Syvak’s Museum of Heresies

An eclectic integral blog of my personal studies


Posted by Jamil Syvak on May 25, 2008


From Integral Wiki

All Quadrants All Levels ™

In the Integral theory of Ken Wilber, AQAL stands for “All levels, all quadrants”, and equally connotes “all lines, all states, all types”. An account or theory is said the be AQAL, and thus integral (or inclusive or comprehensive), if it accounts for or makes reference to all four quadrants and four major levels in Wilber’s ontological scheme, described below.

Recently, Wilber has called AQAL an “Integral Operating System” (IOS) because, using a computer analogy, once IOS is installed, you can run any “applications software” on it (i.e., applications to organizational issues; leadership development; political, health, and environmental problems; personal psychological and spiritual transformation, etc.)

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Each holon has an interior perspective (an inside) and an exterior perspective (an outside). It also has an individual perspective and a collective (or plural) perspective. If you map these into quadrants, you have four quadrants, or dimensions.

To give an example of how this works, consider four schools of social science. Freudian psychoanalysis, which interprets people’s interior experiences, is an account of the interior individual (or upper-left) quadrant. B. F. Skinner‘s behaviorism, which limits itself to the observation of the behavior of organisms, is an exterior individual (upper-right) account. Gadamer‘s philosophical hermeneutics interprets the collective consciousness of a society, and is thus an interior plural (lower-left) perspective. Marxist economic theory examines the external behavior of a society (lower-right).

Thus all four pursuits—psychoanalysis, behaviorism, philosophical hermeneutics and Marxism—offer complementary, rather than contradictory, perspectives. It is possible for all to be correct and necessary for a complete account of human society. Wilber has integrated these four areas of knowledge through an acknowledgment of the four fundamental dimensions of existence.

Lines, streams, or intelligences

Are you more highly developed in certain areas than in others? According to Wilber, all holons have multiple lines of development, or intelligences—in fact, over two dozen have been observed. They include cognitive, ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, kinesthetic, affective, musical, spatial, logicalmathematical, karmic, etc. One can be highly developed cognitively (cerebrally smart) without being highly morally developed (as in the case of Nazi doctors). However, he acknowledges, you cannot be highly morally developed without the pre-requisite cognitive development. So not all of the developmental lines are ontologically equivalent.

Levels or stages

The concept of levels follows closely on the concept of lines of development. The more highly developed you are in a particular line, the higher level you are at in that line.

Many criticize the strict hierarchical nature of Wilber’s conception of the level. But consider, for example, the hierarchical nature of matter itself. Sub-atomic particles are composed of quarks. Atoms are made of sub-atomic particles. Molecules are made of atoms. Cell organelles are made of molecules, etc. This is similar to how Wilber conceives of levels. One must attain the lower levels before the higher levels because the higher levels are constituted by the lower level components. Thus, when represented graphically[1], the levels should appear as concentric circles, with higher levels transcending but also including lower ones. Wilber also attacks the equating of hierachy with patriachy using a similar line of argument.

The simplest categorization that Wilber uses contains four levels:

  • Body (or gross realm; Buddhist Nirmanakaya)
  • Mind (or subtle realm; Buddhist Sambhogakaya)
  • Soul (or causal realm; Buddhist Jnanadharmakaya stage of the Dharmakaya)
  • Spirit (or non-duality; Buddhist Svabhavikakaya stage of the Dharmakaya)

Another scheme describes the ethical developmental line:

  • Egocentric (similar to Carol Gilligan‘s ‘Selfish’ stage)
  • Ethnocentric or Sociocentric (Gilligan’s ‘Care’ stage)
  • World-centric (Gilligan’s ‘Universal Care’ stage)
  • Being-centric (Gilligan’s ‘Integrated’ stage)

Within each broad stage, there are sub-levels. Spiral Dynamics is one theory that elaborates on these levels.

Another broad organization of the levels contains three categories:

  • pre-personal (subconscious motivations)
  • personal (conscious mental processes)
  • trans-personal (integrative and mystical structures)

This organization reveals more of Wilber’s synthesizing talent. Freudian drives, Jungian archetypes, and myth are pre-personal structures. Empirical and rational processes are personal levels. Transpersonal entities include, for example, Aurobindo‘s Overmind, Emerson‘s Oversoul, Plato‘s Forms, Plotinusnous, and the Hindu Atman, or world-soul.

The exceptional feature of Wilber’s approach is that, under this methodology, all of these mental stuctures—subconscious, rational, mystical—are considered complementary and legitimate, rather than competing in a zero-sum conceptual space. And that is perhaps Wilber’s greatest accomplishment—the opening up of a space wherein more ideas, theories, beliefs, and stories can be considered true, responsible, and acceptable.

As Wilber remarks in the CD interview Speaking of Everything: “This can all be done deductively.” In other words: ‘Maybe I’m wrong about the precise characteristics of some or all of the stages or levels. But nonetheless, it’s clear that psychological and cultural development follows a pattern, and that pattern is always from more partial to more whole.’


A state is basically a level that is attained only temporarily. Once you have unlimited access to a state of consciousness, then it is a permanent structure, or a developmental level.

States of consciousness include: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, and nondual. (In the mystical traditions of which Wilber is a part, these four states correspond to four realms: gross, subtle, causal, and nondual.) Thus it is theoretically possible for someone at a low cognitive level—a newborn, for instance—to experience an advanced mystical state.


These are valid distinctions that are not covered under Wilber’s other categorizations. Masculine/feminine, the nine Enneagram categories, and Jung‘s archetypes and typologies, among innumerable others, are all valid types in Wilber’s schema. Wilber makes types part of his model in order to point out that these distinctions are different from, and in addition to the already mentioned distictions: quadrants, lines, levels and states.

External Links:

Graphical conception of the AQAL model


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