My brother is mad at me for raving about Ken Wilber but not explaining his work. On one hand, that is like being mad at me for not trying to sing a new post-punk ballad that I have listened to and you haven’t. But on the other hand, you would expect me to say more than, “Listen to this song, Dude. It rocks!” So listen up, Dude, because this stuff rocks. But if you really want to experience it, you have to read and/or listen to Ken Wilber.
Ken Wilber has written over 20 books, of which I have only read 5 or 6 so far. Obviously, even if my understanding was as complete and as deep as Ken’s, I would need thousands of pages to discuss all the things Ken discusses. So instead of being comprehensive I will only tackle small bits of his theory.
As an English Major and lover of the power of language, I was first attracted to Ken’s use of Perspective. Ken observed that all human languages have a natural range of perspectives: First Person (I), Second Person (You), Third Person (It) and Singular and Plural versions of these (We, Its). We naturally construct sentences that incorporate all of these perspectives. Ken also explains how most of us tend to focus excessively on one of these perspectives and ignore other perspectives.
One of Ken’s driving motivations is his idea that everybody can’t be 100% wrong about everything. Or to state it more positively, everybody is right, but probably not 100% right. This is a problem most of us have faced in one way or another. Science can examine your body (an It) and tell you if you have a tumor, but Doctors can’t tell you why you feel depressed (an I experience). The scientist can study neural pathways and endorphins (Its) but never fully explain the fact of your disturbing relationships with your coworkers (a We experience).
Part of what Ken does is take truth wherever he finds it and tries to figure out which Perspective that truth is true from. My experiences inside my thoughts and feelings are true, but so are the doctor’s descriptions of my blood chemistry and X-rays. These things don’t explain each other or make the other go away, but they do correspond to each other. My emotions correspond to different endorphin levels in the brain. The It and the I are both two different perspectives on the same event. Both of these truths are part of a bigger multi perspective truth, an Integral Truth.
Ken doesn’t claim to be an expert in every field of knowledge, but what he does know he arranges within his Map of Quadrants (see the grid above), and these sometimes contradictory truths quite often make more sense and illuminate each other in surprising ways when they can illuminate the insides and outsides of each other, when individual things can be combined into richer collectives.
Try it: take any thing in your experience (a person, fact, thought, belief, organization, etc.) and place it in each of the four quadrants, take those four perspectives in relation to that thing (I, It, We, Its) and see what emerges.
Ken’s Integral Model encompasses more than just these four quadrants (there are Levels, Lines, Stages and States) but even just this one tool is worth the price of admission. With just this one dimension of the map you start to figure out riddles like why science and religion can’t talk to each other. Science is all about outside things (It and Its) and religion is all about inside experiences solitary and social (I and We). Both camps refuse to give up their truth but the tools of the other side can’t be used to verify the truths they are defending. Science can’t find god, but Religion can’t explain gravity.
Of course endlessly taking different perspectives has its own dangers and you have to watch out for the portions of each position that are not 100% true (because remember, everybody is right but nobody is 100% right). But the 4 Quadrants really do open up a lot of new territory for exploration. You still have to go out and explore the territory in person, but it is good to have a better map as you navigate.
So I hope you find this thing interesting and that we can fit it into a broader network of interesting things. Maybe I’ll tackle some other Integral topics later.