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Reaching Stage 5 – non STEM

Required reading

This post uses a key framework: Chapman’s version of Robert Kegan’s theories of emotional, cognitive and social development, it is summarised here.

This post is in dialogue with, and an expansion on, Chapman’s recent post about moving through stages 3, 4 and 5 in modern society (and the lack of support for it) here.

This post will not make sense unless you have read the other two posts first. They are somewhat lengthy, but I will be returning to these ideas as a basis for my blog posts for a long time, so it’s worth settling in.

Reaching Stage 5

As previously discussed, it might be harder than it used to be to reach stage 4 in current society. Humanities students may have it pretty bad (and presumably the other 60% of the population with no higher education at all). STEM students have the best chance of achieving stage 4.

Employment is the other stage 4 structure which might support stage 3 people. But as Kegan has pointed out, up to one third of the adult American population are stage 3 people living uncomfortably inside a stage 4 society, including stage 4 employment, without acheiving stage 4 themselves through their working environment.

So Chapman focusses on creating new structures to support stage 4 STEM educated people to progress to stage 5 with less difficulty. He is correct to identify this group as potentially the lowest hanging fruit.

In this post I will talk about my own experiences of (I think) reaching stage 4 and 4.5 not quite through STEM education, rather through a mixture of politics and STEM-type things. The purpose is to potentially identify next-lowest hanging fruit and possible cultural change that will support more stage 4 development that is not through STEM.

Personal caveats

I’m currently reading one of Robert Kegan’s books – one of the source materials for the stages theory I am talking about – and I feel struck by the possibility of my own uneven evolution through the stages.

Uneven in the sense of mastering some childhood stages above – averagely quickly but then possibly remaining stuck in a stage long after the average age of transition is expected during childhood, teens and 20s,  then perhaps being in the next stage for a very short time before finally entering my current one.

Uneven also in the sense of perhaps being in one stage regarding abstract reasoning that is much further along than the stage I’m in regarding emotionally relating with other people.

As with any framework, Kegan’s stages are illuminating for many situations but not applicable in all. No doubt there are also huge pitfalls with attempting to analyse oneself with these things, however with these caveats we will move forward anyway! For now this post will focus on abstract reasoning ability.

Humanities education

Up to school leaving age I think it is remarkable that I mixed together technical subjects with humanities subjects in equal measure. I enjoyed the scientific method and computing as well as my earlier love of English, literature, history and languages. The pressure to take courses between the age of 16-18 that “obviously” go together was pretty strong, to thus futher specialise during higher education. For exmaple, taking Maths and Physics at age 18 to go on to do Engineering at university. This happens less in the States, where a ‘major’ subject is also supported by other learning at college.

In this context I was being wilfully strange by taking humanities and STEM subjects together.

I waited a few years before attending college during which time I wrote poetry and worked in bookshops. At college,  I made a strange sideways choice to study Fine Art, a surprise to everone, not least myself. I was pretty shit at art so steeped myself in philosophy/theory instead and yes, was indeed taught about postmodernism. It was an elective module that I duly elected. In my own personal case I cannot agree that my tutors did not understand postmodern thought properly and I feel I was left to make my own investigations into its territory in the sense that I wouldn’t get a bad grade if I didn’t internalise postmodern principles.

We focussed on postmodern (and crucially, post-structrualist) thought exclusively within arty, theory, air fairy domains and so I was free to consign it to ‘only relevant to philsophy’ in my brain.

None the less I learned the important idea from Baudrillard that rationalists condense down into the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’. I also got a strong sense that post-structuralist thought was critiquing the idea that human behaviour could be discovered if the rules for the scaffolding could only be worked out.

I liken this to taking a rubbing from a gravestone. The old and time-worn words on an ancient stone are not easily legible, but if one takes a piece of paper and a wax crayon and makes a rubbing of the stone, the crayon will highlight in much greater relief the contrast between the smooth stone and the indented words.

In the same way, persons of the sciences as they are applied to people hoped to simply interrogate humans enough so as to divine the underlying structure which would explain all human behaviour.

(I’ve mentioned in another post how terrifying it would be if such knowledge was put in the hands of people in positions of power over others).

The post-structuralists pointed out the absurdity of looking for structures (or even just one structure) that explains all human behaviour when it is almost definitely not there.

This idea seems a bit obvious to a postmodern teenager, but being forced to discover what modernism was or what structuralism was gave me great insight into the evolution I had been born into.

It could still be true that I had this training in the absence of systemic training however my personal scientific mindset was already present and the disciplines of film photography as well as painting methods had to be fully mastered before receiving anything close to praise from tutors.

Also during university years I discovered feminism. This political line of thought said: there is a system called patriarchy and while it is not so obvious any more it is still fucking you over. Understanding that system and understanding it’s critique was another subject of my university years.

Feminism and other social justice goals became my stage 4 system for a few years. It was the personal system within which I made meaning. It was a framework that shaped my beliefs, projects and political opinions. I think I retained some hesitancy over absolutism or fanaticism though, due to my earlier brushes with postmodernism, as well as exposure to extremely sophisticated feminist thought. 

For relationships, I have said before that polyamory probably provided that bridge to stage 4 in emotional terms. 

So far, we have seen that all of this development was from a humanities input, and informed by a much earlier interest (age 15) in computing and science.

political upheaval

In 2011 I was experiencing a resurgence of anxiety and panic attacks. I felt that something was missing from life and my part time library work and part time activism were not stimulating enough. It was also the year a series of riots broke out, the first in my home town of Bristol. Globally,  the Occupy Movement began and I was involved with my local chapter. I was excited by the newness of the movement and the potential for change but dismayed by reports of sexism and homophobia in the camps, as well as knowing that Occupy was about questions, not answers.

My solution to this anxiety was radical upheaval. I made myself homeless and went on and odyssey of knowledge.

It was in these years that my politics was challenged by a rationalist. They asked me to articulate the other persons point of view on a political issue. I managed it, but it was an unfamiliar exercise. Throughout the subsequent protest I was morose. The idea that the people I was protesting against might actually have a point was a very difficult one.

I subsequently dived into LessWrong, probability theory, Slatestarcodex and the rest but ultimately I feel it was emotional reactions to a political system that began the process of stage 4 to 5 transition.

I think I must admit that my process was deeply informed by scientific and rational principles, plus I’m extremely self reflective but I think my 3-4-5 transition was largely in arts and humanities areas.

My thoughts on this story are perhaps less specialisation between arts and humanities should be encouraged. Cross-specialisation is needed.

I also think STEM minded people have a tendency to dismiss emotional frameworks as unscientific or not useful because they don’t understand them very well, so STEM background people need humanities training just as much as the other way around. 

You might want to check out my cross pollination zine for ideas about how rationalism and feminism could learn from each other. 

I will talk about the emotional difficulties of tr asitioning from stage 4 to 5 in much greater detail in a subsequent post. 

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12 thoughts on “Reaching Stage 5 – non STEM

  1. David Chapman

    I liked this and found it very interesting—how the humanities and STEM material combined to move you along.

    > the important idea from Baudrillard that rationalists condense down into the phrase ‘the map is not the territory’

    Reading this was an odd coincidence, because just the day before I had been thinking about exactly this. I was being frustrated because the official LessWrong sequence on “the map is not the territory” doesn’t seem to explain, or even discuss, the concept at all. I’m left having to guess what Yudkowsky understood by it, and why he thought it was important. (Maybe I missed something.) I haven’t read Korzybski in decades, but my memory is that his discussion was pretty opaque too.

    There certainly is an important idea in this vicinity! (Or possibly more than one.) I haven’t read Baudrillard and don’t know his formulation. Is there a specific discussion of his you would recommend? Thanks!

    (What I was planning to do is to explain how the more-complex/subtle Continental version relates to the rationalist version; but I’m not sure I can find a coherent source for either one!)

    Reply
    1. Jessica Post author

      Hi David, good to see you here 🙂

      Yes I think the two communities use this phrase in different ways. I confess I only skimmed the rationalist version. I’m now interested in analysing the two more closely (and there is interest from other quarters for a plain language explanation of postmodern thought) so I will keep you informed.

      I don’t know of any good discussions of Baudrillard however the text of his ideas is called Simulations and is quite short, maybe 60 pages. It is sometimes published in a volume called ‘ Simulacra and Simulations’ which is longer but you can ignore the extra stuff.

      From memory, I think Baudrillard was saying that everyone was confusing the signifier with the signified ie confusing the name of the thing with the thing itself far too much. He used the example of the map and the territory to illustrate the absurdity of this practice. He says even if your map was so accurate that it ended up being the same physical size as the land – a massive paper diagram with every detail marked in life size, it would STILL BE A MAP and still only be a representation, not the real thing. He felt that the (post)modern world was exchanging the map of the thing for the real thing without anyone noticing. He felt we were divorced from the real by the “real”. You touched on this already with your “mountain” post. There are further details that I can’t remember but that is the crux.

      Neo uses a copy of this book to hide his hacking programs in The Matrix 🙂

      Reply
    1. Jessica Post author

      [rats, I replied to your first comment, presumably you have had no notification that I did so! Here it is again]

      Hi David, good to see you here:)

      Yes I think the two communities use this phrase in different ways. I confess I only skimmed the rationalist version. I’m now interested in analysing the two more closely (and there is interest from other quarters for a plain language explanation of postmodern thought) so I will keep you informed if I write anything.

      I don’t know of any good discussions of Baudrillard however the text of his ideas is called Simulations and is quite short, maybe 60 pages. It is sometimes published in a volume called ‘ Simulacra and Simulations’ which is longer but you can ignore the extra stuff.

      From memory, I think Baudrillard was saying that everyone was confusing the signifier with the signified ie confusing the name of the thing with the thing itself far too much. He used the example of the map and the territory to illustrate the absurdity of this practice. He says even if your map was so accurate that it ended up being the same physical size as the land – a massive paper diagram with every detail marked in life size, it would STILL BE A MAP and still only be a representation, not the real thing. He felt that the (post)modern world was exchanging the map of the thing for the real thing without anyone noticing. He felt we were divorced from the real by the “real”. You touched on this already with your “mountain” post. There are further details that I can’t remember but that is the crux.

      Neo uses a copy of this book to hide his hacking programs in The Matrix 🙂

      Reply
      1. David Chapman

        Thank you for the reply (twice)!

        > there is interest from other quarters for a plain language explanation of postmodern thought

        I hope you do this! You write clearly and straightforwardly, understand the material, and are sympathetic to STEM sensibilities. That’s a rare combination, and your writing about this might be useful to many people

        I should have known it was _Simulacra and Simulations_! That’s been somewhere in the “ought to read someday” mental list; I’ve now promoted it into the “ought to read soon” list I keep on Amazon.

  2. Pingback: Emotional challenges of Stage 5 | My So-Amazing Life

  3. andekn

    Hi! Your account of your path towards Stage 5 sounded familiar enough that I thought I’d share my story as well.

    I went to a high school that had an emphasis on Math and Science. All of my classmates became either engineers, medical doctors or other STEM-professionals. I was the only one that went to study Humanities.
    I studied History as my major. History is rather untouched by po-mo, at least by humanities standards, but it has a strict emphasis on moral relativism, because the risk of anachronism is otherwise too severe. “History does not repeat itself” was the first thing I remember hearing from lectures, and the second was “you should never judge the past by present standards”. This was not the most conductive starting point for transition to Stage 4, but it would become useful later on.
    Economics was my gateway to final transition to Stage 4. Economics was for me something between Science and Humanities: it dealt with people and society, but it had the systematic approach of natural sciences. And it contained math, as well!

    Economics led to Overcoming Bias, from which LW and SSC followed. But unlike most of the LWers, I had humanistic background, which gave me a bit different perspective. I was very disappointed in the “no politics” rule at LW, and that’s why I was quite happy when SSC began. Politics may be mind-killer, but weren’t we supposed to be aspiring rationalists? Shouldn’t we try to create a new discourse around politics? And doesn’t “politics” actually include lots and lots of interesting and important things that are worth discussing?

    And it was politics that pushed me out of Stage 4. Neoreactionists, to be precise. SSC had a famous “Neoreaction in a Nutshell” post that made me question everything about my politics. Suddenly I was unsure whether my political opinions were based on reality of even logic, rather than blind ideology.

    I spent a year studying NRx, conservative, Marxist and Christian Fundamentalist politics. I guess that having a background in History made this easier. I could study conservatism dispassionately, like I was studying cult of Amon-Ra or mercantilism, and that’s why I didn’t automatically reject everything I read confirmation-bias style. No, I could actually engage myself with the texts, try to find the insight and the new way of looking at the world. After a while I found myself at “Stage 4.5”: I felt like I was at sea without a compass, mast or a rudder. I didn’t know anymore what to believe. My moral compass was spinning. It was pretty awful feeling.

    Long story short, I got over it and found myself somewhere that may or may not be “Stage 5”. I think part of the reason I didn’t get stuck on nihilism of stage 4.5 was (once again) having majored in History. History forces you to look at different times and different societies without judgement – but it also requires you to make your own interpretation of the events. You can’t be “just an observer”, because we can’t actually observe the past. This was the third thing I remember from History 101. You have the sources, but they don’t tell the story – you do. There is no neutral history, it’s always someone’s interpretation of the sources.

    This was a useful perspective for me. I understood that there is no objectively best system at parsing the world, but that does not mean that the systems are without value. The different systems were my sources. Now it was up to me to interpret them.

    Reply
    1. Jessica Post author

      Hi! It’s great to hear your story! Isn’t it curious how, for us, it took a mix of STEM and non-STEM to deal with the stage 4-5 transition. I wonder if pure STEM folks would sit in stage 4 just as long as pure Arts folks?

      I also like the “mixture” subjects. For me computing was really just language, with some logic thrown in. I also favour front end, which relates very strongly to visuals and needs hardly any math.

      Reply
  4. nufdriew

    Hi,
    I’m empathetically enjoying your posts on transition to post-systematicity, please keep up the blogging.

    Uneven also in the sense of perhaps being in one stage regarding abstract reasoning that is much further along than the stage I’m in regarding emotionally relating with other people.

    I identify with this. It seems logical that for the 4-5 transition that cognitive rearrangement of subject-object relations would precede emotional integration. Does that sound right? I haven’t heard that expressed elsewhere, but I also haven’t read any account of an emotional breakthrough preceding the cognitive one. Although cognitive and emotional development must work somewhat in tandem, I sometimes experience what seems like a large gap between them. I imagine for STEM trained individuals that awareness of cognitive dissonance leads the way and emotional development follows. Is this a feature of the stage transition itself, or might people moving through an employment-based, or POMO-based, or arts-based transition experience emotional development and have to figure out the cognitive implications as a result? I don’t know.

    Reply
    1. Jessica Post author

      I think it entirely depends. I have met people who process emotionally first and let the intellectual catch up. These people seem more comfortable in 3 and 5 while I certainly feel more of a mastery of 2 and 4. In the past the ’emotional’ stages were more pressed on women and the ‘cognitive’ side valorised in men but that has changed now. The example I am thinking of for emotional processing is male. Anyway it seems likely that STEM and STEM-inspired lead intellectually (and of course we are all a mix of both).

      Reply
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