July 26, 2009

Introducing The AQAL Vision

Introducing the Integral Vision

by Corey deVos

We have the intuition that everyone is at least partially right, that no human being is capable of being 100% wrong. But how do you tell just how right everyone is? Some are more right than others—how do you tell the difference? Integral theory is an attempt to answer that question.

The familiar Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times,” is no doubt fulfilled in our time. For the first time in history, we have access to all the world’s wisdom, to the musings of saints, sages, and scientists through the ages. That access is growing exponentially. Scarcely a century ago, the first trans-Atlantic wireless signal was transmitted; now, we venture out every day on the information superhighway. We are inundated with information, and today, more than ever, there is an impulse to make sense of it all.

Philosophy (literally, “love of wisdom”) might well be the oldest human pursuit. For as long as human beings have existed, we have questioned our existence. And whereas our close evolutionary relatives have demonstrated the ability to create tools and perhaps even display a sense of humor—traditional criteria for what makes us unique as humans—we have not yet observed in them the capacity to make meaning. Perhaps it is meaning itself, and the search for it, that sets us apart.

Every human age has its priceless contributions, its startling insights. Premodernity discerned, beneath the myriad forms of manifestation, “the Great Chain of Being,” a majestic progression from matter to body to mind to spirit. Modernity informs this view considerably; it tells us that we live in a universe that has evolved over roughly 14 billion years. Matter evolved to the point at which life emerged; life evolved to the point at which consciousness emerged. And postmodernity points out that each of us is embedded in a context, largely invisible to ourselves, from which we interpret our experience. Rather than a pregiven world, we enact a worldspace, the product of the phenomena we observe and the viewpoint from which we make the observation. We are, quite literally, viewing manifestation through a set of lenses, lenses that we never knew we were wearing. And in the process of development, we swap those lenses for new ones, viewing phenomena in increasingly more precise, nuanced, and sophisticated ways.


At the leading edge, most developmental theories posit a stage that might be called “integral,” for its hallmark attempt to make sense of everything, to find the pattern that connects. One such theory is “AQAL,” short for “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types.” The AQAL model, proposed by American philosopher Ken Wilber, is perhaps the most comprehensive view ever taken of how all manifestation, all matter, all life, all thought, and all experience can fit together in a coherent whole. AQAL itself is content-less, which makes it infinitely applicable to any particular area of inquiry. Any field (e.g. business, medicine, politics) can be viewed through an AQAL lens. And this view can vastly enrich our understanding of the contours, limits, and possibilities of that field. Touching in on the five aspects of the model ensures that we have covered all of our bases. We can be sure that we are viewing a given situation from every conceivable angle, and can proceed with the best information possible.

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