Ken Wilber’s AQAL Map and Korzybski’s General Semantics
One of Korzybski’s best known slogans is “the map is not the territory”, and more specifically “A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness” (Alfred Korzybski. 1958. Science and Sanity. The International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company, p. 58). Ken Wilber agrees and therefore he has often stressed that his AQAL map is just a map and not the territory to which it refers: “AQAL or IOS [Integral Operating System] itself is just a map, nothing more. It is not the territory.” (Ken Wilber. 2007. The Integral Vision. Boston & London: Shambhala, p. 213). However, Ken Wilber insists that AQAL, his integral map “is the most complete and accurate map we have at this time” (ibid., p. 18). But as I have pointed out in my online book Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond, other maps have been proposed that at least in some respects appear to surpass the AQAL map. For example, Thomas J. McFarlane’s Mathematical Mandala (the Integral Sphere) and the Dynamic Mandala I proposed in my book, although less worked out in detail, appear more comprehensive than Wilber’s AQAL map (for a brief discussion see “McFarlane’s Mathematical Mandala and the Mandala of this Book” in Chapter 6 on Complementarity). With regard to human development, the ADAPT model by Hugh and Amalia Kaye Martin appears more encompassing than Wilber’s AQAL model.
Another slogan by Korzybski that, although less well known, appears even more fundamental: “Whatever you might say the object “is”, well it is not” (Alfred Korzybski. 2010. Selections from Science and Sanity. Fort Worth, Texas: The New Non-Aristotelian Library, p. 19), or simply, “Whatever you say it is, it isn’t” (Alfred Korzybski. 1958. Science and Sanity. The International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company, p. ). The non-identity between what we say it is and what it actually is has been well demonstrated by Korzybski through his Structural Differential: anything we can say about an object or the whole Kosmos can depict only a relatively small number of characteristics of the object and therefore is always less comprehensive than the object or reality itself.
It seems that in many ways Ken Wilber also recognizes that there is a non-identity between what we say about an object (which may be the whole Kosmos) and the object itself, which means that what we say an object "is", it isn't. However, he does not seem to apply this recognition to the interpretation of the fundamental structure of his AQAL map. This structure, he insists, is a hierarchy (holarchy), “what we also called a nested hierarchy or actualization hierarchy, which is why holarchies are the backbone of holism” (Ken Wilber. 2001. A Theory of Everything. Boston: Shambhala, p. 40). And this structure, according to Ken Wilber, is that of the whole Kosmos: “The Kosmos is a series of nests within nests within nests indefinitely” (ibid., p.40).
It seems that with regard to the interpretation of the basic hierarchical (holarchical) structure of his AQAL map, Ken Wilber does not apply Korzybski’s general semantics. For if “whatever you say it is, it isn’t”, then saying that the Kosmos is hierarchical (holarchical) means that it isn’t. This conclusion appears fundamentally important because if we cannot say that the Kosmos is hierarchical (holarchical), then we can only say that the Kosmos can be seen as hierarchical (holarchical). Consequently, hierarchy (holarchy) becomes a view, a perspective of the Kosmos. And if it is only a view, a perspective, then it does not necessarily exclude other views such as Yin/Yang, continuum and network views for which we can also provide evidence (see my ebook Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond or my blog post Ken Wilber, Holarchy and Beyond). This entails a switch from dogmatism to tolerance. Needless to say, Ken Wilber has held tolerant views in many ways but not with regard to the most basic structure of the Kosmos, which he claims is hierarchical (holarchical), that is, “a series of nests within nests within nests indefinitely” (Ken Wilber. 2001. A Theory of Everything. Boston: Shambhala, p.40).
Accepting other views besides the hierarchical (holarchical) one would have two major consequences: First, it would lead to a rather fundamental modification of Ken Wilber’s AQAL map (see “Beyond Wilber’s AQAL Map” and “Removing Limitations in Wilber’s AQAL Map” in Summary and Conclusions in my ebook Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond). Second, it would lead to the recognition that instead of looking for the best map (which Ken Wilber claims is his AQAL map) it might be more appropriate to accept different and perhaps even contradictory maps as complementary to each other because they can present different perspectives on the Kosmos. This implies the recognition of the general principle of complementarity and its underlying logic, which is a both-and logic that is a healing logic in contrast to the common either-or logic that often leads to conflict or even war.
It is interesting that in his more recent writings Ken Wilber embraces an Integral Perspectivism, which means that "in the manifest world there are no perceptions, only perspectives" (Ken Wilber. 2006. Integral Spirituality. Boston & London: Integral Books, p, 255). However, it seems that he does not apply this perspectivism to what he considers the basic hierarchical (holarchical) structure of the Kosmos including human existence. It seems that he presupposes this hierarchical (holarchical) structure to determine the altitude (level) and perspective of any phenomenon. This means that he does not recognize the basic hierarchy (holarchy) as a perspective, and as a consequence no room is left for other basic non-hierarchical perspectives on manifest reality.