ORIGINS

In the summer of 1997, a group of philanthropists approached Ken Wilber with an offer of substantial funds to start an organization that would advance more comprehensive and integrated approaches to the world's increasingly complex problems.  Wilber invited some 400 of the world's leading integral thinkers to gather together for a series of meetings at his home in Boulder, Colorado.  Joe Firmage, who was invited to several of these meetings, announced that "there is nothing anywhere in the world that is doing what Integral Institute is doing," and then promptly donated a million dollars in cash.  With that donation, Integral Institute was formally launched.  It was incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c) in 1998.

Integral Institute has gone through three major phases since its inception.  The first was launch and exploration, consisting of almost two years of meetings with over 400 of the world’s leading integral theorists.  The second was oriented around the creation of core teams, which is still a central activity of I-I.  The third (set for the summer of 2003) is the launch of the web-based Multiplex, the world’s first Integral Learning Community, and its preview website, Integral Naked.

For more of this history, please see Letter From the President.  For ways that you can become involved in the above activities, please see Join Us

 

FOUNDER

Ken Wilber is generally regarded as the world's most influential integral thinker.  He is the first psychologist-philosopher in history to have his Collected Works published while still alive (he's 54), and with his 22 books translated in up to 30 foreign languages, Ken is perhaps the most highly translated academic writer in America.

Integral means "comprehensive, inclusive, covering all the bases"—or at least trying to.  A comprehensive, integral, or inclusive approach is, almost by definition, a little bit hard to grasp at the beginning.  However, as its general features become familiar, the integral approach to various problems actually becomes fairly simple to understand and easy to apply.

Many people believe that Jack Crittenden's foreword to one of Ken's books does an excellent job of introducing the integral approach and its general importance.  For convenience, we have reprinted Jack's foreword below ("What Is the Meaning of Integral?").  See also Integral Institute, The Integral Approach for a summary of integral methodology and examples of how it can be applied.

Although Ken is clearly a central figure in Integral Institute, its many members, friends, and associates are a crucial part of I-I and its work in the world.  Please see below for some of Integral Institute's Founding Members, and see the Letter from the President and Present Activities for some of I-I's ongoing work and service in the world.

What is the Meaning of "Integral"?

Jack Crittenden

Tony Schwartz, former New York Times reporter and author of What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, has called Ken Wilber "the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times." I think that is true. In fact, I thought that was true twenty years ago, when I founded ReVision Journal in large measure to provide an outlet for the integral vision that Ken was already voicing. I had just finished reading his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness, which he wrote when he was 23. The boy wonder was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, washing dishes for a living, meditating, and writing a book a year. Main Currents in Modern Thought, which published his first essay, was just about to go out of business, and it was my desire to keep alive the integrative focus and spirit that that journal represented. This, combined with my desire to work with Ken in doing so, prompted me to drag him into the publishing business. We were both about 27 at the time, and within a year or two we had ReVision up and running, based very much on the integral vision that we both shared and that Ken was already articulating in a powerful way.

But it is exactly the comprehensive and integral nature of Wilber's vision that is the key to the sometimes extreme reactions that his work elicits. Take, for example, his recent Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The book certainly has its fans. Michael Murphy maintains that, along with Aurobindo's Life Divine, Heidegger's Being and Time, and Whitehead's Process and Reality, Wilber's Sex, Ecology, Spirituality is "one of the four great books of this century." Dr. Larry Dossey proclaims it "one of the most significant books ever published," while Roger Walsh compares its scope to Hegel and Aurobindo. The most perspicuous reader of the bunch, invoking Alasdair MacIntyre's well-known choice between Aristotle and Nietzsche, claims that no, the modern world actually has three choices: Aristotle, Nietzsche, or Wilber.

The book's detractors are no less numerous, vocal, or determined. Nobody, however, has yet presented a coherent critique of Wilber's overall approach. However, and make no mistake: if Wilber's approach is more or less accurate, it does nothing less than offer a coherent integration of virtually every field of human knowledge. A tall claim? See what you think:

Wilber's approach appears to have provided a coherent vision that seamlessly weaves together truth-claims from such fields as physics and biology; the eco-sciences; chaos theory and the systems sciences; medicine, neurophysiology, biochemistry; art, poetry, and aesthetics in general; developmental psychology and a spectrum of psychotherapeutic endeavors, from Freud to Jung to Kegan; the great spiritual theorists from Plato and Plotinus in the West to Shankara and Nagarjuna in the East; the modernists from Descartes and Locke to Kant; the Idealists from Schelling to Hegel; the postmodernists from Foucault and Derrida to Taylor and Habermas; the major hermeneutic tradition, Dilthey to Heidegger to Gadamer; the social systems theorists from Comte and Marx to Parsons and Luhmann; the contemplative and mystical schools of the great meditative traditions, East and West, in the world's major religious traditions.

And all of that is just a sampling! Various critics, who believe that one of the above approaches has the entire truth, have taken umbrage at Wilber's perspective, apparently irritated that their own narrow field is not the linchpin of the universe. In other words, to the critics the stakes are enormous, and it is not choosing sides at this point if I suggest that the critics who have focused on their pet points in Wilber's method are attacking a particular tree in the forest of his presentation. But if we look instead at the forest, and if his approach is generally valid, then it honors and incorporates more truth than any other system in history.

How so? What is his actual method? In working with any field, Wilber simply backs up to a level of generalization at which the various conflicting approaches actually agree with one another. Take, for example, the world's great religious traditions: Do they all agree that Jesus is God? No. So we must jettison that. Do they all agree that there is a God? That depends on the meaning of "God." Do they all agree on God, if by "God" we mean a Spirit that is in many ways unqualifiable, from the Buddhists' Emptiness to the Jewish mystery of the Divine to the Christian Cloud of Unknowing? Yes, that works as a generalization—what Wilber calls an "orienting generalization" or "sturdy conclusion."

Wilber likewise approaches all the other fields of human knowledge: art to poetry, empiricism to hermeneutics, cognitive science to meditation, evolutionary theory to idealism. In every case he assembles a series of sturdy and reliable, not to say irrefutable, orienting generalizations. He is not worried, nor should his readers be, about whether other fields would accept the conclusions of any given field; in short, don't worry, for example, if empiricist conclusions do not match religious conclusions. Instead, simply assemble all the orienting conclusions as if each field had incredibly important truths to tell us. This is exactly Wilber's first step in his integrative method—a type of phenomenology of all human knowledge conducted at the level of orienting generalizations. In other words, assemble all of the truths that each field believes it has to offer humanity. For the moment, simply assume they are indeed true.

Wilber then arranges these truths into chains or networks of interlocking conclusions. At this point Wilber veers sharply from a method of mere eclecticism and into a systematic vision. For the second step in Wilber's method is to take all of the truths or orienting generalizations assembled in the first step and then pose this question: What coherent system would in fact incorporate the greatest number of these truths?

The result is the "integral system" that Wilber has elaborated in his many books, a system that appears to incorporate the greatest number of orienting generalizations from the greatest number of fields of human inquiry. Thus, if it holds up, Wilber's approach incorporates and honors, it integrates, more truth than any other system in history.

The general idea is straightforward. It is not which theorist is right and which is wrong. Wilber's basic idea is that "Everybody is right"—that is, everybody has an important, if partial, truth—and Wilber wants to figure out how that can be so. "I don't believe," he says, "that any human mind is capable of 100 percent error." Or, as he often jokes, "Nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time." So, Wilber concludes, "instead of asking which approach is right and which is wrong, we assume each approach is true but partial, and then try to figure out how to fit these partial truths together, how to integrate them—and not how to pick one and get rid of the others."

The third step in Wilber's overall approach is the development of a new type of critical theory. Once Wilber has the overall scheme that incorporates the greatest number of orienting generalizations, he then uses that scheme to criticize the partiality of narrower approaches, even though he has included the basic truths from those approaches. He criticizes not their truths, but their partial nature.

In his integral vision, therefore, is a clue to both of the extreme reactions to Wilber's approach—that is, to the claims that it is some of the most significant work ever published, as well as to the chorus of angry indignation. The angry criticisms are coming, almost without exception, from theorists who feel that their own field is the only true field, that their own method is the only valid method. Wilber has not been believably criticized for misunderstanding or misrepresenting any of the fields of knowledge that he includes; he is attacked, instead, for including fields that a particular critic does not believe are important or for goring that critic's own ox (no offense to vegetarians). Freudians have never said that Wilber fails to understand Freud; they say that he shouldn't include mysticism. Structuralists and post-structuralists have never said that Wilber fails to understand their fields; they say that he shouldn't include all those nasty other fields. And so forth. The attack always has the same form: How dare you say my field isn't the only true field!

Regardless of what is decided, the stakes, as I said, are enormous. I asked Wilber how he himself thought of his work. "I'd like to think of it as one of the first believable world philosophies, a genuine embrace of East and West, North and South." Which is interesting, given that Huston Smith (author of The World's Religions and subject of Bill Moyer's highly acclaimed television series The Wisdom of Faith) recently stated as much when he observed, "No one—not even Jung—has done as much as Wilber to open Western psychology to the durable insights of the world's wisdom traditions. Slowly but surely, book by book, Ken Wilber is laying the foundations for a genuine world integration."

At the same time, Ken adds, "People shouldn't take it too seriously. It's just orienting generalizations. It leaves all the details to be filled in any way you like." In short, Wilber is not offering a conceptual straightjacket. Indeed, it is just the opposite: "I hope I'm showing that there is more room in the Kosmos than you might have suspected."

Aristotle commented that no person could judge the value of his or her life until the end of that life, that no one could determine whether he or she had led a virtuous life except by considering that life as a whole. We, of course, know the difficulty of grasping the whole, let alone of evaluating it, especially when considering, as Wilber emphasizes, that one whole is always also a part of some greater whole. We know the ardor, and often the trauma, therefore, of trying to see how the pieces of our individual lives fit together; what they amount to; and to what, and to whom, the parts are connected.

Yet Wilber is helping us with exactly that task; he is suggesting some of the many patterns that connect all of life, of the Kosmos, of Spirit. His work amounts to a guide to the secrets of life—biological, social, cultural, and spiritual life. He has offered one compelling version of an integral map, an approach that unites the best of ancient wisdom with the best of modern knowledge. Through his truly extraordinary work he gives us encouragement to continue our own work-the life journey to wholeness that none of us can avoid, but that until this integral vision few could as fully comprehend.

Jack Crittenden
Author, Democracy's Midwife


FOUNDING MEMBERS

Here are some of the founding members of a few of the major branches of Integral Institute.

Integral Psychology
Robert Kegan, Francisco Varela, David Chalmers, Roger Walsh, Frances Vaughan, Mike Murphy, T George Harris, Susann Cook-Greuter,
Don Beck, Robert Forman, Bert Parlee, Nathaniel Branden, Leland Johnson, Allan Combs, Raz Ingrasci, Brian van der Horst, Edith Zundel, Adam Engle, Frank Visser, Peter McNab, Thomas Jordan, William Torbert, John Rowan, Antony Arcari, Jenny Wade, Kaisa Puhakka, Joel Funk, Mike Mahoney, David Deida, Connie Hilliard, Dick Mann, Michael Zimmerman

Integral Business
Warren Bennis,
Bob Richards, Fred Kofman, Sam Bercholz, John Forman, Tony Schwartz, Ian Mitroff, Jim Stuart, Eric Klein, Bob Anderson, Joann Neuroth, John Cleveland, Marilyn Hamilton, Michael Putz, Daryl Paulson, Tami Simon, Leo Burke, Geoffrey Gioja, Michel Bauwens, Paul Landraitis, Rick Strycker, Larry Greene, Yasuhiko Kamura, Deepak Chopra, Jordan Gruber, Byron Belitsos, Fred Studier, Joe Firmage

Integral Politics
Gregory Wilpert, Lawry Chickering, Jim Garrison, Drexel Sprecher, Tyler Norris, Mark Gerzon, Jack Crittenden, Michael Ostrolenk, Debora Lerner, Jim Turner, Waheed Hassan, Tom Rautenberg, Keith Thompson, Alex Burns, Georgie Anne Geyer, Kees Breed, Ray Harris, John Steiner,
Gus diZerega, Thomas Jordan, Margo King, Mark Selig, Sara Ross, Rob Fersh, Maureen Silos, Reginald Daniel, Christy Carpenter, Mike McDermott, Bill Ury, Paul van Schaik, Barbara Cavanaugh, Betsy Lehrfeld

Integral Medicine
Larry Dossey, Ken Pelletier, Fred Luskin, Kekuni Minton, John Astin, Richie Davidson, Jerry Coursen, Tom Goddard, Wanda Jones, Joan Borysenko, Marilyn Schlitz, William Buchholz, Bija Bennett, Gary Schwartz, George Leonard, James Ensign, David Lorimer, Jeanne Achterberg, Linda Russek, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Integral Education
Alexander (Sandy) Astin, Jack Crittenden, Robert Thurman, Helen (Lena) Astin, Antony Arcari, A.V. Ashok, Linda Campbell, Janis Claflin, Gordon Dveirin, Warren Farrell, Kate Fotopoulos, Bill Godfrey, Ray Greenleaf, Andy Hertz, Patrick Howley,
Richard Slaughter, Dan Spinner, Bud Stone, Arthur Zajonc, David Scott, Rachel Kessler, Sylvia Timbers, Fred Kofman, Toni Murdock, John Petersen, Petra Pieterse, Dean David Shrader

Integral Law and Criminal Justice
Jim Turner, Betsy Lehrfeld, Jake Gibbs, Dennis Giever, Randy Martin, Thom Gehring

Integral Art
Alex Grey, Carlo McCormick, Anne Barclay Morgan, Stuart Davis, Fariba Bogzarin, Haydn Anthony, Zack Gould, Warren Bellows, David Zindell, Ronit Herzfeld, Karin Swann, Mark Riva, Les Kahn, Philip Rubinov Jacobson, Ed Kowalczyk, Barra Kahn

Integral Ecology
Chris Desser, Michael Zimmerman,
Gus diZerega, Ian Wight, Sean Hargens, Alan Atkisson, Matthew Kalman

Integral Spirituality
Father Thomas Keating, Deepak Chopra, David Deida, Andrew Cohen, Roshi Bernie Tetsugen Glassman, Saniel and Linda Bonder, Sam Bercholz, Brother David Stendl-Rast, David Frenette, Richard Baker, Michael Lerner, Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi,
Roger Walsh, Michael Murphy, George Leonard, Brother Wayne Teasdale, Frances Vaughan, Michal Levin, Graeme Chapman, Craig Hamilton, Robert Thurman, Jessica Dibb

University Students Outreach ("Integral Kids")
David Arrell, Allan Breedlove, Shailagh Clarke, Ivan Guerrero, Scott Warren, Vipassana Parker, Seth Halvorson, Sean Hargens, Tom Huston, Janet Logothetti, Steve March, Andre Marquis, Andrew Russell, Norio Suzuki, Uri Talmor, Nicole Trudel, Marcia Kay Walters, Stefanie Warren, Travis Webster, David Zeitler

 

MULTIPLEX HOSTS AND ASSOCIATES

For the hosts and associates of the 30 or so Multiplex Websites, please see Multiplex.  The Multiplex is now under construction and is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2003.  Micro-previews can be found at Integral Naked

For ways that you can become involved in this online Integral Learning Community at this time, please see Multiplex.