything in the universe, a place to make sense of everything in the universe, …having a big picture that makes room for everything. It’s not a big picture that’s pre-determined, it’s not a rigid framework, it’s not a Hegelian system. It’s an approach and awareness that is holistic, but not in the traditional meaning of holism.  …The traditional approaches of holism had their heart in the right place, but there are a lot of hidden aspects of reality that didn’t get included in holism.

…If we take the discoveries of the pre-modern world, including the great spiritual and wisdom traditions, add to that some of the discoveries of modernity, and we have to toss in some of the discoveries of post-modernity, as clunky as that might be.  All of those together have formed an integral overview, and by putting them together we found some astonishing discoveries that have come with it. The reason there’s a lot of excitement, is that it is helping to make sense of things that we weren’t quite understanding very well.  It by NO means has all the answers, but it’s starting to ask some really fascinating questions, and come up with a few answers that people are finding very persuasive, or at least interesting.

I’ll give you one real quick example. It’s common with a holistic approach, to say, for example, that we want to include body, mind, and spirit, or body, mind, spirit, and nature. Integralism would agree with that, but it points out that with body, mind, spirit, and nature, there are actually different dimensions of that, different levels of that, and different types of that.  By putting all of those together it turns out to be a relatively simple understanding of how to do it.

At a later time we’ll look at some of the ideas/components of the Integral framework.  In the meantime, I encourage you to explore Ken Wilber’s introduction of the framework in a series of posts at Integral Life that Wilber calls The Integral Operating System (IOS).

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2 comments on “What Is Integral?

  1. […] Integral Theory: First, the Integral Theory of Ken Wilber’s AQAL model, of which one important part is the […]

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