Our Natural Mind

Last February, in my TLO Blog "Seduced By Kegan," I wondered whether “those of us who are really serious about understanding and using Dr. Kegan’s adult development discoveries have let ourselves be seduced by the persuasive brilliance of his research.”

I acknowledged that for several years I had assumed that the insights Dr. Kegan offered us in his books were ipso facto true. Accordingly, I never bothered to subject any of his propositions to a little testing. 

In particular, I’d assumed that:

  • The “evolutionary truces” Kegan describes in his books in fact actually exist inside people’s minds as real levels of consciousness.
  • Most adults only move forward in their developmental efforts, naturally advancing from simple to more complex modes of thinking and feeling.
  • Most adults alive today are 3rd Order of Consciousness thinkers. They have a fully realized Socialized Mind, and faithfully reflect the beliefs and behaviors characteristic of this particular evolutionary truce.
  • In the U.S. today, a Socialized Mind is the normative mindset for most adults.
  • For most adults, progression from the 3rd Order of Consciousness to the 4th Order is their primary developmental challenge.

At the end of February’s blog, I offered three hypotheses that I thought were worth considering, even though they directly challenged the five assumptions I’ve just listed. Here are those contrarian hypotheses:

  • Adult development is neither natural nor automatic.
  • Adults do not only move forward in a slow and steady fashion, one evolutionary truce at a time, toward more sophisticated, and complex habits of mind.
  • Adult development, in fact, is rarely a one-way process moving inexorably upwards toward more sophisticated modes of thinking and feeling. Rather, in developmental terms, many adults are as likely to regress backwards as they are to evolve forward.

Today, in this blog, I want to offer seven additional contrarian hypotheses that question even more thoroughly the insights that Dr. Kegan has offered us. Here they are:

  • Most adults alive today are not stable 3rd Order thinkers. They have not fully realized a complete, deeply-rooted 3rd Order of Consciousness.
  • In the U.S. today, the "evolutionary balance" Dr. Kegan saw as a Socialized Mind is not a firmly entrenched neurobiological reality, and is therefore not necessarily the normative mindset for most adults in this country.
  • Perhaps the 2nd Order of Consciousness -- what various experts are now calling our Self-Sovereign Mind – is what those of us who are interested in adult development should see as many adults’ “default mindset.” Perhaps, in the face of the high levels of anxiety that seem to be present in U.S. today. the Self-Sovereign Mind is for an increasing number of adults the Order of Consciousness that is their Natural Mind.
  • The Natural Mind is the Order of Consciousness that most relies on the brain's hardwiring that links the amygdala and the limbic system together into a unified threat management system that creates certain prototypical beliefs, attitudes, and capabilities:
    • A limited ability to think symbolically.
    • A limited ability to use deductive and inductive reasoning.
    • A belief that reality is something that’s external, concrete, and solid.
    • A belief that individual adults are the center of all things.
    • A belief that other people are extensions of themselves, in this world to serve their interests.
    • A belief that the world is a threatening place that demands constant vigilance.
    • Impulsiveness, a preoccupation with their own perceptions, dispositions, and needs, and egocentric, autocratic, and punitive instincts.
  • If, in the U.S., a 2nd Order Self-Sovereign Mind is, for large numbers of adults,  becoming their normative mode of thinking, then moving from the 3rd Order of Consciousness to a 4th Order of Consciousness is NOT our primary adult development challenge.
  • Rather, in the environment we’re facing today, many adults' primary developmental challenge is going to be finding effective ways of resisting a regressive retreat from an unstable 3rd Order of Consciousness back into one or more aspects of their 2nd Order of Consciousness, what here in this blog we're calling their Natural Mind.
  • Consequently, for those interested in adult development, what should be our primary concern in today’s world is the Natural Mind.

In March, when these seven new hypotheses were first bubbling up, they surprised me. At the time, I wasn’t reading anything especially critical of adult development. I wasn’t researching any disturbing issues. Nor was I working with anyone on developmental issues that neither of us could fathom. So why, I wondered, was I becoming a Kegan critic?

For several weeks, I couldn’t figure out why I suddenly doubted developmental ideas that for years I’d presumed were perfectly valid. In fact, they were developmental premises that advanced a bias in favor of the need to develop 4th and 5th Orders of Consciousness that I believed in. What then was prompting me to write a February blog titled, "Seduced By Kegan"?

In April, I discovered the answer.


Donald Trump, especially his emergence as a powerful national politician, was what had caused me to doubt whether key adult development premises that I’d believed for so long were now insights that could no longer be trusted.

In the years prior to the start of the 2016 presidential primaries, I was aware of most of the research that was going on in the adult development field.

For example, I was aware of the 1994 study that documented the percentage of adults who were not 4th and 5th Order thinkers. I was aware of the compendium of thirteen studies that told us 59% of the adults studied had not reached the 4th Order of Consciousness. And I was aware of a study that said the biggest developmental challenge facing most West Point cadets was no how to find their way into a 4th Order of Consciousness. Rather, their challenge was how to find a way to move away from their “self-interest” (i.e., a Self-Sovereign Mind) toward thinking of themselves as being part of a community (i.e., a Socialized Mind). In short, I was aware of a range of studies that documented how rare 4th and 5th Orders of Consciousness were amongst the world’s most advantaged adults.

Despite being aware of these studies’ bias in favor of 4th and 5th Order thinking, I nonetheless actually failed to recognize how little these studies had said about the 3rd Order of Consciousness. More importantly, I completely missed their most implicit proposition; that our Natural Minds, the 2nd Self-Sovereign Order of Consciousness that Kegan had identified in 1984, was seemingly of little or no consequence in today’s world.

Last month was the first time I really looked at what I’d been ignoring.  What, despite all my research and reading, I’d carelessly passed over. In particular, I'd completely ignored the proposition that adult development’s most significant, though totally implicit, premise was that the 2nd Order of Consciousness was irrelevant in today’s 21st Century.

At the same time, I also realized that all throughout the 2015/16/17 primaries and the presidential election, I had gradually begun feeling that Donald Trump and his followers were a large group of adults who were fully captured by their 2nd Order of Consciousness. Trump and his angry followers were adults being guided and driven by the collective instincts and impulses of their Natural Minds.

Today, I believe President Trump and his followers are a group of adults who are unconsciously “embedded” in their impulses and their overarching personal perceptions, dispositions, needs, interests, and wishes. In very serious ways, they’re adults who are hardwired into acting-out of their egocentric, autocratic, and punitive impulses and perceptions which, when analyzed through an adult development lens, suggest they are captured by a fully realized 2nd Order of Consciousness. 

Currently, this is my sense of things.


Last April, when I finally discovered why I was questioning my own original assumptions about adult development, I realized I was starting a debate with myself about whether or not my long-standing bias in favor of encouraging clients develop their 4th and 5th Orders of Consciousness was entirely appropriate.

If it’s true that President Trump and his supporters are driven by their Natural Minds, and that, because of Trump’s presidential power and his followers ferocious energy, this group is fostering an environment in the United States that’s more prone to encouraging regressive responses amongst adults than it’s prone to promoting progressive movement, then perhaps the issue I should be most concerned with is helping 3rd Order adults become aware of and resistant to regression backwards towards their impulsive, egocentric, and punitive tendencies. 

At the very least, isn’t our best course of action to seek ways to help clients perceive the regressive pulls they’re experiencing in today’s environment? Shouldn’t we, where we can, at least help those adults who will let us, find ways to give voice to what they’re seeing and otherwise experiencing as vastly troublesome?

The fact that Trump won the Presidency, and while doing so, received 45.94% of all the eligible votes cast (69,985,106 votes out of the 137,100,229 votes cast) tells me this choice is worth considering. If President Trump is embedded in and acting out of his Natural Mind, and if he is simultaneously being championed by 70 million supporters who are likewise captured by their Natural Minds, then perhaps questioning the Elysian presumptions I outlined earlier in this blog is absolutely the right thing to do.

In the Trump era we're now in, might it not be true that helping those adults who are trying to resist the regressive pulls back into their 2nd Order Self-Sovereign tendencies will be at least as important as helping other more advantaged adults in their efforts to develop their 4th Orders of Consciousness and its Self-Authoring potentialities.