Feel Better

Joscha Bach on Kegan’s Five Orders of Human Development/Consciousness

Stage 1 – Impulsive Mind (Early Childhood)

In this stage, individuals are largely driven by their impulses and desires. Children in this phase are egocentric and struggle to differentiate between their own perspective and those of others.

Stage 2 – Imperial Mind (Adolescence)

This stage often manifests in adolescence, where individuals can take on others’ perspectives but still focus primarily on their own needs and desires. They begin to understand cause and effect and can see others as separate entities but may still act mainly in their own interest.

Stage 3 – Socialized Mind (Adulthood)

In this stage, individuals internalize the values, beliefs, and expectations of their social environment. They rely heavily on external sources for validation and guidance and tend to form relationships based on shared values and norms. The sense of self is strongly linked to group membership and social roles.

Stage 4 – Self-Authoring Mind (Midlife)

Here, individuals begin to form their own ideologies, independent of the expectations of others. They develop the capacity to self-reflect, assess their own values, and recognize contradictions in their beliefs. While relationships remain important, there’s a stronger focus on personal integrity and self-alignment.

Stage 5 – Self-Transforming Mind (Rare in Adulthood)

This final stage represents a fluid and flexible way of understanding the self, others, and the world. Individuals at this stage see the complexity and interconnectedness of systems and are able to hold multiple perspectives simultaneously. They recognize that their own views and systems of meaning are partial and can continuously transform them in response to a changing context.


“This model is derived from a concept by the psychologist, Robert Kegan, and he talks about the development of the self as a process that happens in principle by some kind of reverse-engineering of a mind, where you gradually become aware of yourself and thereby build structure that allows you to interact deeper with the world and yourself.

And I found myself using this model not so much as a developmental model. I’m not even sure if it’s a very good developmental model, because I saw my children not progressing exactly like that. And I also suspect that you don’t go through these stages necessarily in succession. And it’s not that you work through one stage, and then you get into the next one. Sometimes you revisit them. Sometimes stuff is happening in parallel, but it’s, I think, a useful framework to look at what’s present and the structure of a person and how they interact with the world and how they relate to themselves. So, it’s more like a philosophical framework that allows you to talk about how minds work.

And at first, when we are born, we don’t have a personal self yet, I think. Instead, we have an attentional self. And this attentional self is initially in the infant task, is building a world model and also an initial model of the self. But mostly, it’s building a game engine in the brain that is tracking sensory data and uses it to explain it. And in some sense, you could compare it to a game engine like “Minecraft” or so, so colors and sounds. People are all not physical objects. They are creation of our mind at a certain level. Of course, screening models that are mathematical that use geometry and that use manipulation of objects, and so on to create scenes in which we can find ourselves and interact with them.

So, “Minecraft”. (Lex chuckles) Yeah, and this personal self is something that is more or less created after the world is finished, after it’s trained into the system, after it has been constructed. And this personal self is an agent that interacts with the outside world. And the outside world is not the world of quantum mechanics, not the physical universe, but it’s the model that has been generated in our own mind. And this is us and we experience ourself interacting with that outside world that is created inside of our own mind. And outside of ourself, there’s feelings and they presented our interface with this outside world. They pose problems to us. These feelings are basically attitudes that our mind is computing that tell us what’s needed in the world, the things that we are drawn to, the things that we are afraid of.

And we are tasked with solving this problem of satisfying the needs, avoiding the aversions, following on our inner commitments, and so on. And also modeling ourselves and building the next stage. So, after we have this personal self in stage two online, many people form a social self. And this social self allows the individual to experience themselves as part of a group. It’s basically this thing that when you are playing in a team for instance, you don’t notice yourself just as a single note that is reaching out into the world, but you’re also looking down, you’re looking down from this entire group and you see how this group is looking at this individual and everybody in the group is in some sense, emulating this group spirit to some degree. And in this state, people are forming their opinions by assimilating them from this group mind, where we see they gain the ability to act a little bit like a hive mind.

But are you also modeling the interaction of how opinion and shapes and forms through the interaction of the individual nodes within the group? Yeah, the way in which people do it in this stage is that they experience what are the opinions of my environment. They experience the relationship that I have to their environment and they resonate with people around them and get more opinions in this through this interaction to the way in which they relate to others. And at stage four, you basically understand that stuff is true and false independently what other people believe. And you have agency over your own beliefs. In that stage, you basically discover epistemology, the rules about determining what’s true and false.

So, you start to learn how to think. Yes. I mean, at some level, you’re always thinking you are constructing things. And I believe that this ability to reason about your mental representation is what we mean by thinking. It’s an intrinsically reflexive process that requires consciousness. Without consciousness, you cannot think. You can generate the content of feelings, and so on, outside of consciousness. It’s very hard to be conscious of how your feelings emerge, at least in the early stages of development. But thoughts is something that you always control.

Sometimes I reflect on the nature of empathy and what it means to be in tune with others. Often, in my own experience, it’s required something of a meta-architecture, an ability to find common ground or a shared understanding. As a self-proclaimed nerd, I’ve noticed that others often find it hard to resonate with me, and I’ve had to discover my own way to interface with those around me.

Growing up, it was a struggle to find people who understood me. It took years, and it was only when I was surrounded by like-minded individuals that I began to feel a connection. Before that, there was a profound sense of loneliness. There were moments, however, when the connection did happen, like a game of chess with a Russian boy, where language did not matter. We understood each other.

I think back to what it means to be different. The process of socializing can sometimes feel like figuring out an API, finding the documentation to understand others and allowing them to interact with you. It’s not always about being okay with being different, but rather about finding connections and belonging.

In my life, I’ve experienced that feeling of being alone, a visceral, undeniable feeling. But it wasn’t permanent. I found my place in the world and discovered that connection with others could be cultivated and nurtured.

The mind is beautiful in its complexity. Sometimes it’s easy to pay attention to the world fully, to others completely. Other times, stress and distractions can overwhelm. There are stages to identity, a realization that values are not terminal but instrumental. Identities can become costumes, expressions of self, or sometimes prisons.

I’ve learned to appreciate costumes, not just as uniforms but as self-expression, like at Burning Man. The way we dress, the way we present ourselves, is a kind of projection of who we are. It’s a way to communicate with others, and yet it’s often bound by societal norms and expectations.

In the digital world, it may be easier to explore different personas and expressions. Virtual reality, social media—they provide platforms to be as unique or as weird as we want. But there’s something about the tangible, the effort it takes to create physical costumes, that connects us more deeply to ourselves and others.

We become what we wear, in a way. Our clothing can be more than just fashion or status; it can be a reflection of how we feel, what we want, who we are. Maybe we should all strive to be more expressive, to allow our external appearances to match our inner selves.

Life is a stage, and we’re all performing, wearing various costumes, playing roles. For me, the journey has been about understanding that, about learning to be real and authentic, even if it means standing out or being alone for a while. It’s about embracing who I am, finding others who understand, and discovering the beautiful complexity of the human mind and connection.

And in the end, I realize that I’m not alone anymore. I’ve found my place, my people, my way of being. It’s taken time, growth, and perhaps a touch of wisdom, but I’ve come to see the world and myself in a new, more connected way. And that, to me, is a journey well worth taking.