Transpersonal Theory & the Astrological Mandala: An Evolutionary Model by Gerry Goddard
Return to Contents

- 3 -

The Transpersonal Models of Ken Wilber,
Stanislav Grof, & Michael Washburn


Two Perspectives on History: Ken Wilber's Progressive Developmentalism:
Ken Wilber and Michael Washburn—a Paradigm Difference: The 'Pre-trans' Distinction:
Stanislav Grof and the Perinatal Dimension: Ken Wilber's Four-Quadrant Model



Two Perspectives on History

A paradigmatic tension within the contemporary understanding of our world has been noted by Richard Tarnas (1998, 2006) who has identified two grand metanarratives or major guiding stories which underlie many of the paradigmatic differences in current conceptions of human history; namely, "The Story of Progress" and "The Story of the Fall". The first is the usual story of a "progressive, heroic advance from an earlier state of relative constriction, ignorance, and suffering, moving toward an ever-brighter modern future characterized by increasing human knowledge, freedom, and well-being....The apex of this development is seen to coincide with the modern period, with the emergence of both modern science and individualistic democracy." But more recently a counter story, itself with historic roots, has began to play more forcefully upon the modern imagination, an imagination now acutely aware of the tragic hubris within the progressive perspective. As Tarnas puts it, "the evolution of human consciousness and the history of the Western mind are seen not as a progressive advance toward modern enlightenment, but rather as a tragic story of a radical fall and separation from an original state of relative unity—from a sense of interconnectedness between humankind, nature, and the spiritual dimension of existence. In this view, the influence of the Western mind, and particularly the modern mind, has brought about a deep schism between humankind and nature, a deep desacrilization of the world."

But rather than two contrary views locked in an inevitable either/or battle for supremacy on the field of Truth, they can be reconciled in a larger encompassing grand narrative. We shall be mapping the interplay of these two main perspectives as we sculpt the essential insights of the predominant models—Grof, Tarnas, Washburn, Wilber and others—in accordance with the guiding architecture of astrology. Most inspiringly, Tarnas (1998) presents us with a vision to guide our quest.

There is something about both of these deep historical perspectives, these myths...that resonate with the reality of our situation. Each is correct in a certain way, but they are both only partial readings of a larger, deeper, and complex story. Not only are they simultaneously true, I believe they actually constitute each other, they are embedded in each other's truth in the way that the gestalt image of two black faces in profile can also be seen as a white vase....our history can be seen as a long evolutionary dialectical development in which there has been a painstaking forging of an autonomous rational and moral self, differentiating it out of the whole, out of the matrix of being, but...this autonomy has come at a great cost. Gain and loss have been simultaneously working with each other until, in our own time, this dialectic has reached an almost climactic moment of transfiguration...We may now be able to see that inherent in this bipolar movement is the possibility of a new synthesis, gradually emerging out of the dialectical tensions of our own time.

Within the interdisciplinary field of transpersonalism a number of grand theories or models stand out, each one embodying some combination of these two ways of holding human history and the development of consciousness. Any adequate theory must address the paradox of the simultaneous developmental 'gains' and 'losses' particularly obvious in our contemporary situation.

Ken Wilber's Progressive Developmentalism

The highly influential yet often contentious grand evolutionary theory of Ken Wilber (1997, 1997a, 1980, 1981, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2000a) inclines strongly toward the 'progress' pole, though not in a simplistic, naturalistic or scientistic sense. As said, at least up until recently (2006), Wilber has been the foremost spokesperson for the evolutionary 'perennialist' or multileveled 'Great Chain of Being' orientation which maps both collective history and individual development in terms of successive 'deep structures of consciousness'. These universal structures unfold sequentially from an 'archaic' level, to a 'magical' level, to a 'mythic' level (body-ego), to a self-reflexive level ('mental-ego'), to an integral level then on to higher trans-egoic or transpersonal levels. Each deep level represents a greater complexification of consciousness than the previous level, holarchically enfolding and integrating with the subordinate level prior to new higher level differentiations and integrations. This step by step awakening of consciousness through ever higher stages and levels is—in its broad structures but not in its surface details—an unfolding of what was already implicit following the prior process of 'involution' of the Absolute into the natural universe. This original involution of Spirit into the universe which precedes its long emergence through the course of evolutionary unfolding is captured by the spiritual philosopher Aurobindo Ghose:

Universe is a diffusion of the divine All in infinite space and time, the individual its concentration within limits of Space and Time....God having entirely become Nature, Nature seeks to become progressively God....evolution is...not a making of what never was, but a bringing out of what was implicit in the Being...evolution is a growing of the Self in material Nature to the conscious possession of its own spiritual being...Because this infinite Spirit and eternal Divinity is here concealed in the process of material Nature, the evolution of a power beyond Mind is not only possible, but inevitable." (pp. 58,75, 81,82)

But according to Aurobindo, this process proceeds not only as a movement of upward unfolding but also as a downward 'descent of the Supermind'. The same idea is expressed by the transpersonalist Roberto Assagioli:

[A]t times the conscious self rises or is raised to that higher region where it has specific experiences and states of awareness of various kinds which can be called 'spiritual'...At other times it happens that some contents of the superconscious 'descend' and penetrate into the area of the normal consciousness of the ego, producing what is called 'inspiration'. This interplay has great importance and value, both for fostering creativity and for achieving psychosynthesis. (p.38).

Wilber, who has been strongly influenced by Aurobindo as well as by other 'Great Chain' theorists, will have nothing to do with views which explain contemporary pathologies as resulting from the loss of an earlier state of harmony with nature, with the anima mundi, a state of sacred Unity which we must recapture in order to realize the spiritual level of Integration. Rather, he explains the obvious contemporary pathologies in a number of ways. For one thing, the more complex a stage or level of development, the more complex are the problems which inevitably accompany that stage; as he baldly puts it, "atoms don't get cancer; dogs do". This is a reasonable argument since any new deep structure brings new challenges that demand the emergence of new higher level capacities. At any point in time—both individual and historical development—one may succeed or fail to meet these challenges. Consequently, we might reasonably speak of upward movements or downward, devolutionary deflections. The deep structure cannot properly be said to possess good and bad features; rather, good and bad arise according to whether its challenges are successfully met or not. And the failure of any individual or group to optimally meet the challenges of an emergent structure and actualize its potentials does not logically deny the reality of forward (and upward) evolutionary development. Further to this, Wilber argues that rather than making the rational ego the 'bad guy', many of our existent problems indicate a failure, as yet, of a sufficiently large number of people to move beyond the more primitive level of mythic ethnocentrism to the space of 'universal reason'—our Enlightenment heritage. This is contrary to the outlook of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Romanticism which holds Enlightenment reason to be especially responsible for the final disenchantment of nature and the schism between subject and object, self and other, thinking and feeling. It is this general view that Wilber lables ‘retro-Romanticism’.

Yet Wilber does acknowledge that things 'went wrong'. In his view that which constituted a ‘natural’ development of the capacity for universal reason became distorted, so that science and objectivity—fine in themselves concerned as they are with the exterior domain—came to dominate ‘interior’ domains of value, morality, art and religion. His theory recognizes that successive evolutionary developments, from nature's beginnings all the way up to contemporary humans, unfold as a sequence of differentiations followed optimally by new and higher level integrations. Such a sequential process of differentiation followed by integration produces successively more complex structures as each level holarchically enfolds its previous 'subordinate' level. Optimum development proceeds stage by stage so that as stage/structure 2, say, differentiates beyond stage/structure 1, it must then integrate with 1 to form a higher level structure, which is then followed by the differentiation of structure 3 and so on. The pathologies that are obvious through human history—the extreme repression of women, constant warfare, atrocities, psychological dissociation, urban and industrial alienation, widespread political corruption, imperialism, continued Empire despite certain democratic advances—result from failures in this optimum developmental pattern. Instead of the differentiation of mind and body, says Wilber, we got dissociation; instead of the positive differentiation of science, art and morality in the eighteenth century we got dissociation. Such dissociation marks the failure to successfully integrate previous differentiations; consequently, there may occur either a pathological regression to a previous level, or a condition of repression where one emergent dimension represses the other. In this way, science has indeed come to dominate the rich interiors of human subjectivity which should now be given an equal value.

In his later works (yet still prior to the modifications of 2006), Wilber presents a more nuanced model which recognizes the complexity of individuals and groups. Certain dimensions (or faculties)—cognitive, moral, social, affective etc.—may be spread across several levels at once. So for example, a person may be cognitively advanced while affectively arrested. Also, within any of these 'lines'—cognitive, affective etc.—advances are actually spiralic so that a step forward may sometimes require a step back. While this adaptation modifies the rather lockstep quality of his earlier model, it still enframes a naturalistic accidentalism in that it fails to acknowledge or map that determinant logic which assures that every major new development brings simultaneous gains and losses: as Karl Marx questioned, "Is the Illiad possible...when the printing press and even printing machines exist? Is it not inevitable that with the emergence of the press, the singing and the telling and the muse cease; that is, the conditions necessary for epic poetry disappear?" (quoted in Postman, p.42,43) Are not then emergent 'pathologies' to some extent developmentally inevitable and not solely failures of optimum upward development? And is not this process the inevitable result of dialectical repressions that are not simply unfortunate deviations from the optimal Wilberian path? Evolution cannot be judged by any simplistic criteria of humanistic ethics. It is not a process where things become better and better, more and more comfortable, closer and closer to some perfect equilibrium state but for those 'nasty failures'—failures which happen to be historically more the norm than the exception.

For Wilber the higher integration which lies beyond the mental-ego and the mind/body division—a goal in apparent agreement with the integrative perspective expressed by Tarnas—by no means implies a going back, previous to the differentiations of the Enlightenment, back to an infant unity that we once knew but have now lost. (Wilber does recognize a Nondual Ground, but not as a point in history; rather as a Unity altogether prior to time-space). Despite complexity and spirals, the general way is onward and upward—and this does not overlook that he also speaks of the 'downward embrace'. According to Wilber, it is not the subject/object differentiation which is at fault; but what 'unfortunately' happened afterward which stands to be corrected before we can further evolve.

Ken Wilber and Michael Washburn—a Paradigm Difference

As reasonable as Wilber's transpersonal progressive view may appear—and my brief paraphrase hardly does it justice—it is questionable whether it goes deep enough to engage the dialectical processes which have driven both the development of the individual and the grand sweep of history. If Wilber's account inclines strongly to the progressive view—albeit a view which embraces interiority and the goal of the transcendent—then the psychological developmental account of the transpersonal theorist Michael Washburn (1994, 1995, 2003) inclines toward the opposite pole, though offering a possible integration of both views in the above spirit expressed by Tarnas. Washburn recognizes that the development of the rational mental-ego is indeed a developmental step forward, but a step necessarily involving a primal division or separation, a primal repression of the matrix—in his terms, the 'dynamic ground' at the core of things. In order to move beyond the subject/object split, beyond the limitations and existential angst of the rational ego, we must reconnect with the matrix—consciousness finding its greatest fulfillment only through an ultimate unity with the 'dynamic ground'. It occurs through a "regression-in-service-of-transcendence" where the 'dam' of primal repression is broken and consciousness begins to commingle and interpenetrate with unconsciousness eventually leading to regeneration and integration. But such a rejoining occurs at a higher and more developed level than primal 'participation mystique', at a more complexified level of consciousness. From this perspective, the relatively autonomous egoic self is seen as a developmental advance even though consciousness finds its greatest fulfillment only through an ultimate conscious unity with the 'dynamic ground'.

Just as Wilber draws heavily on the work of numerous developmentalists (among them, Piaget, Erikson, Kohlberg, Habermas—all of whom, by the way, incorporate the male developmental bias) so too does Washburn, but with a greater emphasis on social and psychological dialectical processes. Washburn draws mainly on object relations theory with its emphasis on the developmentally formative early mother-child dynamics (self-object polarity) and enframes his account in terms of the interplay of Jungian archetypal polarities and the depth psychological perspective. The logical infrastructure of Washburn's model is, by his own admission, paradigmatically incommensurable with Wilber's model around the matter of the 'necessity' or 'inevitability' of primal repression and alienation as the underpinning of the mental-ego. This incommensurability becomes especially apparent in the profoundly different ways each of them models the structural and dynamic relationships among prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal dimensions. Strongly opposed by Wilber, Washburn's account clearly belongs to that consensus which describes the nature and development of the consciousness/world process as an evolutionary movement unfolding from an original state of pre-differentiated unconscious fusion through an increasingly differentiated, distinct and dualistic sense of egoic self experiencing alienation from an ultimately unknowable world. Then, as an individual and collective possibility, there follows a process of reuniting with the original 'ground' or totality—but now in full all-embracing consciousness where all previous dualities and conflicts have become reconciled and resolved.

The 'Pre-trans' Distinction

Washburn's view comes under attack by Wilber who considers such thinking 'retro-regressive'. By that, Wilber means that such an account confuses infantile or primitive unconscious fusion with higher conscious integration—a different thing altogether. According to Wilber, the level of non-dual consciousness preceding the self consciousness of the mental-ego and the level of non-dual consciousness transcending self consciousness are distinct, but have become confused in much of the Western psychological literature since the pre-personal and the trans-personal are both non-personal, non-rational, and non-linguistic. Here is Wilber's by now famous 'pre-trans distinction' which establishes a pivotal separation between prepersonal and transpersonal levels. Such confusion he terms the 'pre-trans fallacy', committed both by reductionists and those of a romantically mystical persuasion.

Most traditional psychologists, Freud included, were guilty of the reductionist error. On the reductionist side, the fallacy manifests as an explaining away of the higher in terms of the lower such as the explanation of art as sublimated sexuality or of mystical experience as a mere reliving of the intrauterine state, if not as some form of schizophrenia. In its mystic form it is allegedly present in the thought of humanistic 'body-wisdom' practitioners such as Reich, Brown, Rogers, Watts and Laing, in the Gaia/Goddess deep eco perspective, and certain perspectives in cultural history by such authors as Richard Tarnas (1991) and Morris Berman (1981.1989). According to Wilber, the mystical pre-trans error constitutes an exalting of the 'lower' (the bodily, instinctual, emotional), simply released from the oppression of mental culture, as the higher. Those guilty of this 'fallacy' (Tarnas's second story) believe that some degree of transcendent purity existed in the historic past and as the spontaneous innocence of young children; but this purer state of being has been lost and repressed rather than nurtured by a dualistic and pathological society.

For cultural historian and 're-enchantment' theorist Morris Berman, in his Coming to Our Senses, the alleged pre-trans fallacy is his identification of the natural wisdom of the body as the source of spiritual ascent, a process which has been hampered by the conceptual developments of the last four thousand years. Thus, culture since the Greeks is generally understood as an attempt to fill an inner void, to try—though unsuccessfully—to overcome the primal mind/body split. In his allegedly 'regressive' view, like that of Wilhelm Reich, Norman O Brown and others, the transpersonal state is attainable through a releasing of the natural pre-existing ecstacy/wisdom of the body from the oppressive and negative distortions of social conditioning. There is much of interest in Berman's work, but despite his embrace of deep transformational and transpersonal experience, he lacks a coherent transpersonal theory which a paradigmatically compatible account like Washburn's might provide. According to Wilber, Richard Tarnas in his inspired Passion of the Western Mind is also guilty of the pre-trans infraction in that he 'attempts' to explain the deep structures of history in terms of Stanislav Grof's categorial account of the birth process, a process allegedly confined to the lower, primal and biological levels of the Great Chain. (This important issue is addressed below and later in this work). On the face of it, Wilber's logic is seen by his critics as tacitly disparaging indigenous spirituality as a more primitive mode of knowing than the modern urbanized ego, or as a rare level attained only by the most advanced shamanic members of the tribe rather than the collective level of consciousness reached by the tribe—an all-pervading spiritual attunement wiped out by later developments (patriarchy, excessively left-brained reason, industrialization, urbanization) and then recaptured later at trans-egoic levels. Similarly, Wilber's logic tends to judge the earlier Goddess religions as more primitive than the scientific and patriarchal mind which followed. (By 2006 in response to such problems, Wilber has modified his views through a model called the Wilber-Combs lattice that acknowledges that transpersonal states can be accessed from any developmental level but not transpersonal stage-structures. See appendix 2.) It remains debatable whether Wilber's pre-trans distinction is, or is not, an overly rigid demarcation. Resonant to Washburn's conception are the words of Morris Berman (1981):

[T]he triumphs of the Cartesian paradigm...over the metaphysics of participating consciousness was not a scientific but a political process; participating consciousness was rejected, not refuted....It is quite clear that the history of increasing ego-development in the West is also the history of increasing repression and erotic deprivation...Ego-development is not only purchased at the expense of sensual enjoyment...more significantly, it has a condition necessary...for its development...(p.135, 164)

And, as if in answer to Wilber's pre-trans accusation, Berman concludes: "recapturing a reality is not the same as returning to it". (p.195)

Although concerned with individual development, Washburn's more 'Western' account engages the grand polarities at the core of the dialectical interplay of consciousness and unconsciousness more adequately than does Wilber with his more 'Eastern' orientation. While Washburn's precise formulation of the foundational dialectic is not quite logically adequate and actually leaves him open to some of Wilber's criticisms, our mapping of the astrological model will reveal a foundational dialectic resonant with Washburn's general object-relations and Jungian orientation. More specifically, the astrological model is in general agreement with him as to the ‘inevitability’ of some sort of primal division—informed by the dialectic of fundamental archetypal poles—involving a 'primal repression', or foundational schism, upon which the mental-ego is based, precisely a mapping of the simultaneous gains and losses to which Tarnas is referring.

Stanislav Grof and the Perinatal Dimension

From decades of clinical research with numerous subjects who have accessed the realms of the unconscious through the use of psychotropics and later through holotropic breathing (and other shamanic techniques), the transpersonal psychotherapist Stanislav Grof (1975, 1985, 1988, 1998) has constructed an archetypal cartography of the domains of the transpersonal in a confluence with fundamental biological and psychodynamic dimensions. Whereas the models of both Wilber and Washburn begin with the advent of birth, Grof's model begins with the domains of prenatal existence and the processes of birth itself.4 (In response, Wilber would later adapt Grof's findings to his own hierarchical model, but in the process he would truncate what is of greatest significance in Grof's perinatal work). Beyond accessing the personal or biographical dimensions of the unconscious, subjects eventually come to relive the traumatic processes of their birth in such a way as to open out beyond individual biography into symbolic, visionary, collective, archetypal, and transpersonal levels of experience.

Associated with the intrauterine state and the sequential stages of the birth process, there appear to be four essential deep structures of the unconscious which Grof calls the perinatal matrices. The matrices function as deep archetypal structures which constellate whole classes of pre-personal, personal, collective, and transpersonal experiences in a nonreductive, multidimensional, and interpenetrating cosmic nexus. Briefly, the sequence goes like this: From an original state of undifferentiated unity in the womb (Basic Perinatal Matrix I, or BPM I for short), the birth process begins with the first uterine spasms with as yet 'no way out' (BPM II). Then, with the dilation of the cervix, the fetus is gradually propelled through the birth canal (BPM III) and the child is eventually born (BPM IV). The experiences and disturbances at any stage of the intrauterine and birth process have been established by Grof as corresponding to certain generic existential conditions and psychopathological categories. The dissolution of boundaries in BPM I constellates experiences of cosmic and mystical unity but also such pathologies as paranoia, hypochondriasis and a confusion of day dreams with reality. BPM II is an experience of cosmic engulfment, of 'no exit' or hell, and connects with depression, inferiority, guilt and so on. BPM III is characterized by a death-rebirth struggle with sadomasochistic, titanic and scatological themes leading to the moment of birth. BPM IV, which is the moment of birth, is a sudden release and relaxation from the build up of tension, the termination and resolution of the death-rebirth struggle. This last of the matrices is associated in terms of the therapeutic encounter, with experiences of spiritual liberation, redemption, and salvation following the experience of total annihilation and of 'hitting the cosmic bottom'. Complex modes of human experience and behaviour, both 'normal' and pathological, can, then, be understood and therapeutically influenced by relating them to these foundational structures, not simply in a cause/effect biographical fashion, but most interestingly, by approaching them as critical access points to the complex dimensionality of the psyche.

Stanislav Grof's clinical and experiential regression of thousands of subjects back to their actual birth experiences and beyond the 'perinatal' doorway to transpersonal and deeply transformational dimensions, has revealed a powerful sequence of stages and structures which, rather than being reducible to a biological birth trauma, reveal an underlying archetypal and developmental structure with religious, philosophical, and psychological implications. Richard Tarnas (1991) describes, in terms of his own overarching transpersonal historical narrative, the archetypal process implied by Grof's findings:

[T]he archetypal sequence that governed the perinatal phenomena from womb through birth canal to birth was experienced above all as a powerful dialectic — moving from an initial state of undifferentiated unity to a problematic state of constriction, conflict, and contradiction, with an accompanying sense of separation, duality, and alienation; and finally moving through a stage of complete annihilation to an unexpected redemptive liberation that overcame and fulfilled the intervening alienated state — restoring the initial unity but on a new level that preserved the achievement of the whole trajectory...In psychological terms, the experience was one of movement from an initial condition of undifferentiated pre-egoic consciousness to a state of increasing individuation and separation between self and world, increasing existential alienation, and finally an experience of ego death followed by psychological rebirth; this was often complexly associated with the biographical experience of moving from the womb of childhood through the labor of life and the contraction of aging to the encounter with death....On the philosophical level, the experience was comprehensible in what might be called Neoplatonic-Hegelian-Nietzschean terms as a dialectical evolution from an archetypally structured primordial Unity, through an emanation into matter with increasing complexity, multiplicity, and individuation, through a state of absolute alienation — the death of God in both Hegel's and Nietzsche's sense — followed by a dramatic Aufhebung, a synthesis and reunification with self-subsistent Being that both annihilates and fulfills the individual trajectory. (pp. 429,430)

Grof in Relation to Wilber

Grof sees his work as entirely compatible with the perennialist perspective and respectfully acknowledges Wilber's grand synthesis while pointing out certain of its inadequacies in light of his own research and his model of the perinatal matrices. According to Grof there are three essential inadequacies in Wilber's model. First; it lacks an account of the pre-birth level. Grof is not satisfied with Wilber's later truncating incorporation of the matrices into the bottom 'fulcrum' of his (Wilber's) grand perennialist hierarchy. Second; Wilber's earlier concept of thanatos (a dialectic of eros and thanatos at each stage of development) does not give a sufficient account of the nature and effect of death. Grof (1985) writes:

[I]t is essential to distinguish the process of transition from one developmental stage to another from the birth trauma and other events that endanger the survival of the organism. The latter experiences are of a different logical type and are in a meta-position in relation to the processes that Wilber includes under the description of thanatos. They endanger the existence of the organism as an individual entity without regard to the level of its development. Thus, a critical survival threat can occur during embryonic existence, in any stage of the birth process, or at any age, without regard to the level of consciousness evolution. A vital threat during prenatal existence or in the process of childbirth actually seems to be instrumental in creating a sense of separateness and isolation, rather than destroying it, as Wilber suggests. (p.136-137).

And third: while Wilber's pre-trans distinction is valid in one sense, transcendence of the ego level actually implies a re-encounter with the original ground unconscious. Transformation beyond the dualistic mental-ego lies through a re-encounter with the original matrix, which is not so in Wilber's model. Grof's findings in particular suggest that there is no sharp distinction between these dimensions and that the transformational encounter with the unconscious is not restricted to the personal biographical level 'this side' of the transpersonal level. According to Grof (1985), Wilber's emphasis on linearity and on the radical difference between pre-phenomena and trans-phenomena is too absolute a distinction. He writes:

The psyche has a multidimensional, holographic nature, and using a linear model to describe it will produce distortions and inaccuracies...My own observations suggest that, as consciousness evolution proceeds from the centauric to the subtle realms and beyond, it does not follow a linear trajectory, but in a sense enfolds into itself (my italics). In this process, the individual returns to earlier stages of development, but evaluates them from the point of view of a mature adult. At the same time, he or she becomes consciously aware of certain aspects and qualities of these stages that were implicit, but unrecognized when confronted in the context of linear evolution. Thus, the distinction between pre- and trans- has a paradoxical nature; they are neither identical, nor are they completely different from each other. When this understanding is then applied to the problems of psychopathology, the distinction between evolutionary and pathological states may lie more in the context, the style of approaching them and the ability to integrate them into everyday life than in the intrinsic nature of the experiences involved (p.137).

Any adequate synthesis of Grof's and Wilber's perspectives must certainly incorporate this more holographic and wrap around nature of consciousness within the grand spectrum. As Tarnas (1991) describes it:

[T]his archetypal dialectic was often experienced simultaneously on both an individual level and, often more powerfully, a collective level, so that the movement from primordial unity through alienation to liberating resolution was experienced in terms of the evolution of an entire culture, for example, or of humankind as a whole — the birth of homosapiens out of nature no less than the birth of the individual child from the mother. Here personal and transpersonal were equally present, inextricably fused, so that ontogeny not only recapitulated phylogeny but in some sense opened into it (my italics). (p.429).

We shall see that the astrological model provides precisely such a nonlinear, holographic and personal/transpersonal interpenetrating structure while at the same time preserving, albeit in modified form, the essential insights of holarchical perennialism a la Ken Wilber. The idea that the necessary re-encounter with the ground unconscious constitutes the first levels of the transpersonal domain is also the main feature of Michael Washburn's model, namely, his 'regression-in-service-of-transcendence' which in its darker shadow aspects, is phenomenologically resonant to the transformational experience of the matrices.

Toward an Archetypally Conceived Synthesis

Tracing the development of the West as it emerged from the archaic mythological consciousness through a complex dialectic of foundational principles, and wedding his account to an archetypal sequence inferred from the revolutionary transpersonal depth psychology of Stanislav Grof, Richard Tarnas (1991) sums up his overarching and archetypal conception of history:

The collective psyche seems to be in a grip of a powerful archetypal dynamic in which the long-alienated modern mind is breaking through, out of the contractions of its birth process, out of what Blake called its "mind-forg'd manacles," to rediscover its intimate relationship with nature and the larger cosmos. And so we can recognize a multiplicity of these archetypal sequences, with each scientific revolution, each change of world view; yet perhaps we can also recognize one overall archetypal dialectic in the evolution of human consciousness that subsumes all of these smaller sequences, one long metatrajectory, beginning with the primordial participation mystique and, in a sense, culminating before our eyes.....The masculinity of the Western mind has been pervasive and fundamental, in both men and women, affecting every aspect of Western thought, determining its most basic conception of the human being and the human role in the world...This masculine predisposition in the evolution of the Western mind, though largely unconscious, has been not only characteristic of that evolution, but essential to it. For the evolution of the Western mind has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating it from the primordial unity of nature.... the evolution of the Western mind has been founded on the repression of the feminine—on the repression of undifferentiated unitary consciouness, of the participation mystique with nature: a progressive denial of the anima mundi, of the soul of the world, of the community of being, of the all pervading, of mystery and ambiguity, of imagination, emotion, instinct, body, nature, woman. But this separation necessarily calls forth a longing for a reunion with that which has been lost....For the deepest passion of the Western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its being. The driving impulse of the West's masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul.....The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique... (p.440-444)

This view of a primal separation from nature impelled by a Promethean impulse toward a heroic egoic self, an autonomous yet painfully alienated self driven by its pain to seek a conscious reunion with the ground of Being—this view indeed enjoys an experiential confirmation in the work of Stanislav Grof and a deep philosophical resonance with the work of Jung, Neumann and Michael Washburn. But in its general features, is this story a philosophically adequate account? Wilber thinks not. In his view, the condition of experiential Unity with the Absolute which the mystics report is not a recapturing of anything which lies in our collective or biographical past. In terms of time and history, the advent of the universe at the Big Bang constitutes an involutionary fall of the Absolute into unconsciousness as matter. Harking back to Plotinus with his ahistorical doctrine of the emanation of all creation from the One, onward through an awakening of the historical in Hegel and Aurobindo, the universe is seen as sleeping Spirit in a long slow process of evolutionary awakening all the way up to human forms. The self-conscious ego that we know only too well is a step along this path; the transpersonal realms where Spirit will gradually awaken to itself as Spirit, though presaged by a number of advanced individuals, lie in our collective possible future.

In an early work Wilber (1980) describes the interplay of involution and evolution, not only as informing the grand sweep of evolutionary history but also as occuring across the interface of life and death. In the between-life domains of the Bardo the soul briefly experiences an unfolding to the highest level of the Great Chain of Being—the clear white light of the Void. (Note 1) Then, unable to sustain the experience, the soul once more falls back in accordance with the actual level to which it unfolded in life, into a new incarnation to experience another chapter in its long evolutionary journey back to fully awakened Spirit. There is then, no archaic condition, no original matrix in nature to return to, either in the past of the child or in the past of the species—least of all with which to recognize its original Unity as a mystical Realization. Promordial unity and the original event of separation lies ontologically and historically prior to time/space. Of course, in terms of personal growth, there is the challenge of integrating the conscious self sense with the personal unconscious, recovering disconnected fragments from one's biographical past which need to be integrated; but the taking back of projections, attaining a more realistic self sense, de-repressing emotions and memories—all these personal therapeutic processes lie 'this side' of the transpersonal. What the mystics are speaking of as the 'farther reaches of human nature', lie beyond this in higher domains .

Consequently, according to Wilber, Grof's 'perinatal' structure can properly refer to nothing other than the original birth experience itself. Despite their insistence that they are not causatively explaining historical and psychological conditions solely in terms of the original birth experience, Grof and Tarnas are, nevertheless, accused of 'pre-trans' reductivity.2 Further according to Wilber, since the birth experience is at the bio-emotional level, it is simply not necessary to re-experience it at the transpersonal level, except as possibly unfinished business dragged along from the personal level. Logically speaking, the biological domain cannot, then, be ontologically adjacent to the transpersonal; specifically, it cannot lie between the existential centaur and the transpersonal as Grof claims.

I believe that Grof, has made it very clear that he is not reducing higher levels to the biological level and has a satisfactory answer to this accusation of reductivity, an answer which provides the key to a more adequate model than Wilber's linear model, yet at the same time, friendly to much of it. In Grof's (1996) words:

In discussing perinatal experiences, we are not talking about the fetus, but about an adult who is reliving the experiences of the fetus. This regression is experienced by an individual with differentiated personality and intellectual faculties that include and integrate the development through all the postnatal fulcrums. This vast amount of information is not lost during the regressive experience and forms an integral part of it. It certainly is conceivable that the NOSC facillitates an entirely new creative integration of all structures with the transpersonal domain, thus facilitating the unfolding of still new structures. (p.21).

Wilber objects that the perinatal domain to which Grof is referring is actually just a looking back down at the lower level from the vantage point of the higher, thereby infusing the lower level biological structures with higher level transpersonal meaning, rather than the perinatal structures themselves being the source of such meaning. But contra Wilber, rather than a relationship of a subject observing an object (i.e. the higher level as subject observing the lower level as object), such a relationship is one of a profound participation which in a nonlinear fashion opens into transpersonal domains. It is such a participatory relationship that actually constitutes the 'perinatal' structure in the larger sense of the term. This is obviously more and other than a simple illumination of the lower by the light of the higher as Wilber maintains.

Wilber also attempts to refute Grof's claim that the perinatal lies at the threshold between the centaur and the domains of the transpersonal proper on the grounds that some people have transpersonal experiences and do not experience a literal reliving of their birth. But as Grof (1998a) points out, cellular level transformation still re-enacts birth as "fetal position, flections, deflections, ramming movements of the head, rotations of the body, choking" etc (p. 377) even while not necessarily implying concrete memories of birth. Nevertheless, Grof (1998a) makes clear that he is not claiming that "an experiential confrontation with birth is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual opening." (p379) But the fact that the perinatal level can sometimes be bypassed (depending on context, expectations, tradition and access method, e.g shamanic breathing, prayer, concentration or insight meditation etc.) does not mean that this particular archetypal gestalt is not ontologically present, anymore than the fact that the premodern tribal shaman can access psychic/subtle levels without passing through the mental-egoic levels negates the reality (and larger developmental appropriateness) of the conceptual self-reflexive level.

Taken together, there are two points which make it difficult to refute Grof's claim as to the threshold nature of the perinatal: That the relived birth experience often reveals certain of the concrete features of one's original birth that one could not have otherwise known confirms that the full dimensionality of all structures from the mental-egoic 'down' to the point of involution (conception) are engaged. At the same time that they are so engaged, it has been empirically confirmed that when such experiencing of the birth process occurs, dimensions of the collective unconscious, phylogenetic history, the paranormal and the transpersonal are evoked. This sounds like a vertical holistic and integrative movement into the transpersonal levels.

Given the compelling insights of Wilber on the one hand and Grof et al on the other, we need a synthesizing framework, one that can reconcile the general idea of developmental hierarchy such as that articulated by Wilber with the features of Washburn and Grof’s models which are, rather than regressive, truly integrative. Such a synthesizing framework needs to be articulated in terms that recognize various deep levels while at the same time incorporating the dynamic/dialectical depth dimension of Washburn and mapping Grof's matrices as foundational enactments of the archetypal topography of the conscious/unconscious dialectic and the life/death boundary. But I believe that the nature of the fundamental dialectic; namely, the birth/death, ego/ground, and conscious/unconscious relation, can be more adequately pictured than it is by Washburn (cum Jung/Neumann) in such a way as to reconcile a generally evolutionary hierarchy with the neoJungian and depth perspectives of Washburn, Grof, and Tarnas. In fact, such a foundational dialectic between agency and communion acting across individual and collective domains is an aspect of Wilber's later holonic analysis (Wilber 1995) which we will touch on now, but Wilber still fails to construct an adequate dynamic-dialectical account of the development of consciousness.

Ken Wilber's Four-Quadrant Model

In his later (but not latest) work, Wilber (1995) attempts to grasp the 'ultimate nature of things' with a central logic, namely, the idea of the holon. Further refining the ontological hierarchy of his earlier works, Wilber (1995, 1997, 2000) presents a rigorous explication of the notion of the 'holon' as the basic intelligible 'entity' or feature of the world. Such a concept acknowledges Arthur Koestler's (1978) idea of the nested holon, where, for example, a molecule is a part of a cell, yet at the same time, a whole unto itself composed of atoms. Any 'entity', 'atom', ecosystem, 'process', or 'idea,' that is to say, any holon however large or small and at whatever ontological level of evolutionary development it may be found, operates both as a whole to its constituent parts and as a part of a larger and higher level whole. The explication of the holon's simultaneous partness and wholeness necessarily (i.e. logically) entails hierarchic or holarchic multileveled structure conceived in terms of the multidimensional facets of evolving consciousness—the cognitive, affective, conative, moral, self identity, and interpersonal 'streams' of successive development. In his account of the nature of the holon and hierarchic holonic structure, Wilber cites a number of tenets of systems theory which apply to all levels of any hierarchy including the physical, the biophysical, and the mental. Going beyond systems theory per se and beyond Koestler's original concept, Wilber extends his holonic framework to include another foundational philosophical postulate; namely, the concept of interiority (experience) and exteriority (objectivity). Any holon can be seen or understood as both interior and exterior, as an object in-the-world to be described empirically and quantitatively and as a 'prehensive' or experiential subject to be disclosed phenomenologically, hermeneutically and dialogically. When these logical polarities are combined in a multileveled or holarchic developmental picture from the Big Bang to the higher levels of rational-egoic development, we arrive at a picture with significant foundational conceptual implications, namely, his Four Quadrant model. By means of this model Wilber ostensibly clarifies and corrects many of the conceptual distortions and errors not only in traditional naturalistic materialism but also in contemporary holistic thought.

FIGURE 1. Wilber’s Four-Quadrant Model

So according to Wilber (1995) reality is not composed of things or processes but of holons, of subject/object part/wholes, endlessly, both up and down. Each part/whole preserves its identity (agency) at the same time that it is fitting and adapting to its environment (communion). Vertically, a holon can transform upward (Prigogine's [1984] symmetry breaks) becoming a new whole with emergent and novel properties. In terms of new and more encompassing patterns of wholeness, each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessor(s). In this account, it is important to understand that any eco-system, including the greater biosphere itself, is not one level in a holarchic sequence that goes (1) individual, (2) society, (3) biosphere. Rather, each level of the hierarchy includes the individual holon and its community like the heads and tails of a coin; e.g. level (a) consists of a dynamic organism/biosphere structure; level (b) consists of a dynamic individual/society structure. Hence, there is a coevolution of the individual and its larger environment (microevolution and macroevolution). In Wilber's (1995, p. 64) words, "all agency is always agency-in-communion". As holons evolve, each layer continues to exist in a network of relations with other holons at the same level of structural organization.

In terms of the fundamental distinction between interior consciousness and exterior form, experience is not placed as an emergent at a particular level but is mapped all the way up and down. At the lowest levels, Wilber (1995, 2000) characterizes experience, following Whitehead (1967) and Griffin (1998), as prehension without falling into the anthropomorphic fallacy of what Lovejoy (1936) called 'retrotension,' namely, reading our human 'higher' modes of thought into lesser forms. Correlations are mapped all the way up through levels of increasing consciousness, mapping, not only the exterior forms of the organism, nervous system and brain, but the 'interior' progression from shadowy prehension, to simple sensation, to affect, image, symbol and concept. In addition to the 'individual holon,' the exterior and interior features of the 'social holon', are mapped; namely, external forms of family, tribe, village, empire, nation state (Lower Right) and the corresponding collective world views, namely, typhonic, archaic, magic, mythic and rational (Lower Left).

Most significantly, the Four Quadrant picture maps four different correlative strands, each of which cannot be reduced to the other. The Upper Right is accessed by the physical sciences. The Upper Left, from prehension to sensation to concept etc., is accessed by the interior individual sciences like psychoanalysis. The Lower Right, from galaxies to planets to families and nations, is studied sociologically and functionally—tools, technology, production, concrete institutions. The Lower Left, denotes the interiors of the social systems, the shared values and world views to be studied by methods such as phenomenology and cultural anthropology, accessing the intersubjective meanings behind the structures. Most significantly, the study of interior cultural meanings cannot be reduced to exterior action systems. For example, we can describe a social system and the behaviour of the inhabitants (LR) without understanding their world view (LL).

The 'Right-Hand path' is described in 'it' language, while the Left-Hand path is knowable only through 'I' and 'we' languages. "Whereas the Right half can be seen, the Left half must be interpreted." The Right-Hand path always asks, 'What does it do?' the Left-Hand path asks, 'What does it mean'?" (Wilber 1995, p.127) The Right-Hand quadrants possess simple location in space but no differentiating value: the Left-hand quadrants posses value but have no spatial location. Social theory has always been divided between hermeneutics (interpretation) and structural functionalism (structures governing behaviour), both approaches being holistic (lower quadrants). To reconstruct meaning, (LL) one must engage in interpretation entering the shared values, depths and worldviews of the inhabitants arriving at a mutual understanding. Whereas, to reconstruct function (LR), one must be detached and observe.

So every holon, grounded in these four domains, cannot be said to exist in any one of the four quadrants but must be studied in its intentional, behavioural, cultural and social settings. The premodern Great Chain, or Great Nest, mapped the levels only of the individual interior (Upper Left quadrant). The modern era reduced this interior to the Right hand world of objects. Now we need to see an integration of all four quadrants, the inner and the outer, the atomistic and the holistic, which is currently possible since the differentiation of the domains of science, art and morality in the modern era .

Wilber describes the 'validity criteria' pertaining to each quadrant. The usual modern criterion of 'truth' is the objective truth of empirical propositions—the 'it language' which refers only to the Right-hand quadrants either as individuals (UR) or as complex interactive groupings (LR). Following Habermas (1979), Wilber (1995, p.137) identifies the validity criterion of the Upper Left quadrant as truthfulness and sincerity, (the UL being accessed through "dialogical interpretation, not monological indication") while the criterion of the Lower Left is that of intersubjective or mutual understanding, appropriateness, justness, cultural fit.

Wilber's explication of the holon and his mandalic Four-Quadrant model represents a major clarification of holonic structure. His formulation of the holon as bi-polar, expresses the clarifying insight that the organism is not holarchically contained within its environment. Rather, organism and environment, individual and collective, develop interdependently and simultaneously (his agency-in-communion). Wilber is also correct in insisting that phenomenology or experience is not reducible to brain states. He also disputes the older idea that the physical dimension is at the bottom of the Great Chain. Rather, both subjective and objective (interior/exterior in varied forms) allegedly go all the way up from the bottom, a formulation which I critique in chapter 20 on the Mind/Body problem).

I am in general agreement with Wilber concerning the holarchic epistemological and ontological levels of evolutionary development. I agree that as a methodological schema this system puts an end to all forms of reductionism. But if we are to see the four-quadrant map as a foundational structural feature of a grand theory of consciousness, then there are certain logical difficulties and incompletions which have to be dealt with. I believe that more consistently following the logic of Wilber's own concept of the holon, particularly in terms of the interplay of agency and communion and the inner/outer duality, leads us to a somewhat different conception of the evolutionary Great Chain; one that allows us to include certain major perspectives which have themselves been marginalized from Wilber's system. This different conception is consistent with the deep logic of the astrological mandala interpreted holonically.

Although Wilber also describes the holon, whether individual or social, in terms of its agency and communion polarity—its horizontal assertions and connections—he does not adequately incorporate this dialectic into his larger model. Most specifically, the concept of the holon's agency and communion is not adequately combined with his articulation of the differentiation/integration process. As already said, Wilber describes development as a process unfolding successively at ever higher levels—a differentiation of ever new dimensions which are then integrated to form a higher level whole. This is a legitimate vertical understanding of these principles, but from an astrological perspective, the principle of differentiation and the principle of integration can also be seen as generally synonomous with the deep dialectical and horizontal polarities of part and whole, agency and communion, analysis and synthesis, separation and connection, pictured across the great circle. Actually, Wilber's insufficiently nuanced four quadrants (i.e. in terms of their deep logical structure) are not all equally in play at any time and level in terms of the evolutionary dialectical interplay of consciousness and unconsciousness. For my critiques of these four holonic categrories see chapter 20 and Appendix 2 where I revision Wilber's overarching model in terms compatible with the astro-transpersonal model, a more adequate account than Wilber's in terms of its logical infrastructure.


1. Tibetan Book of the Dead, Evans Wentz and other editions.
2. “Grof and Tarnas are, nevertheless, accused of 'pre-trans' reductivity”

Continue to Chapter 4