Updated: 19 May 2021
This vMEME is barely present in the world yet. Although there are increasing numbers of people in certain circles – eg: Integral salons – who claim to think in this way, there is yet to be sufficient scientific evidence to say for sure what the TURQUOISE way of thinking is. From the Gravesian approach Don Beck & Chris Cowan (1996) posit it will be on the collectivistic self-sacrificial side of the Spiral and it will be a more complex way of thinking than Self-Actualisation/YELLOW. Lawrence Kohlberg & Clark Power (1981, p257) note it is “much less unitary and definable”. Beyond this, with only tiny samples and anecdotal evidence, it is as much an untested hypothesis as a reality and descriptors must be read with great caution.
Humanistic psychologists like Abraham Maslow (1943) and Carl Rogers (1959) considered Self-Actualisation to be the pinnacle of development of the human mind – the highest level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When someone had become all that they could be and fulfilled all their potential, then they could be said to have completely self-actualised. Maslow’s (1956) attempt to be specific about how a self-actualised person would think defined a way of thinking he thought of as ‘being’ rather than ‘becoming’. However, by attempting to be specific about what Self-Actualisation was like, inevitably he created ontological limits as to what it might mean. That invited other researchers not only to validate his definition but to see if they could find evidence for a complexity or level of thinking beyond it. Clare W Graves (1970) and Jane Loevinger (1976) did both.
Graves (1971b/2002) tells of how in 1959 he first encountered participants in his studies who thought in a way distinctly more complex than Maslow’s 1956 description of Self-Actualisation. This discovery caused him a little consternation as he recalled in 1978 (1978/2005, p399): “What can it mean that in order for these data to be conceptualised, I have to add another system beyond that which had been described by Maslow as the self-actualising man? The undeniable fact of its emergence…forced me…to open up ‘actualisation’ as a process and close down the idea that it is a theoretically achievable state or condition. I had to include the data of this new system…beyond the Maslowian apex.” Graves references this 8th system of thinking as H-U – which is coded ‘TURQUOISE’ in Beck & Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics ‘build’ on Graves’ work.
It is of considerable importance here to note that Graves (1971b/2002) claimed to have influenced Maslow’s acceptance of something beyond Self-Actualisation; and his descriptions of his H-U level – as far as he got in describing it – seem to fit with what Maslow (1969) dubs ‘ Transcendence’ or ‘Self-Transcendence’.
Graves and Maslow were correspondents. How quickly Graves made Maslow aware of his discovery is not known…but by 1962 Maslow was casting doubt on whether Self-Actualisation was a complete end state, writing (p125): “The goal of identity (self-actualization . . .) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity.” He attributed this transition to starting to have peak experiences (p117): “As he [that is, the person in the peak experiences] gets to be more purely and singly himself he is more able to fuse with the world, with what was formerly not-self….” By 1969 Maslow was openly using the term Self-Transcendence to describe motivation beyond Self-Actualisation.
Accepting the proposition that there was a motivation beyond Self-Actualisation presented Maslow with something of a quandary as he had previously insisted that there could be nothing beyond Self-Actualisation as that level of thinking was the final state of psychological maturity for the human being. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastic about promoting knowledge, understanding and research into Self-Transcendence – what he called Transpersonal Psychology. Mark Koltko-Rivera (2006, p306) writes: “Maslow, who had helped to form humanistic psychology as a distinct approach within psychology, went on to help found the Journal of
Transpersonal Psychology. He defined transpersonal psychology as a separate ‘force’ within psychology, differing from the humanistic as self-transcendence differs from self-actualization. Maslow pondered making this distinction the topic for his address as president of the American Psychological Association (APA). As he wrote in his journal almost a year after his ‘Farther Reaches’ presentation (entry of August 25, 1968), ‘Possible beginning for presidential address: “I will choose, as a strategy of presentation, to begin with a vast oversimplification & then later fill in the details, struggle with the complexities, and so forth. ‘Let me call behaviouristic psychology the first psychology, Freudian psychology the 2nd, and humanistic psychology the 3rd. And then what I think of as a real possibility, what I am fascinated with, is the psychology of transcendence & of ends, the transhuman or transpersonal (really should be “transcendent”) psychology – the 4th psychology.'”‘” [Maslow never made that APA presidential address due to ill health.]
Maslow (1971) got around the Self-Actualisation quandary by proposing that that there were 2 types of self-actualisers: “I have recently found it more and more useful to differentiate between two kinds (or better, degrees) of self-actualising people, those who were clearly healthy, but with little or no experiences of transcendence, and those in whom transcendent experiencing was important and even central….”
Although Maslow tried to maintain that ‘transcenders’ were just a better quality of ‘actualiser’, this effectively gave him an 8th level to his Hierarchy of Needs – his 1970 7-level version being a formal revision of the 1943 original 5-level model. Many in the Maslowian tradition since – eg: Henry Gleitman, Alan Fridlund & Daniel Reisberg (1999) and, of course, Koltko-Rivera – have depicted Self- Transcendence formally as the 8th level.
Loevinger’s Integrative level in her Stages of Ego Development construct is considered by Graves (1978/2005) to be more a description of the G-T/HU (YELLOW/TURQUOISE) transition. However, Susanne Cook-Greuter (2005), Loevinger’s successor, has unequivocally equated her Unitive stage to TURQUOISE/Self-Transcendence. Lawrence Kohlberg (1981) called this stage – the seventh stage of morality – Transcendental Morality.
The spiritual element
There seems to be a distinctly ‘spiritual’ element to the way this vMEME thinks – perhaps more so than any other vMEME since PURPLE (of which it is a theoretical 2nd Tier reflector). Beck & Cowan talk of spirituality resurging in TURQUOISE as a unifying, cosmic force. Kohlberg & Power (p242) talk about a “sense of ideal union”.
Cook-Greuter (p34) finds that peak experiences no longer have an out-of-this-world quality; they have become a familiar way of being and experiencing. Maslow (1971) confirms that, for transcenders, peak experiences and plateau experiences become the most important things in their lives. “Transcenders are in principle (I have no data) more apt to be profoundly ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ in either the theistic or non-theistic sense. Peak experiences and other transcendent experiences are in effect also to be seen as ‘religious or spiritual’ experiences.”
Although an aetheist. Maslow had spent much of the late 1960s exploring spirituality from a psychological perspective; so it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a considerable element of this in his last works. Graves likewise was not interested in ‘spiritual things’ – yet he still acknowledges this quality in H-U: ‘They’re beginning to think in a way that intuition, subjectivism plays a great deal more in their behaviour….You go into an almost mystical conception where the guy says he has a sort of *feeling* what a healthy human being is….they think in many respects in a higher order magical superstitious way….” (Graves, 1978/2005, p396). “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, 1971b/2002, p67)
Transcenders more easily, normally, naturally and unconsciously speak what Maslow called ‘B-language’ – the language of Being, “the language of poets, of mystics, of seers, of profoundly religious men”. Graves (1978/2005, p398) delineated “the poetic perception of reality” as a characteristic of H-U.
Kohlberg & Power (p255) say “individuals construct a ‘natural theology’ that is based on reason. Although rationally derived, one’s metaphysical system…is also supported by mystical experiences of union with the whole of reality…. Mystical experience is present as an element of [this] spirituality, but it is necessary to see this experience in the context of the other features of this stage. Mystical experiences may perhaps be induced in a variety of ways, such as through drugs or disciplined meditation. Mystical experiences that are religiously significant are those in which the oneness of being is disclosed and the subject-object duality is overcome. These experiences then represent an emotionally powerful intuitive grasp of a reality that a metaphysics can only in a limited way express conceptually.”
Certain Integral thinkers, such as Ken Wilber (2006), are perceived by some of their followers to have equated the 8th level with the Buddhist concept of Enlightenment. Conceptually, from the Maslowian perspective of a cosmic transcendence, such a match might seem appealing. From a Gravesian perspective of opening up actualisation as a process, it is as ontologically limiting as Maslow putting a definition on Self-Actualisation. Besides TURQUOISE thinking does not have to beneficent. As Beck & Cowan (p289, 291) state: “…these will not be better, nicer or more intelligent creatures…. Just because this way of thinking includes more of the Spiral, that does not preclude destructive ideas and attachments.” Maslow’s (1971) view is that transcenders should be more “reconciled with evil” – understanding how and why it sometimes happens. He writes: “Since this implies a better understanding of it, it should generate both a greater compassion with it and a less ambivalent and a more unyielding fight against it.” Koltko-Rivera discusses there being both positive and negative poles to Transcendence and ponders whether religious violence and terrorism may come from that negative pole. (It’s probably equally likely it comes from the BLUE vMEME’s sacrifice-self-and-others-for-the-One-True-Way motif.)
Beck & Cowan (p290-291)), whilst acknowledging the spiritual elements of the 8th level of thinking, also emphasise a sense of planetary connectedness: “In part, a Gaia view emerges, one that centres on life itself – all forms of life (not just humans). Every person, every creature, every species belongs. The planet itself is seen as a single ecosystem. Individuals are not separated; neither are national boundaries, ethnic peculiarities, nor elitist privileges allowed to divide people destructively.… There is a constant attention to more expansive implications and the unavoidability of connections among actions and actors….everything somehow connects to everything else.”
Other qualities of TURQUOISE/Transcendent thinking
Beyond the seeming spiritual/connectivity elements, there are immense difficulties in trying to define thinking at this level due to incredibly small sample sizes and the relative paucity of credible research in this area. By 1978 Graves had 6 participants in his studies he considered to think in a distinctly more complex way than G-T. Maslow studied 12 people he thought transcended Self-Actualisation.
After proposing a Transcendental Morality stage in 1981, Kohlberg acknowledged he could not support it empirically and that its proposal was highly subjective. Kohlberg (Lawrence Kohlberg & Anne Colby, 1987) was put in this position after being unable to obtain statistically-significant sample sizes even for Stage 6 below – Kohlberg’s Principled Conscience being an expression of green/YELLOW. Kohlberg & Colby (p60, 63) write: “…the case materials from which we constructed our theoretical definition of a sixth stage came from the writings of a small elite sample; elite in the sense of its formal philosophic training and in the sense of its ability for and commitment to moral leadership….
While both philosophical and psychological considerations lead us to continue to hypothesise and look for a sixth moral stage, our longitudinal data have not provided us with material necessary to (a) verify our hypothesis or (b) construct a detailed scoring manual which would allow reliable identification of a sixth stage….
In the absence of clearer empirical confirmation of a sixth stage of moral judgement, we are led to suspend claiming that our research provides support for [it]….”
Arguably, Cook-Greuter has carried out the most research on this level of thinking but there are some doubts about the Washington University Sentence Completion Test she refined from Loevinger’s original instrument being reliable enough (Beck, 2011). Cook-Greuter’s findings will need to be validated using other methods – concurrent validation – and larger sample groups.
In fairness to Cook-Greuter, it should be pointed out that the Beck & Cowan’ s own Values Test has been criticised for poor internal reliability (Emile Karsten, 2006). According to Cowan (1998), Graves was dismissive of ‘pen & paper’ psychometrics, regarding them “as about as accurate as tea leaf reading”.
Clearly part of the problem of being on the edge of human thinking is understanding it enough to develop instruments to assess it!
Consequently, as said earlier, the following descriptors should be read with a great degree of caution; there simply aren’t enough samples large enough to be definitive about this way of thinking.
Amongst the more understandable qualities Maslow equates with Transcendence are:-
- “They perceive unitively or sacrally (ie: the sacred within the secular) or they see the sacredness in all things”, yet at the same time that they also see those things at the practical, everyday level of Deficiency needs being raised and met. In other words, TURQUOISE/Transcendence should not be, in the words of the proverb, “too heavenly-minded to be any earthly use”
- They are much more consciously and deliberately ‘meta-motivated’. “That is, the values of Being…, eg: perfection, truth, beauty, goodness, unity, dichotomy-transcendence, ‘B-amusement’, etc, are their main or most important motivations.” Graves (1978/2005, p398) states: “He values wonder, awe, reverence, humility, fusion…”
- They frequently recognise each other and can come to almost instant intimacy and mutual understanding even at the first meeting. Beck & Cowan talk of TURQUOISE ‘communities’ and ‘bands’ “brightening”
- More than ‘healthy’ or practical self-actualisers, divisive concepts “such…as the ‘national interest’ or ‘the religion of my fathers’ or ‘different grades of people or of IQ’ either cease to exist or are easily transcended”
- The “self-actualiser’s natural tendency to synergy – intra-psychic, interpersonal, intra-culturally and internationally” appears to be much stronger. “It is a transcendence of competitiveness, of zero-sum, of win-lose gamesmanship.”
- Self-transcenders are far more likely to be innovators than the self-actualisers. “Transcendent experiences and illuminations bring clearer vision of the B-Values, of the ideal, …of what ought to be, what actually could be, … and, therefore, of what might be brought to pass.” Cook-Greuter (p35) effectively backs Kohlberg’s abandoned concept of a Transcendental Morality when she says of this stage: “Unitive persons have a completely internalised transpersonal or interindividual morality.”
- The more knowledge transcenders gain, the more they are in awe of that knowledge and respect the mystery beyond what they know. “For peak-experiencers and transcenders in particular, as well as for self-actualisers in general, mystery is attractive and challenging rather than frightening. … I affirm … that at the highest levels of development of humanness, knowledge is positively, rather than negatively, correlated with a sense of mystery, awe, humility, ultimate ignorance, reverence, and a sense of oblation [surrender to the Divine].” Beck & Cowan state that TURQUOISE knows its knowledge is incomplete.
Interestingly, Maslow also detected a kind of cosmic sadness in Self-Transcendence: “I have a vague impression that the transcenders are less ‘happy’ than the healthy ones. They can be more ecstatic, more rapturous and experience greater heights of ‘happiness’ (a too weak word) than the happy and healthy ones. But I sometimes get the impression that they are as prone and maybe more prone to a kind of cosmic sadness or B-sadness over the stupidity of people, their self-defeat, their blindness, their cruelty to each other, their shortsightedness…. Perhaps this is a price these people have to pay for their direct seeing of the beauty of the world, of the saintly possibilities in human nature, of the non-necessity of so much of human evil, of the seemingly obvious necessities for a good world…. Any transcender could sit down and in five minutes write a recipe for peace, brotherhood, and happiness, a recipe absolutely within the bounds of practicality, absolutely attainable. And yet he sees all this not being done… No wonder he is sad or angry or impatient – at the same time that he is also ‘optimistic’ in the long run.”
Building on the resolution of internal conflicts which begins in the YELLOW/TURQUOISE transition, Cook-Greuter (p32) states: “…feelings of belongingness and feelings of one’s separateness and uniqueness are experienced without undue tension as changing perceptions of many possibilities of being.” Kohlberg & Power (p242) talk about the resolution of “existential despair through a sense of union with God or the whole of life, promoting a sense of union with all other human beings.”
For all the talk of spirituality and ‘connectedness, associated with this vMEME, Graves (1971b/2002, p68) also found some real physiological differences when H-U was dominating – as measured by galvanic skin resistance: “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.”
In other words, there is hard biological evidence for the existence of this vMEME. It’s getting enough samples of it to define how it works and thinks which is the challenge.
How much TURQUOISE/Transcendence on the earth?
Since Don Beck and Ken Wilber began working together around the turn of the Millennium, the number of people in Integral circles claiming to think in TURQUOISE has mushroomed. How much of this is genuine 2nd Tier Transcendence and how much ORANGE status-seeking is, of course, impossible to tell.
Chris Cowan & Natasha Todorovic (2012) perhaps sum up the issue: “One reason the Gravesian approach is appealing for those intrigued by integral thinking is his [Wilber’s] hypothesis, ala Maslow, of a transformation from subsistence and deficit to being levels – a jump to new levels of existence…. For some of these it has become a matter of faith and hub around which to build a self-concept (‘I must be 2nd Tier or else!’) and becomes highly ego-involving. It is more than an approach; it is an exclusive club and a sanctuary. A subset of those form quasi-cults with…a compulsive need to be recognised as 2nd Tier – or ‘YELLOW’ or ‘TURQUOISE’.”
Graves reputedly cautioned against this, as James Killus (2007) recalled: “As soon as you devise a hierarchy, every level 4 is going to claim to be a 7.”
Even Maslow (1971) warned of “the ‘elitism’ that is inherent in any doctrine of Self-Actualisation” but thought that the transcenders managed this better than the self-actualisers “because they … can sacralise everybody so much more easily. This sacredness of every person and even of every living thing, even of non-living things … is so easily and directly perceived in its reality by every transcender that he can hardly forget it for a moment.”
How much real 2nd Tier thinking there is in the world is impossible to gauge. Maslow (1971) estimated that perhaps upto 2% of the world’s population might be able to transcend. However, Loevinger (1976) thought that a maximum of 1% of the world’s population thought in the Integrative (YELLOW-TURQUOISE) way. In 1996 Beck & Cowan hazarded a guess that probably less than 0.1% of the world were capable of TURQUOISE thinking.
Of course, the very concept of TURQUOISE/Transcendence, as much as we understand it, is a stretch for Western rational-scientific (BLUE/ORANGE) thinking. Just as Maslow (1938; Abraham Maslow & John Honigmann, 1938) was able to discover several characteristics of Self-Actualisation among the Blackfoot, it just may be that non-Western cultures, as Wilber proposes, do indeed have something to teach us about this level of thinking. For example, in relation to the TURQUOISE/Transcendence sense of interconnectedness, Sidney Stone Brown, who rescued Maslow’s unpublished writings on the Blackfoot, says (2014, p36): “Native people describe the world as transitional and interconnected. They experience the past, present and future as interrelated. They see everything as alive and interconnected.”
Cindy Blackstock (2011) has encapsulated Blackfoot philosophy in her Breath of Life Theory, contrasting it with Maslow’s Hierarchy – as in the graphic below.
Blackstock argues that Self-Actualisation is the lowest level in the Blackfoot tipi. This is made possible because lower level needs are met through Community Actualisation. The Blackfoot goal is that each member of the tribe manifest their purpose and have their basic needs met. Community Actualisation is a high synergy concept based on the notion that, when you do for community, you benefit from community. Whereas, if you do for yourself, only you benefit from your own efforts. In Community Actualisation the community functions as a living, breathing organism, focused on maintaining self-sufficiency and taking care of all its members.
So, is Community Actualisation the equivalent of TURQUOISE/Transcendence? Much of the available descriptions sound GREEN but, in its totality, it seems to reflect TURQUOISE. Unfortunately, opportunities to study the pure culture of indigenous peoples like the Blackfoot have been severely compromised by greater integration with white Western America – and the consequent undermining of indigenous cultures. Blackstock talks about the need to heal. Even Maslow, in the only mention of the Blackfoot during his lifetime (Maslow, 1954), says: ‘These statements apply primarily to the older, less acculturated individuals observed in the year 1938. The culture has changed drastically since then.”
Of course, the highest level on the Blackfoot tipi – Cultural Perpetuity (ensuring the culture and traditions of the tribe) – conflicts completely with the Gravesian notion that development is open ended.