Episode 3: Saving the World Requires a Worldview feat. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, PhD
Saving the World Requires Taking a Worldview feat. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, PhD, Author of Integral Ecology & CEO of Metaintegral.
Episode 03: Show Notes
Our guest today is Dr. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens. While his job title is not “Wizard”, he sure seems like one to me. You might remember last week when we heard about how awe can elevate us to a big-picture perspective that helps us make mind maps of complex relationships in the environment. The suggestion is that we could use this awe-induced state to transcend to a more sophisticated, globally-minded, prosocial approach to world problems. Now imagine someone who's taken on the job of helping world leaders do just that.
As one of the world's leading experts on Integral Theory, he founded the field of Integral Ecology, and is CEO of the business consultancy MetaIntegral. Sean has published many articles on applying the integral model to a wide range of topics, including education, ecology, sustainable development, the science and religion debate, and consciousness studies. Tune in today as we dive deeper into the concepts of the integral theory, how it is applied to the study of ecology, and the importance of welcoming multiple viewpoints in studying culture. Consider yourself warned. You're about to enter the land of Oz.
Key Points From This Episode:
• Understanding integral theory as an interdisciplinary framework.
• The four quadrant dimensions of integral theory.
• The AQAL Model; navigating through a lot of overwhelming complexity.
• Examples of integral ecology applied; finding common ground.
• Separating individuals into different levels of thinking.
• The drivers behind thinking levels; the science of developmental psychology.
• Finding the balance between support and learning to face new challenges.
• Benefits of a 360 interview in a business context; adoption a growth mindset.
• How to integrate interiority into ecological science.
• The impact of women primatologists in the study of interiority of animals.
• Importance of welcoming multiple viewpoints in studying cultures.
• How emotions of nonhuman animals can help solve world issues.
• Expanding your worldview through contact and exposure.
• And much more!
“This whole move towards a conscious business is really requiring business leaders to be able to navigate levels of complexity.” — @sesbjornhargens [0:39:43.0]
“There are a lot of approaches out there that highlight that animals have interiorities, but ecology is not one of them.” — @sesbjornhargens [0:44:36.0]
“A lot of animals have as rich of an emotional interior life as we do, even though it can be quite different.” — @sesbjornhargens [0:56:39.0]
“We need also be really aware that a lot of the organisms and animals that are part of our ecosystems are thinking, feeling beings.” — @sesbjornhargens [1:00:13.0]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Awe in the Raw – https://www.katherinelockhart.com/podcast/
Dr. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens — https://www.linkedin.com/in/sean-esbj%C3%B6rn-hargens-51a7486/
Sean on Twitter — https://twitter.com/sesbjornhargens
MetaIntegral — https://metaintegral.org//
Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz — https://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-Brain-Revolutionary-Understanding-Addiction/dp/1250116449
Michael Zimmerman — http://www.colorado.edu/envs/michael-zimmerman
Marc Bekoff — http://marcbekoff.com/
EPISODE 03: TRANSCRIPT
[0:00:11.4] KL: You’re listening to Awe in the Raw, I’m your host, non-fiction author, Kate Lockhart. This show lifts the curtain on natures quiet dance with the human mind as I take you through the process of researching and planning my next book and what I reveal is pretty risqué. That is, if you’re a nerd like me, who gets off on interviews with scientists, authors, artists and trailblazers, all asking the burning question: ‘How can we live more happily connected to nature, ourselves and each other?’ Yeah, I know, it sounds pretty corny actually but it may just be the most revolutionary idea of our times.
Stick around and you’ll overhear wildly diverse conversations, positive psychology, neuroscience, integral ecology, animal rights, non-violence, addiction, thrill-seeking, enlightenment, oppression and futurism in abundance. Every season will explore a different angle for a new book with an episode released every Friday for you weekend pleasure. This season we tease out the power and promise of awe. I recommend you start at Episode 01.
And now away we go.
[0:01:23.4] KL: This show happens for you and because of you, so my warm thanks goes out to everyone who supports it through subscribes, views, shares and donations. If you also enjoy the content, consider hitting the subscribe button on Pod Catcher, It’s a free and easy way to say “Hey, keep up the good work.” And if you want to play a larger part in running the show, head to patriot.com/katelockhart. Where your pledge of a dollar an episode buys quality editing for the show and exclusive monthly Q&A’s for you. Win win, is good good.
[0:02:02.1] SEH: “With a lot of executives and founders I work with, the pain point is what we call this complexity gap, that complexity of what they're facing as a business leader is bigger than the complexity of their own personal capacity to navigate. The world around them is more complex than their mind is able to deal with in a sense.
Part of my work is to close that complexity gap in the sense of increasing their capacity to hold more cognitive complexity, more emotional complexity, and more interpersonal complexity. Part of what's beautiful about integral theory and integral approaches is a look for how might we create institutions and dynamics and systems that are conveyor belts that kind of create conditions of growth and development so that adults can continue to expand the range of meaning-making that they available to them and do so in a healthy way.”
[0:02:58.3] KL: That's Dr. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, our guest today. While his job title is not Wizard, he sure seems like one to me. You might remember last week when we heard about how awe can elevate us to a big-picture perspective that helps us make mind maps of complex relationships in the environment. The suggestion is that we could use this awe-induced state to transcend to a more sophisticated, globally-minded, prosocial approach to world problems. Now imagine a dude who's taken on the job of helping world leaders do just that. Like a one-man wonder machine. Is that not a wizard? Alright, yes, the man does have a real-world title, and he is an incredibly down-to-earth and gracious person.
As one of the world's leading experts on Integral Theory, he founded the field of Integral Ecology, and is CEO of the business consultancy MetaIntegral. Sean has published many articles on applying the integral model to a wide range of topics, including education, ecology, sustainable development, the science and religion debate, and consciousness studies. American Philosopher and Integral Theory founder Ken Wilber observes: "I think next to me, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens has done more for Integral Theory on this planet than anybody I can think of."
This sentiment is echoed by integral theorist Clint Fuhs when he says, "Sean is an integral institution unto himself. In fact, his beautiful spirit and unremitting drive could be easily indicated along with Ken as having done the most to serve the emergence of the integral vision." And now, consider yourself warned. You're about to enter the land of Oz.
[0:04:58.3] SEH: “I think of integral theory as an interdisciplinary framework that allows us to bring together data points from a lot of different fields of knowledge and understanding, and in a world of increasing fragmentation it’s a very valuable map because it helps orient us to how might we bring insights from lots of different domains together to help us tackle the complex, even multidimensional challenges we face.
So I’ll often emphasize interdisciplinary nature, sometimes I might talk about the four quadrants, which are very iconic for integral theory, which simply put are; the behavioral dimension, the psychological dimension, the cultural dimension, and the systems dimension. How might we weave those together and what are the various disciplines scientific, artistic, social sciences and so forth that can be connected to those four domains?
The challenges we’re facing are so complex that kind of the silver bullet approach, the one-size-fits-all approach doesn't really cut it and most cases. You see trend in many contexts, not just within the confines of integral theory, but in many areas where there is an integrative orientation of like how do we bring together behavioral studies with cultural insights, with emotional dynamics, with systems, input-output, feedback loops. So integral theory gives a map of how you might begin that process.
I’ll often talk about integral theory as being approached in three ways. The first is as a map. This is like a map that helps us do this integration. The second is that it’s a framework for people from different fields to be able to come together, and because they share this framework, the distinct integral theory, the model, the different lenses and elements that make up the integral theory, that then they can compare notes and they can have a conversation that they couldn’t otherwise have because they’re sharing a framework and that framework supports kind of cross-disciplinary engagement and exploration.
That's more like in the intersubjective space, whereas the map is more like an objective map of like, “Here’s reality. This is what it looks like. Here's where these different kind of components come together or don’t.” Then the third area is it’s a practice. It’s an inquiry process. It’s a way of exploring your own awareness and your own embodiment.”
[0:07:32.3] KL: This kind of explanation reminds me of the beginning of a math class. It feeds you a lot of abstract definitions of properties and rules, ones you might sort of grasp, but still leave you asking, "Yeah, so what? What are you even talking about, really?" What he's saying, really, is that people approach problem-solving, and life, from different perspectives. You and I both operate from these multiple perspectives that are always available within each of us. Integral Theory simply states this fact in concrete terms, and says that all of those perspectives are partially right. This way, if everyone agrees on the simple fact that hey, you're coming from this point of view, and I'm coming from this one, and we all have a legitimate truth to offer, then it's easier to leap past the right and wrong trap and toward understanding.
[0:08:23.1] SEH: “For me, this is really why I love integral theory because you can use it as a map. You can use it as a framework. You can use it as a set of practices to work with your own growth and development. I think that's one of things that really appeals to a lot of people on is to have kind of a comprehensive overview of reality that not just helps you orient in any given problem, but helps you have generative conversations with people that have different disciplinary backgrounds, because if you're biologist, you speak biology. If you're a linguist, you speak linguistics, and so you speak two different disciplinary languages and so it's not always easy to have a conversation about complex issues that need the inside of both of your disciplines. So having a framework can really help have important conversations, and then it's also a way of working with your own embodied awareness and cultivating your own integrated consciousness.”
[0:09:19.8] KL: “Exactly. I think that that's why I got so excited about it because I feel like I spent many years searching for a career path that didn't exist. I'd be looking at all these college programs and they were so defined in departments and interdisciplinary was not cool. There's just so much infighting between departments and that kind of thing and it didn't seem like until even maybe five years ago that it started — I mean maybe 10 years it was clearly coming into vogue more and more in the mainstream, but now it's just unavoidable. It's just the reality. We are in an integral global society and we have to have some kind of common language in order to understand all of these complex things that are going on. That's something that I just love. It's saying, "Hey, here's the tool. Here is one tool that we can use to really translate what's happening."
[0:10:23.5] SEH: “Yeah. Another way of understanding integral theory is it highlights these five patterns that identify, that show up over and over again. The first pattern is this notion of quadrants, which we touched on a little bit, that everything has a behavioral dimension, a psychological dimension, a cultural dimension and a systemic dimension. That's a pattern you see over and over again. Then there're levels of complexity within those domains. There's different lines of development, different elements that can develop over time in each of those domains. There're also different states; there's economic states, there's brains states, there is emotional states, there's group states. There's different states or phases that show up in those four domains.
There're also different types. There's types of government, there's types of body, there's blood types, there's types of meditative experiences, there's types of religions. These kind of elements, the integral elements, there’s five of them; quadrants, levels, states and types, essentially is kind of like the short list of make sure you're including these elements in whatever you're doing, because if you're not, you're probably leaving out a really big important part of reality. It's like this checklist to kind of see what am I integrating, what am I leaving out, what should I be looking for? Integral theory is really useful for a lot of people because it helps you do pattern recognition and find these patterns in environmental studies, and healthcare, and coaching, and medicine. It's a really useful way of kind of navigating through a lot of overwhelming complexity.”
[0:12:02.3] KL: These 5 elements are simplified categories of all that is. The ways we can look at how relating, behaving, and thinking-feeling develop. They are often referred to as the AQAL model — All Quadrants, All Levels. And yes, you shrewd listener, you, AQAL trails off before adding the last 3 elements - all lines, all states, all types. But I guess that would be AQALALASAT and probably defeat the simplifying purpose of the thing. So let's just go with AQAL for now.
[0:12:37.7] KL: “Yeah. One of the points of the AQAL model that you just touched on was the levels, which seems to really make sense to me right away. Especially in the personal interior kind of realm where we're talking about what's going on inside of each one of us individually and in interiority and that I could trace — I knew child development and all of the things that it's modeled after, recognizing that we go through state levels and stages of development, and this happens throughout our lives from the human lifespan, but also through the ages as humans evolving on earth.
That part I found incredibly fascinating because it starts to make sense of, really, what are these conflicts that we're coming up against in modern life and what have they been in history? Do you find that you focus on that a lot in your studies and research with ecology? Is it something that factors in or is it more of the quadrants where you're looking at it from different cultural societal personal perspectives?”
[0:14:05.9] SEH: “Yeah, I probably use the quadrant framework and the levels framework equally as much as the other. I find them both pretty indispensable. Especially in environmental studies, in ecology and looking at animals and the qualities and capacities of awareness, if you look at the cultural wars that we find around us between traditional kind of religious orientations, to kind of scientific entrepreneurial orientations, to more multicultural globalists, postmodern orientations. A lot of the suffering and challenges in our world are the result of these three value systems clashing. We see that in ecology, in environmental studies, in many respects as well and each of those value sets defines nature and relates the nature very differently.”
[0:15:01.8] KL: The levels of human development run the gamut from infancy to old age, but not everyone makes it up to the next level. So many individuals, cultures, and societies plateau at a level that normally appears fairly early on in life. For instance, the terrible twos represent an infamous level of human development defined by egocentrism. These toddlers are hungry to express themselves and escape domination at any cost, unconstrained by consequences or impulse control. Notice how this sounds like a lot of adults we know? Perhaps some world leaders, even?
As far as integral theory goes, this is the premodern, egocentric level marked by the color red. Like all the levels, it's an essential stage for everyone to move through, so there's no point in quashing it--otherwise it can turn into pathology in adulthood. Assuming we get through that, we move into an ethnocentric, law and order kind of level that's concerned with right and wrong, loyalty, duty, and the one true way. It's considered premodern, mythical, and its color is blue. Fundamentalist religion thrives here. Beyond that we get to the mental, rational level defined by autonomy, change, abundance, innovation, and competition. It's considered modern, and is orange.
In the language of integral business consulting, this is the home of advanced linear thinking. The level that comes next moves from the modern to the postmodern. Pluralistic and sensitive, it looks for harmony and consensus, liberation from greed and dogma. It is green and often considered the home of the Politically Correct, or early systems thinking. Beyond that we see a warp speed development to the world-centric, integral level that demands flexibility and open systems. It holds paradox easily and all life preciously, and seeks self-interest without harm to others.
This stage is teal, the advanced systems thinking. And one of the highest and least known levels is the holistic, cosmocentric level that sees self as part of a larger, connected whole, and less as more. It is minimalist, harmonizing, collective, postmodern, and identified as turquoise. This is principled thinking.
[0:17:24.1] SEH: "Some of the most interesting examples of integral ecology applied really are the result of people working with those different value systems and communities or out of state level and finding a way of interfacing with them, helping them appreciate the insights of the other value systems and finding the common ground between them. It's not really until you include the interiorities of people and communities and cultures and value systems that I feel we start to make the progress around kind of finding common ground and making next steps on these complex environmental issues.
Then the other areas that if you think of complexity, and this draws on a lot of the work I do as a business consultant, I work with a framework that comes from Lectica, which is an organization that uses vertical developments as a basis for several assessments that they have. A simple version of what they do is they help track adult development at the levels of advanced linear thinking, early systems thinking, advanced systems thinking and what they call principal thinking. 60% of the adult population is at advanced linear thinking. 30% is at early systems thinking. Only about 8 or 9% is at advanced systems thinking. Only about 1% is at principal, which is a kind of integrated mode of awareness and cognition.
When you look at our environmental problems, most of them are so complex that they really required advance systems thinking and even principal thinking, but given that 60% of the adult population’s at advanced linear thinking, they're not even able to perceive the environmental challenges in their fullness. They can see aspects of it and they can be concerned and responsive to that, but even early systems thinking doesn't give you a full orientation and grasp of the multiple layers and dynamics that are happening. The way systems, multiple systems, are interfacing with cultural dynamics, interfacing with emotional dynamics and behavioral tendencies and habits.
It's like to really grasp and be able to work skillfully and identify the leverage points in those issues, you generally need the very minimal early systems thinking, but you really mostly need advanced systems thinking. So a lot of what I do is like how do we support people to cultivate that? How do we go from advanced linear to early systems thinking? Or if they had early systems thinking, how do we help push them into advanced systems thinking?”
[0:19:57.2] KL: “I'm wondering if we can put it into some more concrete terms, like what's a good example that you've come across in terms of these levels? Because it sounds to me like they're exactly mirroring what the AQAL levels might look like where we're talking about the mental, sort of rational versus more of the sensitive, the green meme moving on. Egocentric, ethnocentric, world-centric, cosmo-eccentric, is that similar?”
[0:20:30.0] SEH: Yeah. If you think of something like climate change, there are some ways to look at climate change and understand it and there's a lot of conflicting data and perspective. Whether you're talking to an oceanographer, or a meteorologist, or a biologist, or ecologist, or social scientist, that there are so many different contributing factors that it's such a complex system that we can't really see climate change, it's very abstract. There are some concrete things, like the temperature, hotter days. We've had a heat wave here in California, but it's not even really fair to say, "That's climate change." There can be connections, but it's not as straightforward.
The advanced linear thinking would just say, "Oh, it's been a hotter heat wave, so therefore there's this kind of causal link between this temperature wave and climate change.” Or they say, "I'm not seeing any real temporal changes in my area, so climate change is not happening." You get these really simplistic arguments about whether climate change is or has been happening from an advanced linear thinking where they're just trying to connect the dots, and if they're not able to connect the dots, they can't see the phenomenon.
Whereas early systems thinking, it starts to be able to work with a single system and multiple variables in that system, and so they might be looking mostly at kind of climatology as a system and trying to understand the trends over different periods of time to see what's happening and what are the natural cycles, versus kind of maybe the human influence cycles. It starts to factor in more variables, but even early systems thinking can really only work with a single system at any given time. They might be able to look at the climate system and then to look at the economic system and look at what are some of the drivers of creating CO2 emissions and how that might then create feedback loops into the climate.
They kind of shift from system to system and think systemically about different systems, but they have a hard time holding two systems together at the same time being able to track multiple variables in each system across longer and longer periods of time. The advanced systems thinking can do that. The climate system, they can think of the economic system, they can think of the cultural system. They can think of multiple kind of environmental systems; the water cycle, the emissions dynamics, the biodiversity and the deforestation. They can hold multiple systems and track multiple variables in those systems.
So you can start to see that to really understand the complexity of climate change and what might be the good next steps, especially when you're bringing in all the cultural dynamics with large groups of people seeing it one way and another group seen at another way any you can't just point to the scientific system and say, "This is the data." Data is getting interpreted and filtered and enacted through the cultural lenses of a modern orientation, a postmodern orientation, a traditional or evangelical orientation. You really need advanced systems thinking to be able to understand the cultural systems that's interfacing with the scientific data in the different kind of ecological systems and the interpretive dynamics, the methodological dynamics, the epistemological dynamics.
You're having to track a lot more of that, and so approaches to complex issues, like climate change, will just zero in on kind of some crucial factors, but there are so many other crucial factors that then they have a really incomplete picture and then they're just banging on their particular set of insights, which are crucial, but the need to be set alongside the sets of insights that are coming from these other major orientations.
[0:24:28.5] KL: And be held together in a way where not one of them is given primacy.
[0:23:33.0] SEH: Or they can be given primacy, but you need to be transparent with, ideally, transparent with what are the criteria that you're using to elevate one set of insights or data points in front of another set? This is one of the big differences between a postmodern orientation, which would be, "Let's get all the perspectives on the table and let's see what happens."
[0:24:58.3] KL: That thing I just said there to Sean, assuming that no perspective would be given primacy is a perfect example of an early systems, green level thinking. Surely everyone's perspective gets equal value, right? Wrong. The pitfall here is that nothing gets accomplished if everything is treated with exact weight. Some aspects of a problem are going to be more relevant in the solution than others. But if those tailored solutions are applied without taking all other perspectives into account, they're going to fail. It's a veritable magic act.
[0:25:32.0] SEH: The integrative move is that, plus saying, "Alright," and this is principled thinking. This is where the principal thinking comes in, because then it identifies meta-principles, design principles, or guiding orientations that then allow you to organize that data along particular trajectories. They can be scientific, they can be ethical, they can be related to a particular government and certain economic dynamics that are happening. There can be really a lot of good criteria by which to kind of make judgments and assessments around that. But it's not easy and it requires collaboration with viewpoints that are usually different than one's own.
This process of taking perspectives, seeking perspectives and then coordinating perspectives is I think one of the things that integral theory provides. It provides a set of methodologies around how you might go about that, because we need to be better at coordinating perspectives that are coming from either different cultural value systems or different scientific disciplines. People don't get along very well.
[0:26:38.5] KL: As we're finding out. How do some people end up being in one sort of level of thinking versus another? What determines — What are the drivers of that? Obviously, this is your work, where you're trying to figure out how you get people to the next. I'm thinking of Ken Wilber's way of saying transcend and include, meaning that any level that we're going through, it's almost like we have to hit each level as we make progress to a more advanced systems thinking and that type of thing, but we don't get rid of it and we don't say, "This other way of thinking that we're leaving is wrong." We say, "Okay, we recognize that this is definitely a legitimate way of thinking of things in a worldview and we're going to move on and see what we can add to it, to the conversation." How does that actually play out? How do people wind up where they're at?
[0:27:44.8] SEH: Yeah. It's a great question. The science of developmental psychology, which is one of the core sources for us being able to kind of engage that question is just a little bit over a hundred years old. There's a lot of data. We do have some good insights into that dynamic. At the same time, it really is still a mystery.
[0:28:07.8] KL: This is where awe comes back into the conversation, or at least where I want to insert it. In essence, the work of our amazing guest here is to find ways of elevating a person or culture from one level of development to the next. Integral Theory has found that self-awareness and mindfulness practices act as conveyer belts up the developmental beam. If nature and awe enhance self-reflection and mindfulness, couldn't they also elevate adult development to higher levels and worldviews?
[0:28:48.8] SEH: Just to give one example, they've done these cross-cultural studies where they look at young kids who are in conditions that are abhorrent. They're not loved, there are challenges, there’s abuse, there’s drug use, and it's like the most suboptimal set of conditions you can imagine for the development of someone who's emotionally grounded and cognitively capable and interpersonally able to interact in a mature way. You would think, given those conditions, that they would probably be very developmentally challenged in those areas, and they find that kids in difficult situations often turn out to be very mature and capable, and then kids who are in the most loving homes, with all the resources, all the conditions that you would think would be supportive of optimal development emotionally in a person cognitively, and they often turn out problematic.
It just leaves developmentalists kind of scratching their head like, "What's going on here?" I think it highlights that it's much more complex than we might realize. I think there are important family dynamics and environmental conditions. There's no doubt that in many cases those are core drivers, right? Even though we can't across the board say, “Someone in a bad home is going to not be able to develop along this trajectory and someone in a good home will.” There's also your personality and kind of your type, and you can think of [inaudible 0:27:19.8] or just other kind of typology systems that factors into it.
[0:30:23.3] KL: Hold the presses. This makes me think of the emerging research on addiction as a learning disorder. Author Maia Szalavitz describes what that looks like in her book, Unbroken Brain. My ridiculously simplified synopsis here is that we have two drivers of learning. The pleasure of wanting, primarily fueled by the brain chemical dopamine, and the pleasure of getting, primarily rewarded by the opioid brain chemicals endorphins and enkephalins. Which kicks in hinges on whether we view the situation as novel or not. We can't learn until we first identify whether or not we know the material.
If we recognize the information, then we are signaled to ignore it so we can focus on any incoming novelty on the horizon. When novelty appears, we are hyper-focused on it in order to to understand it. This triggers dopamine, the brain drug that keeps us on the hunt. We're amped up, we're excited, we're on top of the world even. This is the sensation that stimulant-seeking crackheads and speed-freaks get. Likewise, when we recognize familiarity, we are rewarded with endorphins and enkephalins. These brain chemicals give us a sense of wellbeing, calm, safety. The womblike feelings mimicked by depressants such as heroine and alcohol. But I digress.
The curious thing here is novelty. When Sean mentions that chaotic families can raise kids that become cognitively capable, mature adults, it makes me wonder if they get this way in part because they are constantly met with novelty and engaged in learning processes. Not to ignore the tragic fact that a chaotic or abusive home will mix up a kid's learning-induced dopamine releases with trauma and increase the chances that the kid becomes an addict. But what if there's a silver lining?
If you recall what Dr. Shiota said in Episode 2, how awe challenges our tolerance for ambiguity, you might be wondering if the saving grace in these kids' lives is a predisposition to experience awe, and thus a more sophisticated, developed worldview. It would explain why my chaotic upbringing produced an addict and an integralist at the same time.
[0:32:36.8] SEH: I actually feel that some of it has to do with your soul and kind of you are coming into this world and kind of the challenges and opportunities that your soul is wanting to be able to experience and go through. We do know that there is this trajectory that at certain ages, like if someone is in a healthy growth trajectory, that at certain ages they tend to move out of one set of values and into another set of values.
Some of those are related to just the kinds of experiences that come with those ages. Some of that's culturally specific, though the developmental models are holding up across culture. They've done a lot of research to show that the core trajectory holds up even though a lot of the particulars can look very different. Robert Keegan, I think, nails it. He's a developmental psychologist from Harvard. Looking over our heads, one of the things he points out is that you need a lot of support and a lot of challenge. Often, development seems to be the result of someone having, I call it 100% support, 100% percent challenge. If they have too much challenge they just kind of often shut down in the face of it.
If they just have too much support, there's no kind of catalyst for the growth and development. This kind of combination of going through life in a way where you get a lot of support and love and care and mirroring and a lot of challenge and critique and invitation to step up to the plate and balance of kind of being in a life trajectory where you're getting a good combination of those two kind of elements. In that process, what happens is you take something that you can't see, which is subject to you, you spin it around and you make it an object of awareness. What this support and challenge does is it helps you see what you're embedded in.
The real driver for growth and moving through these levels of development is constantly in overtime being in positions where what you were not able to see, because you're embedded in that, like certain believe system, certain kind of habits and patterns of thinking, certain emotional dynamics, over identifying with certain kinds of emotions and dis-identifying with others. By seeing that, by that being pointed out, which is pointed out often through a support and challenge, it becomes an object of awareness and then your awareness can operate on it, and then no longer would I call driving the bus.
So I see this in the contemplative traditions. They basically point to the same mechanism that meditation, yoga and all the things that are kind of associated with the contemplative path are different practices for taking what’s subject and making an object. Both the contemplative traditions of the psychological and therapeutic traditions are essentially pointing to the same mechanism, that you have to take what you're embedded in, kind of what you can't see and then bring it out to what you can see. In the business context, we have to think of this is a 360 where you do a 360 interview where you basically take a leader and then you interview all the people around them so that they can see what they're not seeing. They can see that they're reactive more often than they realize and it's shutting down key in the relationships in the team. So then they're aware of that and then they can start working on that they have if they have a growth mindset.
Now, people often kind of plateau out at different levels and they stay at that level for the rest of their life. We see that would a large, 60%, 70%, being at a kind of traditional orientation, 40% being at — Kind of a 35% being a scientific modern perspective, and then 35, 20 of the 30 in a postmodern perspective, and there's like 5 to 10 at kind of an in integral perspective. Part of what's beautiful about integral theory and integral approaches is they look for how might we create institutions and dynamics and systems that are conveyor belts that kind of create conditions of growth and development so that adults can continue to expand the range of meaning-making that they available to them and do so in a healthy way?
[0:37:04.5] KL: It's fascinating to me because it clearly — Yeah, mindfulness and awareness, non-attachment, these things that are very Buddhist and Eastern philosophy, that those continue, we keep coming back to them as being one of the crucial aspects of personal growth, generally well-being in people and you really gave it a really great — You really described it really well for me and just thinking about it is, it's bringing awareness to it. You can't do anything until you're aware of it. For some people, it's going to be about meditating in order to get to that next level. But like you mentioned in business, it's a different situation. You probably aren't giving people, having these guided meditations with the whole staff. But you can do this 360 exercise where they can see things as if they were contemplating it from a more mindful point of view.
[0:38:09.6] SEH: Just to add another piece here. In the business context on with a lot of executives and founders I work with, the pain point is what we call this complexity gap, that complexity of what they're facing as a business leader is bigger than the complexity of their own personal capacity to navigate. The world around them is more complex than their mind is able to deal with in a sense. A lot of my work is to close that complexity gap in the sense of increasing their capacity to hold more cognitive complexity, more emotional complexity, and more interpersonal complexity.
Because more and more in the business environments, people are having to deal with more stakeholders or they're having to be more accountable in ways that were not true even 10 years ago. There's market diversification. There's more international dynamics. There're more global trends. You need more cognitive complexity. You need more emotional complexity to stay present in the face of the stress and pressure, and then you need more capacity to interact interpersonally. Seek out mentors, reflect back to people what's valuable for them, where was the breakdown in communication, how can you tend to that?
Because with more and more multi-stakeholder in our business orientation, and so that requires business as usual to be more attuned and sensitive to different viewpoints, different emotional dynamics, different needs, different perspectives. This whole move towards a conscious business is really requiring business leaders to be able to navigate levels of complexity that were not even thinkable 10 years ago.
[0:39:56.7] KL: And that's your job in an essence. You are going in there to be that that guide or to give guidance to that process, it sounds like.
[0:40:04.5] SEH: To help them more be integral.
[0:40:09.6] KL: Good luck with that, sir.”
[0:40:12.6] KL: Yep. Just what I thought. Sir Wizard.
[0:40:30.6] KL: It is really amazing, and I really want to kind of tie this back into ecology because a business is just a wonderful way of getting kind of a grasp on what this thing we're even talking about is because most people can relate to that. I'm thinking about Integral Ecology, your megatome on integral ecology of which it's really this seminal work. It's a textbook in what integral ecology is means, and it's amazing, first of all.
You co-wrote it with Michael Zimmerman, and one of the things that I noticed right away is that the forward was actually by Marc Bekoff who is an incredible animal cognition emotional scientist. He's dedicated his life to really moving the ball forward on getting people to understand that, yes, animals have emotions and cognition.
It was interesting to me to see that he was in a part of this project that you're talking about, because he brings this other perspective into it completely talking about how almost animals are on this path as well. They're sort of going through their own development and we can't actually reach higher developments until we recognize that they have these abilities as well. Is that the right interpretation? What was your take on that?
[0:42:06.8] SEH: Yeah, and I think that's well said. It was actually really important to me to get Marc to write the forward. I was so happy when he agreed to do so, because, for me, integral ecology has two kind of core contributions that I think sets it apart from most other approaches out there. You'll find some approaches that will deal with one of the two that I'm about to mention, but I haven't really come across an approach that includes both and I think that's what kind of defines integral ecology. The first is that we include the interiors of human beings in the context of environmental studies.
The example we touched in a little bit around climate change and like looking at the emotional dynamics, the cultural dynamics, the religious dynamics, the psychological dynamics, the fear and anxiety. Understanding climate change and including the interiorities as an important set of data points to have a more comprehensive sense of what's happening and what needs to happen. A lot of environmental studies just focused on kind of what we would call the lower right systems dynamics. In ecology, because ecology traditionally doesn't include methodologies that allow you to to include the interiors, but there are number of fields, like environmental psychology, eco psychology, conservation psychology that do include the interiors.
Integral ecology basically says, "Hey, look. There's these disciplines out there. They're here specializing in psychology and environment psychology and ecology," really need to bring them into this larger conversation about how do we tackle the complex environment issues. If we're going to tackle them, we need to include human psychology, human emotions, human culture. That's one big commitment. The other commitment, this is why Mark's forward was so important to me and so moving to see what he actually wrote, is that integral ecology says, "What would it be like if we practice the science of ecology in a way that made room for the interiority of the organisms that we're studying?"
How might it actually change the heart science of ecology to find appropriate scientific ways to include the recognition that the organisms that are being included in the ecosystem actually have various degrees of awareness, intentionality, perception, experience on and so forth? Because there are a lot of approaches out there that highlight that animals have interiorities, but ecology is not one of them interestingly.
[0:44:47.7] KL: Were you wondering how business and personal transcendence fits into ecology? In the integral world, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump. Basically, both business and ecology are arenas built to understand and meet particular needs. These needs can't be met until the interior experiences of human and nonhuman animals are taken into account, because those interiorities; the playgrounds of emotion and cognition hugely shape the systems in which they're embedded.
[0:45:27.8] SEH: Marc Bekoff is arguably the only person on the planet who is like a highly recognized ecologist who promotes the recognition that animals have emotions and cognitive abilities. The field of cognitive ethology, which is the study of animal consciousness is important, but it's not ecological science in the way that ecological science is typically defined in practice. It's a specialized field that looks at animal awareness, but is disconnected from the fields of ecology. If you look at population ecology at Community College, the evolutionary ecology, ecosystem ecology, kind of all the major schools of ecology, they want nothing to do with the notion that the organisms that are part of their studies have awareness or interiority.
It's not because as individuals they deny that possibility. It's more that the methodologies that they use are lower write systemic methodologies and statistical forms of analysis that just by their mythological nature don't allow the interiority of the organisms to be perceived, registered, and studied. That said, this is really shifting even since integral ecology was written. Part of what I hope is that integral ecology is contributed to the shift and I think it has in some ways.
There's a book that came out a few years ago that looked at the reintroduction of wolves in the Yosemite. What happened was the wolves just start decimating the elk and moose and the deer populations because those animals have lost the fear impulse. The wolves have not been around for so long that they [inaudible 0:41:14.9] had occurred and they were so used to being around human beings and there no other major predators that when the wolves are reintroduced, there was these dynamics that were very problematic.
This book looks at the role of fear, the role of fear in ecology between predator and prey dynamics. A great example how when you reintroduce interiority and you recognize that there is an experience of fear, and you don't just talk about it in terms of stimulus response, because it's like the elk could see the wolf and it wasn't even my genetically like thousands of years have passed with them being preyed on. It wasn't just encoded in their genes to see wolf and run, that there's actually this emotional dimension and fear that's part of it.
I think this is just a simple example of how there are interesting ways in which we start including interiority and emotions and cognitive capacities, it actually start to help us understand ecological dynamics in a whole new way and it starts to integrate interiority into ecological science. This is one of the things that integral ecology is most interested in is how do we do that. How might [inaudible 0:42:35.1] spend the ecological science of today to be able to interface with the methodologies and the traditions that do study animal interiority and then factor that into our studies so that we have a more complete view of the animals in our ecosystems.
[0:48:46.3] KL: It's incredible, and I love that example. Thanks for bringing that brining that one to the light, because one of those things that is just — It's just packed with all of these other elements that I want to talk about, like epigenetics and how perception really changes how our behavior — What our behaviors are as supposed to these genetic things, and that's what you're talking about. These animals are expected to be studied in this sort of cause-and-effect, sort of genetic evolutionarily hardwired kind of ways, but when you do kind of get the nuance of this and see that, "No. These are animals that are having reactions and making choices in the moment," that completely shifts the picture of how you would actually go about making any kind of — Like you're saying, like land management and kinds of decisions.
Anyway, I love that. I think that that's an incredible thing. I kind of wanted just kind of shout out to the idea of not only is the methodology hasn't traditionally been able to include the interiority's of animals, but that's been on purpose in a way, because I'm sure a lot of people think about ecologists and they think of Jane Goodall and all the work that she's done, and we know that in her experience she was just shut down at every turn by other scientists saying that she was anthropomorphizing and all of these things.
[0:50:32.5] SEH: The example of Jane is interesting for several reasons. One I'll highlight, is there was a shift in primatology where, initially, it was men going and studying the apes, the chimpanzees, the orangoutangs, the gorillas. The men, and this was like in the 50s and 60s. 40s, 50s, 60s, they brought a masculine bias and so they tended to see aggression. They tended to see warfare. Their studies and research basically highlighted the aggressive nature of the apes and the monkeys and the gorillas and so forth.
Then when you had Jane Goodall and Diana Fossey and you have this whole wave of female primatologists entering the field, they actually went and lived with these animals and they started naming them, which was totally taboo, and then they started having emotional and interpersonal relationships with them. Out of that came a whole set of studies and researches that basically highlighted the interiority of these animals, and that they were much more complex, and there was culture and there was people — The animals are keeping track of who've done what to who in very complex ways over long periods of time. There was memory and there was revenge and there was.
[0:51:57.8] KL: Grief, grieving for the dead.
[0:51:59.8] SEH: That has only became perceivable when women, as primatologist, went and actually stayed with the animals themselves. Whereas the men stayed back, came in their Jeeps, studied them and then went home for the night. That's why telling that in primatology, the methodology changed and became a more feminine relational sort of kind of qualitative and quantitative kind of research methods. It's fascinating that all these different dynamics play into it. When I first started writing Integral Ecology, the notion of animal culture was just starting to emerge. Only one book out that really dealt with it in detail.
[0:52:41.8] KL: What was that like? 20 years ago, 10 — No.
[0:52:45.7] SEH: Oh my gosh! You’re really dating me.
[0:52:48.8] KL: Sorry, I had to out you.
[0:52:50.7] SEH: From 2000 to 2005, I was writing it and it came out 2009. Now, there's a lot of amazing research on the culture of orcas and hyenas and elephants. We have a much richer sense that there these this the actual cultures, like they fit our definition of culture. One of the things is you look at the history of animal studies in relation to human beings, is like there's been this long list of, "Oh, this is what separates humans from the rest the animals. Oh, it's because we use tools." These are the examples of animals using tool. "Oh, it's because we think rationally." No.
We find examples of rats being rational. No. It's because we have culture. Then we find examples of — Really, there's this list of totally different things that people at one point or another said this is what makes humans different from the other animals, and one by one we have found all of those in animal species, multiple species and in very complex ways, and so it just keeps reminding us that we're not a specialist as we think we are
[0:53:56.8] KL: So the importance of welcoming multiple viewpoints is not limited to the viewpoints of the individuals within the system or culture being studied, not limited to the multiple players being studied, but expands out to include the multiple viewpoints of those doing the studies. This is the nature of integral approaches — they're multidirectional and multidimensional and always looking to the relationships between these facets. It's all about connections: the more that can be made, the more that can be understood, the more that can be embraced. The flip side is true as well, disaster often results when connections are overlooked.
[0:54:37.7] SEH: There's this painful example in Kenya and Tanzania, in Uganda, where these elephants were basically trampling fields and then killing human beings and it's very uncommon for elephants to do that, to attack humans. Then it occurred at several places across these countries, and so they got a conference in pulled the park rangers together who are working with these animal populations and the wildlife biologists and ecologists that were working with them. Basically, we're trying to figure out what's going on here? What's the dynamic? One of the first things they discovered was that all the elephants in question that had killed a human being were young male adolescents. They said, “Okay. That's interesting. There is a pattern here.”
But then they looked into it further and then they discover that one of the things that was common among all these male adolescent elephants is they had all witnessed their mothers and fathers and their families being slaughtered by poachers and killed in horrific ways. They had born witness, visual and emotional witness to these tragedies, because they track the poachers in which animals get killed and which animals escaped. They were able to reconstruct and go, "Wow! All of these animals that are killing human beings were traumatized."
Once they got that frame, they had been traumatized by witnessing their families being slaughtered, then they brought in PTSD experts and looked at the symptoms that these animals were exhibiting and boom, boom, boom, boom, they had all the symptoms of our war veterans and the people who have survived sexual abuse or have been traumatized in different ways. Their emotional systems were responding the same way that our emotional systems respond. Then they began using the techniques of rehabilitation that they've used with human beings with these elephants and rehabilitating them emotionally. Amazing, powerful work, and it's just a reminder that a lot of animals have as rich of an emotional interior life as we do, even though it can be quite different.
[0:56:47.3] KL: Absolutely, and we might not even know the ways in which to detect it. If you're talking about fish and other species that aren't necessarily mammals that we can relate to as easily.
[0:57:13.3] KL: So now I'm wondering, exactly how are the emotions and thoughts of nonhuman animals critical to solving issues like climate change and poverty? I'm guessing that it has to do with this fact: the people who are most qualified to solve our global problems operate from an advanced systems thinking or principled thinking levels. These provide the developmental sophistication needed to care about the interior experiences of animals. Basically, if we don't see people caring about interiorities, especially of nonhuman animals, then it's a sign that we don't have the sophistication to solve our global problems. Am I on the right track, here, Sean? I mean, why do we even need to know about animal cognition in order to apply integral ecology?
[0:58:01.2] SEH: It's a great question. I think what comes up for me is just the pain of our current kind of extractive orientation. I see how our extractive orientation is causing a lot of destruction on our planet. Just as the process of understanding the difference of human beings, religious ethnic, even now, general dynamics are really important in getting a lot more exposure and visibility. It feels like the more that we can understand that these organisms, these animals, they have interiority, even if it's different from us, that it serves us as a way of helping us kind of stop for a moment and think about, “What are we doing? It kind of humanizes them. [inaudible 0:51:57.0], but it's like how do we — What's the word to point to our shared capacity for experience and interiority?
We use the word humanity, or to humanize someone and how warfare often dehumanizes the enemy and makes them an object, and we've done that in numerous ways with animals and with ecosystems. Part of what feels important me is to integrate, to kind of re-humanize the animals and organisms by recognizing that they have interiority in a way that helps dehumanize us in the sense that we're not just unique to that fact. That, yes, we're emotional, interpersonal, cognitive beings. The research that has come out in the last 10 years about what animals are capable of is off the charts. They just blow you away. It's just like, "Oh my gosh!"
I think it's about us as a global planetary civilization finding better ways to recognize that sentient shows up in a lot of ways, and while we need to find ways to take resources off the planet, to support ourselves. We need also be really aware that a lot of the organisms and animals that are part of her ecosystems are thinking, feeling beings and we need to factor that in to how we go about things, and I think it's going to really change how we go about things. For me, it's a way of just really recognizing the full expression of spirit.
The spirit is manifesting through all of these different ways of thinking, feeling, and sensing, and relating, and when you really read about orca culture or hyena culture and how those family systems pass down different techniques for hunting or doing this or that and it's only within those family systems. It's like you start to realize, "Wow! There's a lot going on here. For me, it just really touches me — It just feels, "Well, I want to understand that more. Treat our animals better," and the more we can appreciate and understand their interiority, how it's similar and different, I think can help us create the conversations that need to happen to be able to shine more light on this and to start to make better decisions collectively.
[1:01:20.8] KL: Yeah, and I’m curious, bringing back the conversation of sort of levels, or stages, is there — This is a loaded question, but is there a particular level at which someone needs to kind of inhabit before they can have these this recognition of animals as being another — A worthy equal, something to that effect?
[1:01:51.1] SEH: Yeah, at any level whether it's a traditional level, or modern level, postmodern level of developments, to use kind of one of Wilber's frameworks, there can be and are examples of people with those value systems recognizing the interiority of animals. That said, where it really tends to come forward much more fully is at the postmodern level. The postmodern level comes after the modern rational level, and it's the postmodern level that really points to the injustices that are happening on so many fronts. Whether they're gender dynamics or racial dynamics or ethnic dynamics or animal dynamics.
Green altitude postmodern is where there's a much deeper sensitivity to the ways in which often orange awareness or modern kind of industrial scientific awareness has kind of had a blind eye to that. The postmodern, whether as a culture we tend to have — Sort of to have a course correction around that. The modern green level often tends to be reactive and kind of go too far, and so I think it's often at the integral level where you start to balance out kind of the value of the scientific. You start to appreciate that. The extractive approach is something we have to work with. That's not to say there isn't a room for activism and kind of challenging it.
The integral, because it's trying to seek the perspectives on both sides and coordinate the perspectives, it tends to be more skillful with navigating in and finding the common ground and it isn't necessarily as reactive as kind of the postmodern deconstructive orientation can be. But you find people along the full spectrum of consciousness who really get it and are doing important work out there to try and change the dynamics.
[1:03:48.4] KL: Would you say the opposite is true that the more exposure one have to these facts and findings about animal cognition and just how sentient life is beyond humans, does that tends to elevate one's own sort of worldview?
[1:04:12.0] SEH: Yeah. I mean, it’s true in so many life issues of diversity. It's really through contact and exposure. If you have any gay friends, if you've never been around gay culture, then it's going to be really foreign. It's going to threatening and it's going to be confusing. If you've never been around Muslims an around them praying five times a day and their dietary preferences, it's going to be really foreign and scary and concerning. The more exposure we can know both in terms of contact with nature, hiking, kayaking, nature walks, whatever, and interacting with animals.
There's a lot of controversy around zoos, but at this time they do play a role with creating contact between humans and animals, and so they can be leveraged to support awareness building. Nowadays, I think through the work of Marc Bekoff, and many people inspired this work, there so many concrete scientific powerful stories and examples that I think we can start speaking to the more scientifically-minded folks and giving them kind of the new level of data and description and detail that really does give you pause.
I think part of it is just a PR process of kind of getting the stories out there. Stories like the elephant trauma that I mentioned, or just these rich descriptions of orca culture or elephant culture, and it really starts to get people to think like, "Oh, wow! Okay, so the science of ethology, the science of animal conscious and animal emotion has gone to a level of sophistication where they really have a persuasive argument.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[1:06:02.0] SEH: “That there is a lot of complexity, emotionally and cognitively and semantically with nonhuman animals and we need to start paying attention."
[1:06:15.1] KL: It's amazing to me that any time you talk about nature, about elevation of consciousness and worldviews, the conversation always comes back to diversity and prejudice, to mindfulness and awareness of self and others, and to trauma and disconnection. I can't stop thinking about the PTSD experience of the African elephants after witnessing their families being slaughtered, and how that led to further aggression and devastating violence. Put that next to the stories of kids raised in traumatic conditions and how it can lead to addiction and violence. But it can also lead to deeper maturity — and hopefully an end to a cycle of violence and discrimination — given the right conditions.
So what are these conditions, how can nature and awe help in this quest? It's sounding like they bring the mindful awareness and comfort with ambiguity required to elevate one's developmental level. This makes me think of Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, who taught that when we are able to embrace what is truly alive within ourselves and others--and those always boil down to needs and feelings we all share--then we are no longer acting violently and life is play.
So I want to talk to someone who has worked specifically with violence and addiction. And that's just what we'll do in next week's episode. In it, we'll encounter a unique perspective on awe as a religious experience and how that relates to urban violence and civil rights. From Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to blacklashes that inspire spiritual practice beyond religion. Stay tuned.
[1:07:57.1] KL: I hope you got something from the show. For transcripts, click on the link in the show notes. That will take you to aweintheraw.com. There you can start a conversation or learn more about show guests, my books and up-coming events. And don’t forget, you can share the love by subscribing to the show or leaving a review. Have an awesome week!