(originally published in this newsletter)
We are often asked about the relationship between Clare W. Graves's Levels of Existence theory and Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs framework . Well, there are some similarities, but there are more differences.
Maslow's theorizing is often reduced to the familiar pyramid with physiological needs at the base, then safety, belonging and love, esteem from others then self, and self-actualization, sometimes with 'to know' and 'to understand' or transcendence at the tip, sometimes stopping with self-actualization. Yet calling that Maslow's theory is like saying a spiral with eight colors is Graves. Both SD and the pyramid are simplified models derived from theory. Just as the eight levels described by Graves as his nodal states (color coded in SD) represent only artifacts, the needs hierarchy is only a small chunk of Maslow's overall philosophy.
There are definite similarities because Graves began his research trying to rationalize Maslow's findings. They were contemporaries in psychology. At the surface, the needs in Maslow appear to relate with Gravesian levels; but they appear in different forms and in an order Graves eventually could not accept, based on his own data.
Other similarities between the views of Maslow and Graves:
- Both have a hierarchical model of adult developmental with levels and stages, and saw human nature as a progression through a hierarchy.
- Both argue for a new way to look at psychology, human nature, and behavior.
- Both believe in the potential of the human being.
- Both see human growth and regression as possibilities.
- Both experience frustration with the psychology of the day.
- Both believe in the practical application of psychology to the work life and towards improving life in general.
- Both see tension as growth producing.
- Both view human nature optimistically as full of potentialities.
It is at the deeper theoretical/philosophical level where some real differences lie. Graves concluded that the Maslowian perspective didn't adequately express the dynamics of human nature, the process of emerging systems, or the open-endedness which he concluded characterizes our species' development. He saw Maslow, as he saw most of his peers, as niche players who explored parts eloquently but were still missing the broader view and the engine that drives it.
Graves's work is oriented toward describing ways of thinking about things – conceptual systems - not the things, themselves. That is where the majority of people confuse what came to be called 'Value Systems' (more accurately, levels of psychological existence) with the values that sometimes attach to them. He studied people's conceptions of maturity because that was a way of getting at how they thought. His studies of values were to understand the overall process of valuing, not to establish categories or typologies for sorting them. In fact, like his efforts to refute the notion of a single vision of the psychologically mature human being, he sought to explain why people who think in different ways might value the same thing, or why people who think alike can have diametrically opposed views yet think about them in similar ways.
Maslow was at the fore of a wave of thinking about maximizing human potential in the 1960's and 1970's; variations upon this theme have risen and fallen since The Enlightenment began. Dr. Graves describes his views of this surge of humanistic (or 'third force') psychology in the new ECLET Publishing release, The Never Ending Quest. Graves shared much of their optimistic view and favored it over the behaviorists' hard determinism, the psychoanalysts' darker view, or the mechanistic approach he saw in the cognitive school. At the same time, he was convinced that the future is simply without guarantees, and that what comes next depends on how humans cope with their changing world – our never ending quest.
Both Graves and Maslow saw human nature as replete with potential, though Graves thought of the key constructs of the humanistic psychology movement as "conceptually loose," meaning he found wishful idealism rather than evidence, optimism rather than supportive data. In particular, he was troubled by the humanists' qualitative view of human nature and actualization, the separation of deficiency and abundance needs as a characterization of mature coping, and the mode for change to higher-level behavior (see NEQ, 24-28). Many old propositions were being revisited in a new way, but still not tested. In his 1971 presentation to a meeting of the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP), Graves sharply criticized the fuzzy direction the organization was taking based on the frothy contents of the conference program, as well as the way some of its members were interpreting Maslow's approach.
When he began his studies, Graves had expected the data he gathered would support Maslow's findings. But when he compared his results to Maslow's work, Graves reported that it was "impossible to rationalize the data from the studies within Maslow's conceptual scheme." Graves shared his concerns with AHP members and offered an alternative: "My studies suggested validity in Maslow's emergent hierarchical conception, but error in his characterization of the systems emerging and error in the concept of actualization, at least as the latter seems to have been interpreted by many humanistically-oriented psychologists. This model, which I call the Levels of Existence Conception of Man, suggests that Maslow, as well as many other theorists, may have made a serious error when selecting their model for conceptualizing the psychology of the human being." Graves followed this by questioning the order and nature of the Maslowian levels which he couldn't relate to his own research, despite trying to do so, and expecting it would connect.
Self-actualization - the psychologically healthy state of fulfilling potentials - was an idea made popular by Maslow. He borrowed it from Kurt Goldstein, who meant it as using all of the potential available, whether by a wounded soldier suffering from post-traumatic shock, someone with brain damage, or the average human being. Maslow adopted some of this construct, as indicated in his adherence to a biological imperative, but he went beyond Goldstein's meaning by stretching it into transcendence and peak experience. This became a central tenet of his work -his 'holy grail'.
Maslow saw self-actualization as the highest motivating force whereby, once achieved, humans could fulfill all their potential – the ultimate in psychological existence – a form of transcendent psychological perfection where one could "be all that you can be." He stressed the idea of growing to become fully human. Self-actualization was related to peak experience, somewhat like a protracted version of the state of 'flow' described by Csikszhentmihalyi. Maslow likened this transcendence to a religious or mystical experience, dependant upon biological destiny. Culture and history were de-emphasized. Self-actualization was the final state, the goal, and the end point of being for Maslow.
Graves saw things differently. He saw a form of self-actualization in each of his sub-systems, in its own way. A distinct hierarchy of needs, of sorts, exists within each of the Levels of Existence because each represents a form of mature human behavior. His difficulty with imposing his own worldview as a universal good separates Graves from Maslow and many humanists of his era.
Graves concluded that 'self-actualization' as described by Maslow was but one of many ways of functional being rather than an ideal end state. Effective living is the optimal use of, or maximization of, the neurobiological equipment attuned to the existential conditions at hand. It is this interplay from which the Gravesian coping systems arise, not their assorted expressions and artifacts. Thus, potentials are fulfilled at a level in a context, so one person might be very well-functioning, though quite different from someone coping equally effectively in their own milieu, at a different level. Graves refused to establish an idealized pinnacle state for humankind, insisting that we are continually emerging.
Whereas Maslow saw a close-to-perfect end-state, Graves's hierarchy flipped Maslow's 180o with the open-ended concept, the limitless forms of humans, and the multitudinous potentials to emerge in the future with their own variations on self-actualization. So, physiological, safety, social, and esteem needs exist in each of the Gravesian systems. It's the way, shape and form in which these needs are met that differ from one to another. Additionally, the need for self-actualization and what that means takes different forms from sub-system to sub-system. Maslow did acknowledge that the form of self-actualization differs from person to person; Graves would add that it differs both in form and in structure.
Maslow felt that self-actualization could not be without an ability to reference oneself in respect to an imagined future. In Gravesian theory, the notion of an extended future first becomes strong in the DQ system. Thus, from a Maslowian perspective, self-actualization, and thereby maturity, might not be possible in the AN, BO and CP sub-systems. Gravesians would quickly disagree because AN, BO, and CP are considered states of maturity and ways of being 'self-actualized,' whereas the Maslow approach would consider these to be immature due to motivation by deficit needs (D-motivations). Additionally, Maslow believed dichotomous and polarized thinking is immature, while Graves would have merely ascribed it to the DQ way of being mature. Thus did their views on self-actualization and maturity differ.
Growth and Development
Both Graves and Maslow discussed growth and regression. For Maslow, growth came from within rather than from outside. As he developed his own theory, Graves gave nearly equal weight to the external and the internal, with a slight preference for the external as a triggering force for change in his later work. (See his double-helix model, with Helix 1 being the environmentosocial conditions which 'turn on' the internal coping system, thereby producing growth; Helix 2 being the neurobiological capacities.) Inherent in each approach is the notion of hierarchy and a sequential progression of the arousal of needs (or existential problems) with their satisfaction and solution as requisites to restoring homeostasis.
Development and growth for Maslow implied increasing independence from the environment and away-from dependence. Growth was away from deficiency needs (D-motivations rooted in lack) toward tension-reducing solutions with restoration of equilibrium upon their satisfaction. He saw growth as a move toward the autonomous, self-directed individual who was free from dependence and governed from an internal locus of control - growth-motivated. This became B-motivation (for 'being' needs, a term picked up by Graves) and moved toward what Maslow considered psychological fulfillment. He emphasized the power of the emerging individual driven from within and described this state of "psychological freedom" as being sufficient in self. Detached. Uninvolved. Non-interfering.
For Graves, both the internal and external interact in an interdependent dance and oscillate between an inner and outer locus of control. The Levels of Existence point of view is cyclical. The growth of an individual or group oscillates from a mode of express-self for survival to sacrifice-self to an external source of control (outer-determined and therefore less developed in Maslow's view), then back to a form of express-self from an internal source of direction (inner-determined), then back to a sacrificial state looking to the external again (outer-determined), influenced by both the life conditions and the neuronal systems. Maturity can be both dependency and independence.
Maslow promoted his free, independent, autonomous individual - something which sounds remarkably like idealization of the well-functioning ER (Orange) state – as the self-actualized. Some of his characteristics of the self-actualized individual are incorporated into Spiral Dynamics' descriptions of the 'Yellow' vMeme and widely expanded in spin-off versions which emphasize the independent self rather than interdependence.
Both Graves and Maslow see growth as a progression through their hierarchies, though Graves adds non-vertical dimensions allowing growth within systems, as well. Maslow related need satisfaction with behavior. As needs were satisfied, individuals progressed through the hierarchy toward self-actualization, thus growth. Graves associated behavior with coping systems which, in turn, are associated with the interaction of double-helix forces. Despite seeing growth as a developmental process, he didn't associate need satisfaction so directly with behavior, and saw Maslowian needs present in his various levels of existence. From Graves's viewpoint, forms of deficiency motivation could occur within various kinds of maturity; the being levels were not the only mature adult states. His emphasis on the double-helix forces led him to insist that a certain environment might require deficiency-need motivation to cope appropriately, and that deficit needs could also exist in the mature. Graves viewed both need types – deficit (D) and growth (B) – as normal parts of being human, and both need states as aspects of maturity.
Graves viewed maturity differently from Maslow and many of the humanists. Maslow approached deficit needs as being symptomatic of the immature; growth needs illustrated greater maturity with 'being' as the ideal. The humanists took up Maslow's views and believed the human went from immature towards mature, from deficiency motivation toward growth motivation. For Graves, this progress 'up the existential staircase' led to the 'being levels' – the start of a next cycle in human emergence (the 'second tier' in SD). This pending jump to 'an incredibly different kind of human being' was a recurrent theme and hope among the humanistic psychologists and others, and Graves picked it up, as well. For him, however, it was not a finish but a beginning, a commencement.
Graves recognized many forms of maturity at different levels. An end state, a target of completion like self-actualization, just didn't exist for Graves. What he came to recognize was that maturity is a function of fit between neuronal systems - part of the conditions for existence - and existential problems in the milieu - part of the conditions of existence. Thus, for Graves, the search for the mature personality in operation was illusory. The quest was to understand how different people conceptualize maturity and how those conceptions are influenced and change, then how to deal with people effectively at their levels.
Tension and Change
While both psychologists agreed that tension could be change-inducing and growth-producing, Maslow was an advocate of stress producing situations, whereas Graves was more circumspect and looked at the form of tension. He believed there were different kinds of tensions which could produce either progression or regression. Increased complexity in the environmento-social field and resolution of existential problems resulted in progression, while the wrong kind or amount of tension in the wrong individual caused regression.
Maslow believed that the inner nature of humans is primarily set and unchanging. For him, the challenge was making the most of what they are. Graves believed that neither change, nor lack of change is the rule. For him, human nature was an ever-emergent process; human development is open-ended. Maslow saw humans as essentially neutral or good with poor behavior coming out of deficiency or reaction to barriers. In The Never Ending Quest, Graves criticizes this view, believing it insufficient to explain how badness could arise out of neutrality or goodness.
Views of Human Nature
Differences aside, both Maslow and Graves provide a wealth of psychological insights worth further study. Their optimism and willingness to pioneer developments in human nature have provided new paths for understanding who we are. Graves and Maslow shared optimistic views of human nature and were filled with tremendous hope and anticipation of the new forms that human nature would take. Soon. Just around the next bend. For Maslow, this was the transpersonal, transhuman. Dreams of that better human - a transcendent, fully realized individual - are surging again today. For Graves, the next form would arise with the "momentous leap" into a second run-through of the six basic themes, the "being levels" of existence. They both echoed the high aspirations of their day and the desire for a better natured human as the Cold War played on and American society was in turbulence. Whether it is the need for self-actualization or simply a next step in Graves's never ending quest, humanness comes with hope.