Update: His Ph.D. thesis is here. And a pdf copy is below.

Mark has been cited more in this forum than probably any other source. I even started a few threads about some of his work but he deserves one in this room. The following are various posts from those threads and others where he is prominently mentioned. Again there is no rhyme or reason to the order, nor are posts or comments identified, again being the 'property' of this open source forum. As always if you need to identify the source they're easy enough to find.

In researching intersubjectivity and Mark Edwards I found the Institute for Integral Studies and Mark's blog on altitude sickness. Following is an excerpt. Sound familiar from our recent discussions?

As with all lenses the altitude lens is subject to different kinds of truncations and reductionisms. I call these reductionisms the varieties of altitude sickness and, in a spirit of playful finger-pointing, I will briefly describe a few of these here:

1. Lens absolutism: This is the general problem of relying solely on one lens to explain vertical development.

2. Stagism: This is where all developmental capacity is thought to be function of the whole-of-system movement from one stage to another. This ignores the evidence that incremental learning and evolutionary process can result in transformative development.

3. Developmentalism: This is the view that transformative change is the result of changes in an individual’s own structures rather than the structures that exist in their social and material surrounds.

4. Immediatism: This is the lack of awareness of the role of mediation in vertical development. For example relying on Piagetian models of structural change to the exclusion of Vygotskian ones.

5. Pigeon-hole(ism): This is the tendency for stage-based theorists to assume that those who are critical of stage-based models are relativists.

6. Vertical co-dependency (student variety): This is the assumption that only those at a higher stage can teach those from lower stages.

7. Vertical co-dependency (teacher variety): This is the assumption that those at a lower developmental stage need to be taught by those from a higher developmental level.

8. Communal altitudism: This is the assumption that a community of the adequate can only be constituted by those of requisite altitudinal level.

9. Individual altitudism: This is the view that you must know the altitude of your critic to judge whether their criticism is valid or not.

10. Altitude metricism: This is the seriously mistaken view that we need to be able to measure the altitude of individuals to be able to help them develop.

11. Lack of oxygenism: This is the syndrome of delusional symptoms that the human mind suffers from when it reaches a certain altitude.

12. Altitudinal fascism: This is the illness that besets a country when those who wish to take or maintain political power view all of its history in terms of the stage-based development of an elite group.

13. Altitudinal collectivism: This is the illness that besets a country when those who wish to take or maintain political power rationalise any action in terms of the stage-based development of the collective.

14. Altitudinal leaderism: This is the assumption that we need enlightened leaders to have enlightened communities.

And the following is an excerpt from Edwards' 6/2/10 blog:

"I don't see Wilber's AQAL as an integral model of development because it does not use these three lenses [stage, mediation, learning] but only the stage-based lens (sometimes in conjunction with other AQAL lenses).

"To unwrap this a little let's take the student-teacher relationship as an example. From the stage-based view the teacher is at a higher level and the student is at a lower level. The relationship is one of expert to apprentice. There is a qualitative difference in their identities such that the student does not understand what the teacher is taking about until some dramatic mysterious transformation occurs. We see this, for example, in stage-based model of spiritual development where we have the wise guru teaching and assisting the development of the devoted student or disciple. This is an ancient model that goes back thousands of years and is the prevailing model of the he student-teacher relationship used in the AQAL-informed writings and research.

"The weakness in the stage-based view is that the teacher can all too easily become the master and the student becomes the servant or slave. This relationship can obviously go very astray very easily and, by itself, this lens is an inadequate model to use for the development process in contemporary society. In my opinion, there is far too much reliance on this model for explaining the he student-teacher relationship in AQAL-informed circles. Particularly when applied to the area of spirituality the stage-based model suffers from serious shortcomings. First, the use of the stage-model needs some serious updating to contemporary views about stage-based development. Gurus and teachers who support evolutionary and stage-based view of development are very prone to overestimating the importance of the guru-devotee model and the qualitative differences that they assume exist between teacher and student. When practices within insular settings and non-traditional environments, these kinds of gurus often fall into all the traps of abusive power that many of us are aware of.

"My view is that the archaic view of the teacher-guru and student-disciple has done its dash and can only be defended by those who are so immersed in stage-based development that they see no other meta-level possibilities for articulating growth (this is one of the many forms of altitude sickness that I wrote about in my last blog). I see development and learning relationships moving way beyond these limiting views of guru and student and engaging much more with the language of relationality, situational choice, shared play, communal learning, distributed intelligence, collective wisdom, reflexive learning, and action inquiry. The defence of the ancient models of student-teacher relationship, particularly where development is focused on the stage-based lens, seems to me to be a sign of regression rather than evolution."

We can see many of the issues in recent threads, from Balder's conference paper to Batchelor to transitional structures, addressed by Edwards. Part of the problem with AQAL and MHC is their almost total reliance of the holoarchical lens. Granted Wilber also uses a spiritiual or absolute lens, and he does pay lip service to types, yet altitude via holoarchy is nonetheless the definitive lens in his "relative" plane. Edwards calls this altitude sickness (see link above) which aptly describes how we get such monolithic reductions of whole individuals or entire worldviews. For example, Edwards says in Part 9 of his interview at ILR (link below):

"AQAL metatheory has focused almost exclusively on the stage-based approach where development is seen as the holarchical emergence of qualitatively new forms of complexity and capacities. This is, what I call, the developmental holarchy lens. However, this is only one among many other explanatory lenses that might be used to describe and understand transformation.

"But I think that stressing the role of the developmental holarchy lens, that AQAL and SD and DAI have so importantly drawn attention to, has reinforced that old view that we need some 'Great Leader' to lead us out of our troubles. We need a messiah to transform us. The redeeming CEO who will say the word and we will all follow to some new promised land. This is a big mistake. I don’t think that is how transformation occurs. If integral metatheorists see social transformation as resulting from the developmental genius of individuals then it is being dangerously reductive. The use of the developmental lens has to be much more sophisticated that that. We need to combine it with and differentiate it from many other lenses if we are to see how stage-based development aligns with other aspects of transformation."

We can see that such a lens problem promotes exactly the type of guru-worship rampant in integral world, if not of Wilber then Cohen, or the traditional guru model in general.* You see this model also represented in the capitalist corporate structure, hence the often noted relation of Wilber's attachment to capitalism within his AQAL lens.

Edwards offers us many more lenses through which to interpret anything, a pluralistic variety of lens that curtail altitude sickness, yet nonetheless also themselves have relation to one another in a metatheoretical framework. Hence not just a monolithic relativism. See Parts 8 and 9 of the ILR interview for some of these other lenses.

* This is another example of "monism." Or perhaps in kennilingus argot we might call it "dominant monadism."

His Ph.D. dissertation can be found at this link: "An integral metatheory for organisational transformation." In Chapter 8.4 he details the inadequacies of the AQAL model. On p. 224 he lists lenses that are missing, including system dynamics, social mediation, postmodern decentering and evolutionary process. It sounds like a partial table of contents for my critiques over the years. In my modesty I'm almost embarrassed (not) to note that I'm given an honorable mention in his Acknowledgments.

And while I'm mentioning Mark check out his latest blog entry on climate change. I like this excerpt, questions I've repeatedly raised in several posts on the forum:

"Should metatheorising try to include all views even when those views may be endangering human sustainability? Is the task [of] integration endangering the responsibility to advocate particualr visions? And what does that mean for the goals and methods of doing metatheory? Are our ideals of being 'integral' rendering us impotent to present a particular way forward? Is the maxim of 'true but partial' reducing integral visions to 'balanced and irrelevant?' "

Also check out this extended review of Mark's new book, Organisational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Mark Edwards article in the JITP: Evaluating Integral Metatheory

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 1

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 2

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 3

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 4

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 5

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 6

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 7

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 8

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 9

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 10

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 11

Mark Edwards ILR Interview: Integral Theory in Action Part 12

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Also see Mark Edwards' wonderful powerpoint presentation on his own ideas for filling this sociogenetic gap. It is a better intergraal frame for evaluating Varela.

Also keep in mind his essay "An alternative view of states" at Integral World, Part 1 and Part 2. For example this from part 1:

"The current integral theory model of states is committing a category error, the Pre-trans Fallacy #2 to be precise, when it proposes that individuals access transpersonal states and/or realms when they enter into the natural states of dream sleep and deep sleep. This error has important implications for the whole of the Integral theory of states.

"How on earth...could Ken...the great surveyor of this previously unknown territory of the PTF errors, lose sight of this core landmark on the AQAL map in his treatment of states? Well, I have a few suggestions. One is his unswerving reliance on some aspects of the pre-modern Vedantic view of states."

Edwards notes near the end of Part I that there is indeed a "given" in the Atman is Brahman principle, "that God is present ...in all his fullness." But this is a metaphysical given versus the kind of given I'm talking about above. While I agree with him that this given is not the same from a more developed perspective, that this state is not realized until later, this metaphysical remnant remains and will be expressed more in Part II.

I appreciate Edwards' caution beginning Part II that pre-modern spiritual traditions were not aware of stages leading to egoic identity and hence made many pre-trans conflations. Even Vedanta and (Vedanta influenced) Vajrayana, while avoiding some of these PTFs, nonetheless is a "tangled mixture" still clinging to other conflations that Wilber retains. Edwards' worthy goal then is to differentiate between the pre-trans elements within these traditions, focusing on Vedanta.

Edwards notes the PTF notion of a "return" to a primordial, nondual unity, which of course is only after a "fall" from grace, said fall caused by the dual (Devil) Ego. Hence we often find retro-romantic notions of returning to a pristine origin before the fall. Even Edwards' presentation of the "true" Maharshi, who apparently does not equate deep sleep with the causal realm, nevertheless maintains the metaphysical idea that there is a "true" causal realm that must overcome the "illusion" of maya. Ironically the Devil is quite tricky to be hiding in the midst of such supposed nonduality.

Not surprisingly Wilber comes to our rescue in asserting that it is the self-system (aka ego) that integrates all of the various aspects of psyche. (See for example his "outline of an integral psychology," particularly page 4.) And that a strong, healthy ego is prerequisite to take such a journey into transpersonal nonduality, lest the trip be into psychotic dissociation. But again, Wilber is a mixed bag here, often framing such transpersonal integration withing traditional views and their own confusions, particularly with reference to states.

Now here's an interesting section from Part II, quoting Osborne on Maharshi:

"In fact, one name for the true state of realised being is the Fourth State existing eternally behind the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. It is compared with the state of deep sleep since, like this it is formless and non-dual; however, as the above quotation shows, it is far from being the same. In the Fourth State the ego emerges in Consciousness, as in sleep it does in unconsciousness."

Aside from the metaphysical words like "true" and "eternal" it is significant in that the Fourth State (was that Virginia in the US?) "the ego emerges in consciousness." The ego, hmmm. Edwards' diagram following this quote are illuminating in showing the pre-personal states of deep sleep, dreaming, rational ego, and then transpersonal "structures of identity" which integrates all of them.

And yet what does the integrating? What gets us past the ego? I.e., could it be done prior to the development of an ego? Can we ever go back to a state or stage that was before the ego once it emerges? Obviously we can enter nondual states of awareness where the ego is temporarily suspended, but is it the same state as before the ego came along?

In section on the "ever present" in Part II Edwards acknowledges that it is so from an absolute perspective as an inherent, given potential but it takes development in the relative realm to become conscious of and integrate it. I agree with this but the "given" is not an absolute potential but rather a much more relative, human one based on our embodiment. Edwards is right about Wilber's (and Vedanta's) conflation of dreaming and deep sleep with the subtle and causal states (and bodies) but he still adheres to the traditional, metaphysical interpretation of them.

His section on studies of meditators indeed comes to the correct conclusion that they become conscious of and integrate dreaming and deep sleep states. But we can interpret those prior states as subtle and causal, even transrational, in a postmetaphysical way sans an ultimate or absolute realm.

From Edwards' Ph.D. dissertation:

“Integration in the metatheory building context does not mean to create one super-theory but rather to bring many different viewpoints together so that their strengths and weaknesses can be recognized....Rather that simply reproducing dominant theoretical ideologies, metatheory undermines them through this reflexive raising of consciousness about the relationships between theories. And this is, in fact, why several metatheorists have argued that postmodernism is itself a metatheoretical enterprise” (13-15).

Chapter 7.5 goes into how the holon concept can be used to integrate the multitude on lenses he enumerates in the paper. He discusses 4 types of holon relations: intra, inter, systemic and intersystemic. Intra shows the dynamics of a single holon (which could be an individual or a group). Inter shows how holons relate. Systemic shows the relationship between holons and the holarchy in which they are embedded. Intersystemic shows relationships between holarchies. Intra is typical of developmentalists. Inter is used by communication and mediation focuses, generally pomo. Systemic is where dynamic systems come in. And intersystemic shows relationships of the first 3. It appears this categorization could itself be seen as a developmental holarchy, like moving from formal to pluralistic to systemic to metasystemic cognition, but I don’t think that’s how Edwards presents it.

Figure 7.16 on p. 197 with accompanying text is interesting in that it shows an intersystemic relation between ecological holoarchy and perspectival lenses. The latter we’ve seen before in Edwards 1st, 2nd and 3rd person holons above. It is interesting though that the 2nd person perspective of “relationships” is also the inter-holonic pomo type above. That is, while it might be useful to categorize it into these boxes my sense is that it is, in itself, a metatheory that breaks out of these boxes and can itself organize all these various lenses within an overall general and semi-universal “super-theory.” God no, a metanarrative emerging from pomo! Say it ain’t so!

I’m also reminded of Edwards' statement from another source dated after the publication of his dissertation:

“I regard integral metastudies as a counterpart to the more typical forms of decentering and deconstructing postmodernism…. Decentering, pluralist postmodern research is not something I believe is to be integrated within an integral metastudies….an integral metastudies needs a decentering postmodernism that it cannot integrate, that lies outside of its scientific and systematic purview, which continually challenges it and is critical of its generalizations, abstractions, and universalizings. The decentering form of particularizing postmodernism is not something that integral metatheory can locate or neatly categorize somewhere within its general frameworks. Decentering postmodernism will always provide a source of critical insight and substantive opposition to the generalizing goals of an integral metastudies…. there is a danger that integral researchers can misrepresent…postmodernism as simple relativism.”

In the dissertation in the referenced section he notes how pomo can miss the developmental holarchy, just as the latter misses pomo insights on relations. I'm all for both and reiterate that pomo indeed makes a universal claim, but of a different sort than the formal developmentalists. And it is indeed a higher cognitive level in metasystems and cross-paradigms, at the very least a compliment to what Edwards calls integral metatheories.

Mark Edwards criticisms are relevant here, particularly his three-part essay “The depth of the exteriors” (cited below). It becomes clear that Wilber and developmentalists generally see continuity within an individual but not in the individual-social matrix. Edwards sees this as an individual-interior reduction. This manifests in Wilber’s emphasis on Piaget with little to no integration of Vygotsky, Cooley or Mead etc. Not surprisingly there is also little to no integration of the modern-day heirs to that pragmatic tradition, the cogscipragos like Lakoff, Johnson and Rorher. Edwards goes on to how this duality can be reconciled within the AQAL framework.

Edward, Mark (2003-04). “The depth of the exteriors” in the Reading Room at Integral World. www.integralworld.net.

As one example of kennilingus on this issue let's look at Mark Edwards' critique in part 2 of "the depth of the exteriors." Although Edwards didn't use the enactivist terms above, Wilber focused on Piaget's (and neo-Piagetian) structuralist approach to the exclusion of Vygotsky's more P2P approach. Granted Vygotsky didn't seem to go all the way into enactivism but rather was more like the transition into it. Nonetheless, it's a transition that Wilber hasn't seemed to make as yet. Per Edwards:

"The AQAL model of quadrants and stages lacks a dynamic that connects the development of the individual with the collective and the Left Hand with the Right hand quadrants (which are topics covered in depth in my "through AQAL Eyes" series). The Vygotskian notion of social mediation seems to me to be a starting point in the identification of this connection.

"Vygotsky assumes that mind is 'distributed' throughout a collective rather within separated individuals."

For our purposes it's a good thing that V was also a developmentalist and hence spoke the language of the different levels, unlike perhaps Varela. Nonetheless we can see that V is enacting the referenced level.

By the way, Edwards is no kennilingus basher. Before going into a detailed analysis of what's missing from AQAL in these terms he says:

"First, I want to state that I believe that Wilber's Integral theory is probably the most comprehensive attempt to collate and integrate all the world's major knowledge traditions and understandings of reality."

Edwards doesn't see the neglect of Vygotsky in developmental but rather typological terms, i.e., Wilber's focus on Piaget is neglecting a complimentary trend in Vygotsky, not an advanced developmental frame. Edwards also sees this in the distinction between constructive and deconstructive postmodernisms. (See this thread.)

Another way of looking at it is through the integral theory of Mark Edwards. Although he uses holons as interpretative lenses we can adapt the holon concept to fit the object concept, yet still see how a human object interprets other objects through its own human regime of attraction. Edwards uses different holarchical (emergent) lenses: developmental, ecological, governance. This shows how different objects might express different regimes of attraction. For example in this interview:  "Ecological holarchies (which Koestler was more interested in) use the criteria of maturation/growth and size/spatial inclusion respectively to define their levels." So our hyperobject of climate change, for example, might be 'bigger" in space-time but probably doesn't "think" about abstract universals as does a human. And in this interview he shows how using an ecological holarchy defuses the kind of anthropocentrism (epistemic fallacy) inherent to a merely human developmental holarchy, which can happen with their abstract universals.

You also ask about the relationship of different objects and Edwards again offers a more nuanced approach that perhaps from which Bryant can learn. Recall Bryant, using Harman, thinks the relationships between objects are themselves objects. Edwards too has mediating holons that define this "space between" objects. (Also see this.) And here I think we get other sources and nuances not used in Bryant, like Vygotsky and the CHAT theories. Granted his mediating holons focus on the space between human objects and other human and non-human objects, hence there is a lot of talk of human artifacts to accomplish this, like language. And here Bryant uses nuances not in Edwards, so a cross-fertilization between them would be useful. I do think though that 'language' can be, and is, construed more broadly with Edwards so that it can be non- to non-human interaction.

Which of course reminds me of some of Mark Edwards' criticisms. For example recall this from the Institute for Integral Studies thread:

"Particularly when applied to the area of spirituality the stage-based model suffers from serious shortcomings.... My view is that the archaic view of the teacher-guru and student-disciple has done its dash and can only be defended by those who are so immersed in stage-based development that they see no other meta-level possibilities for articulating growth (this is one of the many forms of altitude sickness that I wrote about in my last blog). I see development and learning relationships moving way beyond these limiting views of guru and student and engaging much more with the language of relationality, situational choice, shared play, communal learning, distributed intelligence, collective wisdom, reflexive learning, and action inquiry. The defense of the ancient models of student-teacher relationship, particularly where development is focused on the stage-based lens, seems to me to be a sign of regression rather than evolution."

Mark Edwards notes the following in "An alternative view of states" part 2:

"Almost all pre-modern, traditional transpersonal models of spirituality had very little or no understanding of childhood development, psychopathology or the developmental stages that lead up the personal egoic identity. As such, they are often unaware of any PTF considerations. Hence, when we interpret any traditional models of the transpersonal we need to be very aware that serious category errors are common in the traditional views of sleep, dreams, ASCs, psychotic states, mental illnesses and the infant/child state."

All of which supports Harris' theme of the metaphysical interpretations of said traditions, including (and especially) Theravada. I've extensively argued in favor of Madhyamaka as a postmeta advance over Theravada (at least partially, in some ways) in numerous threads in the forum. (Well at least one branch of Madhyamaka, anyway.)

There are different kinds of preconceptual image schemas, which ground the basic categories: container, part-whole, link, center-periphery, source-path-goal, up-down, front-back and linear order are some examples. Concepts then build on these schemas: categories in general build on container schemas, hierarichal structures in terms of part-whole and up-down, relations in terms of links, radial structure in terms of center-periphery etc. I find an interesting correlation here with Mark Edwards' pluralistic lenses. See table 9.2 from this ILR interview for example, where he lists these categories of lenses with some examples: holarchical, bipolar, cyclical, standpoint, relational. Also see table 8.1 from this interview for some cool graphics for the lenses. From the latter he says:

"Table 8.1 is not a catalogue of forms of theories. It’s meant to show the generative (metatheoretical) lenses that, in isolation or in combination, can be used to construct theory."

Whereas for Lakoff the preconceptual image schemas are the generator for the later, more abstract metatheory(ies).

From the ILR Edwards interview, part 8:

"These lens categories tap into some basic relationships that exist in the human experience of reality. Consequently, they show up within every attempt to understand, explain, or get some handle on the complexity that exists within and around us and between us and through us. I see them as coming out of some kind of morphological fault line in the Kosmos, windows that we create and which we are drawn to look through, proclivities that we innately possess as sentient beings who act and imagine."

I see similarities between Lakoff's critique of objectivism and Edwards' critique of a hierarchic-centric view in AQAL. For example, Edwards says in part 9 of the above referenced interview"

"AQAL metatheory has focused almost exclusively on the stage-based approach where development is seen as the holarchical emergence of qualitatively new forms of complexity and capacities. This is, what I call, the developmental holarchy lens. However, this is only one among many other explanatory lenses that might be used to describe and understand transformation.... We need to combine it with and differentiate it from many other lenses if we are to see how stage-based development aligns with other aspects of transformation."

Lakoff sees the objectivitst paradigm as being solely reliant on a hierarchical category theory, and as a result we get a very dualistic, metaphysical conception of the world. While I don't see that Edwards criticizes this particular aspect in AQAL you can see I've repeated made that same connection with the kennilingual metaphysical dualism. And both Lakoff and Edwards recognize that there are a variety of ways basic categories and/or lenses can combine and that all forms derived therefrom must be utilized and contextualized in a meta-theory. Hence neither oppose hierarchical complexity but both put it in a larger context and thus take out the metaphysics that seems inherent when this is the predominant lens used.

Part of the problem, if not the entirety, is that metatheory is trying to do what it is not capable of doing, at least according to Mark Edwards. He notes in "Where's the method to our integral madness"* that

"Whereas theory is developed from the exploration of empirical events, experiences and 'first-order' concepts, metatheory emerges from the direct investigation of other theory, models and 'second-order' concepts.

"Integral metatheory building is based on the analysis of extant theory and does not deal with empirical data. Consequently, it cannot validly make conclusions about empirical data based on its metatheorising. If it does so, it is stepping outside its realm of authority. To put this in another way, metatheory is primarily about other theory and not about the prediction or evaluation of first-order empirical data."

It simply is not its purview to take on the specifics of empirical situations to find solutions. Hence we see that it can only deal in broad generalities about other theories and methods, how they might or might not relate, how we might or might not integrate some aspects of each. Hence when metatheory applies itself to specific problems or tries to create new methods or structures it seems completely inept. And it doesn't recognize this limitation because per Edwards it doesn't have the self-critical tools to evaluate its own metatheory, which is the ultimate purpose of this article.

* You can find the entire article in JITP 3:2 Summer 2008.

Edwards notes after the above that it is possible for metatheory and metamethodology to design unit level theory and method that can then be empirically validated, but it needs an exacting method of its own to do so which heretofore has been sorely absent.

Mark Edwards, in the first of a series of interviews with Integral Leadership Review, distinguished between a theory of everything and a theory for anything:


“I liked Clifford Geertz's distinction between a 'theory for' - which explicitly refers to the search for an imprecise but also useful form of knowledge and a 'theory of' - which harkens back to the grandiosity of the positivist search for complete explanations and exact predictions. As far as the 'everything' bit goes, I see integral theory as a set of lenses that can help me get a handle on any event rather than every event. By this I mean that I want to bring integral theory to the ordinary events of life rather than trying to fit everything into the theory. Hence, I have referred to my work in the development of an integral holonics as a 'Theory for Anything' as opposed to a 'Theory of Everything'. Although, I still find even the TOA version rather extravagant.... In any event, being aware of such distinctions is an example of how integral theory can gain from post-modern critical analysis of TOEs. The post-modern critiques of overarching theories are very relevant to this whole discussion and theorists working in this area need to be aware of such valid criticism.”


In Edwards' Integral World series called “Through AQAL Eyes” he explores this differentiation. In part two he notes the implications of the holon of everything often depicted in Wilber's diagrams:


“My contention is that, despite warnings by Wilber to the contrary, holons are often mistakenly assumed to be some sort of separate quasi-objective entities which develop against the background of the Four Quadrants.... This dualistic notion of how holons fit into the AQAL model derives from two main misconceptions. The first is that reality is 'composed' of holons and objective holonic categories. The second is that the AQAL model, particularly in its Theory of Everything (TOE) presentation of the Four Quadrants of Kosmic Evolution, is often regarded as a spatial-temporal map of Kosmic reality. The result of these interpretations is the view that a holon is some objectively definable whatsit which spirals and develops within a vast Four Quadrants map of evolution. This common, and almost unconsciously, accepted perspective of the relationship between the holon construct and the AQAL framework is in dire need of review.”


The only problem I see with Edwards' analysis is that 1) he correctly makes the case that the kosmic holon is reified as a spatial-temporal map of everything yet 2) still allows that we can retain the TOE holon. Whereas the point is that we can never get outside ourselves to posit such an whole of everything because that very idea is itself part of the dualistic, metaphysical problem that must be eliminated. When we see the holon as an interpretative lens rather than the entire thing-in-itself we in fact eliminate such a metaphysical construct, and to continue to allow it, while diplomatic, is not only not necessary but contradictory to his argument.

In part II Edwards first summarizes 12 points "in a nutshell" before going into each in detail. I will provide the summarized points here for reference but encourage the reader to check out the entire article:

1. Koestler's Holons and Wilber's Quadrants

Koestler's theory of holons was adopted by Wilber very early on in his writings (Phase II). The holon construct was incorporated into the developmental structure of Wilber's writings as a way of emphasising the hierarchical/holarchical nature of reality. Wilber's theory of holons has been considerably expanded with his explication of the twenty holonic tenets or laws. However, the ongoing development in Wilber's theoretical propositions (currently Phase IV) has not seen a commensurate review of how the holon construct relates to the core principles of Integral theory. This disjunction still reverberates through Integral theory as a whole, and the relationship between the holon construct and the AQAL framework remains unclear, despite recent attempts to the contrary.

2. Some Unresolved Questions

The uneasy theoretical relationship between holons and the rest of the AQAL model results in some important theoretical irregularities. First there is the unresolved problem of ideal types or categories of holons and how these fundamental categories of holons might be identified. Second, the lack of definitional regularity together with rather vague descriptive language of holons results in considerable confusion about the way that holons fit into Integral theory. The problem from the AQAL side has been the tendency for it to be reified into a representational Kosmic map - this is explored in more detail in Section 3. From the holon side the problem has been the tendency to ignore the propositional nature of holonic boundaries and to see the holon as some sort of substantive building block of the Kosmos - this is laid out in Section 4. These confusions result in some profoundly dualistic misreadings of how these main branches of Integral theory - the AQAL/TOE and holon theory – related to each other.

3. The problem with TOEs

When the AQAL model is only ever presented in terms of a TOE application it becomes very easy for it to be reified into a type of spatial-temporal map of reality. To borrow a distinction pointed out by Clifford Geertz (1993), the AQAL model is too often seen as a structural model of reality, rather than as an interpretive model for reality. As a structural model of reality it is then assumed by many to be a space-time reference map of the Kosmos rather than an interpretive tool for rendering more coherent the great complexities of the Kosmos.

4. The problem with Holons

Holons are too often seen as constitutive categorical entities from which reality is composed. They are assumed to be somehow inhabiting and evolving within the Four Quadrants developmental space rather than as points of reference identified through the use of the AQAL model itself. The recent proposition by Ken Wilber and Fred Kofman (Kofman, 2001; Wilber 2001) of a typology of distinct holonic categories has further added to this problematic process of objectifying holonic boundaries. When holons are seen as objective entities inhabiting the various TOE quadrants it becomes accepted practice to try to define them and permanently categorise them according to some set of "objective" criteria, e.g. sentience, insentience, individuality or collectivity. In this quest for a fundamental typology of holons many logical inconsistencies arise and the provisional nature of all AQAL and holonic boundaries is overlooked. If it is accepted that holons are quasi-objective entities that inhabit a Four Quadrant Kosmos, then it is logical to assume that their will be distinct types of consciousness holons, cultural holons, physical holons that somehow interact with each other across that Quadrant space. This type of double dualism is precisely what we find with the four Wilber/Kofman categories of individual, collective, sentient and insentient holons. Each holon incorporates all four developmental Quadrants, and it is this holistic vision of evolution-involution that is such a key feature of Integral theory[4].

5. Everything and Anything

The TOE application of the AQAL model combined with this dissociated conception of holons often results in dualistic misreading of holons and how they relate to Integral theory. There are many examples of this, for example that thought holons exist independently of their behavioural/physical holon counterparts, or that Integral theory assumes that holons can be fundamentally divided into independent categories along Four Quadrant lines. To avoid such interpretations we need to reframe our view of the AQAL model and to recognise the provisional nature of holonic boundaries. The first step in doing this is to see that the TOE presentation of Integral theory is not the only way of presenting the theory. It might be regarded as a Theory for Anything (that is, as an interpretive system for understanding any event) as much as a Theory of Everything. The Theory of Everything focus is really an interpretive snapshot of the Kosmic Holon. The AQAL model can also, however, be applied at the local level of ordinary holons to provide a more applied Theory for Anything. We can then more clearly see that each and every holon can itself be described in the AQAL terms of quadrants, evolutionary levels, developmental lines, states, and descending and ascending developmental dynamics.

6. The AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon

The view that all AQAL principles are inherent in any and each holon allows us to see the TOE presentation of the AQAL model as simply that application which represents the Kosmos as one dynamic holonic entity. The famous Four Quadrants diagram from SES is simply the AQAL view of the Kosmic Holon. It is the application of Integral theory to the ultimate Big Picture. In this sense the TOE presentation of Integral theory is a special case of the AQAL view of the All as a Kosmic Holon. And, of course, this is just one of an infinite number of levels of application of the theory.

7. The AQAL view of common holons

The AQAL model can also be focused down onto the experiences and activities of any local holon or holonic system. This perspective allows us to apply the whole of the AQAL model to any aspect of objective reality or subjective experience that we might which to investigate. In this sense, a common holon is the application of Integral theory to the intimate, local world of everyday reality.

8. Through AQAL Eyes - The AQAL model as an interpretive lens.

This integrative endeavour of bringing holonic theory and the AQAL/Four Quadrants structural model together can be greatly aided by seeing the AQAL framework as an interpretive "lens" rather than as a representational map. The AQAL interpretive lens can be focused down to apply to the structure and dynamic of any ordinary everyday holon (a Theory for Anything), and not only to the Kosmos as a whole (the usual TOE level of presenting Integral theory).

9. The Integral Holon

In considering the holon construct in the light of this more flexible interpretive approach, we find that the constitutive factors of the AQAL model, i.e. quadrants, stages, levels, lines, evolutionary and involutionary dynamics etc., are equivalent to those principles or tenets that describe the fundamental characteristics of all holons (Wilber's twenty tenets). This leads directly to the proposition that a holon (or a holonic system) is simply the result of applying the AQAL interpretive system to any specified set of phenomena. Therefore, there are no fundamental types of holons, as such. Holons are always defined according to a process of arbitration that is based on the experiential, cultural, and scientific sources of knowledge that provide the holarchic context for applying the AQAL framework.

10. Boundaries, Holarchies and Holons

Our imaginative creation of holonic boundaries is only limited by the holarchic context in which we apply the AQAL framework. This resolves the problems associated with attempting to identify some fundamental typology of holons. Within this context of an integrated holon/AQAL framework, some rules for applying the AQAL principles are discussed. All these are based on existing principles of Integral theory. In contrast, the Wilber/Kofman theory of holonic categories does not conform to some basic Integral axioms, for example, that all holons have interiority.

11. The Integral Cycle and the Integral Holon

A holon (or holonic system) is what we see when we look at reality through AQAL eyes. So whenever holons can be most fully described and analysed in terms of the basic principles of quadrants, stages, lines, states, and their dynamics (evolution, involution, ascent, integration, the Integral Cycle, etc). From this view a holon develops simultaneously through all four quadrants and the inner and the outer and the one and the many co-evolve (or as Wilber says tetra-evolves) in an intimate cycle of mutual interpenetration. The four faces of holonic reality do not merely co-relate or interact, they co-create each other in what I have identified previously as the Integral Cycle. Adapting some concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, the Integral Cycle is the tangential dynamic which complements the radial dynamics of evolution and involution.

12. Applied Integral Dynamics

Bearing these points in mind, when Integral theory investigates some topic it must employ all of the AQAL/holonic principles in its description of particular holons or holonic events. This branch of Integral theory might be called Integral Dynamics as it is based on the full integration of the principles of Integral structural theory with the basic dynamics of holonic/holarchic processes (i.e. the twenty tenets). The field of Applied Integral Dynamics opens up the possibility of a truly holistic science that can be used to investigate any applied topic. Some examples of the general characteristics of such an Applied Integral Dynamics are presented.

The foregoing integrative approach provides a more dynamic dimension to the quadrant structure of Integral theory in both its TOE/AQAL and its holon theory. It also allows a greater flexibility in applying the model to the full range of human experiences and knowledge. Uniting the holon construct with the AQAL framework allows Integral theory to test validate holarchies without recourse to the dualistic approach of permanent categories of holons. The significant problems, identified by Wilber and Kofman, of the inappropriate mixing of individual and collective holons and of using size to determine the order of holarchic series are also overcome through the integration of the twenty tenets (or holonic laws) with the basic principles of the AQAL framework. It is this integration of these laws and principles will validate holarchic series and not objective categories of holons. A holon is an arbitrary reference point [my emphasis] that helps us to read the unfolding nature of holarchic reality through applying the tenets of Integral theory. It is arbitrary because the delineation of any coherent and useful boundary (where coherency and utility are defined through the balancing of objective, subjective, scientific and cultural knowledge) will result in a holon. Any thing, process, experience, system, entity, event, or any combination thereof, can be seen as holonic, as long as a boundary can be drawn around that "any thing" within an holarchic context. From this perspective, I propose that Integral theory can be regarded as a Theory for Anything as well as a Theory of Everything.

As an aside I'm reminded of Mark Edwards' work on the "space between." A brief excerpt from part 5 of his interview in ILR:

"In the following figure I draw two holons encountering each other in a moment of relationship. The space between is filled with the interobjective artifacts of that encounter – words, gestures, signs, touch, meanings, displays, roles, communications. Using the developmental ideas of Vygotsky the space between is filled with the mediating processes and artifacts that flow between the two holons. We can draw an holonic boundary around some logical grouping of these artefacts to identify the “mediating holon”. The archetypal mediating holon is the “Word”. The pure expression of communion. It is not coincidental that in the Catholic tradition the very heart of the great sacrament of the Mass is called 'communion.' This is the recognition of the Godhead as manifest through community, through sharing a meal together, through relationship—completely present in the most fundamental act of existence—a simple act of breaking bread together as incarnate beings. The beginning of all experience and all form and all communication begins there. Hence we have 'In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.' John here is saying that Jesus is the true agent of Mediation, the ultimate source of connection that gives rise to all distinctions and all encounters between “two or three”. So in this figure of two holons encountering each other we have the 'Word' and 'Love' emerging from the space between."

On a related note, I've often referenced Mark Edwards on power relations from a more AQAL perspective. I do so again below, from part 5 of an ILR interview:

"For me, a true recognition of the role of difference in integral theory means that we need to introduce a few more lenses into the integral toolkit. In recognizing the transformative value of the space between, we also need a lens that is sensitive to this mediating space. The lens of social mediation is, for me, just as crucial in developing an integral approach as the developmental holarchy of levels or the interior-exterior lens. To give but one example, in seeing that transformation is socially mediated we become much more sensitive to the issue of power and to the influence of social power on human development.... Recognising the space between leads me immediately to issues of social power and to the question of how power enables or disables transformation. I see the almost complete lack of discussion around social power in integral theory to be a reflection of its neglect of the space between, social relationships, and the capacity to analyse human development in terms of social mediation. In other words, integral theory lacks a mediation lens. People get stuck in one structure of identity, not only because their interior developmental potentials are psychologically arrested, but also because the social environment in which they live actively stops that developmental potential from flourishing. There is nothing more threatening to the position of those in social power than transformation. Power is inherently conservative because change means the possibility of losing their privilege, their status, their ideological dominance."

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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