An Integral Approach To Unifying The Philosophy Of Chiropractic:

 B.J. Palmer’s Model Of Consciousness

Simon A. Senzon

Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic, Spartanburg, SC

Saybrook Graduate School
San Francisco, CA

Copyright authors and Journal of Integral Studies.



The chiropractic profession is fractured into many philosophical camps. The essence of this fracturing is a disassociation between science, psycho-spiritual growth, and philosophy. One solution that could unify the profession is to integrate the camps around a philosophical consensus within the profession. Such a consensus does loosely exist: the concept that the living organism is self-healing and self-organizing. While the philosophy of chiropractic as proposed by Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer (1910) and developed by his son Joshua Bartlett (B.J.) Palmer (1949) has fallen into disrepute in the profession, this kernel of the self-healing ability of the organism remains. In this paper a model is proposed based on the writings of B.J. Palmer and explained using the analytical tools of integration developed by Wilber (1995). This proposed model is meant to provide a context in which to understand and decipher the confusing definitions associated with the Palmers’ term, innate intelligence. The concept of innate intelligence served to define the self-organizing aspects of the organism as well as the psycho-spiritual aspects related to life and healing. Each philosophical camp within the profession can orient itself in relation to Palmer’s model. By doing so, the possibility exists for the profession to grow stronger through dialogue and understanding. Out of that strength, new dialogues with other health and science disciplines could open.

Based on his father’s insights, B.J. Palmer wrote extensively about the psycho-spiritual aspects of healing that were related to the chiropractic adjustment (Palmer, 1949, 1955, 1957, 1961). Due to his language which was not differentiated, (for example, he used the same term, innate intelligence to discuss the self-organizing aspects of living organisms as well as the higher psycho-spiritual states of consciousness), and his often abrasive rhetorical style, the profession has overwhelmingly left the philosophy by the wayside. Fuller (1989) has noted that because of the profession’s distancing from the philosophy, chiropractic has benefited from more money and recognition by the federal government and the health industry. The cost, however, has been the near irreparable fracturing of the profession itself.

Many in the profession look at the schism between the therapeutic and the non-therapeutic objectives of care as the main fracture (Strauss, 1991). I am suggesting that the actual source of philosophical fracturing is based on the disassociation from any psycho-spiritual definitions of health. This disassociation can be found in both spectrums, therapeutic and non-therapeutic (Winterstien, 1998; Koch, 1998). The kernel of philosophy that has remained in both of these spectrums is that the body is self-healing and self-organizing. It is this core definition that should be used to unite the many philosophical camps. Even those chiropractors that have let go of the philosophy in order to establish a more credible and scientific profession would benefit from this type of integration.

I will reconstruct B.J. Palmer’s philosophy as a simple four-level model of consciousness (Diagram A). There is no other systematic treatment of his philosophy to date. By using the analytic tools proposed by Wilber (1995), such as his four-quadrant system, and his concepts of differentiation, disassociation, and integration, and by placing the philosophy of chiropractic in a cultural and historical context, the four-level model will be supported.

A brief outline of the model is as follows; Level one is universal intelligence, or the organizing impulse within all matter. Level two is innate intelligence. This is the self-organizing and self-healing ability of all living systems. Palmer sometimes referred to this as super-consciousness, soul, spirit, life-force, as well as the law of organization. (Hence the confusion.) This is the level where the loose consensus exists in the profession. Level three is educated intelligence or the conscious thinking mind. Level four, I define as self-creation (Senzon, 1999), whereas the conscious mind first accepts the wisdom of the body as valid, and later allows that wisdom to direct it in life. Palmer explained this as the phenomenon where educated intelligence (level three) communes with innate intelligence (level two) and eventually universal intelligence (level one).

It is at level four that the fracturing among chiropractors occurs, especially because Palmer considered this stage of awareness as a mystical merger with the intelligence of all creation. As mentioned above, in a need to be more scientific and acceptable, much of the profession has dropped the philosophy due to this undifferentiated explanation of the healing process associated with the chiropractic adjustment. In fact, in the parlance of Wilber, much of the profession has completely disassociated science from spirit and philosophy. Wilber’s four-quadrant system of analysis will be an important tool for integrating the philosophy and providing context for dialogue and understanding.

I have chosen Palmer’s works over his father’s because, in the younger Palmer’s writings, we not only see a fifty year development of the theories, but we can witness his own spiritual development and his interpretation of it in the language of his philosophy. His life and work have never before been examined from this perspective. This examination will prove invaluable as we discuss the philosophy in the context of modern-day disciplines such as transpersonal and humanistic psychology, integral studies, consciousness studies as well as systems science and health studies. The terminology associated with each of these disciplines will be useful in differentiating the core theories. For example, psycho-spiritual growth is a common term in humanistic and transpersonal psychology (Taylor, 1999). By applying it to the confusing spiritual aspects of Palmer’s philosophy, communication becomes easier, and inter-disciplinary discourse becomes possible.

The Consensus

The consensus within the chiropractic profession about the self-healing ability of the organism, stems from Palmer’s concept of innate intelligence. He and his father proposed many definitions for this term. A few of these were mentioned above; soul, organizing intelligence, super-consciousness, as well as the law of organization in the body (Palmer, 1910; Palmer, 1949; Stephenson, 1927). Palmer related spiritual growth to a mystical attunement with this intelligence. Some in the profession still acknowledge this psycho-spiritual component of the definition (Williams, 2000). Few in the profession agree on a definition of the term innate intelligence, yet most agree that the body is self-healing in some fashion (Fuller, 1989).

Palmer addressed these conflicts throughout his writings. He also discussed his own personal growth, and he taught how others could achieve psycho-spiritual growth (Palmer, 1955). By simplifying his philosophy into a four-level model of consciousness, a philosophical and historical context is created. This can serve as a starting point for future dialogue amongst the many factions in the profession. I am suggesting that they do share a common ground.

Since the source of the philosophical confusion stems from the psycho-spiritual aspect of the definition of innate intelligence, I will spend a good part of this paper discussing that. Even though Palmer never really defined how the different parts of innate intelligence (i.e., the organization of the body and the psycho-spiritual aspects of growth and healing) are differentiated, this model of consciousness does. In this way, we can go back to the source of the discrepancy, and integrate instead of separate. The profession can, for a moment, look beyond other major schisms, and look towards philosophical integration along the concept of self-healing and self-creation.

Some Early History

Before discussing Palmer’s model of consciousness in more detail, it is important to examine the roots of his philosophy as well as how he developed it. To understand Palmer’s developments, it is important to look briefly at his life. His roots can best be explained through the philosophy of his father.

Daniel David Palmer (1845-1914) originated the philosophy of chiropractic (Peterson & Weise, 1995). The philosophy was an attempt to explain the healing associated with the chiropractic adjustment. Chiropractic started when Palmer adjusted the vertebra of Harvey Lillard in 1895, which restored Lillard’s hearing. Palmer had been a magnetic healer prior to (delivering) this adjustment. Magnetic healing grew out of the teachings of Mesmer (1734-1825). Mesmer’s system of magnetic healing was a precursor to mental healing and hypnosis (Fuller, 1989). Palmer was also well read in the Spiritualist tradition (Beck, 1991). Spiritualism focused on contact with the after-life through séance and other means. It was very popular in America in the 1890s (Taylor, 1999). Palmer’s creation of the philosophy of chiropractic stems from these roots.

Palmer (1910) proposed that there is a universal intelligence in all things, which actively gives matter its organization. A subset of this was innate intelligence, which was the organizing principle in living organisms. Palmer sometimes interchanged these terms with god and soul respectively. According to Palmer, the nervous system was vital in the organization of vertebrates. The misalignment of a vertebra could put pressure on a nerve or the spinal cord (vertebral subluxation), thus causing a decrease in the ability of the organism to express its inborn intelligence, which was an aspect of the intelligence of all creation.

The vertebral subluxation is still considered a viable model in much of the profession (Kent, 1997; Boone & Dobson, 1997). The role of the chiropractic adjustment was to free the impediment to the expression of the intelligence. When this expression was clear, Palmer proposed that the body would achieve greater health, and the educated intelligence, or rational mind, could listen to the guidance of the innate intelligence. Such “listening” was akin to religious experience. All of these concepts were given to his son Joshua Bartlett Palmer (1881-1961) at the age of eighteen. For the rest of his life, until age eighty-one, the younger Palmer continually developed the philosophy.

A Philosophical Tradition

It is important to place the ideas in the context of their time. Fuller (1986) discusses the philosophical and religious transitions of the elder Palmer’s era. There was a need to bring spiritual principles into popular culture to slow the tide of the “godless” scientific worldview. As we will see, Wilber (1998) would consider this an early attempt to integrate the disassociated value-spheres of science, morals, and art. According to Wilber, the differentiation of these is the mark of modernity. Similar to this assessment, Palmer explained his new health movement, chiropractic, as a science, art, and philosophy. The Palmers’ philosophy, which connected the biology of the organism via the nervous system to the integrating intelligence of the cosmos, was an aspect of this intellectual and spiritual movement of the era. It was an early attempt at the integral vision.

Fuller points out that the roots of these ideas can be found in Transcendentalism as well as Mesmerism. Miller (2000) would agree. She proposes that the Palmers’ philosophy is largely derived from Emerson. In the teachings of Emerson and the Transcendentalists in general, spiritual transformation is found through the contemplation of God in nature (Taylor, 1999). This doctrine is similar to the Palmers’ overall philosophy. In Mesmer however, we can see a more direct link to the Palmers’ philosophy of healing. Fuller notes that within Mesmer’s teachings was the doctrine that, because illness comes from “a disturbance in the body’s supply of animal magnetism, medical science could be reduced to a simple set of procedures aimed at supercharging a patient’s nervous system with this mysterious life-giving energy.” (Fuller, 1986, p. 30) This quote is useful because it shows a link to the Palmers’ view that the nervous system is central to the expression of health.

Transcendentalism and Mesmerism were important in shaping the new American spirituality. If chiropractic can be reconnected to this philosophical tradition, then it can open dialogues with other disciplines in this intellectual and psycho-spiritual lineage such as humanistic and transpersonal psychology. Humanistic psychology is focused on human potential. Transpersonal psychology is focused more on mystical states and psycho-spiritual actualization. Both of these disciplines could provide a terminology that will be useful in differentiating the Palmers’ concepts of psycho-spiritual health and self-actualization from biological organization. By having a terminology apart from chiropractic to describe these aspects of health, it becomes easier to define the chiropractic conception of the self-organizing and self-healing components of the organism.

B.J. Palmer’s Worldly Experience

B.J. Palmer’s nephew, W. Heath-Quigley (1989), wrote how in Palmer’s later years, “he had hoped his books would become his greatest memorial” (p. 19). In his last twelve years of life, while living with some severe health challenges, Palmer wrote seventeen books. These were mostly philosophical in nature. Unfortunately, very few chiropractors in the profession today have read any of these works. This is another important reason why I have created this model of his philosophy. Since models are commonly used to explain scientific and philosophical concepts, perhaps the chiropractic profession will have more access to his ideas when presented as a model of consciousness. I realize that even a balanced look at his later works will be viewed with apprehension by the chiropractic profession. Mostly this is due to Palmer’s polarized legacy.

Palmer’s attitude was that he was ‘heir to the throne’ of chiropractic. This attitude created followers and enemies. According to Quigley (1989), Palmer viewed chiropractic as his family’s legacy. He was president of The Palmer School of Chiropractic for fifty-five years. He dismissed his detractors as enemies. One such incident occurred in 1924 when he introduced the neurocalometer (a heat differential device) to the profession. To Palmer, any chiropractors that did not purchase this new invention, which he swore was the only objective way to detect the vertebral subluxation, were against him. Many members of his faculty left and formed their own school. Keating (1997), Palmer’s biographer, has noted two other such controversies: the introduction of the x-ray machine in 1911, and the upper-cervical specific chiropractic technique in 1934. In each of these instances, Palmer swore that he had found a new truth. I feel that he was blinded by his vision.

B.J. Palmer’s Spiritual Experience

Few authors have addressed Palmer’s spiritual life from a perspective of value. Mostly, any discussions of his spiritual ideas are maligned or clearly misunderstood. As mentioned above, Palmer’s father introduced him to the philosophy at the age of eighteen. Palmer wrote, “This man, at the age of eighteen, ‘found himself’ in relation to this fundamental principle” (1961, p. 247). This statement, as well as several similar ones throughout his thirty volumes, refers to Palmer’s acknowledgement that his first glimmerings of a spiritual quest was unfolding at that time in his life.

The search for an answer to the question, “What is innate intelligence?” was Palmer’s mission in life. A useful analogy to explain the intensity of his search is the Zen-koan. According to Austin (1998), the koan is a means for the Zen master to transmit a seed of enlightenment to a student. It is an irrational question that the student must meditate on, often for years. Austin proposes that this stretching of rationality, in deep contemplation, destabilizes the set points of the brain and thus shifts perception. This creates a background through which the student’s awareness can be triggered into a spiritual awakening.

Palmer was given the trans-logical question by his father; how is the health of the human organism related to the infinite wisdom in the universe, and what is the role of the chiropractor in that process? Palmer searched far and wide for the answer. He traveled the world three times to every sacred site from the Buddhist temples at Ankor Wat in Cambodia, to the pyramids of Egypt (1926, 1953). He studied world religions. He developed the art of chiropractic (1934), and built a million-dollar research clinic in the 1930s (1936, 1951). He even owned the first radio station west of the Mississippi, WHO. (Incidentally, this was where Ronald Reagan got his first job.) Palmer also lectured widely (Keating, 1997).

To Palmer, the exploration of the mystery of life was a spiritual quest. His Zen-koan was innate intelligence. He often used this trans-logical perspective to share the mystery of life with his followers. He encouraged his students to ponder the shear wonder of the living process (1920, 1949, 1955). In this way, it is clear that he hoped others would awaken to a spiritual understanding of life similar to his own. He hoped that a contemplation of the infinite complexity and pervasiveness of the intelligence, coupled with the chiropractic adjustment, would inspire and transform the masses. For example, when discussing his intensive study of 25,000 vertebra night after night in the osteological laboratory, he wrote,

IT WAS HERE IN THIS ONE ROOM, the Great Teacher and Master of ALL people of ALL times, was Innate. IT WAS HERE with these retired personalities, with their every-day personal products, I learned the basic truths of Chiropractic and how to become a Chiropractor.
Up till THIS period of MY life, I was INVOLVING MY thots, words, and acts much like so many have done and were doing. The “I” was egotistic as well as egoistic.
After THIS period of OUR life, WE began EVOLVING like few people do or have done. From then on, WE thot, spoke, and acted. From then on, “I” was humble in the presence of Innate within as WE lived together.
IT WAS THERE, plus time, IN THIS ONE ROOM, I found MYself. WE found OURselves—INNATE AND I—until EACH lost his or her singular and single identity and became a plural duality, to eventually walk down the byways and highways together the rest of OUR lives (1961, p. 163).

(Palmer’s use of capitol lettering as well as his unusual spelling of “thot” were his ways of emphasizing concepts.)

This shift of pronoun from “I,” to “We,” is important because it is very similar to the mystical writings of the world’s wisdom traditions (Vaughan, 1989), and provides a link to transpersonal psychology. From 1949 until his death in 1961, in all of his writings, Palmer referred to himself as “We”. This represented the unity of his conscious mind and his “super-conscious” innate intelligence both speaking as one. Based on my analysis of his writing, I have deduced that this shift from “I,” to “We”, occurred between 1938 and 1949. This quote is important because it represents the higher stages of psycho-spiritual health in Palmer’s philosophy; it also mentions how he became a “plural duality”. This could refer to the “non-dual” aspects of awareness often associated with spiritual disciplines like that of Ramana Maharshi (Sonde, 1995) and Zen Buddhism (Suzuki, 1970).

Integration Via Wilber

One further step is necessary before discussing Palmer’s model of consciousness. We need to examine the analytic tools of integration suggested by Wilber (1995, 1997). It is here that the terms of differentiation, disassociation and integration become essential to making sense of the Palmers’ legacy. Integration is most important if we are to unify the philosophy around a common theme.

Wilber (1995, 1997) has developed a four-quadrant system of analysis that acts as a map of the relationships between art, morals, and science. This is what Wilber calls the three value-spheres of I, We, and It. The four quadrant system is similar to what Maturana and Varela (1987) call a “logical accounting” between subjective experience and objective experience. Understanding this map is our first step in understanding Wilber’s system so that it can be used in our analysis and subsequent integration.

Wilber’s (1995) four quadrants (Diagram B) can be pictured as a plus sign; there are empty spaces in the upper right and left as well as the lower right and left. In the upper right, Wilber places scientific empirical study (for example, the chiropractor’s assessment of the patient’s physiology). In the lower right quadrant, Wilber places social theories (for example, systems theory, or in a chiropractic sense, the theory that the body is self-organizing and self-healing). In the upper left quadrant, Wilber places subjective individual experience (for example, the patient’s subjective feelings of health or illness). In the lower left quadrant, Wilber places the collective interior such as culture (for example, the alternative health community and doctor-patient interaction). According to Wilber, we can examine any system of thought and determine its level of balance or integration by understanding how each of these four quadrants are related, valued, and utilized. 

This is where the concepts of differentiation, disassociation, and integration become important. If, for example, a school of thought embraces the natural healing ability of the body as a scientific phenomenon only (upper right quadrant), without any recognition of the person’s quality of life, i.e., psycho-spiritual health (upper left quadrant), then that school of thought disassociates the objective from the subjective. If another school of thought saw no difference between the scientific healing of the body, and the subjective experience of self-actualization, such as B.J. Palmer did, then it is not yet differentiated. Integration, according to Wilber comes after differentiation. Wilber compares this concept to the biological process of embryological development, “And while this extraordinary differentiation is occurring, the different cells are simultaneously being integrated into coherent tissues and systems in the overall organism. This differentiation-and-integration process allows a single cell to evolve into a multicellular organism and complex system of exquisite unity and functional integrity” (1998, p. 53). If differentiation goes too far, disassociation occurs, which leads to pathology.

As noted above, the mark of the modern world according to Wilber is this differentiation between science, art, and morals. One poignant example that Wilber gives is the trial of Galileo (1998). Science was not free to seek its own objective truth apart from the moral-sphere of the church. In that same light, the art of the pre-modern world was also dependent upon religious approval. Wilber suggests that an integration of pre-modern religious experience with the very modern pursuit of scientific truth is a key to solving the deep disassociation that plagues modernity.

D.D. Palmer (1910) viewed his discovery of chiropractic as an integration of science, art, and philosophy. To him, science was the independent pursuit of the physiological reasons for chiropractic, art was the techniques used by the chiropractor to adjust and care for patients, and philosophy was the explanation linking the organizing intelligence of the body to the organizing intelligence of the cosmos. As mentioned above (in reference to the definition of innate intelligence), these differentiations were never clear, so integration has never occurred. This point is very important to the discussion because it relates directly to the reason why the differentiation and integration as proposed in this paper, is necessary. Wilber (1997) explains how, if a system does not deal with all four quadrants, the part that has not been dealt with will enter the system as a contradiction. The inner turmoil of the chiropractic profession is evidence of this. A quote from Wilber will explain this point,

Open any textbook on holistic systems theory or the new holistic scientific paradigm, and you will find an endless discussion of chaos theory, cybernetic feedback mechanisms, dissipative structures, complexity theory, global networks, systems interactions-all described in process it-language. You will find nothing substantial on aesthetics, poetry, beauty, goodness, ethical dispositions, intersubjective development, interior illumination, transcendental intuition, ethical impulses, mutual understanding, justness, or meditative phenomenology (so much for being “holistic”). (Wilber, 1997, p. 22)

It is important therefore, even for the chiropractors that remain comfortable with a systems view, or even a reductionist view of biology, to understand how their perspective fits into Palmer’s model of consciousness. Such an understanding would be helpful for meaningful dialogue. A common language is very useful. This historical and philosophical approach to integrating the philosophy of chiropractic provides such a language.

The Great Nest of Being

One thread that should be teased out of this picture is what Wilber (1998) calls the great nest of being. It is here that the unacknowledged component of chiropractic philosophy lies. It is here that the link between the Palmers’ philosophy and the history of religious thought are found (Fuller, 1989), and it is here that a clearer understanding can be had in relationship to this complex subject matter. Wilber defines the common esoteric core of all religions as an insight into the nested and emergent progression from matter to life, to mind, to soul and to spirit. Spirit, Wilber explains is both the highest rung on this ladder as well as the substance with which the ladder is made (1986, 1998). According to Palmer, that spirit is known as intelligence and consciousness.

Wilber (1998) acknowledges the uncomfortable nature of this topic for scientists. His suggestion is that spiritual experience is a verifiable practice similar to a scientific experiment. Instead of using the eye of reason, spiritual insight is viewed with the eye of contemplation. Wilber provides the example of looking through a telescope to see a planetary object. This activity is the injunction. In order to experience consciousness permeated in all things, the practitioner-scientist must do the injunction, and contemplate, or meditate.

As mentioned above, Palmer’s (1955) method of teaching others about spiritual awakening was through a focused contemplation of the wonder and wisdom of creation, coupled with the reception of chiropractic adjustments. The chiropractic adjustment to Palmer was the injunction. When obstructions to the nervous system’s communication are removed, according to Palmer, the patient could experience physiological health as well as psycho-spiritual health. This latter aspect is due to the direct communication between the wisdom in the body and the conscious thinking mind.

In Palmer’s model, the actualization of spiritual experience is the true aim of the philosophy (1961). This is very close to Wilber’s explanation of the great nest of being (1997). According to Palmer (1957), consciousness is the source of the universal intelligence (which organizes matter), from which stems the innate intelligence (life), from which stems educated intelligence (mind), from which arises internal self-actualization (soul and spirit). This is certainly not part of the consensus in the profession today. The point of constructing this model of Palmer’s thought is not to suggest that chiropractors should start advocating spiritual growth nor discuss whether consciousness permeates matter and life. It is more for a contextual understanding of the philosophy. Chiropractors can place their own perspective of the philosophy within the model. Thus, they can understand their perspective as linked to a tradition and to other ideas within a wider philosophical system.

The Model of Consciousness

By using the conceptual framework of model building, Palmer’s main points can be broken down into four basic levels of consciousness. I structured this model of his philosophy according to level in order to make it easier to understand. I use the term “level” for two reasons. Level implies a developmental and teleological direction. Level is defined as, “relative place, degree, or stage: a high level of development, position on a vertical scale” (Funk and Wagnall, 1993, p. 443). Both of these reasons are important to Palmer’s philosophy because the organism is understood to be expressing its potential organization via health at all times (Palmer, 1949). This expression is teleological in the sense that the living system strives to achieve an optimal health. Stages are important as we can classify the levels of health on the continuum from cellular health to psycho-spiritual health.

Each level can be explored in its own right. For example, for the chiropractors that choose to focus on only the self-organizing aspects of living systems, research can be linked to other fields such as complexity theory (Kauffman, 1995), systems theory (Capra, 1995), chaos theory (Freeman, 1991), and biology (Lipton, 1999). Most importantly, the differentiation of this level can create dialogue between therapeutic and non-therapeutic chiropractors. For those who choose to focus on the link between this self-organization process and conscious experience, research can be linked to other fields such as consciousness studies (Varela, 1991), and philosophy (Chalmers, 1995). Likewise, for those who choose to focus on spiritual actualization, research can be linked to psychology (Maslow, 1968; Taylor, 1999), and other health disciplines (Johnson, 1995).

Level one and two; universal and innate

Level one of Palmer’s model of consciousness, is the organizing intelligence of matter, universal intelligence. For reasons of brevity and complexity, I will not say much about level one. It can be understood in the context of the great nest of being. In Palmer’s model, it is the ground of all being, intelligence, and organization.

Level two is the organizing intelligence of living matter: innate intelligence. This level is where Palmer begins to mention consciousness. There are several instances where he refers to innate intelligence as “super-consciousness,” as well as the organizer of living matter. Palmer wrote,

Palmer’s LAW OF LIFE includes a primary factor, Innate Intelligence, as the abstract Governing Director; controlling ALL free flows of intelligent force to EVERY organic muscular motor between IT and ITS movable expression. This Great Scheme of Creation is a super-consciousness (Palmer, 1958, p. 93).

According to Stephenson (1927), a member of Palmer’s faculty, innate intelligence was the law of organization akin to the law of gravity. This, coupled with descriptions of the higher levels of awareness, and super-consciousness, show Palmer’s attempt at integration. Unfortunately, this is not integration because there was never a differentiation.

Differentiating level two is the most important point of this paper. It is here where the major disagreements exist within the profession. I have suggested (Senzon, 1999) that innate intelligence can be understood as the process of health expression. I termed this process the Health Continuum Model (HCM) to represent all expressions of health from cellular organization to psycho-spiritual actualization. By using Wilber’s four-quadrant system (Diagram B), we can define these aspects of health more precisely. According to Palmer, cellular health is a natural process. This is akin to autopoiesis or self-creation (Maturana and Varela, 1980). This biological self-organizing process can be explained on the right side of Wilber’s map. The upper right quadrant is where biology can be empirically studied. The lower right quadrant is where the theory of systemic organization can be defined. Palmer described these components in the same language as he described psycho-spiritual health (Wilber’s upper left quadrant).

Many of the schools of thought within chiropractic have differentiated the living processes from any spiritual allusions. This differentiation was a necessary move within the profession to distance itself from undifferentiated definitions. However, instead of just differentiation, the profession has generally disassociated the two. It is here that Wilber warns of problematic contradictions. It is here, that the chiropractic profession overwhelmingly admits to one aspect of the philosophy; ‘the body heals itself,’ without acknowledging the connection to the rest of the philosophy or its roots. By clearly differentiating these spheres and then integrating them along Wilber’s quadrant system, new insights and relationships emerge. Before discussing levels three and four, a more detailed look at the loose consensus in the chiropractic profession will be useful.

The Consensus (revisited)

A consensus does loosely exist in the profession. However, the focus is generally on differences. The break between symptomatic-based care (Winterstein, 2000), and non symptomatic-based care (Gelardi, 1996), is the most famous difference. This split has existed since the profession’s inception although it has changed and fractured even more since then (Strauss, 1991). There has been of late, a discussion about officially separating the profession along these lines (Riekman, 2000; Winterstien, 2000). Within this discussion, when the concept of integration arises, psycho-spiritual health is not usually discussed. Even if this dilemma is never agreed upon, perhaps some mutual respect and acceptance will arise from the type of integration proposed in this paper. Another commonly accepted reason for the fractured profession is how the evolution of ideas and techniques often created polarity. New ideas were embraced by some and shunned by others (Keating, 1997).

As discussed above, I propose that the main source of the fracturing is due to the conflicting definitions of innate intelligence as soul, spirit, and the source of self-organizing and self-creating processes in the body. Because of Palmer’s non-differentiated use of the term, many definitions came into common use thus creating more confusion, misunderstandings, and apprehension. I suggest that if all aspects of the profession acknowledge their common consensus, that the body is self-healing and self-organizing, then it would become easier to accept differing perspectives. Whether their objective be symptomatic care, non-symptomatic care, or psycho-spiritual actualization, unity is possible.

Most of the chiropractic schools have dismissed the philosophy, and done away with the term innate intelligence. A kernel of the concept remains, the body heals itself. Los Angeles Chiropractic College (Phillips, et al, 1994) refers to vitalism and homeostasis as important aspects of its philosophy. National Chiropractic College (Winterstein, 2000) makes no reference to innate intelligence, but does acknowledge that the body heals itself when the spinal, neural, and muscular systems are properly aligned. Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic (Koch, 1998) still uses the term innate intelligence, but defines it as the organization of living organisms only, which is best expressed when the vertebral subluxation is adjusted. Few of the schools discuss the psycho-spiritual aspects of the original definition.

Life University emphasizes the psycho-spiritual attributes of the term innate intelligence, without differentiating it from the scientific aspects (Williams, 2000). This is much like Palmer’s original definition, confusing. Other schools such as Los Angeles Chiropractic do not use the term innate intelligence, but do acknowledge the psycho-spiritual aspects of health as part of their mission (Phillips et al, 1994). Thus, the psycho-spiritual overtones to the philosophy usually remain in an undifferentiated or disassociated way, while the scientific undertones remain in a slightly differentiated and non-integrated way.

By restructuring Palmer’s philosophy into a model of consciousness, the psycho-spiritual components of his definition of innate intelligence can be seen in a new light. Much like the health continuum model (Senzon, 1999), psycho-spiritual actualization can be understood as a relevant and integrated aspect of the healing process. Through the use of Wilber’s four-quadrants, we can place the biological definitions of living systems on the right side of the map, and the interior, subjective dimensions of health, growth, and healing on the left side of the map.

Level three and four; waking consciousness and awakening

Palmer’s discussion of consciousness, as an experiential phenomenon, comes into play with what I call level three, educated intelligence, and level four, self-creation. These levels enter the domain of psychology. Level three is the conscious, reflecting, and rational mind. It is here that Palmer (1949, 1955, 1961) devoted hundreds of pages. He criticized the biomedical reductionist outlook because he considered it fixated in level three. He implored scientists and medical doctors to awaken to a greater appreciation for and communion with the inner wisdom of all life.

Level four is the intuitive ability to attune the conscious mind to the inherent intelligence that is shared by all living organisms. In his later works, Palmer discussed how the chiropractic adjustment helps the individual’s conscious mind (level three), to attune to the innate intelligence, as well as how the individual can further utilize this inner wisdom as a guide. I have concluded that this process occurs in two stages.

The first stage of level four is when the individual recognizes the value of their body’s wisdom (due to the healing associated with the chiropractic adjustment). This is an important point, because it is not yet dealing with psycho-spiritual actualization, and thus may be more palatable to those with a reductionist perspective. This first stage of level four is when the individual begins to pay attention to bodily symptoms as messages from the wisdom of the body instead of merely negative disturbances that must be removed. This is a health psychology that integrates the scientific objective (Wilber’s upper right quadrant) with the validity of the patient’s experience (Wilber’s upper left quadrant). This aspect of Palmer’s philosophy has been advanced recently by Epstein (1999). To Palmer however, this shift of consciousness was not enough.

The second stage of level four is what I call self-creation. Palmer considered this stage of awakening the ultimate spiritual enlightenment. To Palmer (1951, 1955), every mystic from Buddha to Jesus, and every genius from Edison to Lincoln, all shared this stage in common. The ability to access the inner wisdom was Palmer’s secret to awakening. It is here that similarities to Emerson are most relevant (Miller, 2000). How the individual communicates with the intelligent consciousness immanent in the natural world becomes the focus of the philosophy.

This state of consciousness can be understood in terms of psychological and spiritual transformation. This accessing of the inner-storehouse of potential wisdom is comparable to the psychodynamic view of psychology (Taylor and Krippner, 1998); it is also akin to mystical awakening (Wilber, 1995). Palmer wrote about the individual’s awakening process,

Should that time come when his finite mind could and did KNOW the infinite mind WITHIN, then his external finite mind would cease to be, because it would then be infinite in scope, understanding and application (1957, p. 9).

This quote is a good example of the Palmer’s Zen-koan method of communication. Palmer’s ultimate mode of imparting his wisdom was through this type of trans-logical comment. By stretching the chiropractor’s and the patient’s rational thinking awareness (level 3), to the depths of the innate within, he attempted to point individuals to the truth that lies within. By contemplating the mysterious intelligence that lies behind scientific truth (Wilber’s upper right quadrant), one can awaken to the source of that intelligence. This contemplation as well as the experience both occur in Wilber’s upper left quadrant.

While the shift of consciousness from level three to level four may not be important to most chiropractors, it was very important to Palmer. He spent his final years focused on describing this shift in consciousness. To him, only the chiropractor who was awakened to the infinite wisdom could deliver the true essence of chiropractic (1955). Also, when patients were taught about this awakening while experiencing it in their bodies via the chiropractic adjustment, a new phase in the evolution of consciousness could begin (1957).


Although this model is simple, it reconstitutes for the chiropractic profession its own integral philosophy. This is different than the holistic movement in the profession, which attempts to make chiropractic everything to everyone. Instead, it links the various streams of thought within the profession that are oriented toward psycho-spiritual growth with those focused on physiological health only. It creates a bridge between the different camps in the profession, while allowing them to maintain their differences. It also proposes a link to other disciplines such as psychology, biology, complexity theory, consciousness studies, health studies, and most of all, integral studies.

Palmer’s model of consciousness begins with the intelligence in matter, which is based on an immanent consciousness. From there, the intelligence extends to living systems as the cause of self-organization and self-healing. With organisms that contain nervous systems, this organization is more intricately woven and complicated. Distortions of the spinal system could cause impediments to the expression of the intelligence through the biology. This could also distort communication between the educated/conscious mind and the immanent intelligence. According to Palmer, such communication is normal and natural. In fact, it is the mark of spiritual and intellectual genius. In this way, the chiropractic adjustment is a vehicle to help the individual to achieve biological health as well as communion with the super-consciousness and hence with all of creation.


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