The Integral Approach

In physics, a theory of everything (ToE) signifies an effort of cosmological breakthrough. It is supposed to fill the chasm of ignorance between general relativity and quantum mechanics. With this effort, ToE could be an ultimate theory to understand the mysteries of Big Bang, Black Holes, and Dark Energy.

Despite this bold attempt, the focus is on the physical universe alone. That is to say, as the object of our observation and speculation, it seems as if the universe exists outside of us. Even if we seek the ultimate mechanism, which is still irrelevant to our existential concern.

Our relationship with the universe is the observer and observed; it is not so much different from dealing with a mouse in the laboratory.

In the integral approach, on the other hand, ToE has a  different implication. The focus is more on our pursuit of knowledge as such. In it, ToE in physics is a sub-category, limiting us to searching for objective truth alone.

If we say ToE in physics existentially affects our lives, then we would fall into a category error between subjectivity and objectivity. We can’t seek God in the same way as seeking the mechanism of the physical universe. 

When Søren Kierkegaard said that subjectivity is truth, he pointed out a category error of Hegelian philosophies in his days. Even in our present days, such errors are everywhere, calling them pop-psychology, pseudo-science, and pseudo-religion, and the like. 

Big Three 

To avoid these confusions, we should understand the difference among these three transcendentals: 

  • Beauty
  • Goodness
  • Truth

From Platonic philosophy  to the modern disciplinary classification, we are designed or programmed to pursue these Big Three. 

In the field of art, the ultimate goal is from this fundamental question, “What is Beauty?” In ethics, “What is Goodness?” And in science, “What is Truth?” 

Quite often, we mistakenly use these three words interchangeably. That is one of the reasons for our errors. When we say “God is Truth,” we should be mindful of the semantic, cognitive difference from saying like 1 + 1 = 2 is true.

Ken Wilber’s effort of this semantic, cognitive classification is well-known. To make them clearer, he created the quadrant model:

Interior Truth

When we seek Beauty, the ultimate criteria is our subjectivity. Appreciating artworks, for example, finding Beauty should be based on our interior experience. The cliche like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” should make sense in this regard. 

Goodness, on the other hand, needs a consensus with others. Even if you alone see the goodness of something, it can never be good enough unless and until others agree with you – interior collective. Ethical values function this way. They are on the agreement of the people to make their community sustainable. 

Cultural, religious, and ideological values also function in the same way. That is why, specific values work in one religious group, but not another. That is also the reason why cultural, religious, and ideological conflicts become endless, even bloody. 

Only by enlarging a scale of collective consensus from tribes to ethic groups to nation-states to world-centric, we could mitigate these conflicts. Even, our present human rights might change further, depending on the scale of consensus we rely on. 

Exterior Truth

ToE in physics should be in this category. It focuses on the sphere beyond an individual cognitive sense; hence, it should be exterior collective perspective.

Likewise, various systemic structures of society are in this category using modern scientific knowledge. It is pragmatic and rational. (Some postmodernists claim that scientific knowledge is socially constructed and cannot be objective.  But we have to be cautious about this view.)

On the other hand, explaining human emotion and intelligence through a brain is in the category of exterior individual perspective. 

When we find something beautiful, this objective truth tells us that it is due to a change of brain chemicals. Even missing qualia, this objective explanation is still useful as we see the advancement of modern medical knowledge. 

Category Confusion

The quadrant model is not for evaluating which area is superior to others. All areas should be equally important and indispensable, covering a full spectrum of our cognitive perspectives. We can’t miss any of them. Rather, the model is for avoiding category confusion.

Truth that sets me free. 
Subjective Experience
Truth on how it works.
Objective Mechanism
Natural Science
Truth that sets us free. 
Intersubjective Consensus
Organizational Values
Truth on how they work.
Inter-objective Systems
Natural, Social Sciences

The quadrant model is one of the key components in the integral approach. The other is Spiral Dynamics.

The latter is to articulate the developmental view of human values in both macro and micro scales. Our society develops in the First Tier from family to tribe to ethnicity to nation to egalitarian community, eventually leaping to the Second Tier to integrate all values. And our consciousness goes in the same path for ego-centric to ethnocentric to world-centric, eventually leaping to the selfless Second Tier. The model is helpful to understand various confusions we face in the twenty-first century.

Likewise, the quadrant model connecting Big Three (Beauty, Goodness, and Truth) with our cognitive perspectives, we can seek each path by avoiding category confusion and by keeping each category intact.

Image by Free-Photos 

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