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Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model
(Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology)

Ken Wilber

(PAGE 8 OF 10)

Appendix C: The Death of Psychology and the Birth of the Integral
In 1983, I stopped referring to myself as a "transpersonal" psychologist or philosopher.[29] I began instead to think of the work that I was doing as "integrative" or "integral." I therefore began writing a textbook of integral psychology called System, Self, and Structure, a two-volume work that, for various reasons, has never been published. I have just recently, however, brought out a one-volume, simplified outline of integral psychology called, appropriately enough, Integral Psychology--Consciousness, Spirit, Psychology, Therapy. The article presented above is a summary of that book, and hence a summary of my present psychological model.

But it is true that integral psychology fits none of the existing four forces (behavioristic, psychoanalytic, humanistic, or transpersonal). The claim of integral psychology is that it "transcends and includes" those four forces, but that claim is exactly what the four forces all sharply dispute. In any event, my own opinion is that integral psychology is not a transpersonal psychology; it appears to be more encompassing than anything that today calls itself transpersonal. Nor do I believe that transpersonal can or will become truly integral; all of its main factions are rooted in models that seem demonstrably less than integral. I believe that the field of transpersonal psychology in this country has become a rather specialized field, confined largely (but not totally) to the Bay Area, and that as such it is a very important but restricted endeavor. Some critics have said that it has become a California fad, like hot tubs and psychedelics, but I think that is too harsh. I do believe, however, that it has narrowed its focus, on the one hand, and loosened its quality standards, on the other, and thus it has ceased to speak to all but a relatively small group. Because of this, it has continually failed to achieve recognition by the American Psychological Association and it is now all but impossible to get funding for transpersonal research or to be taken seriously outside the converted. The relative lack of substantial research has increasingly moved it into mere ideology, or opinions divorced from any credible evidence.

My hope is that integral psychology, in moving outside of transpersonal psychology and building more bridges to the conventional world, will provide a complementary approach to move consciousness studies forward, while maintaining a respectful and mutually beneficial dialogue with the four forces. I have long been a strong supporter of all four forces of psychology, and I will continue to do so.[30]

Some critics have called integral psychology a fifth force, but I don't think that is a useful way to proceed (and it can also become an unfortunate game: okay, then I have the sixth force...). Besides, I believe the four forces of psychology are slowly dying, and being the fifth force of that death march is perhaps not desirable. Psychology as we have known it, I believe, is basically dead. In its place will be more integral approaches.

Put differently, my belief is that psychology as a discipline--referring to any of the four traditional major forces (behavioristic, psychoanalytic, humanistic/existential, and transpersonal)--is slowly decaying and will never again, in any of its four major forms, be a dominant influence in culture or academia.

At this point in Western history (basically, an amalgam of traditional, modern, and postmodern currents)--and specifically at this time in America (circa 2000)--we are going through a period of an intense flatland cascade, a combination of rampant scientific materialism (the orange meme) and the "nothing but surfaces" of the extreme postmodernists (the green meme): in short, interiors are out, exteriors are all; there is no depth, only surfaces as far as the eye can see. This puts an intense selection pressure against any sort of psychology that emphasizes solely or mostly the interiors (psychoanalytic, humanistic/existential, and transpersonal).

This is compounded by numerous specific social factors, such as the medical/insurance and "managed care" industry supporting only brief psychotherapy and pharmacological interventions. Again, the interior psychologies are selected against in this negative cultural current. The only acceptable orthodox approaches to psychology are increasingly the Right-Hand approaches, including biological psychiatry, behavioral modification, cognitive therapy (and remember, "cognition" is defined as "cognition of objects or its," and thus cognitive therapy is not so much an interior exploration of depths but simply a manipulation of the sentences one uses to objectively describe oneself; cognitive therapy in general works with "adjusting your premises" so that they match scientific, objective, Right-Hand evidence)--and, finally, an increasing, almost epidemic, reliance on the use of medication (prozac, xanax, paxil, etc.), all of which focus almost exclusively on Right-Hand interventions. (See, for example, the superb Of Two Minds, by Tanya Luhrmann; the "two minds" are, of course, the Upper-Left and Upper-Right approaches to psychology, and Luhrmann leaves no doubt as to which is winning the survival race; if I may be allowed a pun, interiors are out, exteriors are in.) Silly things like trying to find out why you behave in such a fashion, or trying to find out the meaning of your existence, or the values that constitute the good life, are not covered by insurance policies, and so, in this culture, they basically do not exist. Three of the four forces (psychoanalytic, humanistic/existential, and transpersonal) are thus, once again, selected against; a negative cultural pressure is moving them to extinction and in some ways has already succeeded, so that these major forces are one jot away from dinosaur status. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we will see.)

The old behaviorism (one of the four forces) has survived, precisely because it is focused almost exclusively on exterior behavior, but also because it has morphed into more sophisticated forms, two of which are now dominant: cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. It is important to note that both of these endeavors are quintessentially exterior or Right-Hand approaches. Cognitive science focuses on the Upper-Right quadrant--the exteriors of individuals--and studies those holons in an objective, scientific, empirical fashion: human consciousness is viewed as the result of neurophysiological mechanisms, organic systems, and brain neural networks that summate in individual awareness. Psychopathology is viewed as a pathology of these organic pathways, and cure involves fixing these organic pathways (usually with medication, sometimes with behavioral modification). All of this is conducted in third-person it-language.

Evolutionary psychology focuses on the objective organism (Upper Right) and how its interaction with the objective environment (Lower Right) has resulted, via variation and natural selection, in certain behaviors of the individual organism, most of which originated to serve survival (which is defined, as LR truths always are, as functional fit). Thus, you tend to behave in the way that you do (e.g., males are profligate sex fiends, females are nesting homebodies), because a million years of natural selection has left you with these genes. (I am not contesting the truths of evolutionary psychology; I am pointing out that they are Right-Hand only.)

In both of those dominant forms of present-day psychology, there is no introspection to speak of, no searching the interiors, the within, the deep, the Left-Hand quadrants. There are only objective its scurrying about in objective systems, networks, and the empirical web of life: no within, no interiors, no depth. And thus, once again, the three major forces of interior psychology (psychoanalytic, humanistic/existential, and transpersonal) are left to slowly wither, which slowly they are.

In my opinion, the only interior psychologies that will survive this new sociocultural selection pressure are those that adapt by recognizing an "all-quadrant, all-level" framework, for only that framework (or something equally integral) can embrace both the Right- and Left-Hand realities. Thus the Left-Hand or interior psychologies can securely hook themselves to the tested truths of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology without succumbing to the reductionism that says there are only Right-Hand realities. That is, the only psychologies that will survive will be those that plug themselves into an AQAL formulation, which fully concedes the biological, objective, empirical, and cognitive components of consciousness, but only as set in the four quadrants. This integral approach concedes the relative truths of the dominant Right-Hand psychologies but simultaneously paints a much broader and more encompassing picture of consciousness and Kosmos.

The integral approach is thus constantly on hand to point out all of the correlations of the exterior events in brain and body (the Upper-Right quadrant studied by cognitive science and evolutionary psychology) with the interior events in mind and consciousness (the Upper-Left quadrant studied by interior psychologies), and to further show how all of them are inescapably anchored in cultural and social realities as well (the Lower-Left and Lower-Right quadrants)--with none of those quadrants being reducible to the others. As an extraordinary number of scholars have pointed out, the arguments against reductionism are simply overwhelming; an AQAL formulation therefore stands as a constant reminder that we can in fact fully honor the truths in all four quadrants without trying to reduce any of them to the others. As the severe limitations of the merely objectivistic, exterior, Right-Hand approaches become clear to individual researchers (as they almost always eventually do), an integral framework thus stands available to help them make the leap to a more comprehensive approach.

If the only psychologies that will survive are psychologies that are plugged into an "all-quadrant, all-level" framework (which includes behavioral, intentional, cultural, and social dimensions, all of which stretch from matter to body to mind to spirit)--such a psychology is not really psychology as we have known it. That is, a four-quadrant psychology is no longer psychology (which is why integral psychology is not actually a fifth force, although many people will continue to call it such). Rather, integral psychology is an inherent feature of a Kosmology, and its practice is a movement of the Kosmos itself. This is why I believe the four forces will continue to wither, and their places will increasingly be taken by various forms of integral psychology that adapt to this new cultural selection pressure (or Eros) by recognizing niches of reality as yet unoccupied (namely, an AQAL space), into which they can evolve with the assurance of survival by adapting to yet higher and wider dimensions of reality. The integral claim is that because an AQAL formulation is more adequate to reality, evolution into a consciously AQAL space has inherent survival value. Correlatively, less adequate and comprehensive approaches will increasingly face extinction pressures.

This might well leave the four forces as historical dinosaurs.[31] At the same time--and this is the claim of integral psychology that the other psychologies dispute--any truly integral psychology will "transcend and include" all of the important truths of the four forces. Nothing is lost, all is retained; even dinosaurs live on in today's birds. The test of any integral psychology is to what degree it can accept and coherently integrate the valid research and data from the various schools of psychology--not just the four major forces, but developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive sciences, phenomenological/hermeneutic approaches, and so on. Of course this is a daunting challenge, perhaps forever unreachable; but as of today we know too much to ever settle for less.

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© 2000 Ken Wilber



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