Brendan Graham Dempsey on How the Epic of Evolution Continues in the Psycho-Cultural Domain

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* Book: Emergentism: A Religion of Complexity for the Metamodern World. By Adyahanzi, Brendan Graham Dempsey. Metamodern Spirituality Series, Vol. VI.


See: Emergentism as a Religion of Complexity


Brendan Graham Dempsey on Adult Developmental Theory

Brendan Graham Dempsey:

"Beginning in the early 20th century, researchers started to empirically map the spectrum of human psychological development. The work of developmental theorists like James Mark Baldwin, Jean Piaget, Clare Graves, Jane Loevinger, Robert Kegan, Susanne Cook-Greuter, and others all converged towards a general outline of how human minds progress towards maturity through a sequence of developmental stages. While different researchers focused on different aspects of this developmental trajectory (from cognitive capacity to ego formation to moral sensitivity, etc.), the general pattern of this sequence has been made evident. The is, it is now clear, a general developmental field through which the complexifying mind progresses. Different stage models, when viewed synoptically, side-by-side, clearly map the same territory, and reveal the process of psychological complexification that continues the epic of evolution into the psycho-cultural domain. (To the best of my knowledge, it was the insight of Ken Wilber to explicitly link the complexification narrative revealed by the new science to developmental psychology, thus bridging the cosmic and biological evolutionary story with the complexification of the human mind/culture.)

The Dimensional Model of psycho-cultural evolution presented here arose out of a need to find a simple, common nomenclature for the different structures of consciousness that have been identified by these numerous researchers and (meta)theorists. Right now, metamodern thinkers contend with a hodgepodge of different terms whenever they try to discuss this schema of cultural paradigms/structures of consciousness. This includes not only the different terms that individual developmental researchers used within their specific models (e.g., Graves’s “D-Q,” Cook-Greuter’s “Conformist,” and Kegan’s “Interpersonal” all refer to what is essentially the same structure), but also the broader “metatheoretical” models that try to synthesize the individual models (such as those of Wilber and Hanzi Freinacht). We are awash in terms all basically referring to the same structures (albeit from different theoretical perspectives). The Dimensional Model offers a simple nomenclature that can speak across these divides and provide us an easy way to refer to the structures of consciousness in a general way.

The idea of “dimensions” offers a theory-neutral term that encompasses structures variously understood as “mutations” (such as in the work of Jean Gebser, which are explicitly non-developmental) as well as “stages” (which are developmentally-theorized). Indeed, the concept of dimensions has been explicitly employed by the non-developmental Gebser and the developmental Hanzi in articulating their different models.

For those who do approach these structures through a developmental lens, the dimensional framing of stages is very helpful, since “higher dimensions” mathematically entail greater complexity. A square is objectively more complex than a line, even if it’s not inherently “better” or “worse” than one, simply by virtue of having more parts in relation to one another. Indeed, dimensions are holarchically ordered. That is, the higher dimensions necessary “transcend and include” the previous ones. A 3D cube includes 2D squares, which includes 1D lines, etc. The lower dimensions become integrated into the higher ones, just as developmental theory argues. The model mimics the process.

Moreover, those who might wish to speculate about higher and higher stages (a point of debate in metamodern circles) are not constrained from doing so in this model; the numerical ordering is, like the number line itself, theoretically infinite. New colors or spectra do not need to be invented to accommodate such perspectives, but can be debated within a shared unit system. The advantage to this approach, of course, is that it allows a shared framework in which different models might engage more clearly and constructively.

Aside from offering it as a unique intervention into the evolutionary debate, a dimensional framing of stage-structures is not really my innovation but has already been hinted at or suggested by more than one theorist of consciousness evolution. As I was working out the model, and satisfactorily paired the different dimensions to the different psycho-cultural structures, I recalled that Hanzi had suggested something very similar in a footnote somewhere.

I perused my copy of The Listening Society, and found the note in question (note 100 on pages 388 to 389), in which he writes:

- "The point is that the earlier stages cannot see what the later stages see; they see only caricature, flattened versions of what’s going on. …In more than one way, the stages discussed correspond to seeing additional dimensions of the world. It is not purely metaphorical to claim that:

  • stage 9 Concrete thinking corresponds to a line;
  • stage 10 Abstract to a square;
  • stage 11 Formal to a cube;
  • stage 12 Systematic to a 4-dimensional hypercube; and
  • stage 13 Metasystematic to a 5-dimensional hypercube.

For instance, stage 11 Formal operations are required to understand Newtonian physics in 3D space, and stage 12 Systematic operations are required to be able to break away from that imagined space and understand that it is just a perspective among others.”

Reading this, I felt delightfully validated, as this was exactly the relationship I had drawn between the dimensional shapes and their respective psycho-cultural structures. Hanzi of course doesn’t label his metamemes according to this logic the way I have chosen to. Instead, he opts for Archaic, Animistic, Faustian, Post-Faustian, Modern, Postmodern, and Metamodern. On the whole, these are certainly valid terms (with the exception, in my view, of “Faustian” and “Post-Faustian,” for which I use the more obvious “Imperial” and “Traditional”), though they might seem too affiliated with specific historical epochs to allow for much fruitful comparison or abstraction in certain contexts. When talking about the rise of rational thinking in ancient Athens, for instance, does it not sound anachronistic to call it “modern” thought? Or, considering some controversies stirred up by the Graeber and Wengrow book, The Dawn of Everything, which puts the rational thinking of indigenous people on full display, do we say that they, too, were engaged in “modern” thought? (A less charitable reader would make accusations of modernity continuing to “colonize” indigenous bodies and minds if so.) Would it not work much better to say that “3D” thinking was being engaged by both? Arguably, we could avoid much confusion by doing so. In any event, the fact that Hanzi himself points to the dimensional relationships of the stages suggests one might just as well apply the framework and still be in total agreement with the metamodern paradigm.

In thinking about all this, I also recalled the importance Jean Gebser assigns to dimensions in his non-developmental integral framework of “mutations.” In The Ever-Present Origin, Gebser is emphatic that we not conceptualize the “unfolding of consciousness” as one of progress or development. “We must recognize,” he writes, “that the attempt to set forth the temporal course commonly referred to as the ‘evolution of mankind’ is merely an attempt to structure events for convenient accessibility. Consequently, we must exclude from our discussion as far as possible such misleading notions as ‘development’ and ‘progress’” (p. 37). That said, Gebser does see a meaningful gradation in the structures of consciousness, whose sequence he labels Archaic, Magic, Mythic, Mental, and Integral. Specifically, “with the unfolding of each new consciousness mutation, consciousness increases in intensity… The unfolding, then, is an enrichment tied, as we shall observe, to a gain in dimensionality” (p. 41; emphasis mine).

Or, as he puts it later:

- “We are now able to see how every mutation of consciousness that constituted a new structure of consciousness was accompanied by the appearance and effectuality of a new dimension… for each unfolding of consciousness there is a corresponding unfolding of dimensions” (p. 117).

Gebser then maps his sequence to the dimensions in a manner quite similar to the way I and Hanzi do.


A clarifying note on this table is required, however, since Gebser’s way of numbering the first couple of dimensions is unusual when it comes to “zero-dimensional” and “one-dimensional.”

As the following passage shows, Gebser confused “zero-dimensional” and “one-dimensional” in the Magic consciousness, which he notes as being truly represented by the point:

- “magic man…is distinguishable above all by his transition from a zero-dimensional structure of identity to one-dimensional unity. And we shall see that the representative symbol for one-dimensionality, the point, the basic element of the line, is as such of paramount significance as an attribute for magic man. On the one hand, the point is suggestive of the initial emergent centering in man (which leads later to an Ego) and is, on the other, an expression of the spaceless and timeless one-dimensionality of magic man’s world” (p. 46)

Gebser, too, then, relates the Magic structure to the point, which is technically zero-dimensional and not one-dimensional. This would leave a gap in Gebser’s model, however (Archaic = Nondimensional, Magic = 0D, [???] = 1D, Mythic = 2D, etc.). Intriguingly, Gebser lacks a structure that is found in the models of Graves, Kegan, and Hanzi that inhabits the space between Magic and Mythic: the “Egocentric,” “Imperial,” or “Faustian” structure, which corresponds in my and Hanzi’s model to the 1D line. If this is a fair reading, then all models are actually in sync.

Here is a comparison chart linking the various developmental models to their associated dimension:

see graphic at [1]


Brendan Graham Dempsey on the Evolution of Consciousness as Added Dimensionality

Brendan Graham Dempsey:

0D Consciousness

"Primary Stage cognition: Hanzi Freinacht summarizes this stage of cognitive complexity as follows: “Can do logical deduction and use empirical rules; adds, sub­tracts, divides, multiplies, proves, does series of tasks on its own. Can relate to times, places, can count acts and relate to separate actors. Can construct relatively coherent narra­ti­ves (‘groups of paragraphs’); these create accounts and ideas about what’s going on” (see his post “What is the Model of Hierarchical Complexity?” (September 8, 2017)

Incorporative/Impulsive self: the self “[The self at this shape of consciousness] is able to recognize objects separate from herself, but those objects are subject to [her] perception of them… If [her] perception of an object changes, the object itself has changed.” (The Evolving Self, p. 85)

Undifferentiated and Magic/Projective faith: “This stage,” DiPerna summarizes, “involves an intense merging of fantasy and reality. Not yet constrained by logic, those at this stage are inspired by tales and legends. Ultimate concern is usually related to safety, protection, and avoidance of threats. If ideas of God exist they are often anthropomorphic and magical” (Evolution’s Ally, p. 63).

Punish/Obey morality: “Behaviour is determined by consequences. The individual will obey in order to avoid punishment” (see Kohlberg’s stages as summarized by Britannica:

Animist code: “The magical and ritualistic thinking of tribal society” (The Listening Society, p. 214). Elsewhere, Hanzi writes: “The emergence of Animist cultures (in all of their variation and complexity, which indeed seem to have increased over the millennia, today’s tribal hunter-gatherer societies being more distinct and unique than those of, say, the Ice Age) seems to be linked to the so-called “cognitive revolution” of circa 70k to 30k years ago. This coincides with the most significant “recent” wave out of Africa 70k–50k years ago and the emergence of art around 50k years ago. In the archeological records, the appearance of artworks of various kinds, be it carved figurines, cave paintings, or whatnot, is quite sudden and explosive after 50 000 BCE, indicating that some revolutionary cultural and cognitive development had taken place. Within a comparatively short period, a few thousand years that is, the world was teeming with artistic human expression. Hence, I would claim that it’s relatively safe to say that from about 50k years ago you have something that could meaningfully be described as the Animist metameme; a distinct departure from the way humans had lived before.” (“Is Metamodernism the Last Stage of Development? Chaos Theory Might Hold the Answer”)

1D consciousness

Concrete stage cognition: “Can do long division, follow complex social rules, takes on roles and coordinates self with others. Can create meaningful, concrete stories and keep the same story intact and consequential over time. Puts together groups of paragraphs into a story. Can thus keep track of inter­relations (which is the best tool, and how would you test it, etc.), social events, what happ­ened among others, reasonable deals, history, geography.”

Imperial self: “A distinguishing feature of this new subject-object relation is that [the self] seems to ‘seal up’ in a sense; there is a self-containment that was not there before… [T]here comes as well the emergence of a self-concept, a more or less consistent notion of a me, what I am… With the capacity to take command of one’s impulses (to have them, rather than be them) can come a new sense of freedom, power, independence—agency, above all. …When you are the object of my [Imperial self] you are subject to my projecting onto you my own embeddedness in my needs. I constitute you as that by which I either do, or do not, meet my needs, fulfill my wishes, pursue my interests. Instead of seeing my needs I see through my needs. You may experience this as manipulation, or being imperialized…” (The Evolving Self, pp. 89-91)

Mythic-literal faith: “The great gift to consciousness that emerges in this stage,” writes Fowler, “is the ability to narratize one’s experience. As regards our primary interest in faith we can say that the development of the Mythic-Literal stage brings with it the ability to bind our experiences into meaning through the medium of stories” (Stages of Faith, p. 136).

DiPerna summarizes it this way: “Preoccupied with miracles and literal interpretations of scripture or oral tradition, an individual at this stage begins to differentiate real from fantasy and egoic projections. Ultimate concern is often rooted in narrative stories regarding reality” (Evolution’s Ally, p. 63).

Imperial code: “The mythical thinking of agricultural warrior society, Neolithic and onwards” (The Listening Society, p. 214). “In the cultural code produced at this stage you get heroic stories, like Gilgamesh, who in his death lives forever in the walls of Uruk, and the many gods of the Indo-European pantheons, from Greeks to Vikings and Slavs, and their counterparts in e.g. the Aztec faith. In these stories produced in these mythologies, heroes can turn on the universal forces of nature and rebel against the gods. This is also when ‘the lamp of history’ was lit, with Herodotus’ accounts of times past and Homer’s epics. These constitute coordinations of (groups of) paragraphs into coherent narratives, which corresponds to MHC stage 9 Concrete” (The Listening Society, p. 224)

2D consciousness

Abstract stage cognition: “Can form abstract ideas and thoughts: single, generalized variables that fall beyond the concrete sequences of events in a story—can make and quantify abstract propositions. Relates to categories and uses “cases of events” to incre­mentally im­prove the understanding of these categories.”

Interpersonal self: At this shape of consciousness “there is no self independent of the context of ‘other people liking [me]. …[T]his balance lacks the self-coherence from space to space that is taken as the hallmark of ‘identity.’ …[T]he other is required to bring the self into being” (The Evolving Self, pp. 96-97)

Social approval morality: “Behaviour is determined by social approval. The individual wants to maintain or win the affection and approval of others by being a ‘good person.’”

Conventional faith: “Personal identity, role, and relationships become important to an individual at this stage. …The individual is aware of the faith of others and is often defined by the beliefs of one’s group. The unquestioning emphasis on role and identity at this stage can lead to blind faith in tradition or external authority and a lack of empathy for those outside of one’s group” (Evolution’s Ally, p. 63).

Traditional code: “The mythic-rational, transcendental thinking of traditional, religious society” (The Listening Society, p. 214). “It is here that you find all the classical religions: from Judaism on to Christianity and Islam, over Zoroastrianism to Hinduism with the birth of the Buddhist and Jain traditions—and the Confucian and Taoist traditions. The Greek Socratic philosophy shows many structural similarities in its critique of the [Imperial] pantheon. All of these traditions abstract from the stories and narratives of their time, certain universal understandings (you go from MHC stage 9 Concrete stories to stage 10 Abstract concepts). There is not just ‘the gods’, but a ‘God above all gods’—the ultimate abstraction. …Traditional society is born from a radical postfaustian critique of injustice, war, slavery, oppression, and degradation—of the arbitrary use and abuse of power. It is here that humanity realizes that the truth will set her free. …But what truth? There is always one true path set for us by the prophets…and the other perspectives are ultimately false. This creates a blind spot of humongous proportions: ethnocentricity. …One becomes prepared to oppress and destroy others in order to…protect and maintain the boundaries of one’s symbolic universe” (The Listening Society, pp. 225-227)

3D consciousness

Formal stage cognition: “Can identify relations between abstract variables and reflect upon these relations, devise ways to test them, etc. Solves problems using algebra with one unknown, uses logic and empiricism. Can speak a full, rich language with self-reflection, uses logical seq­uen­ces of connectives: if this, then that, in all cases.”

Institutional self: “In separating itself from the context of interpersonalism, meaning-evolution authors a self which maintains a coherence across a shared psychological space and so achieves an identity. This authority—sense of self, self-dependence, self-ownership—is its hallmark. In moving from ‘I am my relationships’ to ‘I have relationships,’ there is now somebody who is doing this having, the new I, who, in coordinating or reflecting upon mutuality, brings into being a kind of psychic institution… A strength of this is the person’s new capacity for independence, to own herself, rather than having all the pieces of herself owned by various shared contexts” (The Evolving Self, pp. 100-101)

Law & order/Social contract morality: Law & order morality is defined this way: “Social rules and laws determine behaviour. The individual now takes into consideration a larger perspective, that of societal laws. Moral decision making becomes more than consideration of close ties to others. The individual believes that rules and laws maintain social order that is worth preserving.” Social contract, the next stage, is defined as follows: “Individual rights determine behaviour. The individual views laws and rules as flexible tools for improving human purposes. That is, given the right situation, there are exceptions to rules. When laws are not consistent with individual rights and the interests of the majority, they do not bring about good for people and alternatives should be considered.”

Individual-reflective faith: “At this stage, the individual ‘questions, examines, and reclaims’ their relationship to both spirituality and ultimate concern. No longer does this stage confine an individual to embracing literal interpretations of ideas and scripture. In fact, at this stage, one begins to interpret scripture and make decisions based on one’s own authority. A new ultimate concern emerges at this stage, wherein the individual finds himself committed to truth. If ultimate concern remains religious in nature, it revolves around logic and reason” (Evolution’s Ally, p. 63).

Modern code: “The rational, scientific thinking of the developed world today” (The Listening Society, p. 214). “This line of thinking leads us down the path of materialism, reductionism, positivism, determinism, and scientism. There is a real reality ‘out there,’ and by means of inter-subjectivity, by verification, by science and the scientific method (induction, deduction, abduction), we can go beyond the shackles of subjective illusion and see the real world for the first time. Beyond our senses, our stories, feelings, thoughts and social conventions lies a grey, colorless world consisting only of meaningless stuff that blindly follows an unchangeable, mechanical logic set out by no-one and nothing at the dawn of the universe. The world of facts. Everything, including our consciousness, is a giant machine, consisting of particles or waves that collide and together create all of the phenomena we know… The machine—in blind, perpetual, meaningless, mechanical motion—is the ultimate reality. …The individual is no longer defined by authority, but finds herself anew in relation to the laws of nature, laws that we must continuously explore, in an honestly discussing community of equals, where every person has the dignity to find her own path and think for herself” (The Listening Society, pp. 228-229).

4D consciousness

Systematic stage cognition: “Can identify patterns among linear relationships, thus forming systems of relations among abstract variables and how these interact. Can thereby also solve equations with several unknowns. The first ‘post­formal’ stage, i.e. it was not described by Piaget, but implicated in Kohlberg’s work. Begins to discuss legal systems, social structures, eco­systems, economic systems and the like.”

Inter-individual self: This shape of consciousness “separates the self from the institution and creates, thus, the ‘individual,’ that self who can reflect upon, or take as object, the regulations and purposes of a psychic administration which formerly was the subject of one’s attentions. …One has a career; one no longer is a career. …The functioning of the organization is no longer an end in itself, and one is interested in the way it serves the aims of the new self whose community stretches beyond that particularly organization” (The Evolving Self, p. 103, 105)

Universal morality: “At this stage, the appropriate action is determined by one’s self-chosen ethical principles of conscience. These principles are abstract and universal in application. This type of reasoning involves taking the perspective of every person or group that could potentially be affected by the decision.”

Conjunctive faith: “At this stage of faith, the individual takes multiple perspectives and can see many sides of an issue simultaneously. Other religious traditions become important and even complementary to one’s own. With a deep desire for wholeness, ultimate concern leads one to embrace and integrate internal polarities” (Evolution’s Ally, p. 63).

Postmodern code: “The post-rational, systemic critique of modern life and society” (Listening Society, p. 214). “There is a central flaw to the whole idea of intersubjective verification: Namely that it presupposes that each individual is independent of her social context. But what if something in that context affects all the individuals present, so that they all verify something that, under different circumstances, would be seen as false? There are things like common language, social hierarchies, peer pressure, hidden and unconscious assumptions, prejudices and economic interests. All of these shape the context within which any intersubjective verification can be made: thus shaping what is taken to be ‘the truth’” (The Listening Society, p. 232)

5D consciousness

Metasystematic stage cognition: “Can compare and synthesize several systems with differing logics, put together ‘metasystems’ or conclusions that hold true across different system, reflect upon and name general properties of systems. Understands that things can be ‘homomorphic’, ‘isomorphic’, etc. This means that you can see how one system can be changed in corresponding or differing ways to another system.

Universalizing faith: “This stage is marked by a constant relationship with the Divine. Ultimate concern revolves around a moment-to-moment communion with or identification as the Divine. In summary, Fowler concludes: ‘[Those at this stage] have identified with or they have come to participate in the perspective of God. They begin to see and value through God rather than from the self. This does not mean that the self is not valued: the self is included in God’s loving and valuing of all creation. But the self is no longer the center from which one’s valuing is done; it’s done from an identification with God [Buddha-Nature, the Self, Allah, Jehovah]” (Evolution's Ally, p. 64)

Metamodern code: “The metamodern mind takes all of the earlier perspectives at face value, as real; it’s just that some of them are more real than others. They are ranked, compared and balanced against one another. And for that, one must be able to truly listen to and understand—and to a certain extent agree with—even one’s most bitter enemy” (The Listening Society, p. 243). “The metamodern value meme is less judgmental; it seeks to integrate elements from all the former ones; it sees partial truths in all of them; it wants to integrate them in one grand synergistic scheme, and seeks to accommodate them—to create a society in which traditional, modern and post-modern people live together harmoniously” (The Listening Society, p. 323)."