1/15 – Integral Dispositions and Transdisciplinary Knowledge Creation

January-February 2015 / Continuous Learning

Sue L. T. McGregor

Sue L.T. McGregor

Sue L.T. McGregor

The world is facing a polycrisis of complex problems – a cacophony of irreversible climate change and ecological imbalance, global pandemics, escalating terrorism, conflict and aggression, unsustainable consumerism, debilitating poverty, reoccurring political and economic crises, worrying population growth and migration, uneven wealth and income distribution, uneven and unsustainable growth and development, insecurity on many levels – the litany goes on.

These are all wicked messes, problems so named because they are not easy to control or solve. Wicked is Latin prav for vicious, crooked, and perverted (Harper, 2014). Rittel and Webber (1973), who coined the term wicked problems, felt wicked was akin to malignant (in contrast to tame or benign), vicious (as in vicious circle), tricky (like a leprechaun), or aggressive (like a lion). Wicked problems are characterized by (a) uncertainty; (b) inconsistency of needs, preferences, and values; (c) an unclear sense of all consequences and/or the cumulative impact of collective action; and, (d) fluid, heterogeneous, pluralistic participation in problem definition and solution (Carley & Christie, 2000). It is difficult to define wicked problems, and each attempt to solve or address one causes additional problems, and even changes the original problem. There is seldom agreement on the preferred solution because different stakeholders hold a wide range of view and values. In almost all instances, something must be done, but doing something can cause additional problems and create relational conflict amongst actors (McGregor, 2012).

The premise of this paper is that these problems are simply too complex to be handled by any one discipline, stakeholder, or sector. Their solutions require both integral thinking and transdisciplinarity. In concert, these two approaches better ensure the integration of knowledge from the sciences, the arts, the humanities, and the administrative sciences, as well as from members of the public and private sectors, and of civil society. Together, people can generate knowledge that respects as many perspectives as are needed to deal with the complexity of human problems. Simply put, as people strive to work at and beyond the boundaries that traditionally separate them, and as they purposefully approach each wicked problem from as many perspectives as possible, their chances are improved if they respect integral thinking and the transdisciplinary methodology of creating new knowledge.
Integral is a personal disposition or orientation to life, which is concerned with comprehensively mapping human potential, and with finding the critical, essential elements of human growth, evolution and the development of the human psyche and mind/consciousness. Integral thinkers are mindful or conscious of the need for plurality. Wilber (2001) believed that each “partial snapshot of the great River of Life” (p. 6) is necessary for understanding humanity’s struggle, which improves as people’s ability to deal with existential problems evolves. An integral vision or map allows people to find their way forward from fragmentation (due to hyperspecialization and siloed disciplines), dualism, and an over reliance on too few perspectives when solving the problems of humanity. Integral thinking gives people intellectual clarity resulting from many carefully-weighed perspectives (Wilber, 2007).

While integral is an internal life- and world-processing orientation, transdisciplinarity is an external phenomenon whereby knowledge is purposefully, consciously generated through problem solving (McGregor, 2015). Transdisciplinarity assumes knowledge is dynamically created at the interface of society, government, business, and the academy. It is an epistemological orientation (i.e., what we accept as knowledge) that challenges the long standing Newtonian and Cartesian approaches to knowledge and reality, which are based on predictability, linearity, dualism, reductionism, exclusive logic, and control (McGregor, 2011a). In contrast, transdisciplinarity is predicated on complexity, inclusive logic, and the idea that there are many realities, which complete each other. The essence of transdisciplinarity is that the unification of disparate strands of knowledge and ways of knowing the world is necessary if people ever hope to understand the world and address its messy problems (Nicolescu, 2014).

This paper posits that problem solving will be richer and more authentic if both approaches are respected – integral thinking and the transdisciplinary methodology. They have similarities that lend credence to the idea that they are compatible (see Figure 1, and next section). Both contain the dimensions of reality, vision, logic, and complexity. Both call for new intelligence reflecting harmony among mind, soul, feelings, and body. Both call for the integration of art, science, the humanities, and spirituality. Both appreciate that humans have the potential to reconcile differences and contradictions, leading to a higher, more actualized state of being and existing. Both approaches ultimately strive for an integral understanding of the whole world (Nicolescu, 2014; Wilber, 2001). These same architects and stewards are keenly aware of the near impossibility of this ever happening; yet, they strive to make it happen anyway because “it is an ideal worthy of aspiration” (Wilber, 2001, p. 137).

Figure 1 Proposed Similarities Between Integral and Transdisciplinarity

Figure 1 Proposed Similarities Between Integral and Transdisciplinarity

As a caveat, this paper draws on integral thinking as espoused by Ken Wilber and transdisciplinarity as pioneered and stewarded by Basarab Nicolescu.1 Interestingly, scholars seldom cite these two in the same paper, nor do they reference each other very often. I find this lacuna compelling because they are both deeply intrigued with complexity and how it can be addressed. Wilber (2001) claimed there is a place for everything. There is no right or wrong; rather, there is the question of how much complexity is needed to adequately understand a given situation from a holistic perspective. Nicolescu believed that complexity is a modern form of the ancient principle of universal interdependence, in that “everything is dependent on everything else, everything is connected, nothing is separate” (2004, p. 48). He favored Morin’s (1999, 2005, 2006) notion of generalized complexity, which respects chaos, disorder, uncertainty, (re)organization, and emergence. Indeed, both integral and transdisciplinarity are deeply influenced by the new sciences of chaos theory, quantum physics, and living systems.

As a side note, both approaches are fairly recent. Transdisciplinarity emerged out of a 1972 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) seminar (Apostel, Berger, Briggs, & Machaud, 1972; Jantsch 1972a, b). The integral movement gained momentum in the 1970s (Molz & Gidley, 2008). Transdisciplinarity was a response to the deep concern for the inadequacies of mono, multi and interdisciplinarity to solve the world’s problems. It sought a new form of learning and problem solving, which involves cooperation among different parts of society, including academia, in order to meet the complex challenges of society. Integral arose as a response to reversing the long-standing trend toward fragmentation and specialization, envisioning instead a future knowledge base that is whole, comprehensive, and emergent (Phipps, 2007). These intellectual movements unfolded in tandem, yet separately.

The premise of this paper is that integral and transdisciplinarity provide unconventional approaches to dealing with the pervasive cacophony of complexity. Following a brief overview of their etymological roots, the two approaches are discussed along the four similarities outlined in Figure 1: reality, vision, logic, and complexity. It is anticipated that readers will avail themselves of the larger bodies of literature for each approach. As one final caveat, Wilber’s (2001, 2007) approach is called AQAL – All Quadrants, All Levels. Although the Spiral Dynamics theory (Beck & Cowan, 1995; Cowan & Todorovic, 2004; Graves, 1970, 1974) is a foundational element of Wilber’s approach, it is not elaborated upon in this paper, because it was deemed unnecessary to make the main point. This strategy means readers will not find mention of vMemes, holons, the spiral metaphor, three Tiers of Consciousness, nine levels of human development and consciousness, and related concepts. For more detail, people are invited to consult Wilber (1995, 1999, 2001, 2007), or McGregor’s (2011b) monograph on The Wilberian Approach.

Etymological Roots

Trans is Latin, to cross over, go beyond, to move back-and-forth, to transcend (Latin transcendere “climb over, to surmount”) (Harper, 2014). Trans refers to that which is across the disciplines, between the disciplines, and beyond and outside all disciplines (Nicolescu, 1997). These iterative interactions lead to a new state or a new place; crisscrossing and going beyond traditional approaches or fixed borders takes people to new places and new states of understanding and insights, transcending their former positions to new transdisciplinary positions (McGregor & Donnelly, 2014). The assumption is that this transborder work will yield a more complete solution to a complex, wicked problem.

As a complimentary notion, integral stems from the Latin root integrare: to make whole or to make complete; to make part of a larger unit; to join with something else; to unite (Harper, 2014). Integral means that one or more of these combined components have been deemed necessary to the completeness of the whole; its absence is noteworthy and has consequences (McGregor, 2014b). An integral approach is inclusive and does not privilege particular parts over others; rather, people judiciously, with careful deliberation, fuse relevant parts into new entities so as to address the complexity of the situation (Wilber, 2001, 2007). Integral means nothing is left out; rather, people are to pull together as many perspectives and viewpoints as feasible in order to get a more inclusive, complete view of the whole. One never knows when one aspect of something may be the integral piece (i.e., necessary for completeness). Necessary for completeness is perhaps the defining feature of integral (McGregor, 2014b).


Transdisciplinarity has been described as the integrated combination of (a) disciplinary work; (b) scholarship between (multidisciplinarity) and among disciplines (interdisciplinarity); and, (c) knowledge generation beyond academic disciplines and across sectors external to the university, at the interface between the academy and civil society (de Freitas, Morin, & Nicolescu, 1994; Nicolescu, 2002). Likewise, integral thinking calls for the integration of art, morality and science at a time when society tends to keep them apart. Wilber (2001, 2007) urged people to respect and to weave together learnings from
the interior and the exterior;

  • the individual, the group, and the system;
  • the body, mind (intellect), spirit, and shadow (repressed emotions);
  • the arts, sciences, and morality;
  • the ego (me), ethnos (us), and world (all of us);
  • ourselves, others, and nature;
  • beauty, goodness, and truth;
  • group, national, and global; and,
  • the personal, the integrated, and the transpersonal.

Parallels Between Transdisciplinarity and Integral Thinking

Referring to Figure 1 again, this paper proposes that there are enough similarities between these two approaches to suggest they are compatible; that is, able to be used together with minimal problems or conflict. Others may not agree, a possibility that opens the door for a very intriguing dialogue. Nonetheless, an extended analysis of both approaches (spanning 10 years) revealed that both draw on reality, the mediated integration of disparate views (vision), logic, and knowledge as complexity. This paper is an inaugural attempt to compare transdisciplinarity and integral along these four dimensions, with special attention given to reality, the core of everything.


Transdisciplinary ontology is conceptualized as Multiple Levels of Reality (Nicolescu uses the convention of capitalizing Reality). Transdisciplinarity (TD) encompasses 10 Realities organized along three levels. Level one is the internal world of humans, where consciousness and perspectives flow – the TD-Subject (comprising four different Realties: political, social, historical, and individual). Level two is the external world of humans where information flows – the TD-Object (comprising three different Realities: environmental, economic, and cosmic/planetary). Interaction and movement amongst the previous two levels are mediated by the Hidden Third level (see next section). Peoples’ experiences, intuitions, interpretations, descriptions, representations, images, and formulas meet on this third level. As well, three additional Realities exist in this intuitive zone of non-resistance to others’ ideas, this mediated interface: culture and art, religions, and spiritualities (Nicolescu, 1985, 2002) (see Figure 2, used with permission from McGregor, 2015).

Figure 2: Nicolescu’s Transdisciplinary Methodology

Figure 2: Nicolescu’s Transdisciplinary Methodology

Nicolescu (2006) believed it is essential to seek multiple perspectives on any human problem because the intent is to integrate many levels of truth (played out on the different levels of reality). Of deep significance is that while each of the 10 Realities is characterized by its incompleteness on its own, in unity, they generate new, infinite transdisciplinary knowledge (Nicolescu, 2005, 2006). Indeed, transdisciplinarity assumes that Reality is always in flux. It is plastic (Cillier & Nicolescu, 2012; Nicolescu, 2011b), meaning it is malleable and pliable. Reality changes due to people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions (Cillier & Nicolescu, 2012).

As did Nicolescu (2011a,b), in his conceptualization of transdisciplinarity, Wilber (2001, p. 180) used Subject and Object to explain his approach to integral thinking. For him, the level of the Subject also refers to level of consciousness that a person is coming from (also called level of selfhood), while the level of Object refers to the level of reality a person believes to be most real, the reality that a person actually acknowledges. Wilber (2001, 2007) further developed three realms of reality (gross, subtle, and causal), and three spheres of reality (biosphere, noosphere, and theosphere). These conceptualizations affirm a key similarity between the two approaches: there are multiple realities instead of just one. Wilber also identified an infinite reality whose definition resonates with Nicolescu’s earlier definition of transdisciplinarity. An infinite reality exists “behind, beyond, above, within, and as the entire manifest universe” (Wilber, 2007, p. 154).

Furthermore, just as transdisciplinarity has three levels of reality, Wilber conceived integral thinking as the integration of four different ways of looking at the world, which he characterized in four quadrants: the inner self (I), the physical self (IT), the community (WE), and the collection of world systems (ITS). He called this AQAL – all quadrants, all levels (see Figure 3 for more details). Quadrant 1 (upper left) represents the inside of individuals, their mind. It is concerned with consciousness, and the unfolding inner self. Quadrant 2 (upper right) represents the outside of individuals, both their brain, behaviours and physical essence as understood by empirical science. Quadrant 3 (lower left) references life lived within the cultural collective, reflected in social norms, group awareness, morality, and life with others. It represents the importance of culture, the community context, and supportive networks. Finally, Quadrant 4 (lower right) represents life lived outside the collective, in the web of life. This quadrant contains the collection of institutions, rules and standards that shape and inform life. It concerns social, economic, political and other systems, the macro context (Wilber, 2001, 2007). The AQAL approach accommodates directive agency (I), singe-minded goal setting and action (IT),  collective nurturance and networking (WE), and united action as well as relational adaptation (ITS) (Edward, 2005).

Figure 3: Wilber’s AQAL Model

Figure 3: Wilber’s AQAL Model

The left and right quadrants deal with the inner and outer workings of humanity, respectively. The upper quadrants deal with individuals and the lower quadrants deal with the collective. All are needed to ensure a comprehensive, holistic appreciation of the nuances of the problematic situation. Wilber’s basic premise is that none of these points of view can be privileged if people hope to bring clarity to a wicked situation. An integral approach assumes people will try to respect and to learn from many, many perspectives. The intent is to strive for deep clarity of the situation (near completeness). Every problem has four dimensions or perspectives (quadrants); thus, people need to draw on all quadrants to solve the problem (Wilber, 2001). As an example, the pervasive problem of mounting consumer debt contains dimensions of inner self (ethics and esteem), the dynamics of consumer behavior, the consumer culture, and the global marketplace and economy. It is imperative that people learn to find the patterns that connect all of these elements instead of falling back on what is comfortable, and standing in just one quadrant. The latter leads to an imbalanced, flat, one-dimensional approach to life, living, and leadership.

AQAL is the essence of synthesis and integration, a melding of perspectives to gain as much intellectual inclusion as possible. The result is a full-spectrum approach that respects the interior and the exterior of the individual and the collective (Wilber, 2001). Anything less means fundamental aspects of the integral whole are lost, and the ability to understand the issue and to address it is compromised (Esbjörn-Hargens, 2009). Along similar lines of thinking, Nicolescu (2005) described transdisciplinary knowledge as simultaneously exterior and interior. Exterior refers to the study of the universe and interior refers to the study of the human being; knowledge of each sustains the other, because they are interconnected.

Although not often mentioned in discussions of an integral vision, Wilber (2006) also used another construct to balance quadrants, that being quadrivia, Latin for place where four roads meet (Harper, 2014). Quadrivium (singular) refers to viewing reality through one quadrant (Rentschler, 2006). Quadrivia (plural) is akin to Nicolescu’s premise that, in unison, different realities complete each other. From the conventional four quadrant approach, picture an individual situated in the center of the quadrants (see Figure 4). Quadrants represent the many ways people can experience their own reality, the multitude of perspectives. Imagine arrows pointing outward depicting the various realities that this individual can perceive as a result of applying the AQAL approach. Quadrivia, on the other hand, represents the four different ways people can look at other realities to understand them. Picture the four quadrants again with a centered entity, only this time others are standing outside the matrix, looking in, and studying the entity at the center. A quadrivial analysis is achieved by looking through the four perspectives at one phenomenon, person, occasion, or issue. Esbjörn-Hargens (2009) gave the example of fish dying in a lake (the entity at the center). Experts from all four quadrants would analyze the death of the lake and the fish, honoring the complexity of the lake’s reality, and that of its inhabitants and beneficiaries.

Figure 4: Wilber’s Idea of Quadrivia

Figure 4: Wilber’s Idea of Quadrivia

Mediated Hidden Third (Vision)

Nicolescu needed a concept to accommodate people resisting other people’s world views, and a way to allow for the integration of these world views to create new knowledge. Being a quantum physicist, he was inspired by the quantum vacuum, which is actually not empty, it is just at its lowest energy point, ready for emergence and potential. With this inspiration, he coined the term the Hidden Third. The word ‘hidden’ obviously means it is invisible. The word ‘third’ typically refers to someone playing a mediating role between two entities. Succinctly, Nicolescu (2011a, 2014) suggested that the Hidden Third (the quantum vacuum) refers to a zone of non-resistance to others’ views on Reality that plays the mediating role of a third between information and consciousness and perceptions. It acts like a secretly included middle agent that allows for temporary unification of, what is normally, contradictory ideas (Nicolescu, 2005).

Nicolescu (2014) worked out that movement between realities is lubricated or mediated by this Hidden Third, a way to conceive of people moving to a place where they become open to others’ perspectives, ideologies, value premises and belief systems, inherently letting go of aspects of how they currently know the world (see also Brenner, 2005, 2011; Cole, 2006; McGregor, 2011a). This mediator, or hidden agent, manifests when diverse actors with divergent perspectives, yet keen interest in addressing a wicked problem, come together.
Wilber was also concerned with reality. He explained that, from an integral perspective, ultimate reality is the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions altogether; that is, ultimate reality is the unity of opposites. “Ultimate reality … is found in [the four quadrants] simultaneous arising and radiant display, mutually creating and mutually sustaining each other” (Wilber, 2007, p. 152). Ultimate reality is not just lifeless and insentient matter, but the living Totality of matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit (Wilber, 2001). Rather than excluding points of view (what Nicolescu called Levels of Reality), Wilber (2007) proposed that people would strive to adopt all views that are useful for dealing with the current complexity of the dilemma, and do so by looking for things they would otherwise ignore – they would employ an AQAL approach.

Reflecting this sentiment, Wilber (2001) developed the concept of integral vision, encompassing the integration of (a) science, art and morality; (b) self, body, collective, and world systems (All Quadrants); and, (c) matter, physical (body), emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, creating a Living Totality (Wilber, 2007) (see Figure 5, used with permission from McGregor, 2011b). Integral vision is understood to mean making sense of everything, finding patterns that connect all manifestations, all matter, all life, all thought, and all experiences – so they can fit together into a coherent whole. If as many bases are covered as possible, people can be sure they are viewing a given situation from every conceivable angle, and can then proceed with the best information and deepest insights possible (Integral Life, 2010).

Figure 5: Wilber’s Integral Vision for Living Totality

Figure 5: Wilber’s Integral Vision for Living Totality


Both approaches are anchored in logic. Transdisciplinarity rejects dualism, fragmentation, and reductionism (Nicolescu, 2014), and with it the requisite exclusive logic. Exclusive logic assumes that ideas that are antagonistic cannot be connected (Brenner, 2005, 2008), precluding the integration of disparate views. Conversely, transdisciplinarity embraces inclusive logic and assumes the following: “that which appears to be disunited is united, and that which appears to be contradictory is perceived as noncontradictory” (Nicolescu, 2008, p. 7). “Opposing aspects of a phenomenon that are generally considered independent can thus be understood as being in dynamic relationship” (Brenner, 2005, p. 3).

Transdisciplinarity assumes that while people interface in the zone where others’ perspectives are not resisted, they use inclusive logic. This logic accommodates the possible, eventual, creation of new integrative knowledge that does not yet exist. It does so by permitting each of (a) empty domains, (b) worlds that do not exist, and (c) worlds that might eventually exist (Nolt, 2010). Excluding any of these domains, realities or worlds negates complex solutions to transdisciplinary problems. This inclusive logic assumes that things that are normally seen as antagonistic or contradictory can be temporarily reconciled to create new, complex transdisciplinary knowledge – a sort of meeting of the minds.
Just as transdisciplinarity employs inclusive logic, integral employs vision logic. It exists beyond the conventional and familiar Aristotelian logics of (a) ethos (moral authority), (b) pathos (emotions), and (c) logos (rational) (Ramage & Bean, 1998). Vision logic is the ability to conceptualize, compare, and synthesize different perspectives and points of view, leading to transcendental knowledge, all the time generating, even depending upon, creative tensions. With vision logic, an individual can simultaneously hold multiple, apparently contradictory, perspectives in his or her attention and, through synthesis and integration, can conceptualize networks of interactions among the various perspectives (Marquis, Holden, & Warren, 2001). Vision logic allows people to take incompatible dualisms and transform them into healthy differentiations (McGregor, 2011b; Wilber, 1995, 2000).

Indeed, as does transdisciplinarity (Nicolescu, 2014), integral rejects dualism (the imposition of boundaries). Boundaries can result in fragmentation and compartmentalization leading to fear, alienation and aggression, as well as disconnectedness and disengagement from the energies of life. Both approaches embrace non-dualism, wherein opposites may be different from each other but they cannot be separated from each other. Liberation from duality comes from removing the boundaries (or never putting them there in the first place), and accepting that things are different but not inseparable; rather, things are intricately bound up with each other – integrated together. To accommodate this idea, Wilber (1979) coined the phrase non-boundary awareness, and explained that it involves unity consciousness – being aware that all things are in unity, not separate (harken back to the transdisciplinary notion that all levels of reality complete each other in unity).

Regarding awareness of unity, Murray (2009) proposed four types of awareness needed to discern the Totality of Existence: ego aware, construct aware (concepts, language and knowledge), relational aware, and systems aware (see Figure 6). He described this as a model enabling people to enrich their cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal capacities to problem solve using integral thinking. Ego awareness (social-emotional intelligence) entails self-knowledge, a key component of integral thinking. It includes an increased depth of being, as well as compassion, wisdom and empathy which, when released, open powerful potential for creativity and growth. Construct awareness enables people to flexibly approach uncertainties, paradoxes and ambiguities that are an inherent part of weaving perspectives together. It is important that individuals come to understand how their own mind works, and to be able to perceive their inner thought patterns. Relational awareness involves the development of emotional resilience and wisdom to make choices for the good of the whole, doable because of an imbued sense of interdependencies in social interactions Systems reasoning (awareness) helps people flexibly coordinate whole systems of new ideas that they have not previously synthesized together (Murray, 2009).

Figure 6: Four Types of Integral Awareness (adapted from Murray, 2009)

Figure 6: Four Types of Integral Awareness (adapted from Murray, 2009)

Murray (2009) explained that all four types of awareness must be integrated to ensure integral problem solving. Once people learn to release their cognitive and emotional attachments to specific world views, they can settle into a state of open awareness and presence, enabling them to unleash their potential for synergy and growth (to stand in all four quadrants, and evolve). More open states of clarity obtained from richer integral awareness lead to higher wisdom, augmenting one’s potential to employ vision logic. This idea resonates with Nicolescu’s (2002) notion that once people stop resisting each other’s perspectives, they can enter the zone of non-resistance, that fecund middle ground where complex knowledge is generated (see Figure 2).


Horlick-Jones and Sime (2004) coined the phrase border-work to refer to the intellectual work that occurs when people living on the borders of the academy (university disciplines) and civil society (including the private and public sectors) engage in knowledge generation to address complex problem solving. Nicolescu (2002, 2008) posited that such TD knowledge is based on cross-fertilization, and is characterized by embodiment (owned by everyone), complexity, and emergence.

McGregor (2004, 2009, 2010) used a lava lamp metaphor to express this idea. Inclusive logic enables people to imagine that the space between things is alive, dynamic, in flux, moving, perpetually changing, and full of potential and eventualities (like a lava lamp). When people from different disciplines and sectors come in contact with each other and are motivated, an energizing force is generated – a synergy is created. This synergy leads to the generation of embodied knowledge created from the energy emanating from intellectual fusion. Everyone involved now owns the new knowledge because it was co-created. This new knowledge is open and alive because the wicked problems the knowledge addresses are alive, emerging from the life world (Nicolescu, 2005).

Cross-fertilization of transdisciplinary knowledge results from the iterative convergence of different actors and their fuzzy-edged balls of knowing, shaped by their respective disciplinary or sectoral expertise (McGregor, 2004). Cross-fertilized knowledge emerges through the process of transintegration, understood to mean opening things up to all disciplines and to civil society- and other sector-knowing so that something new can be created via synthesis and the harmonization of ideas and perspectives (Nicolescu, 1997). Cross-fertilized knowledge is also transcendent in that those involved temporarily give up sovereignty of their domain to create a fecund space for the emergence of new knowledge (Somerville & Rapport, 2002). Cross-fertilization (transcending disciplines and embracing sectoral knowledge) can lead to an enlarged vision of the issue at hand, the fusion of ideas from different sources, and innovative, authentic, and inclusive solutions.

In short, people from all walks of life (Multiple Realities) enter a fecund middle ground (a zone of non-resistance, ripe with potential and possibilities) prepared to remain open to others’ viewpoints as they use inclusive logic to temporarily reconcile contradictions, while respecting emergence, synergy and fusion, leading to the integration of ideas to form new complex, embodied, and cross-fertilized knowledge that can be used to address the complex problem (see Figure 2).

Integral is also concerned with the integration of disparate minds and ideas, and holds a similar conviction that this is not easy work. Gibson (ca. 2012) explained that new ways of viewing the world and relating to others in the world do not arise over night. These emerging world views and values unfold in stages, moving toward the ability to hold multiple perspectives. Gibson referred to this as the “unfolding of complexity” (p.1). Wilber’s (2001, 2007) All Levels aspect of AQAL deals with complexity. As a reminder, integral AQAL is a guide to valuing interior, exterior, collective and individual ways of gathering and generating knowledge to address wicked problems. Regarding All Levels, Wilber proposed that growth and change occur differently in each quadrant, increasing in complexity. Figure 3 represents this idea, with the background arrows representing Wilber’s notion that, within each quadrant, people and systems have states, stages, lines, and types, respectively representing progression, development, growth, and evolution (see McGregor, 2011b pp. 17-18).

In more detail, states (progression) are temporary aha! passing, moments; with repeated instances, these states gradually build on each other toward something more permanent or higher (they are the grease to move to the next level, to stages). Stages (development) are permanent states once they are achieved, but it takes a long time because stages unfold sequentially and cannot be skipped; people’s level of expertise or advancement becomes more complex as they move through different stages. Lines (growth) represent the dynamic unfolding of various dimensions while people are developing. Development can be quite uneven, weaker or stronger (complexity/depth) along many lines: moral, cognitive, physical, creativity, altruism, spiritual, emotional, identity, and empathy. Finally, types (evolution) are permanent personality traits (i.e., styles, voices, logics, and typologies). Types are very stable, resilient, and enduring traits of human behaviour (Wilber, 2007). McGregor (2011b) shared the example of a concert pianist to illustrate the combination of progression, development, growth, and evolution.

The unfolding of integral complexity depends upon people gaining autonomy. As people gain enabling viewpoints, they progress, develop, grow, and evolve. This unfolding of complexity does not happen in a straightforward manner (Espejo & Reyes, 2011), a fact made more compelling with Wilber’s (2007) contention that complexity occurs differently in each quadrant. Solving wicked problems becomes very intense indeed when one accepts that each participant, sector, system, agent, stakeholder et cetera is operating at different states and stages of development, with varying degrees of growth, further complicated by personalities and overarching types.

To accommodate this rich reality, Wilber (2001) tendered the idea that integral refers to things that are required to ensure completeness of the whole (of the Living Totality). “The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing” (Wilber, 2003, p. xii). To reiterate, “the absence of a particular perspective or voice is noteworthy and has consequences. An integral approach is inclusive and does not privilege particular parts over others; rather, people judiciously, and with careful deliberation, fuse relevant parts into new entities so as to address the complexity of the situation “(McGregor, 2014b, p. 9). Integral approaches attempt to “include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are ways to draw together an already existing number of separate [world views and perspectives] into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching (Esbjörn-Hargens, 2009, p.2).


This paper proposed that elements of transdisciplinarity and integral thinking echo each other in important ways, and complement each other in other ways. There are enough similarities that they can be used together when addressing humanity’s wicked problems. They both contend with reality, agree that movement between realities (perspectives and worldviews) must be mediated, concur that unique logics are involved, and consent that humanity is complex and so is the knowledge required to address human problems. The common thread running throughout this discussion was that people need to learn how to conceptualize, compare, and synthesize a multitude of perspectives and points of view in order to respect the complexity of humanity. Both approaches concern a plurality of interpretations with the intent of weaving these multiplicities together, leading to richer, more inclusive approaches, and more authentic problem solving (see Hampson, 2010).

How ready are people for these ideas? Wilber (interviewed by Volckmann, 2010), asserted that when the leading edge of the development of a new idea reaches 10% of the population, a transformation occurs, and the idea becomes diffused throughout the entire culture. This is called its tipping point, a point in time when a growing number of people rapidly and dramatically change their behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice (Gladwell, 2000). Jordan (interviewed by Drummond, 2003) postulated that “it will take a very long time of course and the impact will be very uneven…. However I think there is a historical process going on where this stuff gets more normal to talk about and to learn about in society” (p. 11). Since 1970, when these two ideas started to gain momentum, people have been drawn to their allure, to their call for powerful new ways of thinking about the world and of creating knowledge to address the cacophony of global crises. Pardon the cliché, but the time is right for integrating integral thinking and transdisciplinarity.


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About the Author

Sue L. T. McGregor is a Canadian home economist (40 years) at Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada (retired) . She was a Professor in the Faculty of Education. She is Associate Editor for the Integral Leadership Review with a focus on Transdisciplinarity. Her intellectual work pushes the boundaries of consumer studies and home economics philosophy and leadership towards integral, transdisciplinary, complexity and moral imperatives. She is Docent in Home Economics at the University of Helsinki, a Kappa Omicron Nu Research Fellow (leadership), an The ATLAS Transdisciplinary Fellow, and an Associate Member of Sustainability Frontiers. Affiliated with 19 professional journals, she is Associate Editor of two home economics journals and part of the Editorial Team for Integral Leadership Review. Sue has delivered 35 keynotes and invited talks in 15 countries and published over 150 peer-reviewed publications, 21 book chapters, and 9 monographs. She published Transformative Practice in 2006. Consumer Moral Leadership was released in 2010. With Russ Volckmann, she co-published Transversity in 2011 and, in 2012, she co-edited The Next 100 Years: Creating Home Economics Futures. Her professional and scholarly work is available at http://www.consultmcgregor.com

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