Levels & Lines

Levels and Lines

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The third major phase of Ken Wilber’s work began with 1983’s A Sociable God, which introduced the notion of developmental lines, one of the defining features of the Wilber-3 era. Ken began to understand the self not as a single entity or intelligence evolving through the spectrum of consciousness; but as a complex array of capacities and intelligences that each evolve through the spectrum in different ways.

We can think of these lines of development as multiple intelligences that have evolved in response to life’s core questions: What am I aware of? (Determined by the cognitive line of development.) What do I need? (The needs line.) Who am I? (Self- identity.) What is important to me? (Values.) How do I feel about this? (Emotional intelligence.) What is the right thing to do? (Morals.) How should we interact? (Interpersonal.) How should I physically do this? (Kinesthetic.) What is of ultimate concern to me? (Spirituality.)
Although these lines are intertwined and interrelated in many important ways, they all tend to evolve at different rates, helping us understand how some individuals can be very developed in some areas, but poorly developed in others.


"Lines" are intelligences or capacities that develop through multiple stages (see Part II for more about these stages of development). Whether cognitive, interpersonal, moral, emotional, or aesthetic, these lines, these intelligences unfold in stages. An Integral Psychograph, which is introduced in this brief article, can show you how developed you are in any given line, and how that line relates to the others.

Lines of Development

I'm Good at Some Things, Not-So-Good at Others....

Have you ever noticed how unevenly developed virtually all of us are?  Some people are highly developed in, say, logical thinking, but poorly developed in emotional feelings.  Some people have highly advanced cognitive development (they’re very smart) but poor moral development (they’re mean and ruthless).  Some people excel in emotional intelligence, but can’t add 2 plus 2.

Howard Gardner made this concept fairly well-known using the idea of multiple intelligences.  Human beings have a variety of intelligences, such as cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, and so on.  Most people excel in one or two of those, but do poorly in the others.  This is not necessarily or even usually a bad thing; part of integral wisdom is finding where one excels and thus where one can best offer the world one’s deepest gifts.

But this does mean that we need to be aware of our strengths (or the intelligences with which we can shine) as well as our weaknesses (where we do poorly or even pathologically).  And this brings us to another of our 5 essential elements: our multiples intelligences or developmental lines.  So far we have looked at states and stages; what are lines or multiple intelligences?


Various multiple intelligences include: cognitive, interpersonal, moral, emotional, and aesthetic.  Why do we also call them developmental lines?  Because those intelligences show growth and development.  They unfold in progressive stages.  What are those progressive stages?  The stages we just outlined.

In other words, each multiple intelligence grows—or can grow—through the 3 major stages (or through any of the stages of any of the developmental models, whether 3 stages, 5 stages, 7 or more; remember, these are all like Centigrade and Fahrenheit).  You can have cognitive development to stage 1, to stage 2, and to stage 3, for example.

Likewise with the other intelligences.  Emotional development to stage 1 means that you have developed the capacity for emotions centering on “me,” especially the emotions and drives of hunger, survival, and self-protection.  If you continue to grow emotionally from stage 1 to stage 2—or from egocentric to ethnocentric—you will expand from “me” to “us,” and begin to develop emotional commitments and attachments to loved ones, members of your family, close friends, perhaps your whole tribe or whole nation.  If you grow into stage-3 emotions, you will develop the further capacity for a care and compassion that reaches beyond your own tribe or nation and attempts to include all human beings and even all sentient beings in a worldcentric care and compassion. 

And remember, because these are stages, you have attained them in a permanent fashion.  Before that happens, any of these capacities will be merely passing states: you will plug into some of them, if at all, in a temporary fashion—great peak experiences of expanded knowing and being, wondrous “aha!” experiences, profound altered glimpses into your own higher possibilities.  But with practice, you will convert those states into stages, or permanent traits in the territory of you.

The Psychograph

There is a fairly easy way to represent these intelligences or multiple lines.  In the graphic to the right, we have drawn a simple graph showing the 3 major stages (orlevels of development) and five of the most important intelligences (or lines of development).  Through the major stages or levels of development, the various lines unfold.  The 3 levels or stages can apply to any developmental line—sexual, cognitive, spiritual, emotional, moral, and so on.

In figure 1, we have shown somebody who excels in cognitive development and is good at moral development, but does poorly in interpersonal intelligence and really poorly in emotional intelligence.  Other individuals would, of course, have a different “psychograph.”

The psychograph helps to spot where your greatest potentials are.  You very likely already know what you excel in and what you don’t.  But part of the Integral Approach is learning to refine considerably this knowledge of your own contours, so that you can more confidently deal with both your own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of others.

The psychograph also helps us spot the ways that virtually all of us are unevenly developed, and thus helps prevent us from thinking that just because we are terrific in one area we must be terrific in all the others.  In fact, usually the opposite.  More than one leader, spiritual teacher, or politician has spectacularly crashed through lack of an understanding of these simple realities.

To be “integrally developed” does not mean that you have to excel in all the known intelligences, or that all of your lines have to be at level 3.  But it does mean that you develop a very good sense of what your own psychograph is actually like, so that with a much more integral self-image you can plan your future development.  For some people, this will indeed mean strengthening certain intelligences that are so weak they are causing problems.  For others, this will mean clearing up a serious problem or pathology in one line (such as the emotional-sexual).  And for others, simply recognizing where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and planning accordingly.  Using an integral map, we can scope out our own psychographs with more assurance.

Thus, to be “integrally informed” does not mean you have to master all lines of development, just be aware of them.  If you then chose to remedy any unbalances, that is part of Integral Transformative Practice, which actually helps to increase levels of development through an integrated approach.


Notice another very important point.  In certain types of psychological and spiritual training, you can be introduced to a full spectrum of states of consciousness and bodily experiences right from the start—as a peak experience, meditative experience, shamanic state, altered state, and so on.  The reason that this is possible is that the many of the major states of consciousness (such as waking-gross, dreaming-subtle, and formless-causal) are ever-present possibilities.  So you can very quickly be introduced to many higher states of consciousness.

You cannot, however, be introduced to all the qualities of higher stageswithout actual growth and practice.  You can have a peak experience of higher states, because many of them are ever-present.  But you cannot have a peak experience of a higher stage, because stages unfold sequentially.  Stages build upon their predecessors in very concrete ways, so they cannot be skipped: like atoms to molecules to cells to organisms, you can’t go from atoms to cells and skip molecules.  This is one of the many important differences between states and stages. 

However, with repeated practice of contacting higher states, your own stages of development will tend to unfold in a much faster and easier way.  There is, in fact, considerable experimental evidence demonstrating exactly that.  The more you are plunged into authentic higher states of consciousness—such as meditative states—then the faster you will grow and develop through any of the stages of consciousness.  It is as if higher-states training acts as a lubricant on the spiral of development, helping you to disidentify with a lower stage so that the next higher stage can emerge, until you can stably remain at higher levels of awareness on an ongoing basis, whereupon a passing state has become a permanent trait.  These types of higher-states training, such as meditation, are a part of any integral approach to transformation.

In short, you cannot skip actual stages, but you can accelerate your growth through them by using various types of Integral Transformative Practices, and these transformative practices are an important part of the Integral Approach. 

Continue to Part IV: What Type Are You?