Notes: Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber – Chapter 5

This post is about the chapter 5 Four corners of the cosmos.

Wilber argues that we need to move from “modernity” (rational-industrial) to “postmodernity”. In terms of transcend:

“(1) be open to modes of consciousness that move beyond mere rationality (2) embed them in modes of techno-economic structures that move beyond industrialization. In other words, a change of consciousness embedded in a change of institutions. Either one alone will probably not work. “

In terms of inclusion:

“both rationality and industry will be included as well, but now as mere components in a more balanced, more inclusive, more integrated stance that will incorporate—and limit—rationality and industry”

The four quadrants: four perspectives to reality

In this chapter, Wilber introduces the concept of four quadrants, the four different ways perspectives to reality, which I think is one of the biggest contributions Wilber’s Integral theory. It has helped me to look at reality in a clear and more complete manner. The four quadrants are: individual-interior (I), collective-interior (WE), individual-exterior (IT) and collective-exterior (ITS).

(Figure 5-1 from Ken Wilber’s Brief History of Everything)

Wilber describes that he came up with the four quadrant concept when went through different developmental theories (psychology, sociology, ecology, systems theory, physics, mysticism, philosophy, etc) and made lists various holarchical maps in there. He says he first thought all the maps refer to the same territory but later it came evident that there are four very different territories the collected maps refer to: hence the four quadrants.

Four quadrant map fits nicely with the holon theory: Interior dimensions look at insides of holon (holon from inside) and exterior dimensions look at outsides of holon (holon from outside). Individual dimensions look at holon individually and collective dimensions look at holon as part of collective or community. Results we get when using these four ways of studying a holon are correlated because what seen inside is correlated with what is seen outside and what happens on individual level is correlated with what happens in collective level.

Below is a more detailed map of different correlated developmental holarchies in the four quadrants (from Brief History of Everything):

A good example of a correlated findings in the two individual quadrants is consciousness/experience <-> brain/nervous system. Consciousness is how things look from inside, brain activity is how things look from outside. More specific example of the correlates is: emotions (interior-individual) <-> limbic system. I guess this is still bit simplistic because emotions are not represented exclusively by the limbic system – though the limbic system is the primary brain structure representing basic emotions.

Wilber argues invidividual holons exist only in communities (or collectives) of similar depth holons. By looking at these communities it is possible to map the collective holons (lower right and left quadrants in the above figure). In human context, we get: interior-collective: “cultural, i.e. the interior meanings and values and identities that we share with those of similar communities” and exterior-collective: “social, i.e all exterior, material, institutional forms of the community, from its tecno-economic base to architectural styles to its written codes to its population size.”

In the more general case, including also nonhuman holons, interior-collective or culture means worldspace or all the things that holons of similar depth can respond to:

“By the culture or worldspace of holons, I simply mean a shared space of what they can respond to: quarks do not respond to all stimuli in the environment, because they register a very narrow range of what will have meaning to them, what will affect them. Quarks (and all holons) respond only to that which fits their worldspace: everything else is a foreign language, and they are outsiders. The study of what holons can respond to is the study of shared worldspaces. It’s the common world that all holons of a similar depth will respond to. That is their shared culture. “

Wilber gives a great nonhuman example of interior-collective or worldspace of wolves:

“Nonhuman cultures can be very sophisticated. Wolves, for example, share an emotional worldspace. They possess a limbic system, the interior correlate of which is certain basic emotions. And thus a wolf orients itself and its fellow wolves to the world through the use of these basic emotional cognitions—not just reptilian and sensorimotor, but affective. They can hunt and coordinate in packs through a very sophisticated emotional signal system. They share this emotional worldspace. Yet anything outside that worldspace is not registered. I mean, you can read Hamlet to them, but no luck. What you are, with that book, is basically dinner plus a few things that will have to be spat out. The point is that a holon responds, and can respond, only to those stimuli that fall within its worldspace, its worldview. Everything else is nonexistent. “

Espacially, in the context of human societies, interior-collective relates to worldviews.

As in the case of individual quadrants, what we find when looking at interior-collective and exterior-collective are correlated. The worldviews are correlated with exterior forms of social structures that support them.

Wilber gives an example of looking at reality through the intercorrelated four quadrants. Holon = ‘The thought of going to the grocery store’

  • Interior-individual: When one has that thought, what is experienced is the thought itself, the meaning – the symbols, the images, the idea of going to the grocery store
  • Exterior-individual: changes in brain: dopamine increases, acetylcholne jumps the synapses, beta brainwaves increases etc
  • Interior-collective: the internal thought makes only sense in the terms of ones cultural background. In primal tribal society milloin years ago, one would not even be able to have the thought “going to the grocery store”. Thoughts arise in a cultural background that gives texture and meaning. The thought “going to the grocery store” can only exists against a vast background of cultural practices, languages and meanings, without which one could not form virtually no individual thoughts at all. This vast background is the culture, the cultural worldview, the person’s worldspace. So in the case of the thought “going to the grocery store”, interior collective are all the shared meanings, language, culture that enables one to have this thought
  • Exterior-collective: [my own thinking here] the external correlates of the shared meanings, language, culture that enable one to have the thought “going to the grocery store”: actual grocery store(s) existing in the society, social system (grocery store in market economy?)

An important point to note is that because the four quadrants are interrelated, evolution happens in all of them in a correlated manner. For sustainable evolution in one quadrant, evolution is needed in all of them. In practice, if you want to create sustainable change for the better, four quadrant approach will help you.

In conclusion, the four quadrant map is one of the big insights of Integral theory, at least for me.

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