Quotes from Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond

Quotes from the book by Rolf Sattler

From the Prologue

[Ken] Wilber’s [AQAL] map is an excellent point of departure for a further exploration of new ways of thinking because it is very comprehensive and easily accessible, has been worked out in considerable detail, and has the potential to fundamentally affect in a very beneficial way all aspects of our lives and society (see, for example, his Integral Operating System (2005d) and The Life Practice Starter Kit by his Integral Institute (2006)). His map has, however, limitations (p. iii).

From Chapter 1: Hierarchy and Beyond

I would not say that “the Kosmos is a series of nests within nests within nests indefinitely” (Wilber 2001a: 40, italics mine)… I would say that from a hierarchical perspective the Kosmos appears as a series of nests within nests within nests; and from a nonhierarchical perspective the Kosmos appears as a continuum, a unity, and other ways (p.23)

[H]ierarchical [holarchical] thinking is not the only way. We can also think in a nonhierarchical way and this kind of thinking reveals another important aspect of manifest reality that cannot be grasped through hierarchical thinking.
Therefore, “beyond” means that we embrace different kinds of thinking and do not get caught just in one way. Then hierarchical and nonhierarchical thinking can complement each other and together these two ways of thinking can provide a richer and deeper understanding of manifest realty than one alone (p.23)

[T]here is a kind of holism that is still more holistic than the holism in terms of hierarchy (holarchy): it integrates holons at any level to such an extent that they vanish as entities, and it abolishes levels which means that it goes beyond hierarchies, emphasizing instead continuity, oneness, or “undivided wholeness” (to use David Bohm’s expression in a more general sense). In other words, nonhierarchical holism in terms of undivided wholeness does not fragment reality into holons and levels of a holarchy (p.20).

[Ken] Wilber (2001: 39) wrote: “organisms actually contain cells, which actually contain molecules, which actually contain atoms. You can even see this directly with a microscope. That hierarchy is one of actual embrace.” Can we indeed
see this?... it is a matter of perspective whether we see cells as separate entities or not… If we consider the organismal theory, cells can no longer function as fundamental units (holons) at one level of the hierarchy. As a consequence the hierarchy collapses at that level. What appeared hierarchical is no longer hierarchical. Thus a nonhierarchical view emerges. This does not mean, however, that therefore the hierarchical view at this level is totally wrong. It can still be maintained as another perspective based on the limited validity of cell theory. As cell theory and the organismal theory can coexist as complementary theories, so the hierarchical and the nonhierarchical views can also coexist and complement each other… Now one could argue that the breakdown of exclusive hierarchical thinking at one level such as the cellular level does not automatically apply to all other levels of the hierarchy of Figure 1 -1. This is, of course, correct. But the hierarchy can also be collapsed at other levels ( pp. 12-14).

From Chapter 2: Either/Or Logic and Beyond

Hierarchy [holarchy] in the strict sense and typical hierarchical thinking are based on either/or logic. Since either/or logic is only of limited applicability, [Ken] Wilber’s [AQAL] map and the hierarchy on which it is based also apply to reality only to a limited extent. If we want to obtain a richer and more comprehensive map of the Kosmos, we have to go beyond either/or logic and embrace also alternative ways of thinking such as both/and logic, continuum logic (that is, fuzzy logic), Yin-Yang and network thinking. The latter connects everything and thus provides many bridges that have been obscured or forgotten due to the fragmenting nature of thought and language in terms of ideas, ideologies, religions, and beliefs (p. 42).

Many phenomena are fuzzy so that Kosko (1993) in his book on “Fuzzy Thinking. The New Science of Fuzzy Logic” referred to a “fuzzy world view.” This worldview is indeed revolutionary. Its importance and far-reaching consequences cannot be emphasized enough. It allows us to perceive the world differently: on this view, the world is not just black and white, but has a rich and varied gradation of grays; it is not just discrete colors, but has also a fascinating mingling of colors. Most of all, it is not only categorical, this or that, but a continuum spanning the categories (p.27).

In our culture, especially among so-called educated people, it is almost preposterous and irritating, if not ridiculous, to refer in all seriousness to fuzziness. The ideal very often has been and still is to do away with fuzziness as much as possible, that is, to reduce everything to clear-cut, unambiguous categories. However, the real world is not always so clear-cut and unambiguous. Therefore, if we want to better understand the real world, we have to learn to speak a language that comes as close as possible to the real world. Ultimately, there is, of course, no language that will reveal absolute reality as it is. But with regard to relative reality, we have the choice between different languages based on different kinds of logic. Either/ or logic will allow us to understand some simple aspects of reality. For example, if in the continuum from black to white we just want to focus on the extremes, black and white, either/or logic will be sufficient to do that. However, if we want to deal with the whole range from black to white with all the gray tones in between, fuzzy logic will be required. Thus, fuzzy logic will make it possible to greatly increase the scope of our understanding because there is so much fuzziness in the real world (pp. 27-28)

[Ken] Wilber has gone far beyond the limits of either/or logic, but with regard to the basic holonic structure of his AQAL map he adheres to hierarchical [holarchical] thinking, that is either/or logic (p.27).

Either/or logic divides and its practitioners can easily become antagonistic and even belligerent. Both/and logic, fuzzy logic, Yin-Yang and network thinking connect and therefore aid in reconciliation and healing at a personal, social, and global level. Hence, the recognition of these alternative kinds of logic and thinking is extremely important for a betterment of the human condition and the environmental situation.
[I am presently working on a new book tentatively entitled Healing Thinking and Being that will elaborate on this topic] (p.42).

From Chaper 4: The Dynamic Mandala

The dynamic mandala [that goes beyond Ken Wilber’s AQAL map] is not just one mandala such as the one presented in Figure 4 -1, but includes many interpretations and transformations. Thus, the dynamic mandala is a multitude of mandalas or even the set of all mandalas (p.51).

From Chapter 5: Transformations of the Dynamic Mandala

[The dynamic mandala] can be transformed in many ways by changing the number of circles, the number of concept pairs, its basic structure, and by rendering it organic and artistic. In all of these transformations, the empty center remains the same, because, as the unnamable, it is even beyond fluidity

Since, in the widest sense, the mandala of this book can be seen as a mandala of mandalas, or, more precisely, the set of all mandalas, it comprises all mandalas of the past, present, and future. This means it also comprises the mandalas of the wisdom traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. These mandalas are, of course, not actual transformations of the mandala of this book, but they can be seen as transformations because we can envisage a dynamic relationship between all mandalas [Hence, the dynamic mandala is an all encompassing mandala] (p.80)
Since mandalas have been created in practically all cultures, religions, and wisdom traditions, a mandala of mandalas that relates all mandalas also relates the cultures, religions, and wisdom traditions in which they originated. Therefore, the mandala of mandalas has an enormous potential to unify and connect diverse cultures, religions, and wisdom traditions. The unification occurs through the center that all mandalas share; the connection through the different peripheries of the mandalas that can be seen in a dynamic relationship (p.80).

[Ken] Wilber’s [AQAL] map turns out to be one of the many transformations of the mandala, which means that it is a special case of the dynamic mandala. The reverse is, however, not the case: the mandala is not a special case of Wilber’s map because the mandala cannot be generated from Wilber’s map, since his map is not dynamic and self-referential as the mandala

From Chapter 6: Complementarity

Mandalas are maps of reality (p. 93).

[The different interpretations and transformations of the dynamic mandala] offer different perspectives of reality and therefore complement each other. Thus, together they offer a richer and more comprehensive understanding of reality than any one alone (p.82).

The following analogy may help to envisage how contrasting and even contradictory theories, views, or ideas can complement each other. Imagine a mountain that is steep on one side and gently sloping on its opposite side. Now look at the steep side of the mountain and you will conclude that this is a steep mountain. Then look at the opposite side of the same mountain and you will conclude that this is not a steep mountain. Thus you have come to contradictory conclusions and both of them are correct to some extent because depending on your perspective, the mountain is steep or not. The two perspectives complement each other. Together they give us a more complete picture of the mountain than only one alone. Yet in science, in society, and everyday life, we often want to exclude the opposite view and thus we deprive ourselves of a more complete picture (p. 83)

Since complementarity is of such wide-ranging applicability, it is of utmost importance to be aware of it.
Since much human suffering is due to either/or thinking that can lead to conflict, aggression, and war, awareness of complementarity that is based on both/and logic can bring us more mutual understanding, more tolerance, and more peace within ourselves, in our relationships, in society within and between nations. To foster more awareness of complementarity it should be taught in kindergarten, elementary school, high school and university (p. 94).

From Chapter 7: The Kosmic Dance

People who follow predominantly either/or logic are rather static in their thinking because they are locked into one mode. They are for this and against that: therefore they defend this and argue against that. As a result they may become more and more stuck in whatever they are defending.

In contrast, people who can also follow both/and logic can easily move from one perspective to another that complements it; and from there to yet another perspective, and so on. As a result these people are not as much stuck; they move around. These people are dynamic. When the movement is spontaneous and free, it becomes a dance. Thus one can see and experience a multitude of complementary perspectives. This makes life exciting because there is always novelty. It is like a big adventure. One never knows where it will lead. Consequently, there is insecurity, but these adventurers may feel secure in this insecurity, knowing that ultimately life is not secure and predictable. Therefore, they let it unfold as they dance along. (p. 95)

With regard to the mandala of this book this means moving easily from one interpretation to another, from one transformation to another, thus exploring more and more novel interpretations and transformations. Since the mandala with all its interpretations and transformations can be a representation of the Kosmos, and since we are part of the Kosmos, this movement allows us to become better acquainted with the Kosmos and ourselves. Moving and dancing with the fluid mandala we enjoy life and learn about life and the world, about ourselves and the fluid Kosmos.

Moving and dancing with conceptual mandalas might feel like moving and dancing with skeletons. But dancing with organic/artistic mandalas is almost like dancing with partners made of flesh and blood; and the partners keep changing as, for example, in a circle dance where the dancers inside the outer circle move along from one partner to the next. Each mandala, like each partner, is a different experience of life and the world, ourselves and the Kosmos, and yet they all enclose the same unnamable, mysterious source (p.95).

The dance of Nataraja is spontaneous. It has no script, no set steps to follow, no purpose or goal. It is pure joy, exuberance, celebration. There is no dancer who is doing the dancing. The dancer dissolves in the dance. In other words, the dancer is the dance: dancer and dance are one. This is the transcendence of the ego, the doer, the dancer. It happens through playfulness, which in India is referred to as lila, the kosmic play. To become lila we have to let go and relax into existence instead of trying to control it. Then we can partake in the kosmic play and in this play we can even transcend the mandalic structure because we can transcend any structure.
In its spontaneity, play has lightness and nonattachment. It overcomes resistance and fear. Referring to philosophical positions, Puhakka (1998:397) wrote: “Playfulness manifests in the lightness with which the position is held.” The opposite is the stubborn attachment to one’s position, one’s map, one’s philosophy, ideology, or religion, which is so characteristic of the serious person who cannot dance and play (pp. 96-97).

There are many ways to meditate. Just sitting as in Soto Zen or Mindfulness Meditation are wonderful ways of meditation, but they are not always easy for the beginner. According to Osho (2000:153), dancing and laughing are two natural, easily approachable doors to meditation, to the realm of no-mind and ultimate oneness. Of course, it has to be total dancing and laughing. Not just dancing that is directed by the mind, but dancing that is so total that the dancer becomes the dance. And not just a crippling laughing that still allows thinking at the same time. Other natural and easily approachable doors to meditation include toning, chanting, singing, and listening to or playing music in such a way that one flows with the sound or music and dissolves in it (p. 97).

From Summary and Conclusions

Since Wilber’s AQAL map is of immense value, this book should be seen as an appreciation of his map. However, it also points out limitations of his map and shows how they can be overcome. The mandala of this book goes beyond Wilber’s map in the following ways:

1. Because of the multitude of transformations and interpretations, the mandala does greater justice to the complexity of the manifest world than Wilber’s map with only a few versions, all of which are holarchical.

2. Besides Wilber’s hierarchical (holarchical) holism, the mandala offers a nonhierarchical holism (undivided wholeness), which at least to some extent overcomes fragmentation of the world into holons (entities) that are then hierarchically (holarchically) ordered.

3. The mandala offers a continuum view in addition to the holarchical view. This continuum view applies also to levels within the quadrants. Wilber too endorses a continuum when he refers to waves instead of levels. However, with regard to the basic structure of his AQAL map, this continuum still implies the “Include and Transcend” Principle, whereas the continuum of the mandala may or may not imply this principle.

4. The recognition of continua liberates us from either/or thinking (categorical thinking) and emphasizes fuzzy thinking (fuzzy logic) in addition to Aristotelian either/or logic that is so prevalent in our culture.

5. In addition to Wilber’s hierarchical “Include and Transcend”, the mandala also allows a Yin-Yang view with regard to levels, which means that the lower level contains (if only as a germ) the upper and vice versa. As an extension of this view one can envisage a partial belonging to more than two levels. In Chapter 1 I pointed out that this view was actually endorsed by Wilber to a limited extent. Related to the Yin-Yang view is the dialectical view according to which any level may be either the total or partial negation of its preceding level or the synthesis of two preceding levels. Negation is contrary to the holarchical view, whereas synthesis is compatible with the latter.

6. The mandala can be interpreted in a linear fashion as Wilber’s map, but also in a less linear way, and therefore it allows for more network interconnections. Wilber recognizes many networks including interconnections between lines and quadrants (which are not indicated in his map). He insists, however, that the levels in the holarchy follow each other in a linear fashion, which means that levels cannot be skipped (in the individual quadrants). Whether levels can be skipped or not, in my opinion depends at least to some extent on their definition; if they are defined very loosely, they may not be skipped, but if they are defined more rigorously, at least some levels may be skipped and the linear sequence becomes more of a network (see Chapter 2).

7. Wilber’s map and his thinking are flexible, but because the mandala takes into consideration more alternatives it is still more flexible.

8. Besides the evolutionary arrows from the center toward the periphery as in Wilber’s map, the mandala also offers interpretations with involutionary arrows in the opposite direction and no arrows at all denoting involution and evolution beyond time in the eternal present.

9. With regard to evolution, the mandala offers perhaps even more room for “regressions” than Wilber’s map. And “regressions” are not necessarily seen as negative, but as a playful up and down. Therefore, the mandala places greater emphasis on playfulness and also on the lightness with which positions are held, humor, and laughter, which are the healing antidote to all basically fixed structure and the seriousness that I often (but not always) sense when Wilber talks and writes about his AQAL map.

10. The mandala utilizes complementarity and perpectivism to a greater extent than Wilber’s map that applies complementarity and perspectivism within the four quadrants and eight zones but not with regard to the basic holarchical structure of his map, although, according to Integral Post-Metaphysics, “the world of manifestation is the world of perspectives” (Wilber 2006:288).

11. Since the mandala is dynamic, it emphasizes movement and dance more than Wilber’s map. In contrast to Wilber’s map that has only a few versions, the mandala is a mandala of all mandalas, a map of all maps, each of which represents another aspect of reality (unless it is totally false, a possibility that I do not want to rule out dogmatically but consider most unlikely).

12. In general, the mandala is less restrictive than Wilber’s map and therefore allows for a greater range of views and experiences. For example, as pointed out above, Wilber’s map restricts perspectivism and complementarity to the four quadrants, the eight zones, and some other domains; it excludes perspectivism and complementarity from the basic structure of the Kosmos, which according to Wilber is hierarchical (holarchical). According to the mandala, holarchy is only one perspective of the Kosmos. Other perspectives are a nonholarchical holism, continuum, network, and Yin-Yang views. However, to avoid misunderstandings, I want to emphasize that Wilber also recognizes continuum, network, and Yin-Yang views in many ways, but not with regard to the most basic structure of the manifest Kosmos which, according to him, “is a series of nests within nests within nests indefinitely” (Wilber 2001:40), that is, a hierarchy (holarchy). According to Integral Post-Metaphysics, this hierarchy with its levels is not eternally given; it evolved, and “once a level has evolved, it is a very real structure existing in the universe” (Wilber 2006:272). I do not want to deny evolution, but I want to emphasize that the process and product of evolution can be interpreted in hierarchical and nonhierarchical ways.

In sum, in comparison with Wilber’s map the mandala offers a still greater range of perspectives, interpretations, and transformations, more dynamics and playfulness, more openness, flexibility and complexity, less linearity, and more emphasis of nonholarchical holism (undivided wholeness), fuzzy logic, Yin-Yang, continuum and network views.

Needless to say that the mandala is far less worked out than Wilber’s map. In fact, so far the mandala is only a sketch that highlights how we can transcend Wilber’s map. It is an invitation to everybody to work it out in greater detail and to provide additional evidence. Furthermore, as I shall point out in the following section, it is an invitation to expand Wilber’s map so that it is less limited (pp.107-109).

Removing Limitations in Wilber’s AQAL Map

In addition to creating a new map as I have done, one could also change Wilber’s map in such a way that many or most of its limitations are overcome. To achieve this, one would have to add instructions to his map that would allow for complementary interpretations. Since he also presented his map as an Integral Operating System (IOS 1.0), one would enrich this basic version by creating a more inclusive version. Here are some specific suggestions on how to achieve this.

Instead of reading his map only as a holarchy, one would add complementary interpretations (perspectives) in terms of a nonholarchical holism (undivided wholeness), a continuum, Yin-Yang, dialectics, and a network. Wilber has already suggested that the levels should be seen as a continuum of waves, but for the levels in the individual quadrants he wants to retain the principle of “Include and Transcend,” which means that the higher level includes and transcends the lower level(s). At least according to one notion of the continuum that I proposed in this book, this principle does not apply. For example, in the color continuum of the rainbow to which Wilber also referred, blue does not include yellow; it is simply linked to yellow through a continuum. Thus, in a continuum of this sort there is change, but not inclusion.

On the other hand, if inclusion is envisaged and if fuzzy thinking is applied, the inclusion could range from 0% to 100% depending on the situation.

When we apply the Yin-Yang perspective to the levels, we recognize that the lower level may also contain to some extent the higher level as the higher level includes to some extent the lower level. This view again is rather different from Wilber’s holarchical view according to which the higher level includes the lower, but not vice versa.

Adding a network view as yet another perspective might remove at least some of the remaining linearity of stages from Wilber’s map and make other interconnections such as those of lines (that are recognized by Wilber) more obvious.

Another suggestion is to add two transformations to his map: one in which the arrows point in the opposite direction to indicate involution in time, and another without arrows to indicate involution and evolution beyond time in the eternal present. This change of his map would provide consistency between his general thinking and his map because in his general thinking he emphasizes both evolution and involution in time and beyond time, but in his map with arrows pointing only in one direction this is not reflected.

All of the above additions to IOS 1.0 would result in an upgraded version of IOS from which most of the limitations I pointed out in this book would have been removed. It would, however, still be more limited than the mandala of this book that, through its manifold interpretations and transformations, comprises many mandalas and could be even envisaged as a mandala of all mandalas or a map of all maps. Because of its organic/artistic transformations, the mandala also represents art besides science, philosophy and spirituality. In contrast, Wilber’s map is only a conceptual map that also points to art, but in its representation is not artistic in the general sense of the term (pp.109-110).

A Message for Educators and Educational Institutions

Throughout this book I have stressed the importance of incorporating alternative ways of thinking and being into the educational curriculum from kindergarten to university and adult education, that is, lifelong learning. Thereby students and adults would gain a broader and more balanced outlook and this in turn would lead to a beneficial transformation of society: better health, more tolerance, peace, and happiness.

Each school, college, and university should incorporate into its teaching program Wilber’s (2005)
Integral Operating System and the Integral Life Practice using the Integral Life Practice Starter Kit that was prepared by Wilber’s Integral Institute (2006). Integral Life Practice addresses body, mind, and spirit in science, art, and culture, nature, self, and morals. Its practice would lead to enhanced health and balance in individuals and society.

Teaching perspectivism and complementarity is also of fundamental importance and would lead to far greater tolerance and peace. Similarly, teaching network thinking, fuzzy thinking, and Yin-Yang would be very beneficial.

Laughter Yoga, or just humor and laughing, as well as dance could be introduced already in kindergarten and continued up to university. Exposure to other forms of meditation and the contemplation of mandalas would also be most beneficial. It would create more awareness of the center, the source, the unnamable, the mystery, where we are all united.

Finally, teaching the dynamic mandala of this book would lead to greater creativity, playfulness, tolerance, and peace (p.111).

From the Epilogue

With regard to “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (SES) in which Ken Wilber presented his AQAL map for the first time, he wrote “that every tomorrow brings new truths, opens new vistas, and creates the demand for even more encompassing views. SES is simply the latest in a long line of holistic visions, and will itself pass into a greater tomorrow where it is merely a footnote to more glorious views” (Wilber 2001: 41). I can say the same about the dynamic mandala I presented in this book. At the same time, I hope that it will be useful until someone will devise an even more encompassing map (p. 112)

Maps like [Ken] Wilber’s [AQAL] map and the mandala maps of this book have the advantage that in a sense they go beyond themselves because transpersonal, transmental realms are part of them. Thus they point to no-mind, emptiness, mystery, the unnamable beyond anything that can be named, talked about, written and argued about. Both [Ken] Wilber’s [AQAL] map and the [dynamic] mandala of this book coincide in this deepest way. The difference between the two is with regard to manifest reality, the relative, that which can be named and talked about. Only in this respect do I find Wilber’s [AQAL] map too limited, and therefore I proposed a [dynamic] mandala that does not have the limitations of his map (p.112).

See also
Ken Wilber Quotes

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