This is my final paper for the developmental psychology course last Fall (2010) at John F. Kennedy University (the Faculty of Holistic Sciences; Integral Theory). This is a lengthy one, so please be patient when reading it (if you are).
Developmental psychologists have identified numerous features of human consciousness, which develop through recognizable stages. In this paper I will describe the development of language and self-identity through three altitudes (Amber-Orange-Green). The main focus is on the altitudes themselves and the development of self-identity and the corresponding use of language is described with examples of patient-physician conversation. Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) is used as an exemplary way, how this kind of approach would be of greatest use for physicians and other health professionals. Around 90% of all the people can be taken into consideration with a focus on Amber, Orange and Green altitudes.
Keywords: development, altitude, self-identity, language, integral, psychology
In this paper I will review self-identity development mainly concentrated on ego development in three different altitudes or levels, which are Amber, Orange and Green. The concept of Altitude is a radically new approach to development created by Ken Wilber and presented in his newest book, Integral Spirituality (2008). Wilber states in this book, that “using ‘altitude’ as a general marker of development allows us to refer to general similarities across the various lines, yet altitude as ‘meters’ or ‘inches’ or ‘yards itself has no content; it is empty” (his bold). By using altitudes in development it is possible to speak for example of Orange cognition, Orange self-identity, Orange language development, and so on. Robert Kegan, Harvard developmental psychologist, has once given an advice on stages or altitudes: “We are not our stages; we are not the self who hangs in the balance at this moment in our evolution. We are the activity of this evolution. We compose our stages, and we experience this composing” (Kegan, 1982, p. 169). Altitudes are therefore not to be mixed with the territory, rather it is a map, a possibility for the “climber” to investigate through the ladders for a better and more complete view.
The Self as the navigator through various altitudes can be recognized as a two-part whole consisting of the observing self (experienced as I or “proximate self”, Wilber, 2000) and the observed self (experienced as me or “distal self”, Wilber, 2000). These both realms of the self are always together and Wilber (2000) calls it the overall self (his italics). Kegan (1994) uses these two selves as the subject-object interaction: the subject of one stage becomes an object of the next. Or as Wilber would put it: “the ‘I’ of one stage becomes a ‘me” at the next. An important notion comes from Wilber that, it is the proximate self that undergoes stage (or altitude)-like development and when compared to Jane Loevinger’s “ego development” it is similar to Wilber’s proximate-self development. “For it is the proximate self that is the navigator through the basic waves in the Great Nest of Being” (Wilber, 2000, his italics). ”Center of gravity” (or COG) for an individual means that the proximate self-sense is basically identified with that level (although many other developmental lines might be at other levels) (Wilber, 2007). COG tends to hover around one basic level of consciousness at any give time. Roughly, this means that around 50% of the self is at that particular COG altitude and 25% is at one altitude above or below. This is an important point when we imagine the proximate self as a navigator through the Great Nest. Navigation can be seen as the self facing several “directional pulls”, which means that it can choose to remain on its present level of development or it can choose to release its present level either moving up or down the hierarchy of basic structures. This can also be thought as identifying with that level or dis-identifying it. Navigation to a higher level first needs full integration of the current level and after that differentiation and then re-integration or identification. Wilber (2000) describes important functions for the self such as “identification (what to call ‘I’), will (or choices that are free within the constraints and limitations of its present level), defenses (which are laid down hierarchically), metabolism (which converts states into traits), and most important of all, integration (the self is responsible for balancing and integrating whatever elements are presented).” We could consider a stage or altitude of development functioning as a spiral not being constant, but rather like a wave dancing. At certain stage people have certain values, beliefs and cognitive capacities. We can for example take a bunch of people at certain stage and describe their typical ways of acting in the world. Stages unfold holarchically and no single stage cannot be skipped, which means the evolution between stages goes through a certain path.
Human language is unique when compared to other forms of communication, such as those used by animals, because it allows humans to produce an infinite set of utterances from a finite set of elements and because the symbols and grammatical rules of any particular language are largely arbitrary so that the system can only be acquired through social interaction. Linguistic analysis, used by Johanna Nichols, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, to estimate the time required to achieve the current spread and diversity in modern languages today, indicates that vocal language arose at least 100,000 years ago. These first signs of language and further development shifted the present worldview from archaic to magic or from horticultural to agrarian making possible the rise of the agrarian culture thousands of years later. When described as a system of symbolic communication language is traditionally seen as consisting of three parts: signs, meanings and a code connecting signs with their meanings. The study of how signs and meanings are combined, used and interpreted is called semiotics. On this paper I will however concentrate on semantics which describes how languages express meaning by relating a sign to a meaning. This complex process is linked to cognitive development and to development of the ego. Language development is an important part of the forming self-identity. On this paper I will also introduce an example to every altitude with a conversation between a patient and a physician (in this paper myself). I will show how the used language differs on these altitudes and reflects the developmental phase of self-identity. I will take a 3rd person approach to the dialogue which is a first-person reality in plural form (Zone #2). According to the Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) the plural form is the outside of a “we”. IMP is presented in Integral Spirituality (Wilber, 2008) and I will use this book as a reference for it in addition to an Excerpt D by Wilber.
Analyzing self-identity development on these three altitudes is based mainly on the pioneering research work of ego development by Jane Loevinger and on more analytical side based on the research of Susanne Cook-Greuter. According to my present knowledge, these two women are perhaps the most important researchers when exploring self-identity as a developmental line. Generally defined, Ego has a character and a structure. It is able for meaning making, moral socializing, conflicts, coping strategies and it has an individual cognitive development. Ego can have a third person perspective. Ego is also a process; there is movement and balance for the psyche. One of the most important functions of the ego is “making sense” of everything. Ego can be viewed as a structure too. This means understanding, filtering information and inaction on different worldviews (egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric, kosmocentric). Person’s behaviour is derived from meaning and meanings are determinative of behaviour (Zeitler, D., 2010). One of the most important notions made by Loevinger (1972) was that “ego is not the same as the whole personality.” And this usually means that there are certain types of characteristics that are perhaps imbedded in the human psyche.
Language development is probably even more complex than development of the ego. There has recently been published a groundbreaking book on the subject, Language Development Over the Lifespan (de Bot & Schrauf, 2009) which is fairly complex and is concentrating mainly on systems theory side (LR) of language development and does not handle that much information on later adult language development. There are two theories of language development presented by different research groups: 1) Usage-Based (Tomasello, 2000; 2003; Goldberg, 2006) and 2) Emergentism (Elman et al., 1996; MacWhinney, 1999; O’Grady, 2005) (see de Bot & Schrauf for orignal references). According to de Bot & Scharuf (2009) “usage-based theories emphasize that language learning in children is the result of their experience with language use, and consequently, adult linguistics representations are usage-based, not innate.” According to this model “language learning is based on a combination of social cognition, pattern recognition, and efficient general learning mechanisms” (de Bot, 2009). On the other hand “emergentism” describes the progressiveness of the process, which means that, “qualitatively new and more complex representations can emerge on the basis of knowing its simpler component parts” (O’Grady, 2005).
General features. Amber Altitude is an ethnocentric or conformist (Loevinger, 1972) stage. A person at this altitude or stage is able handle rule/role concepts and the self has “self-concept” and “role-self” (Wilber). In Kegan’s (In Over Our Heads, 1994) terms, Amber is equivalent for his 3rd order of consciousness, which is mainly described as traditional or ethnocentric concentrating on group values, the needs of the family and cultural needs. It has a conformist morality. Kegan describes with his narrative style 3rd order of consciousness as: “gradual evolution of a mental capacity that enables one to think abstractly, identify a complex internal psychological life, orient to the welfare of a human relationship, construct values and ideals self-consciously known as such, and subordinate one’s own interests on behalf of one’s greater loyalty to maintaining bonds of friendship, or team or group participation” (Kegan, 1994, p. 75).
Kegan also describes in his book that “insight cannot be taught or learned, but the consciousness that gives rise to insight can be developed (his italics)”; and after that with a really great comparison why it is impossible to teach a person order of consciousness: “Trying to teach insight without transforming consciousness is like trying to create apples without growing apple trees” (Kegan, 1994; p. 128-129). Most of the adults are at late-Amber or 3rd order of consciousness. They are ethnocentric, aware of self in relation to group, but nothing further.
Self-identity. Loevinger (1976) differentiates Amber altitude into two different stages: Conformist stage (I-3 or early Amber) and Conscientious- Conformist (I-3/4) or late Amber). Ego development on Amber is probably one of the most important stages a person takes and that is described pretty exhaustively by Loevinger. “A momentous step is taken when the child starts to identify his own welfare with that of the group”, describes perhaps one of the most noticeable transitions in adolescents. Self-identity at Conformist stage forms mainly by “being” something: person at this stage “tends to perceive himself and others as conforming to socially approved norms” (Loevinger, 1976, p.18). He trusts other people within his own group, but usually rejects any or all other groups. That is also the explanation to why Amber altitude can be labelled as ethnocentric; belonging into something makes him feel secure. Late Amber or Conscientious-Conformist stage is according to Loevinger “the easiest transition to study, since it is probably the modal level for adults in our society.” A person at this transition stage begins to see multiple possibilities in various situations and the awareness of his proximate self begins to increase dramatically. One of the most significant observations of Amber or 3rd order of Consciousness (Kegan) correlates to the self-awareness of his personality: the belief that he is one person only, in every situation. There are no multiple personalities or different roles; the proximate self is the one and same, all the time.
Language development and an example of patient-physician communication. Most of the first language (or mother language) develops in previous stages or altitudes (Magenta, Red), even in the prelinguistic phase (Infrared) before children start to produce language themselves (see Piaget, 1962, for more information). The emergence of Amber consciousness usually happens between ages 12 and 20, which means that the basic development of the first language is already well established. At Amber, however, especially at school, the development of language plays an important role in the development of personality. According to de Bot “from an emergentist perspective it seems that what children bring to the language learning task is a general predisposition for categorical perception, pattern recognition, statistical learning, as well as generalization skills that will help them to discover even the most complex rules of linguistic structure.” Categorical perception as durable categories is a 1st order (Kegan) claim (Red altitude), but in some individuals this type of development is closely attached to Amber altitude, which can be seen in high elementary school as well. A person at Amber altitude tends to speak in generalities and platitudes and think in simple terms.
- “Hello, what brings you to the doctor?”
- “Well, I HAVE this terrible pain in my back and I cannot sleep.”
- “Ohh, that’s sad to hear. What kind of a situation is it related to and how often and at what particular times do you have the pain?”
- “It is usually in the mornings and when I go to sleep or I have time to think about it. The pain just comes and goes, but it is bothering me. I haven’t hurt my back on anything I can recall. What’s wrong with me?”
- “I see. I have relieving news for you: this is nothing serious. It is a very typical symptom: for example if you have stress at work or in your relationships. Can you recall anything like that in your life at the moment?”
- “Yes, definitely. I put on so long work days that it makes me really stressed out. And my wife is yelling me at home, because I am working so late. At work I don’t notice the pain, but at home I do.”
- “That sounds very common to me, I have seen many patients like you before. I have a suggestion for you: take some time off and learn to relax. In this way your muscles and your mind will relax too. And for first aid, I can give you muscle release therapy right now. How would that sound?”
- “I haven’t thought about that before. It sounds very good!”
That is a very typical situation and a very common problem. I am using here very simplistic language that is understandable for both of us. While taking the anamnesis the, I use the Zone #2 approach and monitor how I feel about the answers and imagine how he would feel of my answers to him: are they understandable enough. The patient is “presenting outside or objective tokens of your interior state in order that I can reconstruct your interior state in a similar-enough fashion that I will say, “I understand what you mean”” (Wilber, Excerpt D). And Wilber continues that “the result, if successful, is that with regard to the particular item you are trying to convey, you and I have phenomenologically created or enacted a we-space of mutual understanding around that item—or a shared event horizon within which that item enactively arises.” That mutually created “we-space” is the basis of all understanding between two individuals or in this case the patient and the physician.
General features. Orange Altitude is the first one of Worldcentric stages. It is a Conscientious (Cook-Greuter, Loevinger) stage. 4th order of consciousness is cognitively defined by being able to see relations between abstractions, “thinking about thought”. Kegan describes 4th order interpersonally that “we neither identify with the internal registering of how other feels nor ignore it, but are able instead to be in relationship to it, then we do not leave off caring for the other, we leave off being made up by (his italics) our caring” (Kegan, 1994, p. 127). Intra-personally defined, having a 4th order is having self-regulation, self-formation, identity, autonomy and individualization. Fourth order can be seen as a system or complex structure with relations between abstractions. People at fourth order have relationship-regulating forms and multiple-role consciousness. They are also able for self-regulation and identity, self-formation and individualization.
Self-identity. 4th order is the last one of the personal levels or stages and the translation of this stage seems to be particularly either rewarding or horrible. At this stage the “self characteristics recede into the background and become an object of reflection” (Cook-Greuter, p. 81). At this stage one of the main translations is the integration of one’s past into one’s deeper self (or proximate self). I would see the deficient mode of this stage described as such: “When individuals become conscious of phenomena that do not fit their already existing maps of reality, they often screen them out by selective inattention (Sullivan, 1953) or defense mechanisms” (C-G, p.120). At 4th order this usually means the negation towards spirituality or awakening, turning down all of the possibilities of a higher self or a world spirit but still knowing that something is seriously lacking without really knowing what that is. The proficient mode on the other hand would perhaps lead to a spiritual awakening (which can of course happen at lower stages but would be interpreted differently) if the translation were not anymore taking the mental-ego anywhere. When previously everything seemed to make sense - which is obvious to a person at 4th order - it might not suddenly do that anymore.
Language development and an example of patient-physician communication. Cook-Greuter (1994) describes in her evaluations of the SCT answers, that at stages 3/4 (Early Orange) and 4 (Orange), “one experiences one’s current view as final and sufficient explanatory principle for how the world is, for how everything makes sense.” Language in a person’s experience is an important factor to mature ego-development and according to Cook-Greuter “language permeates all facets of life an intellectual inquiry”. Mature ego-development begins in my opinion at late Orange altitude and continues to grow when transforming to Green and beyond.
Orange altitude is generally emerging in the middle classes around the world and is especially apparent in sales and marketing field as well as in fashion and cosmetics. If I could describe Orange as an altitude with a few words, it would be: cold rationalist materialism. This particular description also reflects with the behaviour and language use in the patients I meet with an Orange Center Of Gravity. Many sales and marketing companies have their occupational healthcare in the private sector where I work too. A typical conversation with a patient might look something like this:
- “Good day sir, come on in and have a seat.”
- “Thank you. Now let’s get straight to the point: I’ve had the flu for three days already and I can’t be off from work. I need antibiotics!”
- “Ok, I see. So have you had any fever or serious coughing or any other symptoms?”
- “No, I don’t have fever ever. Coughing is quite annoying though. Can I have the antibiotics now?”
- “Let’s check you out. I’ll listen to your lungs, check your throat and ears.”
After this short conversation I’ll check the patient out and nothing serious is usually found out. But as we see here, the use of language is different from Amber, in this case being more goal-oriented and rational. The conversation might in some cases continue like this:
- “Well it seems that your lungs, throat and ears are just fine; no pathological findings.”
- “What are you saying? That you are not giving me the antibiotics? I specifically came here to get those! I can’t be off from work anymore, our company is losing a lot of money and I am getting behind on my schedule.”
- “Yes I understand all this, but there is really nothing to treat with those antibiotics. Your symptoms are typical of a normal flu virus and it usually takes 7-10 days to be healthy again. You need to rest a little and eat some vitamin c and d.”
- “I can’t believe this! I came in here for vain?!”
Now there are two options usually: first, the patient accepts and understands the situation and is satisfied with it or like probably in this case, he leaves my office with banging doors to see another doctor who would prescribe those antibiotics. Here the possible “we-space” was not that clearly created and our mutual understanding was probably not as good as it could have been.
General features. A person at Green altitude or early vision-logic (Wilber, 1986) seems to think everything as relativistic and his self is related to the system and is in interaction with the system. This can lead to a “drowning” in the ocean of relativity; everything seems to be interrelated and the self is taking up all the perspectives in a holonic way. Yet, the self at Green is not able realize the possibility of transformation from the personal realm to the transpersonal, which is to say that it is not aware of the ego as “separate” form of the true self. And in other words, the process of meaning-making itself is no yet at the awareness of a person at early vision-logic stage. At Green it is possible to realize various interpretations rather than “speaking of the truth” and one is more tolerant of oneself and to others due to the awareness individual differences and the complexities of life. Navigation into the higher altitude (Teal-Turquoise or 2nd tier) takes form as “… adding higher cognition and affect as well as insights from body an non-waking realities to the tools of the earlier merely rational mind” and “…at its most advanced, vision-logic opens the door into the spiritual, transpersonal, non-egoic, non-representational realm of being” (Cook-Greuter, 1999, p.94). Navigation can in some individuals be also a regression moving into less differentiated structure of Orange’s cold rationality.
Self-identity. What has been a subject for the person at 4th order becomes the object of the subject of the 5th order, which is to say that at 5th order it is possible to have interpretation of the various selves rather than being identified with them. Fifth order is a trans-system or trans-complex structure requiring a trans-systemic or cross-theoretical epistemological organization. “Do we take as subject the self-as-form (4th) or do we take the self-as-form as object (5th)?” (Kegan, 1994, p. 316) is probably the most critical question here when analyzing self-identity and the differences between 4th and 5th order. In his book Kegan (1994) describes the differences between modern and postmodern in various contexts; probably the most striking one is the description of two leaders both having 5th order (post-modern) consciousness but acting out differently. Those differences can be seen as the process of moving from 4th to 5th order being in different transition phases: “… differentiation always precedes integration…” and “…conflict precedes re-solution”, which means that the previous order of consciousness must be fully differentiated to be able to move to the next order completely.
Sometimes postmodern thinking can be mixed with antimodern thoughts which disidentify modern thinking but do not recognize it a part of the new developing complex structure of consciousness. Antimodern “…represents an earlier stage of complexity in the gradual evolution from the fourth to the fifth order of consciousness….” and “…the antimodernist cannot move from a deconstructive to a reconstructive position without disturbing the self” (Kegan, p.332). Fifth order of consciousness is still quite rare but it is as rare as the fourth order was a hundred years ago. But, as Kegan put wisely in his book, “…whatever the virtues of the fifth order, no one should assign us the postmodern curriculum until we are ready for it” hits straight to the topic which is being “in over our heads” and seeing the fact, that even though higher orders of complexity and consciousness are evolving naturally, people at lower order can’t yet fully understand the complexities of it. This is all about having the capability of “seeing” at which order a person or an organization is at and talk to it on its own terms for a fully fruitful interacti
Language development and an example of patient-physician communication. Susanne Cook-Greuter (1994) has researched the meaning and use of language on self-identity and ego development for over three decades. Her Sentence Completion Test (SCT) is widely used in many testing protocols and it gives huge amount of information on the person’s developmental stage based on language use. Cook-Greuter states that “subjects at the post autonomous level (late Green and beyond) of differentiation seem to become conscious of the fact that language is not only a wonderful tool, but imposes fundamental limits” (Cook-Greuter, Transcendence and Mature Thought in Adulthood, 1994). “Language should be understood in the broadest sense of the word, as symbolic codification or representation of experience” (Cook-Greuter) and this means language in its various forms: written, spoken, sign and symbolic. A person at Green talks of different interpretations rather than truth. Valuing feedback from others is also a noticeable sign to Green. These two particular observations are also perhaps the core of language use in persons at Green (or postmodern). According to Cook-Greuter (1994) around 8% of the people are at “systems level” part of the postconventional stage, which is to say Green altitude. Because of this, conversations with patients at Green are also quite rare. I will anyhow give here an example of a conversation between me (the physician) and the patient:
- “Good day sir, what brings you here?”
- “Well I’ve noticed these weird symptoms here and there in my body and psyche. I have sometimes thoughts of not being myself and observing someone else doing these complex things I am doing. And that causes me anxiety and pain in the chest.”
- “Hmmmm… that is rather interesting. How long have you observed these kinds of symptoms and are there anything that brings them to the surface?”
- “Those appear when I have time for myself and when I am not at work doing anything or discussing various topical issues with a few of my intelligent friends or my wife. Those are very apparent when I don’t have any thoughts; that makes me scare sometimes. And then I feel the pain in my chest and forehead too; it’s like something is trying to come out.”
- “Ok, I understand. So what you are describing here is like a sense of ‘losing your mind’ when you are not occupied with thought. Is it always felt as anxiety or is there sometimes a feel of relief, a feel of emptiness and calmness?”
- “Yes, yes! That too. But most of the time these kinds of moments get me anxious.”
- “It seems that you have had glimpses of stillness or certain state changes to more witnessing states, like meditative states. Have you heard of meditation?”
- “Yes, I think so. And I would also sometimes be very interested in trying it since according to a few of my friends it might help psychological development.”
- “That is very true. And as you can now probably understand, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you, you are just probably beginning to realize the deeper aspects of life, perhaps the spirituality in yourself.”
Over here we see a clearly more complex conversation than at Orange. The patient describes his symptoms as not having them but observing those. Complexity of language use is typical to a person at Green. He is “seeking peace within the inner self and exploring, with others, the caring dimensions of community” (Brown, 2007).
In this paper I have described three developmental altitudes (Amber, Orange and Green) particularly concentrating on self-identity and language use respectively. I have also demonstrated shortly how using Integral Methodological Pluralism might help on the interpretation of mutual understanding and creating the “we-space” between a patient and a physician with three different examples of communication in those particular altitudes. Especially according to the exhaustive research conducted by Susanne Cook-Greuter it is clear that the development of language goes hand in hand with the development of ego and self-identity: the more complex the structure of the ego (or proximal self) the more complex the language use. In this paper I have also considered the functional movements of the ego with developmental terms: this helps to perceive the nature of development of the self, which is ever-fluctuating, translating and sometimes transforming.
The development of language is according to two different “camps” either “usage-based” or “emergentism”. Without arguing which one of those theories is absolutely right, I would see that both are true but partial in their regards; they form a net of theories under which the development and usage of language can be interpreted. I would find this particular paper a suggestive reading especially for physicians interested in developmental aspects of human psyche and to those, who are willing to improve their communicational skills with patients on these particular developmental altitudes (they cover nearly 90% of all development at the moment).
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