In 1995, the American philosopher Ken Wilber published the AQAL model in volume one of the Kosmos trilogy. AQAL stands for all quadrants, all levels, but also implies lines, states, and types. Together these five elements function as the essential theoretical tools of the integral map. A human being can experience any phenomenon from perspectives represented by at least these five elements. Such awareness helps orient existing theories, reconstruct old ones, and create new ones. Why do we have all these theories? Wilber asks. Because they work. The problem arises when we try to make one theory the only approach. That does not work because it is a partial approach. True, but partial. Wilber integral model is a kind of universal translator, an ambitious attempt to integrate all the languages into a single theory of everything.
The integral approach recognizes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is why we are missing something significant in our modern reductionistic practices.
INTEGRAL THEORY: THE BASIS
AQAL model makes two basic distinctions: interior/exterior and individual/collective. This creates a matrix with four worldspaces or quadrants: the upper-left or interior-individual, the upper-right or exterior-individual, the lower-right or exterior-collective, and the lower-left or interior-collective.
Here we see Wilber’s representation of the four quadrants, with the characteristics of intentional (individual subjective), neurological (individual objective), cultural (collective intersubjective) and social or socio-economic (collective interobjective).
According to this model each occasion or event always manifests simultaneously in all 4 quadrants. Therefore, an event that is seen in one quadrant always has correlates in the other three. By way of example, one can crudely categorize the perspectives taken on people and their behavior in different schools of thought:
- Individual interior accounts (upper-left quadrant) include Freudianpsychoanalysis, which interprets people’s interior experiences and focuses on “I”
- Interior plural accounts (lower-left) include Gadamer‘s philosophical hermeneutics which seeks to interpret the collective consciousness of a society, or plurality of people and focuses on “We”
- Exterior individual accounts (upper-right) include B. F. Skinner‘s behaviorism, which limits itself to the observation of the behavior of organisms and treats the internal experience, decision making or volition of the subject as a black box, and which with the fourth perspective emphasizes the subject as a specimen to examine, or “It”.
- Exterior plural accounts (lower-right) include system theory which focuses upon the behavior of a society (i.e. a plurality of people) as functional entities seen from outside.
These four perspectives, embedded in virtually all languages, appear to represent four major dimensions of being-in-the-world. To collapse them all together or dismiss one of these perspectives is often a serious mistake.
According to AQAL model every communication relates to at least four worldspaces, each with its own type of condition or validity claim that determines the effectiveness of the communication. These four communicative “worlds” are the four quadrants of the integral model. First, the external world refers to material objects in nature. External phenomena can be empirically perceived, measured, and manipulated. A communication act is effective in this domain to the degree that it accurately represents the objective facts. Second, the internal world signifies the realm of personal subjectivity. This domain includes the values, feelings, and intentions of the person communicating. A third reality domain, the cultural world, concerns the intersubjective space of mutual recognition. When a signing community interacts with mutual understanding it shares pre-existing, collective contexts such as cultural norms, symbolic patterns, moral expectations, and worldviews. Finally, communication takes place within the linguistic world. A speech act must conform to the external properties of a language system.
The fields of cross-cultural and intercultural communication are in the lower-left quadrant and address how communication differs based on a culture’s type. The validity claim here deals with the rightness of a communicative action in relation to cultural norms. Within this domain counts a communication – in the words of Habermass – „as right insofar as it conforms to socially recognized expectations”. And again: „it is true, but partial“. If we really want to think more integral, covering all the bases, we should integrate the others quadrants as well. A communication in the upper-right quadrant “counts as true for the participants insofar as it represents something in the world” (Habermass). In the upper-left quadrant effective communication occurs when the communicator expresses what she actually thought or felt internally. And last but not least effectiveness depends on the linguistic medium in which a communication is framed (lower-right quadrant). In areas of affective communication it is most helpful to understand the perspective of each quartered aspect. Understanding the quartered aspect and levels of cognition allows us to locate and appreciate each voice—thus bypassing many conflicts and controversy.
An integral awareness can facilitate communication effectiveness by translating messages into a language easier for the receiver to digest. The integral communication could be applied as a meta-model which could in fact help us effectively communicate with each other cross all borders.
Ken Wilber’s All Quadrants, All Levels integral model is architecture for integral reconstruction. The quadrants show how any communicative phenomenon can be seen from at least four different perspectives, lines show that many different intelligences or areas of development exist within each quadrant. These areas each evolve through distinct levels of widening embrace, forming holarchies. States, particularly phenomenal states, investigate all the ephemeral conditions of the moment that influence communication. Finally, types remind us of the different horizontal, same depth voices that communicate in distinct ways. Any communicative phenomenon, no matter how small, necessarily involves the five elements of AQAL. Integral communication embodies this realization. Integral communication can be used as a strategy of communicative action.