Emergentism: Endnotes

1. From Religion to Reduction
2. From Reduction to Emergence
3. The Awakening Universe
4. Hermeneutics: Interpreting the Universe
5. Icongraphy: Designing Meaning 3.0
6. Myth: Poeticizing Reality
7. Lineage: Theologies of Ultimate Knowledge
8. Ethics and Practices


p. i: A 2019 survey from the UK…


Cited by John Vervaeke in the opening of his presentation “The Meaning Crisis, Religio, and Religion in the 21st Century” at Lakehead University, February 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0JxL-acvuM



p. i: Today, we lose more people to despair than…


“Suicide.” World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/suicide.



p. iii: the Stephen Hawkingses and Richard Dawkinses of the world…


“In a universe,” writes Richard Dawkins in his book River Out of Eden, “of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”


Reflecting on the idea of God and meaning to The Guardian, Hawking is a bit less sensationalist, but does concur that our universe is only “a matter of chance.” Stephen Hawking: 'There is no heaven; it's a fairy story,' https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven.


Many other such quotes could be furnished from various popular scientists and “New Atheist” intellectuals that speak to the grim perspective of modernist reductionism.



p. iii: Data show that those affiliated with organized religions…


See, for instance, “Religion’s Relationship to Happiness, Civic Engagement and Health Around the World,” Pew Research, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2019/01/31/religions-relationship-to-happiness-civic-engagement-and-health-around-the-world/.



p. iv: the “Nones”—those who claim no such affiliation—are the fastest growing demographic…


See, for instance, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated,” Pew Research, 2019, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/.



p. vi: the majority of Evangelical Christians maintain…


“Jesus Christ’s Return to Earth.” Pew Research Center. December 30, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/07/14/jesus-christs-return-to-earth/.


p. vii: the meaning crisis (as it’s been called)…


The term “meaning crisis” was popularized by University of Toronto Professor of Psychology John Vervaeke, and has since become a familiar term in the lexicon of metamodern systems activists.



p. viii: “To be certain, the edifice of mainline religion…”


Wheal, Recapture the Rapture, p. 21.



p. xiv: Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster…


Yes, this is actually a real thing (er, “real”?). Look it up.




p. xiv: popular YouTube series Awakening from the Meaning Crisis…


The entire YouTube playlist can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLND1JCRq8Vuh3f0P5qjrSdb5eC1ZfZwWJ



p. xv: “And so I propose to you…”


For a full transcript of “Ep. 39 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - The Religion of No Religion,” see https://www.meaningcrisis.co/ep-39-awakening-from-the-meaning-crisis-the-religion-of-no-religion/.



p. xv: conversations with culture architects like Jordan Hall, Layman Pascal, and myself…


“Vervaeke and Hall begin to design the religion that is not a religion,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl48eFZGRq8


“The Artful Scaling of the Religion That’s Not a Religion,” playlist, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAnLbaFHYWQ&list=PLa_4sU5_wQrlBfFBkPtnz5C_rTHofDpJj


1. From Religion to Reduction

p. 1: new wholes emerge out of lower-level parts…


The cosmological significance of this simple yet powerful idea has been theorized about by numerous authors. Most recently, Tyler Volk’s 2017 book Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be dubs this process “combogenesis,” and posits a “grand sequence” of nested wholes that lead, well, from quarks to culture. As early as 1976, though, Arthur Koestler coined the word “holon” to refer to such entities as constitute a whole at one level and a part at a higher level: a whole-part (see The Ghost in the Machine, 1976). Such holons build on one another, forming a nested hierarchy or “holarchy.” This model would become key for the integral theory of Ken Wilber, who develops an entire holarchic metaphysics, a universe of “holons all the way down,” etc. (see Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, pp. 23-85).



p. 1: Think of an orchestra as an analogy.


The example of an orchestra here is meant only as an analogy, not as an instance of emergence. Properly speaking, an orchestra might be “complicated” but it is not “complex,” and does not exhibit emergent properties as conceived by complexity science.



p. 2: [Image]


Thanks to James Weir for creating and granting permission to reproduce this image.



p. 5: This “Ladder of Nature” or “Great Chain of Being”…


See Lovejoy, Arthur (1976) The Great Chain of Being.



p. 8: The stars above could be read…


In the old geocentric cosmos of the medieval Christian world, all movement was caused by heavenly motion and the celestial Prime Mover. The stars carried on this motion, which in turn affected Earth. Thus, astrological associations between Earth and the stars were believed to convey insights into terrestrial happenings. Such correspondences fall apart when this ancient cosmology is lost.

p. 8: And similarities of any kind between two things...


In the ancient world, popular theories of causation were very different than they are today, relying on a different cosmology and a different set of assumptions about reality. “Magical thinking” was far more pervasive. Such magic works by a logic of correspondences or similarities. It is often called “sympathetic magic” because it was predicated on the idea of apparent parallels between things—parallels that will appear superficial and contingent to a modern mind, but which were assumed to hold causal power in the magic mind.


For instance, according to the “doctrine of signatures” in ancient medicine, lungwort was used to treat lung problems due to its similarity of shape to the lungs; liverwort, for its similarity to the liver, was used for liver problems, and so forth. An object and its representation were believed to be causally linked. The thinking is essentially that of the “voodoo doll,” which seeks to exert power over a person by means of their effigy. One might also think of the sympathetic magic of ancient cave paintings, where the painted images of big game are thought to have been employed as part of magical hunting rites.


Words and names play a similar role in this magical thinking, wherein the similarity of one word to another is thought to suggest a relationship rather than an arbitrary phonetic similarity (indeed, much “folk etymology” was derived in this way, as were many esoteric hermeneutical readings of sacred texts). Because name and object were causally linked, to know a name of someone or something was to have power over it (recall, for instance, the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin, and even in the Gospels, where Jesus’ engagements with demonic forces frequently revolve around acquiring the name of the possessed or not allowing the demons to speak, etc.). The magical spell or incantation is only the most obvious example of words being assumed to hold causal power in themselves.


All of this exemplifies a premodern, magical consciousness, where the nature of objects remains confused with mental (i.e., interior/subjective) representations of them. Subjective and objective worlds are not fully differentiated.



p. 8: the categories of “subjective” and “objective” only come to full prominence…


The evolution from premodern to modern consciousness is characterized by the full dis-embedding of the conscious subject from their objective environment. 

Charles Taylor refers to the pre-modern self as “porous,” in that it was not “buffered” from the world or fully “closed up” the way the modern self is, with a distinct inner and outer world, but rather was continually exchanging and confusing interior states for outer realities. The fully “buffered self” is what modernity achieves, with the complete differentiation of the subject from the objective world. (See his books Sources of the Self and A Secular Age.)


More shall be said about this in Chapter 4, when humanity's evolution through the shapes of consciousness is considered in more depth.


p. 9: ontological normativity


“Ontological” = relating to things being or existing. “Normativity” = relating to things being good or bad. Thus, “ontological normativity” is a way of seeing things that ties their degree of reality to their degree of goodness. In this sense, the best thing is the most real; the worst thing is the least real. Degree of value and being are conflated. The Great Chain of Being was a scale of ontological normativity. God was the most real, sin and evil were divergences and deficiencies of that being.



p. 14: “For seeing life is but a motion of limbs…”


Leviathan, Chapter 2



p. 15: “We may regard the present state of the universe…”


“A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities”



p. 18: a poem of modern alienation and nihilistic despair…


“Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost


2. From Reduction to Emergence

p. 29: it would take a science of complexity to fill in the gaps…


In their 2014 book The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, physicist and complexity scientist Fritjof Capra and biochemist Pier Luigi Luisi observe:


“The emerging new scientific conception of life…can be seen as part of a broader paradigm shift from a mechanistic to a holistic and ecological worldview. At its very core we find a shift of metaphors that is now becoming ever more apparent…a change from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network. During the twentieth century, the change from the mechanistic to the ecological paradigm proceeded in different forms and at different speeds in various scientific fields. … The basic tension is one between the parts and the whole. The emphasis on the parts has been called mechanistic, reductionist, or atomistic; the emphasis on the whole holistic, organismic, or ecological. In twentieth-century science, the holistic perspective has become known as ‘systemic’ and the way of thinking it implies as ‘systems thinking’…” (p. 4).



p. 29: “All organised bodies are composed of parts…”


Mill, John Stewart (1843) A System of Logic, Book III, Chapter 6, Section 1.



p. 30: “Every resultant is either a sum or a difference…”


Lewes, George Henry (1875) The Problems of Life and Mind, vol. 2 (Trübner, London), p. 412.



p. 32: “The emergence of a new quality…”


Alexander, Samuel (1920) Space, Time, and Deity (Macmillan, London), pp. 45-47.



p. 32: “(1) that there is increasing complexity…”


Morgan, Conway Lloyd (1931) Emergent Evolution (Henry Holt, London), p. 203.



p. 33: “keep the view that there is only one fundamental kind of stuff”


Broad, C. D. (1925) The Mind and Its Place in Nature (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London), p. 77.



p. 33: “As actual, God does not possess the quality of deity…”


Alexander, Space, Time, and Deity, vol. 2, p. 361-364.



p. 34: “General system theory is a general science of ‘wholeness’…”


von Bertalanffy, Ludwig (1968) General System Theory (Braziller, New York), p. 37.



p. 34: complex systems


In her book Complexity: A Guided Tour (p. 13), complexity scientist Melanie Mitchell defines a “complex system” as “a system in which large networks of components with no central control and simple rules of operation give rise to complex collective behavior, sophisticated information processing, and adaptation via learning or evolution.” She continues: “Systems in which organized behavior arises without an internal or external controller or leader are sometimes called self-organizing. Since simple rules produce complex behavior in hard-to-predict ways, the macroscopic behavior of such systems is sometimes called emergent.” She then offers a second definition of a complex system as “a system that exhibits nontrivial emergent and self-organizing behaviors.”


The idea of emergence has thus come to be central to the discipline of complexity science as it has arisen since the late 20th century. Of course, contemporary theories of emergence have been considerably refined, clarified, and developed since their original pioneering by the British Emergentists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Theorists now argue over distinctions between “weak” vs. “strong” emergence, “ontological” vs. “epistemological” emergence, etc. The finer points of this philosophical discourse has become quite technical, and would be too much for a book of this size and focus. Those interested in a transdisciplinary overview of emergence can consult works such as Clayton, Philip and Paul Davies (eds.) (2006) The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion (Oxford University Press, Oxford). Those keen to explore the more nuanced philosophical discourse around emergence can check out Gibb, Sophie et al. (eds.) (2019) The Routledge Handbook of Emergence (Routledge, London).



p. 35: “[T]he conventional formulation of physics are…”


von Bertalanffy, General System Theory, pp. 39-40.



p. 37: dissipative structure


See Prigogine, Ilya (1984) Order out of Chaos: Man’s Dialogue with Nature (Bantam Books, Toronto), p. 12ff.



p. 37: This is precisely the way that all living organisms operate, too!


The true pioneer of this insight was no less than Erwin Schrödinger. In his seminal 1944 essay “What is Life?” Schrödinger approached the question of biological organisms from the perspective of a physicist—that is, from the angle of energy and entropy. He recognized that “the device by which an organism maintains itself stationary at a fairly high level of orderliness (= fairly low level of entropy) really consists in continually sucking orderliness from the environment” (Cambridge University Press edition, p. 73). He called this metabolic process of generating order through “drinking” orderliness from the environment and then exporting entropy back into the environment “negative entropy,” or “negentropy” for short.


p. 38: In 2013, for instance, Japanese researchers showed…


See Ito, Syoji et al. (2013) Selective optical assembly of highly uniform nanoparticles by doughnut-shaped beams. Scientific Reports 3:3047. doi: 10.1038/srep03047.



p. 38: In 2015, it was shown…


See Belkin, A, A Hubler, A. Bezryadin (2015) Self-assembled wiggling nano-structures and the principle of maximum entropy production. Scientific Reports 5:8323. doi: 10.1038/srep08323.



p. 38: In 2017, Jeremy England of MIT published findings…


See Horowitz, J. M, J. L. England (2017) Spontaneous fine-tuning to environment in many-species chemical reaction networks. PNAS 114 (29):7565-7570. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1700617114.



p. 39: an additional law of thermodynamics…


First suggested in 1922 by Lotka as the “law of evolution”: “Evolution, in these circumstances, proceeds in such direction as to make the total energy flux through the system a maximum compatible with the constraints.” See “Contribution to the energetics of evolution” (1922b) in PNAS vol. 8, p. 192.


For H. T. Odum’s “Maximum Power Principle” (“During self-organization, system designs develop…”), see 'Self-Organization and Maximum Empower,’ in C. A .S. Hall (ed.) Maximum Power: The Ideas and Applications of H.T.Odum (Colorado University Press, Boulder, CO), p. 311.


Odum has suggested that this constitutes a “fourth law of thermodynamics.”



p. 39: “The energy that flows through a system acts to organize that system.”


Morowitz, Harold J. (1968) Energy Flow in Biology: Biological Organization as a Problem in Thermal Physics (Academic Press, Cambridge, MA), p. 2.



p. 40: “The second law says free energy is running down. But we know now…”


Kauffman, Stuart (2016) Humanity in a Creative Universe (Oxford University Press, Oxford), p. 41.



p. 41: “[T]he importance we now give to the various phenomena we observe…”


Prigogine, Order out of Chaos, p. 9.


Or, as he puts in on page 128: “The question of the relevance of equilibrium models can be reversed. In order to produce equilibrium, a system must be ‘protected’ from the fluxes that compose nature. It must be ‘canned,’ so to speak, or put in a bottle…”



p. 42: “At each transition, two new structures become spontaneously available…”


Jantsch, Erich (1980) The Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution (Pergamon Press, Oxford), p. 48.



p. 43: “Life is an open, coherent, spacetime structure…”


Chaisson, Eric (2001) Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature (Harvard University Press, Cambridge), pp. 121-22.



p. 43: “Free-energy flux density is a measure of the free energy per unit of time per unit of mass…”


László, Ervin (1987) Evolution: The Grand Synthesis (Shambhala Publications, Boston), p. 28.


p. 44: [graph]


From Chaisson, Cosmic Evolution, p. 140.



p. 45: causal emergence


See, for instance, the essays in Aguirre, A, B. Foster, Z. Merali (eds.) (2018) Wandering Towards a Goal: How Can Mindless Mathematical Laws Give Rise to Aims and Intention? (Springer, New York).


3. The Awakening Universe

p. 50: universal Darwinism, universal Bayesianism, and evolutionary epistemology…


Universal Darwinism entails the application of Darwinian-like evolutionary mechanisms beyond biological contexts. It generalizes from the basic “descent with modification” a broader pattern of “variation and selective retention” that can be applied in any number of domains. “Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest,’” writes Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, “is really a special case of a more general law of survival of the stable.”


Universal Bayesianism refers to a process by which a given probability space (say, of an environment) is explored by countless iterations of slightly modified trials in order to yield the optimal solution to a design challenge. Each slightly modified approach yields the chance of an improved solution. Over numerous iterations, the trials converge upon the optimal result.


Evolutionary epistemology is a framing of mechanisms like those above in terms of learning and knowledge accumulation. Everything from dissipative structures to the advance of technology and culture can be understood as adaptive learning. As Azarian puts it, “A functional equivalence between the mechanisms driving evolution, learning, and science suggests that adaptation and scientific knowledge are actually the same thing” (p. 94).



p. 51: “You could say that energy organizes matter into life…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 18.



p. 51: “As cosmologist and science educator Carl Sagan famously put it…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 5.



p. 52-53: “The assumption that our world is gradually drifting toward…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 5.


p. 54: The Tree of Knowledge


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 154.



p. 54: “The most novel aspect about the ToK System…”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p.14.


p. 55: “The “Matter” cone at the bottom…”


Henriques, Gregg, et al. (2019) The Tree of Knowledge system: a new map for big history. Journal of Big History 3(4):2.



p. 56: “directly overlaps”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 173.



p. 58: “[T]here is nothing in physics that predicts…”


Rolston III, Holmes (2010) Three Big Bangs: Matter-Energy, Life, Mind (Columbia University Press, New York), p. 12.



p. 59: “If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang…”


Quoted in Rolston, Three Big Bangs, p. 17.



p. 59: “The charges on the light electron…”


Rolston, Three Big Bangs, p. 18.



p. 59-60: “it could better have been named ‘the biogenic principle’…


Rolston, Three Big Bangs, p. 14.



p. 61: “The ‘computational universe’ is programmed…”


Rolston, Three Big Bangs, p. 9.



p. 61: ““[L]ife is the inevitable product of an evolving, self-organizing universe…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 56-57.



p. 61: “the Universe (and hence the fundamental parameters on which it depends)…”


Carter, Brandon (1974) Large number coincidences and the anthropic principle in cosmology. IAU Symposium 63: Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data, Vol. 63. (Reidel: Dordrecht), p. 274.



p. 63: “A statistical correlation between the configuration of the organism…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 102.



p. 63: “In a completely literal sense, a dolphin’s streamlined design…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 96.



p. 63: “Life seeks to represent the world in which it lives…”


Quoted in Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 107.



p. 65: integrated information theory


IIT was pioneered by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi and has becoming one of the leading contenders for a comprehensive theory of consciousness. A complete explanation would require rather extensive mathematical exposition beyond the scope of this book, but a few works written for the layman offer a decent overview.


In The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness is Widespread But Can’t Be Computed, Christof Koch explains some of the fundamental assumption of IIT this way:


“According to integrated information theory (IIT), consciousness is determined by the causal properties of any physical system acting upon itself. That is, consciousness is a fundamental property of any mechanism that has cause-effect power upon itself. Intrinsic causal power is the extent to which the current state of, say, an electronic circuit or a neural network, causally constrains its past and future states. The more the system’s elements constrain one another, the more causal power. …The causal powers can be represented as a constellation of points (distinctions) linked by lines (relations). According to IIT, these causal powers are identical to conscious experience, with every aspect of any possible conscious experience mapping one-to-one onto aspects of this causal structure.” (p. 79)


The existence of parts with causal power with regard to the whole mean one can speak of an “irreducible” whole—or, as Koch puts it, “If partitioning some entity makes no difference to its cause-effect structure, then it is fully reducible to those parts, without losing anything” (p. 85). If something is lost, then the whole is genuinely irreducible to the parts. “The Whole is the most irreducible part of any system, the one that makes the most difference to itself. Per IIT, only the Whole has experience” (p. 87).


All of this is to say that consciousness is defined by irreducible complexity, where complexity is understood as the integrated relationship of parts in a whole. With this insight, one can then measure the complexity of the system—in this case, the neuronal/brain network—by an approximate measure known as “algorithmic complexity,” which reveal how irreducible something is.


Such measures are actually quite familiar to us. Any time you “zip” a file or folder on your computer, you have used algorithmic complexity to “compress” data to its irreducible form. This function essentially identifies those parts of the whole that can be removed without losing any essential information. A file with binary code can be compressed by finding the patterns in it, and reducing the length of the information needing to be conveyed to a shorter algorithm. Hence, the binary code

000000011111110000000011111111000000000111111111 is long (48 characters long, to be precise), but easily compressible into a much shorter expression, since it is just seven 0s, seven 1s, eight 0s, eight 1s, nine 0s, nine 1s, etc. By contrast, a truly random number of the same length, 011011111010111010001100011010111010100101011000, is irreducibly complex, since there is no algorithm that can compress the expression into a simpler form.


Between pattern and randomness, total order and total chaos, lies of the domain of the sort of complexity which leads to the dynamic living structures we see around us. This is because maximal information is found not in total regularity, nor in total incoherence, but somewhere in-between.


IIT researchers use approximations like algorithmic complexity to measure the degree of integration in the brain/nervous system. This is what Φ is. Conscious complexity (Φ) drops when we enter sleep or are put under through anesthesia; it rises when we awaken.


Consciousness, in short, is a whole-part relationship, one maximally integrated; the degree of complexity and the degree of consciousness are directly correlated. Complexity is the exterior, configuration aspect of the interior, subjective experience. Or, as Koch puts it: “IIT posits two sides to every Whole: an exterior aspect, known to the world and interacting with other objects, including other Wholes; and an interior aspect, what it feels like, its experience” (p. 166).


More than that, consciousness is emergent. As Anil Seth puts it in Being You: The New Science of Consciousness, “The easiest way to think about Φ is that it measures how much a system is ‘more than the sum’ of its parts, in terms of information. …In IIT, Φ measures the amount of information a system generated ‘as a whole,’ over and above the amount of information generated by its parts independently. This underpins the main claim of the theory, which is that a system is conscious to the extent that its whole generates more information than its parts” (p. 64). This, we have seen, is the very definition of emergence. IIT is a mathematically-grounded theory showing how the whole of experiential consciousness emerges from its merely material parts.



p. 66: “How does brain size affect consciousness?...


Koch, Christof (2019) The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness is Widespread But Can’t Be Computed (MIT Press, Cambridge), p. 126.


p. 66: “As adaptation increases, so do…”


Koch, The Feeling of Life Itself, p. 124.



p. 67: [figure]


Adapted from Figure 11.2 in Koch, The Feeling of Life Itself, p. 127.



p. 67: “In turn on up the complexity continuum…”


Chaisson, Cosmic Evolution, p. 138.



p. 68: according to the same metric, the energy rate density for…


See Table 2 in Chaisson, Cosmic Evolution, p. 139.


p. 69: “That is,” writes Henriques, “like nutritious food, social influence reflects…”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 84.



p. 70: “What is the self-consciousness system?...”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 115.



p. 70: “The point of the Justification Hypothesis is that…”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 136.



p. 71: “Justifications are a great example of what Dawkins (1989) called a meme…”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 148.



p. 71: metamemes


Hanzi Freinacht writes in his book The Listening Society:  “Each of these metamemes operates as a set of thousands of propositions and assumptions about the world which interlock into a self-supporting whole, a kind of ecosystem or equilibrium. Each of them is a kind of underlying structure of the symbolic universes that constitute our lived and shared realities. So each of them roughly have an ontology (theory of reality and what is “really real”), an ideology (“theory of what is right and good”) and an identity, an idea of who or what the self is. …They each create a blueprint for the creation of narratives: So the language tools are not only metamemes, but also meta-narratives. There is always a rough, underlying story (narrative) about reality from which humans operate, from which they create new ‘code’, new knowledge” (p. 215).



p. 72: Emergent Cyclical Theory (ECLET)


Graves developed his theory of eight levels after synthesizing years of empirical research from collating countless essays he’d administered to his students. Essentially, the essays were to be responses to the prompt “What does a psychologically mature adult look like?” After collecting the responses, a group of independent judges reviewed the essays each year and were asked to categorize them without further guidance. Again and again, the judges independently categorized them according to a specific schema. This schema formed the basis of the eight levels Graves identified from the data.



p. 72: “The psychology of the adult human being…”


Graves, Clare (2005) The Never Ending Quest (ECLET Publishing, Santa Barbara), p. 29.



p. 73: eight such levels to date…


According to Graves’s ECLET model, a stage sequence of specific material life conditions (symbolized by the first 8 letters of the alphabet) were met by the individual with an accompanying set of neurophysiological response systems (symbolized by the 8 letters from N to U). Thus, A conditions engender the individual’s N adaptive response, B conditions engender the O adaptive response, and so forth. Thus we get the 8 “levels of existence”: A-N, B-O, C-P, D-Q, E-R, F-S, G-T, and H-U.


The first two of these levels were not evidenced in Graves’s data, but extrapolated from anthropological data. A-N is a hypothetical “archaic” level of pure survival needs. B-O is the “Animistic” level of tribal societies. The remainder are deduced from empirical responses to Graves’s survey question.


According to Graves, the levels alternate, one to the next, between an instinct to “express the self” or to “sacrifice the self,” to be individualistically assertive or communally submissive. These are the two poles the individual oscillates between as they develop through the levels. Development is conceived as a spiral, wherein the individual returns to self- assertion or submission again and again from higher and higher vantages.


To provide some concrete examples of what this looks like, here are some of the actual essay responses Graves cites as instances of the different levels:


C-P: Self-Assertive

“Life is a jungle - one goddamned great big jungle. It is survival of the fittest and that is all. Anybody who does not recognize this is not or will never be a grown up person. Life is competition, it is fight and struggle and get and take and hang on. Some they have got it to fight there way through it

and some they just don’t have it. The grownup he survives, or he go down big in trying he’s got it. He is the guy who fights to get what he needs and he keeps after it till he gest it. If he wants some chick he don’t take no. He wears her down. One thing about him is he don’t chicken, he don’t let fear stand in his way. … There ain’t no reason for him to feel guilty cause a man’s got to live ain’t he? This aint no picnik world in which he live. It better he do what have to be done cause he can’t hold his head up if he ain’t a man.”


D-Q: Self-Submitting


“Right is right and wrong is wrong and if you are going to be mature you better learn it, the sooner the better. It always has been this way and it will always be because that is the way it is. My old man learned it from his and his old man learned it from his father, and my kids are going to learn it from me because that is the law of the land. …God is vengeful, he is to be feared. …God says there are laws we must live by or He will see to it we pay for it in the future.”



"It is my honest belief that what is a mature personality is determined by that power which determines good and evil in the world. God created man and God has indicated in His Ten Commandments the principles by which the human should live. It is not for me to decide what God pretended [I believe this is a Freudian slip and she meant ‘intended’]. If God had wanted man to decide he would have indicated that. He would not have “commanded”. … have decided the only way I can fulfill the assignment is to decry [I believe she meant ‘describe’] what I think God meant by each of his commandments.” (The respondent then proceeds to list the Ten Commandments and consider psychological maturity with regard to each.)"


E-R: Self-Assertive

“After giving rational thought to what is the mature personality I have come to the following list of characteristics which add up to what it is.

1. The major characteristic of the mature person is that he is an independently operating individual.

2. The mature does what has to be done. He is not held back in his actions or judgments by that which other people do or believe.

3. The mature does not accept without questions existing data, theories or practices.

4. He is energetic, outspoken and expressive of what he believes regardless of where others stand.

5. The mature does for himself and thinks for himself. He does not look to others for their guidance or support and he does not need their acceptance or acclaim.

6. The mature person is absolutely objective. He does not let his emotions interfere with what has to be done. He is an acting person who keeps feelings out of his actions.

…10. The mature person does not feel guilty or ashamed for doing what rationally has to be done.

…16. He is not satisfied with yesterday’s ways unless he has found them to work and he holds to them only so long as he sees them to work.”


F-S: Self-Submitting


“Since the self can only be a derivative of what is outside the self, since man’s self consciousness, his “selfhood”, seems necessarily to be socially founded, an obsession with individuality and autonomy appears a bit unrealistic… …Rationality is valued as a means of growth, though owing to man’s nature, by no means an exclusive means. …The concept of God as a moral force is virtually dismissed… …As a final note, maturity also engenders a sort of overview of what such a paper as this has an object - i.e. something of a self-reflexive awareness of the relative nature of opinion; a

recognition that although I can and must (because of my humanness) argue out of my own position, argumentation and opinion from other positions is equally valid in the sense of being understandable and defensible.”



“The mature personality is a participating, creative personality which in its operation does justice to every type of personality, every mode of culture, every human potential without forming anyone into typological molds. …He or she believes in an absolutely open society …He or she behaves so as to demonstrate that every person may be freely heard.…He or she seeks to widen the ties of fellowship without respect to birth, caste or property, and disavows claims to special privilege or the exclusivity of leadership. He or she replaces Godly authority with the temporal authority of the time and the place. …To the mature technology is for human needs, not power, productivity, profit or prestige and scientific endeavour is not for ruthless exploitation or desecration. …He or she believes one should know both the objective and the subjective and show the ability to face one’s whole self…”



p. 73: Constructive Developmental Theory (CDT)


Like Graves, Kegan sees the individual as constructing their evolving self in a “truce” with their environment (i.e., living conditions). But if Graves’s research provides a rich treasury of empirical data on the levels, CDT provides a robust and elegant theory for how the self develops from one level to the next.


In his book The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development, Kegan writes: “The guiding principle of such a truce – the point that is always at issue and is renegotiated in the transition to each new balance – is what, from the point of view of the organism, is composed as ‘object’ and what is ‘subject.’ The question always is: To what extent does the organism differentiate itself from (and so relate itself to) the world?” (p. 44)


Essentially, the self is always emerging from its embedding in the world. As it gains more awareness of its self, it is able to see its own self as an object of consideration. The subject thus becomes an object to a higher-order subject. What had been immediate experience becomes mediated by reflection, and so had been the subject (i.e., the immediately experiencing self) becomes an object of awareness (i.e., a mediated reflection). Through this process, the self develops. In fact, you could even say it complexifies, since the old self becomes a part in a higher-level whole.


Summarizing the developmental literature on this complexification of the self, Kegan writes:


“It has been called a process of decentration (Piaget, 1937), emergence from embeddedness (Schachtel, 1959), the recurring triumph over egocentrism (Elkind, 1974); it has been referred to as a process in which the whole becomes a part to a new whole (Perry, 1970); in which what was structure becomes content on behalf of a new structure (Piaget, 1968); in which what was ultimate becomes preliminary on behalf of a new ultimacy (Kegan, 1980); in which what was immediate gets mediated by a new immediacy (Kegan, 1981). All these descriptions speak to the same process, which is essentially that of adaptation, a differentiation from that which was the very subject of my personal organization and which becomes thereby the object of a new organization on behalf of a new subjectivity that coordinates it” (p. 85).


By this recurring process, the self emerges; “the whole becomes a part to a new whole; the subject differentiates the object of awareness and then integrates it into a new relationship. In this way, the self witnesses “a history of transformations, each of which is a better guarantee to the world of its distinct integrity, a history of successive emergence from it (differentiation) in order to relate to it (integration)” (p. 31). In the course of this series of transformations, it passes through distinct stages. As in Graves’s model, these stages oscillate back and forth from self-assertive to self-submissive, “a continual moving back and forth between resolving the tension slightly in favor of autonomy, at one stage, in the favor of inclusion, at the next” (p. 108).


Kegan identifies six such stages, which he calls (0) Incorporative, (1) Impulsive, (2) Imperial, (3) Interpersonal, (4) Institutional, and (5) Interindividual. Like Graves, he maps these unfolding along a spiral, showing how “we revisit old issues but at a whole new level of complexity” (p. 109).


The stages Kegan describes map remarkably well to Graves’s levels: Incorporative ~ A-N, Impulsive ~ B-O, Imperial ~ C-P, Interpersonal ~ D-Q, Institutional ~ E-R, Interindividual ~ F-S.


Fascinatingly, Kegan appears to have developed this model independently of Graves—stunning confirmation that there really is something to this process and the stages through which it passes.



p. 73: research by Ronald Inglehart…


Meaningful correlations can be drawn between the levels Graves and Kegan describe at the individual scale and the cultural values espoused by whole populations. For over 30 years, the World Values Survey and European Values Survey have been carrying out hundreds of surveys in over 100 countries containing over 90% of the world’s population. Responses to the survey questions now constitute a vast dataset for assessing patterns and trends in the worldviews of whole cultural zones.


Synthesizing the data, the famous Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map plots its findings along two axes: so-called “Survival” vs. “Self Expression” values and “Traditional” vs. “Secular Values.” Cultural zones characterized as high in survival/traditional values suggest collective manifestations of Graves’s B-O, C-P, and D-Q levels. As cultural zones move towards more self-expressive/secular values, the center of gravity shifts to E-R and F-S values.

Map 2022_June 2022 corrected - small.png

The principal thesis of Inglehart’s 2018 book Cultural Evolution: People’s Motivations are Changing, and Reshaping the World is that there is a recognizable trajectory of cultural evolution in the direction of self-expressive and secular values over time. As scarcity and material hardship decrease, cultural values evolve organically away from subsistence-based traditionalist hierarchies and towards more open and liberal norms based predicated on abundance. In this sense, there is a natural developmental trajectory for cultural evolution as well as individual development. Indeed, the two processes seem to mirror one another at the macro and micro scale, respectively.


p. 73: Jean Piaget’s pioneering work in genetic epistemology…


Though largely known for his research on child psychology, Piaget’s work was far more wide-reaching and profound. As a “genetic epistemologist,” the Swiss psychologist sought to understand the origins and mechanisms of knowledge itself. Through his prolific career of research and writing, Piaget developed a constructivist model which showed that learning advanced through distinct stages.


According to Piaget, at the heart of this learning process is the emergence of higher-order wholes from lower-level parts. The way human beings come to identity and relate parts to wholes is central to the essence of knowledge. As he reflects in his autobiography, “I noticed with amazement that the simplest reasoning task involving the inclusion of a part in the whole or the coordination of relations of the ‘multiplication’ of classes (finding the part common to two wholes), presented for normal children up to the age of eleven or twelve difficulties unsuspected by the adult. …At last I had found my field of research. First of all it became clear to me that the theory of the relations between the whole and the part can be studied experimentally…” (p. 244-45).


Learning proceeds by attaining to new “structures-of-the-whole,” which act as distinct equilibria or attractor points for the mind. The movement from one equilibrium to the next means a genuine development of knowledge, since higher equilibria resolve contradictions that had appeared at lower levels. Higher stages subsume the previous ones into a more comprehensive whole, giving them a more inclusive and expansive scope.


Piaget was the first to identify a sequence of cognitive stages that unfold in this way:


  • Sensorimotor

  • Preoperational

  • Concrete Operational

  • Formal Operational


Each stage represents a new equilibrium of part-whole relations with new cognitive capacities.


Piaget suggested that this part-whole structuring process of the mind was occurring all throughout nature in a great hierarchy of nested wholes. As Michael Chapman notes in his book Constructive Evolution: Origins and Development of Piaget’s Thought:


“Piaget…believed that a tendency toward the emergence of ever more inclusive relational totalities could be observed on all levels of reality, from the lowest forms of organic matter to the highest forms of human thought and action. In terms of their part–whole structure, such totalities can be described as forms of equilibrium, and the tendency toward emergence as a process of equilibration.” (p. 434)


Or, as Piaget himself put it in his autobiography: “My one idea, developed under various aspects in (alas!) twenty-two volumes, has been that intellectual operations proceed in terms of structures-of-the-whole. These structures denote the kinds of equilibrium toward which evolution in its entirety is striving; at once organic, psychological and social, their roots reach down as far as biological morphogenesis itself” (p. 256).



p. 74: Commons’s “Model of Hierarchical Complexity”…


Commons’s Model completes the Piagetian research program with a full and comprehensive articulation of the stages of cognitive development. Commons’s model adds stages on either end of Piaget’s, extending its application to non-human animals as well as filling in the post-formal stages of human development that Piaget’s work did not cover. It also distinguishes amongst some of the stages Piaget had identified with greater clarity:


  • Automatic Stage

  • Sensory or Motor Stage

  • Circular Sensory-Motor Stage

  • Sensory-Motor Stage

  • Nominal Stage

  • Pre-Operational Stage

  • Primary Stage

  • Concrete Stage

  • Abstract Stage

  • Formal State

  • Systematic

  • Meta-Systematic

  • Paradigmatic

  • Cross-Paradigmatic


For a summary of the cognitive capacities that come online with each new stage, see Hanzi Freinacht’s essay “What is the Model of Hierarchical Complexity?” https://metamoderna.org/what-is-the-mhc/



p. 74: Hanzi Freinacht (a protégé of Commons) argued for a direct connection…


Hanzi articulates his own robust theory of human development that includes no less than four axes: cognitive complexity (measured by MHC), cultural code, state, and depth. All of these must be taken into consideration when thinking about an individual’s psychological development. For our purposes, though, it is the distinction of MHC and code/metameme that matters at the moment, since it is important to appreciate the nuanced way that these relate to one another.


Hanzi’s model adds clarity to Graves’s levels by distinguishing between the individual’s cognitive complexity and the cultural code (or “symbolic toolkit”) they are using. While the two are related, they are not the same thing.


Generally speaking, “there is a kind of connection between the overall development of cognitive stage and of the development of symbolic toolkits available in language—the development of society” (p. 217). The specific metamemes/codes emerge according to a logical dialectic at play—a complexification dialectic. Like Piaget’s “equilibria” or Kegan’s “truces,” each metameme represents a sort of attractor point for the specific levels of cognitive complexity. As such, each metameme develops one to the next according to the same kind of dialectical process governing cognitive development.


Hanzi writes:


“Each of the stages creates language code that is inherently more advanced than the previous stage. There is something real in the logic of how each symbolic universe is constructed, and this realness forces the direction of human history. It does not force specific events upon the world, of course, but it does compel society to develop in some directions rather than others. …Think about it: What comes first—the wheel, the combustion engine or the airplane? I would be hard pressed to find a reason that airplanes should show up before the wheel. …We are speaking of memes (non-biological cultural patterns that spread through communication)—where some memes can only show up in more complex societies. It simply never happened in a tribe of 150 people on a remote island that someone developed modern physics and a poststructuralist critique of literature” (p. 213)


In this way, the dialectic of emerging cultural metamemes unfolds naturally from the simpler to the more complex—from wheels to postmodern literature, you could say. Cultural codes complexify.


Any metameme will be operating according to an inherent logic at its own level of complexity. To optimally operate with that symbolic toolkit means to have at least that level of associated cognitive complexity. Otherwise, one will be using that symbolic toolkit in a “flattened” version. Thus, while it is certainly possible (if not common) for, say, an individual at MHC stage Abstract to utilize Postmodern conceptual code, the result will be quite different (i.e., deficient) compared to someone at MHC stage Systematic—the cognitive stage required to fully grasp the logic of such cultural code. Likewise, it is possible for someone at MHC stage Formal or higher to be operating with Traditional code—such as a Christian theologian applying complex theoretical frameworks to the dogma of the Trinity.


In short, complexity stage and metameme are related, and we can indeed see cultural evolution as a complexification process akin to the one individuals undergo as their cognition develops—though the relationships are nuanced, and one should avoid simple linear or one-to-one assumptions when it comes to ontogenetic (individual) and phylogenetic (cultural) learning. To date, Hanzi’s work is arguably the best in outlining these relationships, though there is certainly more work to be done to fully flesh out the connections between psychological development and cultural evolution.



p. 75: “It becomes possible to view evolution as…”


Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe, p. 307.



p. 75-76: “We are the cosmos come alive…”


Azarian, The Romance of Reality, p. 132.