Living Through Four Eras of Cognitive Development (2012)

I came upon an earlier piece of writing of mine entitled as above and thought it might be worth pointing to. It was published in Integral Leadership Review, and is found at

Here I only republish the article’s abstract.

My interest in this article of 8 years ago was renewed by reading Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and his Emissary” (2010), in which the author makes it clear that, and why, we are endangering our own survival by culturally privileging the left hemisphere in which logic and language are located. The author debunks the simplistic notion of ‘left’ and ‘right’ hemisphere, showing how highly intertwined they are despite their conjuring up for us entirely different world views. He urges a cultural shift away from the culturally enabled despotism of the left-hemisphere which, despite being only the ’emissary’ of its right-hemisphere ‘master’, behaves as if it were the master itself, with existentially dangerous consequences for human life.

Abstract of my 2012

In this paper, I outline the graspable existential meaning of human cognitive development. By “existential” I refer not simply to the epistemological positioning of a person to the world as a knower but to the conceptual forces of the social world itself in which this positioning occurs. The social world is suffused in language and is the context in which concepts are constantly being created and modified. As a result of this social process, individuals “develop” their own thinking, having the illusion that it is “their own”.

What is the medium of such development? In a nutshell: I am saying that concepts — ordinarily considered only as tools for constructing the social and physical world, or even only as tools for “getting things done”, and worse, as external labels for “things” — are actually life-determining and –directing entities. In late maturity, their coalescence in a complex inquiring system potentially leads to a synthesis of thought and emotion in an individual, as well as a synthesis of logical and transformational (“deep”) thinking in a person who has made the entire cognitive journey.

I believe that in grasping the trajectory of cognitive development over the human life span individuals can gain a clearer vision on how their life will unfold, and what to do with it as long as they have it. To benefit in this way one will have to develop a notion of what is the potential peak of cognitive development, and how reaching this peak is going to be reflected in one’s quality of life and the contribution to the life of others that one can make.

I outlined in volume 2 of Measuring Hidden Dimensions (2008) that and how cognitive development can be conceived as a progression through four epistemological eras, from Common Sense to Understanding to Reason on to Practical Wisdom. The transition between each two of these eras is characterized by the fact that steps taken in cognitive achievement are never rescinded, except perhaps in mental illness. Consequently, they gradually begin to occur in parallel, or more concisely, in layers, and arrive at their endpoint gathered into dimensions forming a complete transformational system, with intricate relationships between each of them.


Stay tuned for more thoughts on how dialectical thinking builds a ‘rainbow-bridge’ between the two hemispheres, thus potentially strengthening the right-hemisphere ‘master’ vis a vis the left-hemisphere usurper, — a mere emissary now running amok by virtualizing and logicising the human world.

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