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The Integral Map - Part 2 - Quadrants


I offer the following description of the integral map not merely as a dry intellectual exercise, but as a invitation to explore the territories it suggests.

In order to understand such a comprehensive map it will be most helpful for us to start with some simple ideas and build up from there.  Let’s begin with Wilber’s proposition that all things can be seen as “holons”, or wholes that are composed of parts, and are themselves a part of larger wholes.  (A term originally coined by Arthur Koestler in “The Ghost in the Machine”) .  For instance, a molecule is part of a cell and is composed of atoms, a sentence is part of a paragraph and is composed of words, and a person is a part of a family and is composed of cells.

Wilber suggests also that all holons possess four fundamental dimensions that are combinations of the following two polarities: interior-exterior and individual-collective.  Interior-exterior is another way to say mind-body.  In other words, we have interior experience or subjectivity, and we also have an exterior, objective, physical expression in our body.  Some of the words that we commonly use to identify these two aspects are represented in the following diagram:

I offer the following rather long quote to give credit where it is due and help clarify the notion of holons.

“The first universal characteristic of hierarchies is the relativity, and indeed ambiguity, of the terms ‘part’ and ‘whole’ when applied to any of the sub-assemblies.  Again it is the very obviousness of this feature which makes us overlook its implications.  A ‘part’, as we generally use the word, means something fragmentary and incomplete, which by itself would have no legitimate existence.  On the other hand, a ‘whole’ is considered as something complete in itself which needs no further explanation.  But ‘wholes’ and ‘parts’ in this absolute sense just do not exist anywhere, either in the domain of living organisms or of social organizations.  What we find are intermediary structures on a series of levels in an ascending order of complexity: sub-wholes which display, according to the way you look at them, some of the characteristics commonly attributed to wholes and some of the characteristics commonly attributed to parts.  We have seen the impossibility of the task of chopping up speech into elementary atoms or units, either on the phonetic or on the syntactic level.  Phonemes, words, phrases, are wholes in their own right, but parts of a larger unity; so are cells, tissues, organs; families, clans, tribes.  The members of a hierarchy, like the Roman god Janus, all have two faces looking in opposite directions: the face turned towards the subordinate levels is that of a self-contained whole; the face turned upward towards the apex, that of a dependent part.  One is the face of the master, the other the face of the servant.  This “Janus effect” is a fundamental characteristic of sub-wholes in all types of hierarchies.

But there is no satisfactory word in our vocabulary to refer to these Janus-faced entities: to talk of sub-wholes (sub-assemblies, sub-structures, sub-skills, sub-systems) is awkward and tedious.  It seems preferable to coin a new term to designate these nodes on the hierarchic tree which behave partly as wholes or wholly as parts, according to the way you look at them.  The term I would propose is ‘holon’ from the Greek holos = whole, with the suffix on which, as in proton or neutron, suggests a particle or part.”



          *What we experience
             on the “inside”.


           Social Infrastructure

   *What our senses register
      on the “outside”.

Individual-collective refers to the fact that individual bodies and minds exist also in
relationship with other bodies and minds. Atoms exist in a “community” of other atoms.  Molecules, cells, organisms, and people also exist within communities of their own kind.  The following diagram shows some of the words we use to indicate these two aspects of holons.






So what happens when we superimpose these two diagrams onto one another?   We get the four dimensions for any holon, four “quadrants”, or four fundamental perspectives for looking at anything. Wilber has named these perspectives:  individual-interior, individual-exterior, collective-interior, and collective-exterior.  The following diagram includes these terms as well as a few others that may be more familiar.



  • Subjective/psychological
  • Mind
  • “I”
  • Intentional


  • Objective/Biological
  • Body
  • “It”
  • Behavioral



  • Inter-subjective
  • Speech (Relationships)
  • “We”
  • Cultural



  • Inter-objective
  • Environment
  • “Its”
  • Social


Unpacking the Quadrants

Now that we have a general orienting framework for the quadrants, it will be useful to explore each in greater detail.  Because each territory is so vast, I can be merely suggestive, leaving it to the reader to flesh out further details.  My purpose here is not to say what we should do about any of this; it is to simply begin to sketch out what we might notice and respond to as we care for others.  If we are interested in caring for the “whole person”, we could begin by spreading our attention in all four of these directions.  For the sake of simplifying our language, from now on I will use the shorthand terms that Windhorse uses to indicate these four territories, so that:

  • individual-interior = mind
  • individual-exterior = body
  • collective-interior = speech
  • collective-exterior = environment

Here “speech” does not just mean spoken words, but the entire domain of relationships, i.e. minds to minds.  We will soon see that these non-technical, everyday words can do a tremendous amount of work for us.  Sometimes I will refer to all four collectively as “MBSE”.


 Please visit Part 3 - Mind

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