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Kris Roose:

(Conceptual) integration is one of the most fundamental processes in intelligent systems, from individuals to societies. It seems to be the optimal method to cope with divergent or conflicting concepts and tendencies. This is perhaps the most fundamental conflict of existence. It occurs as well in facts (projects, structures, interactions) as in concepts (internal and external incongruences between conceptual frames). In the first case we speak about structural integration, in the second about conceptual integration.


There are, generally speaking, three ways to solve conflicts and incongruences: selection, compromise and integration.

Selection (choice) is the simplest way at first approach, but yields the most problems at the long run. It consists in a choice or selection of one of both or multiple alternatives. The underlying myth or paradigm, firmly sustained by aristotelic-cartesian philosophy and logics, and strongly advocated by those in power, is that in the presence of more than one hypothesis, only one can be the true, and hence all other, not-complying views are wrong. Logical thinking by deduction, or, if this is not possible, referral to authority or democratic choice, seems to be the way to decide which approach is the true or best one.

The symbolic description is:


(<> means here: not easily combinable with).

Theoretically there are two exceptions:

  1. the two alternatives are completely compatible, so they can easily be combined.
  2. one of the two or more presented alternatives appears to be the "good" (integrated) solution.

Both exceptions are most exceptional.

Compromise (or partial, limited integration) is another paradigm. It is used when conflicting tendencies of concepts (or their authors) are of more or less equal force or importance, making selection inappropriate, due to the major complications that immediately will arise if selection is applied. In case a solution, with at least temporarily relief, is elaborated, which consists in approaching the most sensible aspects of the conflict. With most sensible I mean: with the most emotional importance for all concerned parties, or which the most easily measurable aspect (e.g. price).

The advantage of such an approach is that major complications will be avoided, and that functioning together can be continued. The disdavantage is that the non-integrated aspects will subsist, and lead to new conflicts at a later date.

These two paradigms, although very popular in our culture, and even philosophically, ethically and politically sustained, are unsatisfactory on the longer run. This inadequateness will increase in situations where evolution accelerates and where more and more people are conscious about the unsuitability of repressing important elements to achieve a pseudo-consensus. A new paradigm to solve the fundamental conflicts of existence (conceptual and factual), and to remediate the insufficiency of the selection and compromise paradigms, is offered here: integration.

As people, even scientists, most often do not think about integration, this solution is often called, as Maslow did: The third way


Integration is a process of combination of elements that, at first approach, seem to be incompatible or even conflictuous, but, after a bit of analysis and re-synthesis (leading to reformulation or re-orientation), prove to be rather complementary.

The essential "trick", enabling integration, and incompletely and intuitively used in compormise, is that one realizes that every concrete form of idea/project is not the essential aspect, but an attempt to translate some more important "underlying" values into a concrete form adapted to the available evidence. The problem with selection and compromise is the, apparently erroneous, unconscious presumption that the essential value of an idea or a project resides in its actual form, resulting into "take it or leave it" conflicts.

Synomyms and Disambiguation

Although the operationalization of the integration process is rather recent, intuitive and spontaneous forms of conceptual forms of integration occur often, now and in the past, and were sometimes referred to with terms including syncretism, (creative) synthesis, holism, combination, transcendence, win win method, idea development, convergence.

The term "integrative" is sometimes used in some related meanings, not exactly the same as here. An integrative approach often means (1) a therapeutic approach not only for the mind, but including the human body, or (2) a multidisciplinary or comparative approach by non-integrative scientists. Although this undoubtedly is a first and necessary step towards integration, it is not yet integration in itself. Integration includes a creative superstructure or deeper generalization of the partial contributions, which can be deduced from the integrated law. The fact that one feels the need for a multi-disciplinary approach suggests that integration is not yet achieved.

Symbolical Representation

Symbolically this process could be represented by:

{A,B} Φ (AΦA') & (BΦB') Φ {A'B'}

where A en B are elements in their primary, "unintegrable" state, that are "retroduced" to their "essential core" (AΦA') & (BΦB'), what makes them "integrable", and then combined into a new unity (A'B'). We would like to introduce the function Ω (Omega) to describe this process in short:

Ω {A,B} = {A'B'}


There seem to be two major application fields for integration processes: conceptual and structural or factual. Sometimes these can be linked to each other, e.g. when conceptual integration between people leads to factual integration of their activities. But factual integration can occur without preceding conceptual integration, by trial and error, e.g. between organisms without intelligence, e.g. the process of combining atoms into molecules.

Conceptual integration is a means of thinking, by which partial information or seemingly contradictory insights (or plans, hypoptheses, paradigms, theories, projects, programs, etc.) can be reformulated, so that those elements can harmoniously be combined into a more complete, more valuable bit of information or insight. The result of this process combines every valuable element of the original, partial and/or conflictuous insights. Consequently, the outcome of this logical process is allways more valuable and more plausible than each separate partial insight, at least if the rules of integration are correctly applied.

Structural or factual integration is a means of interaction, by which two (or more) systems (organisms, molecules, etc.) make some structural and/or procedural adaptations in their mode of functioning --most often by trial and error--, so that all implied elements attain a better realization of their individual "needs" than before the integration process. Symbiosis, collaboration, cooperation, complexification, socialization, synergy are striking examples of this phenomenon. The whole cosmic evolutionary process can be described in terms of integration. Only intelligent systems as humans are capable of realizing such a factual integration as a result of conscious conceptual integration.

Factual integration most often is very hierarchical: data go bottom up and instructions go top down. Conceptual integration is, by its very essence, "peer to peer": it's a kind of cooperative thinking.

So, integration can also be realized without preliminary conceptual integration. In fact, only extremely recently in cosmic evolution, conceptual integration came into existence. First of all it was necessary to develop consciousness to a conceptual level, as is the case in humans.

Factual (or structural) integration (or convergence) consists of a nearly endless trial and error to elaborate systems that are, in their internal and external interaction, sufficiently non-conflictuous or harmonious, to create a long lasting stability. This "harmony" implies a sufficiently equilibrated organization of the multitude of potentially diverging tendencies.

When we refer to integration in this text, we mean "conceptual" integration.

The development of the integrative culture

In the development of intregrative thinking in our social and scientific culture, three stages seem to occur:

1. The Eclectic stage

This first stage means that people stop thinking in monotheory frames. They accept that other approaches may contain valuable elements.

This approach is synonymous with multidisciplinarity. In the same line of thought some psychotherapists who extend their psychological work to somatic aspects and aiming at a psychosomatic equilibrium, call themselves integrative.Eclecticism, taking the best of all worlds, is an analogous approach.

2. The Comparative stage

This second mode of integrating remains more or less superficial, and is characterized by complex tables where the contributions of several theories are juxtaposed, only partially integrated, or compromises are made. It suggests that integration is little more than giving new names to old concepts. This kind of integration (synthesis should probably be a more appropriate name) is impressive by an overwhelming number of quoted authors. This kind of integration is typical for authors who hold their knowledge primarily from reading, and don't have a practical, active experience within the field which they integrate, resulting into a real danger for underestimating the imponderable aspects of the topic.

The integral theory of Ken Wilber is an impressive example of comparative integration.

3. The Integrative stage

Although one would expect that academic circles would be enthusiastic with this new form of scientific thinking, the opposite is rather occurring. Not only our academic system is built upon the principle of hyperspecialization (knowing more and more about less and less), while a more appropriate "university" should be fundamentally more "universal", probably favouring another kind of intellectuals. But also scientific publications --at least in "inexact" domains, the so called alpha sciences-- ought to be completely different. And presumably psychological resistance will be important as well.

The second and third stages strongly need creative thinking: the intuition of a new scheme or conceptual frame (with an underlying, implicit hypothesis) and the explication or explicit formulation of a that hypothesis. The first stage is not yet a creative stage in itself, but is very fertile to elicit creativity.

The method of Conceptual Integration

A practical manual, with special examples for integration in a creative p2p website, will be discussed in Conceptual Integration Techniques.


The importance of the integration process in complex situations can't be overrated: it is the essence of the most intelligent processes in human thinking and (inter)action.

  1. The most important application is of course any form of Peer-to-Peer interaction and cooperation. Before that, divergent ideas were selected by hierarchical authorities or by majority choice (democracy). Ideally, in P2P there is no selection, but integration of the valuable contributions of every participant.
  2. Integration is a way of problem solving, as it enables us to bring divergent and even conflicting views together. In this sense it differs profoundly from the two other, more popular problem solving methods used by humans, namely choice and compromise. Integration leads to construction and positive evolution, whereas choice and compromise lead to conflict and loss of energy and insight.
  3. Integration will allow us to bring together the valuable contributions of divergent theoretical schools, especially in psychology, philosophy, and alpha sciences in general (religion, philosophy, arts and politics, psychology). These sciences feature the deplorable tendency to split up into several, apparently incompatible "schools", e.g. from psychoanalysis to behaviorism. The integrative movement tries to combine the values of each divergent theory. Among other things this could lead to more effective applications e.g. in psychotherapy and communication processes, and to a significant increase in the quality of life.
  4. Integration can be seen as the core of the communication process. A majority of affective relationships fail between 5 and 10 years. Psychological explanations for this regrettable phenomenon include: (1) the art of communication is never taught, not at school, not during one's youth at home; (2) the incompetence to communicate between partners is hidden by our spontaneous tendency to marry people whith whom we "fell in love", i.e. a partner with a complementary personality structure. This complemantarity conceals the communicative incompetence for several years. Moreover, "understanding each other without the necessity of debating" seems to be the acme of communication skills. As divergence increases in a non-communicating, non-integrative context, choices and resulting conflicts seem more and more unavoidable. Training people in communication skills includes developing the disposition towards, and the skill of integrating, i.e. finding a way that pleases both.
  5. Integration can be seen as a tool to enhance the plausibility of new theories, in fields where the "exact scientific method" can't be applied. Exact science tries to "prove" its exactness by enhancing the exactness of its measures and descriptions. In fields where these exact measures (still) can't be accomplished, there is still a means to achieve plausibility: when a great number of possible applications and a great number of analogous phenomena is referred to. A maximal applications/references number is also useful in exact sciences, but a (relative) lack of these can greatly be compensated by exact measuring. Where exact measures are not (yet) feasible, integration is indispensable. Otherwise, partial opinions uncontrollably tend to deviate to one-sided exaggerations. Thus, we have two scientific methods to our disposal: the exact scientific method, for phenomena where exact measuring is possible, and the integrative scientific method, for phenomena where measuring is not yet practicable. A separate page on [Integration as scientific method] is in preparation.
  6. Thinking consists of two processes: induction and deduction. Deductive thinking (from hypothesis to application) was splendidly elaborated into scientific thinking, with controllable logical steps and operational algorithms that often can be applied by computers. Inductive thinking (from observation to hypotheses) still remains below the treshold of conscious thinking, and is still not operationalized in useful algorithms, to the great frustration of scientist devoted to the "psychology of science", e.g. Popper. As a consequence, even today induction is the privilege of creative people, geniuses and artists, who themselves can't consciously control this process. Afterwards, it is easy to demonstrate that a good idea, an invention, a better theory, a happy solution is an integration between things that previously were conflictuous or not linked at all. Apparently, geniuses and inventors are good intuitive integrators. Integration appears to be one essential logical step in inductive thinking, and becomes the quintessence of creativity (induction).
  7. Integration seems to be the solution for the information boom. The dream of the Paperless Office was never realized until now. On the contrary, never were such amounts of printed paper produced as since the invention and popularization of computers. Each office and home was turned into a small printing-unit. The same problem starts with Internet, where a single query on a search engine usually results in hundreds of thousands of results. But even when we visit several tens of links, too often the essence of what we were looking for still is not found. No doubt several enhancements in the search programs will be useful. But eventually only an integrative site may offer, perhaps for the first time in intellectual history, the possibility of comprehensive and coherent information transfer, with the extra opportunities of linking the visitor to more specific sites, and automatically updating the information. The future of books and magazines looks meager. We are still looking for a Wikipedia -like website where integration should be required to accept new articles, elaborating one coherent, integrative knowledge corpus. A site with these integrative qualities could i.m.o. be labeled as a real Web 3.0 Net application.
  8. Integration can be regarded as the highest, "healthiest" style of behaving, of living. Psychopathology, psychoses, neuroses, mood disturbances etc. can be seen as examples of a failure to integrate: some needs are realized at the expense of others, in an attempt to realize an unrealistic choice. Happiness, psychological equilibrium and mental health can be seen as the highest possible integration of the needs of the individual, and of the individuals of the group where he belongs to. The subjective sense of life consists of a conscious integration of the own needs with each other, and of our needs and the needs of all people which whom we interact. Happiness can be seen as the consciousness of a successful integration. Psychotherapy can be described as the art of inducing people to realize better integrations in their lives.
  9. One could consider the emerging tendency of Consensus in decision making or at least consent as an application of conceptual integration, at least if the consensual idea(s) emerge during the decision making process, and are not the result of conviction or mitigating of the minority by the majority, or of compromise.
  10. Not only human beings, but, according to evolutionary theories, each system in the universe tends towards an integration with its surrounding systems, from atoms to human beings. As long as an integration is not reached, the situation remains out of equilibrium, and forces are active to try to change this situation. At a low level, this integration tendency is achieved purely by coincidence. At a higher level, the "good solutions" are registered in an encoded form (genes, chromosomes, instincts) to prevent that "warm water has to be re-invented every time". At a high, intelligent level, integration is consciously pursued, at least for the subjective comfort it yields. Darwin's law of "the survival of the fittest" can be reformulated as "the survival of the most integrated with his environment", because in the end conflict and aggression can only be overcome by integration. Thus integration can be seen as the ultimate objective in the evolution of the universe, the very sense of existing. Integration is a fundamental process in cosmic existence.


Because of the paramount importance of (conceptual) integration, every education, every relationship, every scientific career, every political career, every training as psychotherapist or councellor, every management office, every type of publication should start with a thorough study of the concept, techniques and required dispositions of the art of integration.


Integration was intuitively appreciated from ancient times with concepts as "harmony", "ma'at", "shalom", and expressions as "In medio virtus".

As a way of explicit thinking, integration was precedented by a few empiric paradigms, e.g. Kant's "thesis, antithesis and synthesis". Other theorists, as Assagioli and Shostrom, called it a "creative synthesis". Gordon described his "win-win method". Maslow spoke of "the third way". A compromise can be considered as a tentative, blind attempt to reach some of the advantages of genuine integration. Shafer and other interfaithists call it "dialogue". The dreams of consensus and harmony assume an ability to integrate, but without operationalising the paradigm. An eclectic is a person who is open-minded towards the idea of integration, but doesn't try to create such an integrative corpus: he only picks out some useful applications. As a factual process, integration (in psychiatry) was first described under that name by Van Hasselt [1] [2].

Of course several 20th century authors and philosophers started using intuitively the integration paradigm to come to spectacular conclusion even in the absence of strict scientific data. Among the greatest undoubtedly are Alfred Norman Whitehead, the founder of process thinking, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the author of an all-inclusive evolution theory from strings to society and beyond, Jean Gebser, the founder of integral thinking.

As a conscious style of thinking and a method of bringing divergent theories (e.g. the numerous psychological schools) together, integration was first described in 1978 at the Academy for Integrative Psychology [3] [4]. In 1983 the American Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration, SEPI, New York, was founded. But still today the SEPI only uses the concept of integration in the sense of bringing together divergent psychotherapeutical approaches. The other meanings stay out of the scope of this active group of academic psychotherapists. Along our view, psychotherapy integration is not possible without extending the field to psychology in general, and even to fundamental sciences as General Systems Theory and Evolution Theory.

Integration is now a fairly common approach in various professional groups, whether commercial, governmental, or academic. Awhile back I read an article by the president of AOL on precisely this topic of integration as employed by corporate research. And academically the major universities (that I know of in the U.S.) all have multi- disciplinary studies programs and degrees, wherein integration is a necessary factor. As for myself, as a systems philosopher, I recommend Ervin Laszlo's landmark study "Systems Philosophy" that long ago approached creative model-making via the synthesis or integration of older models (on any given topic). Our's has become the Integral Information Age! [5].


[1] Van Hasselt, A., Het integratiebegrip in de psychiatrie, Van Loghum Slaterus, Deventer, 1977
[2] Van Hasselt, A., Naar eenheid in de psychiatrische dynamica, Van Gorcum, Assen/Maastricht, 1991
[3] Roose, K (ed.), Ontwerp voor een integratieve psychologie,
    Academie voor Integratieve Psychologie, Gent (B), 1980
[4] Roose, K. & Van Brandt, B., Het geheim van het geluk, Kluwer, Antwerpen (B), 1985,
    ISBN 90-6716-442-9
[5] Beatrix Murrell in a post at the Teilhard eGroup (April 2002)