Making Sense of Wilber (4 Quadrants)

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about my fascination with Ken Wilber. Over the past few years I’ve been doing my best to slowly digest several of his books and in doing so I found out that not only is he an amazing thinker, he’s got great taste in music and podcast guests. I really believe that what Wilber has to offer can be massively helpful to moving forward into the future of spirituality, psychology, politics, business and beyond. The hardest part of trying to digest his writings is when I have to somehow describe what he’s on to. I’m gonna try to put together some posts that will hopefully shed some light on why I, and many others, think he’s incredibly helpful. This will probably be a miserable failure, but I’m incredibly interested in this stuff and I want to take a stab at it.

The first thing I feel might be helpful to highlight is Wilber “four quadrant” approach to mapping the universe. Here is a simplified version of the graph Wilber uses frequently to map the four different perspectives or ways of interpreting the world around us.


I think this graph is fairly self explanatory but I’ll try to reinforce it with an example from a Christian perspective. When I was in high school I read Lee Strobel’s “A Case for Christ”. It was a book that, at that point in my life, really had a big impact on me. When I read it, I was looking for something to sure up my doubts about Christianity. It provided me with a fair amount of purely empirical analysis of the central claims of the Gospel and, for a time, I was satisfied that it all wasn’t just B.S.. As I got a bit older and as life became more complex or less black and white, the empirical evidence that had been presented to me began to not be as convincing as it once was. I was no longer satisfied with only the exterior or “right side” of the Christian perspective. This isn’t to say that what Lee Strobel has to offer is of no use. His approach is incredibly helpful and it’s needed, but by itself, it is incomplete. I needed more. I began to wonder…..”So what if it’s factual, what does it mean here and now for me, for us?”. I needed to find a way to expose myself to the interior (or left side) perspective. I realize this is a simplified example that only contrasts the exterior and interior perspectives, but I think it gives us a jumping off point to understanding the graph more fully.

The beauty of the four quadrant approach is that it can be helpful in virtually every problem that we face. Do we stress sex education and the availability of condoms when countering teen pregnancy or do we only teach abstinence? Maybe it’s a balance of both. Do we stress personal responsibility (conservative) or more opportunity (liberal) when fighting the poverty rate in this country? Again, maybe it’s a balance of both. The four quadrant approach to interpreting the world around us and the many problems we face seems to be a very convincing approach.

This kind of approach is difficult in a world of the gross polarizations of right or left, conservative or liberal, good vs. evil. But when we open ourselves up to the nuances and complexities of the universe, it can lead to a more unified, integral understanding of each other and the world we live in.

This probably seems incredibly geeky, but it was fun to write.


6 thoughts on “Making Sense of Wilber (4 Quadrants)

  1. I agree with what you are saying about the quadrants. Nothing is really black and white and even when we were younger and we thought it was we just didn’t know. The world is complex and there are always multiple sides. I look forward to more about Wilber.


  2. I tried reading Wilber. I got about half way through one of his books and I felt so stupid. I had no idea what was going on. I think I’m not used to his language yet. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  3. jimmy, i can relate to you here. i have to say, some of his books are more digestible than others. try “Boomeritis” or “Grace and Grit”….they are his most accessible i think.

  4. Zach,

    Good post. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I need to try out some more Wilbur. I hope that you and your family are doing well…


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