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Joe CorbettJoe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at


Prospects for a Post-Integral Species, Reconsidered

Or, Why the Old Third Tier is the New First Tier

Joe Corbett

We should recognize fifth tier not as something that ordinary human beings should strive for, as that would simply be a cruel joke.

In my previous essay I re-evaluated the tier classification of Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory, and one of the conclusions I came to is that what IT calls third tier is actually fifth tier, and that pursuing such a “super-human” level of development would be pointless if we cannot first save ourselves and the planet by developing collectively to the level of an integrative civilization, and that such super-human development most likely involves an altogether different set of capacities simply not present in 99.99 percent of the human species. This essay will pick-up where that essay left off.

Of course, it's not that such super-human capacities are not present at all in ordinary humans, but rather the fact that they are present in such nascent, rarified, and weak form, without the possibility for developing into strong and permanent capacities in any significant number of people, makes this tier of consciousness pragmatically out of reach for biologically modern humans. These hopelessly unattainable abilities (psychic powers, universal compassion for all beings, etc.) is very similar to 100k years ago when our prelinguistic ancestors had not yet developed the capacity for syntactically generative thought, and simply did not have the thought-processing ability necessary for creating art, sophisticated tools, or the successful exploration of new terrains outside Africa that would require ingenuity and adaptive skill learning.

Our prelinguistic ancestors surely had symbolic signalling capacity to communicate and probably had what could be considered a nascent and weak form of language ability. But this would have given them only a limited ability for computational thought-processing. And without the full and permanent capacity for generative syntactic thought-processing, they were much like we are today with respect to fifth tier consciousness. We can intimate and even demonstrate in a few rare cases what it might be like on the other shore of fifth tier consciousness, but ultimately we can never arrive at the promised land. We simply do not have the genomic operating system to make it happen.

Our ancestors were not capable of successfully leaving Africa until some individual with the genomic hardware for generative syntactic thought-processing spread their genetic gift to others, by either chance or selection. That capacity then became a permanent trait of a small population that could spread outward into new terrains with their newly acquired capacity for ingenuity and adaptation to a variety of environments, through the use of generative thought-processes made possible by a linguistic capacity.

This was the transition from first tier sensorimotor, which we share with our prelinguistic ancestors including neanderthal and homoerectus, to second tier preconventional in human evolution, which saw the explosion of cultural artefacts in the archeaological record. This explosion of cultural artefacts coincides closely with the emergence of humans out of Africa, and most likely represents the point at which humans acquired a linguistic capacity, about 70k years ago. This 70k year marker also corresponds to the genetic bottleneck that humans passed through, wherein the genetic inheritance of all humans alive today descended from perhaps only 1k people. This small population was also probably the genomic source of the human linguistic capacity that then spread out from Africa around this time.

The convergence of an adaptive thought-processing capacity with cultural artefacts and human migration out of Africa strongly suggests a genomic component to this transition. Second tier preconventional thought was not something that could be cultivated or taught to our prelinguistic ancestors. For whatever reason, most of them died out, and only a small population of the linguistically capable survived (the bottleneck). Our situation today is similar, where as a species we have only a nascent and weak form of fifth tier consciousness, whose full and permanent developmental expression will most probably require a hardware change in the genome of our species that will need to spread through the population, and to do so it will need to have a selective advantage.

The reason for this is that fifth tier requires a new sensorimotor system[1], one that enhances the sixth-sense and the capacity for love in the same way that the internal linguistic system, a genomic inheritance, enhanced our verbal communication and the capacity for thought-processing. Without such hardware embodied in how we move through space and time and adapt ourselves to its contours, we simply will not have the tools necessary to adaptively respond to the challenges we will encounter. In our ancestors the tools of preconventional linguistic thought allowed them to adapt to changing circumstances without pregiven fixed solutions and to generate solutions of their own. In our circumstances today, without extending compassion to one another and to all species and without having the direct and immediate perception of the consequences that present actions will have on future events, we may all very well be doomed, regardless of what integrative visionary thinking has to offer us.

However the likelihood of a few fifth tier gifted individuals spreading their genes with selective advantage through the entire human population is exceedingly improbable. More likely the entire genetic inheritance of the human species will go extinct before a fifth tier genome spreads through the population. But one thing we could ask with practical implications is how a fifth tier consciousness might be able to help an integral (fourth tier) consciousness solve the current crises we are in, created mostly by third tier conventional consciousness.

If there was even one individual who could consistently demonstrate the ability to see into the future of events with a sensorimotor system extending into future time, the landscape of possibilities in the present, then we could rely on this individual to tell us, definitively through demonstration of previously successful foretellings, whether climate change or nuclear war were on the near horizon, and what specific actions we must take to prevent catastrophe. No more wasteful political debates serving the monetary and geopolitical interests of third tier actors. Not only this, they might be able to tell us what directions to go in and perhaps with specific instructions on how to get there regarding solving eternal human problems such as poverty, disease, and the technological and theoretical challenges concerning basic research in the sciences.

Surely the entry into history of such fifth tier consciousness would be as radical as the transition from our first tier sensorimotor-prelinguistic existence to our second tier preconventional-linguistic ancestors. An explosion of creativity would soon follow, and possibly a migration out of Earth to the stars above, or into the depths of inner emptiness, with interdimensional (super-sensory) space-time technologies. But I want to emphasize that none of this will be possible without a new genomic operating system, one no more or less radically different from the genomic operating system that allowed our ancestors to leave Africa and adapt to any and all environments they encountered with the ingenuity of linguistic thought-processing.

We should recognize fifth tier not as something that ordinary human beings should strive for, as that would simply be a cruel joke that would end with the end of us all. Rather we should summon those who may have such fifth tier hardware to assist us, or perhaps identify the genes that enable some individuals to weakly demonstrate such abilities, and then cultivate that capacity through genetic modification. This proposal is far less ghastly and far more preferable to the prospect we are currently facing: self-annihilation at the hands of a sensorimotor system designed to hunt and kill prey, empowered by a linguistic operating system to create and destroy endless forms of itself.

Fourth tier integral consciousness is still operating within the sensorimotor system of our prelinguistic ancestors, and only has the advantage of the subsequent developments in consciousness since the introduction of linguistic thought-processing. But as the saying goes, you can't expect to solve a problem with the same kind of thinking, from the savannahs to the “great civilizations”, that created it. Without a check on this operating system to endlessly multiply and differentiate forms of itself that it subsequently destroys in cycles of creative-destruction, there will be no more history for it to make. Having direct and immediate access to the landscape of our future possibilities so that they can be foretold with fairly accurate precision, may be the only hope for the continued existence of those very landscapes in our species.

Third Tier Fifth Tier?
Second Tier Fourth Tier
First Tier Third Tier
Second Tier
First Tier
A re-evaluation of the tier classification within SD and IT.


[1] Because fifth tier consciousness would require a new sensorimotor system, one that provided access to the non-physical realm of future potentiality, fifth tier is actually a new species altogether, beyond the fourth tier. Fifth tier is therefore actually the first tier of an entirely new human species, not only a post-integral but a post-five-sensory and indeed a post-linguistic species.

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