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Spiral dynamics - an introduction

Author: Rod Hemsell

Last Updated: March 9, 2009

Spiral Dynamics and the Integral Paradigm (1)

Our proposal for this series is to continue to explore the integral paradigm. A year ago, when we finished our first series of seminars, we had observed repeatedly that what was said and experienced during those seminars was consciously recognized to be a seed of much further development that could happen from each of those contexts, revelations, explorations. But what was there at the moment was somehow the whole like a seed. So then the question is how do we fertilize those seeds and allow them to grow? The exploration of the integral paradigm is a long term project, and it can be the stream of the central development of a university. All kinds of developments can flow from and converge in this idea, this consciousness. But this consciousness hasnt really evolved yet. We are about as far away from an integral paradigm as we can possibly be, which may offend some peoples assumptions. But thats just my feeling about it.

And so, we have proposed to continue our exploration in another series of seminars which, to some extent, would try to define further the integral paradigm and discover that paradigm fully. And another thing I would like to mention with regard to previous seminars, is that we have tried to connect the University of Human Unity idea and the integral paradigm exploration to the International Zone idea, because in the Mothers vision there is something essential about this idea of bringing together cultures; its educationally essential to the emergence of the integral consciousness. I believe she was not just trying to find ways to attract international participation in Auroville when she proposed this idea.

If you look carefully at SAs book known as The Human Cycle, youll find that it is quite mysterious and esoteric and critically insightful. One of the things he says in the early chapters is that one of the big advantages the West has over the East, that the latter still has to learn, is a vigorously destructive rationalism nowadays known as deconstruction. Because its the traditional and the religious and the conventional that have to be destroyed by the individual rational consciousness, or transcended by the rational, before the truly subjective can emerge. What all of the stages of development do is set up structures outside that we relate to and take for the reality. But it is only a stage of development. The ultimate stage that he calls the subjective is not what we normally think of as the subjective. Its not what the modern period has achieved with the subjectivity of Hume, Kant and Descartes. He calls that the individualistic rational age.

That which is to come is an age in which we experience the Self in all, not a separate self, and this experience is unnatural to the human being at its present stage of development to really see and feel the whole as oneself. This idea of the true soul of the nation which nobody comprehends, is so far out that no one comprehends it, because we are not yet at that stage of development. We do not recognize that the French or German or American or Hopi cultures are all expressions of our divine Self, which in itself is formless. Its infinite. Unless you are in a consciousness of the integral, infinite reality, you cant experience those cultures as expressions of it. You can only see them in their difference with others. Seeing and experiencing cultures in their differences with each other is not the point, but to experience each of them in its full energy. That was the Mothers idea for the International Zone.

In our course on evolution we mentioned the idea of the intuitive consciousness as being identified with the actual temporal duration, the energetic field of an entity. To really be able to know directly a species, whatever it is, means to be engaged in a direct oneness of energy that sees the whole thing from its beginning to its as yet unrealized end, as the thing in its totality rather than in its temporality. To see anything as its whole self is to transcend time. As long as we are blocked in the conception of limited temporal existence we cant know the nature of things. We can only know our abstract conception. This integral paradigm means deconstructing our traditional, conventional way of knowing, and emerging in another way of knowing which is not knowing, but Being. The being of things is not temporal. It transcends time.

Our exercises in these seminars need to consciously aim towards both a rigorous deconstruction of the way things are and have been, and a creative insemination and germination of another consciousness, which is not just of the whole, but which is the whole. This is a power of consciousness, or an intensity of consciousness. As Gebser points out, the integral is an intensity. Its not an object.


To go back to the idea of subjectivity, not conventional subjectivity, but SAs concept of an integral awareness which comes from within it has nothing to do with others, there is no other it is the Self. Thats why in exploring the integral paradigm, and the developmental stages, it is important for us to be sure that we are aware of the different levels and the extent to which our consciousness is locked into a conventional pattern based on the assumption that we are aware of something like the levels of consciousness that we share that this is an objectification of something that we may or may not be truly aware of as such. We can very easily put labels on things and decide that we know what they are, but do we really know what the physical consciousness or the vital consciousness or the levels of the mind, including the intuition, are that we all share? Do we in fact share these levels of consciousness and experience them as such?

If we do a little work in this area of understanding the developmental stages of ourselves and of society and become familiar with which behaviors indicate a conventional physical and which behaviors indicate a more universalized subjective physical, this is the psychological dimension of our exploration. Awareness is the key, but a real awareness and not a kind of rationalized assumed awareness.

And here, there is a caution, as we have seen in the study of evolution. Any framework of understanding that we reach, whether its developmental psychology, or evolutionary philosophy, or linguistic theory that framework of understanding that we arrive at limits us to the framework. The next stage of consciousness evolution that has been indicated enables us to step out of and beyond the abstract rational framework, which is a legitimate way of understanding, but it then becomes the focus of our understanding and we lose contact with what it represents in the world. Then we are concentrated on the frame alone the scientific frame or the technological frame or the analytical frame. Now, if we move towards the field of developmental psychology and SAs idea of social development, it is important for us to put together all of the stages we have been through in our previous explorations the mythical, the philosophical, the experiential and scientific - and then we are building something. Can we enter into another realm of analytical structures without making the mistake of taking those structures to be the thing that is important? Can we use an understanding of patterns of development that have been observed, and categorize the patterns that have been observed by SA, and JG, and KW and EE for the purpose of sympathetically resonating with the reality of this collective as it exists in the world now? And can we bring this understanding out of the academic realm into a dynamic useful energetic that can be utilized meaningfully in the processes of Auroville? Can it help us allow the emergence of what should emerge a more subjective integral consciousness?

This is a caution that I would like to put on the table for us to carry with us as we move forward in our explorations of developmental psychology. For example, if we look at the definition of memes, it is a concept that is being utilized in psychology and science today that people are finding to be useful and meaningful, and it is fundamental to this framework of understanding. We can define this term and see whether we can make it meaningful to ourselves and give it life. We can test the validity of this concept. Its definitely essential for understanding the field of spiral dynamics we are going to explore. It is a relatively recently invented concept not word, it comes from the Greek memesis. A definition of it from science is this, self replicating patterns of information that propagate themselves.

If we think about cultural evolution and human evolution is basically cultural evolution, as we discussed in some detail in our evolution course last fall, an example might be the teaching of a guru or master or expert which is imparted to students for the sake of carrying forward generally accepted values in a society. This pattern of transferring information is a meme. Having a parliament of elders in a village to adjudicate issues, and having it evolve into national parliaments and United Nations, this cultural behavior pattern of propagating ethical norms in society through authoritarian institutions propagates itself through the human vehicle for millennia. The psychologist CM has written a book about this process where he focuses on simple examples like the typeset printer then typewriter, then the print media and now the internet, where we can see a cultural pattern that propagates itself and evolves as an instrument of human consciousness. Both of these cultural patterns, as we shall see, are expressions of the blue meme or the level of social development that values hierarchic, moralistic, absolutist, legalistic patterns of organization and behavior. When writing and scripture were first invented they were not the dominant meme in society and they were still not so in Greece at the time of Alexander the Great, but by the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the printed word was emerging as the dominant meme and by the Enlightenment it was absolute.

The automobile is another example. Every year there is a new generation of automobile designs. We expect to see this frequency of innovation in society. Now in India we see this innovation of automobile designs propagating and disseminating themselves, becoming a symbol of the values of society. In spiral dynamics these value systems and their characteristic expressions are called vMemes patterns of expression that carry values generally held by society. The automobile is a characteristic expression of the orange meme or level of social development that values individualism, independence, and technological power. It is perhaps the ideal expression of the rational, individualistic level of social development.

The human mind is the vehicle for the replication of memes. Their forms express the information that they embody and they are our tools of social interaction, cultural expression and meaning. They are products of the mind. They carry the meaning of our society and its value system.

Question So the form is not the meme, the automotive industry and form of technology, but the meme is the consciousness?

This is a very interesting question. In the philosophy of evolution there is clearly a structural process and there is consciousness that goes along with it, and they are never actually separate. But science tends to focus on them as distinct domains. There is a preoccupation with structural evolution when in fact the structure is carrying the memory, and the values, the consciousness of the phenotype. The phenotype is actually determining the genotype, but science really wants to find out how the genotype determines the phenotype. That is its mechanistic bias. But, after you follow this discussion for a long time among different scientists, you get the sense that there is a strong leaning toward validation of the idea that the phenotype is making the choices about what gets reproduced. Its not a mechanical process. But there is a mechanical substratum of the process, and this debate has been going back and forth for more than a century.

To see the parallel with memes, what difference do we see in the structure of the automobile and the value system it carries? In culture it seems evident that the mind, the aesthetic and ethical and practical mind determine the structural evolution of things like automobiles. And this debate goes all the way back to Aristotle who thought the form is what determines the matter, even in the biological shapes and functions of animals. Inanimate artifacts like automobiles are obviously less deterministic than genes, as far as structural determinism goes, and yet the structure is mirroring the value judgments made by the mind so rapidly, and the feedback loops are so unconsciously powerful and effective, that it is difficult to discriminate between the cause and the effect, or between the process level and the idea level. Cultural artifacts and forms are embodiments of values but they also drive the value judgments and choices that in turn determine their survival and propagation. This is perhaps why it males sense to see the structure, process and form physical, vital, and mental as an integral complex.


One of the ways that I would recommend to approach this exploration of developmental psychology is to read or re-read SAs Psychology of Social Development, otherwise known as The Human Cycle. It is probably more relevant today than when it was written because there has been so much development in anthropology, sociology and psychology since 1920, in ways that prepare people to understand better what SA was seeing at that time. If we take his stages of social development, from the symbolic to the typal to the conventional to the individualistic rational to the intuitive to the integral subjective and put beside them the color memes of Beck and Cowan and Gebsers structures of consciousness we find that all of these various researchers in developmental psychology have independently discovered one very important factor in our evolution: a major shift happens here in each of their systems . ,






Higher Turquoise Mind


Integral Yellow Subjective

Intuitive Green - Subjective

Individualistic Orange - Rational

Conventional Blue - Mythical

Typal Purple - Magical

Symbolic Beige - Archaic

which they call the 1st tier/2nd tier division, but for the most part none goes beyond the 1st tier. Wilber enters into speculation about the 2nd tier, as do Beck and Cowan, but because of the logical nature of their systems, they dont really see much beyond the green meme. But we know that it keeps going up according to SAs psychology. They all see, however, that there is a major shift in our consciousness and in our ways of interacting socially that happens when we pass from the individualistic rational into the increasingly intuitive, subjective levels of consciousness. (We should imagine a spiral progression from color to color.)

Each of the divisions or stages or structures has several levels, actually, but when they make that special leap toward the 2nd tier, some speak of it more rationalistically, sometimes its called the rational subjective or the rational intuitive, sometimes the pure intuitional consciousness. And SA says in the first chapter of his book that thought is now moving toward the idea that the Intuitive mind is above the rational mind, whereas previously in the rational subjective stage the intuitive mind was thought of as a vital intuition, a spontaneous what I feel, what I believe, etc, which is amorphous, and for Aristotle it simply meant direct perception of the self evident. From Bergson on, however, and throughout Sri Aurobindos work, the idea that the intuitive mind is higher than the rational mind is an indication of a shift in human consciousness, which is affirmed in the work of each of these developmental psychologists, even though they dont reflect upon it historically. But they make the discovery, genuinely, in their own development.

I would like to give a concrete example of what this shift means. If we listen to a characterization of these levels orange, green, and yellow, from Beck and Cowans Spiral Dynamics (1996), we can easily sense the value shift which takes place.


- strive for autonomy and independence

- seek out the good life and material abundance

- progress through searching out the best solutions

- enhance living for many through science and tgechnology

- play to win and enjoy competition

- learn through tried-and-true experience

This is the characterization, or caricature, of a rationalistic society.


- explore the inner beings of self and others

- promote a sense of community and unity

- share societys resources among all

- liberate humans from greed and dogma

- reach decisions through consensus

- refresh spirituality and bring harmony

The difference between these two modes of social values is striking. And we can make that observation. We are a living proof of this evolution in social values!


- accept the inevitability of natures flows and forms

- focus on functionality, competence, flexibility, spontaneity

- find natural mix of conflicting truths

- discover personal freedom without excessive self-interest

- experience fullness of living on an Earth of infinite diversity

- demand integrative and open systems

This is a more energized form of the previous stage, which approaches the Gnostic where everything has its truth, as it is.


Here is a problem for Auroville that comes out of this understanding. Some of us may feel comfortable still at this blue meme level with conventional patterns that people are willing to accept the value of, such as arranged marriages, caste divisions, temple culture, authoritarian leadership structures. SA says it is necessary for this level of development to change, which cant happen without the pressure of the orange meme descending into it. The principle of evolution according to SA is that a portion of society rises into a higher level of consciousness and then turns back to raise the lower consciousness to its level, which then harmonizes and includes it in an essential way but not any longer in its pure original form. So then, others the green and yellow meme people, coming out of an almost post rational development may want to see things in this more universalized consensual system of values that understands everything in relation to everything else and is not stuck in either the rational or the conventional. This seems to be the meme that is expressed in most of the writings about Auroville, but such people are a minority even here.

The warning given at the beginning needs to be recalled at this point. If we take these theoretical or descriptive stages of development as labels of conceptual understanding, they can easily lead to stereotyping. This is a real danger. We have to keep in mind that these are only tools that have to be integrated into an intuitive awareness of as many levels of energy and consciousness in ourselves and others as possible, so that we can be more conscious of the patterns that we encounter. One of the fundamental characteristics of memes, that has been mentioned earlier, is that they tend to move through human beings according to their own dynamics. And we have a choice to either be used or not by a particular value system that may be trying to insinuate itself through our ignorance. These are things to be learned, if we can learn from them.

A complete presentation of the Gebserian system should be a part of this study, because a fundamental principle of his system is that all the structures of consciousness are always present. One or the other may be dominant individually, and another dominant socially, but any may emerge and assert itself in us or in society at any time. There are people who know these things and are using the Spiral Dynamics system in business management situations and for them it is not just a theoretical terminology. These uses should also be a part of our study. We are now looking at the terminology only. But we will explore comprehensively for a few sessions how such thinking is understood and utilized from different points of view. All of this is actually happening in the threefold complex of our mind-life-body, while our tendency is to just abstractly understand these things. In order to appreciate this, we might begin a practice of integrating the meaning of these things physically, by discovering how we and others around us act physically, or emotionally or mentally, under certain conditions; the idea is that these structures are ever-present in us, and different circumstances bring out different structures of behavior which we cant always consciously determine. By engaging in a kind of active therapy we might find out where we are in our development and, instead of just passively accepting nice ideas, put this understanding into conscious integral practice.