Our Mindset architecture's conceptual theories and practices


In 1982, Robert Kegan published The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. With this book, Dr. Kegan broke ranks with the world’s most prominent experts in the field of adult development, and launched a new way of looking at its most important issues. With the Evolving Self, Kegan shifted the focus of our attention away from age-related development, and turned us toward the dynamics of an "evolving self."

Dr. Kegan sparked this shift by integrating two fundamental human processes -- maturational growth and meaning making — that prior to The Evolving Self had been separate fields of study.

Kegan did this by describing four unique propositions about the developmental processes that are at the heart of adult growth and development: 

  • Adult development is not an age-based process through which men and women progress by mastering certain age/stage-related accomplishments.

  • Rather, adult development is a meaning-making process, one that adults use to grasp raw sensory experiences and transform them into conscious schema, perceptions, and intentions that are more or less related to the worlds in which they’re living.

  • Adult development, as a set of evolving meaning-making processes, is a lifelong activity. One that begins in infancy and gradually evolves an individual's mindset capabilities in increasingly sophisticated and complex ways across their entire lifespan.

  • Adult development processes progress by advancing through a discrete series of "evolutionary meaning-making truces." These meaning-making balances are made up of evolving sets of conceptual schemas, maps, and guides that are ever so slowly changing in response to crucial anomalies in our minds that are not adaptive to the world's newest realities.

Kegan described his revolutionary vision this way; "....it is not that a person makes meaning, as much as that the activity of being a person is the activity of meaning-making.

For those of us interested in either our own development or that of others, Dr. Kegan, with The Evolving Self, defined a revolutionary way of looking at adult development. Before Kegan, adult development was focused on age-based accomplishments and stable age-related stages. Kegan shifted our focus from this age-based view to a process-based meaning-making viewpoint. In particular, he focused our attention on the fluid, evolutionary truces through which an individual's consciousness could evolve, grow, and develop. With his Orders of Consciousness model, Kegan outlined the potential in front of each of us to evolve to new levels of consciousness, where each new level signified a more sophisticated way of knowing the world. Kegan summarized his revolutionary approach with these words: "Our arrival at a given plateau is not to a place on a temporal continuum that's guaranteed by the passage of time. (Rather) it's to a place on an evolutionary continuum made possible by the emergence of a qualitatively new order of consciousness." 

activating new orders of consciousness 

Today, the adult development revolution that Dr. Kegan launched in 1982 is still in motion. In at least three ways:

  • Until recently, those of us invested in using Dr. Kegan's insights seem to have moved too quickly towards simply presuming that adults generally move forward in their developmental efforts. This was and is an understandable mis-step. Today, however, we're beginning to realize that presuming adult development, as a growth process, just naturally evolves "upward" is a step too far. Perhaps, on an ecological timeline, adult development does evolve vertically. But, across an individual's personal lifespan, or that of a specific identity group, adult development actually doesn't appear to move inexorably upward through progressive levels of consciousness from simple to more complex modes of thinking and feeling. Today, for example, researchers in the field of Biopsychosocial Development, which was first developed by George Engel and John Romano, are demonstrating that human development isn't simply a matter of either genetic or psychological growth patterns that move inevitably upwards from one evolutionary truce to the next. Rather, they're showing us that most adults, under the influence of powerful societal pressures, at least occasionally, can also move backwards along their own highly idiosyncratic developmental pathways. Biopsychosocial scientists like Urie Bronfenbrenner and Arnold Sameroff, for example, are demonstrating that many adults, and even the specific identity groups to which they belong, are capable of moving backwards with regards to their developmental trajectories. This is so Bronfenbrenner and Sameroff suggests, because, in each of their lives, the environmental factors people are embedded in are powerful forces that are just as capable of prompting regressive activity as developmental advancement. In short, both assert that both nature and nurture determine when and how adults develop, and whether they progress or regresses. Which it is depends on the whether the environmental triggers, signs, and signals that an individual is subject to tend to encourage their growth or activate their regression. Context matters.

  • Kegan's revolution is also being extended and expanded through the research that's currently being done in the field of Embodied Cognition. Researchers working in this field are advancing the hypothesis that our brains are not "in charge" of our bodies, as we've presumed for so long. Rather, they're saying, our brains are influenced by our bodies. In fact, our brains and our bodies are linked, and together their intertwined neurobiological systems create our minds' meaning-making systems. This proposition, of course, is in sharp contrast to the theory of mind that Rene Descarte so famously proclaimed for us in the 17th Century, when he said “the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.” Today, the world's leading Embodied Cognition researchers, people like Benjamin K. Bergen, are showing us that the meaning-making processes that Dr. Kegan first pointed us toward are not simply cognitive processes in our minds. Instead, they're neurobiological activities that are housed in our brains and our bodies as "neurobiological schemas." Dr. Bergen, through his Embodied Simulation theories is showing us that because of these neurobiological schemas, our bodies are directly involved in our mind's meaning-making. Bergen shows us that it's our bodies and our brains together that craft what he calls "mental simulations" of actions that we've previously experienced, and that it's these embodied simulations that our minds reference while creating meaning. Evidently the precepts we create genetically and the meanings we develop conceptually are both linked to the physical experiences we've had while we're moving our bodies. Embodied Cognition's key assumption is that our bodies are never simply passive "tools" that simply serve our brains. Instead, our bodies and our brains are linked together into one system, and it's this one body/brain system that our minds use to form and activate our meaning-making.

  • Self-Directed Neuroplasticity is the third new field that's revolutionizing our understanding of adult development. It's a new science that's focused on exploring our ability to intentionally influence the neurobiological architecture that our brains and minds are constantly creating, disassembling and recreating. In the past, we thought that, once we were past adolescence, the architectural structure of our brains was fixed, stable. And that the prospect across most our lives was for the loss of functions and the reduction of capabilities. Today, Self-Directed Neuroplasticity is showing us that our brains are not fixed, that post adolescence their architectures are not deteriorating. In fact, we're learning that the brain is not a hardwired machine that eventually wears out. Instead, it's a highly adaptable, malleable, and dynamic organ, capable throughout our lives of generating new axons, dendrites, neurons, synapses, neurobiological connections and networks. Neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, who's working at UCLA's Brain Research Institute and its Brain Mapping Center, says it this way, “The brain has an almost boundless capacity for reshaping itself over the years, for adapting, for expanding its power, while accumulating knowledge and recording experiences. Modern neuroscience tells us that the aging brain is no longer a declining brain. Instead, it's a learning organ built for resilience and adaptation. One whose limits are still being explored." Put simply, Self-Directed Neuroplasticity is telling us that we can use our minds to change our brains, and we can also use our brains to change our minds.

Given the research I'm aware of, I think the base question that emerges out of these three new Mindset Architecture research fields is, "Which comes first, the mind we use to change our brains, or the brain we use to change our minds?"

Two of Self-Directed Neuroplasticity's favorite aphorisms offer an answer to this question that to me seems persuasive: The first aphorism is, "What I see is down to me." The second is, "Neurons that fire together wire together." For me, these two maxims suggest that the answer to the question of "Which comes first? is that the best place to start your adult development effort, especially one that's aimed at transforming your brain/minds' neuronal architecture, is the one that starts by using our minds to decide which is the best way to go about changing our brains.  

TLO's adult Development Arcs

Just below is TLO's "Developmental Arcs" graphic. I'm sharing it here because I believe it's a thinking tool we can use to help us use our minds to decide what the best ways of changing our brains are. 

if you study this "map," on its left side you'll see the "Neural Networks" column. In this column I've listed the seven architectural networks that I've concluded are our brain's key architectural components. Essentially, I'm suggesting that our brains' architecture is made up of at least seven pivotal neural networks; our Reality Network, our Causality Network, our Identity Network, and so on through the seventh and last network, our Theory of Mind Network. Given that this model is reasonably accurate, then we should be able to use it to decide which one of these seven neural networks is the best place for each of us to start a personal effort that's aimed at transforming our own brain's neural architecture. Deciding which specific neural network to focus our attention on is one way we can use our mind to change our brain. 

Study this graphic and see what you think. Do you agree?  Is the best way to start an adult development journey that's aimed at transforming an adult's neurobiological infrastructure best launched and orchestrated simply by deciding to "mindfully attend to" one of TLO's seven neural networks ?

We've devoted a lot of time and energy to the task we've just suggested you experiment with. So far its working for us. We're predicting that it will work for you too. If you do the research, we think you'll come to the same conclusion we have; the most effective way to launch transformative learning journeys is by using your mind's conceptual abilities to construct a model of your brain/mind's neurbiolocal components.

Exploring New Developments

Just above, we're suggesting our brain/mind's architecture has seven neurobiological components. Obviously, it's up to you to agree or disagree with this hypothesis. But, if you disagree, the Biopsychosocial, Embodied Cognition, and Self-Directed Neuroplasticity sciences that we've described just above suggest that, if you disagree, you should be able to use the insights and discoveries these three sciences have made available to us to develop your own architectural model of our brains and minds. Once you've developed your own model, you can decide which of your model's neurobiological networks you're going to work with.

After this, the big question obviously becomes, "What do we need to do to transform, in a positive direction, the neuronal network or networks we're trying to develop in order to progress through the mindset truces that Dr. Kegan has labeled our 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Orders of Consciousness?" What exactly do we do to spark neurobiological alterations in our brains and metacognitive thinking patterns in our minds so that there's developmental movement along the continuum that Dr. Kegan posted up as the progression from the Self-Sovereign Mind to the Self-Transforming Mind?