Lexi Neale’s AQAL Cube

I was hoping to get to this a little earlier, but I’ve been very busy recently.  Lexi Neale (whom I have no previous or other contact or knowledge of other than this essay) has written a very intriguing and challenging piece on the Ken Wilber blog offering a pretty radical re-interpretation of AQAL Integral Philosophy.  He calls it the AQAL Cube–versus what he sees as Wilber’s AQAL Square.

Warning:  His essay is heavy-duty intellectually and so will be my response.

I won’t bother trying to summarize his entire essay.  It’s quite sophisticated and deserves to be read a couple of times, think about it.  There’s an enormous amount in there.  I’m just going to jump in.

Neale writes:

Expanding the AQAL domain from Square to Cube may also entail expanding existing definitions, and in the course of this paper I will make every effort to clarify how and why an existing definition could be expanded to embrace the new territory being described. I will also try to preserve existing definitions. For example, the two AQAL Squares of the AQAL Cube will not be given “upper” and “lower” designations, because in AQAL Theory these apply to the quadrants of any AQAL Square.  The two AQAL Squares of the AQAL Cube I will henceforth refer to as “below” and “above”; our possessive or material being below, and our non-possessive or non-material being above; or consciousness structures below, and the identity states inhabiting those structures above; or Empirical Consciousness quadrants below and Intuitive Consciousness quadrants above. These differentiations will be further clarified through the course of the paper.

You may notice here a potential re-metaphysicalizing of Wilber’s post-metaphysical turn.  The distinction between our material being and our non-material knowing is potentially very mistaken.  Namely the subtle knowing self is not non-material.  It is rather a different form of materiality–or rather is both consciousness-materiality.   In fact on this point, Neale seems to be contradicting himself by having a quadrant above–quadrants inherently involve materiality.

So on one hand we may see Neale as basically arguing for a renewed perennial philosophy in light of AQAL theory.  The names so far most associated with that trend in integral world are Frank Visser and Alan Kazlev.  The basic idea is that there are worlds above the gross material.  Again calling it non-material is not helpful.  Referring to layers of materiality would be better.  Wilber’s view on this can be read here where he describes how gross material evolution must evolve so that the higher subtle energies-matter can shine through in this world.  This is part of what he calls post-metaphysics or maybe better is called a deeply immanent this-worldly transcendence.

On the other hand, Neale may be onto something.  But how I think about what he is onto is different than how he sees it.  More on that point in a second.

But first…one of the difficulties with Neale’s works is that he is focused on the Quadrants.  Now this is a fair assessment of Wilber’s work.  Wilber tries I think unfortunately to fit all of the pieces of his theory into the quadrants.  Levels and lines are show inside the quadrants.  And as Neale correctly points out this screws up meditating deeply on the difference between states and structures.  Whenever Wilber does a states/stages distinction he reverts to the Wilber-Combs Lattice which as you will note is not a quadrants view.  Pretty much admitting you can’t fit that into quadrants.  Much less types (which as a result don’t show up in Wilber’s work very much).  And so on.

If however, we take an idea that is in Ken’s work but has largely been neglected–though picked up by Mark Edwards among others–quadrivia, then it can change. [Sidenote: Mark doesn’t use the term quadrivia but it’s essentially interchangeable with Ken’s understanding].

For example Neale writes:

For example, the AQAL Cube would be able to delegate State Stages and Structure Stages their own quadrants, by which to map more accurately their vastly different perspectives, rather than be lines in the same quadrant of the AQAL Square.

The AQAL Cube is not necessary for that distinction.  And saying the states have quadrants is probably I think not helpful.  My preferred method  is to think quadrivia:  take a state and then imagine the four quadrants from that state.  Ken’s ideas of the quadrants is that they are four dimensions of any occasion.  The occasion would be in this case the state and the quadrants the 4 dimensions of that state.

Also Mark Edwards and Daniel O’Connor have both pointed out the mis-identification of perspectives with quadrants in Wilber’s work and have shown how you can separate perspectives (modes of being) and quadrants (dimensions of being) out from one another and then relate them.  Within what by Neale’s terms would still be called an AQAL Square.

I think Lexi has picked up on those points and they are wise ones to pick up on, but one can still have a non-AQAL Square view while still “just” having the quadrants.  The Cube in those regards is not necessary.

In simpler terms, I think a lot of his criticism of the AQAL Square is a legitimate criticism of how Wilber too often tries to squish everything from AQAL into the quadrants with unhelpful results.  A more nuanced take (like O’Connor’s/Edwards’) doesn’t I think have those reductions.

So to come back around to the real question:  what is going on with this Cube and does it contribute anything?  I think it does but I think it does in a way different than the author himself does.


The two central issues to be dealt with here, in the raising of the AQAL Square to AQAL Cube, inevitably have to do with reductionism and “flat-land” in the AQAL Square. First, I attempt to differentiate our gross “Being” from our subtle “Knowing”, or What we are from Who we are. The problem here is that our material Being is empirically self-evident, whereas our non-material Knowing is self-intuitive. In my developing the AQAL Cube model I used my own phenomenological experience to differentiate what I am from who I am. I therefore invite anyone to investigate this approach, especially in Second and Third Tier awareness where the differentiation becomes more and more apparent in both Upper Left quadrants (Empirical and Intuitive). I will go further into the Three Tiers later. I also observed that the Self as identity States is of a different order of consciousness from the Self-sense as cognitive Structures and intelligences, for which purpose I introduce the hypothesis that our awareness operates in two Domains of Consciousness – the Gross Domain of the Empirical Consciousness with its Structures, and the Subtle Domain of the Intuitive Consciousness with its identity States.

The reference to the Third Tier here is really crucial.  Tiers in integral theory are the supposition that in some special cases the move from one level to another is not just an emergent leap of levels (structures) but also a tier-shift.  Like an octave shift.

Clare Graves called the move from pluralistic-green to yellow-holistic a “momentous leap”.  It is a leap not just from one level to another (say in his system blue to orange) but also a tier shift.  From green to yellow (or postmodern to beginning integral) is shifting from 1st Tier to 2nd Tier.

In Wilber’s color system, moving from Turquoise (advanced integral) to Indigo (and later Violet) is the move from 2nd Tier to 3rd Tier.

Here’s something I wrote on this blog in January of 2007:

The Authentic Self, the Third-Tier is somehow the beginning of the Soul/Subtle state become a stage–while still allowing that Soul exists at each any every stage all the way down. That is not confusing Soul as horizontal state-stage at any structure-stage.

The Authentic Self is the language of Andrew Cohen.  It is used to describe the structural level (around violet) in terms of Self-Identity (i.e. 1st person perspective from within that experience) that in some sense is the Soul as a stage.  I argued then–and still do–that Cohen is really the only one consciously seeking to build the Third-Tier.  But since Cohen’s model is really built around the experience of being the Authentic Self (i.e. mostly 1st and 2nd person modes of inquiry) it does not entail a larger vision transcending and including the 2nd tier.

This is what I think Lexi Neale has done.  He’s given the beginning drawing of the Third-Tier in visual form and helped open it out in 3rd person perspective (the over-arching quality to the work comes from this mode of being).  That is quite an accomplishment.  The only comparable person doing similar work I can think of is Joe Perez and his work on Kronos.

But here I think we need the notion of Kosmic Address.  Kosmic Address is a derivative of integral post-metaphysics.  Namely things do not pre-exist but ex-ist (literally “stand out”) only in the world-spaces and world-views in which they arise.  Address-ing any issue then is to find both the location (quadrant, state, type, perspective, etc.) AND the means whereby that occasion is reached.  Or as Wilber says: “the meaning of a statement is the means of its enactment.”

Having done so, any new level then goes about re-translating/re-depicting all lower levels according to its own insights.  And here is where I part (slightly) ways with Neale.  I think he has come into real insight (as he claims and I take him for his word) of the Third-Tier.  This is where the Soul–or what he is calling The Intuitive Consciousness–becomes opened up as a stage/structure.  He’s then re-read then back into the earlier stages of development where that distinction is not yet available.

Wilber says in Integral Spirituality that that earlier features can be said to “sub-sist” (unrecognized) that later “ex-ist” when they arise in worldspaces (p.250 footnote).  The factors of what are considered intrisinic subsisting features are themselves interpreted from the higher stages.  In other words, it’s all heavily dependent on the stage’s own view (both across if you like any its own level and down).

There would likely not be much to reply to in his work from many integral thinkers because the elements he is describing are not arising in that space. I think what Neale has done is re-read the Intuitive Consciousness vs. Empirical Consciousness down through all the earlier stages.  Which is fine I suppose but actually doesn’t arise in those worlds.  And it doesn’t arise in 2nd tier consciousness.  And it need not. Within the 2nd Tier the kinds of nuance Neale is making simply doesn’t arise.  There’s no way to agree/disagree.  It just doesn’t come up on the radar.

Because only in the Third Tier as one identifies with The Authentic Self (Intuitive Consciousness) does one have an identity in which the ego (empirical consciousness) is objectified and therefore seen.   With the nuance of an Edwards/O’Connor kept in mind then, 2nd-tier Integral is not reductionistic.  It’s just what it is.  Like any world-horizon it is limited.  And like any emerging horizon beyond that one it’s enduring insights will be taken up into a different world (as Neale has done with what he calls the Square).

I’m just not sure defining the distinction between the two as one of vertical (higher vs. lower) is an especially helpful one–particularly in the lower than 3rd Tier levels.

Greater depth equals less span.  This is a deep work hence it has very little in the way of span.  The best it can do is come up with a paradigm-injunction to reveal its own worldspace, thereby satisfying the necessities of a Kosmic Address, and begin its process of unpacking the world it reveals.  That’s something to be sure.  It’s deep.  But I keep making the point that 2nd-tier integral (properly understood) is not reductionistic because the kinds of distinctions Neale is making are not necessary to achieve (2nd-tier) integral work in the world.

My experience via Cohen’s work in Enlightened Communication is that the 2nd-tier state/stage distinction begins to breakdown–or rather breakthrough (be transcended)–in the Third Tier.  So I’m not entirely convinced that Neale’s way of distinguishing between structures as the empirical and states as the intuitive identity is the right way to go.  Or at least if it’s going to work it needs to be clarified relative to the higher evolving structures like indigo-violet in Ken’s color scheme.  I think he needs another term than states.  Because again prior to Third Tier I think it is much more helpful to think of states as horizontal to vertical structures.  This accounts for the Mother Theresa syndrome of extremely deep state mysticism combined with a lower level structural value system (i.e. women belong in a subservient position to men).

Otherwise as Lexi says, Ken’s discussion of vertical enlightenment (i.e. highest available structures) and horizontal enlightenment (the state-stage path) and saying integral enlightenment is the combination of the two is redundant.  Neale has to do one of two things (or perhaps both).  Neale’s understanding of enlightenment means he either has to reject people who show state-stage enlightenment (horizontal enlightenment in Ken’s frame) as not enlightened.  Or he has to elevate people to higher structural-stages that they haven’t reached because they clearly show some signs of enlightenment–even if that is coupled with clearly lower levels of structural evolution.  Again the Mother Theresa example.

In Third-Tier Experience (as stage not just state) the state/stage distinction comes differently,  I can appreciate that Neale understands this, but I’m very leery of bringing back in the notion of a Subtle Domain as existing up above material reality.  At least as anything more than simply an urge–a de-metaphysicalized Subtle Domain it would need to be for me.

Though to be fair, maybe Neale is arguing just that:

the Intuitive (Subtle) Domain is not really an entity in itself but is an emerging overlap, a dilating field of reference between the Empirical (Gross) Domain and the Universal Consciousness (Causal) pervading it, or becoming involved in it.

A last point is that in terms of the 24 perspectives (3 persons x 8 perspectives/person), I could use some clarification as to the relation of perspectives (or masks/persona in Neale’s formulation) and other forms of quadratic drawing.  Namely it heavily emphasizes identities.  In 1st person, perspective #5 (Distal Self, Intuitive Me) is how the Intuitive Self sees itself. Instead of the body and behavior of the Imtuitive Self.

Again I would say that is more quadrivia than quadrants–and I’m not sure then the distinction between upper quadrants and lower quadrants is the best way of framing this.  As upper quadrivia versus lower quadrivia—primed to the context of self-identities/persona–then that frame is really genius in my mind.  Otherwise however I think Naale is flirting with the same “bricking” quality in the Third Tier as Wilber’s has in the 2nd.

If they are seen as quadrants (not quadrivia) then there is a real danger here I think of de-materializing, de-socializing trend–a kind of Gnostic heresy.  Just to be clear though this only applies if perspectival persona are taken to be the only form of quadrant drawing.  This part of Neale’s essay is unclear to me.  He might not be doing that.

I think it would help to clarify Identity as the Occasion of Experience and then imagine the Four Quadrants (in both Intuitive and Empirical Versions) as if they were four drawings of identity.  Except normally the quadrants are: Intentional, Behavioral, Cultural, Social Dimensions of Experience.  Not forms of Identity.  To shift to Identity is for me quadrivia–imagining.

Though again Neale does call 1st person Perspective #6 Behavioral Persona.  That might be for me stretching the notion of Persona, but I guess the deeper question (for me) is whether he is equating dimensions of experience with persona.  Or persona as the means whereby all dimensions show up.  If that’s the idea, then I would disagree.  If it’s just one way of sketching it out, then I think it’s very illuminating.

As evidence that he’s thinking of it more in the way I’m discussing there is this:

We can now take a “Whole Cube” approach to any situation, where we can address the Four Quadrants on each of the six directional faces to take a more comprehensive directional bias:  Not only the Intuitive Identities Quadrants and Empirical Structures Quadrants, but also the Individual Quadrants, the Collective Quadrants, the Subjective Quadrants, and the Objective Quadrants, as shown in Figure 11.

Again, as Neale says in the beginning this is a beginning sketch and therefore everything can’t be fleshed out, so I want to give him space for that.  But it’s interesting that in one way he talks about the Intuitive as higher/above and the Empirical as lower/below and yet puts both of them on the same Cube thereby relativizing (if I understand it rightly) the whole higher/lower thing.  As he says the distinction (according to his pov) between the states considered horizontal and the stages considered vertical is meaningless.  If so, does that undercut his own higher/lower schema relative to the Intuitive/Empirical Domains?  I ask because creating the higher/lower distinction will tend towards a view I think whereby the empirical is basically controlled by the Intuitive.  He uses the metaphor of car (empirical) and Driver (Intuitive).  I’m not sure that’s the right analogy–except in the experience of awakening to Third tier Consciousness.

But again there’s other elements of what he has to say that would undercut his own analogy, e.g.:

From moment to moment on any binary-perspective lattice, one of the two octants can be preferentially dominant; meaning that we can also take a reversed perspective, including a reversed Self perspective, when the dominant pole as witnessing “subject” becomes the recessive pole as witnessed “object”. For example, Soul-as-witness (first person Intuitive Upper Left, turquoise altitude) prehending or engaging a recessive pole such as Lower Mind (first person Empirical Upper Left, red altitude), while selflessly chopping wood, can be reversed as Lower Mind prehending Soul in a sudden insight of awesome power. For that same lattice-coordinate the two reversed perspectives produce a totally different experience.

That is I think a very profound articulation. Still it could be right but only in the space which it is right.

Also I wonder if he needs to be careful I think to talk about the two poles as witnessing/witnessed.  What about dialog? Maybe giving and receiving is better?

What I’m saying is that I think in order to translate this work down to 2nd Tier requires using quadrivia and talking about it “as if” there were four upper quadrants (qua quadrivia) and four lower.  That can be done from within the 2nd Tier.  I think in a sense he is already doing that–it’s latent in the language.  As in 2nd person #6:

Although not linguistically differentiated from the Second Person Empirical Self, it implies relating to the behavior of another person.

Neale describes this as the Three Persons but he’s really doing Perspectives–i.e. modes of taking up positions relative to other beings.  “Relating to the behavior of another person” means the 1st person the one doing the relating approaches (via 2nd person perspective, in this case in Neale’s language in empirical domains) to the upper-right behavior of another (2nd person relative to the 1st person doing the acting but from within his/her own perspective, the first person being approached by another, 2nd person to that 1st person).

Again I think more perspectives and quadrivia than persons and quadrants. Again though his work is very subtle and discriminating and both are there.

The last point I want to make which to me is the central insight of the work involves what drives the formation of Tiers–and why I made all this fuss about 3rd Tier versus 2nd Tier in the first place.

In the First Tier, the Intuitive identity States are fused with the Empirical Structures they inhabit, resulting in identifying with Gross Domain materiality, mortality and survival. In Second Tier the Intuitive awareness learns to differentiate from the Empirical Domain as Subtle awareness, resulting in differentiating a spiritual identity. Even though the Integral Level of awareness is indigo in Third Tier, the true integration of the Empirical and Intuitive Domains in Universal Consciousness is not completed until ultra violet in the Enlightenment process. I therefore propose that the three phases as the fusion, then the differentiation, and finally the integration of the two Domains define the three Tiers. This would suggest that one strategy to help nourish the entire Spectrum would be to encourage the discussion of the Intuitive Domain of Consciousness.

Second-tier in other words differentiates states and stages and then relates them via the Wilber-Combs Lattice.  Third-tier as I said before in some ways moves beyond that (re-integrates).

But here again I have a slight disagreement with Neale (again I think).  I think he is treating the levels in Wilber’s spectrum as an already essentially built structure.  Again there are some (for me) worrying tendencies towards a re-metaphysicalizing.   As Wilber says what we know draw as the level violet to ultra-violet may in the future become built as multiple stages.

They really aren’t there.  Yet.  And to the degree they are in an individual they are very deep but very thin.  Plus they have no technological-social-behavioral-cultural matrix upon which to manifest those tendencies at this point in Kosmic development.

Still, this point about how the Tiers evolve I think is a stunning insight.  It also seems to me not necessary to have to accept the idea of 2 planes (Empirical and Intuitive) in order to accept the Tier-driver hypothesis.  States and stages can be subsituted for Empirical and Intuitive.  In the first-tier they are the same.  Or rather since they are fused, they don’t show up at all really.  That was Wilber’s brilliant insight in critiquing Perennial Philosophy.  In 2nd-tier they are differentiated.  In third they shift.  My sense of the shift is that is not (metaphorically) best described as above/below, but that’s a point of debate I’m open on.  What I think is not helpful for sure though is reading that above/below distinction back down through the levels and then critiquing the earlier levels for being “reductionistic” when in reality, it’s more like, that information simply isn’t available in that world.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 8:37 pm  Comments (8)  
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