This post may be thought of as an extension to a previous one on this same blog about Spiral Dynamics by Clare Graves. Far from dismissing the content of that one in any way, this text here goes on only to give more and maybe necessary context to the subject of developmental stages or paradigms of consciousness.

This post will explore comparative stages, extend the model by third tier, expound on the wave nature of stages including the concept of access and orientation, explain that there are different lines of develpoment, lay out the idea of transcend and include as well as how more advanced stages also add to more potential for pathologies, discuss the overall dance of evolution and how deterministic these stages are.

As explained in the post about Spiral Dynamics, human development goes from BEIGE, which is instinctive, to PURPLE, which is animistic, to RED, which is dominant, to BLUE, which is authoritarian, to ORANGE, which is achievist, to GREEN, which is communitarian and then going on to second tier, which includes YELLOW (or TEAL), which is system, and after that TURQUOISE, which is holistic. Beyond that is third tier, which will be discussed in due course.


Comparing Developmental Stages

This terminology and the distinction between the stages is unique to Spiral Dynamics. What is happening there, the subtle structure behind it all, can be called several other names as well however and the boundaries of where one stage ends and another begins drawn in a different manner. It is telling that most theorists do indeed agree largely on many stages however and that they may sometimes be directly equated with each other.

What is most noteworthy about possibility of correlating these different stages however is that the theorists have largely studied different domains of human experience and paradigms and yet they come up such a similar structure. Maslow for example talks about needs, while Piaget talks about cognitive development, Gebser studies worldviews and Cook-Greuter examines self-identy. All of the research referenced here is backed up by mountains of data and can be experienced oneself as one develops.


Third Tier

Whereas the theory up until here has theoretically staid clear of any references to anything associated with religion, the supernatural or spirituality, beyond most of these models, or at least beyond how they are referenced in most of the literature, there are more stages. Whereas second tier has brought about the ability to integrate all the former stages and see their truth (but partiality), third tier now opens up the window to Spirit.

There are, or one may discern as Integral Theory does, four great spiritual states of the Gross/Psychic, Subtle, Causal and finally the Non-Dual as an integration of all. Then what overall happens is that the stable forms of these passing states are to be attained after second tier. That is beyond second tier there is first a stable Psychic (or INDIGO), then a stable Subtle (or VIOLET) and finally the Causal, which is formless (CLEAR LIGHT). Ultimately there is only the Non-Dual beyond.

The specifics of these are very complex or rather not easy to point to because, as many teachers love to point out, the spiritual, or at least some of it, is beyond the concepts. It has been laid out very well by Wilber in his various works, among others towards the end of the first book of Wilber’s Sex, Ecology and Spirit. The only really essential addition to this post in general is the vital distinction between states and stages, which will be the theme of the next post.

Wave Nature

To call these paradigms of development “stages” can indeed be very misleading. Even though the complex diagram above shows that distinctions between different stages can be drawn and it is often very reasonable to do so, it is important to remember that these developmental stages are more like a spiral without exact boundaries rather than like steps on a staircase. The transition from one stage to another is fluid without a sharp breaking point. And even when one may be able to point to a specific event that changed one’s mindset, this instance has been building up over a long time.

Access and Orientation

Over this long time in which the transition may have been building up it is likely that one has been able to have “access” to a certain stage without actually “being” or rather “being oriented” on that stage. The distinction here might be between where a person is able to operate from with some effort, but still being able to, and where most of the individuals actions naturally come from.

A common example might be a child who, if specifically requested to might make semi-rational or at least sensible inductions and deductions but would not do so out of its own accord. Similarly while many high-school students might be able to understand a pluralistic/GREEN concept they are more likely to operate from ORANGE or even mythic BLUE.

What is particularly interesting is that people tend to be most harsh against the stage immediately before one’s current stage. In general this happens because one tries to differentiate oneself from it. That is for example why the green parties around the world, which are literally GREEN, are so relentlessly wagering against capitalism, which is originally a deep ORANGE concept. And why narrow-minded scientists (ORANGE) are so obstinately fighting against mythic-dogmatic religion (BLUE).

Lines of Development

As has been explained, the evolutionary spectrum of the levels of consciousness is not simply visible along one particular kind of progression but indeed can be laid across all kinds of developments. Gebser’s worldviews just as Maslow’s needs just like Spiral Dynamic’s values. This, together with the understanding that we are dealing with a wave like nature of these developmental levels, already alludes to a further dynamic of how these developmental patterns play out.

The thing is that one never is uniformly on one stage and that’s it. Rather there are different kinds of understanding or “lines” of development. In the day of the atom-bomb it is most obvious that there is the possibility that one is cognitively highly developed and morally absolutely not – the unfeeling genius. There are however many more than only those two lines of development and at least ten can be readily mentioned including moral (Kohlberg), needs (Maslow) and psychosexual (Freud). As has just been done, the research into these lines of development have generally been the speciality of one eminent psychologist. Integral thinking now brings all of those together and sees them in parallel.psychograph-fig1

Now, that these lines are parallel to each other does not mean that they are independent of each other. Indeed, while the unfeeling scientist laid out above is certainly not impossible, what is more likely is to progress evenly through the levels. Einstein famously was highly developed both mentally and morally. And there are countless examples like him. Thus, while these different lines are not locked to each other, they certailny are interconnected and influence each other continuously.

Transcend and Include

There is a really crucial point in observing these stages in one’s own life and reflecting upon them as one sees them in the behavior of other persons as well. As one develops to a certain a certain stage one is not suddenly on that stage and what is past is past. Rather what happens is that one is now “also” on this stage. One does not simply exchange one stage for another but one adds to the whole structure that is already in place. Let’s say at RED and transcends to BLUE, the specfics of which will be explained in the next section, one is already “in possession” of BEIGE, PURPLE and RED and now one adds BLUE, thus making one endowed with BEIGE, PURPLE, RED and BLUE.

This means that one is not only a conventionalist (BLUE) but that there at least somewhere also anarchistic (RED), animistic (PURPLE) and survivalistic (BEIGE) aspects to one. The behaviors of these stages may not be dominating any more but they are nonetheless there. Maslov’s pyramid makes it glaringly obvious in the way that we still need to eat something and feel secure and not simply fulfill our philosophical-existential needs when we are highly developed. Thus as one transcends to a new stage, one is also including the previous stages.

Ever more Potential for Pathology

The thing is that these new stages of course also add new possibilities of pathologies, while leaving all the former one’s intact. As is very poetically put by Stuart Davis in his song “Ladder”: “the higher that we climb, the more the ladder sways”. Seeing it in this light, it is obvious or at least more understandable, why it is so hard to transcend to a new level – the damage done if one is not properly grounded on one level can wreak extreme havoc.

The Dance of Evolution

Finally there is one point which should be important to anybody who is trying to see reality in a more differentiated way. It is sensible to make a distinction between reality and actuality, “Realität” and “Wirklichkeit” in German, the former describing the real structures and physical happenings in the world, while the other is what we perceive and is phenomology actual to us. As has been laid out in this post actuality/Wirklichkeit is very much dependent on our current stage of development, whereas there is something, or so we may believe, that is independent of interpretations and just is – the world of form.

The question then at some point is whether reality/Realität is in fact completely oblivious to what we, the human actor, is doing in the world. The poetic “dance of evolution” is the phrase that thinkers associated with the integral community often call the emergence of existence. This dance is certainly not independent of our actions, nor for that matter are they independent of any other thing in existence.

Maybe the most relevant case of developmental stages which are, as is often emphasized not complete and still evolving, the dynamic is described in the following way: There are developmental stages whose patterns are what may be called kosmic habits, they are not predetermined structures but rather paradigms that have evolved and now generally follow a certain way of being that has historically been mapped out very well in the earlier stages but that is not yet so clearly formed for the higher stages especially everything beyond green/pluralistic.


All in all, I think an understanding of developmental stages and some of their intricacies including but not limited to the one’s laid out above are an extremely powerful way to make sense of existence. The insights might spur further learning and accelerate one’s own evolutionary development. That indeed might be biggest gift of this model.