May 31 2013

RSA: "Searching for a way out of hell: mental complexity, wellbeing, and Bob’s Big Idea"

What does it mean to evolve developmentally as an adult?

Robert Kegan of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has spent the last 35 years studying and considering human development. In this recent short speech at the RSA, Kegan describes the qualitative orders of consciousness possible in adulthood. BOB’S BIG IDEA? He suggests that our ability to become more psychologically complex may be an evolutionary response to the vulnerability of our species.

From the post:

Looking around at the environmental degradation, financial turmoil, and increased social inequality around us, perhaps you’ve had the sinking feeling that we are creating our own demise.  Presumably you are hoping there is a way that we can work ourselves out of this mess.  You wouldn’t be alone.

Bob’s Big Idea

Why is the population living so much longer?  Not how, but why?  Why do we live 20-40 or more years beyond our fertile years?

What if we are living longer so that our older people can figure out how to save our species?

Kegan’s idea is that, as a species, we are trying to figure something out:  how to survive.  He suggests that whenever a species moves collectively in a direction, it is always for one reason, to ensure survival, and it is exactly the same for us. The self-transforming stage, as mentioned above, is usually reached after middle age, if at all. So the longer we live, the greater the chance that more people will develop into self-transforming level of mental complexity.  Kegan notes that we are creating our own demise and effectively asks: What if we are living longer so that our older people can figure out how to save our species?  “Are we looking for a way out of hell?”

As RSA colleague Matthew Mezey summarises: old people will save the world.