Book Review - Changes of mind: A holonomic theory of the evolution of consciousness by Jenny Wade, State University of New York, 1996

Reviewed by John Rowan

This is one of the best, and one of the most important, books I have ever read. It is stunningly simple and stunningly erudite. The simplicity lies in the fact that the author takes us through the stages of psychospiritual development one by one in a systematic way. The erudition lies in the fact that the author seems to be aware of everything that has been written on developmental psychology, and handles it with consummate ease.

For example, unlike most developmental theories, which start at birth or even some while after, Jenny Wade starts with pre- and perinatal experience. And her 36-page chapter on this is simply the best account I have seen of this important period of our lives.

And instead of taking it for granted, as psychology usually does, that consciousness is totally dependent upon the brain, and that therefore the foetus can have no other consciousness than something very limited and primitive, this author starts from the premise that there are two sources of consciousness: the brain and central nervous system on the one hand, and the transcendent source on the other. Each chapter of this developmental story charts the progress of both sources of consciousness, the one Newtonian in its basis, and the other not.

Jenny Wade takes us, chapter by chapter, through reactive consciousness, naive consciousness, egocentric consciousness, conformist consciousness, achievement and affiliative consciousness (two aspects of the same thing), authentic consciousness, transcendent consciousness, unity consciousness and after-death consciousness. "Hold hard," I hear you say, "isn't this a bit like Ken Wilber?" Yes, but it is not derived from Ken Wilber: in fact, the author is here and there quite critical of him. Although this book came out in 1996, it quotes nothing of Wilber's after 1990 and thus includes none of Wilber's later thinking, making it an original book.

One important difference from Wilber is that Wade does far more justice to the gender issue. She follows the ideas of Mary Belenky and her colleagues, saying that after the Conformist level development splits into two, at times along gender lines, with men tending to go the Achievement route, and women tending to go the Affiliative route.

I was of course particularly interested to see what she says about the level of consciousness which characterizes humanistic psychology. This comes in the chapter headed 'Authentic Consciousness,' which closely resembles what Wilber calls the Centaur self.

People at the Authentic stage accept that relativism, conflict and change are the nature of the world, yet they still knowingly commit to their own positions, accepting full responsibility for their choices and remaining open to new information. (p. 165)

This seems to me a good statement of the always paradoxical nature of this stage, which I have written about in my book Ordinary Ecstasy 3.

For anyone who is interested in human development this book is a must. Ken Wilber himself finds it so valuable that he includes it in his recent book on integral psychology.

The trouble with books like this is that they make one dissatisfied with most of the writing in the field of psychology, psychotherapy, and consciousness. The vast majority of such writing simply assumes that there is just one level of development - the one belonging to the writer. Yet we are all familiar with the ideas of Piaget, Erikson, Maslow, Aurobindo, Kohlberg, Loevinger, Belenky and her colleagues, etc., all telling us that there are different levels of development in which people often get stuck. Wade brings all this together and, so to speak, rubs our noses in it, to the point where we dare not deny it any longer.

Although Ken Wilber has some criticisms, he also says: "Wade has an exceptional gift for assembling innumerable details into a coherent presentation . . . this is a superb contribution on the part of Wade, and it will have, I believe, a lasting impact on the field." In my own opinion, anyone who writes about human beings in general is going to have to take this terrible knowledge on board.

I say 'terrible' because once we think in this new way, we have to acknowledge that we ourselves are standing on a particular level, and speaking to, and about, others who are at the same or different levels. For example, most people in the world, according to Kohlberg, are functioning at levels no higher than the Achievement and Affiliative stage. A smaller number are functioning at the Authentic stage, and smaller numbers again at the higher stages. Yet the first stage at which we can use the type of logic necessary to use the idea of stages with any real freedom is the Authentic stage. This means that this logic will sound like nonsense or error to those who have not yet reached this level.

Let those who dare read Jenny Wade !

This book review originally appeared in the Summer, 2001, issue of the International Primal Assn. Newsletter.

John Rowan is a long time IPA member, Primal Integration therapist, founder member of the Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners, and a Fellow of the British Psychological Society. John is also the author of a number of books, and lives with his wife in North Chingford, London.