The Developmental View

All of these memes [developmental stages] has something to contribute.

But what none of the first-tier memes can do, on their own, is fully appreciate the existence of the other memes. Each of the first-tier memes thinks that its worldview is the correct or best perspective. It reacts negatively if challenged; it lashes out, using its own tools, whenever it is threatened.

Blue order is very uncomfortable with both red impulsiveness and orange individualism. Orange individualism thinks blue order is for suckers and green egalitarianism is weak and woo-woo. Green egalitarianism cannot easily abide excellence and value-rankings, big pictures, hierarchies, or anything that appears authoritarian, and thus green reacts strongly to blue, orange, and anything post-green.

All of that begins to change with second-tier thinking. Because second-tier consciousness is fully aware of the interior stages of development - even if it cannot articulate them in a technical fashion - it steps back and grasps the big picture, and thus second-tier thinking appreciates the necessary role that all of the various memes play. Second tier awareness thinks in terms of the overall spiral of existence, and not merely in terms of any one level.

[Upon reaching second-tier thinking one can] vividly grasp the entire spectrum of interior development, and thus see that each level, each meme, each wave is crucially important for the health of the overall Spiral.

[...] without second-tier thinking [...] humanity is destined to remain victims of a global "autoimmune disease," where various memes turn on each other in an attempt to establish supremacy.

This is why many arguments are not really a matter of the better objective evidence, but of the subjective level of those arguing. No amount of orange scientific evidence will convince blue mythic believers; no amount of green bonding will impress orange aggressiveness; no amount of turquoise holism will dislodge green pluralism - unless the individual is ready to develop forward through the dynamic spiral of consciousness unfolding.

[Ken Wilber]
A Theory of Everything, p. 11-14

Transcend and Include

An integral synthesis, to be truly integral, must find a way that all of the major worldviews are basically true (even though partial).

It is not that the higher levels are giving more accurate views, and the lower levels are giving falsity, superstition, or primitive nonsense. There must be a sense in which even 'childish' magic and Santa Claus myths are true. For those worldviews are simply the way the world looks at that level, or from that wave, and all of the waves are crucial ingredients of the Kosmos.

At the mythic level, Santa Claus (or Zeus or Apollo or astrology) is a phenomenological reality. It will do no good to say, "Well, we have evolved beyond that stage, and so now we know that Santa Claus is not real," because if that is true - and all stages are shown to be primitive and false in light of further evolution - then we will have to admit that our own views, right now, are also false (because future evolution will move beyond them).

But it is not that there is one level of reality, and those other views are all primitive and incorrect versions of that one level. Each of those views is a correct view of a lower yet fundamentally important level of reality, not an incorrect view of the one real level. The notion of development allows us to recognize nested truths, not primitive superstitions.

[Ken Wilber]
A Theory of Everything, p. 111-12

While Gebser’s major work, The Ever Present Origin (1949), sets out these structures in evolutionary sequence, he did not wish to imply that they are historical developments leading to integral consciousness as the ultimate human achievement.

While he presents his theory as a theory of the evolution of consciousness, he is adamant that he is not doing so within a fantasy of historical “development” or “progress”. Our tendency to think in such terms is an artifact of our dominant mental consciousness, in which our experience of time is linear and quantified.

Rather, reality is unfolding process, and the archaic, magic, mythical, mental and emerging integral structures are all valid ways of apprehending it.

From the point of view of rational-scientific culture, magical and mythical thinking are primitive and inferior forms of thinking which have limited value in the contemporary world.

However, we can argue that it is our capacity for mythical, and even magical, thinking that enables us to find meaning in our lives and gives us a grounding in the concrete world. Magical and mythical consciousness are neither better nor worse than mental-rational consciousness. They are simply older and different.

Re-owning and re-valuing them is a necessary step towards their integration in a new structure.  

The complexity of human behaviour comes out of the interplay of these several “layers” or “levels” of consciousness in whatever we do [...] Most significantly, all of the structures have both “efficient” and “deficient” forms [...] The later, more complex structures of consciousness are not better, or superior or “higher” than the earlier, simpler ones. They are simply later (in evolutionary and developmental terms) and more complex.

[Bernie Neville]
'Out of Our Depth and Treading Water: Reflections on Consciousness, Culture and New Learning Technologies'

I am often asked, why even attempt an integration of the various worldviews? Isn't it enough to simply celebrate the rich diversity of various views and not try to integrate them?

Well, recognizing diversity is certainly a noble endeavour, and I heartily support that pluralism. But if we remain merely at the stage of celebrating diversity, we ultimately are promoting fragmentation, alienation, separation and despair. 

 You go your way, I go mine, we both fly apart - which is often what has happened under the reign of pluralistic relativists, who have left us a postmodern tower of Babel on too many fronts.

It is not enough to recognize the many ways in which we are all different; we need to go further and start recognizing the many ways that we are also similar. Otherwise we simply contribute to heapism, not wholism.

Building on the rich diversity offered by pluralistic relativism, we need to take the next step and weave those many strands into a holonic spiral of unifying connections, an interwoven Kosmos of mutual intermeshing.

We need, in short, to move from pluralistic relativism to universal integralism - we need to keep trying to find the One-in-the-Many that is the form of the Kosmos itself.

[Ken Wilber]
A Theory of Everything, p. 112

Piaget started to understand that it was more important, not so much to understand the given structure of a knowledge structure, but to understand the manner in which knowledge structures transformed.

And that was partly illustrated in his description of stage theory, because stages were really movement from one set of axiomatic presuppositions with which the child was structuring the world, into a state where that system failed because it wasn’t sufficiently comprehensive; and then into the development of a new stage that could do everything that the previous stage could, plus account for all the things that the previous stage couldn’t.

That’s also why Piaget believed that knowledge actually accumulated, because each time there was a transformation the new structure had a wider range of applications than the previous structure, even though it kept all the advantages of the previous structure.

And that’s a good way of conceptualising progress […] if you think about a more sophisticated structure as being able to do more things properly, then you can certainly map out progress […]

[Jordan Peterson]
2017 Maps of Meaning 7: Images of Story & MetaStory

Third Order Thinking

Early adolescence marks the stage when schools and the broader culture demand of us that we undergo [a] transformation in our consciousness. We are expected to become capable of the cognitive complexity which Kegan calls third order thinking.

[The adolescent] can reason abstractly but cannot disidentify from her own reasoning […] She is capable of holding a coherent set of assumptions about life, a coherent disposition towards ultimate reality, but she is not capable of standing outside of it.

Third order thinking rationalizes a particular consensus view of reality, a particular way of imagining the world which is common to the family, tribe or culture. There is a taken-for-grantedness about the way the world is.

To stand outside this narrative, the adolescent must “leave home”, and experience the isolation and exhilaration of fourth order thinking.

Fourth Order Thinking

The contents of [the adolescent's] mind become the object of her knowledge, and she identifies with her capacity to reflect on them. Her thoughts become something she has, not something she is.

Her thoughts become the thoughts of an autonomous individual who does not depend on the authoritative voices of her culture to give them legitimacy, but can rather look at the evidence, whatever its source, and make successive approximations to the truth.

Not all of us manage to achieve this transformation, or if we do achieve it we tend to slip back into second order or third order consciousness for a good deal of the time. Our demand that students demonstrate this capacity for detached critical reflection may a source of stress for adolescents on the threshold of fourth order thinking. Others simply will not know what we are talking about.

Fifth Order Thinking

Our way of thinking, our way of determining the truth, is relativised as only one out of many ways of constructing reality. We cease to see ourselves and our truths as complete. Our truths are only complete in dialectic with other truths and our selves only exist in our interaction with others.


As a third order thinker I accept without question the truth as I have absorbed it. As a third order thinker you believe in your truth in the same uncritical way. I am right and you are wrong, and at best we tolerate each other.

As fourth order thinkers we each maintain a critical stance towards our truths, and our concern is to look critically at these truths and all other versions of the truth and decide which one best accords with the evidence.

As fifth order thinkers we regard all truths as partial, and if we find ourselves in dispute we are capable of constructing a truth which resides not only in both your partial truth and my partial truth but also in the tensions and contradictions between them.

In pre-scientific societies third order thinking was perfectly adequate to meet the demands of the environment. Fourth order thinking both enabled and was demanded by the Age of Science. The culture in which we find ourselves at the end of the twentieth century demands that we be capable of dialectical, post-ideological, transpersonal, fifth order thinking.

[Bernie Neville]
'Out of Our Depth and Treading Water: Reflections on Consciousness, Culture and New Learning Technologies'

[...] complex structures - whether intellectual, artistic, social, administrative or whatever - are only to be created and changed by stages, through a critical feedback process of successive adjustments.

The notion that they can be created, or made over, at a stroke, as if from a blueprint, is an illusion which can never be actualized.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 67

['Aufhebung'], often translated as sublation, literally means a ‘lifting up’ of something, and refers to the way in which the earlier stages of an organic process, although superseded by those that come after, are not repudiated by them, even though the later stages are incompatible with the earlier ones.

In this sense the earlier stage is ‘lifted up’ into the subsequent stage both in the sense that it is ‘taken up into’ or ‘subsumed’ into the succeeding stage, and in the sense that it remains present in, but transformed by, a ‘higher’ level of the process.

In a famous passage near the opening of the Preface to The Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel illustrates it by reference to the development of a plant:

The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant's existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another.

But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes alone and thereby the life of the whole.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 203-4

Hegel further argued that Kant's philosophical revolution did not establish the final limits or necessary foundations of human knowlede but rather was one of a long sequence of such conceptual revolutions to which man as subject repeatedly recognized that what he had thought was a being-in-itself actually received its content by means of the form given to it by the subject. 

The history of the human mind constantly replayed this drama of the subject's becoming conscious of itself and the consequent destruction of the previously uncriticized form of consciousness. 

The structures of human knowledge were not fixed and timeless, as Kant supposed, but were historically determined stages that evolved in a continuing dialectic until consciousness achieved absolute knowledge of itself. What at any moment was seen as fixed and certain was constantly overcome by the evolving mind, thereby opening up new possibilities and greater freedom. 

Every stage of philosophy from the ancient Presocratics onward, every form of thought in human history, was both an incomplete perspective and yet a necessary step in this great intellectual evolution. Every era's world view was both a valid truth unto itself and also an imperfect stage in the larger process of absolute truth's self-unfolding.

[Richard Tarnas]
The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 380

[…] a paradigm emerges in the history of science, it is recognized as superior, as true and valid, precisely when that paradigm resonates with the current archetypal state of the evolving collective psyche. 

A paradigm appears to account for more data, and for more important data, it seems more relevant, more cogent, more attractive, fundamentally because it has become archetypally appropriate to that culture or individual at that moment in its evolution. 

The pursuit of knowledge always takes place within a given paradigm, within a conceptual matrix - a womb that provides an intellectually nourishing structure, that fosters growth and increasing complexity and sophistication - until gradually that structure is experienced as constricting, a limitation, a prison, producing a tension of irresolvable contradictions, and finally a crisis is reached. 

Then some inspired Promethean genius comes along and is graced with an inner breakthrough to a new vision that gives the scientific mind a new sense of being cognitively connected-reconnected to the world: an intellectual revolution occurs, and a new paradigm is born. Here we see why such geniuses regularly experience their intellectual breakthrough as a profound illumination, a revelation of the divine creative principle itself, as with Newton's exclamation to God, "I think Thy thoughts after Thee!" For the human mind is following the numinous archetypal path that is unfolding from within it.

And here we can see why the same paradigm, such as the Aristotelian or the Newtonian, is perceived as a liberation at time and then a constriction, a prison, at another. 

[Richard Tarnas]
The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 438

The question is one of faith, of choosing our own 'grade of significance'. Our ordinary mind always tries to persuade us that we are nothing but acorns and that our greatest happiness will be to become bigger, fatter, shinier acorns; but that is of interest only to pigs. Our faith gives us knowledge of something much better: that we can become oak trees.

What is good and what is bad? What is virtuous and what is evil? It all depends on our faith. Taking our bearings from the four Great Truths discussed in this book, and studying the interconnections between these four landmarks on our 'map', we do not find it difficult to discern what constitutes the true progress of a human being:

- His first task is to learn from society and ‘tradition' and to find his temporary happiness in receiving directions from outside.

- His second task is to interiorise the knowledge he has gained, sift it, sort it out, keep the good and jettison the bad; this process may be called 'individuation', becoming self-directed.

[E. F. Schumacher]
A Guide for the Perplexed, p.155

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