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Healthy Cognitive Development and Global Wellbeing

By Sean McKenzie


Having a basic knowledge of human cognitive development, we are offered the possibility of witnessing, unfolding, and acting from a life-giving reference frame. Our knowledge of human cognition can lend greater clarity to our understanding of people, as well as offer unfolding possibilities regarding world views, interpersonal relations, and individual progressions over the lifetime. Also, our ability to positively be and inter-be are enhanced through an understanding the cognitive stages. Additionally, greater freedom, compassion, and instrumentally arise through our awareness of the synergistic progressions of the human consciousness and their implications globally.

All the essential cognitive stages were first identified by Jean Piaget (1896-1980). His experimental findings have been repeatedly verified in the scientific community. Piaget realized four stages of cognitive growth: 1) sensorimotor, 2) preoperational, 3) concrete operational, and 4) formal operational. His stage theory still stands today as both relevant and indispensible. It remains the corner of our understanding of human consciousness.

In the sensorimotor stage (birth to about two years of age) the child's interrelationship with the world is largely tactile, symbiotic, sensory-driven, and devoid of opaque cognitive constructs. However, a sense of "object permanence" is developed in that the child realizes objects and persons can reappear after their absence. Also, attachment to the child's primary caregiver(s) occurs, defined by a porous boundary of self and other.

During the preoperational stage (approximately two to five years old) a sense of a separate self develops, magical thinking abounds, and motor and language skills are dramatically acquired. Reasoning is predominately subjective and self-focused with progressively opaque images forming of the self, as well as the child's nurturer(s), others, and potential resources and threats. Objective reasoning regarding object relations is not yet established with only a vague and oftentimes misleading understanding of cause-and-effect.

The concrete operational stage (approximately five to 12 years of age) is denoted by concrete reasoning abilities (abstract relationships still not being realized), self-identity solidification, blind allegiance to family values, rule/role approaches to ethics and morality, and heroic reference frames.

In formal operations (about 12 years of age and onward) abstract reasoning abilities develop, family values are differentiated from, and the individual identifies with either their peer group or a subculture. Ethical and moral perspectives are self-structured, and a world view arises that is not ethnically or culturally bounded. System dynamics are understood and embraced as abstract interrelationships, and potentialities arise outside of the framework of socially dictated structures and expectations.

Piaget's cognitive stages have profound implications regarding interpersonal and global relations, human development, and our intrinsic right to be our true selves as evolving beings. Interference with any of the stages, whether through ignorance or malice, causes unnecessary suffering too often ending in developmental arrest. Also, a trans-generational chain of dysfunctional and toxic relationships can occur.

Reflecting upon the world's current state of affairs, we can easily see that our disharmony with nature and ourselves is largely predicated upon developmental arrest and our lack of understanding of the cognitive stages. Simple awareness of the stages is our first step in dissolving dissatisfaction with ourselves, compassionately relating to those around us, and laying the groundwork for a healthy humanity and interdependent global system.

Our institutions and governmental personages are largely developmentally arrested in concrete operations. Rule/role ethical, moral, and legal structures abound, leaving little room for depth understanding, intuition, and compassion, as well as human dignities and freedoms. Ironically, while a larger portion of humanity than ever before enjoys formal operations, our institutions have remained rule/role machines of corporate control, devoid of boundaries in their exploitation of the world's peoples and environments. Donning the robes of progress, most of our institutions promise positive change while creating Machiavellian competition, an alienated global humanity, ecological collapse, and fixed class structures that do not honor the random nature of artistic, spiritual, and intellectual giftedness. Unwittingly born into such systems, we get to self-realize our individual worth and transformative potentialities with respect to compassion, positive change, interdependence, and healthy developmental progressions. As a result, our cutting-edge paradigms have now shifted from institutions to the individual as the nucleus for illuminated awareness and actions leading to a better world.

Awareness of the four cognitive stages is central to understanding our shared developmental progressions, human potentialities, and those expressions of cognitive arrest that keep us repeating the same negative actions generation after generation. Our human Realty is mercifully dynamic, evolving, open, and intrinsically uncertain. This Reality, this Mystery of Awareness, opens unexpected creative possibilities that can reduce unnecessary suffering, increase global hope, and offer a future centered upon interdependent diversity, intrinsic individual freedoms and rights, and the need for deeply personal spaces to create lives on their own terms with an unshakable sense of belonging and contribution.

Allowed to be what we naturally be, properly nurtured and given a fair playing field, and inclining ourselves towards expressive freedom and trust in the individual, we can begin creating a heaven on earth, reflecting the Miracle that is everywhere extant while dancing our dance of self-expression and intimate belonging. Understanding the mind is the key to our existing circumstances, and when we are allowed to go through all of our stages unimpeded, wonderful possibilities arise as illuminated realization, intuition, and freedom. Formally present, we are informally selfless and celebratory, offering each personhood their very nature of unbounded possibilities and evolving expressions.

Inclining ourselves towards formal operations and its needed environments of affirmation and nurturance, we can dramatically up the quality of life globally for humans and other species. Seeing the need for expanded formal operational thinking, it is imperative we lay the groundwork for its continued emergence despite our ossified institutions and negative trans-generational patterns of relating. It is up to us as individuals to make this evolutionary transformation happen, and this entails an unfolding awareness of the interdependent nature of all things, cognitive stage progressions, and particularly formal operations with its potential to nurture human awareness and offer truly life-giving environments of freedom and creative expression.


Sean McKenzie (aka Silent Temple) acquired an academic background in human cognition and interpersonal relations while attending the University of Arizona where he received degrees in both the hard and soft sciences. He has also been tutored in regressive therapy techniques and functional paradigms promoting being, principally stemming from André Rochais' PRH process. Over the last 15 years he has developed a form of neo-Zen called Silent Temple which eschews established structures and rules that have shaped Zen institutions for the past several hundred years. He has also self-published a book of poetry, The Path, and his first volume of neo-Zen teachings, The Transcribed Talks of Silent Temple, is published by Trans4mind under the nom de plume Silent Temple. After recently returning to the States from an extensive stay in Finland, he is finalizing another book of poetry titled Songs of Suomi. Sean is an ardent advocate of human freedoms, and he works tireless to promote aware and self-created lives of being and belonging.


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