A worldview is an individual’s set of fundamental beliefs and organising principles; his or her unquestioned assumptions about the nature of reality and the human place in it.

A worldview is like the operating system in a computer, controlling operations behind the scenes but mostly outside the user’s awareness. When someone upgrades his or her worldview, certain things that were previously impossible become possible, and some things that were difficult become easier. The workings of the world make more sense.

This graphic shows my interpretation of how dominant worldviews have evolved in the western world during the past 2,000 years and how they are continuing to evolve:

Evolution of worldviews, by Jack Martin Leith

Spiral Dynamics

Spiral Dynamics is a theory of human development introduced in the 1996 book Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, by Don Beck and Chris Cowan. The book is based on the theory of psychology professor Clare W. Graves (archives), and targeted at a business management audience.

The nine colour-coded Spiral Dynamics domains are known variously as Levels of Existence, vMEMEs, value systems, levels, motives, zones, development stages, and stages of consciousness.

A later short-lived collaboration between Beck and the philosopher and author Ken Wilber produced Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi), with Wilber subsequently incorporating his own modified version into his overall Integral theory. Wilber recoloured four of the development stages: Beige became Infrared, Purple became Magenta, Blue became Amber, and Yellow became Teal. The Spiral Dynamics graphic appearing further down this page shows both colour schemes.

More recently, Wilber’s colour scheme was adopted by Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations and founder of the Teal organisations movement. Laloux had intended to write about Yellow organizations, but Don Beck withheld his consent.

Had Don Beck been more willing to collaborate, Frederic would have written about Yellow Organisations.

Jon Freeman, ‘Reinventing Organisations’ and the Teal impulse’, an excellent review of the model’s evolution from Graves to Laloux, on Integral Leadership Review
Spiral Dynamics is a registered trademark of the NVC Consulting (formerly National Values Center, Inc.).

Sources: Wikipedia entry for Spiral Dynamics | Spiral Dynamics, on Psychology Wiki

Spiral Dynamics: the eight-stage spiral of development

Spiral Dynamics: the eight-stage spiral of development

Aristotelian-Ptolemaic worldview

Spiral Dynamics: Purple evolving to Red
Ken Wilber / Frederic Laloux: Magenta evolving to Red

In this cosmology, which prevailed until the 17th century, angelic beings are responsible for making the celestial bodies orbit the Earth.

Source: Changing Ideas of the Universe, by Maud Worcester Makemson.

Aristotle's Universe

Newtonian-Cartesian worldview

Spiral Dynamics: Blue evolving to Orange
Ken Wilber / Frederic Laloux: Amber evolving to Orange

The Newtonian-Cartesian worldview is a system of thought based on the work of British physicist Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727) and the French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650). Newton described a mechanistic universe that is stable and predictable, and that obeys the law of cause and effect.

Descartes formulated a concept of the absolute dualism between mind and matter, resulting in a belief that the material world can be described objectively, without reference to the human being.

This was the prevailing worldview throughout the 20th century, and it continues to have a big impact on the way we think, speak and act.

Pre-systemic worldview

Spiral Dynamics: Green
Ken Wilber / Frederic Laloux: Green

People with a pre-systemic worldview have embraced some aspects of the systemic worldview, but their Newtonian-Cartesian worldview still runs the show.

Some people operating under a pre-systemic worldview cannot entertain the possibility of constructing their reality differently. Some condemn evolutionary models such as the one I presented earlier, believing them to be anti-egalitarian.

Others mistakenly believe they have upgraded to a systemic worldview already. In his book Feeling and Personhood — Psychology in Another Key, John Heron, a prominent figure in the field of humanistic psychology, wrote:

By the end of the seventeenth century a significant minority were already well established in the Newtonian-Cartesian belief system in the world of essence; but in the world of appearance most ordinary people were almost certainly still seeing the High Street, the sun, moon and stars in terms of the Aristotelio-medieval world-view.

In the same way, today [1992], a significant minority have abandoned the Newtonian-Cartesian belief system in favour of some elaboration of systems theory world-view. But it may be that they, and certainly the majority of people, still see the world in Newtonian-Cartesian terms.

It is a big shift for concepts to move from being simply beliefs held in the mind to beliefs that inform and transform the very act of perception.

In the organisational realm, the pre-systemic worldview is the prevailing operating system. It is gives rise to such concepts as customer focus, employee engagement, triple bottom line, sustainability, teamwork, corporate culture, values (this is one of the few occurrences of the term on this website) and behaviour-based culture change.

Systemic worldview

Spiral Dynamics: Yellow
Ken Wilber / Frederic Laloux: Teal

What is a systemic worldview? This definition, from National Academy of Public Administration in Washington, DC, is the best I’ve been able to find:

A systemic worldview is a system of thought that considers all the factors and elements involved, including how they relate to each other, how they work together as a whole, what the system needs in order to survive, thrive, and evolve in its environment, and how the system impacts [sic] and interacts with its surrounding environment, including how the system will be able to respond and evolve as needs and the surrounding environment change.

Many varieties of systems thinking exist. Each is based on a different set of assumptions, and there is not much common ground. The main ones are listed below.

  • General systems theory (Ludwig von Bertalanffy)
  • Cybernetics — first and second order (Norbert Wiener, Ross Ashby, Gregory Bateson, Francisco Varela, Humberto Maturana)
  • Management cybernetics — Viable System Model (Stafford Beer)
  • Soft systems methodology (Peter Checkland)
  • System dynamics (Jay Forrester)
  • Complex systems (Santa Fe Institute, Dave Snowden et al)
  • Critical systems thinking (Robert Flood and Michael Jackson)
Four Waves of Systems Thinking, by Gerald Midgley and Derek Cabrera, based on Robert Flood and Michael Jackson
Four Waves of Systems Thinking, by Gerald Midgley and Derek Cabrera, based on Robert Flood and Michael Jackson | Source: Systems thinking in 7 images, on Cabrera Research website
Although many varieties of systems thinking exist, systems do not. They are constructs, as Daniel Christian Wahl and James Wilk point out in these passages:

It is important to maintain the awareness that the systems view itself is also just another map that, as Alfred Korzybski put it, should not be confused with the territory. We can reduce the world to a whole just as easily as we can reduce it to a collection of parts.

Daniel Christian Wahl, [6 Key Questions in] Whole Systems Thinking, an excerpt from his book Designing Regenerative Cultures

System is illusory. All systems we fancy we observe in nature are merely constructions of the observer, and the ‘interconnected web’ or ‘system’ view of the universe is no more than a fairy tale.

James Wilk, unpublished manuscript

Post-systemic worldview

Spiral Dynamics: Turquoise
Ken Wilber / Frederic Laloux: Turquoise
Susanne Cook-Greuter: Construct-Aware

A post-systemic worldview takes us much closer to the way the universe (not just the world) really works. Thinking and acting with a post-systemic worldview enables us to create the new, and change this into that, in a way that transcends worldviews, theories, models and methods. This worldview emphasises acting in harmony with the natural way of things.

Construct-Aware folks are the first who potentially realize the illusion of ‘knowing’ and the futility of trying to make ever better maps of reality.

Susanne Cook-Greuter, The Construct-Aware Stage of Ego Development and its Relationship to the Fool Archetype, Integral Review, August 2018. Vol. 14, No.1 (pdf; 11pp)
People with a post-systemic worldview take everything into account, including the ‘bad’ stuff, and including that which emanates from beyond the physical realm. Ever open to the new, they take nothing at face value, treating all knowledge as provisional, and trust their own experience over other people’s theories.

Trust subjective experience. The implications for how we see the world and our place in it are critical for our understanding of it and our behaviour towards it and, more profoundly, as part of it.

Anthony M. Hodgson, Decision Integrity and Second Order Cybernetics (pdf) | Anthony Hodgson is the founder of Decision Integrity

Science needs to free itself from materialist dogma; indeed, science misunderstands nature by being wedded to purely materialist explanations.

Rupert Sheldrake, on The Best Schools website | view source

The Spectrum of Consciousness

The following graphic reveals the relationship between the Spiral Dynamics development stages and Susanne Cook-Greuter’s ego development stages. Note that the coloured vertical column shows the Wilber/Integral colour scheme, and the column labelled Values shows the original Cowan/Beck colour scheme.

Spectrum Stages of Consciousness

Source unknown. Please message me if you can identify the author (Ken Wilber?) and perhaps provide a link to the document containing the graphic.

Phenomenal consciousness cannot have evolved. It can only have been there from the beginning as an intrinsic, irreducible fact of nature. The faster we come to terms with this fact, the faster our understanding of consciousness will progress.

Source: Consciousness Cannot Have Evolved , by Bernardo Kastrup, on the website of The Institute of Art and Ideas

Continue reading

External sites

Aristotelian-Ptolemaic and Newtonian-Copernican cosmologies | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10

Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Excerpt and summaries, by Ulrich Gerndt, change factory GmbH (pdf; 32pp)

The Mind-Evolution Problem: The Difficulty of Fitting Consciousness in an Evolutionary Framework, by Yoram Gutfreund, Department of Neurobiology, The Rappaport Research Institute and Faculty of Medicine, Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, on Frontiers in Psychology website

The Nine Stages of Increasing Embrace in Ego Development Theory, by Susanne R. Cook-Greuter (pdf; 97pp)

An Overview of Developmental Stages of Consciousness (pdf; 6pp) compiled by Barrett C. Brown, Integral Institute

Reinventing Organizations — official website

Spiral Dynamics Integral, by Christopher Cooke and Ben Levi (pdf; 3pp)

The Twelve World Outlooks, by Rudolf Steiner, translation revised by Charles Davy

Rudolf Steiner believed that a fully-developed human being adopts whichever of the 12 world outlooks (i.e. worldviews) is appropriate to a particular situation.

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