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Graves had originally proposed that all those forces shaping society, whether individuals, groups or cultures, should be looked at from a more integral perspective that takes into account biology (brain capacities), psychology (how people think) and sociology (where people live), and reviews them within the context of an ever evolving dynamic culture. He placed the resulting dimensions that he identified into eight known hierarchical levels of existence called value systems, to which these groupings can belong. This formed the very first comprehensive psychological map of the human experience, which became known as the bio-psycho-social model on which spiral dynamics today is based.

Value systems, for Graves as for Beck, oscillate from expressive, individualistic systems to collective self-sacrificial systems. In individualistic systems individuals gather enough energy to break away from the collective. On the other hand collective systems are sacrificial. With the passage of time, existential problems arise within each value system that cannot any longer be solved by the thinking system at the current level. Crises occur, for example as we see in Egypt today (see Chapter 21) and the value system of individuals or culture may shift into a completely different system, crossing the chasm between individualism and collectivism (or the other way around). For Graves, the different value systems consist of different levels of activation in our neurological being.

Unlike many of his contemporaries in the humanistic psychology movement at the time, Graves firmly believed that society, or social factors, play a critical role in how humans and cultures evolve. He warned that we assume incorrectly that the nature of man is fixed and that there is a single set of values that humans should live by, when indeed the nature of the value systems is open and evolving. Later Don Beck would refer to Graves' psychological map as "spiral dynamics".


Don Beck (13) insists that changing life conditions lead to adaptation. A person or a culture is confronted with changing life conditions and is forced to respond with coping mechanisms to adapt to the new realities. Beck introduced the term MEME to describe the different value systems after coming across Richard Dawkin's book The Selfish Gene (14). A MEME refers to a set of values or an organizing principle.

A person or a culture will evolve to a different value system or MEME only if crises occur – the current value systems in the brain cannot make sense of the changing life conditions and the need for a new system is born. It is the coupling of these two factors into what Graves termed a "double helix" model where psychological human capacities can recalibrate higher and lower levels in response to changing life conditions, which forms the culture or the social part of the model.

There are eight states or codes, as Beck refers to them, that can be viewed as the basic structures of human psychology and sociology. He describes the spiral as a Master Code. The codes do not necessarily represent types of people, but value systems in people. Systems are not good or bad but rather a set of values that can adapt to be congruent with changing life conditions. He refers to unhealthy and healthy versions of these value systems. Beck also warns against firstly assuming that "higher is better" (thus implying that one must progress on the spiral as an evolutionary scale), secondly assuming that spiral dynamics are simplistic, and lastly that we should not attempt to change people into something they are not.

In addressing socio-political and geo-political dilemmas, Beck suggests that design of such a polity, so to speak, should happen from the complexity level of a healthy, sustainable and responsible economic or political system. The natural silhouette in the value system of the people's capacity and culture of the system should be reflected. Beck labelled these dynamics MeshWorks.

Beck promised Graves years ago that he would continue to develop the work further. He kept the intent of the spiral and interpretation thereof alive for us to continue to work with today. People active in the Spiral Dynamic Integral movement and authors like Said Dawlabani and Elza Maalouf (Middle East), Graham Linscott, Loraine Laubscher and Rica Viljoen and Alan Tonkin (South Africa) keep Gravesian philosophy and practice alive today.

In the late 1990s Beck established the first Centre for Human Emergence (CHE) with the following mission:

The Center for Human Emergence will help facilitate the conscious emergence of the human species using a synthesis of profound breakthroughs in human knowledge and capabilities, encompassing natural patterns coherence, mega-integration, unification, expanded whole mind capacity, deep intelligence and consciousness.

Currently there are CHEs in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Middle East. Each is an active community where ideas are readily shared and connections are made across country and culture boundaries. A Centre of Emergence was created in 2013 at the Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa and efforts for continued involvement with South African politics leading up to elections in April/May 2014 are expected.

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