I posted the following in the Yahoo Adult Development forum and am cross-posting here. I'll keep you apprised of some key responses, provided I get any: 

Building on the post below* regarding Lakoff's embodied reason, he seems to call into question the type of abstract reasoning usually found at the formal operational level. This appears to be false reasoning based on the idea that reason is abstract, literal, conscious, can fit the world directly and works by logic (also see for example this article ). If formal reasoning is false wouldn't this call into question some of the assumptions of the MHC? That perhaps this "stage" is a dysfunction instead of a step toward post-formal reasoning? 

Now Lakoff has his own hierarchy of how embodied reason develops: image-schematic, propositional, metaphoric, metonymic, symbolic. (See for example "Metaphor, cognitive models and language" by Steve Howell.) So I'm wondering how the MHC takes into account Lakoff's work here and how it answers his charge of false reason? Terri Robinett noted in his Ph.D. dissertation (at the Dare Association site) that "work has already begun by Commons and Robinett (2006) on a hierarchically designed instrument to measure Lakoff’s (2002) theory of political worldview." So perhaps you can shed some light on this? 

* This is the referenced post: 

Since Michael brought up Lakoff as perhaps being "at right angles to the stage dimension" I read this by Lakoff this evening: "Why 'rational reason' doesn't work in contemporary politics." He distinguishes between real and false reason, the former being bodily based and the latter existing in some sort of objective, abstract realm. Very interesting indeed. Here are a few excerpts: 

"Real reason is embodied in two ways. It is physical, in our brain circuitry. And it is based on our bodies as the function in the everyday world, using thought that arises from embodied metaphors. And it is mostly unconscious. False reason sees reason as fully conscious, as  literal, disembodied, yet somehow fitting the world directly, and working not via frame-based, metaphorical, narrative and emotional logic, but via the logic of logicians alone."
"Real reason is inexplicably tied up with emotion; you cannot be rational without being emotional. False reason thinks that emotion is the enemy of reason, that it is unscrupulous to call on emotion. Yet people with brain damage who cannot feel emotion cannot make rational  decisions because they do not know what to want, since like and not like mean nothing. 'Rational' decisions are based on a long history of emotional responses by oneself and others. Real reason requires emotion."

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Here's a follow up post in that forum:

I don't think that Lakoff questions reason as a level per se, or that it grows out of and includes lower levels via hierarchical complexity. To the contrary he seems to agree as far as this goes. What he questions though is the worldview we use to interpret this data. For example he said in the PolicySpeak article (cited below):

"PolicySpeak is supposed to be reasoned, objective discourse. It thus assumes a theory of what reason itself is -- a philosophical theory that dates back to the 17th Century and is still taught."

I'm again reminded of what Herb said and what I referenced at this link (http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/adultdevel/message/4523):

"We risk getting into ideological conversations if we accept the concepts used as they are offered. So rather than being bound by some theory or methodology, which is closed system, I am concerned about the thinking that is done with it and on account of it. It seems to me that before "classifying" human development in these terms or those, we need to be as presuppositionless as possible, being very aware of our biases and the history of our profession. "

I'm just wondering about the presuppositions in theories like the MHC. For example, recall in the same link about that Robinett said the difference between MHC and prior research was that it was "objective and mathematical." I asked some questions about these assumptions of mathematical objectivitiy. They seem to be the same assumptions inherent in the 17th century notions of reason. In fact logic is based on mathematical proofs, the latter taken as the ultimate in objectivity. It's almost as if math is some self-existent thing in the world that we came along and "discovered." And this objective math proves our objective modelling.

Lakoff has this to say about math, from Where Mathematics Comes From (Basic Books, 2000):

"But mathematics by itself does not and cannot empirically study human ideas; human cognition is simply not its subject matter. It is up to cognitive science and the neurosciences to do what mathematics itself cannot do—namely, apply the science of mind to human mathematical ideas" (xi)."

"In the course of our research we ran up against a mythology…a kind of `romance" of mathematics…that goes something like this:… mathematics has an objective existence… independent of and transcending the existence of human beings or any beings at all" (xv).

So this is were "false" reason comes from, from a philosophical system that holds a certain worldview about what reason is and means. And I'm just asking for us to take a look at our own perhaps unconscious assumptions underlying our logical, objective, mathematical proofs.
Tom Murray wonders about

"the limitations of models and relate that to hierarchically structured formal developmental models. Constructs such as reflective abstraction, hierarchical integration, subject-object transformations, and hierarchical complexity assume a particular... 'mathematics' of developmental growth" (343-4).

While he accepts that hierarchical complexity might suffice for certain measurements, he also wonders is things like wisdom and compassion might need a different type of modeling.

"We may need to rely more on human gestalt reasoning, which can recognize more complex or subtle patterns than current mathematical and computational tools can assess" (352).

Lakoff agrees the models such as HC assume a particular mathematics but seems to go even farther though in calling into question math as a valid basis for cognitive categories. For example David Mark in "Human Spatial Cognition" says the following:

"Lakoff (1987) argues that most cognitive categories are not well-modelled by mathematical sets, or even fuzzy sets. More often, a category has prototypical members, and other things are added to the category by resemblances of various sorts to things already in the category, which leads to an internal category structure that may have several distinct branches leading out from a core; things at the ends of different branches may have few if any objective properties in common."


Lakoff, G., (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mark, D. M. (1993)." Human spatial cognition." In Medyckyj-Scott, D., and Hearnshaw, H. M., editors, Human Factors in Geographical Information Systems, Belhaven Press, 51-60.

Murray, Tom (2009). "Intuiting the Cognitive Line in Developmental Assessment: Do Heart and Ego develop through hierarchical integration?" Integral Review, December 2009, Vol. 5, No. 2
From the Adult Development Forum:

Michael Commons:

Who would defend fuzzy set theory and such flat models? Not me. This is what the MHC was to replace. The data shows otherwise. There is a large r = .5 and significant p = 0000 correlation between stages across domains.

Sara Ross:

I think the chronic confusion has multiple sources, but the paramount one appears to me to be that people have a hard time viewing *all* dynamics performed in and by entities that act as discrete tasks occurring on one to many different scales. Until we get more practiced at précising identifying the tasks/actions being performs, I think the confusion will continue. The formal stage and systematic stage concepts we use so often, e.g., wisdom, compassion, emotion, cognition, you name it, they’re all in the same basket, mask the nature of the actions that can be analyzed because they are vague labels (and only that, in my book). Any act or attitude that one might call wise, emotional, etc., can be analyzed in terms of task, so I disagree with Lakoff and Tom, simply because they seem to be adhering to static language labels rather than dynamic actions that comprise such gestalts, etc. We separate ourselves from the central behaviors/actions/dynamics with our language about them. That’s why I’m an unabashed proponent of hierarchical complexity theory – it gets beneath all that, at all scales. The math of MHC is so simple, so basic, that with a little scaffolding, most adults would be readily able to apply it to any/all of their life experience and things going on around them, if they were inclined to do so. I think this means we need to be willing to “do work” in the sense Herb often mentions. Conceptual labels require less work to apply than analyzing dynamics of tasks.


I am not an expert academic in either MHC or Lakoff, just an interested albeit bright layperson. Therefore I am not making definitive statements or judgments about MHC. I'm just trying to understand how MHC and the work of Lakoff & Johnson might fit together, or not, or somewhere in between. In that light is anyone is this list aware of any academic work in print or online that touches on such an interaction? I mentioned that Robinett said some work concerning MHC and Lakoff was forthcoming, so did that ever materialize?

Michael Commons:

Let me overstate the case.

Lakoff has made some assertions without data. He is a linguist thinking about politics and language. The Model of Hierarchical Complexity is a mathematical model about tasks has legions of data an a very large number of domains including the political. The order of hierarchical complexity predicts obtained difficulty with r's roughly between .85 and .99. All stage models are a special cases of the Model of Hierarchical Completion, which is in some sense a meta model. The MHC is not connected to past computer, AI or mathematical models of complexity or stage with the exception of Fischer's levels. Pascual Leone's m-space is a compatible psychological model. Dawson showed that as far as scoring narrative or interviews, there is a large degree of agreement in the central range of many stage models. It is two stages away from the mean stage of formal that there are large differences.

If Lakoff had a systematic model of hardness of tasks and measuring tools to assess task difficulty, it would be possible to see the correspondence or lack thereof.


In the Lakoff quote about math he said that some cognitive categories cannot be represented by math, obviously that is a point of contention with MHC. And Murray wonders about uncertainty, what might be outside of math-based models. Uncertainty seems to be at least part of what Lakoff references when talking about "real" reason being largely unconscious, and that "false" reason assumes a fully conscious logical aspect. I've also wondered that about whether a more complex math might be needed to represent cognitive categories. As Sara noted, the math involved in the MHC is "simple." (Though not to me, being math inept.)

I found an interesting article that seems to touch on the above issues: "Evidence sets: modelling subjective categories" by Luis Rocha at this link: http://informatics.iu.edu/rocha/ps/es_ijgs.pdf. He begins by noting that we should be aware of the kinds of limitations we impose of cognitive categories by using mathematical sets. He examines "radical" categories that Lakoff thinks are not well modelled by math. While Rocha agrees that the set theory might not be adequate he disagrees in that such categories can indeed by mathematically modelled. But this requires a different kind of math, one that can account for the "uncertainty" of radical categories. Rocha acknowledges that uncertainly is "clearly present in human cogntive processes" and must be accounted for in any mathematical model attempting to explain them.

Rocha explains all of this with a lot of math, all Greek to me. Is anyone familiar with this work? Or if not, willing to take a peek? Any thoughts? Feelings?

Michael Commons:

The MHC complexity does not use set or fuzzy sets in the manner of cognitive categories. It is not a cognitive theory but a behavioral theory about tasks and the required task actions. It has nothing to do with subjective categories or category theory. I am having a hard time following this conversation because Theurj is trying to fit the MHC into cognitive theory which it is not. That is like trying to comment on astrophysics using astrology. The Rasch analysis handles the probabilistic aspects. It is true that MHC is a mathematical model but that is like saying the big bang and steady state theory of the universe are the same. The big bang is right and the steady state is wrong even though they are both part of astrophysics.

Maybe you should learn the MHC and see what it assumes. There are just three conditions. 1. Higher order of complexity actions are defined in terms of lower order ones. 2. They organize them, and 3 that organization is non-arbitrary. Where are the cogitations, sets etc. is beyond me.

Maybe I can be a little clearer. There are no theories that the MHC is like other than Fischer's theory and only to a degree. So comparisons to other theories will not work. There may be aspects of Lakoff that are stage like. But that will require some work and possibly some data. But to take his claims seriously about other theories when they do not address the MHC seems far fetched.


I am well aware of the 3 conditions of the MHC. I am not trying to fit it into cognitive theory but rather trying to use cognitive theory to point to some of the possible assumptions that might be inherent to the MHC worldview. As you admitted, "what are the cogitations is beyond me." I like though how you used metaphors to illustrate what you thought I as doing.

Michael Commons:

But none of the cognitive theory assumptions are inherent to the MHC worldview. There is not one drop of mentalism in it. Task analysis comes from behavior analysis and computer science. The model is an application of Mathematical Measurement Theory. So I do not get your point.


To paraphrase Lakoff, where does mathematical measurement theory come from? It seems Lakoff suggests that any theory is derived from the way our "cognitive" processes are embodied. He references extensive neuroscientific research into how these processes develop in the ways we sense, move, feel, think. And in how we create philosophy, science and math via these processes. So in the sense even math is not something completely objective, existing in the world as something separate from how we cognitively process.

So Lakoff goes into how--sans an empircal, embodied understanding of math, science or philosophy construction (but not entirely or arbitrarily constructed)-- one might mistake something like logic and reason as something inherently self-referential based on formal operations alone. Math is a prime example of a methodology that appears to be a direct, objective example of how things actually are in the world, rather than a constructed modelling of how brains process the input they receive from the world.

All of which is cognitively understood by us in terms of metaphors and worldviews. Even the so-called objective sciences are part of this metaphorical worldview process. So this is what I mean when I say that the math used to model task analysis is not entirely objective (nor entirely subjective, for that matter). And each mathematical model has its own inherent and oftimes unconscious assumptions arising from the foregoing cognitive processes.
Kurt Fischer has been mentioned as having some relation to the MHC, as far as cognitive models go. He notes in Chapter 21 of Handbook of Developmental Psychology (Sage, 2003) that different meta-metaphors have tremendous impact on scientific thinking , including adult cognitive development. Two such types of meta-metaphors are ladders and webs. The ladder model is typical of Piaget, where development proceeds in a straight line, step (stage) by step. Even though some researchers extend Piaget into postformal operations, like Commons et al 1998, he includes them in this type. Lakoff and Turner (More Cool Than Reason, U of Chicago Press,1989) call this the “Great Chain” metaphor, which has contemporary variants like the above.

The other type, webs, “portray cognitive development as a complex process of dynamic construction within multiple ranges in multiple directions” (492). This seems more in line with Lakoff’s more rhizome-like cognitive categories, and mathematical models that include uncertainty sets. It does seem though that since the above writing the MHC also includes some of Fischer’s web ideas, like differing levels of performance depending on domain, context, environmental support, etc. I’m reminded of Sara’s point about dynamic actions in gestalts.

But I disagree that Lakoff is guilty of using static cognitive labels. One of Lakoff’s main points is that cognitive categories are much more open-ended and variable and lack the kind of well-defined precision of logic. This is largely due to the vast majority of cognitive processes being unconscious, so when Sara claims that something like the MHC views “all dynamics” it seems to lend itself to Lakoff’s criticism of rationalism being completely conscious of all such dynamics.

As an example of our cognitive limits and the flexible nature of “self” see Mark Turner’s 9/28/09 blog post “Cognitive limits” at this link.

“A self is a complicated and dynamic outcome of complicated conceptual integration networks.”
I give up. In response to my last 2 posts Michael Commons said the following:

Lakoff can think whatever he likes, but he does not speak for me.

Note that the Model of Hierarchical Complexity is not about cognitive development. If may be applied to cognitive development but it is not a cognitive no less a cognitive developmental theory. It is a theory of task difficulty. Dealing with task difficulty is part of emotional development, spiritual development, the development of judgment, action, sensitivity, perspective-taking and on and on.

There is no consciousness or unconsciousness in the Model of Hierarchical Complexity. It is not a mentalistic theory of measurement.
While I’ve given up on the Yahoo list I still find the topic of interest so will continue here. In my research I discovered this website of the Dynamic Development Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Most of the free articles are co-authored by Kurt Fischer, referenced above. In “Dynamic development: A Neo-Piagetian Approach,” he echoes Lakoff’s distinctions between real and false reason. He says:

“In developmental and cognitive science, static views of structure have been the rule, not the exception—a static property of the mind existing separately from the behavior it organizes…. In classical structural explanations, structure has been confounded with form….the core metaphor for stage theory (universal logic defining the developmental trajectories of each person) is profoundly static. Because stage theory equates structure with form (formal logic), it does not provide a full characterization of the complex mechanisms that underpin variability and change in psychological development.

The Greek philosopher Plato suggested that…abstract, idealized forms actually exist in an arena beyond the physical world..... The neo-Piagetian movement was created by scholars working to preserve many of Piaget’s core epistemological assumptions (i.e., constructive knowledge, hierarchical development, structural relations between levels of knowledge) while moving beyond Piaget’s most problematic concept—the assertion of universal structures of formal logic” (401-3).
There was considerable discussion of the uses and limits of developmental models in Integral Review’s special December 2009 issue (Volume 5, Number 2). I referenced one article by Murray above. In responding to Murray Heikkinen brings up a salient issue in “On cognition and ego”: Models and metrics purport not to make normative claims but rather to “strip normativity away from the assessment process” (371), as if assessment were some kind of completely empirical, objective reporting of “the facts.” And this is the root of my complaint with Commons and the assessors: The almost religious belief that such a normative-free, completely objective metric is even possible because it is "proven" by the abstract, idealized formulas of magical mathematics! (No doubt existing in higher Platonic ontological levels of reality.) It smacks of the kind of false reasoning above.
Something Tom said in the Bitbol thread made me go looking around:

“Quantum mechanics is thus often called a 'formalism,' that is, a mathematical model for describing, not quantum particles, but measurement results.”

So here are a couple of links to wiki articles and what they say:

This one on formalism in mathematics says:

According to formalism, the truths expressed in logic and mathematics are not about numbers, sets, or triangles or any other contensive subject matter — in fact, they aren't "about" anything at all. They are syntactic forms whose shapes and locations have no meaning unless they are given an interpretation (or semantics).

Taking the deductivist view allows the working mathematician to suspend judgement on the deep philosophical questions and proceed as if solid epistemological foundations were available. Many formalists would say that in practice, the axiom systems to be studied are suggested by the demands of the particular science.

Hilbert's goals of creating a system of mathematics that is both complete and consistent was dealt a fatal blow by the second of Gödel's incompleteness theorems, which states that sufficiently expressive consistent axiom systems can never prove their own consistency.

And this one on Logic:

Friedrich Nietzsche provides a strong example of the rejection of the usual basis of logic: his radical rejection of idealisation led him to reject truth as a "mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short ... metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins".[35] His rejection of truth did not lead him to reject the idea of either inference or logic completely, but rather suggested that "logic [came] into existence in man's head [out] of illogic, whose realm originally must have been immense. Innumerable beings who made inferences in a way different from ours perished".[36] Thus there is the idea that logical inference has a use as a tool for human survival, but that its existence does not support the existence of truth, nor does it have a reality beyond the instrumental: "Logic, too, also rests on assumptions that do not correspond to anything in the real world".[37]
At root of this need to build formal, so-called objective models and metrics is control of nature and humanity; a power play in Nietzchean terms. While Basseches didn't say exactly that he seems to be intimating at least in that general direction in the following from the same special issue of IR above:

"At an epistemological level, when it comes to the concept of development, I don’t believe that any amount or form of empirical data can substitute for philosophical argument.... I begin to address the more pragmatic aspects of Stein and Heikkinen’s argument, 'If we want to see an integral and developmental worldview gain a real institutional foothold—radically reforming business, government, education, therapy, and our own sense of human potentials—we need to get serious about our quality control standards' (p. 19). Whether or not I want to see that happen would depend on how such a world-view might gain a foothold. Because I view as dangerous the idea that any kind of empirical validation of measures could substitute for the philosophical arguments on behalf of the value of developmental phenomena, the quote above raises for me the specter of people who neither understand nor are convinced by the arguments beginning to systematically evaluate other people, even choosing who to hire or who to promote in the workplace, based on standardized measures of developmental phenomena. I find this terrifying. It suggests a tyranny of measures that replaces respectful discourse and collective adaptation as the social context in which development does or doesn’t occur. It suggests those with an integral and developmental world view becoming an elite that would use social institutions to ideologically and socio-politically dominate the 'developmentally inferior.'"

Amen brother.
I also appreciate Dawson's comments from that issue of IR. She notes that any kind of measurement provides very precise information but only about a relatively small domain. For a measurement to be useful it has to be combined with other sources of information "to construct a narrative that brings these things together in a meaningful way." She concludes:

"It is my hope that the integral community will choose to adopt high standards for measurement, then put measurement in its place—alongside good clinical judgment, reflective life experience, qualitative observations, and honest feedback from trusted others."
So if there is no completely objective universal reason then is reason just relative? Are there no universal aspects to it? L&J say the following in Philosophy of the Flesh, pp, 4-6.


Reason is not "universal" in the transcendent sense; that is, it is not part of the structure of the universe. It is universal, however, in that it is a capacity shared universally by all human beings. What allows it to be shared are the commonalities that exist in the way our minds are embodied.

The phenomenological person, who through phenomenological introspection alone can discover everything there is to know about the mind and the nature of experience, is a fiction. Although we can have a theory of a vast, rapidly and automatically operating cognitive unconscious, we have no direct conscious access to its operation and therefore to most of our thought. Phenomenological reflection, though valuable in revealing the structure of experience, must be supplemented by empirical research into the cognitive unconscious.

There is no poststructuralist person—no completely decentered subject for whom all meaning is arbitrary, totally relative and purely historical contingent, unconstrained by body and brain. The mind is not merely embodied, but embodied in such a way that our conceptual systems draw largely upon the commonalities of our bodies and of the environments we live in. The result is that much of a person’s conceptual system is either universal or widespread across languages and cultures. Our conceptual systems are not totally relative and not merely a matter of historical contingency, even though a degree of conceptual relativity does exist and even though historical contingency does matter a great deal. The grounding of our conceptual systems in shared embodied and bodily experience creates a largely centered self, but not a monolithic self.

There exists no Fregean person--as posed by analytic philosophy--for whom thought has been extruded from the body. That is, there is no real person whose embodiment plays no role in meaning, whose meaning is purely objective and defined by the external world, and whose language can fit the external world with no significant role played by mind, brain, or body. Because our conceptual systems grow out of our bodies, meaning is grounded in and through our bodies. Because a vast range of our concepts are metaphorical, meaning is not entirely literal and the classical correspondence theory of truth is false. The correspondence theory holds that statements are true or false objectively, depending on how they map directly onto the world--independent of any human understanding of either the statement or the world. On the contrary, truth is mediated by embodied understanding and imagination. That does not mean that truth is purely subjective or that there is no stable truth. Rather, our common embodiment allows for common, stable truths.
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