Chapter 3. Evo Devo Foresight: Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Biological and Psychological Evo Devo

Just as our bodies and brains evolve and develop, so too do our psychologies. They have evolutionary aspects that branch and experiment, making each of us unique, and developmental aspects that funnel and conserve, guiding the developing mind on a hierarchical progression that has universal features, statistically common to all of us. The better we understand psychological evo devo, the better we can manage our own psychologies, and relate to our clients and stakeholders.

One useful tool for eliciting both your own and your clients’ values is Crace and Brown’s Life Values Inventory. This is an online assessment that maps values across fourteen categories, and shows how they change over time. Knowing where a client is on a values map (values intelligence) can give you a great sense of where they may possibly, probably, or prefer to go next.

A classic model of moral development of values is Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six-Stage Theory of Moral Development. Kohlberg proposed that we grow through six stages in our mental relation to others: Obedience, Self-Interest, Personal Conformity, Social Authority, Social Contract, and Universal Ethics. Understanding where others presently are on Kohlberg’s stages can help you better relate to them, using their language, and empathizing with their world view. It is also helpful to know if a person is in a low state of moral development (pre-conventional, the first two stages). You can take extra care in your relations with such people, and protect yourself.

A model with less evidence but more popularity in the West, is psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Six-Stage Hierarchy of Needs Development. It proposes six roughly hierarchical needs that are sought after in psychological development: Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Love and Belonging Needs, Esteem Needs, Self-Actualization Needs, and Self-Transcendence (Higher Purpose) Needs. Philosopher Turil Cronberg offers a speculative expansion of Maslow’s hierarchy (picture right).

image061Another noteworthy but less evidence-based model is Spiral Dynamics, an Eight Stage Theory of Cultural Values Development. It proposes that cultures, and sometimes even organizations, grow through Survival, Clan, Egocentric, Purposeful, Strategic, Relativistic, Systemic, and Holistic value systems as they develop experience and wisdom. See Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (2005) for an overview, and ideas on how to use it your foresight practice.

With all such abstract models, it is easy to propose more developmental structure than actually exists. But efforts like this move us in the right direction at least, and we can expect all such developmental models to be more rigorously tested and quantitated in coming years. In the meantime, knowing which needs your client is currently pursuing, and having good models of reasonable hierarchies, whether or not you find them rigorous, can greatly improve your psychological insights.

Again, these hierarchies would be roughly statistical, if these models are valid. The evolutionary component would show up in some variation in the hierarchies based on unique individuals and cultures.

For example, returning to Maslow’s hierarchy, we know that more collectivist societies including many in the East, tend to raise individuals who seek self-transcendence (realization that there are higher purposes, and more “meaningful” complex systems than the self, including human society, the biosphere, the universe, and spiritual practice) above self-actualization. Individualist societies, by contrast, including many in the West, tend to raise individuals who do the reverse, preferring self-actualization as their highest aspiration, and only rarely seeing the value of self-transcendence. In fact they may confuse self-transcendence with simpler, social belonging-based values like loyalty and patriotism.

Various stages in these hierarchies can compressed to some degree, but attempts to skip them entirely can be easily seen as dysfunctional, and disruptive to normal psychological development. For example, it is a common saying in religious communities that one should first feed and clothe a person if you expect to minister to them about self-transcendence. But there are several developmental steps between these two states that need to be properly attended to as well. The practices of some religions and philosophies seek to skip, or at least minimize time spent, in these transitional levels. A number of these clearly involve a pathological short-circuiting, where the believer denies the value of all the intermediate levels, for themselves, their friends, and the world. Think of all the cults of self-denial, like the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, and the Family, cults that have captivated people who feel spiritual emptiness, or who are not very successful with interim levels like love and belonging, self-esteem, or self-actualization, in their current social environments. Cowan and Bromley’s Cults and New Religions (2007) offers an instructive overview of eight recent dysfunctional religious philosophies, and the people they prey upon.

Notice now that the further one travels up these evo devo hierarchies, the more one moves from psychological needs (developmental factors critical to our mental health) into values (normative preferences, or choices). In the future, we may expect to get much better at distinguishing between these two, and ordering both into rough hierarchies, seeking to begin with needs and end with values. The higher one travels up a needs-to-values hierarchy, the less developmental predictability and the more evolutionary experimentation one should find, both for individuals and populations. In other words, the base of any needs-to-values pyramid should be mostly blue, and the top mostly green. Fortunately, as per capita wealth grows, we all tend to think more about values (free choices) than needs, as long as those needs are being satisfied. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that we’ll make adaptive values choices. Values experimentation grows as wealth grows, and many poor choices are made on the way to greater adaptiveness.

In the tradition of Maslow, let me offer two speculative needs-to-values pyramids, one for individuals and one for societies. They are presented without evidence, merely to spark your thinking about needs and values in both individual and social terms.

If needs and values hierarchies like these are to be validated in the future, we must find values sets that are typically individual and cultural choices (low probability, in green above), needs sets that are mostly universals (high probability, in blue above), and “near-needs”, values in the middle that are a more even mix of need and choice (intermediate probability, in black above). We should find robust individual and cultural variations in the rankings, by life-hours spent at each step, yet statistical bounds on that variability, with rankings and path being predictably dependent on adaptive context. For one famously predictable example, safety (individual) and loyalty (social) needs gain greatly in relative importance during perceived crises, then subside as the crisis passes.

Personal Needs and Values Social Needs and Values
Values (Self-Actualization)

7. Self-Knowledge, Self-Transcendence

6. Creativity, Innovation

5. Education, Individuation, World View

4. Personal Effort, Meaningful Work

3. Freedoms, Rights, and Privacy
2. Self-Esteem, Self-Care, Self-Integrity
(Basic Personal Mental Needs)

1. Physiologic Needs, Safety, Health
(Basic Personal Bodily Needs)

Values (Social-Actualization)

7. Scientific Understanding, Rationality, Critique
6. Social Justice, Concern for the Environment

5. Spirituality, Higher Purpose

4. Success, Financial Prosperity

3. Responsibility, Duty to Society
2. Belonging and Loyalty to Family or Group
(Basic Social Mental Needs)
1. Love (Empathy for Others), Belonging
(Basic Social Bodily Needs)

In constructing these pyramids, I came to the reluctant realization that self-knowledge and science are today merely experimental choices, for individuals and cultures, and those choices are still in fierce evolutionary competition with other values. This is true even though these values are critical to personal, org, global, and universal foresight.

In this model, we haven’t yet evolved to need any of the green values, on deep emotional and cognitive levels, even though they all offer immense adaptive value. Some of us presently make these values choices, and others don’t, due to upbringing, chance, or the limitations of our culture.

But the more intimately we share our lives with our personal sims in coming years, the more we can expect values that most grow adaptive intelligence, values like self-knowledge and science, as well as the other green values above, to become future needs. They will be as fundamental to the late 21st century human’s developmental psychology as current needs like air, food, shelter, self-esteem, love, belonging, and others in blue above. Since genetic engineering to change the psychological nature of biological humans will likely remain both far too difficult and ethically perilous in this century, it will be our personal sims that most deeply express this psychological need. They will hunger for ever greater intelligence, in a way we don’t yet appreciate.

As humanity learns to expand our set of needs higher up this pyramid, this will add new constraints to our behavior and morality. These constraints in turn will allow a new set of values (experimental normative choices) to emerge on top of these needs, further growing the pyramid. Our existing needs and values surely emerged in this kind of trial and error process. We are always balancing evolution and development.

For more on values, Adler’s The Great Ideas (1992) and How to Think About the Great Ideas (2000) are both great overviews of the kinds of things we choose to care about across all cultures.

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