Choosing which human brain to install in the Oval Office for the next four years is a daunting and demanding task. Some would even say it is scary.
For sure, it is a serious enough task that we should take a look at what we know about how our brains consistently deal with this messy, unpredictable soap opera we call life.
I have a personality testing tool that I developed years ago to help individuals and organizations do just that. What I’ve done below is use my BrainMap® assessment model to take a look at seven of the presidential candidates who have received substantial media attention. Here are some of their thinking characteristics that interest me:
The most advanced thinking capabilities. The winner is Bernie Sanders. It’s because he depends so heavily on his prefrontal lobs, both right and left. He speaks frequently of the interconnectedness of things, and that’s why. Many younger voters (under 40) sense that he’s the candidate most likely to be attracted to the new, the novel and the complex (even if he’s 74). This jives with their hunch that the world ahead is going to be vastly different from the world we’re leaving behind. Can Sanders win it all? Probably not. But he may be a bellwether for the kind of minds that will seek the presidency in the 2020s. We can expect to see more brains like his in the next few presidential election campaigns.
The nicest brains in the crowd. Those belonging to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Both gents prefer operating from their right-brain hemisphere. This renders them loyal to traditions, values and groups from their past (Floridians from the right side of the tracks for Bush; Floridians from the other side of the Straits for Rubio). Both think you should trust their brains because they’re basically good guys, even when they have mean things to say. Why isn’t either of them doing better with the voters? Rubio may be beginning to make strides in the toughness area. But because of how their brains work, it is always going to be stretch for them to find their “ugly groove” and say there.
A lamb’s brain waiting to be sacrificed. Dr. Carson’s. This talented brain surgeon depends heavily on his upper left-brain hemisphere. We can be thankful for that. This is where we want our brain surgeons, airline pilots, actuarial experts and the like to spend most of their thinking moments. But when you are running for the presidency, there is a price to be paid for too much specialized thinking. Eventually your supply of theories and techniques runs dry on the political hustings, then you have to strike out on your own. What does a brain surgeon do when he shouts “Code Blue” and nobody comes? As we’ve seen with the good doctor, plummet in the polls.
The two most interesting and most dangerous brains. Ted Cruz gets slotted here because he knows exactly what he wants (“forever and ever, amen!”) and Donald Trump because he wants exactly what he knows (until he comes across something else). Both these candidates are in thrall to the bottom quadrants of their brains. Cruz favors the right side, Trump, the left side. No matter. With these brain areas calling the shots, it assures both men of copious supplies of psychological energy. Cruz devotes his brain electricity to delivering his “truths,” whatever the cost; Trump devotes his to searching for truths he can sell to someone, hopefully on the margin. Putting either one of these guys in the Oval Office is going to mean that this campaign never ends.
The brain you don’t want to go at head-on. Ms. Clinton’s. This isn’t the Hillary Clinton of yore (’92, ’96, ‘00, ‘04, ‘08), only more so. Hillary’s brain is a role model for what can be done when you effectively marry the front and back areas of the left brain hemisphere. You get someone capable of learning quickly, then exhibiting a Cobra’s patience for explaining something like Benghazi or the emails for the umpteenth time. The upside: this is a brain unlikely to go off the rails. The down side: you get someone who has wanted to be in charge for so long she’s incapable of envisioning a world where she wouldn’t be.
So which of these brains can we expect your brain to favor when it comes time to vote for our next President?
We thinking skills researchers know it will most likely be the one whose brain seems to behave closest to the way you think your brain behaves.
The run-up to the U.S. presidential election is one of the soap opera’s great “look in the mirror” moments, and that’s the rub. If things don’t work out, we have no one but ourselves to blame.
If you’d like to read this commentary in The Gainesville Sun, go here. If you have comments, please forward comments to me at email@example.com and I’ll post them.
I had originally intended this blog item to be about “the future of the brain.” That phrase has such a smart, in-the-know, forward-thinking ring to it. I thought I’d google a few smart, in-the-know, forward-thinking terms and see what the cognoscenti of the AI, transhuman, futurist and other intellectually inclined “crystal ball” movements are saying on the topic. Then I’d wrap it all up tidily for the half-dozen or so of my readers interested in this kind of gazing-at-the-navel-of-a-neuron-style discussion. But a hour or so into my internet spelunking, my vision of where I was headed disappeared down the rabbit hole.
Here’s what I realized when I emerged on the other side: There is nothing much scientifically that you can say about the future of the brain once you get more than, say, five minutes out. This is why everyone who bothers to pontificate about the topic quickly ends up sounding like they are talking about religion, not about good science, or even likely science at all. There’s simply too much we still don’t know about how the brain works and how it changes. Plus there’s this: The possibilities that could be ahead for “the brain” are enormous, much too gauzy for our limited 2016 speculating.
If, however, you insist on speculating on the future of the brain anyway, I can recommend someone entertaining enough to listen to. That would be Professor Nick Bostrom, founding director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.
Bostrom protects himself from sounding like a theologian by viewing the whole topic as “a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” That’s to say, he views everything you can say about the brain’s future with extreme pessimism, and that, of course, makes him a philosopher. And truly good philosophers, of which Bostrom is one, are the most fun for the rest of us when they deign to speak in reasonably non-technical terms, which Bostrom usually does.
Looking at the brain in a far, far future in Superintelligence, he can envision such things as a massive cognitive cyber-soup, composed of trillions of digital minds operating connectedly. That could lead, he speculates, to brains as big as planets, with billion-year life spans. But he’s not expecting such brains, if they appear, to necessarily produce a blueprint for utopia. For context, he offers this analogy:
”What if the great apes had asked whether they should evolve into Homo sapiens—pros and cons—and they had listed, on the pro side, ‘Oh, we could have a lot of bananas if we became human’? Well, we can have unlimited bananas now, but there is more to the human condition than that.”
What, then, can I report after my afternoon’s inquiry into where we are on our understanding of the brain and where it might take us? Five observations:
1) The brain remains the best example so far of the methods with which the universe is developing itself. To use neuroscientist Anthony Zador’s term, the standard building block is a makeshift “bag of tricks.”
2) Most of the folks speculating on the future of the brain foresee a radical amplification of human abilities ahead (one of these is the extraordinarily readable Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari).
3) Some observers think AI (artificial intelligence) will quickly outstrip our Homo sapiens brain’s capabilities, beginning as soon as the year 2045.
4) When we get careless, those of us who have sought to use “brain studies” in HRD, OD, creativity enhancement and the like are forever sounding like metaphysicists or—heaven forfend!—religion’s homespun, Bible-thumping eschatologists.
5) Making any statement about the brain, including its future, should be done with fear and trembling. We just don’t know very much about how all this works—and we may never know very much.
Vaclav Smil, the Czech-Canadian scientist and policy analyst, has reminded us just how difficult it is for this brain of ours to draw a good bead on what’s already happened to us technologically, much less what may happen. For certain, very few of us would suggest that the 1880s were the most inventive time in history.
Yet Smil writes, “The 1880s were miraculous: They gave us such disparate contributions as antiperspirants, inexpensive lights, reliable elevators, and the theory of electromagnetism—although most people lost in their ephemeral tweets and in Facebook gossip are not even remotely aware of the true scope of this quotidian debt.”
So far, how does history suggest we best proceed with the study of the brain and all else?
Pick a tiny corner of the universe. Explore it to the best of your ability. See if you can spot connections. If you can, try them. If you can’t, don’t assume they aren’t there.
Please forward comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post them.
When I first met Alan Brunacini, I had no idea that he was a prototype of what I would come to call “the dolphin thinker.” He was simply a super-nice guy, who was already being steadily promoted by his employer, the Phoenix (Ariz.) Fire Department. I was a reporter for the local newspaper. A few minutes after shaking his hand for the first time, I scurried with him to his battalion chief’s car and we headed off to a reported fire at the head of a column of fire vehicles, sirens and horns blaring. It turned out to be a false alarm, but Alan Brunacini didn’t. (As you’ve no doubt already surmised, that’s him pictured above, courtesy of firefightertoolbox.com.)
Alan was not only destined to become chief of the Phoenix department a few years after I met him but also one of the most respected figures in firefighting management world-wide. I featured him in Chapter Seven of LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Smart Thing Come Hell or High Water as—you guessed it—one of my prototypical dolphin thinkers.
He’s retired from the fire service now but busier than ever urging the profession’s participants—in particular, those in command positions—to do exactly what the sub-title of LEAP! encourages everyone to do. He did that a few issues ago in Fire Engineering, the industry trade journal, with a rift on what he called “power goofs” by people in authority in the fire service. His way of calling the power goof-ers out was to list their power-abusing behaviors in vivid language. As I read through it, I realized that I’d never seen a better job done of pinpointing what it is that users of the mindset we call “the shark” at BTC does to foster scarcity in organizations where they exercise control.
Without further ado, here are Chief Brunacini’s descriptions of what power goofers do that proves so debilitating to organizations. Unfortunately, these behaviors aren’t limited to the fire service.
• They are abusive in ways that cause results that range from hurt feelings to disrupted careers.
• They threaten talented subordinates.
• They kiss up/kick down.
• They like the limelight: “front and centeritus.”
• They are given to continuous self-aggrandizement: status seeking (letters behind the name, pictures/name/title on everything, and so on).
• They regard everyone as rivals; they are excessively competitive.
• They make the job and the boss bigger than they are.
• They exert themselves in the wrong way/at the wrong time.
• They steal, hoard, and mismanage credit, continually inflating their own performance/status.
• They assault, murder, or kidnap ideas for personal attention and credit.
• They are preoccupied with how they look instead of how they are doing (appearance freak).
• They play someone else’s role, do someone else’s job instead of their own, operate outside of their assigned “lane.”
• They possess the uncontrollable urge to unnecessarily “fix,” change, or alter things by adding their “fingerprints” on them.
• They strategically create problems (generally “slow balls”) so they can solve them and then take credit.
• They cannot take “yes” for an answer.
• They act as bullies.
• They automatically say, “I”/”me”/”mine” in every statement about anything positive (the “I” person).
• They use careless, inappropriate, and untruthful language.
• They brag about hitting a triple when they were actually born on third base.
• They believe that being “nice” is a weakness.
• They create a reward for others to (competitively) bring news to them before anyone else gets the news (reporting race to the boss).
• They give inordinate credit to those who shower attention, flattery on them.
• They use their position to always put (and then dominate) subordinates and others at a disadvantage.
• They act in a way that always shows others that they are in charge.
• They confuse monologue (me lecturing) with dialogue (us conversing).
• They play goofy information games (information is power) and manipulate information in a self-serving way.
• They irritate others, are abrasive, and aggravate people (because they can) to keep them off balance (just plain poor manners).
• They lack social radar (close their eyes when they open their mouth).
• They keep self-made, unnecessary secrets to keep others in suspense and off balance; divulge confidential information.
• They operate with a double standard and continually play favorites.
• They withhold approval until the other person complies or behaves in a boss-approved way.
• They overcomplicate a simple process and then hide in the confusion.
• They practice cronyism: allocate resources, assignments, and projects based on politically motivated friend/enemy, insider/outsider, okay/not okay relationships.
• They are preoccupied with being shown respect and their reputation and act out in revenge.
• They create and then patrol overdefined and unnecessary organizational levels.
• They are rude/mean/uncivil to keep people off balance.
• They continually lose their temper; they are chronically angry and yelling (”rageaholic”).
• They overreact (tantrum) when they don’t get their way or what they want.
• They are personally disloyal, backstabbers.
• They employ excessive/hurtful verbal sarcasm.
• They are disruptively impatient.
• They are dishonest (will end up in jail eventually).
• They are aloof and unapproachable.
• They are organizational hermits-they hide out to avoid contact, controversy, or anything or anybody “messy.”
• They have a messed up sense of timing: They take too long to decide or decide too quickly.
• They always demand an excessive level of detail that confuses, frustrates, and kills action (paralysis by analysis).
• They are excessively risk adverse: They always play it safe, never take a smart chance, and think the sky is falling (yellow light is always on).
• They create organizational fear as a control measure.
• They do not understand the dynamics of feelings; they are emotionally illiterate.
• They are poor listeners.
• They have a closed mind to progress that involves change, discomfort, or additional effort- anything that disrupts the status quo.
• They never ever forgive/forget; they continually bring up past mistakes, missteps, or misjudgments.
• They fail to recognize that or behave as if they have a boss.
• They are excessively preoccupied with the prerogatives of their position (they continually patrol the perimeter of their job description).
• They make others wrong so they can be “right.”
• They are untrainable/unteachable/impossible to help.
• They are artificially expanding the importance of their role/job/performance to look good (occupational narcissism).
• Their ego has partially or completely eaten their brain.
If you’d like to read Chief Brunacini’s article, go here. If you’d like to invite him to tell your managers how to avoid thinking like a power goofer (and think like a dolphin), you can reach him here.
Please forward comments to me at email@example.com and I’ll post them.
If you’ve never scouted up a copy of my book, The Mother of All Minds: Leaping Free of an Outdated Human Nature, here is how it begins:
Without the ”I,” there would be few books. And certainly not this book. The ”I,” of course, is all about the ego. As you are about to discover, I couldn’t have written this work without an outrageously healthy ego, because an outrageously healthy ego is pretty much the whole point of The Mother of All Minds.
Getting right to the point, there is a new kind of audacious, self-affirming yet outward-looking, forward-thinking and all-encompassing attitude in town. Mine, yes. But the new flavor of ego I’m speaking of has significant implications and important uses that extend far beyond this one mortal’s enthusiasm at discovering himself to be a guinea pig rooting around the frontiers of human thinking skills.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that terms like ”outrageously healthy ego” may not settle well with the scholarly types who have been doing most of the thinking aloud about this newly emergent development in our human nature. But that’s because they’ve become so accustomed to commenting about this topic in a strictly bookish, externally focused, mostly hands-off fashion. Of course, this helps them avoid having to attempt a substantially hands-on, experiential, internally focused look at the matter.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not dumping on the scholarly crowd. Their contributions continue to be too valuable for that. But if I have no real qualms with the professor types sounding professorial, I have no intention of trying to sound like them, either. It doesn’t serve anyone’s best interest to wait any longer for a more interior view of something extraordinary that is happening at the cutting edge of our human thinking capabilities. All this to explain that one of the driving motivations behind my writing of The Mother of All Minds has been to provide, for the most part, a hands-on, ”experienced from the inside” view of this outrageously healthy new ego’s arrival and prospects.
I know this is happening because it has happened to me. I know that it has happened to others. And as I observe what is happening to humanity and other living things on the planet because this kind of knowing is still only an embryonic force in the human tool kit of thinking qualities, I know it is important and needs to be encouraged. However, there was something I didn’t realize until I began working on this book. And that’s the extent to which this outrageously healthy ego phenomenon is proving to be a ”third rail”-like episode for some of the very people who should know how important this development is. Important, first, for the individual’s psychological growth. And, second, for the hope of speeding up the maturation of our species and the injection of greater degrees of sanity and progress for the general picture-at-large on our increasingly beleaguered planet.
I call this a third-rail phenomenon because of the qualities it shares with the third rail on the subway line. The topic is charged, electrified, off-putting! Scary! I really had no idea how off-putting and scary until I began to interact more with people about the experiences I discuss in this book.
There were individuals who have undergone an impressive psychological shift of this nature. Anyone who has been around them for any duration and knows what to look for can see that they have. But after agreeing to talk with me about changes in their life and thinking and how they came about, when the time came to chat, they got cold feet and withdrew. Others claimed to have experienced such a transition—but really couldn’t point to the kind of sustained, next-level-up results in their thinking and behavior that I found persuasive. And some individuals adamantly insisted that they couldn’t think this way and yet, by my observation, they can and they do.
One possible explanation is that these individuals are simply shy or inordinately private. But I don’t think that is the whole explanation or even the most likely one. I encountered this uncertainty and reticience so many times that I have this robust hunch: much more than we have previously suspected, taking the wraps off an outrageously healthy ego is a serious gut-check-and-soul-searching assignment for anyone who might be a candidate for it. In fact, it wasn’t until personal hindsight became available—that is, when I could look back at my own third-rail encounter—that this realization fully struck home.
As the outrageously healthy ego I now freely and cheerfully acknowledge to being, let me say it flat out: there is a force field that a person must push through to get to where this new version of the ego takes on its character and its competence. And this force field is formidable. If a person becomes aware of this obstacle, what so often happens is that the psyche then tosses one weighty counter-resistance after another in any path that would put the individual beyond this antagonistic force, even if the opportunity is begging to be acted on. I can’t speak for you, of course, but it is surprising to me to discover counter-progressive forces of such strength and tenacity in our psyche at such a late stage in our human development.
And away we go from there for 285 more pages! Even used copies of the paperback edition are rare and expensive, and new ones even more so (although you can, if you wish, still acquire such copies here. The ebook version is a beaucoup bargain by comparison and available from several of the major ebook suppliers here.
Our dolphin strategy book (Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World; details here) attracted far greater readership and exposure, but I’ve always thought that The Mother of all Minds is a much more exciting and instructive introduction to the thinking, deciding and valuing life of the mind available beyond the late Clare W. Graves’ “monumental leap.”
If you have comments on this or any other posting on this blog, please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Why would the president of the University of Missouri system say the issue of racist behaviors against the system’s students was going to be taken up next April when one of his students was on a hungry strike that would kill him much earlier?
Why would the same tone-deaf administrator react lukewarmly—to put it generously—to a claim by the “Mizzou” student body president (who is black and gay) that he was being verbally abused (repeatedly) by someone riding in a pickup truck?
Why would this same gent refuse to get out of his car and have a conversation with students protesting racial behavior on campus at a homecoming parade?
Why would someone take feces and draw a swastika on a university dormitory wall?
Why did it take a strike by 30 (of the team’s 84 scholarship holders, 58 of whom are African-American) of UM’s variety football players that would cost the school $1 million in default fees if this weekend’s BYU game was cancelled to get anyone in power to take notice much of any of this?
Why . . .why . . . why? Good questions to put to the human brain, so let’s do so. Here are key discoveries we’ve made about the brain and racism, most of them quite recently:
Biologically, racism seems to stem from the brain’s built-in tendency to warn us to stay away from parts of the environment that are threatening. The culprit is an almond-shaped cluster of neurons called the amygdala. It is located close to the center of our brain. It mediates fear conditioning by controlling a lot of the brain’s emotional processes. We run into problems—such as racism—because the amygdala works very fast, far more rapidly that our conscious thinking.
We like to think that our brains are born as “blank slates.” This would mean none of us are racists or sexists or homophobic at birth. But even if we are not, prejudice is lurking not far behind. Infants as young as three months are already showing preferences for faces from the same racial background. If for no other reason, this is because the people around them lose no time in “programming” their newborns with their own biases and preferences when it comes to people.
Fortunately, what the brain gives, the brain can also take away. This gets a bit tricky, so follow closely. How the brain is going to respond to a racially excited amygdala that has been programmed by its environment is a two-step dance. A part of the brain called the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC) is first to detect a person is reacting negatively to an out-group member. The ACC passes along the issue to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Good results can follow if, for example, a person has been made aware of their racial bias toward people who aren’t like them because this can change how the DLPFC reacts.
There’s a strong case to be made that the University of Missouri’s two top administrators ignored the grievances of their African-American students because the executives were unaware of their prejudices. Rinku Sin, author of The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalization, explains, “Our judgments about people don’t qualify as prejudices because our brains are happy enough to have a coherent story about ‘those people’.” Social psychologists call this brain failing “implicit prejudice.” Its impact can be stunning. For example, one survey a week after George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, 30 percent of white respondents were unhappy with the verdict compared to 86 percent of African-Americans. (It only takes about ten minutes to measure your own implicit biases on race. Go here.)
Will millions of brains in America use the events at the University of Missouri to a challenge their own (implicit) racially tinged brain biases? It would be nice to think so but almost certainly not. Because—let’s say it again—they (we!) won’t do this because we (they) don’t think they are racially biased. One more time: what makes this such a difficult thing to change at a fundamental level is that the amygdala-activated part of our brain is lightning quick, intuitive and, often, arrogant. And let it be said, entrenched in power, in a lot more places than the executive suite at the University of Missouri. We shouldn’t give up trying to strengthen, educate and pressure our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) to be more “moral.” And we can acknowledge that we’ve made some progress. But our brain can be a pesky critter. It can easily use a self-perceived and self-congratulatory “arc of improvement” on racial issues as just another implicit bias to keep it from responding to the injustices around it.
Here’s the reality: To now, developments in how we humans “do lives and do societies” can be said to have arrived in four great waves. Agriculture. Industry. Information. And the latest: Productivity and Change.
No. 4, the Wave of Productivity and Change, was to involve converging technologies such as bioengineering, nanotechnology, macro-robotics, machine cognition, exotic energy and new materials science, along with astonishing gains in information processing and sharing. And it has, plus much more.
Merged with new ways of organizing and using human capital, this powerful combination was expected to create new knowledge, products and sources of energy. And it has. And make people’s lives better, fuller, sooner—everywhere on this remarkable blue planet. . . . THAT, it hasn’t.
• So what happened? Wave 4 has largely been thwarted by short-sighted vision and poor decision-making . . . and co-opted by simple greed, worldwide.
The technologies of Wave 4 —technologies that could decentralize and liberate—have been thrust aside in favor of those of a global economic and wealth-controlling oligarchy. In other words, the same old, same old, except it is on a far vaster scale and moving at warp speed.
• This isn’t going to endure in the long run. Our air and waters are being polluted beyond sustainability. People are hungry, and food sources are stressed. Other species are disappearing. The Great Wave of Life that underlies all the other waves is being direly challenged. It’s no exaggeration to say that life on Earth hangs in the balance.
Brain Technologies’ authors narrated much of the above in their best-selling book, Strategy of the Dolphin®. Dudley expanded on the topic in The Mother of All Minds. Then he expanded on what can happen in dolphin-thinking waters with LEAP! How to Think Like a Dolphin & Do the Next Right, Best Thing Come Hell or High Water. More information on these pioneering works and how to acquire them is here.
• Our best hope: a learning-capable, changeable brain. Under the right circumstances, our brain is wired to change itself when it senses new needs and challenges. The best clue that this is happening is how a brain views the world: its worldviews, primary and secondary.
This is why BTC is reintroducing its Yo!Dolphin! Worldview Survey™, featuring the crucial new Deep See-Change Dolphin Worldview.
The Yo!Dolphin! thinking skills technology tracks five major worldviews: Carp, Shark, First Dolphin, Prime Dolphin and Deep See-Change Dolphin. Like a GPS-locator, it will tell you exactly where your thinking, acting, believing and valuing skills are anchored in today’s turbulent Deep See ocean of needs, challenges and possibilities.
• The critical answers to the kinds of worldviews that dominate in your own thinking environment are identified instantaneously when you take a few moments to respond to our highly professional online self-analysis questionnaire. What you can learn about yourself in one of the most unusual, most personal, most detailed and most instructive “personality profiles” of our generation is only an instant away.
Awaken and thrill to the true power of the story that your worldview equips you to tell, explore, personalize and take inspiration from.
Appreciate how uniquely you “slot into” the bigger picture of a humanity that may be a treasure unmatched in all the universe.
Revel in the richness of your possibilities even as you benefit from a penetrating new understanding of self limits and possible points of vulnerability.
Go forth prepared to utilize your thinking skills with a quality, precision and effectiveness frankly available to very few of the people you’ll ever be called on to influence, instruct, guide, match wits with or seriously challenge.
And no feature of your full, comprehensive Yo!Dolphin report is more unusual than its ability to help you understand if you are ready to help protect the Great Wave of Life. And if you are, what the most productive and constructive steps are that you can take are. And if you aren’t, how you can improve your readiness.
• It all starts with how you see the world. And there’s no clearer, cleaner, more action-inspiring way to do that than to ask BTC’s Yo!Dolphin! Worldview Survey what it sees and what it has to suggest about the way you think, value, choose and behave.
For more information, go here.
To take the questionnaire and initiation one of the most unique self-discovery processes of your life, go here.
If you had been with me on that cantankerous, wintry New England day when I got my first glimpse of him, I think we’d both have agreed that the initial sighting was memorable. The focus, I believe, would have been mostly on his visage. To a surprising extent, his facial features reminded me of the somber, dignified Abe Lincoln who stares back at you in Matthew Brady’s daguerreotypes.
In the Newton, Mass., restaurant that day, I could instantly fit Lincoln’s craggy face, with the dark, hedgerow eyebrows, onto a gangly body not unlike the late actor Jimmy Stewart’s, though not quite so tall. Palpably, this became Professor Clare W. Graves at about 11:15 p.m. of his pathfinder’s life. Most people who ever met him also remembered Dr. Graves’ black-rimmed eyeglasses, possibly in part because of their proximity to a pair of watchful, deep-set eyes. Dr. Graves, an American psychologist, was the pioneering researcher and theorist who was the first to realize that a great new watershed in human thinking abilities was surfacing—a 21st Century-prefiguring, global-world-processing new kind of mind.
Like the first to see many a newly identified heavenly object, Dr. Graves was able to make the sighting only because he was looking with the right tools—including his own gifted intuitions and analytical skills—in the right direction at the right time for observing a radically different way for individuals to organize their thinking.
It all began because iconoclastic Clare Graves was acutely irritated by the inability of psychology’s reigning personalities (Freud, Alder, Fromm, Erikson, Skinner, Maslow, Rogers and others) to agree on what constitutes a healthy mind. He decided to ignore their views and develop his own. And that meant accumulating his own data.
For several years, Graves had been systemically collecting and cataloguing his students’ views about what made for a mature person. It had grown into a massive one-man research project. He had a hoard of basic input about minds from many different cultures—and the mounting intimation of a promising theory. He was growing more and more optimistic about working out a plausible solution for psychology’s wishy-washiness.
When, out of the blue, he experienced a stunning setback.
DR. CLARE W. GRAVES (Photo used by permission of the late Christopher C. Cowan and Spiral Dynamics)
With no warning at all, the beliefs of some of his most perceptive and sensitive—and, in his view, most mature—research subjects abruptly and permanently shifted on him. And not just their beliefs. Something unexpected happened to some of their most vital thinking skills, too. He knew because he quickly tested them. There was nothing in his developing theory or his thoughts to explain how this could be. Suddenly, he faced the researcher’s worse nightmare: he was lost and could see no recognizable landmarks in view.
If at one moment these individuals were capable of processing the day-to-day complexities and subtleties of the world at C, it was as if they were now suddenly capable of interacting with their hour-to-hour surroundings at E or G or K. It wasn’t that their IQs had turned on the afterburner and shot toward the stratosphere. In a conventional sense, they weren’t suddenly smarter. A better explanation was that they were more complicated, more insightful, more … open and thoughtful and strategic. Their horizons had been widened. To Dr. Graves, it seemed as if they had been granted added space and extra skills for growing up, though most of them were already nearly grown. How could he possibly explain that?
He was dumbfounded.
As the months passed, then a year, then more months, Dr. Graves’ intellectual crisis continued. Unlike Jacob, he didn’t wrestle nightly with angels. His wrestling opponents were demons, not angels—the demons of unknowing, confusion and puzzlement. Forgetting the sins of the profession’s fathers, he now struggled with the chaos he confronted in his own personal academic backyard.
Then, in a moment, it was over. The angst ended, the skies cleared. As unceremoniously as it had appeared—in one of those breakaway creative flashes that often advances the human cause—in his mind, the problem resolved itself.
On a fall day in 1961, in his classroom at Union College in Schenectady, New York, Graves hurried to a blackboard. Writing as fast as he could, he jotted down the rudiments of an explanation both for his own research conundrum and for the fundamental confusions and contradictions that had so long flummoxed psychology—the inability of psychology’s greatest theorists to come to agreement on the ideal human mind. As Graves described it years later in various locations, including an article for The Futurist (April, 1974, pp. 72-87) , his basic realization was this:
“The psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change….Each successive stage, wave, or level of existence is a state through which people pass on their way to other states of being. When the human is centralized in one state of existence, he or she has a psychology which is particular to that state. His or her feelings, motivations, ethics and values, biochemistry, degree of neurological activation, learning system, belief system, conception of mental health, ideas as to what mental illness is and how it should be treated, conceptions of and preferences for management, education, economics, and political theory and practice are all appropriate to that state.”
Translation: there is no single way to describe a mature human because, in the truest sense, there is no such thing as a mature human. Maturity is as maturity does. And what the psychologically healthy person does best is to change with the times. The change always involves substituting new ways to think and behave for old ways. And the substitution may occur—needs to occur—again and again. Human maturation, Graves concluded, is an ever-ongoing process!
Dr. Graves’ model of how humans mature is, of course, highly basic to our “dolphin strategy” thinking skills model and to our MindMaker6® and Yo!Dolphin! Worldview Survey® assessment tools. And it anchors the discussion in all my books of theoretical and actual aspects of how we humans think and how our personal psychologies mature.
[Send comments for LEAP!Psych to email@example.com]
Spiral Dynamics®’ co-creator Chris Cowan succumbed to a virulent cancer so quickly a few days ago that almost no one knew he was seriously ill. One day Chris’s personal and business partner, Natasha Todovoric, was notifying those of us who knew Chris well of that fact, and the very next day, she was telling us Chris was gone. At Brain Technologies, we were thunderstruck at the news—and profoundly saddened. It is an irreplaceable loss for so many.
I met Chris in the late 1970s. He was not widely known in people assessment and maturation theory circles at that time, and neither was I. Sherry and I were living in Richardson, Texas. Chris lived a few miles up in the road in a mobile home at the edge of Denton, Texas, not far from his birthplace in McKinney.
Chris Cowan (photo courtesy of Spiral Dynamics®)
He’d discovered the late Dr. Clare W. Graves’ work while teaching communications courses at The University of North Texas. I’d also found many of Graves’ ideas appealing, and this shared interest led to more than a few lengthy Friday night conversations together around our mutual dining tables and to a friendship that endured.
I’ve had several requests in the past few days to write about my most impactful memories of Chris Cowan and, to now, have generally demurred from responding to them. Not because I had no wish to, but because I haven’t been sure how to do justice to this unique and talented person’s memory.
But then I began reading through the several hundred emails Chris and I exchanged over more than a decade-and-a-half, and an idea occurred to me. There might be a way to remind those of us who knew Chris how gifted his powers of observation were. How much fun his repartee could be. And how generous was his spirit. And that was to let Chris speak for himself.
Here, then, are snippets from our exchanges over the years. Some are serious, some mischievous and all of them, in my opinion, indicative of a personality it was a privilege to know. There’s no real rhyme or reason for the order of what follows. My purpose is simply to expose anyone who never had the joy of having a conversation, written or verbal, with Chris Cowan to experience what it could be like.
He called eating my wife Sherry’s celebrated enchiladas “worshipping at the shrine of Our Lady of Great Guacamole.” In one email, that thought led him to this one: “Have you ever visited Windthorst on the way to Wichita Falls? Near the out-of-scale Catholic church is ‘The Shrine of Our Lady of Highway 287,’ built after W.W.II when all the lads of the town got home safe.” His thoughts were often like that. Unpredictable. Disjointed. But almost always interesting, entertaining and often enlightening.
I once asked him to recommend a restaurant or two in Santa Barbara, CA, where he and Natasha had lived for the past two decades or more. This was his response: “I can tell you where to get the best sushi (Piranha for quality, Something’s Fishy for quantity, Edomasa for authenticity) and where to do killer Argentine red chili rellenos (Cafe Buenos Aires) and where to get the best tacos if you can order in Spanish (El Sitio), the best for gringos (Left at Albuquerque).” With Chris, it was always ask and you shall receive, usually in abundance.
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Natasha, but I had this tongue-in-cheek description from Chris: “Natasha is pretty cute for a Serbian anarchist-in-training.”
Nor did I ever have an opportunity to visit them in what Chris called their Santa Barbara bungalow. He offered these insights:
We’re in Montecito just across from Westmont College right on Montecito Creek, just off the 192. I have to confess that we’re probably the socioeconomic bottom extreme of Montecito – the little house is a former gazebo and guest cottage – one room with a nice porch built on top of a small hill – slopes STEEPLY to the creek on three sides. Anyway, what with the weather, the beach 5 minutes away, the waterfront 7 minutes away, and the national forest 20 min. away it’s hard to beat the lifestyle. Went to a lecture by the head of the Council for Secular Humanism last Thursday, saw 17 films at the festival the week before that (including one where that actor’s actor Stevan Segal talked about Buddhism – recommend Amores Perros from Mex.), and watched a documentary about a Swiss doctor/cellist in Cambodia with Julia Child (who winters here) – only in Santa B.
Few things irritated Chris more than adherents to Dr. Graves’ model who used it to explain their own supposed growth-in-maturity achievements and superior personal values and thinking skills. If you brought the subject up, you were often treated to a Cowan “teaching moment” like this one:
[They] all think they operate at the 8th and beyond levels, so of course they project spiritual enlightenment – little Lamas, each and every one. The mistake is to assume that we move from level to level rather than add layers. They’re caught up in the sophomore notion of distinct levels, as if that’s what really matters. I’m also in disagreement in that there are versions of spirituality throughout the model – it’s how spirituality is expressed and thought about that shifts, not that it exists. They’re amazingly arrogant – what CG [Clare Graves] called ‘the delusion of ER [Graves’ Level 5]’ that it’s [this Graves system is] always at the top of a theory and approaching transcendence.
Chris loved to tweak politicians. In their day, he regularly referred to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as “the Shrub and Drill-stem Dick.” He included jokes and stories about public figures frequently in his emails. One happened to be about an upcoming premiere at the Met of a new grand opera, sung in Italian, based on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Here’s how Chris described Act I:
As the curtain rises, the House Republicans are meeting with Ken Starr with the object of trying to find a way to remove Clinton from the Presidency. The opening chorale, “We Must Find a Way” (Creato grandissimo floozy scandala), is sung as a sextet. In an impressive recitative, Tom DeLay sings “Where Will We Find a Helper?” (Dredgi uppulia una Granda Bimba). The House Republicans exit.”
But Chris didn’t spare even those he admired most from his honest appraisals. Not even Dr. Graves. He once addressed the good doctor’s reality-processing limits in terms of his own theory:
I don’t think he stretched much beyond DQ/ER himself – that’s what he said, anyway. He understood the other systems conceptually, but he lived 4/5. He was agnostic/atheist and didn’t have much patience for the consciousness domain except as it became a topic to observe people thinking about. Of course, he was thirty years ahead of the chic spirituality of the last few years.
Chris loved to play with words and glommed onto any illustration of others doing the same. He tried not to miss the results of the yearly contest of the Style section of The Washington Post. Readers were asked to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter and supply a new definition. One year in the early 2000s, here were his favorites among the winners:
Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? and then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
He was fascinated by Australia and did wonderful imitations of the place both in person and in print. Here’s how he described a discussion with Australian friends after one trip:
We enjoyed Oz. Took a small bottle of locally made dessert riesling (“Rancho Sisquoc”) to our wine-loving friends. They, like most Aussies, it seems, consider themselves connoisseurs of the grape and looked at it with a decided nasal tilt upward . . . hmmmm . . . Santa Barbara county . . . hmmmm . . . [swirl] . . . really . . . rieslings are generally rather heavy and thick . . . this looks a little thin . . . interesting nose . . . [Then the chef from the fish & chips shop where we were dining comes over to see how the seafood had been and to deliver his experiment of the day, a passion fruit souffle) . . . hmmmm . . . a little thin for a dessert riesling... [sip, sip] . . . well. . . my goodness . . . quite light . . . not so heavy and sweet as ours . . . do you know this wine, [addressing Chris and Natasha’s dinner companion]? . . . interesting after-taste on the palate . . . complex . . . what winery is that?… in Santa Barbara county. . . I wonder if we can get that here . . . etc.
To which Chris adds; “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk – better than coals to Newcastle.”
Sometimes, he foreswore the joking and parody-making and stayed with straight reporting. But even that was a treat because of his penetrating asides and observations. Here’s how he reported on the Ukraine after a trip:
Ukraine is a fear-driven place with lots of quasi-superstitions and a very obedience-oriented mindset that’s accompanied by a tolerance for oligarchs and mafiosi. Don’t know if you’ve been there, but lots of churches and change ringing of bells, monks, etc. Very Orthodox mixed with LCD billboards selling Japanese electronics. The Chernobyl museum was more of a memorial for the heroes who died than an exposition of the technical flaws that led to the disaster, and a gentle attack on state authorities who kept secrets and allowed the May Day parade in Kiev while the reactor was still burning and spewing radiation a few miles away.
And this about the British:
[Most] of them are good folks – the YOBs of the younger generation excepted. They’ve gone so far overboard with DQ [Level 4] enforcement of rigidified “Green” [Level 6] values that they’ve bred a batch of pretty hopeless young folks. It’s like Dickens meets MTV in the hands of a gutless Mary Poppins where Super Nanny would be congruent. When [we were] in Marlborough last year there were two mob fights on the street – 2am and again at 3:30am – by local punks and the upper-crust lads and lassies of Marlborough College. Five cop cars showed up, and the outcome was merely a ‘tsk, tsk.’ The UK is a scary place after dark. In Swindon a cabbie told us he could not take us downtown because there was football on and we’d probably be attacked when the pubs let out after the game, regardless of which side won. We went to the rail museum instead.
Brasil is really great, but there’s an underlying ickiness they can’t seem to get beyond. South America is definitely a different world. All our experience in Brasil suggests that the ’sleeping giant’ got bit by a social tzetze fly and still suffers from South American trypanosomiasis – until carnival, but then it goes back to sleep. . . .There’s a lot of magical thinking in Brasil, and that has translated to massive personal growth events and a fascination with gurus who promise eternal life couched as spiritual enlightenment and transcendental business. E.g., D-Q/E-R [Level 4/Level 5].
All this reflecting prompted Chris to sign that email off this way: “Brains are remarkable things. I keep wondering why they bother with consciousness rather than just keeping the mechanism running for enough years to repopulate. But then, what’s the point of repopulating? I’d better go watch a re-run of Cosmos.”
My final email from Chris arrived a few months ago after I’d chided him for not following through on a commitment to me to offer comments on a mystery novel I’ve written about a West Texas sheriff. He replied:
Mea culpa. It’s still sitting on my laptop. I’ll have a look. It’s been an interesting few weeks. I found that my health wasn’t good (usual high BP + pre-diabetes) so we went with a program with our doctor that entails some pretty major lifestyle and especially dietary changes. Two weeks of nothing but bone broth, then four weeks of ‘cleanse and detox’ with a very restricted diet and supplements, now a more Paleo approach to see if that will get my blood sugar where it belongs. One of the effects has been the loss of 45 pounds – meaning I have one pair of new Costco jeans that fits – everything else is shelved. (Meanwhile, Natasha is doing her yoga classes, getting back to her weight of 20 years ago, and feeling good.) That’s no excuse for not reading, only a reason. The absence of all grains, root vegetables, and dairy makes for grumpy campers. Back with ‘ya soon.
But it is now obvious that his health problems were far more serious than high blood pressure. He won’t be getting back again, and I’ll going to be one of those who sorely misses him. I just hope St. Peter likes political jokes. I’m sure Chris has already told him about the one where the U.S. politician was expecting to be greeted at the Pearly Gates by 72 virgins and wound up swarmed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a host of other Southerners. 72 Virginians.
Assuming that heaven can stand more than one American politician, the next one to arrive is going to be greeted by 72 Virginians and one delightfully ornery Santa Barbarian. Like I say, those of us who knew Chris Cowan realize that we’ll not likely be finding another.
By the way, the links in those images don’t work, but here’s one that does. For more information on BTC’s BrainMap(R) assessment tool, go here.
The company we keep at Brain Technologies is highly creative. We never know what imaginative acts or outcomes to expect from our colleagues, clients and friends (or, as you are about to see, their children) next. Several of those folks have been operating outside the box or at least close to the edge again. We thought you’d enjoying knowing and seeing what they’ve been up to lately. So, in no particularly order, let’s talk about . . .
We can’t remember where the vivacious, loquacious Ann Farris was living at the time she entered our lives by attending one of our “BrainLab” seminar sessions in Fort Collins. After we moved to Plano, Texas, in the mid-90s, she turned up in Fort Worth, only 30 miles to the west. After that, we lost track of her until we learned that she was in San Francisco, having written a book called The Other Side of Dyslexia and founded a website called Dyslexia Discovery. You can read a brief account of her personal tussles with this condition and order a copy of her book here.
But she has since added a new interest. Or more correctly, reactivated an old interest. From 1969 to 1972, Ann, having made her way from her native born Canada to California, took a job as assistant to Kurt Herbert Adler, general opera of the San Francisco Opera. A new career in opera followed, ending up with her being executive director of OPERA America, the national service organization for American opera companies.
Six years ago, an acquaintance from those years, David Gockley, a OPERA American board member, approached her about heading up a group of volunteers tasked with bringing order to the undocumented history of the San Francisco Opera. Their goal is to create a public archive for the Company, to be housed on the fourth floor of the new Wilsey Center for Opera in the Veterans Building next door to the opera house.
Ann is now in charge of 13 volunteers. She says they have found photos, slides, documents, reel-to-reel tapes, LP recordings, VHS videos from most all the many live performances at the War Memorial Opera House, filing cabinets jammed with production photos and “a jumble of boxes” of largely unknown content at the time in a room behind the top balcony that Ann nick-named “Valhalla.” She and her volunteers are working in was actually intended to be the shaft for a theater organ that was never installed (and named “The Lobster Room” after a lobster key-chain the room key was on). If you look closely, you can see Ann in this photo of her volunteers and other team members;
OPERA HOUSE VOLUNTEERS
she’s fifth from the right.)
Ann and her helpers have thus far donated 4,600 hours to the project, with no end in sight. They work in three shifts to make optimal use of the three computers and two scanners available to them. A lot of their time is also spent seeking to close gaps in the opera house’s historical record. For example, iI you know of any production photographs of the opera prior to 1931 or for the years 1955 and 1956, Ann would greatly appreciate knowing about it. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michèle Carrier and Charles Boulos
It’s entirely possible that I’m behind the times and this has been happening regularly for some time now. I have certainly been aware of the existence of drones, the small, pilotless vehicles now often being used for aerial photography. But I’d not seen drone-produced videos being used to promote residential real estate offerings until our valued French language BTC distributors, Michèle Carrier and Charles Boulos, founders of Metafor International, sent me one of a lakefront property they have for sale in historic Shawnigian, Quebec, a hundred miles northeast of their headquarters on Nun’s Island, in the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal.
You can see the video here. Michèle and Charles are seated at the glass-topped patio table seen in the dazzling opening shot of the video (he’s in the blue shirt on the left). The house was left to Michèle by her late mother and sits in spectacular fashion (as you’ll see) at the river’s edge in a city whose huge chemical plants and big hydroelectric plant would, or so wartime planners feared, have made it Hitler’s No. 1 target in World War II had his military decided to bomb Canada.
Today, the industrial plants are all gone, and beautiful Shawnigian’s economic vitality is produced by tourism and recreation and by its role as “an ultra-modern digihub and incubator for budding startups.” Michèle and Charles have thoroughly modernized and innovated the former family home. As you can see here in this series of still shots, the property is as gorgeous as its location. And our hat is off to them and their two imaginative “very young realtors” with whom they’ve listed the property.
We had the privilege of watching Julie grow to womanhood as a result of our befriending her mother and father in the early years of Brain Technologies’ existence in the northern suburbs of Dallas, Tex. Her father, Dr. Gary John, has spent decades as both a counselor and a theorizing wizard and developmental specialist at one of the country’s best two-year institutions, Richland College in Richardson, Tex. And he’s long been one of our supporters in educational circles and a much valued one.
Gary emailed us the other day and introduced us to Julie’s latest brainchild—what she calls her “mobile speech bubble.” Holder of a graduate degree in speech disorders and their treatment, Julie founded a company a few years ago called “Word Count” (she is now its sole owner).
As Gary has explained “the speech bubble” concept to us, Julie had two important realizations about the same time. First, she noticed that renting office space was a drag on her finances that seemed to have little continuing collateral benefit. Also, she realized that many parents and their children who might benefit from her services were reluctance to come to her office or come to her in her usual locations. So she bought herself a pickup and a trailer, outfitted it with her testing and assessment technologies and will now travel to a child’s home or anywhere else they want to meet and provide them with very discreet speech and learning assessments and treatment.
Congratulations to all these stalwart denizens of BTC’s ever-fascinating community of intellectually inclined activists and achievers. We’re proud to know you all!