Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Clare W Graves’ Research #2

The freaky stuff!!!!
In over 30 years of research Graves discovered some fairly startling information about the way the systems he had identified operated:-

  • The O system is stimulated by smooth gradations in light and sound – eg: a sunset – while the P system is stimulated by pulsing light and sound – eg: in a disco
  • In terms of hormones, noradrenaline is higher than adrenaline when the P system is active and adrenaline higher than noradrenaline when Q is active
  • The T system has 4 times the problem-solving capacity of the S system
    Graves was so struck by these discoveries he wrote an article ‘Human Nature prepares for a Momentous Leap’ (published in The Futurist, 1974), describing the significant difference in complexity of thinking engendered by the move from S to T
  • Fear and compulsion are absent when the T system is activated
  • Galvanic skin response varies between systems and increases dramatically when the U (TURQUOISE) system is activated
    “Oh, my God, it becomes so high you can’t hardly get it. I’m talking 2-3-4 standard deviations. This thing has really jumped.” (Graves, 1971/2002, p68)
  •  Graves also said of the eighth level: “The H-U person can turn off other levels of consciousness at will. He can go out of this world and go off into other levels of consciousness and come back at will. Instrumentally you have that…” (Graves, 1971/2002, p67)

It seemed to Graves that there was a qualitative difference between the first 6 levels – of subsistence – and the seventh and eighth – of being. (In this he paralleled Maslow’s distinction between the lower needs (deficiency and growth) and being needs.) It also seemed to Graves that the seventh and eighth levels were far more complex reflections of the first and second. From this he began to speculate that the systems developed in tiers of 6, each a more complex reflection of the previous tier. By the early 1980s he preferred to annotate G-T as A’-N’ and H-U as B’-O’ in accordance with his idea of repeating tiers. (It needs to be stated that the concept of repeating tiers of 6 seems to have been pure speculation on Graves’ part; there is no known evidence for this.)

Graphic copyright © 1978 Jack Calhoun

Another of Graves’ more fanciful ideas is of a timeline of how the systems emerged over time – see above. While obviously human complexity of thinking has increased in such stages over time, the actual allocation of time periods is open to debate. Eg: Graves locates the emergence of F-S at the end of the 19th Century…but the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité in the French Revolution of 1789 could be argued to be the first large-scale expression of GREEN in the West.

Artefact held by Winconsin University

Artefact held by Winconsin University


Graves and Maslow
 As Graves collected his data, he tried to make sense of it through mapping it to Maslow’s Hierarchy. This clearly influenced his teaching as the page of student notes (left) shows. However, he came more and more to the conclusion that there were several discrepancies between his evidence and Maslow’s construct. Arguably, the most critical of these was finding a more complex level, H-U, than G-T which Graves equated to Maslow’s Self-Actualisation.

This led to some theoretical debate with Maslow. How much Maslow and Graves communicated over the years and how much they influenced each other is a matter of some conjecture. However, Graves is known to have sympathised with a tearful Maslow at a mid-1950s American Psychological Association (APA) conference after Maslow had been heckled and barracked by a hall full of Behaviourists; and, in May 1965, when Maslow was ill, Graves stood in for him and presented his paper in New York City. Maslow drew the attention of British writer Colin Wilson to Graves’ work and introduced them to each other – Wilson’s 1972 book on Maslow’s life and work being one of the first to take Graves’ theory beyond the USA.

Graves claimed it was his data depicting H-U that compelled Maslow to recognise there was a mode of being beyond Self-Actualisation. How quickly Graves made Maslow aware of his 1959  discovery is not known…but by 1962 Maslow was casting doubt on whether Self-Actualisation was a complete end state. By 1969 Maslow was one of the founders of the Transpersonal Psychology movement and openly using the term Self-Transcendence to describe motivation beyond Self-Actualisation. The more knowledgeable students of Maslow tend to place Transcendence as the highest level in the Hierarchy, though Maslow died before he could formally revise its structure himself.

A lingering difference between Graves and Maslow, however, was that of the ‘ultimate state’. Maslow saw the stages of development as forming a pyramid, with Self-Actualisation – later, succeeded by Transcendence – forming the apex. Graves, on the other hand, came to believe in the brain-mind’s ability to ever expand its repertoire of coping mechanisms by creating new thinking systems as circumstances demanded. This is illustrated in Spiral Dynamics by both the nomination of the hypothetical level I-V (CORAL) beyond H-U (TURQUOISE) and the Spiral ‘balloon’ graphic – the latter showing how the succeeding mindsets are greater in complexity, thus forming an ever-expanding spiral. (However, there is yet to be any scientifically-credible evidence of anyone thinking in a way beyond H-U.) Self-Actualisation was, for Graves, a never-ending process, not a (final) state and Maslow was mistaken to think of the meta-level of thinking he described in 1956 – which Graves equated to G-T – as Self-Actualisation.

Graves (1971a/1988, p13) does claim that Maslow and he eventually reached agreement on this issue:  “You should know that Maslow came around to my point. If you look at some of his later writings, you will see that he accepted both (1) the cyclic idea that there were more than one kind of expressive system and more than one kind of belonging system and (2) that the system is open ended. We finally, after fighting this over for eight years, came to a fundamental agreement along that line.”

The Graves legacy
Although severe ill health – a heart attack and a brain injury sustained during surgery in 1975 – forced his retirement from Union College in 1978, Graves continued to carry out research and to make presentations as best he could. His health problems effectively brought to an end his attempts to write a book about his work and the theory he had developed from it – though large portions of it had been completed by 1977.

‘The Never Ending Quest’, published in 2005, was an invaluable completion of the abandoned manuscript by editors Chris Cowan & Natasha Todorovic, using other Gravesian materials.

Not particularly good at promoting himself in academic circles, Graves had relatively little material published in psychological journals during his lifetime – although he did have several pieces published in management/business-oriented periodicals. Cowan & Todorovic, in their introduction to ‘The Never Ending Quest’, attribute (piv) a reluctance in Graves to publish in psychological journals being due to witnessing Maslow’s experience at the afore-mentioned APA conference. “The memory of an icon being lambasted and emotionally crushed by  colleagues stuck with Clare Graves who seems to have vowed that he would never put himself in Maslow’s position. Instead he would conduct rigorous research and release his findings only when the theory was ripe and defensible in the face of the harshest criticism.”

Graves and Beck at Union College (Courtesy Laura Frey Horn)

Graves and Beck at Union College (Courtesy Laura Frey Horn)

However, by the time of his retirement, Graves’ work was being taken very seriously indeed by a number of small networks across the United States. One particularly important pocket of support was in Texas where Scott & Susan Myers at Texas Instruments introduced the concepts to colleagues Charles Hughes & Vincent Flowers. Hughes & Flowers soon became the Center for Values Research – but not before Flowers had taken up a position at North Texas State University where he interested Don Beck & Chris Cowan (who eventually became the National Values Center) in Graves’ work. Together and separately they championed his ideas both within academia and in applications to industry & commerce and education.

When Graves died in 1986, Beck had already established his own remarkable project of applying Graves’ model to the deteriorating situation in Apartheid South Africa. Graves and Beck consulted closely during the mission’s first few years and Graves made a joint presentation to the World Future Society in 1984 with Beck and Loraine Laubscher, one of his principal South African contacts. (See: Don Beck & South Africa.)

Beck and Graves (Courtesy Laura Frey Horn)

Cowan, Graves and Beck at Graves’ farm (Copyright © NVC Inc)

Don Beck & Chris Cowan, of course, developed Spiral Dynamics (1996) from Graves’ model.

In addition to the application of the Graves Model in South Africa,  large-scale uses of  it as the Spiral Dynamics ‘build’ include work with government departments in Holland, input into redesign of the Icelandic constitution – see Bjarni Snæbjörn Jónsson’s Citizen-Driven Community and Nation Building – and work with representatives of the Palestinian Authority on the future of that nation. Beck has set up the Centres of Human Emergence to progress this approach. The first major use of Spiral Dynamics in the UK was the HemsMESH project, based at Hemsworth High School in Pontefract, West Yorkshire.

Interestingly, Graves (1971b/2002) said he had only limited data depicting the systems in children but called on the work of O J Harvey, David E Hunt & H M Schroeder (1961) and Hunt (1966) who had more data showing their equivalents of Graves’ systems – see Comparison Map – at work in children.

While it is arguably the most powerful development of Graves’ work, Spiral Dynamics is far from being the only ‘build’ on his work. Eg: Charles Hughes & Vincent Flowers (1978) set up their Value Systems Analysis model to apply Graves’ concepts to industry & commerce. Aiming for a similar market, in 1989 Dudley Lynch & Paul Kordis launched what would become, in Lynch’s hands, a whole series of Graves-derived books and assessment tools using the metaphor of ‘ dolphin strategy’.

In recent years, before their deaths in respectively July and September 2015 – see the Blog post Fare Thee Well, Christopher Cowan! – Cowan worked closely with Bill Lee, the self-described ‘Graves Archivist’, to recover, preserve and publish original Graves materials – both online and paperbound. Much of their work is available at

Graves’ model and his theory have yet to be validated to academic standards. However, hundreds – if not thousands! – of Gravesians are actively using the model to make a difference in the ‘real world’.



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22 Responses

  1. Jacques Fuchs says

    Jon Freeman my intuition tells me that H-U is more or less the clue that the évolution stops there.
    « There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path » : Morpheus to Neo (« the Matrix » movie)

    • Jon Freeman says

      Jacques Fuchs I don’t know what you mean. Are you saying that it is the last stage?

      • Jacques Fuchs says

        Jon Freeman probably yes in my experience, intuition and understanding

        • Keith E Rice says

          It’s an interesting dichotomy that Maslow thought transcending the self was the final stage while Graves held that the human brain seemed to be capable of coming with infinite responses to ever more challenging life conditions.

          • Keith E Rice says

            My instinct is to go with Graves – the problem is: how do we know? How can get and evaluate the evidence? We barely have much real understanding of what TURQUOISE is. Since I don’t really get TURQUOISE, all the CORAL talk we sometimes get just leaves me cold. Both Graves and Maslow ascribed subjectivism to the TURQUOISE/Transcendent way of being – making it harder to pin down with BLUE/ORANGE science. I’ve had debates like this before with Jon and I completely accept that we don’t have the complexity of science to explore 2nd Tier. But then how do we explore it with confidence that what we are uncovering is universal and can be shared through all…?

  2. Rhys Marc Photis says

    Well done. That is even more detailed than in my book. Thanks for sharing Keith!

  3. Jacques Fuchs says

    IMHO, the couple of cases of HU found in 1959 would be more a sort of « mystical green » where HU = FS + BO (chamanism, meditation, etc), FS is very fond of BO type harmonious community …

    • Keith E Rice says

      Jacques, Chris Cowan (private email in the early 00s) did tell me that the H-U presented in the 1996 book was more a supercharged GREEN and that he and Don Beck didn’t fully understand it at the time.

      • Jacques Fuchs says

        Keith Rice yes, I do agree with this… the emergence of HU means first a beta point in GT, followed by a gamma point in FS, which demands quite a huge level of complexity and live conditions that would leave GT helpless …🤔

        • Keith E Rice says

          Worth noting that Graves found 6 people he considered to think in H-U. Maslow found 12. Kohlberg postulated that there was a Transcendent Morality but then withdrew it because he couldn’t get a sample large enough to test for statistical significance.

          • Jon Freeman says

            Even 20 years later, Don would claim not to understand H-U and asked me to present it. Nevertheless, the presentation in Spiral Dynamics, and the Graves take on it, regardless of sample size or statistical significance, have held up well over the subsequent years. I have no doubt that people are able to see Turquoise (and other systems) and conceptualise them, well in advance of their being ready to inhabit them. Including Don.

            Life conditions too, begin to change before they become strongly visible. We have a tendency to look for defined transition points when these are shift with historical timescales. I believe Graves would have had good reason to identify those 6 individuals as distinct from F-S, however cautious he had to be about sample size.

  4. Valérie Saintot says

    I have read a lot – really a lot – about Spiral D but this piece not thus far and it is really a gem. Thanks Bernard Duclos for sharing and Jacques Fuchs for underlying the T vs S dimension. Ever more fascinating map of the territory.

  5. Jacques Fuchs says

    The T system has 4 times the problem-solving capacity of the S system » … Make sense !

    • Bernard Duclos says

      At Least, and more T can find systemic solutions an acccept Chaos

  6. Bernard Duclos says

    Robespierre had that in his notes, It is said that he did’nt used it in a public discourse. (by the way in the sames documents come the Meme that France in one and only one community)
    The 2 firsts words Grew in various directions, The 3rd one was – and is said to be by experts – just a word.
    At this time a solution from Voltaire pop up with a more impactfull solution driving directly to the Current BLUE systems : The Competitive Entrance Exam to enter Public Sector as a proof of eguality.

  7. Keith E Rice says

    Bernard I do know that it became the official ‘motto’ of the Third Republic atowards the end of the 19th Century…but wasn’t also a part of the 1789 Revolution? I’m sure I read that one of the leaders – Danton? Robespierre? – coined the phrase and it grew from there…?

  8. Bernard Duclos says

    Agree with you on the fact that this is a notable high-profile expression of GREEN . But by te way this is just an expression.

    By the way, the final version of this Motto is more recent than you think ; Mid or End XIX century…

  9. Keith E Rice says

    You’ve also got Paine and the Bill of Rights around the same time. Again some considerable GREEN driving that IMHO. These aren’t to say that GREEN became the dominant vMEME in either situation. Other vMEMES – PURPLE, RED and BLUE – were much more dominant. What I’m trying to say is that it’s the first notable high-profile expression of GREEN in the West (beyond some of the religious teachings about all being equal before God).

  10. Bernard Duclos says

    Based on Current situation I’m not really convinced by this statement : ” the principles of liberté, égalité, fraternité in the French Revolution of 1789 could be argued to be the first large-scale expression of GREEN in the West.”

  11. Laura Horn says

    Let’s talk soon…

  12. Said E. Dawlabani says

    Thanks again Keith for bringing clarity and historic accuracy to Graves and his legacy. We’re all thankful for the hard work you do.

  13. Gernia says

    Thanks for sharing.