Ken Wilber, his AQAL Map and Beyond

A summary of the book Wilber's AQAL Map and Beyond by Rolf Sattler
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Ken Wilber, an integral philosopher and visionary, has published many books, including A Brief History of Everything and A Theory of Everything, in which he presents an integral vision that supports an integral science, integral philosophy, integral medicine, integral ecology, integral education, integral politics, integral business, integral spirituality, etc. Furthermore, Ken Wilber founded the Integral Institute and Integral University. As the most widely published integral philosopher whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages, Ken Wilber has been heralded as “the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times”, “the most influential integral thinker in the world today” and the “LONG-SOUGHT EINSTEIN of consciousness research” (quoted in Falk 2006). However, he has also been criticized by Visser, Meyerhoff, Falk, and many others (see, e.g., Frank Visser’s very comprehensive websites Integral World and Wilber Watch). Wilber claims that 80% of this criticism is based on misunderstanding and misrepresentation of his writings. But the remaining 20% still amounts to substantial criticism.


In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995), Ken Wilber developed a Four Quadrant Map (or Model) of the Kosmos (see Image Results for AQAL or All Quadrants, All Levels). This map is usually referred to as the AQAL map (or AQAL model), an acronym for all quadrants and all levels, which in turn is shorthand for all quadrants, all levels, all states, all lines, and all types. Although this AQAL map seems to be one of the most comprehensive maps of human existence and the Kosmos ever proposed in the course of human history, it has limitations (see again Frank Visser’s websites). In this book, I address some of the most fundamental of these limitations and propose a dynamic mandala that overcomes these limitations. This mandala can be transformed and interpreted in many ways. Consequently, it offers many perspectives of the Kosmos, including human existence. Since one of these perspectives represents Ken Wilber’s AQAL model, the latter can be seen as a special case of the more comprehensive dynamic mandala. Thomas J. McFarlane's mathematical mandala that in some ways goes beyond the AQAL model, can also be seen as a special case or perspective (that is, one mathematical transformation) of the dynamic mandala.

Ken Wilber also emphasizes
perspectivism. According to his Integral Post-Metaphysics, “in the manifest world, there are no perceptions, only perspectives” (Integral Spirituality, 2006: 255). However, with regard to the most basic structure of his AQAL map, Ken Wilber recognizes only holarchy (hierarchy), which means that the manifest Kosmos is holonic, that is, it “is a series of nests within nests within nests indefinitely” (A Theory of Everything, 2001: 40). In contrast, according to the dynamic mandala of this book, holarchy (hierarchy) represents only one perspective of the Kosmos that can be complemented by other perspectives such as holism in terms of undivided wholeness, dialectics, Yin-Yang, continuum, and network views. Ken Wilber also recognizes such views, but not with regard to the most basic structure of the Kosmos, which, according to him, is hierarchical (holarchical).

The Yin-Yang view involves
both/and logic, which represents complementarity such as the complementarity of Yin and Yang. Two chapters of this book are devoted to this topic because of its enormous importance for practically all aspects of our lives and society. Wilber uses both/and logic in many instances. For example, he defines a holon as both a whole and a part. However, the notion of a hierarchy or holarchy implies either/or logic because a holon usually belongs either to one level of the holarchy or another, not to both at the same time.

The continuum view seems equally important. It involves continuum or
fuzzy logic in contrast to Aristotelian either/or logic. Since we live in a world that appears fuzzy to a great extent, fuzzy logic, that is, fuzzy thinking, represents fuzzy reality more adequately than either/or logic.

Thinking in terms of fuzzy logic and both/and logic functions as
healing thinking that integrates and connects. It also creates more lightness and playfulness. Kaisa Puhakka ( A call to play. In: Rothberg, D. and S. Kelly (eds), Ken Wilber in Dialogue, 1998, p.397), in response to Ken Wilber firmly defending his position, wrote: "Playfulness manifests in the lightness with which the position is held." Lightness also invites humor and laughter in all aspects of life and living, including laughing meditation such as, for example, laughter yoga.

Although Ken Wilber has presented several versions of his AQAL map with varying numbers of levels and dimensions and some changes in interpretation, the basic holonic structure of his map has remained fixed. In contrast,
the dynamic mandala is very fluid and thus allows many interpretations and transformations – transformations that may be conceptual, mathematical, or organic/artistic. Thus, the dynamic mandala can be seen as a mandala of mandalas. It is not locked into just one basic representation of the Kosmos but allows a multitude of complementary perspectives that enrich our understanding of the Kosmos and human existence. In other words, instead of representing the Kosmos just by one single map – with several versions – such as Ken Wilber’s AQAL map, the dynamic mandala comprises many maps, each of which represents another aspect of the Kosmos that because of its richness and complexity cannot be adequately captured by one single map.

Transforming mandalas and changing interpretations implies that we move from one transformation and interpretation to another. When we move freely, it may feel like a dance. Since mandalas may represent the Kosmos, the dance may be a
kosmic dance. It recalls the dance of Shiva in his form of Nataraja, which appears immensely dynamic and creative but also destructive. Similarly, the dynamic mandala includes creation and destruction.

This book, especially the chapters on
Hierarchy and Beyond, Either/Or Logic and Beyond, Complementarity, and A Message for Educators and Educational Institutions, are highly relevant to education from elementary school to high school to university and lifelong learning in adult education.

For a summary of how the dynamic mandala of this book goes beyond the AQAL map see the section
Beyond Wilber’s AQAL Map in the Summary and Conclusions of the book.

Although a Ken Wilber critique, this book includes also an appreciation of Ken Wilber’s AQAL map and his integral vision – hence it presents a critical appreciation of Ken Wilber’s AQAL philosophy. Ken Wilber has achieved a most remarkable synthesis. In this book I have tried to make it even more integral, more encompassing, more balanced, and more profound.

Ken Wilber recognizes the necessity of an integral methodological pluralism. In this book, I propose in addition a pluralism of interpretations of his AQAL map, specifically of the so-called levels (see
Removing Limitations in Wilber's AQAL Map at the end of Summary and Conclusions) and I propose a pluralism of maps that complement each other (see the section Beyond Wilber’s AQAL Map in the Summary and Conclusions of the book).


In the context of this book and this website "beyond" means:
- beyond Ken Wilber's AQAL map where we can embrace the dynamic mandala that includes and transcends the AQAL map (see Chapter 4:
The Dynamic Mandala),
- beyond harmful thinking where we can more fully engage in healing thinking based on healing logic such as fuzzy logic and both/and logic (see Chapter 2:
Either/Or Logic and Beyond, and Healing Thinking and Being),
- beyond the thinking mind where we can enjoy spontaneity, playfulness (lila), lightness, laughter, and, above all, mystery, the unnamable (see Chapter 7:
The Kosmic Dance, Laughter through Laughter Yoga, and Beyond Thinking, Writing, and Speaking - the Unnamable). 

See also
Ken Wilber Quotes
Quotes from my book,
Ken Wilber’s AQAL Dogma,
Ken Wilber's AQAL Map and Korzybski’s General Semantics,
Ken Wilber and Healthy Thinking,
Ken Wilber, Humor, and Laughter,
AQAL Map by Ken Wilber Integrates the Unnamable and Namable ( Chapter 7 of my book manuscript on Healing Thinking and Being)

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