To be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond; this may be a simple way to look at our internal developmental process. This analogy helps to illustrate that we all start in the smallest of ponds as a tiny fish, and after leveling up enough skill, we are able to swim our way to the next biggest pond. At each consecutive stage the ponds get bigger, and the challenges to our skills become more complex. At any time, we have the ability to go backward to the smaller ponds, though will not find any challenge there worthy of inspiring or promoting growth (if we learned it the first time). Our life feels safer and maybe more comfortable as the big fish in the small pond though if we never gain greater level of skill, we will not be able to enter greater ponds than the ones matching our current ability. So if we want to continue, the path forward is three steps. Embed ourselves in the pond, understand the different skills and perspectives the pond brings, then integrate those skills together to increase ability and gain access to the next pond.
The three parts to each successful wave of development (or pond migration)
Different research uses differing vocabulary for the same three steps
Identify → Disidentify → Integrate
Fusion → Differentiation → Integration
Embed → Transcend → Include
Just like the fish above, everyone's developmental path is the same despite the 7+ billion different lives and particular views of this reality. This is evidenced by research in areas like developmental psychology where cross-culturally valid research, like that of Piaget, still holds true. This information helps to create a picture of interior human growth and the patterns that tend to dominate the psyche.
Human growth is seen to progress from the physiocentric “pond” to the biocentric “pond” to the egocentric “pond” to the ethnocentric “pond” to the sociocentric “pond” to the world centric “pond” to the integral “pond” and continuing onward. With corresponding worldviews of Archaic to Magic to Power to Mythic to Rational to Pluralistic to Integral and beyond. To understand our path, let's look at how these stages unfold within the development of a human, keeping our fish analogy in mind. (Wilber and researchers call a “pond” a “fulcrum”)
Pond #1 - The Sensorimotor Meat-Body and the Archaic Worldview (Reflexive)
Our story, starts with the birth of the sensorimotor meat-body. This is a time of embedding, fusion, or identification with this sensorimotor self. Here, there is no logic, language, or narrative timeline. These are skills we will see in later ponds or stages. Some say this is the ideal state, being in union with all, however, this initial phase Freud called primary narcissism. This meat-body self, is not yet able to differentiate the physical world around it from its physical self and thus is completely unable to understand boundaries or limits of self.
This newborn starts the differentiation process around 5 months old. The baby now starts the process of learning important skills and practicing automatic physical responses. This is when the baby learns that if it bites a toy it doesn’t hurt, if it bites its finger, it hurts.
The child slowly understands the limitations of its physical self and is now better at knowing where it physically stops and where the rest of the physical world beings.
Pond #2 - The Birth of the Emotional Self and the Magic Worldview (Impulsive)
The growing child, if integrating the Archaic information, will then find itself embedded within Magical information. Just like the sensorimotor meat-body isn’t able to differentiate the physical body, the emotional self, isn’t able to differentiate between its emotions and others’. These emotional impulses can now take precedence the over reflexes from the previous stage.
The child, starting around 15-24 months, finds itself slowly starting the differentiation of what emotions are internal and which are external. In other words, starting to find the limitations or boundaries of its emotional self. They are also learning basic symbols and images.
This stage is usually experienced as the “terrible twos” where the child has tantrums and is not quite understanding of emotions or their limits. The child is starting to identify itself as a separate self in a separate world. After successful navigation of the second stage, the child is able to integrate emotion and understand the boundaries of the emotional self.
Pond #3 - The Mental / Conceptual Self and the Power Worldview (Egocentric Needs)
Here the toddler is becoming embedded into a conceptual self and these concepts start to take precedence over the impulses of the previous stage.
Starting from about 2-4 years old and continuing until around 7 years old, the conceptual mind allows for a much more rich experience of life. The child starts into the linguistic world and onto the stage come many new skills like temporal understanding, narrative timeline, and bodily function control. This person is now really birthing their own conceptual self or in other words, this is the creation of the egoic self. They are now starting to understand themselves as an individual, though not yet as it relates to a collective whole or culture. As a result, this stage is called the Power Worldview. These are fundamentally egocentric children with a belief that they and their thoughts can control and affect the world around them. These are children who think they have such power that they can turn their vegetables into candy just by willing it to happen.
If all goes well, then this child will be able to healthily create an ego and start the process towards understanding its ego in amongst the collective of culture.
Pond #4 - The Rule-Role Mind and the Mythical Worldview (Ethnocentric)
The child now has a solid understanding of its physical self, emotional self, and has a newly conceptually created ego which it will learn how to use in the Ethnocentric world of others. This is a time when ethnocentric rules can start to take precedence over the last stage’s egocentric needs for power.
This stage of development, starting around 6-7, brings in the idea of rules and roles to follow and live by. This is when the egoic self learns that it isn’t the most powerful and that there are common or typical conventions to how people interact and define themselves and eachother. This is a time where the child establishes the “roles” of family and society. At this point the child starts practicing taking the role of other and putting themselves in someone else's shoes. They also discover that they are not the all powerful candy maker they once thought. They do however, begin to re-centre power to another role in society. They no longer control power egocentrically, however they mythically believe that if they ask a higher power with special traditional “rules”, parent or god, then the higher “role” will convert the veggies into candy for them.
If successfully integrated, the child will have a solid foundation in the normative conventions of society and be fully immersed in it.
Pond #5 - Formal Operational and the Rational Worldview (Sociocentric)
At this new stage comes a big ability to think about thinking and thus allows the person to transcend the previous dogmatic roles and rules that are given.
Starting around 11 years old, people are able to start questioning big time. This “what if” mind allows the person to think about potentials in the past, present, and future. It also allows the individual’s logic to question and take precedence over the last stages’ given rules and roles. This may give rise to the “rebellious teenager” who often thinks and acts counter to the prescribed rules and roles from the previous stage.
This proper integration brings a healthy questioning to the foreground which questions the previous stage’s concepts, though still in a very “either/or” dichotomous way.
Pond #6 - Early Vision Logic and the Pluralistic Worldview (World-centric)
Pluralistic, also known as existentialist, brings the next new developments. Here, the individual starts to value more than the limited “either/or” of options and starts to see a plurality of options in a network.
At this point the individual goes beyond the formal operational mind and sees life as a network of interactions as opposed to one or the other. It is so radical in its approach to see the value in the network of interactions that it starts to transcend the separate mind and body and place more value on the experience of the body-mind network as the individual “comes to terms with their reality and finitude” as Heidegger pointed out. This stage of development seeks to shed light on any marginalized parts of the network as all are seen to be of equal importance.
Completion of this stage enables the self to be radically inclusive. Seeking difference and diversity while going out of its way to include all perspectives without judgement. In an attempt to accept all, this stage is unable to develop discernment or judgement between the differences that it accepts and thus devalues any stage of development that does not accept difference and diversity.
Pond #7 - Middle Vision Logic and the Integral Worldview (World-centric)
The previous stage, Pluralistic, is radically inclusive without judgment. This is because they had transcended the simplistic binary view of the last “either/or” stage with an accepting “a-perspectivo” lense. This Integral stage seeks to go beyond the lack of discernment or judgement that occurs and to provide understanding of depth and process.
Here, the individual can take more of a systemic approach to the networks of interactions. This also comes with an understanding of ranking or value judgments. These are guided by systemic principles which can process and value the pieces of a network and can also see that the previous stages of personal development all have value and have all contributed to growth to get here. Integral takes the partial truths from all previous stages and acknowledges their value.
This is a “momentous leap in meaning” according to Clare Graves. This leap brings with it depth of understanding and an ability to see and appreciate the lower stages of development as necessary and important parts of growth. This is the first stage to do so. All previous stages cannot see the value in the other stages and think that their stage is the only right stage and their worldview is the only right worldview.
At this stage, fear drops off considerably as the individual transcends themselves and is no longer so closely identified with the small egoic self, and thus isn’t afraid for it much. This stage is also marked by Maslow as the first to grow past the lower stage “deficiency needs” and start into “being needs” or abundance needs. People at this stage no longer act out of lack.
Integration in this stage brings an ability to appreciate all the previous stages while allowing people to be where they are in their own development. It doesn’t seek to diminish the value of other stages or points of view, it tries to value them in a discerning fashion and gives credit where it’s due.
Pond #8 and beyond - Late Vision Logic and the Holistic Worldview (World-centric)
This is a holistic perspective which goes beyond what is needed for us to understand the process of how we grow and the clear developmental levels of interior consciousness development that exist. As such, I won’t go into this. I would encourage people to do their own inquiry if they find this and later levels of interest or importance.
Human growth of cognitive development, as we have seen, goes through the following stages:
At each successive stage there is a transcending and including of what came before to bring about new and greater ways to experience the world (holarchical growth). Only once an individual gets to an Integral level of operation, do they allow the other levels to exist peacefully because they inherently see the value in the partial truths each stage brings forward. Previous to an Integral stage, each stage sees their partial truth as the only truth in addition to not valuing the developmental path that we all grow through. That is to say that the first six stages above do not develop an inherent acceptance of the others. This is why we see major cultural clashes between them all over the world.
Specifically in the west, the biggest conflicts are seen with:
Remember that none of the three above are able to really agree with any of the other two. They have fundamentally different outlooks on life, i.e. Worldviews, and as such, separate themselves culturally.
We have Blue traditional mythic fundamentalists valuing order from authority and living within the dictated rules and roles of life. The other two may be seen as lacking God or morals which they believe they are the sole purveyors of.
Then we have the Orange modern rational pragmatists looking to use logical strategy for optimal achievement in society. The other two may be seen as lacking rationality or personal accountability which they believe they are the sole purveyors of.
Lastly, we have the Green postmodern pluralistic relativists looking to accept diversity and differing views without judgement. The other two may be seen as lacking inclusion and compassion for difference which they believe they are the sole purveyors of.
We can use this information above to gain greater insight into ourselves and others. Wilber, for example, talks about a person’s “center of gravity” from which around 50% of our perspective is coloured, about 25% from the stage before, and about 25% from the stage after. This illustrates how one person is not simply at one exact level of development. Furthermore, development happens over all lines of development and as such, pegging one person as being at an exact stage or colour is not accurate. However, given that the colour or stage represents the values and worldview outlook on life and how one morally would interact with others, it does tend to provide a consistent realm or reliable gauge for understanding. From this understanding hopefully one can all start to choose to operate from the higher 25% and less from the lower.