For those not familiar with it, we should first clarify what we mean when we use the term integral. The dictionary definition of integral is “possessing everything essential or significant; complete; whole.”
“The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that: to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.”
– Ken Wilber
The general field referred to as “integral” had its genesis in what is more widely known as “cross disciplinary studies.” These approaches sought to bring together (merge or blend) the various fields of human study in academic institutions. This initially resulted in a “heap” of knowledge rather than an integrated “system” of knowledge. But eventually, after many decades of research and synthesis and some significant breakthroughs in integral theory, what emerged was not only a merging/blending, but rather, an “integrating” of these fields. It turns out that these various fields of human knowledge can be brought together, like a jigsaw puzzle, into one coherent whole knowledge system.
Today, integral approaches (whether to medicine, education, psychology, ecology, politics, etc.) seek to incorporate all of the essential perspectives, approaches, and “schools of thought” into an inclusive, comprehensive, unified, and empirically accurate framework that transcends the limitations of any single point-of-view yet includes the important truths each perspective offers to the larger body of knowledge.
While there are a number approaches to “integral,” the most comprehensive is the system developed by Ken Wilber and the Integral Institute called “AQAL.” AQAL is an acronym that is short for “All Quadrants, All Lines, All Levels, All States, All Types.” Ken Wilber and his colleagues at the Integral Institute—many of whom are featured on this site—have developed integral approaches to medicine, education, psychology, leadership, ecology, politics, business, and dozens of other domains.
Integral theory is an all-inclusive framework that draws on the key insights of both cutting-edge science and the world’s most ancient knowledge traditions. The awareness gained from drawing on all truths and perspectives allows an “integral thinker” to bring significant depth, clarity and understanding to human endeavor, whether that be unlocking individual potential or designing elegant solutions to complex global problems.