Waves, Streams, States, and Self--A Summary of My Psychological Model
(Or, Outline of An Integral Psychology)

Ken Wilber

(PAGE 1 OF 10)

Abstract: Although far from unanimous, there seems to be a general consensus that neither mind nor brain can be reduced without remainder to the other. This essay argues that indeed both mind and brain need to be included in a nonreductionistic way in any genuinely integral theory of consciousness. In order to facilitate such integration, this essay presents the results of an extensive cross-cultural literature search on the "mind" side of the equation, suggesting that the mental phenomena that need to be considered in any integral theory include developmental levels or waves of consciousness, developmental lines or streams of consciousness, states of consciousness, and the self (or self-system). A "master template" of these various phenomena, culled from over one-hundred psychological systems East and West, is presented. It is suggested that this master template represents a general summary of the "mind" side of the brain-mind integration. The essay concludes with reflections on the "hard problem," or how the mind-side can be integrated with the brain-side to generate a more integral theory of consciousness.

This essay is also ends up being a fairly comprehensive summary of my own psychological model, or an outline of an integral psychology.

The amount of theory and research now being devoted to the study of consciousness is rather amazing, given its history of neglect in the previous decades. As encouraging as this research is, I believe that certain important items are still missing from the general discussion of the role and nature of consciousness. In this essay, I would therefore like to outline what I believe is a more integral model of consciousness, not to condemn the other approaches but to suggest ways in which their important contributions can be further enriched by a consideration of these neglected areas.

This is a follow-up to a previous essay ("An Integral Theory of Consciousness," Wilber, 1997b).[1] Since this is also a summary of evidence and arguments developed elsewhere, I will rarely quote other authorities in this presentation; works of mine that I reference in this article do so extensively, and interested readers can follow up with those references. (I realize that failing to include the original references in this article--several thousand of them--is reader unfriendly, but the added length would be prohibitive. I have compromised and added a few representative references in each of the fields.)

Much of today's research into consciousness focuses on those aspects that have some sort of obvious anchoring in the physical brain, including the fields of neurophysiology, biological psychiatry, and neuroscience. While there seems to be an uneasy consensus that consciousness (or the mind) cannot be fully reduced to physical systems (or the brain), there is as yet no widespread agreement as to their exact relation ("the hard problem"). This article begins by attempting to provide a compendium of those aspects from the "mind" side of the equation that need to be brought to the integrative table.

Integral Psychology (Wilber, 2000b) compared and contrasted over one hundred developmental psychologists--West and East, ancient and modern--and from this comparison a "mater template" was created of the full range of human consciousness, using each system to fill in any gaps left by the others. This master template, although a simple heuristic device and not a reading of the "way things are," suggests a "full-spectrum catalog" of the types and modes of consciousness available to men and women. This catalog might therefore prove useful as we seek a "brain-mind" theory that does justice to both sides of the equation--the brain and the mind--because what follows can reasonably be expected to cover much of the "mind" aspects that should be included, along with the "brain" aspects derived from neuroscience, in order to arrive at any sort of sturdy and comprehensive model of consciousness.

After outlining this "full-spectrum" catalog of mind, I will suggest my own model for fitting mind with brain, culture, and social systems. In other words, I will summarize one version of a more comprehensive or integral theory of consciousness, which combines the full-spectrum mind catalog (or master template) with current neuroscience, brain research, and cultural and social factors, all of which seem to play a crucial role in consciousness.

To begin with the full-spectrum catalog of mind states: The conclusion of the cross-cultural comparison presented in Integral Psychology is that there are at least five main components of human psychology that need to be included in any comprehensive theory: developmental levels of consciousness, developmental lines of consciousness, normal and altered states of consciousness, the self or self-system, and what I call the four quadrants (which include culture and worldviews, neurophysiology and cognitive science, and social systems). To take them in order.

Levels or Waves
Not all components of the psyche show development, but many of them do, and those developmental aspects or stages need to be taken into account. They are not the whole story of the psyche, but they are an important part. We live in an evolutionary universe, and those currents of evolution appear to operate in the human mind as well.

There is abundant evidence that some aspects of cognition, morals, psychosexuality, needs, object relations, motor skills, and language acquisition proceed in developmental stages, much as an acorn unfolds into an oak through a series of process phases (Alexander and Langer, 1990; Loevinger, 1976; Wilber, 2000b). These stages or levels of development are not the rigid, linear, rungs-in-a-ladder phenomenon portrayed by their critics, but rather appear to be fluid, flowing, overlapping waves (Beck and Cowan, 1996).

I use all three terms--structures, levels, and waves--to describe these developmental milestones. "Structure" indicates that each stage has a holistic pattern that blends all of its elements into a structured whole. "Level" means that these patterns tend to unfold in a relational sequence, with each senior wave transcending but including its juniors (just as cells transcend but include molecules, which transcend but include atoms, which transcend but include quarks). And "wave" indicates that these levels nonetheless are fluid and flowing affairs; the senior dimensions do not sit on top of the junior dimensions like rungs in a ladder, but rather embrace and enfold them (just as cells embrace molecules which embrace atoms). These developmental stages appear to be concentric spheres of increasing embrace, inclusion, and holistic capacity.

In the human psyche, what exactly are the nature of these levels? Basically, they are levels of consciousness, which appear to span an entire spectrum from subconscious to self-conscious to superconscious (Murphy, 1992; Wade, 1996; Wilber, 1986 2000b).[2] This overall spectrum of consciousness is well-known to the world's major wisdom traditions, where one version of it appears as the Great Chain of Being, which is said to range from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit (Smith, 1976). The Great Chain is perhaps a misnomer. It is not a linear chain but a series of enfolded spheres: it is said that spirit transcends but includes soul, which transcends but includes mind, which transcends but includes body, which transcends but includes matter. Accordingly, this is more accurately called "the Great Nest of Being." Some modern thinkers accept the existence of matter, body, and mind, but reject soul and spirit. They therefore prefer to think of the levels of consciousness as proceeding from, for example, preconventional to conventional to postconventional. My essential points can be made using any of these levels, but because we will also be discussing spiritual or "superconscious" states, let us for the moment simply assume that the overall spectrum of consciousness does indeed range from prepersonal to personal to transpersonal (Murphy, 1992; Walsh, 1999).[3]

Based on various types of cross-cultural evidence, many scholars have suggested that we can divide this overall spectrum of consciousness into seven colors or bands or waves (as with the seven chakras); others suggest around twelve (as with Aurobindo and Plotinus); some suggest even more (as in many of the well-known contemplative texts. See Wilber, 2000b, for over one hundred models of the levels of consciousness, taken from premodern, modern, and postmodern sources). In many ways this seems somewhat like a rainbow: we can legitimately divide and subdivide the colors of a rainbow in any number of ways.

I often use nine or ten basic levels or waves of consciousness (which are variations on the simple matter, body, mind, soul, spirit), since evidence suggests that these basic waves are largely universal or generally similar in deep features wherever they appear (e.g., the human mind, wherever it appears, has a capacity to form images, symbols, and concepts. The contents of those images and symbols vary from culture to culture, but the capacity itself appears to be universal [Arieti, 1967; Beck et al, 1996; Berry et al, 1992; Gardiner et al, 1998; Shaffer, 1994; Sroufe et al, 1992]). This general stance is well stated by Berry et al (1992), summarizing the existing research: "Cross-cultural Psychology is a comprehensive overview of cross-cultural studies in a number of substantive areas--psychological development, social behavior, personality, cognition, and perception--and covers theory and applications to acculturation, ethnic and minority groups, work, communication, health, and national development. Cast within an ecological and cultural framework, it views the development and display of human behavior as the outcome of both ecological and sociopolitical influences, and it adopts a 'universalistic' position with respect to the range of similarities and differences in human behavior across cultures: basic psychological processes are assumed to be species-wide, shared human characteristics, but culture plays variations on these underlying similarities" (which will be investigated below as the "four quadrants").[4]

Nonetheless, all of these various codifications of the developmental levels appear to be simply different snapshots taken from various angles, using different cameras, of the great rainbow of consciousness, and they all seem useful in their own ways. They are simple categorizations provided by humans; but each of them, if carefully backed by evidence, can provide important ingredients of a more integral model.

That these levels, nests, or waves are arranged along a great rainbow or spectrum does not mean that a person actually moves through these waves in a merely linear or sequential fashion, clunking along from body, then to mind, then to soul, then to spirit. Those are simply some of the basic levels of consciousness that are potentially available. But an individual possesses many different capacities, intelligences, and functions, each of which can unfold through the developmental levels at a different rate--which brings us to the notion of various independent modules in the human psyche, which I also call lines or streams.

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