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The Dimensional Model

Updated: May 25, 2022

Towards a Common Nomenclature

“Μηδείςἀγεωμέτρητος εἰσίτω μουτὴν στέγην”


Cultural evolutionaries[1] have a units problem. When it comes to metrics, we lack a shared terminology, a common language that all parties can agree to (even if they disagree on certain aspects of different theories, etc.). Just think what science would be like—and was like—without SI units: a convoluted hodgepodge of different local measures, always requiring conversion into others before one could compare theories (feet to meters, miles to kilometers, etc.). In America, where standardization never fully took hold, this has been the cause of some significant headaches.

Right now, evolutionaries contend with their own hodgepodge whenever they try to discuss the schema of cultural paradigms/structures of consciousness. Here I’m not just referring to the different terms that individual developmental researchers might use within their own specific models (e.g., “D-Q,” “Conformist,” “Interpersonal” are all used by different theorists to refer to what is essentially the same structure). The problem extends even to the broader “metatheoretical” models that try to synthesize the individual models, or otherwise refer to the broader cultural paradigms at play. Do we refer to this as “BLUE” or “Amber” or “Post-Faustian”? We are awash in terms all basically referring to the same structures (albeit from different theoretical perspectives).[2] Like scientists before standardization, we all agree about the reality of weight, but differ on the units we use to define it.

The question then arises: Is it possible to find a very basic, general nomenclature that would allow us to speak across the various models? Is there a language that can accommodate the general sense of these structures without getting lost in the particularities of any given model (with all its potential idiosyncrasies and demerits)?


For such a shared terminology to work, it would, I contend, have to be as neutral as possible, while at the same time not entirely devoid of meaningful semantic connotations. This is certainly why color systems have been so successful to date, I would argue. Colors offer a value-neutral frame of reference (e.g., the color green is not inherently better than the color blue), yet can also convey helpful information about that structure mnemonically (e.g., green has associative resonances with the “postmodern” and “progressive” structure it labels [i.e., the “green” environmentalist movement, the “Green” party, etc.). Such content-neutral but association-rich patterns are key. The first idea for finding a new shared language, then, might be to attempt a revised color system,[3] but it quickly becomes apparent why this is untenable. Essentially, there are already two major competing color models (Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory), and introducing a third is sure to add only more confusion rather than clarity.

So, if not colors, what else might work in a similar fashion?

What about shapes, I wondered. Surely a “square” can’t be said to be intrinsically better or worse than a “line,” so the property of normative neutrality is retained. But what differences among the shapes might offer some semantic significance? Is there a “spectrum” of shapes, just as there is for color, upon which we might draw? Something to show sequence and progression through different structures?


As it happens, there is such a sequence: the ordering of geometric designs according to their number of dimensions. A 1-dimensional line is followed by a 2-dimensional square, which is in turn followed by a 3-dimensional cube, and so on.

Could this work as the basis for a shared nomenclature? 1D, 2D, 3D, etc.?

For one thing, the idea of “dimension” could offer a theory-neutral term that encompasses structures variously understood as “mutations” (which are explicitly non-developmental) as well as “stages” (which are developmentally theorized). In fact, as I’ll show in a moment, the concept of dimensions has been explicitly employed by the non-developmental Gebser and the developmental Hanzi in articulating their different models. In a dimensional framing, Gebserians could talk to Hanzians about the structures without theoretical disagreements getting in the way, since "2D" would refer to the same structure/stage.

For those who do approach these structures through a developmental lens, the dimensional framing of stages is very helpful, though, since it is possible (though not necessary) to understand “higher dimensions” as indicating greater complexity. A square is objectively more complex than a line, even if it’s not inherently “better” or “worse” than one. More than that, dimensions are holarchically ordered (i.e., they constitute a sequence of hierarchical complexity). That is, all the “higher” dimensions necessarily “transcend and include” the previous ones. A 3D cube includes 2D squares, which themselves include 1D lines, etc. The lower dimensions become integrated into the higher ones, just as developmental theory argues. The model mimics the process. (This is not the case with any color system, obviously, and thus a decided advantage of using a dimension model for developmental thinkers.)

Moreover, those who might wish to speculate about higher and higher stages 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. Integralists, metamodernists, and the Spiral Dynamics community can thus all talk about levels up to 5D using the same terminology; Integral and SD can posit still further levels up to 7D (CORAL/Indigo) using the same continued terminology, with Integral ultimately positing levels 8D and up (Violet to Clear Light). The advantage to this approach, of course, is that it allows a shared framework in which different models might engage more clearly and constructively. It highlights commonality (all models in relative consensus up to 5D), emphasizing the solid basis for discussion, even as the dimensions become more debatable the higher you go.

Below is a simple depiction of the dimensions model, using the Spiral Dynamics vMemes as the point of comparison (since it is familiar to both Integral and metamodern communities as well):

Finally, I will just note that, the higher the dimensional shapes go, the closer their representations converge upon a true mandala form. Here is a 10D dekeract:


As noted above, aside from offering it as a unique intervention into the evolutionary terminology debate, a dimensional framing of stage-structures is not really my innovation, but has already been articulated by more than one theorist—including those occupying diverse corners of the community. As I was working out the model, and satisfactorily paired the different dimensions to the different structures, I recalled that Hanzi had suggested something very similar about dimensions 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:

“Here is an intuitive graphic illustration of how the stages relate to one another: as going from lines to squares to cubes to 4-dimensional ‘hyper-cubes’ to 5-dimensional ‘hyper-cubes’…

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 effective memes according to this logic. Instead, he opts for Archaic, Animistic, Faustian, Post-Faustian, Modern, Postmodern, and Metamodern. On the whole, these are certainly very valid terms (with the exception of “Faustian” and “Post-Faustian” in my view),[4] 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 this “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 (often in contrast to the irrational thinking of "modern" Westerners), do we say that these indigenous populations were engaged in “modern” thought? (A less charitable reader would likely make accusations of modernity continuing to “colonize” indigenous bodies and minds if so.) Would it not work much better to simply 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). In this way, the integralism of Gebser is of a rather different kind than that of Ken Wilber, or other developmentalists who take as their focus the “evolution of consciousness.” 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; emphasis mine).

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 means for “one-dimensional” as representative of 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 Integral, Spiral Dynamics, and metamodernism, that inhabits the space between Magic and Mythic: the Red 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.


So, could this work? Could we just say “2D”—instead of “BLUE/Amber/Post-Faustian”? “3D,” instead of “ORANGE/Modern”? “5D” instead of “YELLOW/Teal/Metamodern”? Of course, there will be many times when those other terms are relevant and necessary, but in general discussion across different paradigms, I think a dimensional model might possibly serve to bridge the divides. Personally, I believe it to be sufficiently simple, elegant, and sensitive enough to the theoretical differences in the community that it could serve as a common nomenclature.

Finally, I’ll close by offering some additional mnemonic justifications for the model. The degree to which they are “not purely metaphorical” I’ll leave to you. At the very least, such a presentation can help make the model more intuitive—hopefully, just as intuitive as any color system (if not moreso).



[1] By “cultural evolutionaries,” I mean the various communities similarly concerned with cultural evolution and the evolution of human consciousness (i.e., metamodernists, integralists, the Spiral Dynamics scene, and others in the liminal web.) [2] That is, we generally agree on the basic paradigms, but may differ in understanding what and how they are (simply different mutations (Gebserian integralism)? psycho-cultural value memes (Spiral Dynamics)? consciousness altitude levels (Wilberian integralism)? complexity-pegged effective value memes (Hanzian developmental metamodernism)? or something else entirely? [3] Such as the one Frank Visser proposes in Appendix 4, Table 9 in his article “A More Adequate Spectrum of Colors?: A Comparison of Color Terminology in Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics and Chakra-Psychology,” [4] For one thing, Faust in an icon of modern consciousness, not imperial/warrior consciousness. Hanzi, of course, is using the idea idiomatically—the “faustian bargain,” in which one sells one’s soul for power. But this is problematic. One needs a “soul” before one can sell it, of course, and that thinking doesn’t come online until, ironically, the “Post-Faustian” structure. Faust represents the split from the medieval cosmos of tradition to the rational one of modernity, and it is associatively problematic that Hanzi so associates the idea with the pre-traditional mode. Compounding this problem is that then “Post-Faustian” is the term used to describe the traditional structure. Does it make more sense to speak of the majority of people on the planet inhabiting a “Post-Faustian” worldview, or a traditional one? Again, the reasoning for this decision is to highlight the way that the traditional structure represented a reaction against the warrior structure, the way the post-modern one did to the modern one. But highlighting this relationship hardly seems worth all the associative confusion that results.

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