8/15 – Integral Conscious Evolution

Jorge Taborga

Jorge Taborga


Jorge Taborga

Jorge Taborga

This essay examines conscious evolution through an integral lens. It presents a perspective on the dilemma of our times focusing on evolutionary responsibility. Evolution is examined from the dimensions of depth and complexity, or subjectivity and objectivity. Frameworks are explored encapsulating human evolution from both of these dimensions. The integral framework is presented as informed by integral theory. Wilber’s integral constructs of All-Quadrants, All-Levels and All-Lines (AQAL), levels and lines of development, states, and types are introduced. The author presents a holon for conscious evolution. This holon is explored for each of its quadrants, and their corresponding levels and lines of development are proposed in the context of conscious evolution. This proposal is presented both from a theoretical and an experiential basis. The author shares his own experiences in his journey toward conscious evolution.

Table of Contents

The Dilemma of Our Time…………………………………………………………….. 5
Depth and Complexity………………………………………………………………….. 8
The Integral Framework………………………………………………………………. 20
Levels of Development………………………………………………………………… 25
Lines of Development………………………………………………………………….. 26
States………………………………………………………………………………………… 27
The Conscious Evolution Holon…………………………………………………….. 28
Subjective Quadrant…………………………………………………………………….. 29
Subjective Levels of Development………………………………………………….. 31
Subjective Lines of Development……………………………………………………. 34
Behaviors Quadrant……………………………………………………………………… 37
Objectified Levels of Development………………………………………………….. 39
Objectified Lines of Development……………………………………………………. 43
Cultural Quadrant…………………………………………………………………………. 48
Intersubjective Levels of Development…………………………………………….. 50
Intersubjective Lines of Development………………………………………………. 54
Social Quadrant……………………………………………………………………………. 59
Interobjective Levels of Development………………………………………………. 60
Interobjective Lines of Development………………………………………………… 63
Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………. 71
References…………………………………………………………………………………… 74


Evolution is a constant in the human experience, although we interpret it in different manners. To some, particularly science, evolution is an accidental progression that yielded the cosmos, our planet and life. To others, it is a process created by a supreme being as part of a master plan. Regardless of our beliefs, life in the universe evolves with new stars being born, galaxies forming, and life on planet Earth continuing in a constant state of flux.

According to scientific analysis, the evolution of the universe started with the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago and will continue for an indefinite period of time (Alles, 2010). We humans are as much a part of this cosmic evolution as any galaxy or star. Even with the increasing sophistication of scientific methods and tools, we cannot predict where evolution will take us. It is not clear if our degree of evolution on Earth is the most evolved in the universe and if it can continue further. What is certain is that we as a species are changing and that to a large degree, we have control of what happens to life on Earth (Banathy, 2000).

There is significant debate about the sustainability of our planet (Schor & Taylor, 2003). Driven by scientific evidence, some adhere to the notion that Earth is a planet in peril. Others deny this notion and sustain that life will continue its course and that humans do not need to worry. Global warming has been identified as one of the threats to sustainability (Letcher, 2009). Figure 1 shows the multi-year results of a survey about global warming. In it, only 36% of those surveyed currently believe that global warming is an issue we should worry about.

Gallup poll on global warming

Figure 1. Gallup poll on global warming (Jones, 2014). The question asked in the survey was, “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?”

In contrast to the results of the survey in Figure 1, scientists are 95% to 100% certain that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuel and deforestation are contributing to global warming (Letcher, 2009). Figure 2 shows the increase in temperature on Earth since the 19th century.

Gallop land-ocean Figure 2. Global Land-Ocean temperature index (Earth: The operator’s manual, 2014). This graph shows the increase in temperature by about one degree Celsius since the start of the 20th century.

Aside from global warning, there are other pressing issues related to our sustainability. Water and food shortages are becoming more prevalent due to increasing population (Hulme, 2013). Deforestation not only contributes to global warming but also to atmospheric and hydrological, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss. Along with impact to human life, we are also experiencing dramatic species extinction (Hulme, 2013). Over a thousand species have disappeared over the last 500 years (Center for Biological Diversity, 2014).

The large discrepancy between the facts of our planet being in peril and the response from Earth’s inhabitants to it point to significant differences in the understanding of evolution. It is hard to conceptualize that anyone who has internalized how life came to being in the 13.8‑billion-year cosmic journey would be apathetic to the sustainability challenges we are experiencing. Figure 3, also a Gallup survey, shows differences in cosmological understanding. gallop survey

Figure 3. Gallup survey over the last 30 years showing the cosmology perspective of those surveyed in the United States (Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design, 2014). The survey asked the following question: “Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings: a) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but guided this process; b) human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, or c) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?”

The graph in Figure 3 shows that 46% of those surveyed in the United States believe that God created humans in their present form in the last 10,000 years or so. That notion completely negates the main tenants of cosmic evolution. My first reaction to this data was that perhaps the 46% corresponded to mostly uneducated people. This notion was somewhat invalidated in conversations I had with highly educated individuals in my workplace who sustain that humans were created in their present form, and no more than 10,000 years ago.

This essay will make a case that a certain level of development (maturity) in terms of subjective and objective experiences is necessary for someone to connect with our evolutionary reality and have appreciation for it. This appreciation translates into not only the recognition of where evolution has brought us but what we need to do in order to actively participate in it. The solution to the problems of our planet may entirely rest in the hands of the individuals who have reached a level of maturity needed to connect with evolution itself.

Integral theory will be used as the lens to present the case. The integral theoretical framework places a person at the center of its subjective and objective experience both in individual and collective contexts. Given that the integral lens is completely experiential (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010), I will bring my own evolutionary experience into the core of the essay, understanding the risks of balancing academic research with subjectivity. In this fashion, this essay aims to build an intersubjective reality with the reader.

I submit that conscious evolution is a personal journey, and it is necessary to make meaning of it (internalize it) before it makes sense. Over the last 30 years, a meta-discipline has emerged on the subject of conscious evolution, which is the output of the personal evolutionary journey of a number of luminaries. Its main purpose is to identify and develop a path to a sustainable planetary future based on the concept that human evolution can be guided. The proponents and contributors to this meta-discipline—such as Bela H. Banathy, David Bohm, Eric Chaisson, Duane Elgin, Erich Jantsch, Ervin Laszlo, Brian Swimme, Ken Wilber, and Barbara Hubbard—define and describe a developmental path that we can deliberately establish, resulting in an consciousness shift similar to when we gained awareness of self over 50,000 years ago (Banathy, 2003b). Social scientist Bela Banathy summarized the intent of the conscious evolution meta-discipline with the following statements:

The right of people to guide their destiny; to take part directly in decisions affecting their lives; to create healthy, authentic, and nurturing evolutionary communities; and to control their resources and govern themselves is a most fundamental human right. If people learn how to exercise this right, then they have the power to create a civil society, a true democracy, in which they can design their own lives, participate in the evolutionary design of the systems in which they live and work, and organize their individual and collective lives in the service of the common goal. (Banathy, 2000, p. 2)

The Dilemma of Our Time

Our history is plagued with end-of-the-world scenarios. Our documented doomsday prophecies date as far back as 634 BCE, when many Romans believed that the city would be destroyed in the 120th anniversary of its founding (Vacker, 2012). The latest predictions about the end of the world were associated with the Mayan calendar that pointed at the year 2012 as the end of times (Vacker, 2012). I provide these references because I worry that our scientific predictions about climate change, water scarcity, and other modern complications may simply be more sophisticated “end-of-the-world” predictions backed by scientific observations that may be based on narrow perspectives.

In my mind, we should not embrace an evolutionary consciousness only because of the possibility of a large impact to life in our planet. We should do so because we understand the enormity of evolution itself and that at this point in our development we have influence in what happens next to our species, other species on Earth, and perhaps the planet itself.

To gain a deeper appreciation for where we are in our planet’s evolution, it is important to understand climate changes and levels of carbon dioxide. Both of these conditions significantly affect life (Letcher, 2009). Climate change has been part of our planet’s history. There have been five major ice ages in the 4.7 billion years since the formation of Earth (Woodward, 2014). We are currently in the Quaternary glaciation that started 2.58 million years ago. Within each ice age, we experience cycles of glaciation with ice sheets advancing and retreating on 40,000- and 100,000-year time scales called glacial and interglacial periods.

Earth is currently in an interglacial period (Woodward, 2014). The last glacial period ended about 10,000 years ago. All that remains of the continental ice sheets are Greenland and Antarctic and smaller glaciers such as the ones on Baffin Island (Woodward, 2014). Population development greatly advanced in the last 10,000 years from an estimated 1 million inhabitants to our current level of nearly 7 billion humans. This growth was made possible by many technological advances, but having a warmer planet was a significant condition.

Figure 4 shows three superimposed graphs of the amount of flooding, the fluctuation in temperature, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in our planet across eras from the Precambrian to the current Cenozoic. In this figure, we can graphically appreciate that in our current epoch (Holocene), we have the greatest amount of inhabitable landmass, the least amount of temperature fluctuation, and the least concentration of carbon dioxide. These three conditions have not previously occurred in the history of Earth. We are living in a unique period of geological wonder. This alone makes our current life conditions miraculous regardless of any cosmological belief. Whether God architected the life conditions we now enjoy or had nothing to do with them, we live in very special times that have taken 4.7 billion years to reach.

life conditions

Figure 4. Life condition markers across Earth’s eras (Nahle, 2007).

From the information in Figure 4, we can discern that the dilemma of our times is not so much temperature or carbon dioxide because both have widely varied and have been at unsustainable levels to support life before. I believe the dilemma we face has do to with providing dignified life conditions to our large population, the harmonious coexistence with the remaining species, and maintaining our natural environment with as much life-sustaining capability as possible for as long as we can. After all, we know from geology that at some point life conditions will drastically change as we return to another ice age (Woodward, 2014).

I do not believe we have the power to affect cosmic evolution, including what happens to our planet in the long run. Our own sun—a star—will cease to exist in approximately 6 billion years (Cain, 2012). This seems like an eternity to worry about in anyone’s lifetime. However, I go back to how precious life is in the present moment considering all that had to take place since the Big Bang for us to enjoy a cup of coffee at Starbucks. What is sad about our human evolution is that not everyone can enjoy that cup of coffee; and this is where the opportunity lies. We can consciously evolve as a species taking care of all humans, other species, and our home planet

Depth and Complexity

At the heart of evolution are depth and complexity. Depth refers to our subjective and intersubjective development, the degree of consciousness we exhibit individually and collectively (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). Complexity is associated with our physical reality, which has advanced from the moment two hydrogen atoms combined to form helium to our sophisticated technologies and social environments. This section explores the evolutionary aspects of our physicality (complexity) and our psychic and cultural evolution (depth).

Our evolutionary history starts with the Big Bang, estimated to have taken place 13.8 billion years ago (Alles, 2010). From the Big Bang, about 400 million years transpired before atomic structures necessary for the formation of stars manifested and about a billion years to the start of the first galaxies. Our current universe developed in the subsequent 13 billion years. About 4.6 billion years ago, our solar system was originated and, with it, our planet. Life on Earth started 3.8 billion years later, and our research shows that humanoids—our ancestors—surfaced around 7 million years ago (Banathy 2000; Banathy, 2003b; Alles, 2010).

As astrophysicist Eric Chaisson (2005a, 2005b) stated, evolution seems to be wired into the DNA of the universe. Chaisson posited that no matter what we do, the universe continues to expand and change. Seventy-two percent of the known universe is composed of dark energy (Alles, 2010). We understand very little what this dark energy does or where it comes from. What we do know is that it is the force responsible for the expansion of the universe. It acts as an anti-gravitational force that pushes the universe to seek new order in the formation of additional stellar structures.

We do not know where the cosmic evolutionary process is headed. There is even scientific evidence that our universe may not be the only one in existence (Chaisson, 2005a). What we do know is that evolution moves us into higher levels of complexity. Chaisson (2005b) studied this phenomenon particularly in relationship to entropy. This second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder is the natural state of things, and it takes energy to create order. A planet requires more order than a star, and a star requires more order than a galaxy to exist. Consequently, evolution requires higher rates of energy to create and sustain newer structures.

Chaisson (2005b, 2010) developed a measure of the rate of energy required to sustain higher levels of evolution. He conceived this measure in units or erg/second/gram and called it energy-rate-density. It measures the amount of energy flow through a given mass. Higher order structures like the human body require a much larger amount of energy-rate-density to keep it together than a star. Figure 5 shows Chaisson’s evolutionary timeline for complexity as measured by energy-rate-density.


Figure 5. Evolution timetable measured in energy-rate-density units of erg/second/gram (Chaisson, 2005a, 2005b). The evolution timeline is in increments of 10 million years. The evolution of life on Earth took place over the last one billion years with society originating about 50,000 years.

Figure 5 shows that the amount of energy-rate-density to hold a galaxy together has a value of “1” erg/second/gram in contrast with society that registers close to 1 million of the same units. This figure makes the case for the increasing levels of complexity as evolution moves into higher levels of structures and the requirement for more energy to keep it together.

Chaisson (2005b, 2010) divided our evolutionary history into three eras: Energy, Matter and Life. He stated that we are now entering the Life Era even though we have had life on Earth for the last 4 billion years. However, he posited that for the first time in our evolutionary history, life is more dominant than matter (Chaisson, 2005b). Chaisson (2005b) also pointed to the fact that we are evolving at a much higher rate than our natural environment. This astrophysicist surmised that we have to change our way of living and adapt to the natural Earth environment, or we have to build synthetic environments to sustain our way of living, including food. As Chaisson remarked, our role in the Life Era is one of co-creation.

Humans physically evolved into the homo-sapiens-sapiens (HSS) and started to advance culturally only in the last 50,000 years (Banathy, 2003b). Table 1 provides a summary of the cultural advancement characteristics defined by paleoanthropologist Rick Potts and covered in Banathy’s (2000) Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View. This table was used by Banathy to describe the cultural evolution of the leading to the HSS.

Table 1: Cultural Advancement Definitions by Rick Potts Synthesized from Banathy (2000)

Cultural Advancement Definition
Transmission Transfer of information between individuals. Higher level of transfer requires more social encounters.
Memory Retain information to which the person was exposed.
Reiteration Tendency to reproduce or imitate stored behaviors or transmitted information
Innovation Capacity to alter transmitted information or generate new as a result of the development of new skills or variations
Selection Process by which a social group blocks or filters certain innovations and maintains others
Symbolic Coding Ability to develop and use language/communication that can be used by others
Institutions Association containers with specific cultural functions

Using the definitions in Table 1, we can construct an evolutionary lens into the cultural advancements of the precursors to the HSS. Table 2 shows how each major humanoid was limited in its advancement and required the next form to acquire higher cultural characteristics. For instance, the Archaics survived and gave birth to modern humans, the HSS. They were able to achieve symbolic coding given their longer larynx that enabled them to speak, in contrast to the shorter one of the Neanderthals that limited their ability to verbally communicate (Banathy, 2000). In addition, the Archaics were able to perform selection, improving their ability to adapt and use tools. In contrast, the Neanderthals left their tools behind when they relocated and had to rebuild them at the next location (Banathy, 2000). They could not “select” and change what their ancestors did before. The Neanderthals’ limited selection and absence of symbolic coding may have contributed to the disappearance of this humanoid species.

Table 2: Cultural Advancement for the Major Humanoid Species

Cultural Advancement   Afrensis4M Africanus3M Habilis2.5M Erectus2M Neanderthal0.5M Archaics1M Human35K
Transmission Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Memory Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reiteration Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Innovation Limited Yes Yes Yes Yes
Selection Limited Yes Yes
Symbolic Coding Limited Yes
Institutions Yes

Note: This table is an adaptation and synthesis of the human evolution narrative in Banathy (2000) using the cultural advancement definition by Rick Potts.

Banathy (2000, 2003b) introduced the concept of four generations of modern humans. The first—the Cro-Magnon—is only 50,000 years old. The Cro-Magnons were the first humans to develop self-awareness. Their predecessors—humanoids, early homo-sapiens, and Neanderthals—did not have a consciousness distinct from their environment. During the 7 million years that the humanoid form graced this Earth, consciousness was a dreamlike state that was undifferentiated from nature. This dreamlike state of consciousness changed and acquired self-identification when the homo-sapiens-sapiens, or Cro-Magnon, burst into the evolutionary scene around the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic era (Banathy, 2000). Their consciousness model was magical, sensory based, capable of reflection, and focused on “today.” Cro-Magnons lived in tribes and manufactured a number of tools, primarily for hunting (Banathy, 2000). It took another 25,000 years or so for them to develop into the second generation of humans with the advent of agriculture.

The Agrarian Age emerged about 12,000 years ago (Alles, 2010). It started with agricultural villages developing into the big cities of the Hellenic period followed by the Byzantine and Roman empires. This Age ended with the decline of civilizations in the Dark Ages. At the start of the Agrarian Age, collective consciousness shifted from a magical to a mythical context. Also, the mostly sensory reflectivity developed into emotional. The “live-in-the-present” focus of the Cro-Magnons evolved into one of planning and preparation for future events, such as the harvest, storing food, and building edifices (Banathy, 2000). Language played a key role in the development of this second generation human. Spiritually, Mother Earth was the center of attention, and rituals correlated to the need for rain, crop, and protection from the elements.

The second generation of humans is responsible for building our ancient civilizations from Mesopotamia, to Greece, to Egypt, and to Rome, and the ones in Asia and South America (Banathy, 2000). A new myth emerged in these civilizations based on the separation of the sky and Earth. This precipitated the concept of heaven and a God that lives in the skies. Writing allowed these civilizations to perpetuate their knowledge and make it available to the next generations. Technology evolved allowing them to build and become more efficient in their work endeavors.

The third generation of humans entered the scene at the end of the Middle Ages (Banathy, 2003b). It was the Renaissance that gave birth to our current human generation. This era has been called The Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, and the Age of Science and Technology. This age brought (a) a new level of consciousness: mental consciousness; (b) the printed word, which became a new mode of mass communication evolving into our connected social media; (c) scientific pursuits leading to today’s technological advances; (d) industrial/ machine technology; and (e) capitalism (Banathy, 2000). Nation states became the social structures for third-generation humans, and technological development exploded into a multitude of directions. The third-generation human gained—for the first time—control of life.

From a human complexity perspective, we are at the portal of what Banathy called the “fourth generation” human (2003b). According to Banathy, what distinguishes this fourth generation from its predecessors is evolutionary consciousness. He also posited that we are the first generation of humans that have access to concrete information regarding the human trajectory and the knowledge of where this trajectory can lead (Banathy, 2003b).

Table 3 recaps the cultural advancement of Banathy’s four generations of humans using the Rick Potts framework. Banathy placed the inception of the fourth generation in current time. The characteristics corresponding to this generation in Table 3 are to some degree speculative.

Table 3: The Cultural Advancement for the Four Human Generations

Cultural Advancement First GenerationCro-Magnons35K – 10K Second GenerationAgriculture / Ancient Civilizations10K – 0.5K Third GenerationScientific Industrial0.5K – today Fourth GenerationEmergingToday – Future
Consciousness Magical, reflective, sensory Mythical, reflective, emotional Rational, reflective, mental Reflective, spiritual, ethical
Transmission One-to-one One-to-many Many-to-many Any-to-any
Memory Simple concepts Simple to Complicated Complicated to Complex Complex
Reiteration Within tribe Within community Within nation to global Global
Innovation Tools Agriculture, metal Industry, electricity, electronic communication Sustainable technologies, renewable energy
Selection Family and Tribe Community Nations and some worldwide Global community
Symbolic Coding Oral Written Print, Multi-media Rich-media, social media
Institutions Tribes Ancient civilizations Nation states Global Federation

Note: This table is an adaptation from the information in Banathy (2000, 2003b).

Banathy (2000, 2003a, 2003b) stated that we are at the threshold of the emergence of our next evolutionary event. This event, he said, is marked by “conscious evolution, the self-guided emergence of the fourth generation of homo-sapiens-sapiens” (Banathy, 2003b, p. 313). The social scientist specified a number of markers that point to this threshold based on the evolutionary events that have preceded our three generations of humans.

Undoubtedly, our universe, our planet, and we have evolved in complexity since the Big Bang. Human development has accelerated since the time of the Cro-Magnons 50,000 years ago. But how about our subjective development, our depth? How do we understand our internal development both individually and collectively? This is a challenge that Graves undertook with his research as primarily documented in Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Beck & Cowan, 1996) and The Never Ending Quest (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005).

Through his research, Graves developed the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory (ECLET) from the data he initially collected from 1952 to 1959 regarding the personality of the mature adult in operation and his extensive follow-up with his subjects (Lee, 2009). His researched yielded the following evolutionary psychic patterns:

  • Expressing self impulsively at any cost—changing to
  • Denying/sacrificing self for reward later—changing to
  • Expressing self in calculating fashion and at the expense of others—changing to
  • Denying/sacrificing self now for getting acceptance now—changing to
  • Expressing self as self desires but not at the expense of other

There was a sixth classification that Graves noted in the transitions as individuals evolved in depth. This group was another deny/sacrifice self that evolved from the last express-self group that focused entirely on existential realities. It is at this point and throughout the 1960s that Graves developed and matured ECLET. His conclusion was that his classifications represented the amalgamation of unique life conditions and mind capacities (internalities) that form part of human evolution. The life conditions present the collection of problems that individuals need to solve, while the mind conditions correspond to the problem-solving neurology (psychic abilities) currently active in each individual. The recorded evolution from one group to the next had to do not only with a change in life conditions (new problems) but an internal transformation that readied the individual to operate at the new level.

As Graves prepared his first set of essays on ECLET, he added two entry-level classifications that preceded the first one he found, express self impulsively (Lee, 2009). In ECLET, Graves theorized that humans evolved from primitive humans to contemporary beings not just physically but socially and psychologically through what he concluded were eight levels of human existence combining life conditions with mind capacities. In his theories, Graves posited that the first six levels of human evolution are fixated on issues of subsistence ranging from physiological survival to mastery of materialism. The last two systems, he viewed, function at a higher octave repeating the basic patterns of the first six but operating at a level of existence no longer preoccupied with subsistence but rather focused on the higher purposes of being human.

Graves utilized a simple notation to refer to the eight value systems in ECLET. He used the letters A through H to represent the life conditions and the letters N through U to denote mind capacities. The pairing of the two letter sequences identifies each of the eight value systems. These are: A-N, B-O, C-P, D-Q, E-R, F-S, G-T and H-U. Using D-Q as an example, this is the sacrifice self for reward later level which has “D” life conditions or problems and “Q” mind capacities to solve them.

Graves conceived that humans evolve from A-N to H-U and beyond. However, he also found in his research that given harsh life condition changes, humans could regress to a lower level (Lee, 2009). Additionally, humans could enter or exist in an environment that is different from their mind capacities. For instance, humans with “R” mind capacities could be in a system with “D” life conditions. ECLET conceives mind conditions to be nested or accumulative. A person with “R” mind capacities has the neurology and psychic ability to understand and operate in any system ranging from A through E. Graves theorized that most humans operate in a combination of a sacrifice and express-self mind conditions (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). His research showed that a small number of people operate in a single-mind condition system. He termed this rare mature adult in operation “nodal.”

According to ECLET, human beings transition from one system to the next when a number of conditions are met that result in a “higher level of neurological direction of behavior” (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008, p. 43). Graves identified six conditions necessary for the transition (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). The first is the potential in the brain. Unless impaired, the potential for all systems exists in the human brain. Second, the individual should have resolved the existential problems in the current system. Third, a dissonance associated with the breakdown in the solutions at the current level must occur. Graves found that all individuals making a system transition do so after a period of crisis and actual regression. The fourth condition, and the one responsible for stopping the regressive process, is insight. This condition involves having insight into the new ways of solving problems. The next condition, the fifth, is overcoming barriers, including relationships and other constraints. Most relationships ground humans in one system and provide resistance for an individual to move on (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). Consolidation is the sixth and final condition. It involves the practice and affirmation of the new way of solving problems.

To make Graves’ levels of evolution more accessible to the general public, author Chris Cowan devised a color scheme to replace the A-H and N-U letter nomenclature (Cowan & Todorovic, 2008). The colors denote only the “nodal” state of a system, not its life condition/mind capacity pairing. Table 4 provides the key attributes of the eight value system in ECLET.

Table 4: The Eight Value systems in ECLET

Value System Spiral Dynamics Thinking Motivation Means/End Values Problem of Existence
A-N Beige Automatic Physiological Purely reactive Maintaining physical stability
B-O Purple Autistic Assurance Traditionalism/safety Achievement of relative safety
C-P Red Egocentric Independence Exploitation/power Living with self-awareness
D-Q Blue Absolutistic Peace of mind Sacrifice/salvation Achieving ever-lasting peace of mind
E-R Orange Multiplistic Competency Scientific/materialism Conquering the physical universe
F-S Green Relativistic Affiliation Sociocentry/community Living with all humans
G-T Yellow Systemic Existence Accepting/existence Instilling sustainability in the planet
H-U Turquoise Differential Experience Experiencing/communion Accepting existential dichotomies

Note: This table adds the color correspondence introduced by Beck and Cowan in their book, Spiral Dynamics. The contents of this table are based on the article “Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap” published by The Futurist in 1974 (pp. 72-87) and reprinted in Cowan and Todorovic (2008).

The ECLET framework in its popularized form of Spiral Dynamics is widely used to understand and work with social groups of all types, including nations. It is an evolutionary lens with the capability of assisting with our role of co-creators. Following the definitions of each level in ECLET, the Yellow value system has been identified as the most likely source of fourth generation humans (Wilber, 2000; McIntosh, 2007). The Yellow mind capacities seem to be in alignment with the notion of looking at life at a cosmic level and understanding all other mind capacities and life conditions without prejudice. It follows that the work of these Yellow-minded individuals collaborating with all other levels of consciousness would result in the unfolding of the Life Era with the consideration for all of life and the embodiment of our role as co-creators (Chaisson, 2010).

The Integral Framework

The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, and embracing (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). An integral approach to any field aims to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic (Wilber 2000, 2011). As mentioned in the introduction, I am using integral theory as the lens to describe my relationship with conscious evolution. Integral theory explores phenomena from subjective and objective perspectives, both at individual and collective contexts (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005; Edwards 2005; Wilber 1997, 2000, 2011). As addressed in the previous section, the subjective experience corresponds to evolutionary depth and the objective to evolutionary complexity. This section introduces the integral framework and its connection to evolution.

Koestler (1990) introduced the term holon in his book titled The Ghost in the Machine. The word holon is derived from a combination of the Greek holos, meaning whole, and the suffix on, suggesting a particle or a part, as in proton or neutron. In this definition, a holon is both a whole and a part and can be described in terms of its holistic and independent nature, as well as its dependent and interconnected components. Koestler envisioned that holons exist in a nested hierarchy, which he called holarchy (Edwards 2005). A holarchy differs from the more common network hierarchy in that the holarchy is an encapsulating construct, not just relational, as is a network. Holons exist within holons, which in turn live inside larger holons.

Koestler’s (1990) work with holons was motivated by his desire to establish a bridge between the Newtonian, or mechanistic, worldview, which places importance in the parts of a system, and a holistic view, which downplays the parts in favor of the whole (Wilber 2000). He also recognized the importance of the evolutionary process in social systems. Koestler sought to define a framework to understand social systems, which provide a balance between the micro‑level of individuality and the macro-level of collectivity.

Philosopher Ken Wilber, building upon Koestler’s holonic construct that defined an individual and a collective reality, added the concept that a holon also has an interior or subjective reality, and an exterior or objective reality (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). Wilber further extended Koestler’s construct in the articulation of the evolutionary properties of a holon, defined as stages and lines of development. Further, he articulated the premise that a holon co‑evolves through stages of development via synergistic integration of its individual-collective and interior-exterior realities (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010; Edwards, 2005). Wilber’s stages of development synthesize the research of developmental psychologists including Piaget, Lovinger, Kegan, and Graves. For Wilber, lines of development are the capacities we need to master to solve the problems we face at each stage of development. This is consistent on how Graves conceptualized the stages in ECLET as a duple of life conditions and mind capacities (Merry, 2009).

Wilber introduced the integral framework to articulate the “fundamental domains in which change and development occur” (Edwards, 2005, p. 272). Wilber’s integral theory proposed that social phenomenon requires the consideration of at least two dimensions of existence: (a) interior-exterior, and (b) individual-collective (Wilber, 2000). The interior-exterior dimension corresponds to the subjective/reflective experience in relationship to the objective or behavior-based reality. In the second dimension, the individual-collective refers to the relationship of the experience of self-agency and that of community. The All-Quadrants, All‑Levels framework is represented as a 2 x 2 matrix demarcated by these two dimensions. Figure 6 shows this framework, its dimensions, and the definition of the resulting four quadrants. tab6

Figure 6. This framework, an adaptation of Edwards (2005), shows the four organizational quadrants formed by the two existence dimensions of interior-exterior and individual-collective. The shaded arrows correspond to the dynamics inside the dimensions. The short vertical and horizontal lines represent the continuous and incremental changes that take place in life. The diagonal arrows correspond to developmental levels that denote transformational changes, typically associated with growth and integration.

In the framework shown in Figure 6, the upper left quadrant corresponds to the consciousness of individuals. This reflects their level of awareness, how they make meaning of life, how they interact with others, their beliefs, values, and intentions (Wilber, 2000). This is the internal world of individuals. According to Wilber and others, across the millennia and particularly over the last 50,000 years, we have evolved from an archaic/animistic idea of self to one that is more holistic and integral to the whole of life (Wilber, 2000; Edwards, 2005, Lee, 2009).

The cultural quadrant represents our evolution as a human collective (Edwards, 2005). Over 50,000 years ago, we did not have the idea of the “I” and the “you.” As these ideas came into being, the “we” was manifested, and with it we evolved into the sophisticated societies populating our planet today. We moved from clan life, to tribes, to power-controlled societies; then, we continued to evolve into absolutistic thinking, giving way to modernism, postmodernism, and now an integral way of relating (Lee, 2009).

The upper right quadrant corresponds to the behaviors, skills, and knowledge that form our daily lives. This quadrant evolved with our cells; bodies; brain; and cognitive functions leading to practices like leadership, systems thinking, design thinking, and emergence (Wilber, 2000). The evolutionary path in this quadrant has followed millions of years. Our social capabilities and sophistication in this quadrant have accelerated in the last hundred years. Technology has played a key role in this acceleration (Chaisson, 2010).

The final quadrant depicted in Figure 6 is associated with our social development, in particular, with our social systems (Edwards, 2005). Our foraging beginning as clans and tribes developed into horticulture and later agriculture as our collectives moved from tribes to more organized systems. These early systems gave way to technology and trade, making agriculture a vital part of our societies. Evolution continued into the industrial and later the information age with advances into every facet of our lives. Our social systems developed from simple tribal organizations to the sophisticated global entities we have today.

Integral theory posits that we cannot understand any of the realities depicted by any one quadrant through the lens of any of the others (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). All four quadrants are required to completely represent and understand any phenomenon. Unlike other approaches to meaning-making that may want to reduce phenomena to a purely subjective or objective reality, or a purely individual or collective experience, integral theory understands each quadrant as simultaneously arising (co-evolving). This is the connection that the integral framework has with depth and complexity development.

There are two approaches that integral theory provides to explore a phenomenon: quadratic and quadrivia (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010; Wilber, 2011). The first—the quadratic approach—depicts an individual situated in the center of the quadrants. The arrows point from the individual toward the various realities that he or she can perceive as a result of his or her own embodied awareness. Figure 7 illustrates the quadratic approach to meaning-making.


Figure 7. The quadrant representation for a quadratic inquiry to a given phenomenon (Esbjorn‑Hargens, 2010).

The second approach to pursue the understanding of a phenomenon is known as quadrivia. This approach refers to four distinct ways of meaning making (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). In quadrivia, the different perspectives associated with each quadrant are directed at a particular reality, which is placed at the center of the quadrants. Figure 8 shows the quadrant representation in the quadrivia approach. For this essay, I am embracing the quadratic form of inquiry on conscious evolution. tab8

Figure 8. The quadrant representation for a quadrivia inquiry to a given phenomenon (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). This figure shows conscious evolution as the subject of the inquiry and four different methods of inquiry, one for each quadrant.

Aside from the quadrants, the integral framework as defined by Wilber consists of four additional constructs: (a) levels of development, (b) lines of development, (c) states, and (d) types.

Levels of Development

Within each quadrant there are levels of development that correspond to increasing depth and complexity (Wilber 2000). As stated previously, depth is associated with both individual and collective subjectivity, while complexity corresponds to the external reality, also at the individual and collective dimensions. Levels at each quadrant can be understood as waves of probability representing the dynamic nature of reality and how this reality is manifested under certain conditions (Wilber 2000, 2011). Graves defined levels (stages) as life conditions that have evolved as humans gained consciousness from the A-N stage (Beige) to the H-U stage (Turquoise).

The levels of each quadrant provide the map to the life conditions within it. These life conditions co-evolve (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). As an example, the cultural quadrant level of E-R (Orange) has led to entrepreneurship, which has produced advances in technology, a physical manifestation in both the upper-right and lower-right quadrants. As we interact with technology in those quadrants and apply it to social systems, our culture (intersubjective reality) is impacted and continues to evolve. Newer generations grow up in complete sociotechnical environments that co-evolve.

Levels in each quadrant demonstrate holarchy, which is a “kind of hierarchy wherein each new level transcends the limits of the previous levels” (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010, p. 41). In this type of holarchy, each level inherits the waves of the past and adds new ones of organization and capacity. As a result, each level of depth or complexity is “both a part of a larger structure and a whole structure in and of itself” (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010, p. 41). Levels are additive, and all of them are needed in each quadrant. For instance, the level D-Q (Blue) of structure is necessary for E-R (Orange) of entrepreneurship to operate properly.

Lines of Development

Lines of development describe the distinct capacities needed to address the life conditions (levels) at each quadrant (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005; Merry, 2009). They are sequentially developed to address increasing levels of depth and complexity. Capacities can unfold in parallel and can continue their development across levels. For instance, in technology-driven societies, we need capacities to interact with them. Regardless of the cultural level of a society (e.g., Blue, Orange, or Green), its technology requires certain capacity from its members from understanding traffic lights to operating a nuclear reactor. As a society evolves from one level to another (e.g., from Orange to Green), technology requires different capacities, such as the ability to develop and maintain intentional communities completely in cyberspace.

Graves stated that an individual or society moves from one level to the next once the existential problems (life conditions) of the current have been solved (Lee, 2009). Lines of development are the capacities needed to solve the problems of a given level. Each level presents a set of problems, which the capacities solve. For instance, we are currently working on solving the overconsumption of natural resources brought by the Orange level. We are doing this through the sustainability capacities (lines of development) available in individuals who have shifted to the Green level. We still need the capacities of Orange to develop better and innovative life capabilities, but we need to temper the tendencies of Orange by paying attention to what it consumes. Orange can be more effective and longer lasting with the infusion of the Green lines of development.


States are temporary occurrences of aspects of reality (Wilber, 2011). They can last from a few seconds to months and even years. Weather is an example of a state that changes with the seasons and with atmospheric conditions. States are mutually exclusive and cannot occur concurrently (Wilber, 2011). An area cannot be windy and not be windy at the same time. Even though Wilber defined this construct as part of Integral, it does not have a direct impact to conscious evolution; however, it does relate to life conditions that may have a higher proclivity for evolution. Earlier in this essay, I pointed to the unique state of landmass, temperature stability, and carbon dioxide levels on planet Earth that present ideal conditions for our type of biology to procreate and evolve.


Types are contexts that develop in nature (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). Unlike states, they can be present concurrently. From an integral perspective, types help with the understanding of phenomena manifested in any of the quadrants. As an example, the typology of the Myers‑Briggs’ Type Indicator (MBTI) guides us in the understanding of externalized individual behaviors in the upper-right quadrant. They also help us to see how social systems operate based on the MBTI of the individuals in the system. There are almost an infinite number of types in nature from the physical (e.g., blood type) to the psychological (e.g., personality types).

The Conscious Evolution Holon

This section explores my relationship with conscious evolution. As stated, I am using the quadratic approach of integral theory to frame and explore this understanding. The semantics I use in this section are founded in the literature of the conscious evolution meta-discipline introduced earlier in this essay. Figure 9 presents a holon I develop to focus the exploration into conscious evolution. It has the required four quadrants from integral theory, and I place my understanding at the middle of all quadrants consistent with the quadratic approach.

In this section, I will explore each quadrant starting with a definition and present levels and lines of development for each. In my understanding, these levels and lines correspond to the life conditions and capacities necessary to gain conscious evolution, the fourth generation human identified by Banathy (2000) that, in my estimation, corresponds to the Yellow stage defined by Graves. Wilber has written about the Yellow level of awareness but has not built a complete model for each quadrant. The rest of this essay introduces a complete model for each quadrant with levels and lines of development. There are no concrete and complete examples of holonic models in the integral theory I have surveyed. Consequently, there is no way to validate if the models I am presenting are accurate and faithful to integral theory. However, I believe that building these models has deepened my understanding of conscious evolution. Integral theory aims at a deeper understanding of reality through the interconnected lenses of the four quadrants (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2010). From this perspective, the models in this section have served their purpose.


Figure 9. The conscious evolution holon developed by the author. It is based on the principles of integral theory as addressed in Cacioppe and Edwards (2005); Edwards (2005); Esbjorn-Hargens (2010); and Wilber (1997, 2000, 2011).

Subjective Quadrant

This quadrant corresponds to the “I.” It is the subjective form of experience. This quadrant can only be accessed through the individual’s awareness. It is not visible or accessible to others. The subjective quadrant contains the memories and experiences of the individual. Personal values and morals are its foundation. The main activity in this quadrant is reflecting (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2009). In this subjective reality we learn through experiencing, collecting data, and then reflecting. The operating question for this quadrant is, “What is happening?” Edwards (2005) referred to it as the “illuminative strand” (p. 284).

From a conscious evolution perspective, the subjective quadrant reflects our individual relationship with evolution. It starts with an awareness of the evolutionary process and extends to the notion that we are an integral part of the evolution of the universe and actively participate as co-creators (Merry, 2009). I have to assume that there are even deeper levels of conscious evolution that are outside my own awareness and what is documented in the literature. Even though we understand the evolutionary process in different ways, the purpose of evolution is even more relative (McIntosh, 2012). To some, evolution is accidental, and its purpose is purely mechanical. For others, God controls evolution, and how and why it works remains a mystery. Yet others understand evolution as a grand design emanating from a great intelligence. The meaning of evolution in this manner of understanding comes from its coherence (McIntosh, 2012). A more mystical view of the purpose of evolution involves our own divinity and our journey to integrate with the source of creation. This is a metaphorical reverse “Big Bang” where we journey back to the source of creation, bringing with us the complete understanding of life and evolution.

My own understanding of evolution and its purpose is that all of the different perspectives are possible. At different times in my life, I embraced one philosophy or another. I have held the purely scientific view of evolution as I have embraced a deeply religious conception of why we exist. Through the practice of meditation and self-reflection, I am convinced that evolution also happens internally. Numerous mystics and evolutionary scientists have explored and documented the internality of the evolutionary process. McIntosh (2012) expressed that perhaps a richer set of internal universes are evolving within ourselves with every instant. I believe that I am constantly changing and adapting to new situations and realities. Over the course of my life, I have let go of single ways of knowing and seeking truths that needed to be absolute.

Subjective levels of development

It can be controversial to suggest that we belong to different levels of subjective development. The implications of levels present the notion that a person may be better than another. Merry (2009) explained that developmental levels are more of an expression of directionality of evolution than a given direction. He stated, “Directionality is important because it gives us a sense of our context and the path we are walking” (Merry, 2009, Kindle location 675-678). Merry further suggested that no one can be forced to shift levels and that each of us has our own lessons and tasks in life. Graves’ core research and his eventual development of the ECLET framework were entirely focused on levels of development (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). Aside from the empirical data he collected, Graves added anthropological details to round up how human consciousness (internality) developed over the last 50,000 years. This time demarcation is relevant because we have archeological evidence to point at an entry point in psychological and social development that our scientific community has followed and documented. Numerous social scientists have addressed levels of development with their own frameworks from Piaget to Lovinger, Kegan, and Graves.


Figure 10. Levels of individual internal development. Adapted from Beck and Cowan (1996).

Beck and Cowan (1996) documented Graves’ research attributing the evolution of self across eight known levels of development (Figure 10). According to these researchers, all humans start at the instinctual level at birth and move across multiple levels into maturity, experiencing the characteristics of each. Levels are part of a holarchy, meaning they are composites of the previous ones. For instance, the achiever self level encompasses the characteristics of the mythic, egocentric, magic, and instinctual selves. Graves found that adults settle on a given level and stay there for most of their lives (Beck & Cowan, 1996; Lee 2009). Levels cannot be skipped and are followed sequentially. Shifting from one level to another constitutes a major undertaking and requires a change in mindset and values (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005, 2008). For instance, a teenager in the egocentric self would require a series of life events and a fair amount of reflection to shift to the mythic self. Typically, with this shift, the teenager becomes a self-reliant young adult interested in a more organized lifestyle with responsibility for self and others.

Beck and Cowan (1996); Merry (2009); McKintosh (2007, 2012); Wilber (1997, 2000, 2011), and others associate the sensitive and integral selves as the state of consciousness needed to be aware of our evolutionary past and actively engaged in the stewardship of our planet. Wilber (2000) was critical of the sensitive self and believes it to be self-absorbed in relative righteousness. This level is post-modernistic and aims to accept diversity in all walks of life. It considers absolutistic thinking as limiting, and modernistic as exploitive. In contrast, the integral self is not concerned with the limitations of any of the levels but rather with the synergies that can be generated by all people at all levels of development. Wilber (2000, 2011) pointed out that true movement in our evolution towards a global community, and world peace and progress, would come when we achieve critical mass at the integral level of development.

My thinking and value system has been aligned with the notion that everything and everyone has a place in the universe. My main mentor in this mindset was my mother. She always had something positive to say about everyone, and I never heard her utter any negativity or even criticism about anyone. Even when challenged by life events and actions directed against her, my mother upheld the goodness in all people and their right to be who they are. She had no awareness of ECLET or any form of levels of evolution. She simply acted in the most considerate manner toward all forms of life. I admired this behavior, and even at an early age I saw it as different than my experience with others. I deeply appreciated my mother’s message of equality and her perspective that no one was in the wrong. I also saw how much empathy she had and how much pain she felt about the suffering of others. She never complained about her own life, just her feelings and hopes for the well-being of others.

I embraced, for the most part, what my mother taught me. I now see how much she operated in the integral way of being. I cannot say that she was concerned about how to make the world a better place but that she was concerned about making the world of those she knew a better one. This has become my primary purpose in life. I do not see any other purpose than to utilize who we are and what we have to make life better for everyone and everything, accepting and respecting all people regardless of their level of development. To me, levels of development are deep perspectives with directionality towards greater empathy and understanding.

Subjective lines of development

There are many potential choices for lines of development. Wilber and other integral theorists provided some guidance on the developmental lines in the subjective quadrant (McIntosh 2007; Wilber 2011). The lines Wilber identified as part of his integral framework include kinesthetic, cognitive, moral, emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic. McIntosh (2007) expanded on Wilber’s work and provided a framework with three broad lines of development: volition, cognition, and emotion. These developmental lines progress concurrently and are impacted by their relationship with the intersubjective reality given that individual growth occurs in the context of interaction with others. (Merry, 2009; McIntosh, 2007, 2011).

Table 5 introduces specific lines of development associated with conscious evolution. This is by no means an exhaustive set; however, it captures subjective attributes amply represented in the conscious evolution literature. It also corresponds to my developmental experience as I became aware of our evolutionary reality and worked to integrate this realization.

Table 5L Subjective Lines of Development for Evolutionary Consciousness

Line Definition
Evolutionary purpose / agency Deep understanding of the evolutionary process and our role in it as part of our life’s purpose.
Interpersonal / Interconnectedness/communion/ Knowing and feeling connected to all is brought into awareness and integrated into self
Contemplation / spirituality Need for inner quietness, reflection and contemplation. Development of deeper states of mind. Connection to the global unconscious/the absolute.
Beauty, truth and goodness The value triad that drives our development toward love, gratefulness, wisdom, compassion and empathy.

McIntosh (2007) emphasized volition as the relationship of self with the universe from the perspective of free will. This agency establishes a relationship both cognitively and emotionally with the evolutionary purpose. Hubbard (2003) identified the purpose of conscious evolution as learning “to be responsible for the ethical guidance of evolution” (p. 360). Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Consciousness”) support this notion, stating, “The development of an evolutionary consciousness implies becoming aware of the processes of evolution of which we are a part in order to becoming co-creators of evolutionary pathways” (para. 3). This consciousness strives to guide humanity toward a better future. It also involves the recognition that we are at a critical phase in Earth’s development “in which our old ways of doing things are proving inadequate to the challenges we are facing, and we are searching for more adequate ways of organizing [sic] ourselves that will fit better into our larger context” (Merry, 2009, Kindle locations 823-825).

Csikszentmihalyi (1993) reminded us that our current human life is not the product of planned effort. He posited that planning and designing our future is our central activity for the next millennium. This activity starts with a vision and a concerted direction for evolution. What we should be aiming for, then, “is to facilitate the emergence of a new system by listening to the feedback from the world around us, and from our own inner voices, and by experimenting with ways to adapt” (Merry, 2009, Kindle locations 503-504).

From the interpersonal perspective, Daloz (2000) made the point that we learn through our relationship with the “other.” This is the same concept of Buber’s (1970) “I-You” relationship. Daloz (2000) added that together we are “part of a rhythmic dance of differentiating and integrating” (p. 110), which is central to transformation. This theorist posited that we develop a synergistic consciousness as we gain the capacity to hold different consciousness as equals. He posited that through our own critical reflection on a larger sense of self we can identify “with all people and ultimately with all of life” (p. 105). There cannot be transformation without the presence and influence from the other.

The interpersonal and transpersonal levels are viewed by Buber (1970) as the realms of encounter. This is different than experience. In Buber’s mind, encounter is performed by the person, not the ego. These are also the realms of love and unconditional relating. In Buber’s interpersonal level, we connect to people as if they were ourselves. Love, explained Buber, is when we cannot tell the difference between ourselves and the other person, and we cannot see any fault in the other person. This is also the level of transformation. The “I-You” relationship enables both parties to learn from one another and thus transform. The transpersonal level is where Buber believes we encounter God. This level cannot be reached unless the individual has first learned how to access the “I-You” level through repeated encounters with other persons.

Regardless of religious and cosmological beliefs, spirituality is at the center of our subjective development. It specifies how we relate to the universe in abstract (Merry, 2009). Spirituality defines who we are in the context of evolution and establishes our meaning. Meaning-making of the concrete is learned through our external experiences. Meaning-making with the abstract relies on our inner experience. This experience comes from contemplation and reflection. Spirituality connects us to an absolute reality that cannot be explained, only experienced (Merry 2009).

McIntosh (2007) emphasized that “beauty, truth, and goodness, taken together and understood as an integrated system of primary values, represent a kind of ‘great attractor’ of evolutionary development” (p. 81). He explained that these values form a triad that has been transcendental in our evolutionary psyche. McIntosh further asserted, “The aesthetic, the rational, and the moral, constitute essential, irreducible dimensions of human experience that continually come to the forefront whenever we think about the world from philosophical and spiritual perspectives” (p. 84).

In my mind, beauty is the development of the heart, of our finer emotions. Through beauty, we come to appreciate the universe, evolution, and all of life. Truth is cognition, knowledge, and ultimately wisdom. We learn about our evolutionary reality cognitively, but ultimately we connect with its purpose. Goodness is reflected in all of our actions. At the evolutionary levels, it calls for planetary responsibility. Together, beauty, truth, and goodness are manifested in our compassion, suffering, and empathy (Merry, 2009). Ultimately, we feel and understand how life unfolds and how we connect to everyone and everything. This connection would be impossible without this value triad.

Behaviors Quadrant

The behaviors quadrant contains the objective reality we interact with on a daily basis. Unlike the subjective quadrant, behaviors are perceptible to our five senses, and we can process and make meaning of them. Wilber called it the “It” quadrant (Esbjorn-Hargens, 2009). From an integral theory perspective, the physicality of this quadrant ranges from atoms, to galaxies, suns, planets, life, species, humans, and human behavior. The premise of this quadrant is “acting” (Edwards, 2005). In this form of reality, we learn through physical action and involvement. We perform what is both expected and what we consider to be correct. Ethics are the foundation for our behavior. Edwards (2005) called this the “injunctive strand” (p. 284).

As it relates to conscious evolution, in the behavior quadrant, we practice what we consider to be our role in the evolutionary process. This can range from complete non‑engagement to full dedication to the co-creative process. The latter includes behaviors associated with Banathy’s (2000) fourth generation human. On the one hand, we can act with complete disregard to evolution and its interconnected nature with all of life. Our world’s environmental challenges are the direct result of behaviors disconnected from conscious evolution. As the awareness of the evolutionary process and our role as co-creators emerges and matures, our ethics and actions are in line with environmental conservation, social justice, and the practice of a holistic form or spirituality (Merry, 2009).

My behaviors associated with evolution changed and matured over time. Since early childhood, I remember embracing a deep sense of responsibility towards everything with which I interacted. This included toys, clothing, plants, insects, animals, and all humans. I could not conceive purposely hurting anything or anyone. I always had the sense that everything was alive, regardless of form. To me, even physical objects were relatable and deserved my care and attention. I could not understand why we humans could be so indolent to nature, animals, and each other. Multiple life experiences helped me understand behaviors that hurt others and also me. Making meaning of aggression in any form was difficult and painful. To this day, I react almost irrationally when I witness abuse of any kind.

I did not gain awareness of our planetary condition until I was in my 40s. Since this awareness entered my cognition, I have been an avid participant in social activities that promote environmental consciousness. I am also an activist within my workplace for providing the best working conditions for everyone, including eliminating abusive behavior wherever possible. I know that I can do more as my ethics embrace new life conditions where I can be impactful. I am joyful that through life events and opportunities for inspiring people, I have developed stronger evolutionary behaviors.

Objectified levels of development

The integral theory literature does not offer levels of development for the behavioral quadrant. Wilber, Edwards, and other integral theorist referred to Wilber’s original documentation on this subject that provides physical levels of development from the atomic to the cognitive brain. It is curious that these theorists referred to this quadrant as the one holding the reality of behaviors. In investigating to develop a complete model for the evolutionary consciousness holon, I kept referring to Kegan’s evolutionary mind framework (Berger, Hasegawa, Hammerman, & Kegan, 2007; Eriksen, 2006; Kegan, 1982, 1994, 2000). Most of what Kegan documents in his framework deals with internal development, but what is attractive about Kegan’s work in this area is that his model has a dialectic correspondence between subject and object. At any level in our evolution, Kegan posited that we have an internal component that is evolving (subject) and one that has evolved (object). When we make the shift to the next level, the subject that we have mastered becomes object and a new subject emerges that needs to be learned (Berger et al., 2007). Figure 11 shows Kegan’s mind development framework.


Figure 11. Kegan’s levels of development adapted and correlated to the eight developmental levels in ECLET (Eriksen, 2006; Wilber, 2011).

In his constructive-developmental theories, Kegan (2000) identified five distinct levels or epistemologies that denote the stages of human internal development. In each level, the subject of the previous one becomes the object of the current. The first two levels deal with reflexes, impulsivity, and the realization of personal experiences. These epistemologies are primary and develop by the time the individual is 20 years old (Eriksen, 2006). The third level corresponds to the socialized mind. This is the level of traditionalism in which the object is concrete; comes from an established point of view; and follows enduring dispositions, needs, and preferences (Kegan, 2000). The fourth order epistemology belongs to the level of the self-authoring mind (Kegan, 2000). The object for this level contains abstractions, the principle of mutuality, interpersonal awareness, inner states, subjectivity, and self-consciousness. This is the level where self-reflection is primary. The fifth order is the level of the self-transforming mind. The object at this level includes abstract system ideology, institution, relationship-regulating forms, self‑authorship, self-regulation, and self-formation (Kegan, 2000). Wilber (2007) introduced an intermediate level between self-authoring and self-transforming that corresponds to the post‑modernistic consciousness that equates to the F-S (Green) level in ECLET.

Table 6: Kegan’s Five Levels of Development and the Correspondence of Object and Subject Relationships Note: Adapted from In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life (Kegan, 1994).


From an evolutionary perspective, Table 6 shows that at the third order of development our behaviors are still concerned with our own needs, personal interests, and desires. Internally, we are developing interpersonal relationship capabilities and the idea of interconnectedness (mutuality). It is at the fourth level—the self-authoring mind—where these mind capacities become objectified and drive our behaviors. The underlying meaning-making structure of the fourth level is systemic, which would be necessary to see how evolution connects everyone and everything. Wilber (2000) postulated a level between the fourth and fifth to place the post‑modern mindset. He believes that Kegan’s fifth order mind corresponds to the integral human who is capable of behaviors aligned with a global mindset that aims to unify and accept full co-creative responsibilities. Table 6 shows the transition to the fifth order mind where self‑authorship, identity, and ideology are in the objective plane and drive behaviors.

A key distinguishing factor in Kegan’s framework for the fifth order level is the conceptualization of all states of thinking as in “both/and” rather than “either/or” of the previous levels (Kegan. 2000). This is a multiframe perspective that is able to hold contradictions between competing belief systems and is capable of accepting the incompleteness of wholeness, that is, the presence of multiple levels of existence as part of a perfect evolutionary process.

Even though my values were based on acceptance and empathy towards everyone, my behaviors were not aligned with my internal development. I remember feeling uncomfortable around certain people and situations. Life events and various mentors were instrumental in shifting my adaptive subjectivity to my external reality. Mutuality-based behaviors took awhile to fully manifest, way into my 30s. I wrestled with what was truly my own interests and desires over the needs and the well-being of others.

It was not until I turned 50 that I felt the beginning of “both/and” thinking being externalized into my behaviors. I experienced the “both/and” thinking for awhile but could not find the language or the form to express it. Over the last several years, I have been more comfortable with behaviors that express a more holistic ideology without any form of dogma. Leaving my dogmas behind was a real struggle. I felt I was becoming empty. I remember a period of at least a year where the consideration of being alive was a real struggle. Then, my thinking became simpler, unencumbered by rules and expectations. My behaviors became more focused and I felt more in control, without trying to be in control. The effort I used to apply to be in control of situations went away, leaving a state of acceptance of everything that occurs as just being perfect.

Objectified lines of development

Integral theory, anchored in Wilber’s work, only offers physical lines of development for the objective quadrant, from the atom to the human brain. It is ironic that this quadrant is the “behavioral,” yet no behaviors along lines of development are provided by the literature. Although McIntosh (2007, 2012) did not provide nonphysical examples for levels and lines of development for the objective quadrant, he delivered an in-depth view on the evolution of the internality of humans, including culture and systems. He posited that science is well aligned and recognizes physical evolution from Lamarck and Darwin to now but that there is significant controversy delineating our nonphysical evolution.

From early age, I had the sense that there were differences in the internal development of individuals and that the person’s age, socioeconomic background, education, and IQ had little to do with how he or she interacted with life and, in particular, others. I was always puzzled by the actions of people in power, assuming that their position bestowed them great wisdom. It was not until I read Hawkins’ (1995) Power vs. Force: The Determinants of Human Behaviour that I became more certain that we humans are at different levels of development. This understanding was further validated and enhanced once I discovered the works of Graves, Kegan, and Wilber.

In selecting the lines of development for the objective quadrant, I chose capacities that are tangibly expressed as behaviors and skills and that are singled out by the leaders in the evolutionary consciousness literature as being relevant to this topic. Table 7 shows the lines of development associated with conscious evolution. It is an amalgamation of my understanding from the conscious evolution meta-discipline and also the behaviors and skills I experienced as I became aware of our evolutionary journey and started to embody its associated responsibilities.

Table 6: Objectified Lines of Development for Conscious Evolution

Line Definition
Evolutionary learning and competence Full understanding of evolution, and our place/role in it. Development of evolutionary competencies.
Systems thinking Competency of seeing systems and not just parts. Holistic (not reductionist) approach.
Design thinking Design competency. Applying design principles to social benefit and development.
Global ethics Living values harmonized with global wellbeing
Collaborative praxis Practice collaboration in all aspects of interaction
Dialogical inquiry Development and practice of “thinking together.”

In her work, Hubbard (2003, 2012) addressed a community that has evolutionary awareness and urges them to learn the history of the universe. Banathy’s (2000) Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View is a legacy on human and systems evolution and an excellent source for evolutionary learning. Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Competence”) have written extensively about evolutionary learning leading to competence. They stated, “Evolutionary competence is about developing the abilities and sensitivities to act upon the awareness and understandings of the two previous stages [consciousness and learning]. The development of evolutionary competence involves self-empowerment as evolutionary systems designers” (Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Competence”, para. 2).

To develop competency in any area of endeavor requires practice. Banathy (2000) and Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Praxis”) focus competency development on evolutionary systems design. “Conscious competence corresponds to the evolutionary competence stage in which the focus is on gaining mastery of the techniques, skills, competencies, attitudes, and abilities that empower evolutionary systems designers” (Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Praxis”). Merry (2009) expressed that “evolutionary leaders are expert learners, continually looking for ways to accelerate their learning and the further development of their consciousness, compassion, and competence to absorb complexity” (Kindle locations 2394-2398).

The other line of development—system thinking—is the ability to see and understand a whole system, not just its parts. There is much written about this discipline, including the seminal work by Senge (1990), which brought systems thinking to global awareness. Daloz (2004), as an educator, believes that systems thinking should be required learning at all levels of education. His view stems from seeing how much we adversely affect our natural and human environments by addressing the needs of the parts and neglecting the entire system. Daloz (2004) posited that systems thinking provides the ability to think dialectically—to recognize that (a) knowledge is emergent and not static, (b) reality is constructed and not given, and (c) meaning-making is the result of an ongoing series of transformations. Daloz stated, “In our dialectic-paradoxical thought processes, we can embrace contradictory systems simultaneously and become conscious participants in our own evolution” (p. 38).

Laszlo and Laszlo wrote, “Evolutionary Systems Design is a heuristic that integrates the evolutionary learning journey—from evolutionary consciousness to conscious evolution—in a larger framework of collaborative work that includes generative and strategic processes” (“Evolutionary Competence”). Design thinking is viewed as the necessary ingredient for systems design (Banathy, 2000) and, in my view, an important line of development.

Although not a new concept, design thinking has been popularized by Tim Brown, CEO of design house IDEO. At the heart of the design thinking methodology from IDEO is thinking systematically and leveraging all stakeholders in the design. Brown (2008) stated that the stakeholders know what they need and should be included in the design process.Weisbord (1992), in Discovering Common Ground, presented the idea that the world is moving from experts designing our systems to regular people performing this activity. This is in line with Ackoff’s (1981) assertion that design is “the creation of a desirable future and the invention of ways to bring it about” (p. 62).

As my lines of development progressed, I struggled with my responsibility as a designer of social systems. I had no trouble accepting the role of designer of products and information architectures; however, I found guiding people into new states of interaction and operation unnerving. Along my career, I had the opportunity to work on a number of large business process reengineering projects. This gave me the opportunity to design new system containers and ways that people worked and delivered value. Over the last 12 years, I have finally accepted the responsibility of designing human systems in my capacities of management consultant, corporate executive, and philanthropist. Notwithstanding the pressures of doing careful and thoughtful work, and given the large impact to people lives, I can comment that the rewards of seeing better living and working conditions as a result of design changes is unparalleled.

Chaisson (as cited in Banathy, 2003b) addressed the ethics line of development in his own set of required evolutionary capacities: (a) process of change; (b) synthesis and consciousness; (c) humanism; (d) integration of science, philosophy and religion; and (e) ethical evolution. Banathy (2003b) stated that Chaisson equated our future with ethics. The astrophysicist believed that our planet would not have a future if we do not apply a planetary level of ethics to our evolution. Specifically, Chaisson named our next potential era “Ethical Evolution.” According to Chaisson (2010), ethics is at the turning point of human evolution. This evolutionary ethics requires as its scope the well-being of the entire planet. This broad-base application of ethics is necessary to sustain and resolve our current crisis.

I believe that our current planetary condition is a moral and ethical dilemma. Morals are subjective capacities and associated with truth, beauty, and goodness and exist at different levels of development (McIntosh, 2007). Ethics are reflected in our behaviors and manifested in our actions and social systems. The fact that most of the world lives in a state of poverty compared to the lifestyle we enjoy in the developed countries speaks to the level of our global ethics. Sociologists, economists, and scientists have stated repeatedly that no one on Earth should go hungry if we indeed wanted to make this a reality. There is enough food to feed the population of the planet; what we lack is the ability to grow and distribute food globally (“World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics, 2013). At the heart of conscious evolution is the development of our ethics at a global scale to address the needs of all.

Evolution is a process performed in interaction with the universe (Merry, 2009). In the human sense, it requires connections and synergies. Nature has a leg up on humans where no one needs to tell the bee to move pollen from one flower to the next. How do we then participate in the conscious evolutionary process with others? Laszlo and Laszlo (“Evolutionary Praxis”) guided us to “connect with others and create synergies with like-minded people. Collaborate on projects and activities aligned with the vision of a sustainable and evolutionary future” (para. 3).

The last line of development identified in Table 5 is dialogical inquiry. According to Isaacs (1999), dialogue is a vehicle for creative problem identification and solving. It follows a different method than what is normally practiced in problem-solving, such as Lean and Six Sigma. The usual modalities engage people in discussion. We are used to exposing our points of view, enter into a dialectic exchange, and sometimes debate. In discussion, we are more often than not defending our ideas. Resolution or problem-solving emerges out of consensus or a decision from a decision-maker.

Dialogue follows a different approach and is appropriate for solving large planetary problems where contention and even compromise will not produce the required answers. Dialogue allows for the identification and solution to a problem by “thinking together.” This notion was first introduced by Bohm (2004) and extensively documented by Isaacs (1999). Thinking together is the result of the dialogic process. It starts with the suspension of our underlying assumptions followed by deep inquiry into the assumptions of all the participants.

As stated earlier in this essay, we are at a critical stage in our evolution, and the speed of change in the world has accelerated greatly (Merry, 2009). Schein (1993) submitted that dialogue can speed up the process of change within our organizations. The argument for this is twofold. First, resistance to change is driven by fragmentation—fragmentation of thought, culture, language, and understanding. Second, our customary communication approach of discussion often ends up in suboptimal solutions through compromise or mandate. Dialogue addresses fragmentation by giving all participants access to proprioception. Thought coherence is its result. Thinking together is a key capacity for interaction in conscious evolution and a support skill for evolutionary systems design.

Cultural Quadrant

The cultural quadrant represents our internal global reality. Each one of us is a member of a variety of cultures. Our membership and exposure to culture starts with our families and nationality. As we join schools and become aware of our communities, we assimilate their cultures. Later in life, we become representatives of various cultures and may have roles where we actually help develop cultural norms. The most obvious form of this latter activity is when we constitute our own family and raise children under a culture we consciously or unconsciously establish. The main components of culture are mindsets and values (Beck & Cowan, 1996). Edwards (2005) referred to this quadrant as the quadrant of interpretation. This is the reality where we are the most active in meaning-making. We do so by interpreting results from what we do and see. Merry (2009) stated that we need interaction with others under certain value systems to trigger our ability for meaning-making. Banathy (2000) stated that we gained our ability for socially-based meaning-making about 50,000 years ago as our consciousness shifted to be aware of our ourselves in relationship with others.

From an evolutionary perspective, this quadrant encapsulates our collective experience with evolution. Major shifts in this experience took us from the purely religious views of evolution to the more scientific. We navigated from the idea that God created the universe and our planet, starting from the notion that Earth was the center of the universe until Copernicus proposed otherwise. Lamarck and Darwin introduced the concepts of the evolution of the species in 1859. It was not until 1931 that we addressed the larger cosmic evolution with the theory of the Big Bang as postulated by Lemaitre. For the last 80 years, we have been refining how the universe came into existence, how life started, and how we current humans arrived to this point in history (Hubbard, 2012). Further, we now have a meta-discipline that is exploring our relationship with evolution and our roles and co-creators. This latter notion is not pervasive in the minds of the broader population, but we are starting to see deeper levels of planetary stewardship manifested throughout the world. This is an indication that we are expanding our collective meaning-making beyond our nearby cultures and embracing a more global reality.

Evolution was not a topic that concerned me until my mid-20s. I studied physical evolutionary theories as part of my academic education but was not particularly attracted to this topic. Through a series of life events, I became completely enthralled with the subject of internal evolution at about the age of 25. I spent the better part of 2 years reading as many books as I could on philosophy, religion, metaphysics, and psychology. As a next step, I joined many groups to gain experience in what I had read. This journey took me down many religious and metaphysical paths. My mindset and value system were in rapid development. I seriously considered the life of a philosopher and a writer. I prepared myself for that path through activities such as writing and publishing newsletters. This passionate perspective changed as several of my advisors pointed to a mainstream path in which I could bring value from an evolutionary perspective. This led me to a career in technology as a front but with the underlying mission of supporting the internal evolution of those around me, which has been a very fulfilling path.

Intersubjective levels of development

Chown (2014) stated, “There was no change in the design of stone hand axes for 1.4 million years” (p. 8). He was referring to the period of time that our anthropological records show no real changes to our tools as an indicator of social progress. Chown presented the case that the advent of farming accelerated our cultural development, propelling us to the iPhones of today. Table 3 depicts this accelerated development starting with what Banathy (2000) referred to as the first generation human—the Cro-Magnon. Chown posited that farming allowed for greater densities of people to stay together and interact. He stated, “If there are three words that, more that any others, explain the history of the 13,000 years they are: interaction, interaction, interaction” (p. 8). Chown isolated the last 13,000 years as the period of time post the last ice age.

Graves’ research has been completely focused on human interactions and the development of culture (Lee, 2009). Table 4 delineates how Cowan and Todorovic (2008) summarized the eight levels of intersubjective development identified in ECLET by Graves from Archaic to Holonic. Figure 12 draws a correspondence between the levels of development and the ECLET nomenclature of A-N through H-U. From Graves’ perspective, human intersubjective reality develops as we deal with a given set of problems and life conditions (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). As discussed earlier, each developmental level includes the previous ones. Graves’ research shows that the levels alternate between “express-self” and “sacrifice-self” cultures.


Figure 12. Levels of intersubjective reality. Adapted from Beck and Cowan (1996).

Beck and Cowan (1996) provided a chronology for the various cultural levels identified by Graves in his research. Starting with the Archaic culture 100,000 years ago, we developed from clans assembled for pure survival to tribes sharing a set of values and beliefs. The Animistic culture emerged 50,000 years ago and provided guidance and protection to its members and a core set of beliefs associated with the natural world its state of aliveness. The complete control of the tribe gave way to the Power Gods culture of independence about 10,000 years ago. This is one of the “express self” levels where rebellion and self-reliance were the norm. The Roman Empire is a great example of the Power Gods intersubjective reality.

The Mythic Order culture started 5,000 years ago and is very much present today. It is a “sacrifice-self” level and aims for order and tradition. Organized religions across the world have maintained the traditional values across many national cultures. The Renaissance was responsible for the establishment of the Scientific Rational culture. The Industrial Revolution further developed what we refer to as modernism. Advances in our industries and our societies are the direct result of our modern culture. Post-modernism started about 150 year ago and gained strength in the last 50 years since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. This is another “sacrifice-self” level focused on a pluralistic worldview. Changes in social justice and environmental awareness came from the Pluralistic cultural shift. The adoption of large environmental programs by the likes of Exxon and Coca Cola denote the impact of this level in the transcendence of the previous one.

The Integral and Holonic cultural levels are developing, and there are no clear indications of their impact to our broader culture. Graves was able to determine the existence of individuals with subjective realities associated with these levels. Beck and Cowan (1996) estimated the percentage of individuals operating at the Integral and Holonic levels to be about 1% of the total population. As Chown (2014) indicated, it is interactions that determine the evolution of culture. It will take some time for the individuals operating past the post-modernistic culture to interact and develop new cultural norms. The evolutionary meta-discipline may be a cultural landmark heralding the establishment of the integral culture.

From an evolutionary perspective, the Scientific Rational culture is responsible for the physical evolutionary theories, including cosmic evolution with the Big Bang. It is the post‑modern culture and to some degree the Integral that have expanded our awareness of evolution to include a co-creative concept that places us as responsible participants in the evolution of the universe.

The majority of my life has been immersed in the Traditional and Modern cultures. I see my own family as a combination of the two. My early academic studies and professional work were deep into the science of the modernistic worldview. This was further complemented by a successful career in engineering and information technology. My work circle was absorbed in capitalistic thinking, with little to no awareness of the needs of the planet, social justice, or how we can have an impact in the world. My friends in the previously mentioned philosophical and metaphysical activities provided a respite from the materialistic reality of my work life. It was through these friends and their support that my own subjective reality changed towards internal evolutionary concepts.

My wife was completely instrumental in helping me become aware of a post modernistic reality. Her strong pluralistic mindset had a profound effect on my thinking. We formed a post‑modern household and raised our children with social and planetary awareness and a strong sense of responsibility that they have to make the world a better place for everyone. Both of our children’s higher education and current work are associated with social domains, and they view their contribution as a service to humanity. My experience at Saybrook University brought me in contact with a larger post-modernistic culture, which has further expanded my own cultural values. I can now see how I can continue to evolve and be an active participant in evolution. I have not yet encountered centers of Integral culture. I know individuals whom I surmise operate with integral values but who are not acting together to develop new cultural norms. Perhaps this encounter still lies ahead on my path.

Intersubjective lines of development

Teilhard de Chardin introduced the term noosphere to differentiate it from the biosphere that had been evolving for billions of years. The noosphere is a layer of psychological evolution that accelerated 50,000 years ago (McIntosh, 2007; Merry, 2009). That critical threshold of the noosphere “resulted in the emergence of a qualitative distinction or change of state between conscious life and self-conscious humanity” (McIntosh, 2007, Kindle locations 2792-2796). Teilhard, along with a number of social scientists, chronicled that we have been evolving psychologically and socially as a species.

In attempting to define the lines of development for the intersubjective quadrant, I considered the conscious evolution literature along with my views on the “lines” we should be developing to achieve a broader base of awareness than what we have now. It has been only 60 to 70 years since we entered the role of co-creators, as our atomic power, medicine, and other technologies gave us the ability to dramatically alter life in our planet (Chaisson, 2005b). The lines depicted in Table 8 constitute the capacities I surmise we need to make life conditions better for all and sustain them along an evolutionary continuum.

Table 7: Intersubjective Lines of Development for Conscious Evolution

Line Definition
Planetary stewardship Caretaker culture of the planet, its resources and inhabitants
Social justice & equality All beings are equal and have the same rights in all aspects of life
Social democracy Equality in participation in civil society and its political and social processes
Global governance Belief in governance across nation states towards a unified Earth
Diversity acceptance and integration Full acceptance of gender, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, and cultural backgrounds into a unified human rainbow.

Note: These lines are a collection of cultural values and beliefs that would drive our behaviors and social systems toward conscious evolution. All of them are in some form of manifestation today.

In Figure 1, we saw that only 36% of the people surveyed had a positive response to the question, “Do you think that global warming will pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime?” This does not mean that 36% of the people in United States are planetary stewards. It does, however, mean that a third of the population of this country can respond to guidance in the direction of planetary stewardship.

Through my involvement at Saybrook University and my role of environmental sustainability leader in my workplace, I have taken an active stewardship role. In this capacity, I work with a number of people who are committed to lowering environmental impact. Additionally, through this experience, I can see the influence my company is having with external manufacturers and their own environmental impact. My contributions toward planetary stewardship are miniscule compared to leaders and organizations that dedicate their entire focus to this endeavor. I am appreciative of what they do and grateful for being able to contribute even in a small way.

As mentioned in the previous section, we have a significant gap in our morals and ethics. Our collective sense of truth, beauty, and goodness is wide ranging. Graves, Wilber, and others working with ECLET estimate that less than 15% of the population operate at the Green (post‑modernistic) level or higher (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005; Wilber, 2000). This means that our absolute sense of social justice and equality would be off for the majority of inhabitants. It takes the Green level of development to fully feel the outrage of injustice without any discrimination. All levels are capable of understanding injustice, but they are able to compartmentalize areas with acceptable levels of injustice and inequality. For instance, individuals operating at the Blue level would find it completely unacceptable to discriminate within their own race but find it acceptable to do so with other races.

Growing up in South America and in a relatively upper-middle-class family, I could not understand why we treated the people that helped us with our food and housekeeping differently. I could not see them differently than myself. As I grew up and saw people blatantly discriminating, I fought back and challenged their actions. Later, I realized I could not change people’s perspectives on justice and equality, only that I could make choices for my own interaction with others. I choose to treat everyone as equals and with the same level of consideration. In the workplace, I have made it a point to foster a just, nurturing, and life‑affirming environment.

Like religion, forms of governance engender difference of opinions, even from individuals who are at the same level of development. From a line-of-development perspective, I submit that a form of social democracy could be a more evolved form of democracy than what we practice in the United States. For one, politicians should not be influenced by special interest groups and/or private industry. The influence of the Orange level in United States politics limits the development of our governance by not allowing it to evolve and fully support diversity and greater equality (McIntosh, 2007). Orange is a powerful force, which normalizes all activities to a capitalistic common denominator.

Social democracy has as an objective the growth of the middle class by raising the earning power of the majority (Berman, 2014). Proportional taxation, global health coverage, free education, and retirement are social programs that all citizens should have access to by virtue of their civil society membership and their contributions to the welfare of all. Daloz (2004) stated that natural prosperity relates to a healthy and thriving commons. This is the state reachable through the imagination and transformative collaboration between businesses, non‑governmental organizations, and government. This state is about moving from “defending private interests to promoting the public good” (Brown, 2005, p. 194). There is a wealth of material describing how we can achieve natural prosperity.

From a global governance perspective, McIntosh (2007) made the point that post‑modernism, although an advanced form of political consciousness, has its limitations. This is an observation that Graves made as he was defining the Green level in ECLET (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005) and was corroborated by Wilber (2000). It suffers from relative impotence, the inability to take decisive action, particularly when total equality may not be possible. Pure post‑modernism alone is not capable of forming a large enough system to take charge of the world stage (Wilber, 2000).

The integral Yellow level is viewed as the next stage of evolution to usher in a practical and implementable world-centric political system (Wilber, 2000; Merry 2009; McIntosh 2007; Cowan & Todorovic, 2005, 2008). Individuals with this level of consciousness are capable of working on large-scale systemic solutions based on their ability to not only see systems but connect with them emotionally. Post-modernists (Green level) cannot get past the offenses, particularly of the economic modernism of Orange (Cowan & Todorovic, 2005). The integral Yellow is able to work with people of all views and value systems. Although relativism is present in Yellow as it is in Green, its practicality and passion for execution make this level see past the mistakes of our previous states of consciousness.

The ultimate political goal of Yellow is global governance (McIntosh, 2007). A global federation would be based on post-modern consciousness with a world-centric view and sets of values. This federation would arrive through the evolutionary pressures of globalization, over‑population, and increasing complexity. The global governance envisioned by the integral Yellow worldview would consist of a federation of nations united under a constitution of laws guided by the insights and principles of an integral set of values. This world federation would be instituted to provide democratic oversight of the global economy, protect the world’s environment; establish a universal bill of human rights; preserve cultural diversity; and bring an eventual end to war, disease, and poverty. Nation states would maintain their own system of laws but would abide to the jurisdiction of the world federation for matters dealing with global justice and peace.

At the foundation of the intersubjective lines of development is the acceptance of diversity and the integration of this diversity into our array of world activity. I see greater acceptance in the workplaces than in general society, granted that I live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, known for its diversity and tolerance. I surmise that what I experience in my workplace should be the least we aim to achieve in civil society. In my workplace, we aim for diversity, gender equality, flat organizations, self-organizing teams, risk-taking, sense of family, respect, and support for personal life. I see how we treat each other as dignified human beings regardless of who we are. This is the intersubjective reality I wish for all, and I know we are capable of even more.

Social Quadrant

Edwards (2005) referred to the social quadrant as the “validation strand” (p. 284). Its reality encompasses all of the social systems that we have created from the early tribes to sophisticated global organizations, such as the United Nations. It also includes the processes and tools we utilize in every form of endeavor. Wilber’s pronoun for this quadrant is Its to signify the plural version of the it of the behavior quadrant. Social learning is at the foundation of this form of reality, and we do so by testing implications and discussing the findings (Edwards, 2005). The majority of our daily lives are concerned with this quadrant. Given its collectiveness and objectivity, it is the easiest to relate and gain agreement. Unlike the other quadrants, this one has tangible objects that enable us to engage with common purposes. In the United States, even though we have wide-ranging political views (intersubjective reality), we agree that we need to elect a president every 4 years (interobjective reality).

Looking at the social quadrant from the evolutionary perspective, we can tangibly see how we have evolved from primitive social and physical structures to global societies interconnected with sophisticated technologies. The acceleration of the realities in this quadrant is astonishing. Just 20 years ago, connecting with someone outside our immediate physical space was challenging. Primitive forms of email and long distance telephone communication were available; however, these were expensive and non-ubiquitous. Today, most people living in developed and developing countries have access to powerful computers either through their phones or other internet-connected devices. The social media capabilities of these computers make it possible to stay connected with many people outside our immediate physical reality. This connection has resulted in tighter social networks that make it easy to challenge, solidify, and even create social structures. Evolution has moved beyond physical boundaries.

Given my involvement in a number of organizations and my national background (I was born in Bolivia), I have had the opportunity of experiencing a multitude of social systems. My roles in these social systems have been diverse, from simple membership to primary leader. Since middle school, I was inclined to participate in leadership roles, volunteering on class councils and leadership teams. My desire to be at the forefront of social systems gained larger focus in my professional life. I volunteered to lead efforts of different kinds. It seemed that it was less important to focus on the context and more on needed transformation. In my late 30s, I became involved with nonprofit organizations of various kinds and participated in escalating roles leading to president and director roles. I appreciated the opportunity to lend my service to a variety of causes, mostly focused on helping social development of marginalized groups in underdeveloped countries. My academic work a Saybrook University provided me with additional perspectives regarding how we evolve in our organizations and introduced me to frameworks to help the organization I belong to evolve. My ever-present connection with technology has also been very helpful to me in enabling and empowering people, and to form and maintain stronger relationships.

Interobjective levels of development

Our organizational systems have evolved primarily in the last 50,000 years from survival clans to value communities and integral commons (Hubbard, 2003). These systems have been supported by technologies that frame our interactions (Figure 13). Each evolving level is founded in our ability to sustain our interactions. For instance, during our foraging beginnings, life conditions could only support survival clans that banded to hunt for food. Our social technologies did not allow for grouping more than 50 or so individuals at a time. Consequently, whatever these clans were able to learn was not broadly shared with other clans because of their lack of interaction. The horticulture technology enabled us to form larger tribes, and, through multigenerational interaction, we were able to pass along a series of enduring capabilities.


Figure 13. Organizational systems levels of development along with their foundational social technologies. Adapted from Wilber (2000, 2007).

Feudal empires and nation-states developed with the advent of agriculture. The ability to grow food and domesticate animals changed how we lived and allowed for larger cities and ultimately nation states to flourish (Banathy, 2000). The industrial revolution helped solidify nation-states and gave birth to corporations, starting with the British East India Company to continuing to the global corporations of today that are financially larger that many nations (Venkat, 2011). Information technology has given us the opportunity to support and also build communities beyond the physical. Interest groups and communities of practice are sustained through the means of Internet-based communication. As an example, the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 was promoted via the Internet, organizing and communicating across the United States, bringing together almost 1,700 people and later thousands more across 951 cities in 82 countries.

At the upper level of organizational systems, we find intentional communities and evolutionary learning communities that bring together people with similar mindsets focused on the well‑being of society and the internal development of their members. The Findhorn Foundation in Scotland is an example of a spiritual community whose stated vision is to be a “centre for holistic learning, helping to unfold a new human consciousness and create a positive and sustainable future” (Findhorn Foundation, 2014). The Foundation was founded in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy, and Dorothy Maclean. Barbara Marx Hubbard, a futurist, operates an internet-based global communication hub entirely dedicated to the subject of conscious evolution. Hubbard is one of the most recognized leaders who has emerged in the evolutionary meta-discipline.

My involvement with organizational systems has been, for the most part, with nation‑states and corporations. Both of these organization types do not offer deep perspectives in the evolutionary process. It has been surprising to me how little awareness in evolution and our role in it appears to be present in the highly educated set of individuals I interact with in my professional life. It is even more surprising to find limited interest in conscious evolution in my interactions with people in organizations dedicated to post-modern thinking. I have encountered a few exceptions. Last year, I attended a seminar on integral theory that featured several lectures associated with conscious evolution, including one presented by Peter Merry. I surmise that the intersection of post-modern communities, along with the developing integral thinking, will result in numerous integral commons that promote conscious evolution and practical ways in which we can be true co-creators.

Interobjective lines of development. Reality in the interobjective quadrant includes all of the systems we have created across our history (Wilber, 2000). Organizations are fundamental components of this reality. Our families, neighborhoods, communities, workplaces, communities of practice, cities, and nations are all organizational structures that impact our daily living and are very closely aligned with our evolution. From early clan and tribe life to global enterprises, we have been molding our organizations to go along with our sociocultural shifts, our technologies, and our population needs (McIntosh, 2007).

Several possible paths can be considered for lines of development for the interobjective quadrant. Technology is one of these paths, which offers multiple capacities that have evolved over time. For instance, we can map our ability to cure human disease from early herbal remedies to sophisticated nano-technologies for advanced diagnostics and 3D printing of cellular structures for DNA-conforming implants. However, organizational structures provide lines of development that can be associated with conscious evolution. As leaders awake to a deeper evolutionary consciousness, they guide our organizations into greater alignment with the good for civil society and planetary stewardship (Merry, 2009).

Table 9 identifies lines of development associated with evolutionary interobjectivity operating at the cusp of conscious evolution. For this table, I selected organizational constructs where I have a degree of firsthand knowledge and academic understanding from the literature.

Table 9: Interobjective Lines of Development for Conscious Evolution

Line Definition
Natural Step and other frameworks for guiding environmental and social stewardship in organizations This is a framework for strategic sustainable development that creates a unifying view of the activities necessary to achieve sustainability in an organization. “It converts theory to practice using logical, practical criteria for consistent decision making” (The Natural Step).
Self-organizing teams (Scrum) Work teams that are self-autonomous, capable of self-transcendence and cross-pollination.   Scrum is a methodology employing self-organizing teams for software development.
Communities of Practice Self-organizing and self-governing organizations whom share a common interest in a domain and whose association yields knowledge sharing and practice development.
Social enterprises Non-profit, self-sustainable enterprises using commercial know-how to deliver social value, typically to marginalized individuals.
Evolutionary learning communities Environments to interactively learn about interconnectedness, ecology, and the joy about contributing to our communities.

Note: The “lines” in this table come from a variety of sources (Laszlo, “What is Evolutionary Learning Community?”; McIntosh, 2007; Merry, 2009; Nattrass, 1999; Rubin, 2013; Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986) and my personal experience with them.

The Natural Step (TNS) is a framework for environmental sustainability created by Swedish oncologist Dr. Karl-Henrik Robèrt (Burns, 2000). Robèrt, inspired by the collaboration of cells in dealing with cancer, developed an analog of the collaboration of governments, industry, and environmentalists to solve what in his mind was the single most important problem faced by humanity—planetary sustainability. In 1987, Dr. Robèrt drafted a framework outlining the conditions by which humanity could reach sustainable existence. His initial draft was sent to a broad cross-section of scientists and medical doctors, soliciting their input. After many revisions, TNS framework emerged, defining the types of actions organizations should take for this global pursuit (Burns, 2000).

TNS has been adopted by a number of organizations since its inception. The most famous implementation of this framework was by IKEA. Several case studies are documented in Waage’s (2003) book titled Ants, Galileo, & Gandhi: Designing the Future of Business Through Nature, Genius, and Compassion. I became aware of TNS during an independent study course at Saybrook University. I worked closely with Dr. Jaffe on updating the course materials for the sustainability introductory class in the Organizational Systems program. I leveraged my learning of TNS to write an article for The Triple Bottom Line blog and to start the environmental sustainability program at my workplace. Aside from this program reaching strategic importance for the company, we were able to achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Platinum certification for one of our buildings. Later, I continued my study of TNS through my dissertation critique essay, which dealt exclusively with four case studies of this framework by Nattrass (1999).

The relevance of TNS as a line of development is that it goes beyond simple recycling and antipollution programs, and even triple-bottom line practices. TNS brings a decision-making ability at the top level of an organization that integrates the organization’s operation with natural systems. Ray Anderson, while CEO of Interface, Inc., changed the way his company produced industrial carpeting to a modularized format completely owned by Interface with 100% recyclable materials (Waage, 2003). Anderson not only changed his industry; he inspired other executives to embrace TNS and change the relationship of their companies’ processes with nature. Although this line of development is labeled as TNS, organizations do not have to adopt this exact framework to be better aligned with conscious evolution but could embrace a similar one.

Takeuchi and Nonaka (1986) introduced the concept of self-organizing project teams in their article titled “The New New Product Development Game.” Self-organizing teams along with built-in stability, overlapping development phases, multi-learning, subtle control, and organizational transfer of knowledge were identified by the authors as a different product development paradigm, as contrasted with traditional sequential approaches. Takeuchi and Nonaka documented case studies of a new form approaching projects with successes at Fuji‑Xerox, Canon, and Honda. In their study, self-organizing teams are driven to a state of “zero information” (p. 139) where prior knowledge does not apply and members aim to create their own dynamic order. In this sense, they operate as a start-up, taking on new initiatives and risks, and develop an independent agenda. A team possesses self-organizing capabilities when “it exhibits three conditions: autonomy, self-transcendence, and cross fertilization” (Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986, p. 140).

The work by Takeuchi and Nonaka (1986) is credited for the inception of the Agile project management methodologies, and in particular with Scrum (Rubin, 2013). Scrum is a popular approach to software development that relies on self-organizing teams and was advanced by Schwaber and Sutherland (Rubin, 2013). There is much covered in the literature about Scrum. What is most relevant about these self-organizing teams in terms of conscious evolution is what Takeuchi and Nonaka identified their self-transcendence. In the context of Scrum, this capacity is translated into the ability of a team to go beyond its stated goals and have it emerge with higher goals through its own discovery. There are many examples cited in the literature where self-transcendence is a result of self-organizing teams and a key driver for organizations choosing to adopt them as a cornerstone for their product development practices.

I became aware of Scrum about 3 years ago, when my company embraced it as its software development methodology. In my current role, I am responsible for the well-being and the value delivered by 14 scrum teams building software products. Given both my work and my academic interests in self-organizing teams, I have been working very closely with the practice of Scrum at my workplace and have undertaken a few academic research projects on this methodology and its impact on team efficiency. One of the early products of this research include an integral model of Scrum teams, which addresses levels and lines of development similar to what I have covered in this essay. I conceive that Scrum is an advanced form of teamwork, which I believe has applicability outside of software development. I would go so far as to say that it is the future of how work will be done across the spectrum of disciplines, where teams self-organize to deliver value to the social systems they serve.

Another one of the identified lines of development in Table 9 is communities of practice (CoPs). These are “are self-organising and self-governing groups of people who share a passion for the common domain of what they do and who strive to become better practitioners” (Merry, 2009, Kindle locations 2057-2060). This type of organizations are proliferating in the workplace and rapidly becoming needed institutions to advance broad or specialized agendas.

Broad scopes for CoPs are found in large organizations where common practices are desired across departments and locations. The traditional way of organizing by functions and business units isolate practitioners, limiting their ability to share knowledge and participate in global problem-solving. CoPs address these problems by breaking functional and location barriers and allowing practitioners to share and work together in advancing their common capabilities, even though their business unit missions may be different. Narrow specialties can also benefit from CoPs, where practitioners can come together and further the capacities of their field regardless of their organizational placement.

CoPs are not limited to the workplace and exist in the public domain. The most common application is in the form of “communities of interest.” Communities of various types exist where information, knowledge, and practices can be shared. Social media makes it possible for practitioners and people interested in a particular domain to come together and share. LinkedIn is a good example of a social media container where thousands of communities of interest exist, each providing access for exchanging information about a particular subject. Merry (2009) stated,

Developing a Community of Practice once a container has been built for the people sensing the new need, that container must be developed into a space where these people can do the work they feel they need to do in order to contribute to the shift, and can safely exchange experiences and get support from each other. (Kindle locations 2057-2060)

In my workplace, I am involved with the definition of the CoPs we need and those that our teams would also like to have. I see them as necessary, given that my organization is organized by missions with multiple disciplines in each. These disciplines have the need to come together to share knowledge and develop common practices. A challenge I see with CoPs is that they require focus, leadership, and effort by their members. It is easy to organize them but far more challenging for them to produce value. In addition, I am an active member of a number of online communities of interest, where I benefit from the shared information and have the opportunity to also contribute. I view CoPs as evolutionary containers because they break the barriers of location and organizational structures, and give members the opportunity to co‑evolve.

Social enterprises constitute another line of development for organizations. They are the amalgamation of commercial practices from for-profit institutions and the social value inherent in nonprofit organizations (Alter, 2007). Traditionally, for-profit organizations have not focused on social benefit, given their primary mission of making money for their shareholders. These organizations need to achieve financial sustainability in order to exist. In contrast, non-profit organizations are focused on delivering social value but have traditionally existed through endowments and donations.

Social enterprises are not a new phenomenon. They have been evolving and becoming more pervasive in delivering social value worldwide. Joint ventures between business and nonprofit organizations have also taken place to bring the commercial knowhow to the social sector. A good example of this is the partnership of Danone from France, producers of dairy products, and Grameen Bank, pioneers in micro-lending. This partnership—known as Grameen Danone Foods, Ltd.—produces a fortified low-cost yoghurt sold in Bangladesh to deliver nutritional value to people with low financial means in that country.

Health systems in the United States are hybrids, where part of their funding comes from payers such as insurance companies and part from large endowments. About 9% of hospital systems in this country are nonprofit social enterprises. Through my work, I am involved with the patient outcomes and cost efficiencies of healthcare organizations. Through products and services, my company enables health systems to administer medications safely and cost efficiently. My company provides capabilities for medication adherence, which in this country alone is a $290 billion problem (New England Healthcare Institute, 2009) and, more importantly, the cause of 125,000 deaths (Fleming, 2008). My role involves bringing to market innovative solutions to support health systems with these important needs. Even though I am part of a for‑profit enterprise, my daily interaction is with social enterprises where I am focused on improving their sustainability and delivery of better patient care. I believe that social enterprises will continue to proliferate and mark an important part of our evolution toward a socially responsible world.

Laszlo (“What Is Evolutionary Learning Community?”) stated, “Evolutionary Learning Communities (ELCs) are flexible environments where people can learn about the interconnected nature of our world, the ecological impact of our individual and collective choices, and the joy of finding a meaningful way to contribute to our communities” (para. 1). ELCs are foremost communities, not formal educational structures. They include our families, neighborhoods, and other types of communal arrangements. They are meant to be interactive and natural. Additionally, ELCs are containers for active learning. This learning is through engagement in the community. Laszlo (“What Is Evolutionary Learning Community?”) stated that ELC learning “is not simply accumulative individual learning, but synergistic collaborative learning: learning content issues together while at the same time learning process issues about how to be community.”

ELCs are evolutionary containers in which members consciously co-evolve with their environments (Laszlo & Laszlo, 1995). This is different than other organizations in which their structures and values are set as independent of the members and their aspirations. ELCs in this sense are geared for conscious evolution and are aligned with an evolutionary process.

I have limited exposure to true ELCs. I am part of the Pachamama Alliance, an organization devoted to the experiential education on sustainability. My involvement with Pachamama Alliance has help me become more aware of my role as planetary steward. Pachamama’s approach to education is for all members to bring their sustainability knowledge to their own communities and engage in learning experiences that are most conducive in their environments. I brought the Pachamama knowledge to my community at Saybrook and to my workplace. In each instance, the approach was different and was adapted to the needs of these communities.

In addition to Pachamama, Saybrook University and the department of Organizational Systems is an ELC that has supported my own evolution. I am not the same person now as I was before enrolling at Saybrook. Although learning at Saybrook is not entirely within the community, I have always felt a strong connection to this community as I practiced what I learned and learned more while I practiced.

Over the last several years, since my involvement with Saybrook, I have treated my teams at work as ELCs. Although I work in earnest to meet the business goals of my role, my primary motivation for leading organizations and teams is to provide containers to learn and evolve. I believe that workplaces are evolutionary containers and that we can be intentional about this purpose. I continuously challenge myself to enable learning, consciousness development, and joy for all of the people who I can influence and the environments that I create. My aspiration is that workplaces become conscious ELCs and that people recognize them for what they are and actually make choices about joining the right ELC for their development.


Seven million years have transpired since the human form appeared on Earth. Our evolution for most of this timeframe was physical. In it, our physiology and neurology became increasingly more complex to the point that we could accumulate knowledge, pass it on, copy it, improve it, select what was appropriate for the situation, and ultimately communicate with one another through sophisticated symbolic coding—language. It has been only in the last 50,000 years that we developed socially. Aided by a capable neurology and assisted by our technologies, we have evolved from our archaic and tribal institutions to our nation-states and urban communities.

As explored in this essay, an emerging part of our population is coming to terms with our role as co-creators. Our technologies, our way of living, and our intentionality have transported us to Chaisson’s Life Era. In this era, not only do we control matter but life itself. This new reality presents the need for a deep understanding of our evolutionary history and a new architecture for our evolution. As Banathy, Chaisson, Hubbard, Laszlo, and others have stated, it is no longer possible to continue to blindly evolve as our consumption outpaces the capabilities of our eco-systems. No one knows how much time we have left to design our evolutionary systems or if we have reached the maximum level of complexity that is possible in our human and societal forms. We simply know that we have an awareness of our possible extinction and of the invaluable opportunity ahead of us to transcend our current thinking, evolving it to a sustainable planetary consciousness.

Banathy (2000) left a blueprint for guided social evolution, not only through his book titled Guided Evolution of Society: A Systems View but also through his life, his influence, and the connections he established with his own evolutionary inquiry. As Laszlo and Laszlo (2002) emphasized, we have the opportunity to develop a culture of design and evolutionary awareness.

This essay aimed at providing an integral perspective into our evolutionary journey and how conscious evolution has developed through the co-evolution of the four quadrants of reality and their associated levels and lines of development. Frameworks from Graves, Kegan, and Wilber were useful to conceptualize an integral model for the levels of development. As stated in the body of this essay, the lines of development are numerous, and I made an attempt to select the ones that would be most appropriate for conscious evolution based on the literature and my own experience. Providing a correlation between the literature and my personal life was challenging with regards to maintaining academic relevance.

As noted by the authors in the conscious evolution meta-discipline, this subject is about consciousness, learning, and praxis (Banathy 2000; Hubbard 2003, 2012, Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Praxis”). Community-building and evolutionary system design have been noted as fundamental aspects of this praxis across multiple domains (Banathy, 2000, 2003a, 2003b; Laszlo & Laszlo, “Evolutionary Praxis”). The available literature gives us inspiring examples of evolutionary praxis in communities formed by individuals with similar thinking and common goals. Most of our urban population spends considerable time in organizations. I believe that it is in our organizations where we have the greatest opportunity to design our sustainable future, first, by designing socially responsible and sustainable organizations and, second, by humanizing their systems to accommodate for the transformation of its members into higher levels of consciousness. Furthermore, I believe that our sustainable future lies through the portal of socially conscious and materially sustainable organizations working globally for the well-being and prosperity of all beings.


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1 Comment

  1. sanae hanine on February 16, 2020 at 7:47 am

    thank you so much gratitude .

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