Some comments on
Wilber's Models of Reality
(Part 1)
In his major work up to now, A Brief History of Everthing[1], Ken Wilber presents several integrative models of reality. Although he uses the word "integrative" only in the preface to his second edition (2000), his work is largely considered as such. He describes in details hundreds of philosophers and other thinkers, from Buddha to Freud, from the Big Bang to Postmodernity, that inspired him [2]. But as a student of that other great integrative thinker, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I missed several fundamental contributions of the latter  in Wilber's model, so I started looking more critically to Wilber's synthesis. This text is a first draft to summarize those comments.

The Four Quadrants

Description. The backbone of Wilber's approach is the Four Quadrants Model [3]. He makes a two-dimensional scheme of individual/collective with exterior/interior. The Four Quadrants of this model can be labeled as

Upper Right (UR): behavioural, also called IT
Upper Left (UL): intentional, also called I
Lower Left (LL): cultural, also called WE
Lower Right (LR): social, also called ITS
On the Right we have the "exterior", observable phenomena: what an individual/society does. On the Left we have the "interior", unobservable things: what individuals/groups think (and feel). This classification seems simple and is easily conceivable. The popularity of Wilber's scheme is perhaps largely due to this clear-cut concept, and in discussion groups terms as UR, LL, etc. are in frequent use.

Logical problems. But already at this level we encounter some conceptual problems: groups don't think and groups don't behave. It are individuals that think and behave in groups. Furthermore, the criteria by which we can observe a progress on each of the four scales is far from clear, and is never defined. A vague increase in complexity is suggested, but never indicated as such. Wilber apparently tries to indicate some progress, but only gives us a preconscious hint.

A most troubling aspect of the Four Quadrants is that UR from stage 9 on is split up into two dimensions: social organization (from tribes to planetary), and technological activities (from foraging to informational), in fact totally detached from social life.

Evolutionary Problems. Things become even more puzzling when one tries to trace back Teilhard's nine levels of cosmic evolution. Those nine levels can't be easily criticized: each level is just one further step in a universal complexification process --each system is composed of building blocks that are fullfledged members of the system just one level below it. Wilber includes (some of) these levels in his Four Quadrants, but we find those levels at very unexpected places:

1. strings -- absent in Wilber's model
2. elementary particles (electron, quark...) -- absent in Wilber's model
3. atomic particles (proton, neutron...) -- absent in Wilber's model
4. atoms (from H to Ur) -- UR1
5. molecules (from anorganic to organic) -- UR2, partly in UL1, their development place in LR1-2
6. eobionts (from nucleic acids to mitochondria and other organnelles) -- absent in Wilber's model
7. protozoa (bacteries and unicellular organisms) -- UR3 and UR4, partly in LL2-6
8. metazoa (from cell colonies to homo) -- neuronal aspect in UR5 to UR10, exterior (!) aspect in LL2 -6, and also suggested in LR3 to LR4
9. socialization -- LR5 to LR13
Teilhard's very logical fundamental evolutionary phases are illogically scattered in Wilber's scheme, suggesting some fundamental entanglement in the definition of the attributes of the four axes.

Furthermore, Wilber's evolutionary progress often is badly suggested: some forms of evolutionary progress replace more primitive forms (e.g. planetary in stead of tribal, LR9-13), but other are added to more primitive forms (e.g. creative thinking to reflexive thinking, UR5-8 to UR10-13). Sometimes the "progression" is scaling down (LR1-3: from Galaxies to Gaia systems), but sometimes progression is scaling up (UR1-4: from Atoms to Eukaryotes).

Let us look to the foru quadrants in more detail:

A review of the Four Dimensions.
UR: "it"
1-4: some early evolutionary phases (parts of lithophase and biophase)
5-10: the development of the brain of the metazoics (10: "complex" neocortex refers to the "frontal" cortex, only present in homo)
5-8: instinctive thinking
9: learning ability
10-13 creative thinking

UL: "I"
1: ?
2-4 and 7-8: the development of the psyche
5-6 and 10-13: the development of the thinking ability
9-10: from subconscious to conscious
14-...: the higher forms of consciousness (subtle, causal, etc.)

LL: "we"
2-6: biophase (as UR3-4)
7 an extension of 5-6: biological movement
8: a pre-human kind of thinking
9-13: the evolution of the cosmic view

LR: "its"
1-3: the places where UR1-2 develop
3-4: some feeding aspects of biophase (more explicit in LL2-4)
5-13: the organization of social life
5-6: levels of cooperation (LR5 probably wrongly labeled. I think it shoud read: "societies without division of labor")
7-13 (higher labels): the scale of organization of social life: it really starts at 7, and LR5-6 clearly refer to the kind of cooperation, not to the scale
9-13 (lower labels): the development of technology. In fact this should start at LR5 or even earlier, because animals forage too: foraging doesn't start with human tribes.

First Conclusion. It is my interpretation that Wilber's scheme is a blend of several evolutionary aspects, too vaguely defined. Perhaps it should be wiser to use several schemes, each more adapted to the phenomenon one describes. But, of course, much of the simple charm will disappear that way.

I think Wilber was conscious of this, because  from Part Two on he silently switches from Four to Three dimensions...

This criticism is not just a play with logical classification. Several very important conclusions, simple disappear in Wilber's Quadrants. The Quadrants merely suggest that everything is linearly expanding, in four more or less parallel dimensions, without suggesting the underlying developmental principles.

I will try to present some alternative schemes that describe universal and human progress more logically. Each time we will take some of the concepts from the Four Quadrants, sometimes adding essential aspects, and schematize them in a more logical frame.

A first model will not be repeated: Teilhard's scheme, already mentioned, describing the structural basis of systems in universe.

A model for human functioning

Although Wilber presents his scheme as a Description of Everything, in fact it is mainly a description of human functioning: UR6-13, UL2-13 (in fact to 16, not mentioned in the scheme), LL8-13 and LR4-13 refer to human development. Therefore, let's make a scheme that only takes human development into account, and limit it to the forementioned stages.Then we can clearly discern four levels of functioning:

1. The hardware (mainly UR7-10, UR6 being the fetal form of a human): it describes the development of the brain in concentric layers: brain stem, limbic system, cortex, frontal cortex. Stages UR11-13 are very unclear in Wilber's book.

2. The software (mainly UL2-16): this is the development of brain as thinking tool. Nothing is suggested here about the contents of the thinking brain, although higher forms of abstraction are suggested from UL10 on. From UL2-9 thinking is strongly linked to the possibilities of the hardware, what explains the parallellism in Figure 5-3 (p. 68). But for the most important aspects, UL10-16, all parallellism between the two quadrants is lost.

3. The contents of the mind (mainly LL8-13): the developmental stages of our cosmic view are described, from archaic to centauric, but in a linear way giving no suggestions for the future.

4. Human interaction (mainly LR4-13 or, more exactly, LR7-13). Wilber here only refers to the scale of cooperation and society. He stops at the planetary level, although greater scales are conceivable: within our galaxy, within our universe, between multiple universes. He doesn't give any indications on the style of interaction, although he started at LR5-6 to suggest a shift towards collaboration by "division of labour", but stopped there. He doesn't extend on technological interaction either, although he suggests in LR9-13 that also there we see a development.

If we limit ourselves to these aspects of human development, putting the four dimensions into a quadrant seems meaningless, because there is a progression form hardware to software, from internal mechanisms to observable behaviour. Hence a graduation in four levels seems more logical: each lower level enables and influences the higher level.

Another reason for leaving the quadrant frame, at least for this aspect, is that the distinction internal/external, individual/social completely disappears in this model: there is nothing "external" in the hardware, apart from the fact it can be observed with simple tools (microscope, electrographs), while software cannot directly be observed with the same tools. The contents of the mind on the other hand can easily be observed, because people tend and like to speak about it, and, in fact, those high levels of intellectualization don't develop without educational and intellectual interaction. The cosmic views are perhaps the most observable parts of culture an individual mind. Moreover, the mind contents and the creativity that yields it is a purely individual process, and hence is badly labeled by "social". And, finally, there no reason to connect LR to UR.

The next scheme could perhaps better symbolize these aspects than the Four Quadrants:

[scheme at the end]


These two alternative schemes demonstrate, at least for me, that the Four Quadrants Model is not appropriate for the two perhaps most important dimensions it was designed for: the evolution of the universe, and the structuration of human mind (the development will be treated in a later article). In a separate article on the Mechanisms of Evolution I propose a model for the development of Mind and Interaction.

In later articles I shall try to present alternative models for some other aspects, described by Wilber.

[1] Wilber, Ken, A Brief History of Everthing, Shambala Publications, Boston, Mass., USA, 1996, 2000. I'm referring to the second edition.
[2] id., Preface by Tony Schwarz
[3] id., p. 65 e.c.