Allan Combs and Stanley Krippner on Human Development

Descartes mind and body - Allan Combs and Stanley Krippner on Human DevelopmentDevelopmental psychology, primarily the history of child psychology and education, broadened to include theories of the stages of life and the lifespan, acknowledges a linear concept of growth, omitting a nonlinear axis representing self-actualization, which can occur at any stage in one’s development. Self-actualization is a life-long process marked by existential insights in moment to moment subjective experience. Combs and Krippner (2003) argue that human development at its highest level is spiritual. The individual becomes increasingly conscious of subtle realms of being—or is subject to mystical experience. Virtually all major models of psychological growth increasingly emphasize selflessness if not explicit spirituality at the highest levels of development.

Combs and Krippner (2003) present a process view of consciousness following from Tart’s systems theory analysis of states of consciousness. Conscious experience is constructive in the sense that it is the result of ongoing self-organizing and self-creating (autopoietic) processes in the mind and body (Varela, Maturana, & Uribe, 1974). Combs and Krippner’s mindbody follows from Werner’s Organismic principle: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, where advanced levels of growth “transform consciousness in the direction of increasing selflessness and spirituality, rather than toward greater intelligence” (Combs & Krippner, p. 47; see also Cook-Greuter, 1999; Flavell, 1963; Kegan, 1982; Kohlberg, 1981; Loevinger & Wessler, 1970; Maslow, 1971; Piaget, 1952; Washburn, 1995; Wilber, 2000).

According to dynamical theory, systems evolve according to a mathematical rule of transformation that is analogous to the pattern of a pendulum, a chaotic attractor that never repeats itself in which “our immediate experience, the Jamesian stream of consciousness… comprised of psychological processes (thoughts, memories, and emotions)… form an ongoing autopoietic system which recreates itself from moment to moment” (Combs & Krippner, 2003, p. 51). Through the combination of chemical, physiological, and psychological aspects of this mindbody (Combs & Krippner, 1998), a cognitive process fabric for experiencing the world is created and a stream of thought forms the core of an individual’s experience of reality. States of consciousness (wakefulness, sleeping, dreaming, meditative, or drug-induced) thus occur when elements of experience (thoughts, memories, emotions, and perceptions) combine to form patterns of neural activity as dynamical structures.

Combs and Krippner (2006) further discuss the relationship between structures of consciousness and creativity that “flow naturally from the unfettered human spirit, that primal aspect of the psyche that resists cultural conditioning because of both its intense embodiment and its deep connection to transcendent inspiration and experience” (p. 2). This natural state of creativity has been compared to the state of non-dual awareness typified by the epistemologies of Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Yoga, and the Indian Madhyamika tradition.

Studies in transpersonal psychology suggest that altered states can occur spontaneously, but are often unstable conditions unless acquired through the successful mastery of developmental stages (Combs & Krippner, 2003; Cox, 2005). Interesting to note, that while critics of Piaget’s stage model fault him for neglecting affect, interpersonal relationships, and creative fantasy, Piaget (1929) does report that expressions of creativity change with maturity.

According to Combs and Krippner’s (2006) post-formal view of cognitive development (see Cook-Greuter, 1999; Erikson, 1963; Gilligan, 1982; Kegan, 1982, 1984; Kohlberg, 1981; Piaget, 1929), “each stage of development is associated with a style of relating to others, a mode of moral judgment, and a particular sense of self” (p. 7). Second, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny in both a developmental and cultural sense (Combs, 2002; Feuerstein, 1987; Wilber, 1981, 2000). Citing Gebser (1986), Combs and Krippner argue that human cultural history exhibits structures of consciousness that reflect distinct ways of experiencing and understanding reality as well as a common map that represents a progression of ways that human beings come to understand reality based on a tradition stemming from indigenous people with possibilities such as putative synchronicity, telepathy, clairvoyance, and shamanic states of consciousness (Krippner, 2000).

Gebser associates mythic consciousness, the shift from a magical world in which living spirits and meaningful events are found everywhere in nature, with one’s personal narrative structure that lends meaning to life. This Integral Consciousness (Combs, 2002) transcends the stage of post-formal operations by its fluidity of thought, which can be experienced simultaneously from multiple perspectives. The diaphanous quality of Integral Consciousness is open and translucent, thus reality is experienced in an unconditioned way that resembles the non-duality of Zen satori, a state of sudden spiritual enlightenment.

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— Susan Gordon

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