Four Quadrants of the Integral Theory applied to food.

Allow me to introduce you to four co-evolving angles to observe anything. These are the objective view (scientific measurements of the composition of the “thing”); interobjective view (systems of “thing” in groups); subjective view (who experiences the “thing”); and collective subjective view (shared values over the “thing” that mirror and compound the individual experience). 

Each of the four perspectives can be divided into increasingly complex sub-dimensions (evolutionary layers) that correspond level-to-level with the other three. That gives us subjective and objective development in both individuals and collectives; and reveals an integral view of the evolution of life – in all quadrants at the same time.

The four quadrant lens is a useful universal tool. It reminds us that an object and subject are the two sides of the same coin and can/ should both be considered for an inclusive view. That is, only focusing on the internal of anything (e.g. food composition), will be partial/ limited/ misleading when we don’t consider that the experience (whether rich or poor) of an object depends on the many layers of the subject. Our current mainstream view loves the objective view the most because this is the easiest to measure, often discounting or even actively suppressing the subjective side (e.g. fighting not embracing the placebo effect). 

Additionally, nothing exists isolated from the rest. Reality works in unison, it collaborates on all levels. We can especially see this when studying food, which is an incredible unifier within and throughout all layers of life. By including the collective subjective and collective objective perspectives, with their respective evolutionary trails, we enrich our understanding even further and build a truly big picture View.

Let’s take an overview of what a Four Quadrant lens on food might look like.

Individual Exterior – Objective

We can look at food as an object, e.g. an apple. This is an outside measured view applied to an object. We can dive deep into the chemical makeup of food: from atoms to molecules to complex enzymes to living cells inside the apple. Each layer allows a unique insight and requires different tools. It is easier to measure molecules (and quantify them) than to compare almost impossibly complex enzymes. We are observing the objective world and can measure for instance that a living cell is alive, but it is difficult to quantify “how alive”. The property of “living” is subtle (non-physical) and challenging (impossible?) to measure and compare with material tools. Still, this scientific lens allows us to conduct various repeatable experiments that provide useful insights. We can study the digestion of food items and note how the organ system interacts and lights up during this process. This enables to differentiate types of food and extrapolate the effects of different compositions of food. We can understand in what way an apple is different from cauliflower or eggs, and even calculate a broad range of required nutrients for humans.

Collective Exterior – Interobjective

We continue with an interobjective lens, and ask, what surrounds/ enables the individual food items? We move from apple to apple trees and beyond. What makes up the whole food system? The fact is, there is no isolated “food” (e.g. apple) in nature.  To grow an apple you need a tree, a complex entity on its own with many living organisms from different dimensions of complexity. A small garden has (much) more life than all of humanity combined. To skip a few layers, we get to the planetary ecosystem, a self-balancing/ self-correcting living system. Ever heard of Gaia? That’s our beloved Mother Earth. Food links every sub-layer of Earth together. What is food for one, is waste for the other, and thus a balancing spiraling process is formed (rising/ evolving cycle) that allows for evolution to slowly play out. Anyone breaking that pattern is a parasite and will either trigger a systemic mayhem/ a great cleanse, will be destroyed by others, or will evolve outside of parasitic behavior. The food-chain system is almost incomprehensible and includes everything – all life in all layers including non-living matter (all states of being).

Individual Interior – Subjective

Let’s now take a personal/ subjective look at food. Here, we acknowledge that food is not food unless someone eats it (an object is not perceived without a subject). To better understand food, we need to understand the self (and vice versa), both our capacity to understand and to be (state and structure). Interestingly, the dimensions of food mirror beautifully the inner layers of the self. We all have a unique experience and relationship with food. Using food, we can help understand, heal and get the best out of all our inner dimensions. Food is a magnificent guru. It is brutally honest, multidimensionally rich, has zero dogmas (I mean food itself doesn’t talk – it is a silent teacher), connects the individual to the collective, and is there multiple times a day to offer you a choice. The only thing we need to do is use a proper map to notice this opportunity.

Collective Interior – Intersubjective

And finally, the individual is nothing without a collective. We share values, needs, learnings, traditions, ideologies – all of these play into our food habits and shape another perspective on what food is. All societies have layers of development that are differentiated by worldviews (that is, different answers to the question “what do I value”). Looking beyond GDP, mortality and employment rates, left and right politics, and other mainstream narratives, we can, in fact, use developmental models to differentiate and group the complexity of the thinking processes. This provides us with an evolutionary map – an entirely new way to understand why people think and act the way they do. The relationship with food will be different depending on societal values which, in turn, influences how much do we include from all other three quadrants.

The first two (objective) quadrants could be, for simplicity, combined together as Nature, giving us self (I), culture (WE), and Nature perspectives. 8D Food Approach includes all in one evolutionary map, and thus we expand, step by step, and learn about the self, culture, and nature through food.