Preparing The Future …
I posted something on Facebook in response to comment made there about how someone wasn’t getting the point that the person posting was trying to make … not an uncommon scenario unfortunately.
But there are different reasons people won’t get a point someone is making … maybe the point isn’t being clearly made, or getting it requires a bit of background that’s missing, or sometimes it can just be that the people disagree and that creates a block in the communication.
However, in this case I believe it was something else … a fundamental inability for people to see anything that’s beyond their neuro-evolutionary development.
Here’s my response to that posting:
I’m a big fan of neuro-evolutionary developmental modeling. Think of the work of Julian Jaynes and his bicameral mind theory, or the work of Clare Graves or Jane Lovinger, or E.O. Wilson’s work in sociobiology. This is where my attention has been for the better part of a decade now.
Rebecca Costa has summed up some of this work in her excellent book, The Watchman’s Rattle. In the book she speaks to the neuro-evolutionary trait of insight, technology, complexity and the collapse of civilizations. Well worth the read.
In my work I’ve been looking at a few things too … different from Costa or the others. I think some of my work is paralleling the things Ken Wilber has been speaking to most recently. My focus has been on how we create transformational change leading to a new position of consciousness and performance breakthroughs. NOT better performance where we already are, but performance we cannot get to from where or how we are today.
This focus forced me to look at the questions of power and complexity, and their relationships as contained in the interpersonal relationships in institutions and organizations. This is akin to what John Gatto found when deconstructing modern schooling, it’s process and intent.
Simply put there may not be a place for consensus if we want real change. This idea, of consensus, is mired in what Clare Graves points out is Level Six thinking, what Spiral Dynamics labels Green, and what Dudley Lynch calls First Dolphin or Enlightened Carp thinking.
The idea that we must create consensus and bring people along is an anchor we drag from a limited world view that has not yet leaped beyond systemic thinking to fractal thinking where deep complexity resides.
Rebecca Costa points to this limitation as reaching a cognitive threshold, and suggests it’s the basis for the collapse of civilizations. Her analysis and evidence is impressive. IMO many Western Europeans and North Americans are stuck there today, along with some others as well.
(Name Withheld) you’re suggesting something that remains in a blind spot to anyone who hasn’t fully evolved beyond Level Six mind.
This posting and the responses to it got me to thinking.
Is it unreasonable to consider that some folks are just not neuro-evolutionarily developed enough to perceive what others do as obvious?
This falls under the rubric of Developmental Modeling as I refer to it, or if I really want to be fancy about it, Neuro-Evolutionary Developmental Modeling.
In less fancy terms this is the assessment and modeling of the literal neuro-evolutionary developmental stage that someone is at, and the implications of what that means.
Let me put it another way …
My work as I said in my Facebook response focuses on:
“… how we create transformational change leading to a new position of consciousness and performance breakthroughs. NOT better performance where we already are, but performance we cannot get to from where or how we are today.”
This is about looking at levels of consciousness and meaning-making as I think about it.
There’s a cognitive consideration, i.e.: how we process information beginning with perception, moving through sense-making and decision-making, and respond in regard to the action we take and the action we choose not to take.
Within the scope of my consideration is how we process that information that leads to action, including what Cognitive Scientists refer to as Situated and Embodied Cognition.
The school of thinking about situated cognition aligned with the cognitive scientists say that cognition is a function of where we are situated in space and time, i.e.: the situation and circumstance we find ourselves in determines how we think about the information available to us.
Simply put, cognitive scientists say that thinking cannot be separated from doing and context as a way to speak about situated cognition. The situation becomes part of our “cognitive process” as well as what we do internally with the information we have access to, including the way the information in the situation relates to other information in the situation.
For example, if we are in a diner and hungry and we see a menu advertising the “Burger Special” we will think about it differently than if we had just left a restaurant after a particularly satisfying meal and saw the same “Burger Special” advertised on a billboard as we were driving home. The situation and circumstance changes how we think about the information that’s present.
Another example might be, if we are in the diner and hungry, but we only have enough money for a cup of coffee we’d respond differently to the “Burger Special” advertisement than if we had sat down to eat with plenty of money in our pocket to choose whatever we want for dinner.
Also, what we bring to the situation ourselves affects how we process the information presented to us as well. For instance if we are vegans or eating a strict paleo/high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet will impact how we process the information about the “Burger Special” too.
The situation becomes part of our “cognitive process” as well as what we do internally with the information we have access to, including the way the information in the situation relates to other information in the situation.
Keeping it as simple as possible, when we refer to embodied cognition we’re referring to the idea that … we think like we do because we’re embodied in world.
This means that our thinking arises from the physical experience of having a body, and the way we experience things in and with our body.
While this might seem obvious at some level the more prominent position has been held for more than three centuries has been dualism, i.e.: the separation of body and mind. Cognitive scientists who hold a strong position about embodiment believe the mind arises from the structure, processes and actions of the body.
Early examples of embodied cognition arise in the world of the phenomenologists like Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
In the mid and late twentieth century some cognitive scientists went beyond the theories of dualism and the mind as an independent processing mechanism to considering a unified cognition that includes the body. Two of the folks who did a lot of work in the embodied cognition paradigm that influenced my thinking are Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. They studied and wrote about visual perception, including the biology of vision, like the physical aspects of the human eye, and how those physical aspects of embodiment effect how we perceive visually.
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson are two philosophers who are also in the embodied cognition camp who did a lot of work together around metaphor and embodiment. Their book Philosophy in the Flesh was one of the most influential early works in my own conception of mind. It was this book that led me to thinking about what cognitive scientists call enactivism.
Enactivism postulates that cognition is a function of the tension between thinking and the environment, and the need or desire to respond to what’s happening. Specifically enactivism suggests that we shape our environments by the ways we respond and take action, shaping the environment in turn as we go.
This looping between the individual and their environment becomes a part of their cognitive processing, and as I think about it it’s here that situated and embodied cognition collide and become something more than either alone.
In some way we can say that enactivism brings about who we are as we know ourselves to be, as well how we know the world to be as we know it. Through enacting in the world we generate both ourselves and our sense about and knowledge of the world, including others.
This is where I mostly settle when it comes to how we process cognitively in a real sense of what happens as we’re processing information and acting on it.
Yet, I’m also influenced by other cognitive models that share how I think about enactivism, like neuro-evolutionary developmental models.
Neuro-Evolutionary Developmental Modeling:
For me the rubber hits the road when we’re talking about mental models when the dialogue revolves around neuro-evolutionary developmental modeling.
My early introduction to the idea of neuro-evolutionary developmental modeling was via the work of Dr. Clare Graves. The Graves Model lays out a double helix of stages of evolutionary bio-pyscho-social-cultural growth alternating between self-sacrificing and other-sacrificing. At each stage the dynamics of dealing with the limitations of the system the individual is contained in and relating to create a tension that leads to dialectical transformation.
According to Dr. Graves each stage of human evolutionary growth comes about as a result of dealing with the challenges presented by the environment they are contained in and operate in relation to until the operating paradigm itself becomes the generator of the challenges the individual confronts.
When the point where the operating paradigm generates irresolvable challenges as a result of functioning within it there is a point of dialectical transformation that is reached. It is at this point that individuals within the system respond by rejecting the present paradigm and leap to a new level of consideration that offers resolution to the challenges the extant operating paradigm generates.
In other words every human system can be defined by some set of boundary conditions that limit it to being what it is in the moment. These boundary conditions arise as a result of the values that are held as true, and in some regard sacred, within that human system. These values are designed to create a functioning system that resolves the challenges that system faces collectively, and become the agreed upon and accepted values of the culture.
Yet, these values require varying degrees of cognitive development to incorporate and act upon. The neuro-evolutionary developmental models I follow closely suggest that the human cognitive system evolved in relation to the stresses confronted at various stages of human evolution. Literally on one hand the brain evolved to access new ways and patterns of thinking, partially due to the interactions of the multiple brain modules that evolved in response to evolutionary pressures.
At each level of neuro-evolutionary development the individuals who have access to that level of development become able to perceive their environment in ways that individuals before them, who had not evolved that level of neuro-evolutionary development are able to comprehend. Quite literally the ability to perceive the information in the system is limited by the level of neuro-evolutionary development.
This shows up in application or practically in relation to the level complexity the individuals within a system are able to process the information present. The higher the neuro-evolutionary development of the individuals in the system the more complexity they can perceive and comprehend. These advanced stages of neuro-evolutionary development allow these individuals to make choices unavailable to those who cannot perceive and comprehend complexity at these levels.
One way to think about this would be as the scope and range of complexity that individuals in a system use to make decisions and take action. The higher the level of neuro-evolutionary development of an individual the greater the scope and range of choice they will have, theoretically giving them an edge in responding to the emergent conditions in any given system. However, there’s a strong caveat …
The theoretical best response will arise when the level of complexity present in the system and the level of neuro-evolutionary development are most closely aligned and matched. When the complexity of the system exceeds the level of the neuro-evolutionary development of the individual confronting it the lack of appropriate choices available will limit the individual to less than ideal choices and, corresponding less than ideal responses and outcomes.
Applying higher level choices in a system that operates at a lower level of complexity than the neuro-evolutionary developmental level being applied to make the choices acted upon often results in less than ideal responses and outcomes.
Therefore we can say that using the most aligned neuro-evolutionary developmental level to the situation and circumstance at hand results in the most ideal responses and outcomes being realized.
Yet, when someone simply doesn’t have access to the neuro-evolutionary developmental level required by the complexity in the system they will be limited to responding from the highest neuro-evolutionary developmental level they can access at present.
This is how individuals and system fail and go into devolution resulting in personal failure and civilization collapse.
I’m seeing more and more that individuals in our complex Western civilization are reaching cognitive thresholds, which define the limits of complexity they can perceive and comprehend. Yet the systems they are operating within require a higher level of neuro-evolutionary development then they currently have access to, to create useful choices that allow them to respond and produce the outcomes they desire.
The feelings they experience as result of reaching their cognitive threshold include frustration, anger and despair. This leads to lashing out against others who are also experiencing the limits of their own cognitive threshold, albeit in ways different from their own.
Regardless of the level of neuro-evolutionary development that limit an individual from accessing the most useful choices to address the challenges they face, the result is the same … i.e.: they produce less then ideal responses and outcomes.
In particular, as a result of their neuro-evolutionary developmental limitations, these folks believe they are addressing the challenges they confront in the most ideal way possible, yet the outcome they produce replicates the conditions to perpetuate the challenges they seek to resolve.
The key to resolving the limitations of neuro-evolutionary development begins with accepting that the choices available to you are constrained by your level of neuro-evolutionary development … and NOT the conditions of the challenges you face or the system they are contained within.
The first step forward then starts with exploring ideas and choices that are unfamiliar and unaccessible from the highest neuro-evolutionary developmental level you are most comfortable with today. This means opening yourself to the discomfort of confronting your most cherished values and beliefs for what they are … values and beliefs, not facts or truths.
Individuals who can do this … confront their most cherished values and beliefs and open themselves up to the discomfort of seriously considering that ideas and choices that are unfamiliar and unaccessible to them from where they are today … open themselves up to the possibility of creating responses and outcomes that were unavailable to them previously.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean they have actually evolved to a higher neuro-evolutionary developmental level, it doesn’t matter as much as having access to the strategies used by individuals who can operate at those higher levels.
But, it also requires accepting that until we actually evolve to a high neuro-evolutionary developmental level, we will remain blind to what we cannot perceive from the highest neuro-evolutionary developmental operating level we can access ourselves.
Despite the frustration, anger and despair this realization may bring, i.e.: that we are limited to the highest neuro-evolutionary developmental level we can access, it allows us to move beyond operating from distorted values and beliefs we impose, while ignoring real facts and truths that are evident to those who aren’t blind in the particular ways we are ourselves.
This work … guiding my clients beyond the limits of their current level of neuro-evolutionary development happens in my Foolish Wisdom program and private 0ne-to-one work. The feedback I get is that while the result is often transformational leading to significant performance breakthroughs, getting there isn’t always the most comfortable experience on the way, but worth it at the end.
I’d love to hear your thoughts …
Buona Fortuna and Abundanza,
Joseph Riggio, Ph.D.
P.S. – There is still time to get the details about the upcoming Foolish Wisdom program on 28 January in NJ …