Individual vs. Collective Stages of Consciousness

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the Spiral and how different stages of consciousness present themselves, particularly how stages express individually vs. collectively, and how they express internally vs. externally.

For example, if a group of individuals who predominantly are at Orange interact with the world, what is the stage of consciousness expressed by the group? One might be inclined to say Orange, because they’re all at Orange, but I think that’s an error, and here’s why: while one may have evolved a particular stage of consciousness individually, from a collective point of view, the collective consciousness expressed is fully dependent on the quality of interactions inside the collective organism.

Take, for example, organizations like the Chamber of Commerce. We can probably safely say that many members of this group will be at Orange, expressing their entrepreneurial genius. However, when we see the CoC interacting with the world, we actually see it expressing in ways much more aligned with Amber/Blue on the Spiral. They fight only for the good of their organization’s members, and frequently their interactions with other groups (like Greenpeace and other environmental groups that would seek to regulate their activities) expresses as “us vs. them,” which we all know is very much Amber/Blue. This isn’t just the case with the CoC–we see this with how many collective organizations interact with the world.

That gets me thinking… as a collective, will the predominant individual stage of consciousness in that group regress a level when the group has to act as an individual organism? Group interactions are inherently more difficult given there are so many moving parts that need to align for the group to speak with one voice. That means that it will be very tempting for a group to regress to a stage of consciousness that is familiar and easy… certainly not the cutting edge. So a Green group, when speaking as a collective, will fall back to Orange science (Green groups, when the speaking about climate change, universal health care, etc, tend to focus on the logic and reason, which is very Orange). A Blue group, such as many alt-right groups, will fall back to Red when acting as a group.

Looking at internal interactions within a group, however, I think we will see those mostly at the predominate level of the individual members. There is less cognitive dissonance and more trust, and so therefore it becomes far easier to communicate at the same level as your peers, and therefore less likely to regress a stage. The exception might be a group without a truly predominant stage, or that is unhealthy; the Republicans and Democrats come to mind, as they are a mix of Amber & Orange and Green & Orange, respectively, and we frequently see internal conflicts within those groups that lead to an external paralysis of communications and actions, and certainly a “least common denominator” output from these conflicts. For example, the Green Democrats try to use their Green egalitarianism to make their Orange members happy… remember the Public Option and how it died during the Obamacare debate?

Am I off base here? Has anyone else noticed this? It seems like it is important given how many disparate groups are vying for attention and power these days. If this is the case, this knowledge could be very helpful for easing the communications between seemingly conflicting groups, like the Democrats and the Republicans, since we will know how to translate to the group’s level rather than the individuals in that group.

1 Like

I don’t have too much to say, as it would probably take quite some research to comment intelligently, but just from what little experience and research I do have:

  1. I like your question. It does appear to capture some truth, in that often organizations clearly seem to act from different levels than the majority of their individual members.

  2. It seems that often the level the collective is acting from, is indeed regressed a level from the center of gravity of most individuals. Although: I have certainly experienced groups whose individuals mostly expressed Green and the collective was strongly gravitating to Amber (so 2 levels lower), so it could also be that Amber just has a very strong “gravity” as far as larger collectives are concerned.

  3. I am wondering if it isn’t also possible–if counterintuitive–for a collective to express a higher level than the center of gravity of its individuals. I can’t say for certain, but I do feel that I may have experienced this (if for short times and only in specific circumstances). I am also thinking here around the group intelligence that is described in “Crowdocracy - The end of Politics” and other related research: For example, groups that included non-experts in a certain field found more intelligent solutions for questions in that field, than groups made up only of experts (under certain conditions). While being an expert does not really say anything about altitude (which we are talking about here), it did seem to me that some examples were pointing to the possibility of higher group intelligence emerging, which could also include higher altitude.

I have been thinking about this post and never really understood what you were talking about (at least I think) until a few days ago. This is really a brilliant observation, and I would be surprised if there isn’t some existing literature on this topic out there already (seems like a very Spiral Dynamics sort of thing).

Carl Jung said that a group consciousness is always lower than an individual consciousness - its more difficult for groups to act from “individuated” consciousness than individuals, because the shadow is almost always mobilized to give the group an identity, which instantly creates an “us vs them” mentality. So this Amber instinct certainly helps to create group solidarity, with its penchant towards group think, tribalism, etc…

I’ve noticed this particularly with Green. In my experience, talking to people at Green individually tends to go well, as their opinions and thoughts are more nuanced and thoughtful. But once in a group of other Greens, it can quickly degenerate into a mob like mentality (MGM). It’s almost as if certain levels are more incompatible with group consciousness than others, as their inherent traits tend to manifest more crudely in a group context. When talking to Green’s individually, I can ask specific questions - why is equality important, what is systemic oppression, etc… but I usually just end up getting yelled at and am told I need to “educate myself” when I ask it to a group. Of course this is probably true for every stage but living in Portland has mostly exposed me to Green groups.

As for @Mbohu question #3, that is really an excellent point. I think that is the power and beauty of the Integral framework, and why its imperative to install Teal systems and structures, whether it be in politics (Crowdocracy) or organizations (Reinventing Organizations). Every successful sports team, whether its the Golden State Warriors, New England Patriots, or Alabama Crimson Tide, understand the crucial role that culture plays in uplifting individual players consciousness away from Diva type selfishness into cooperation, while promoting a strong work ethic and winning mentality. How this is done specifically I’m not really sure, but a healthy culture is certainly key for a sustainable and flourishing system.


This question resonates with me as I’ve been looking at that very question as regards the dynamics of my mediation sessions. Let’s say there are four of us: two co-mediators and two participants. There is no dominant monad, thus no “I” as such. So, I guess, there is no “I” looking out. We can then look at the other three quadrants. There are the bodies and the room, chairs, table etc. There is the structure of the communication that takes place and the content of the communication that takes place. What is the consequence to those “I”'s inside the group of those interactions. Then, of importance to those of us outside the group, what is the consequence to the outside world of those interactions.
I suppose my answer to the question is that a collective stage of consciousness is either not possible - no dominant monad to have a stage of consciousness - or it depends on why you’re asking the question, as that will determine the perspective you will use to carry the questions you are asking.

Andrew, that’s a good insight. A question I would offer–playing some friendly devil’s advocate–is, would the parts of the whole be aware of the dominant monad? Take our bodies, for example; we are made up of billions of cells, and trillions of molecules, atoms, fundamental particles, etc, all working in concert to support the dominant monad we call “I / Me.” Are those fundamental particles aware of the “I / Me” that have dominance over their functions? Probably not. If I’m a white blood cell, I mostly care about ripping up the DNA of anything I view as a threat. I’m only aware of my other cells in as much as they are either “Me / Not Me” or “Good for Me / Not Good for Me.” So, my devil’s advocate question for your example is, would you be aware of a dominant monad as a member of that four-person group?

I would certainly argue that there is some fundamental consciousness all the way down to the fundamental particles (check out some of the philosophical papers on panpsychism for more details on why that’s a strong candidate model to solve the “hard problem” of consciousness; Arthur Young and Whitehead are good places to start). But consciousness and awareness are not necessarily the same thing… we can say that a sleeping human is conscious (especially if dreaming), but not necessarily awake and aware. That same principle could apply to how humans interact as parts of a dominant monad. While not necessarily aware of what the dominant monad is doing or its basic consciousness, we would nevertheless be aware of how we are interacting within the dominant monad, and our actions will have a direct or indirect outcome to the actions of the dominant monad (the white blood cell analogy, for example, kills off the flu virus, and the “I / Me” just dodged getting sick, or perhaps experienced some symptoms based on an immune response).

Green is a great example of a society-sized monad where the constituent parts don’t always know the effects their dominant monad is having (“mean green” comes to mind). I wonder if that lack of awareness is perhaps why Green, as a social monad, seems to act a bit more like Blue / Amber (you’re with us or against us) when it is challenged.

The question for me then becomes, when we hit Integral Yellow or Turquoise, do we have the ability to more directly understand the consciousness and will of the dominant monad to which we belong? It stands to reason that we might be able to infer that consciousness, at least, since we now have knowledge of the possibility of a monad larger than ourselves to which we contribute. I think perhaps Sri Aurobindo took this idea to its extreme when he talked about the Purushottama, the “Godhead” that is beyond human comprehension. Imagine how far beyond comprehension the dominant monad “I / Me” is for the fundamental parts that make up the body supporting “I / Me,” and that’s how far the Purushottama monad is beyond human comprehension (perhaps even more so, we can’t really tell!).

Maybe one of the key insights we get when we hit Yellow and Turquoise is that we can infer that we are, in fact, a part of a dominant monad, and even better, then actively work toward the ends of that monad rather than being a slave to it? Anyway, these are just some musings, but I’m grateful your comments sent me down this particular road.


Russ, thanks for your time in considering my thoughts, appreciated. I doubt my cells consider that they are supporting the dominant monad that is me. Following on from that thought, there is some research - regrettably can’t recall where I read it, - that suggests that cells etc are doing their own thing - that the dominant monad is a fiction in the sense that it doesn’t determine any choices or actions, it is simply a post hoc emergent feature of the organism’s structure/system, and one of its features is self awareness which tells/fools itself into believing it has agency.

So, in answer to your question, perhaps the 4 person mediation does have an emergent feature which considers that it is the dominant monad controlling the mediation but is in fact simply a post hoc emergent feature of the organism’s structure/system, and one of its features is self awareness which tells/fools itself into believing it has agency. We have as much consciousness of it as our cells have of us and it has as much control over us as we have over our cells. So, again, I am with you in this.
I agree with you that consciousness goes all the way down and up and that consciousness should not be restricted to what we normally describe as a living being. It was Wilber who first alerted me to this when he spoke of communication existing at the sub-atomic level when particles react with each other. And if consciousness is just another word for communication then we can lose a shed load of disputed territory.
And so on and so on…….
I do hope that there is a reality that is beyond the capacity of humans to intellectually appreciate. I would be so disappointed if we are the pinnacle of all possible realities! And in any event we have so much lateral exploration to do. Imagine of we could really know what it is like to be a cell, a flea, a dolphin, a dream, an emergent reality.
Following that thought, I wonder if the idea of an ultimate reality is a restriction in itself. An analogy would be the idea of an ultimate number which becomes the infinite. Whilst ever you stay within the structure of numbers itself you will never make the jump from the highest number to infinity as there will always be another number higher than the one before yet short of infinity. Thus whilst ever you stay within the rules of our reality you will never jump to the infinite reality or godhead or whatever you will as there will always be another reality higher than the one you’ve just accessed which will still be short of the infinite. However just as we have learned to use the infinite within mathematics to resolve questions of mathematics, we can use the godhead within our own lives to resolve our own queries.
I think that as we begin to access deeper perspectives we get deeper information. When I’m in a functioning family that is “familying” I do get a sense of something greater than its parts. As I have been blessed with these deeper insights, then my understanding of what is going on in a family has similarly grown deeper. Do I feel from time to time that something outside of the family “familying” is governing/directing/blessing that “familying”? Yes, actually I do. Could it be helpful to describe that entity as a dominant monad? Yes, I believe that there are occasions that it would be helpful to peer down that particular perspective. Would it be helpful to recognise it as an entity that my culture’s religion has predicted would exist. Again I think the answer to that is yes, within that particular perspective and that particular structure. (Where two or more are gathered in my name…)

The danger, as always, is for me to believe that I am right. I simply wonder whether my thoughts are useful and /or interesting.

Russ, thanks again for your thoughts - they are both useful and interesting!!

1 Like