In the development of Gravesian/Spiral Dynamics (SD) theory, Graves (1974) coined the term “biopsychosocial” to indicate that both interior and exterior influences are shapers of human development. Subsequent explorations of the theory have emphasised the psychological and sociological aspect; the body has been somewhat absent from the picture. This article will explore and potentially adjust that balance.

It is inevitable that our theoretical focus has been towards the later developmental stages. The effects of Blue, Orange and Green ways of thinking are highly visible in both individuals and societal groups. They are the most recent to have emerged in our Western history.

In contrast, it is now almost impossible to find an existing group of humans that would resemble the earliest, Beige clans. In order to talk of Beige in terms of any living adults, we are required to look at those in traumatic situations or at the elderly and infirm, which is to say at those who have occupied later values stages but who are now regressing. This does not give us a model of healthy Beige.

We do not fare much better with Purple. Numbers are small and few groups are uncontaminated by their contact with the newer world. We are not directly familiar with such groups, and the most authentic records are now in the archives of anthropology. A few useful examples may be seen in the films of Bruce Parryi. Larger-scale tribalism is more easily identifiable and widespread, but later Values systems are invariably present alongside it, from the Red of Afghani warlords, to the cultural enclaves of inner cities.

It almost goes without saying that the actual samples on whom Graves original research was conducted would also have included only subjects who have progressed beyond Beige and Purple Levels of Existence. When Graves himself writes of the A-N level in aboriginal humans, he does so in terms of what others have observed in small number of examples. He has limited data and we must be wary lest an unquestioning acceptance of his perspective might limit our viewpoints. His direct examples are, as above, with the traumatised and regressed. The editorial footnote at the opening of Graves’ chapter on the BO state goes as follows “At the time of most of his writings, Dr Graves had only theoretical contact with mature adult humans at the second level. Like AN, his descriptions of this state were derived primarily from library research. There were no BO conceptions represented in his data. Later in life he had experiences that put him more closely in touch with this level and validated what he had concluded earlier”ii.

Graves’ presentation of Beige

Our question here is not whether Dr Graves was correct in what he saw; it is whether our view of what he presents is complete? What might we see now that he did not see then, or did not say explicitly? And what may be missing from our way of viewing both our existence today and the capacities which we bring through from our infra-human existence.

Graves describes (P.200) how

“Necessary information for survival of individual and species is sensed, processed and reacted to through the automatic system and stored through the learning process of habituation, the learning equipment which automatically signals the on-off character of the degree of need. The “N” neuropsychological system, the neuro system specifically attuned to processing imperative, physiological need information, responds only to change in intensity of the imperative need and not to patterning”. He further goes on to say:-

“As in infra-human animals there is no true self-awareness – no awareness of self as separate and distinct from other animals, and no awareness of self as differentiated from others in this automatic reflexolological existence. He cannot distinguish his actions from environmental consequences. He is so little aware of what is going on that he tends not even to recognise that which is new or frustrating.

Shortly after (P. 201) he extends this view as follows

“As in infra-human species, there is only a home territory concept of space, and imperative need- based concept of time, cause space and materiality of a very limited character. They don’t know “over the hill” or “over yonder” or “Down the river”, or “Down the stream”; they have no concept of that nature. They live in some cave or depression that they have found and crawled into….. This person lives as a herd, a herd of 12 to 15 human beings in a group. They make no organised planned work effort. They show no concept of leadership.”

There are five perspectives from which to examine these descriptions.

Primate behaviour

The nearest living relatives to early humans are to be found among the great apes – Orangs, Gorillas, Chimpanzees and Bonobo (sometimes not distinguished from chimpanzees). Nearest living, of course, is not all that close. Their evolutionary lines separated from ours several million years ago. There are many intermediate hominids prior to homo sapiens, so whatever we see in apes will have been subject to further development prior to the times referred to by Graves.

Primate behaviour research has burgeoned in recent decades.

  1. Research on language and communication – some of which can be found by searching for specific, now almost famous animals like the gorilla Koko and the Bonobo Kanziiii - has shown considerable capacity to use symbolic language. Kanzi learned initially by observation as an infant when his mother was being taught to use keyboard lexigrams. Despite not being directly involved, he shortly afterwards showed spontaneously that he that he could use the symbolic system appropriately. As an adult he learned some use of sign language when he watched a film of Koko. These are just a few among many examples.
  2. Interactional intelligence. Human communication is one of the most sophisticated signalling systems in the animal kingdom and has often been used to define what it means to be‘human’iv. But as noted by Levinsonv, “Language didn’t make interactional intelligence possible, it is interactional intelligence that made language possible as a means of communication”. The research by Frohlich provided in-depth evidence of Bonobo and Chimpanzee ability to use gestures in interactions with the types of behaviour that we would recognise – watching the other, taking turns, waiting for attention.
  3. Co-operation. John C Mitani has reviewed this material with further examplesvi, extending the analysis into co-operative behaviour, which can be found even among male chimpanzees, which are often highly competitive
  4. Experiments with both orangutan and bonobo groups has demonstrated that they can plan. In some cases they would anticipate possible needs by as much as 12 hours. “Those bonobo and orangutan individuals hence adapted their planning behaviour according to changing needs... Bonobos and orangutans, unlike chimpanzees, planned outside the context of tool-use, thus challenging the idea that planning in these species is purely domain-specificvii Chimpanzees have also demonstrated the strategic behaviour of concealing rocks that they had gathered in preparation for possible conflicts.
  5. Self-awareness. All of the ape species mentioned have passed the MSR test developed by Gordon Gallup to demonstrate self-recognition. Other species such as Asian elephants and bottlenose dolphins also demonstrate this

All of these examples should give us cause to question the boundaries around Graves’ descriptions of the need-satisfying and stimulus-response nature of Beige existence. The scholarly debate regarding when language evolved is deep and complex. Given the primate evidence, it is unlikely that there was a simple cutover time. It is likely that early hunters would have used gestures rather than sounds and I would suggest that we should think of “Beige” language as simple and functional, and as a gradual development, but not take it as absent.  The Tasaday people of Mindanao and the Ik of Uganda, whom Graves cites as living examples of Beige, both use language. It should also be noted that Graves may have been misled about the Ik, whom he describes in subhuman terms. The behaviours which he cites may have been a good example of adaptive downshift as the result of famine conditions. Colin Turnbull’s research (which Graves references on P. 204) has been questioned. And they are subsistence farmers who grind their own grain, which places them outside of the displaced nomad category that he places them in.

Awareness of Self, Awareness of Place

What would tell us that an individual has self-awareness? What would tell us that they have a sense of place – of “over here” or “beyond the hill”? Even in birds and animals which travel large distances, and accomplish significant seasonal migrations there is a recognisable capacity to return to a previous location – even to a specific nest. How much memory of such a kind can be held, without a form of conceptual awareness?

Animals vary widely in the way that they do, or do not form social groups, the ways in which they travel together or separately. Some species raise only their own offspring. Others take collective responsibility for the care of the whole group. Baboons, when they travel, organise themselves in formation, strongest males leading and taking the protective rear, other males guarding the flanks, weaker or younger ones at the centre of the group. These types of organisation – even the well-established notions of group hierarchies and “pecking orders” imply some embedded sense of “self and other”.

In a cybernetic view of communication we are presented with a model in which a thought arises in an autonomous individual’s mind. It is encoded in language and transmitted to another autonomous individual who then decodes that language. In the idealised form, the thought in one mind is transferred to the mind of another.  This is a linear time process in which communication begins  with the sender and ends with the receiver. In less than ideal instances there may be some iterations to refine the communication and “get it right”.

Humans operating at Beige levels may not use language but there is refinement nonetheless. Some communication may be in the form of gestures. One body makes a gesture that evokes a response from the other. G.H. Mead, a founding father of social psychology, called this a conversation of gestures, which is a social processviii and is potentially ongoing. Any particular item may be one in a long process. It may have a history behind it, and often has a context. The making of a particular gesture, particularly if it communicates emotion, presupposes that the receiver will know what that gesture means. It also implies that the sender knows from their own experience, what emotion and content will be evoked.

In Mead’s view, consciousness required the evolution of central nervous systems that enabled one individual to communicate with another in a manner that was capable of calling forth in themselves the same range of responses as in those to whom they were gesturing. Social animals learn this in play. They develop shared awareness of how sequences of responses can unfold. This is an embodied process where the nervous system is central to the understanding of how we ‘know’ anything. The mind and the individual consciousness arise in the social act so that there cannot be one without the other.

Human parents learn how to distinguish different kinds of cry in human infants. “I am hungry” is a different sound to “frightened” or “cold” or “in discomfort”. However, we also know that the infant does not consciously choose which to use. It arises instinctually from the body. It is part of an evolutionary inheritance. In a species that take months or years to develop beyond this stage of

helplessness and to recognise “self” and “other”, it is very hard to determine where the boundaries lie between the unconscious and the conscious state.

Graves had no data and therefore avoided speaking of infant development. I would be bolder. The basic survival response of the human infant is to require his / her needs to be met; clearly in infancy they are met by others. In every other respect, infancy has the characteristics of the Beige stage as Graves describes it. As the infant becomes more independent, the Purple characteristics of safety and bonding become significant. We know that psychological neglect can be as damaging as physical. In the healthy trajectory, the crawling child becomes more physically distinct, no longer carried everywhere, capable of eating and drinking independently. At the same time, what in adults will be described as “the way of your elders” is the world of the parents. As Graves states (P. 216) “The human’s brain is beginning to awaken and, as it awakens, many stimuli impinge upon his consciousness but are not comprehended.”

He goes on to describe how this transition from the first, automatic level of existence gives rise to “a very full inner life, one which is full of indwelling spirits. The person at this level thinks animistically. Here he lives in a primeval world of no separation between subject and object, a world where phenomena possess no clear contours and things have no particular identity.”…. “Yet he doesn’t see self as one with all other human beings. He thinks in terms of there being a transmutable spirit in self, in other’s selves, in animals, floods, stones, earthquakes etc. and uses such to invoke continuance of what is, to ward-off harm, bring about favour, or control the unexpected.”

Graves describes their unquestioning acceptance in the Purple stage of their way of existence. This is their reality, all that they have known. Everything that they have been told and experienced is just how it is. And this is likewise what the toddler human does. Until she doesn’t. Then the new magic words of “no” and “mine” are deployed as the small person differentiates herself from others. Only then, as Red comes onto the horizon, does a distinctive “I” begin to be asserted. One might say that before this there is only “we”, but perhaps a more accurate view is that neither I nor We are involved. There is only experience, inclusive of all that is part of the interior experience. Note that this should not be confused with “oneness” – which describes what happens much later, for individuals who are letting go of their “I” to embrace something larger and is done from a recognition that there is more to the universe than either “I” or “We”.

Data from a century ago, when anthropological study of humans “uncontaminated” by modernity was still possible, supports this perspective. Many primitive languages lack singular forms of usageix, and the members of such societies may well only refer to “we”. Reversing the grammar, but in a similar lack of differentiation, the Maori described by Best in 1924x “so thoroughly identifies himself with his tribe that he is ever employing the first personal pronoun. In mentioning a fight that occurred possibly ten generations ago he will say: 'I defeated the enemy there.” These examples are almost certainly of second stage, Purple groups; if so, they support the view that the emergence of a sense of self arises later, at Red.

A historian once said that it is a challenge for us, today, to remember that when Napoleon entered a room at night, he didn’t turn the light on. Here we face a much bigger challenge of imagination.

How do you and I even conceive of the kind of worldview being described for Beige? How do we relate to the experience of an adult human who does not have a conception of individual self-hood? Is our language even adequate to describe what is witnessed in a way that reflects their perspective rather than ours? Most importantly, how does that challenge show up in the way that we, as post- modern humans and aspiring second-tier operators, relate to the first two stages of the spiral of development, whether in ourselves or in others?

Cognition – its emergence and its limits

These difficulties extend beyond the arena of identity. The emergence of identity leads on to the development of cognition and analysis.  We spend several years in school to develop these aspects of ourselves, and as the Orange system increases its part in our lives (typically in teenage years) it takes on a very significant emphasis in our own worldview. Since it is so much a part of our culture, we swim in its waters and breathe its air even if it is not a big part of our personal Values stack. We learn to see the world predominantly in terms of its visible, material aspects. The Purple view, based in its experience of what the Orange perspective sees as “magical” thinking and labels as superstitious is thoroughly foreign to us. Analysis and material orientation leads us to all the ways in which the world may be divided and separated. It could not be further from the phrases that Graves uses “no separation between subject and object …. indwelling spirit of life in all things, inanimate or animate …. transmutable spirit … … thinks ritualistically, superstitiously and stereotypically … lives by the prescriptions of totems and taboos.

Here we must beware our identifications and our assumptions regarding what is or is not real. The scientific materialist description of reality is a later development and in that sense has brought new perspectives that are not available to Beige or Purple humans. That does not necessarily mean that it is the only correct way to see reality. If we are to find an integrated viewpoint it behoves us to treat it as just one of a range of optional points of view. There has been heated debate between this scientific viewpoint and that of the previous stage with its typical view of “God” as a creator and authority figure, and as the determiner of the order of the Earth and what is right. We may have our own personal perspectives regarding how we choose to live, with theistic, atheistic or humanistic perspectives. We may be capable of arguing cogently for the rationality of that choice.  That does not make it correct; still less does it make the Purple perspective incorrect. Cognition is not the only real or valid way to detect and interpret reality.

Graves recognised this too. He presents his view (P. 367) that prior to the dawn of Yellow “man has been just another animal, a pawn in the hand of the spirit world, a sacrifice of self, an attacker of the world and other men, and a social automaton; but man has never been himself.” Here we step over the line which separates those needs which man has in common with other animals and those needs which are distinctly human. But a knowledgeable existence is not enough.  It must be subordinated in a higher form of reactive existence. (My emphasis) … Thus, our seventh level of existence and our seventh-level value system are repetitions in an advanced form, of his first level of existence and its reactive value system.


The emphasis above is given not only because it is an important observation that is central to what is being presented here, but also because of how easily it is, and has been overlooked.

One of the strands of enquiry that has developed within the Green Values system is around embodiment. In most cases this has been pursued outside of Spiral Dynamics, though the Dutch Centre for Human Emergence has been a notable exception. Indeed, without their work, this paper would almost certainly not have come into existence. But embodiment is one of the two keys that we need to explore if we are to engage with Graves’ statements about reactive existence.

We have explored the descriptions of Beige and Purple as presenting a pre-cognitive experience and world-view. Does this mean then, that Beige and Purple humans were stupid, that they lacked intelligence? The view central to this paper is that they were emphatically not so. There are many reasons to state this. Biologically, the amount of time since homo sapiens became a recognisable and distinct species is short, in evolutionary terms, and all the fossil evidence indicates the presence of the characteristics we would recognise. Even Neanderthal man, 250,000 years ago, had a similar cranial capacity. Tool use is in evidence much earlier. Looking at the situation in another way, humans taken from Purple tribal cultures in Africa in the past 500 years and raised in the West showed just as great a capacity to develop to later stages as any Western human. While the anthropologists describe linguistic features that indicate a very different worldview, they have language all the same.

Those who practice and explore embodiment techniques discover aspects to our capacity to know the world which arrive not through our cognitive processes but through a direct sensing and experiencing of the world. It is possible to develop levels of awareness of each other and of the world that surrounds us that include information that is not accessible to our five external senses. There are many methods and techniques for such direct access and these do not involve altered states (such as through shamanic drumming or entheogenic substances). They do not even require a trance or deep meditation. It is sufficient that we allow the mind to be quiet and the sensing experience to happen without conscious interference or filtering.

One way in which this can function, that is being explored in organisational work by increasing numbers of practitioners, is the use of systemic constellations. I have witnessed a number of these, and regularly so with individuals who have no previous experience of embodied work. Normal people, if such a phrase might be permitted. Based on the work originally pioneered in families by Bert Hellinger, constellations reveal aspects of information that we know, but don’t know that we know. More than that, it is information that we wouldn’t perceive that we have any way of knowing, in our usual way of thinking. Nevertheless, the data are there and accessible. A fuller

presentation of this kind of work can be found in the book “Invisible Dynamics”.xi But it should be emphasised that this is just one among many ways of exploring the body’s capacity to “know stuff”


Scientific training is strong and rigorous. It is antithetical to any non-cognitive aspects of mind. Before I had a psychic experience I shared the sceptical mind-set and I understand how easy it is to function from permanent doubt and how this can make it impossible to conceive of, let alone accept, an alternative. But that was three decades ago, and during the intervening time I have had repeated confirmation in a wide variety of ways, as well as knowing very many people who share such knowledge and experience. This could be a trivial matter of personal belief but in reality it is much more significant than that.

This last section may stretch some belief-system boundaries, but it is based on that repeated direct experience and grounded in a very full and deep scientific analysis. The evidence is presented in detail in my bookxii which has been endorsed by “professional” scientists. In the space available here, I can only state the following conclusions without the accompanying explanation and justification.

  • From the smallest particle onwards, as the universe has gone through its process of development, as particles coalesced to become atoms, molecules, amino-acids, proteins and living cells, all that took place has been recorded by, and in, the “memory”, or information field of the universe.
  • That information governs every scale of material existence, from quarks to galaxies.
  • Any change in physical reality is associated with a shift in the stored information, so that the information field is also in state of continuous update. It alters as fast and as much as the material reality to which it corresponds.
  • The information field is permeable and it permeates the material world. There is continuous information exchange between the field and the material realm. This is as true of non-living as it is of living material, but more true of living material because of its rate of change.
  • There are creative dynamics in the way that the material universe has developed which are directly parallel to the self-governing balances that we see in the Graves-Beck Spiral. The principles are the same. Differentiation and individuation, competition and collaboration in a dance of increasing complexification, it’s been spirals all the way up.
  • Thus, the form of the universe and all that is in it, is shaped by information. It is in-formed. Form is the shape of consciousness.
  • Human beings are capable of being aware of the contents of the information field. We can detect it passively and we can access it by choice. We can be conscious of it.
  • These capabilities are present in all healthily developed humans.

The last two of these statements I know from practical experience. I was not naturally intuitive; I was taught. Subsequently I taught others. Intuition is a teachable skill.

If we lived in Beige or Purple cultures such training would not be necessary. Intuition is a natural human capacity, but our society trains it out. When children claim to know things that are not visible to adults, they are told to stop making things up. When they are in touch with the non- material world, they are made wrong for whatever they say about anything that they cannot point to. Imagination is only encouraged within acceptable lines, and our educational system imposes the Orange scientific materialist viewpoint. We do not teach Goethian science and the questions that Gregory Bateson asks about the connecting patterns of living systems are not present in our curriculum.

When Clare Graves referred to the requirement for us to revisit the reactive value systems in order to bring about the seventh level, he may not have been referring to this aspect of first level existence. The claim, the provocation of this section, is that you cannot have the reactive system without having the sensing mechanisms that go with it.

There is much debate over the scientific evidence for “scopaesthesia” the ability that researchers like Rupert Sheldrakexiii have claimed people possess, to detect when someone is staring at them from behind. Experimental evidence is weak, and fails to validate the survey results in which 70% or more of those asked, state that they have had such experiences. What is harder to refute is the wider evidence for human psychic function. This evidence is presented in “The Science of Possibility”, referred to above.

What is beyond doubt is the potential value of such abilities to our ancestors facing continual existential challenge. As an integrated part of daily life, sensing the gaze of a predator, or intuitively assisted tracking of a potential food-sourcexiv could be a matter of life or death. The widely reported shamanistic experiences of connecting with plant and animal spirits, and of using the knowledge acquired through such connection in order to heal sickness are similarly survival enhancing. It makes no sense that we suppress such important capacities.

Where this must lead: the shift in our perspectives

Looking both forward and back

Spiral Dynamics, and other related theories like integral, naturally engage our interest in the future, in what we are becoming and who we could be. Our focus is drawn forward. Similarly, the fact that we have been in the collective journey through the Green values system, with the interest this brings in human experience, has brought the investigation of “consciousness” to the fore. For some people this also engages questions around spiritual experience, and spiritual experience in our culture focuses upwards and outwards – towards heaven, towards conceptions of “God” - reaching enthusiastically for the cosmic connection and exploring the nature of oneness.

Balanced respect for the material and non-material aspects of reality

One mantra through which Green informs its perspective of Orange science, is the truism, revealed by Einstein, that “Everything is energy”. This too focuses attention towards the non-material in the human relationship with our world. There is as much imbalance in implying that matter doesn’t matter as in thinking that only matter matters. The important question of what causes energy to take the shapes that it does when it becomes matter seems not to arise. The part played in that by information was briefly presented above. If we are to progress beyond Green it is crucial.

Human beings live in both the material and the non-material realms. Our bodies are part of our sensing and survival equipment. Without them, our awareness of the world is greatly reduced. Our relationship with the physicality of the world is not dispensable. Humanity cannot propel itself upwards if it has nowhere to stand. A tree cannot develop its leafy canopy without its roots, and if it tries it is susceptible to the next strong wind.

Masculine and Feminine modes: Components and Contexts

Collectively we face a polarisation. We are pulled apart, from each other and from the natural world.  We are disconnected from and often not even looking for the patterns of connectedness. We are excessively cognitive and analytical, if not in who we are as individuals, frequently in what our culture values. Even the women’s movement has too often sought an equivalence of power in the masculine modes of existence and failed to hold to the equal importance of feminine perceptual and sensory truths. Some expressions of feminism have usurped the feminine and attempted to destroy the masculine in their failure to distinguish masculinity from patriarchy. In archetypal terms we fail to reconcile Mother Earth and Father Sky. Science dissects and dismembers in order to see the components of existence, but as Gregory Bateson repeatedly observedxv, “Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all. This is true not only of human communication in words but also of all communication whatsoever, of all mental process, of all mind, including that which tells the sea anemone how to grow and the amoeba what he should do next.And as his daughter Nora saysxvi Co-evolution is always biological communication.”

 The essential nature of biological grounding

Thus biological communication is what we are required to do. It is the key to our learning and to finding integrity with the context of life itself. Our species’ connection with Earth is not optional; we are not separate from nature. In stepping away from the fragmented presentation of the universe we are called upon to engage with both the numinous and the material aspects of connectedness.

Human evolution demands that we revisit the reactive state as Graves suggested, but not in a context of emotionality, not merely through the experience of fear and threat.  The human at Beige is viscerally aware of the environmental consequences of her actions because she cannot and therefore does not differentiate herself from them. We need that awareness as much as she did and must include it in our way of existence.

Our journey into the second tier of existence is, as often referred to, a leap. In order to make such a leap, we must know where the earth is, bend our knees and reach downwards with our energy and our sensing. Only if we fully embrace our biology and our embodiment, will we be able to get off the ground.

Jon Freeman June 2017


i Bruce Parry – nomadic Penan people from the jungles of Sarawak. BBC Series “Tribe”

ii Clare W. Graves (ed. C. Cowan N. Todorovic) The Never-Ending Quest, Chapter 8. Page 215.


iv Fröhlich, M. et al. Unpeeling the layers of language: Bonobos and chimpanzees engage in cooperative turn- taking sequences. Sci. Rep. 6, 25887; doi: 10.1038/srep25887 (2016).

v Levinson, S. C. In Social Intelligence and Interaction (ed Esther N. Goody) 221–260 (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

vi Mitani, J. C. Cooperation and competition in chimpanzees: Current understanding and future challenges. Evol. Anthropol. 18, 215–227 (2009).

vii Bourjade, M, Call, J, Pelé, M, Maumy, M & Dufour, V 2014, 'Bonobos and orangutans, but not chimpanzees, flexibly plan for the future in a token-exchange task' Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-014-0768-6

viii G. H. Mead. Mind Self and Society. 1934

ix Kelsen, Hans (1943), Society and Nature: A Sociological Inquiry, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

x Best, Elsdon (1924), The Maori, Vol. 1, Wellington, New Zealand: H. H. Tombs

xi Klaus P. Horn / Regine Brick. “Invisible Dynamics: Systemic constellations in organisations and business. 2009

xii Jon Freeman “The Science of Possibility: Patterns of Connected Consciousness” 2013

xiii Rupert Sheldrake. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 65, pp.122-137 2001

xiv Lyall Watson Lightning Bird: The Story of One Man's Journey Into Africa's Past 1983

xv Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, Bantam Books, 1988

xvi Nora Bateson “Small arcs of larger circles” 2016

Our partners

Contact us

Spiral Futures




(44) - (0) 1722 679823