top of page

Emergentism: Endnotes

1. From Religion to Reduction
2. From Reduction to Emergence
3. The Awakening Universe
4. Hermeneutics: Interpreting the Universe
5. Iconography: 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…

John Vervaeke, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at the University of Toronto, has made repeated reference to this survey (e.g., in an article written with Christopher Mastropietro,"Diagnosing the Current Age: A Symptomology of the Meaning Crisis," available here:, and in a talk entitled "The Meaning Crisis, Religio, and Religion in the 21st Century," available here: The survey in question was performed by Yakult UK, a purveyor of products and services concerned with health and wellbeing, in a poll of 1,500 Brits. The findings were first published in The Sun on August 1, 2019:



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


“Suicide.” World Health Organization.



p. iii: the Stephen Hawkings 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,'


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,



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,



p. vi: the majority of Evangelical Christians maintain…


“Jesus Christ’s Return to Earth.” Pew Research Center. December 30, 2019.


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:



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



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,”


“The Artful Scaling of the Religion That’s Not a Religion,” playlist,


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: Theoretically, the process is unlimited.

The universal geometry here is said to be "fractal." The Universe is like a great Mandelbrot Set, a seemingly-infinite depth of self-similar wholes that are parts in bigger wholes, continually spiralling into new domains of pattern while also recursively repeating certain universal patterns at all scales.


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

1. From Religion to Reduction

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!


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, perspective 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).

2. From Reduction to Emergence

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 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, structural 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 Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET)


Graves developed his theory of eight levels after synthesizing years of empirical research from countless prompts and tests he’d administered to his students. The prompt for essayistic responses was: “What does a psychologically mature adult look like?” After collecting the responses, a group of independent judges reviewed the responses each year and were asked to categorize them without further guidance. Again and again, the judges tended to categorize 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 extant levels…


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 were 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 data provided by his subjects that 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 Stage

  • Systematic Stage

  • Meta-Systematic Stage

  • Paradigmatic Stage

  • Cross-Paradigmatic Stage


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?”



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.

3. The Awakening Universe

4. Hermeneutics: Interpreting the Universe

p. 81: let’s try this again


See p. i.



p. 82: some theory of aims


For a thorough treatment of this point, see Terence Deacon’s magnificent tome Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, wherein the issue of teleology is reappraised from the ground up in light of complexity and emergence. Deacon’s “quest to naturalize teleology” (p. 45) leads him to coin a new term with less conceptual baggage: “entention,” defined as “a generic adjective…for describing all phenomena that are intrinsically incomplete in the sense of being in relationship to, constituted by, or organized to achieve something non-intrinsic” (p. 549). A system is thus ententional if it is directed towards some end or purpose. Deacon develops a theory of emergence rooted in ententionality, since emergence is inherently bound up with teleology, which complexity requires us to reconsider if not reconceive. But though the mechanics are coming more into view, the importance of teleology itself is unavoidable. Despite the need for a new coinage, Deacon is clear: “Ententional processes and relationships can best be classed as expressions of final causality in Aristotle’s terms [AKA, “telos”]. Their absential character is determined by the end toward which they tend, or the represented concept for the sake of which they were created” (p. 35).



p. 85: such as practitioners of meditation speak of…


The word “Buddha” means “awakened one.”



p. 86: it is time we reclaim our religious sensibility…


See my conversation with Layman Pascal on this topic: “Reclaiming Religious Terminology,”



p. 89: immanence itself is made the locus of transcendence


See A. Severan, Metamodernism and the Return of Transcendence, Metamodern Spirituality Series, vol. 1 (Palimpsest Press), p. 25, and other consideration of “the return of dimensionality” in metamodern conceptions of “transcendence.”



p. 90: isotropic


The isotropic nature of the universe means that its characteristics pertain everywhere in the same way. In every direction we look, we see the same laws operating. By this we can infer that the same gravitational force operating on our planet, for instance, operates in the same manner on planets millions of light years away. If life emerged on Earth according to deep mechanics of the universe, these same mechanics are operating across the universe.



p. 90: anywhere from 300 million to over 40 billion Earth-like planets…


See Bryson et al. (2020) The Occurrence of Rocky Habitable-zone Planets around Solar-like Stars from Kepler Data. The Astronomical Journal 161(1):32.



p. 92: we can only conclude that such a God is evil


For a powerful argumentation in this vein, see Ivan’s monologue in the chapter “Mutiny” in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.



p. 94: God could create free will such that it never produced any suffering…


See Job’s monologue in Canto 3 of Julian’s epic poem GOD (pp. 26-30).



pp. 96-98: “A great Being or Power was traveling through the sky…”


William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 392-393.



p. 98: Each individual consciousness is a vehicle for God’s evolution


See Sadie Alwyn Moon, Building the Cathedral: Answering the Meaning Crisis through Personal Myth, Metamodern Spirituality Series, vol. 4 (Palimpsest Press).



p. 100: Omega Point


Coined by Teilhard de Chardin (see p. 206ff).



p. 101: “Each dimension that has evolved…”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, pp. 247-248.



p. 102: “Novel information processing capacities…”


Henriques, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, p. 248.



p. 104: Phaethon


According to the ancient Greek myth, Phaethon, son of the Sun God, is granted permission to ride his father’s chariot through the sky. But the young boy is too young and unprepared to control its incredible power, and so, from his hubris, meets a tragic end.



p. 109: So we get the “shapes” of consciousness…


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:

Comparison Chart.png

p. 109: each dimension expresses its God-concept according to its own logic…


One of the best books exploring this topic specifically is Dustin DiPerma’s 2015 Evolution’s Ally:  Our World’s Religious Traditions as Conveyor Belts of Transformation.



p. 110: 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”)


p. 111: 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)



p. 112: 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)



p. 113: 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).



p. 114: 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)



p. 115: 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).

4. Hermeneutics: Interpreting the Universe
bottom of page