THE CONCRETE STAGES
Stage 1: Partial Approach
This represents the real commencement of ego development, where reality is understood increasingly in terms of (reduced) conscious categories.
Looking firstly at cognitive development, we have here, what is often referred to as representational thinking. Images, provided through the affective sensory function are used as the basis for thought, which steadily becomes more rational. Now, at least in terms of superficial reality, with the help of the structured use of language, the child is better able to make logical connections in experience.
Linkages as between different and separate objects, are made in a step by step fashion. This turn serves to give linear extension to the experience of space and time.
In mathematics, a rational number is one which can be expressed as a fraction. Indeed, this is precisely the ability that now develops on a psychological level.
The child becomes able to break whole objects into parts (i.e. fractions), which have a separate identity, and yet are components of the original whole.
For example, let us start with a cake, which is recognised as a whole unit. Now, if we break this into slices, each slice now becomes a distinct new unit. However though a separate unit, it also maintains a relationship to the original whole as part. Thus, though each slice is a whole unit (in its own right), when placed in a broader context, in relation to the cake, it becomes merely a part.
Thus all objects have the capacity in understanding to be both whole units and part units. This capacity comes from the dynamic interaction of conscious and unconscious.
Firstly, there is the (conscious) external positing of the object (in relation to self), then the (conscious) internal positing of the self (in relation to the object). As we have seen this switching in consciousness from external to internal, involves the introduction of the counterbalancing negative by the unconscious. A degree of fusion - which depends on the quality of interaction as between internal and external understanding - takes place between positive and negative charges in the form of mental energy. This in turn provides an underlying spiritual basis to the understanding of the object (i.e. as belonging to a general class). Thus the particular perception of the physical object, becomes dynamically inseparable from the general concept of the mental object (the object class).
Thus at this stage, understanding is sufficiently developed, so as to enable the mental objects (concepts) to develop in consciousness. However this is a highly reductionist activity, for now the concepts, just like the perceptions which preceded are simply posited in consciousness, without any explicit recognition of the role of the unconscious.
Indeed this is the key problem with the linear level of specialisation of conscious structures. For understanding - though in truth always involving a dynamic interaction of both conscious and unconscious - is increasingly reduced to a static and thereby distorted merely conscious interpretation. Therefore, though the unconscious is still required to fuel the dynamics of understanding, because it is not recognised, it gradually stops developing, greatly limiting the true discovery of the mind's potential.
Development now - as consciousness develops - becomes more dominated by the cognitive mode. Before, the child identified with a physical world and a body ego. Now the process of creating a mental world (i.e. controlled through conceptual thinking), and also a mental self (i.e. an ego increasingly capable of controlling desires and impulses through reason), emerges. The child now transcends the earlier stages of mere physical reality, to move into a richer and more complex mental reality.
However, this can also bring significant problems. In is unlikely - for reasons that I will elaborate on later - that though fresh differentiation of new "higher" structures keep emerging at each stage, that proper integration of these with earlier "lower" structures will not be possible. In other words differentiation of new structures, tends to be associated with significant repression of earlier structures.
As regards space and time, the child increasingly understands in a linear fashion.
In a direct sense, experience of space depends on the affective mode, operating through the senses, whereas experience of time depends on the cognitive mode operating through reason. At this stage, which is still heavily dependent on the senses, the child is therefore more conscious of space being extended in linear fashion, through activities increasingly becoming more stable and interconnected.
Stage 2: General Approach
This is often referred to as the stage of concrete operational thinking, which tends to develop around the age of 7 (though sometimes much earlier).
What it involves is essentially the growing ability of the child to control concrete activities through reason. In relation therefore to the previous stage, it involves a switch from perceptions (indirectly connected through embryonic conceptual ability), to concepts (which are now much more developed and used directly to establish logical relationships between perceptions). Implicitly this requires greater fusion among opposites in the unconscious which comes from the dynamic relationship the child has with the world. However - and this is a vitally important point - that even though this unconscious activity is so necessary to enable concepts to be formed - it is not formally recognised at this stage in the understanding process.
Indeed, it is highly ironical, that abstract reasoning - which in dynamic terms is so dependent on the unconscious - is conventionally believed, to be completely independent of it.
At the level of conscious cognitive understanding, objects are always composite and with a significance that is entirely relative to circumstances.
Let us take, for example an object such as a window. The perception of this object comes through a conscious positing process. Next, the counterbalancing negative activity of the unconscious fuses with this positive perception creating a transformation in understanding i.e. from the particular perception of a window to the general concept or class of window.. The concept therefore acts as a kind of filing system, used to organise all separate perceptions deemed to belong to a particular class. Putting it another way, conscious understanding involves a dynamic interaction as between the physical object (i.e. the particular perception), and the mental object (i.e. the general organising concept).
Now, we can have many varied physical objects, related to their corresponding mental objects. For example, we could have doors, roofs, chimneys etc. with in each case the physical perceptions related to their corresponding concepts.
Now all of these objects, at one level in isolation are all separate objects (i.e. they can be clearly distinguished from each other). However at another level, in relationship to each other, they are all common objects. At the most basic level, they are simply objects fitting into the all embracing general class of "object". However, even at a more specific level, they are still common objects. Thus the objects mentioned could all be seen as component parts of a house. In this way every object has, in dynamic terms, a dual complementary aspect.
1) a particular individual existence i.e. a clearly defined identity as a whole unit.
2) a general common existence i.e. a relationship to other objects as component
This existence of an object either as a whole or a part, is somewhat arbitrary depending on circumstances.
This understanding process is dynamic involving both conscious and unconscious, the former directly giving the separate identity of objects and the latter the common shared identity. Putting it another way every object has a dynamic dual aspect both as whole and part. However, when the contribution of the unconscious is not explicitly recognised, objects are reduced to a static single aspect as simply parts of a larger whole. If unchecked this leads to considerable fragmentation of experience and loss of personal significance.
This fragmentation tendency is already well underway in childhood, as the cosmic undifferentiated fantasies of early stages, are gradually left behind in terms of a more clearly defined, but also far more restricted process of understanding.
The growing conceptual ability of the child at this stage, leads to understanding of temporal connections between objects and thereby, linear experience of time.
THE FORMAL STAGES
Stage 1: General relations in space
This stage (and the following), would correspond to what is often referred to as formal operational thinking. I am however dividing it into two distinct stages with the first dealing with the ability to form general relationships between sense objects.
Deepening of conceptual ability, brings with it the ability to generalise and deal with highly aggregated or composite objects.
At this stage, the child - on the threshold of adolescence - is therefore able to form increasingly general relationships between objects in space. It is not yet a totally abstract stage as it still requires some degree of co-operation from the senses. One begins to hold views on wider issues e.g. social, economic, political and religious.
As one is not dealing with localised specific objects, but rather with multiple connections as between objects, a higher level of interaction of the self with the environment is now necessary. The continual positing and negating of specific objects (through this interaction), enables one to move progressively on to a wider and thereby more generalised appreciation of objects.
For example, to have a discussion on the state of the economy, general rather than specific sense objects are required. Initially, however, because of lack of sufficient formal conceptual development, one's opinions at this stage are likely to be highly impressionistic and sweeping, dictated more by emotion than reason.
Experience of space changes during this stage steadily becomes more holistic, not limited to one's immediate environment but rather universal in quality (i.e. an understanding of all events taking place in linear space).
Stage 2: General relations in time
Just as in the concrete stages, experience moved from physical response to the environment, towards mental control over the environment, likewise the same direction of movement takes place here.
After a period of positing general sense objects, the ability to transcend these objects with the exercise of formal conceptual control emerges. The growing fusion of the positive external objects with the negative internal self enables one to withdraw from the pull of the sense objects and thus develop mental concepts of a general kind.
This represents the highest level of reason so far, where one is increasingly able to operate on one's own very thought processes, largely free from any sense interference.
Formal mathematical reasoning - and later at an even deeper level - philosophical reflection on the nature of truth, represents this ability.
Most of all, the rational paradigm, which dominates Western culture as the prevailing truth system is the product of this stage.
The problem is that this is a highly reduced view of truth. Everything becomes interpreted in terms of what is just one stage of development which ultimately can lead to great distortions.
Experience of time changes during this stage once more from the specific to the general. Again, one moves from time as the linear extension - through mental control - of activities in ones immediate environment, to a holistic view of time as universal (i.e. all events taking place in linear time).
So far - during both the concrete and formal stages - I have concentrated mainly on cognitive development. I will try to trace in briefly, complementary affective development during this time.
I have stated before that whereas cognitive understanding is the direct expression of the conscious process, affective understanding is the direct expression of the unconscious process.
The difficulty, with affective development during the concrete and formal stages, is that the conscious process becomes increasingly more specialised and dominant in experience. This inevitably entails considerable repression of the affective response, which is well documented in psychology.
One very important aspect of this is the emergence of the super-ego at the beginning of these stages. What this represents is a system of unconscious controls - arising from early child parent interaction - which serve to block out unacceptable primitive affective responses (i.e. the id). Later one tends to internalise the same controls so becoming the direct agent of emotional repression.
Now, this repression is both a necessary and inevitable process. It is necessary, so as to enable conscious differentiation of psychological structures (i.e. the ego). It is inevitable in that as the unconscious structures are as yet undifferentiated, it is not possible to properly integrate cognitive and affective development.
However, this repression can potentially be very damaging, if psychological development does not go beyond the linear level and the specialisation of conscious structures.
When this is the case, while striving to exercise conscious control externally over one's life, one becomes increasingly the victim of unconscious forces within.
Also, where the conscious cognitive approach dominates, there is a continual dulling of affective response.
Cognitive and Affective Understanding
It would be worthwhile, at this point, to try and clearly illustrate the precise difference as between cognitive and affective understanding of objects.
Let us take a well known object like a flower e.g. a rose.
Now, insofar as I am cognitively aware of the rose, I am conscious of a specific rose belonging to the general concept of rose. I am not interested in this rose as such, but rather its connection to the general concept of rose. Thus it is the abstract and impersonal quality which here is of concern. This cognitive ability thus enables me to accurately identify and classify the rose (i.e. as a common object).
We could refer to this as the scientific understanding of the object.
However, when I am affectively aware of the rose, I am directly conscious of it as a unique object (and thus different from all other roses). It is the immediate and personal quality which is now of interest. This affective ability thus enables me to achieve this unique and personal response.
We could refer to this as the artistic understanding of the object.
The cognitive mode, is the direct basis of what is general or universal, whereas the affective mode is the direct basis of what is immediate and unique.
Experience always involves a dynamic interaction of both cognitive and affective modes.
A scientist establishing common patterns to organise data must be able to register the specific data through the senses. Here the cognitive mode is primary, and the affective mode secondary.
An artist on the other hand portraying the unique quality of differing facets of experience must do so in the context of some background unifying connection. Here the affective mode is primary, and the cognitive mode secondary.
In our Western culture, there is a great split as between cognitive and affective modes. Science, and its exclusive identification with reason (the cognitive mode), has become unduly impersonal greatly reducing the capacity for awe and wonder in terms of understanding. We have - in rational terms - a drive towards (impersonal) universality without (personal) uniqueness. Because of this imbalance, the compensating tendency for emotional fulfilment so often leads to the pursuit of immediate and short lived pleasures. In other words, here we have a drive towards (personal) uniqueness without (impersonal) universality.
Effectively, this split takes place in the personality, because conscious and unconscious life have become clearly separated. This is reflected in the way in which the former is identified as "reality", whereas the latter is identified as "fantasy". In truth it is the dynamic relationship between conscious and unconscious processes that constitutes reality. Our very choice of terminology therefore, clearly illustrates how - in conventional terms - experience is reduced to mere conscious understanding.
Fantasy of course remains very important during the development of the rational stages. Indeed with the onset of adolescence and sexual development it is likely to resurface in intense fashion. The experience of fantasy pertains directly to the unconscious mind. Unfortunately because of the emphasis on conscious development, very little attention in practice is given to the complementary role of the unconscious which not surprisingly continues to function in an in instinctive and immature fashion. Unconscious desire - especially sexual - is therefore frequently projected outwards in an involuntary fashion. Such "irrational" behaviour can represent an attempt to compensate for the over-rational bias of conscious development. However at such a vulnerable stage as adolescence, it can also be highly problematic. In fact, properly coming to terms with involuntary instinctive behaviour is psychologically a very difficult task, and is not likely to be properly resolved - if at all - till a much later stage of development.
Thus we have seen that the mental sub level, represents conscious specialisation of the personality, where the ability to exercise conceptual control of reality is developed. Again we have identified concrete and formal stages.
In the concrete stages experience tends to be very specific and related to ones immediate environment.
With the first concrete stage, experience is still largely sense oriented, where the ability to formulate cognitively, logical connections as between specific objects emerges. This extension of objects, in turn brings with it a linear understanding of space.
This also brings changes in affective understanding. Formerly there was considerable confusion of whole and part. Now, at the level of specific external sense objects, the parts become separated from the whole. The self can affectively respond without ambiguity to external sense objects. Confusion still remains however at deeper levels.
In the second concrete stage, the senses are considerably transcended, and the ability to exercise direct conceptual (i.e. mental) control over specific objects emerges. The self is able, therefore, to operate on these objects.
This extension of objects - through concepts - in turn brings with it a linear understanding of time.
Affective understanding now becomes more internalised with the development of specific emotional responses.
In the formal stages, experience tends to be far more generalised and related to universal objects.
In the first stage, the ability to form general relationships among sense objects emerges. One is more detached from immediate concerns and enabled to respond in a wider way to the environment.
Experience of space - while still linear - becomes more holistic.
Affectively, external response now becomes deeper and more generally focused.
In the second stage, the ability to conceptually control these objects emerges. One is now able to operate directly on thought processes themselves (i.e. operate on abstract objects. This enables far more comprehensive control of the environment.
Experience of time remains linear but more holistic. One is aware of the general flow of time, rather than the time frame connecting specific activities.
Emotional response becomes more internalised and deeply focused.