Cognitive Fluidity – Its Etymology and Nuance

By Brendan Cartmel – The following article takes an important step, in my view, toward clarifying the relationship of Laske’s Dialectical Thought Form Framework to discussions of “integral thinking” in the sense of Wilber and his students. The article points to the gaps in what is called “integral” thinking relative to DTF and further differentiates what is concretely happening in using dialectical thought forms (DTFs).
Otto Laske

Background to Terms

Cognitive Fluidity is the generative mechanism unlocking human potential and driving the evolution of human functioning; so says evolutionary anthropologist Steve Mithven. Cognitive and Social Intelligence are subsequent products of our Cognitive Fluidity. Mithven’s Cognitive Fluidity has correlates with JL Moreno’s idea of Spontaneity and Creativity being the main forces forming the cosmos and fluidising our cognition. What then are the origins of, and the concepts we imply, when we use the term Fluidity?

Fluidity & CDF

Dialectic Fluidity is a key metric in Otto Laske’s Cognitive Developmental Framework (CDF) and a key factor when designing Inter-developmental (IDM) consultation and coaching strategy. If Dialectic Fluidity is so important in understanding cognitive potential, what do we imply when we use the term Fluidity? What is the source of the term and what nuances do we infer when we use it in respect to Dialectic Fluidity?

Explanatory Coherence

At the 2013 Integral Theory Conference Will Varey advocated that any grand paradigm (for example an Integral paradigm) must have ‘explanatory coherence’ as a core quality. A corollary he made was that a key resource for accomplishing greater ‘explanatory coherence’ (integral intelligence), was capacity in ‘Fluidity’. Fluidityin respect to conceptualising and perspective-making and –taking, so as to be capable of melding explanations of complex phenomena and making them cohere.

For Varey, Fluidity can be used as a taxonomy that categorises various metaphors and similes deployed in advocating for integral paradigms that progress explanatory coherence. He implies Fluidity is most useful when it is used generically to include various nuances associated with seamless movement and confluences. The ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides talked of consciousness as river-like or flowing like a river. In as much as Varey echoes Parmenides’ notion of fluidity as a quality native to ‘explanatory coherence’, using Fluidity as taxonomy takes on the characteristics of common sense.

It is also fair enough to make the case that Fluidity can be used as a generic term. The meaning of words is an in-exact science and the form we give to our cognition (language) at any point in time only approximates, and at the same time partially obscures, what we are directly trying (really wishing) to convey. It is as though our language flows around in our cognitions and vice versa. Any indigenous notion of motion broadly connotes fluidity.

When CDF consultants make cognitive assessments they naturally associate Fluidity with process (river-like) type images in order to capture the dynamics encapsulated in the Dialectical Thought Form Framework.

Taxonomy of Fluidity

Metaphors and similes associated with Fluidity that Varey identifies as fitting with the taxonomy of Fluidity are:

  • Flexibility – as in using a wide range of conceptualisations. [Eg: DTF 1 – 28]
  • Agility – as in ability to move freely within the range of conceptualisations. [Eg: Leap around from P – DTF to T – DTF and vice versa].
  • Acuity – as in ability to choose a particular conceptualisation that is pertinent at an appropriate point in time.
  • Elevation – as in ability to access and deploy more developed (abstracted) conceptualisations [DTF22-28] at any point in time. To deploy meta-systemic constructs.
  • Rigidity – as in ability to perceive a particular conceptualisation as most appropriate and having high potential at a point in time and pursue the full ramifications of it, despite being challenged as to its relevance.

Editor’s Note: In my view, the author here explicates aspects of DTF Fluidity that have not previously been considered. To do so is good dialectical usage since “fluidity” by itself is just an abstraction, but comes to life when considering what actually happens when different thought forms are used by a person. While a DTF assessment unequivocally captures what the author calls “flexibility” in the number of thought forms used, it does not explicate the author’s term of “agility”, although this agility becomes observable in the Conceptual Behavior Graph. A DTF-user’s “acuity” is also captured only indirectly, as an ability of a speaker to determine the pertinence of a base concept. DTF-assessments also capture “elevation” in the form of “number of transformational thought forms used”. The author’s “rigidity” is often experienced by the interviewer rather than the interviewee, although the speaker’s ability to outline the ramifications of a chosen and adhered-to base concept is the hallmark of independent thinking which is potentially transformational in and by itself.

CDF’s Hypothesis re Fluidity

An implied assumption of CDF is that there is commonly widespread ignorance in respect to cognitive structure. Concomitantly it is common in our culture for us to have insufficient flexibility in applying various thought forms. We are unaware and inept in intentional use of dialectical thought forms (DTFs) and therefore limited in functioning in more intelligent ways. CDF’s hypothesis is that we can learn DTFs and build up our cognitive fluidity and hence practice greater social intelligence by acquiring better appreciation of reality in all of its complexity. Just as we can learn to use words to create sentences paragraphs and construct more meaning, so too we can learn to use DTFs to construct greater comprehensive capacity and gain more creative means for relating to issues as complex phenomena. In a word, we can become more meta-systemic and dialectic.

CDF’s Emphasis on Balance

CDF does reference Fluidity but it equally emphasises Balance [not only in the cognitive score stating the proportions in which the four moments of dialectic have been used by a thinker, but also in the discrepancy index which compares a thinker’s critical and constructive thinking; editor’s note]. In CDF, the CD/SED/NP [scores] correlate a Structural Balance, following Piaget. The three psychologies are somehow inter-related and in sync, and yet at the same time act inter-dependently with a generalised Fluidity. Hence the greater capacity and capability an individual’s CD/SED/NPD correlate has, then the more cognitive fluidity agility flexibility, et. al. (social intelligence) shehe can be said to posess.

A significant CDF metric for CD Structural Balance is Critical versus Constructive Thinking. This is known as the CD Fluidity Index and is used to rate the Epistemic Position as the datum for knowledge in respect to the degree to which un-certainty (negatite` absence) is taken into account by a thinker.

Varey’s Criteria re Integral

Varey imagines combining the following terms to describe a quality that en-larges the meaning for the term ‘integral’:

  • Consilience – ideas and perspectives subtly “jumping together” to make a whole
  • Resonance – supplementary relations
  • Elegance – aesthetics as simplistic form on the other side of complexity

Comparison of DTF with Varey’s Criteria re Integral

Individual terms do not rate as DTFS because the shape DTFs take is only apparent once an assessment is complete as to how phrases and metaphors are ‘thrown or jump-ed together’ and take DT form in various expressions and sentences. It is true though that individual words, when used as subjects of sentences, can give strong indication of how a particular DT takes its form. Here are some guesses as to how the terms Consilience Resonance Elegance may be formative in shaping a DTF. Your preferences are likely to be different.

  • Consilience – aligns with DTF [P5] practical and active character of knowledge.
  • Resonance – aligns with DTF [R16] Focus on value of relationship.
  • Elegance – aligns with DTF [R19] Structural aspects of relationship.

Varey’s enterprise of “Explanatory Coherence” hints at DTF [C10] Description of structure and function, or DTF [C13] Intellectual frames of reference. However, it misses Transformational (Meta-systemic) TFs which most surely correlate to the purpose of Integral as evolutionary.


What can we conclude from contemplating how best to use these terms as concepts underpinning our attempts to rate [the use of] dialectic thought forms? We can say it is appropriate to continue to use the term ‘fluidity’ as a generic expression encapsulating all of the nuances implied in the above terms when considering the production of thought forms. Particularly the critical thought forms of process and relations. If we keep all the nuances in mind then we will more respectfully acknowledge there is a gap between how we use terms as taxonomies of metaphors and similes, and how we use thought forms to construct what we wish to express. We need not be deterred by the fact our language always partially occludes what we recognise and cognise.


Note: Will Varey’s paper is titled, “Explanatory Coherence” where he attempts foundations for a meta-theory of Integral via para-paradigmatic appreciation of form. It can be found in the ITC Downunder documents, Look at the top and under Paper and also Presentations for the excellent power point slides.

Details of Brendan Cartmel are available at the same site and contactable at [email protected].

Author: Otto Laske

I am the founder and director of IDM, the Interdevelopmental Institute. My background is in philosophy, psychology, consulting, and coaching based on developmental theory to which I have mightily contributed myself. See the blogs at

One thought on “Cognitive Fluidity – Its Etymology and Nuance”

  1. congratulations to the author for this lucid article on the relationship between DTF fluidity and explanatory coherence, and thanks for pointing to gaps in what presently goes under the name of “integral thinking”. The author is aware of the thought form structure of thinking as revealed by DTF and makes very helpful comments on how to remediate absences in integral thinking.

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