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Theory FAQs

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1. What is the relationship between the Gravesian approach, Spiral Dynamics and Spiral Dynamics integral?

2. What’s the difference between 1st Tier and 2nd Tier in the Gravesian approach?

3. What’s the difference between Integrated SocioPsychology and Integral Psychology and where does Integrated SocioPsychology fit in with the concepts of Integrated Spirituality?

1. What is the relationship between the Gravesian approach, Spiral Dynamics and Spiral Dynamics integral? Updated: 16/05/16
Just as the ‘Freudian approach’ is to do with the work of Sigmund Freud himself and/or developments of Freud’s work which adhere very closely to the principles of his theories, so the ‘Gravesian approach’ is to do with Clare W Graves’ research and/or developments of it.

Dr Don Beck (copyright © Don Beck)

Dr Don Beck (copyright © Don Beck)

Spiral Dynamics was developed by Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) from Graves’ work by linking it with the new science of Memetics developed by the likes of Richard Dawkins (1976) and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (1993). They coined the term ‘vMEME’ for the Gravesian systems of thinking and saw them as attracting memes pertinent to the vMEME’s motivation. Thus, they extended Graves’ concept of his systems (themas) having preferred schemas. Beck & Cowan also colour-coded the levels to make them easier to remember in training sessions and presentations.

Beck & Cowan worked closely with Graves during the last years of his life and continued to develop and apply his ideas after his death.

Beck’s (2000b) strategy, for what he views as ‘the third phase’, is to *integrate* Spiral Dynamics (‘second phase’) with the work of certain other radical forward-thinkers, building systemic partnerships and alliances. For several years he enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Ken Wilber, one of America’s leading philosophical theorists, and the wide-ranging Integral Institute, as formed by Wilber. Wilber endorsed Spiral Dynamics as most accurately describing the emergence of motivation in human thinking. The key outcome of this alliance has been the highly-practical 4Q/8L (2000b, 2002b) adaptation of Wilber’s All Quadrants/All Levels concept. (For decades Wilber has been building models to integrate scientific, philosophical and religious concepts across all geographical boundaries and historical eras.) 4Q/8L is so comprehensive it is effectively the framework on which Integrated SocioPsychology is being built.

Chris Cowan (copyright © NVC Consulting Inc)

Chris Cowan (copyright © NVC Consulting Inc)

It should be noted here that the late Chris Cowan’s focus in recent years was to develop greater understanding of Graves’ work within the original Spiral Dynamics framework. Cowan, in tandem with ‘Graves archivist’ Bill Lee and partner Natasha Todorovic, focused on preserving and making available original Graves materials. He has also done some work with Susan Blackmore in furthering understanding of the relationship between memes and vMEMES.

Thus, Spiral Dynamics and Spiral Dynamics integral are developments within the Gravesian approach. Other ‘builds’ of Graves’ work have been developed but Spiral Dynamics/SDi is the most well-known and, in the view of many, the most powerful. (Note: Spiral Dynamics® is a registered trademark of the National Values Center Inc and the term should not be used without the authorisation of either Don Beck or the estate of Chris Cowan, except for brief references/commentaries in accordance with ‘fair use’ (USA)/’fair dealing’ (UK) concepts.)
(This is a consolidated FAQ from original versions written with input from Don Beck, Chris Cowan and Jerry Coursen)

2. What’s the difference between ‘1st Tier’ and ‘2nd Tier’ in the Gravesian approach?
In Clare W Graves’ research, he mapped 7 distinct levels of increasingly complex thinking – A-N (BEIGE), B-O (PURPLE), C-P (RED), D-Q (BLUE), E-R (ORANGE), F-S (GREEN) and the recently-emerged G-T (YELLOW) – with some evidence of a barely-emergent eighth level, H-U (TURQUOISE). The letter pairs signified life conditions-mode of thinking; the colours were applied to the levels later by Chris Cowan.

Graves found the difference in problem-solving capability between F-S and G-T was so great – approximately 4 times greater! – that, when he wrote a feature about it for The Futurist in 1974, he titled the article ‘Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap’.

What we now call YELLOW looked to be of a quite different quality of thinking to the previous 6 levels – the modes of thinking were called vMEMES in Spiral Dynamics/Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) – which had preceded it in human development. The first 6 levels had a quality of ‘subsistence’ to Graves; the seventh and what he could make of the eighth seemed to be more about ‘being’ – having transcended the limited worldviews and patterns of thinking of the first 6 levels.

Since Graves held that the ability of the human brain to develop new coping mechanisms seemed limitless, he speculated that levels of complexity in thinking might develop in tiers (possibly of 6 upon 6) and that the seventh level initiated a second tier.

In his distinction between the quality of the 1st Tier and the 2nd Tier, Graves reflected the thinking of his sometime correspondent, Abraham Maslow. (Graves equated G-T (YELLOW) with the qualities of Self-Actualisation as put forward by Maslow and others.) Maslow (1943, 1971) considered the first 6 levels of his Hierarchy of Needs to be about deficiency and ‘growth’ whereas the 7th and, when he eventually accepted its existence, the 8th were about ‘being’.

Some Gravesians such as Don Beck (2000a) have called for ‘2nd Tier thinking’ as the only way to deal with the messes, tensions and conflicts resulting from ‘1st Tier thinking’

Others such as Jerry Coursen (2004-2005) and, to some extent, Chris Cowan are less sure that Graves’ speculation about multiple tiers will hold.

What no one is disputing is that YELLOW (and beyond) does contain a vastly more complex way of thinking than what has gone before.

Interestingly, in 2004 Don Beck posted to his SDi e-list that he didn’t necessarily hold that tiers had to develop in tiers of 6. He proposed that the beginings of the next tier would emerge with the next ‘momentous leap’ and that, for all he knew, that could come as early as I-V (CORAL) or well after the 6th level of the 2nd Tier.

These thoughts may have been influenced by Ken Wilber. He has been speculating for several years now that there are levels (transpersonal/spiritual) that go way beyond TURQUOISE and that the next level up – INDIGO in his lexicon – effectively triggers off a ‘3rd Tier’. (However, it must be stressed that there is no scientifically-credible evidence for modes of thinking existing beyond the 8th level.)

Whether coping mechanisms do develop in tiers of 6 – or even discreet tiers at all! – ‘2nd Tier’ can be a useful metaphor to draw a definite distinction between the limited thinking of PURPLE-to-GREEN and the complex and transcendent thinking of YELLOW-and-beyond.

3. What’s the difference between Integrated SocioPsychology and ‘Integral Psychology’ and where does Integrated SocioPsychology fit in with the concepts of ‘Integral Spirituality’?  Updated: 15/03/15
Integral Psychology, as laid out in Ken Wilber’s 2000 book of the same name, was a grand attempt – heroic, even! – to create, effectively, a ‘theory of everything’ to do with human nature. (‘A Theory of Everything’ was an earlier Ken Wilber title.)

Wilber has drawn upon the philosophical, the metaphysical and the spiritual/religious, in addition to the behavioural sciences, in his attempts to mesh the Pre-Modern and the Modern in fleshing out the Post-Modern. Fundamental presuppositions he works with are that there are higher levels of being to do with ‘Spirit’ and that levels of existence are set within a structured ‘Great Nest of Being’. The high ambition of Wilber’s concepts is dizzying!

Integrated SocioPsychology, as I conceive it, is rather more modest in scope, being the overarching approach of aligning and integrating all the different schools, theories and models in the behavioural sciences. It uses the vMEMES of the Gravesian approach to create a skeletal framework for this. (Several NLP models, schema theory, Albert Bandura’s (1977) concept of Reciprocal Determinism and Hans J Eysenck’s Dimensions of Temperament add key concepts to this framework.)

As such, Integrated SocioPsychology limits itself to what might be broadly termed ‘scientific approaches’ and largely avoids discussion of the metaphysical and the spiritual beyond acknowledging that, for many, these are very real influences on their lives.

Accordingly, Integrated SocioPsychology, while not denying the spiritual, is limited to exploring it as the beliefs and experiences of individuals, groups and systems. Thus, for those who are comfortable with the metaphysical and the spiritual, Integrated SocioPsychology can be seen as a subset of Integral Psychology. For those who want nothing to do with such concepts, Integrated SocioPsychology can serve simply as an overarching aligning approach for the behavioural sciences.

Where the boundaries are between science and philosophy/spirituality is, of course, impossible to define. Thus, thinkers such as Gregory Bateson and Robert Dilts, whose work is key to Integrated SocioPsychology, have attempted to expound on the spiritual.

Psychology ContinuumThe difficulty with this is that the more you move towards the philosophy/spirituality end of what might be termed a science-philosophy/spirituality continuum, the more the phenomena are subjective and about personal experience or the personal experiences of others that you are willing to credit. Of course, what is accepted as ‘science’ is not always objective. Writers such as Paul Feyeraband (1975) and Jon Freeman (2008) have provided clear evidence of publication bias in the selection and peer review processes of some ‘learned journals’. However, science aims to be objective – at least, theoretically – whereas spiritual experience inevitably is subjective – even if to a degree there are shared commonalities of experience in, say, collective worship.

This subjective element shouldn’t necessarily negate ‘spiritual experiences’ or the way people attribute spirituality in their lives. Just because science has yet to find a way to test spirituality objectively, doesn’t mean it’s not ‘real’. Just that science can’t ‘prove’ it.

The problem comes when scientific evidence is contradicted from an unverifiable philosophical/spiritual stance. Which is what Ken Wilber appears to have done with his 2006 book, ‘Integral Spirituality’.

While there is much to commend in this work, Wilber’s assertions of there being a ‘3rd (spiritual) Tier’ of thinking is simply without any form of verifiable support. Elsewhere his philosophical reduction of vMEMES to a ‘values line’ disconnected from morality, ego state and needs undermines the criticality of Clare W Graves’ research and works against the very concept of integration. His assertion that progress along all other lines is always dependent on progress along the cognitive line is simply not always true. While Lawrence Kohlberg set forth in his Stages of Moral Development construct (1976) a very convincing argument that cognitive development facilitates moral development, it has been demonstrated several times in validated experiments – eg: Willem Doise et al, 1981 – that emotion and values can drive cognitive development in certain circumstances. So it’s not quite as straight forward as Wilber – or, for that matter, Kohlberg – makes out.

Ken Wilber is one of the most complex thinkers being published today. The 4Q/8L model Don Beck (2000b, 2002b) built on Wilber’s All Quadrants/All Levels construct (1995) is, without doubt, one of the most powerful sociopsychological tools ever devised – and arguably the most complete! – for analysing the whole phenomenon of the human condition.

The problem with Wilber is that increasingly he mixes science, philosophy and spirituality into his own distinctive blend and then presents it as indisputable fact. It would perhaps be better if Wilber acknowledged clearly which of his assertions are based on ‘scientific fact’ and which are extrapolated from logical premises and subjective experience.

Integrated SocioPsychology fits fine as a science-oriented/spiritually-ambivalent subset of Integral Psychology. However, Integrated SocioPsychology leans towards empirical evidence (where this is available), rather than subjective experience.


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