What are the 8 Stages of Life?
(This article first appeared at zmescience.com on 11 Apr. 2014)
Self-awareness is surely the key to a life lived in full, which is why the ancient’s great challenge to themselves was, ‘Man, know thyself!’ With the emergence of the work of the biologist Jeremy Griffith, we are now in a position to at last, ‘know ourselves’!
Some of history’s greatest thinkers have attempted to step back from the minutia of their own lives in order to better see what it is that they share with all humans. With a knowledge of what it is that is universal in all our lives, they then tried to create a ‘chart of life’ that we could all refer to to help us better navigate the reefs and shoals of the human condition.
Hippocrates (he of Hippocratic Oath fame) was one of the first to attempt such a chart, but did not get beyond dividing the ages of man into Infant, Child, Boy, Youth, Man, Elderly and Old. Shakespeare went further when he wrote his famous ‘all the worlds a stage’ speech, listing what have become known as the Seven Stages of Man. They start with the infant, ‘Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms’ and end, rather bleakly, with old age, which Shakespeare describes as, ‘second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’
Freud of course, thought it was all about sex, and put forward five psychosexual stages, which charted our libido as we grew into sexual maturity.
The developmental psychologist Eric Erickson thought that the human lifespan was best characterised by eight stages of the ego’s development in wisdom. Lawrence Kohlberg thought that moral development was the best way to chart a life’s passage.
The definitive chart of life’s stages is produced by the biologist Jeremy Griffith. Griffith explains that understanding the development of consciousness is the key to understanding each stage of our lives. Moreover, each stage of the individual’s life is a reflection of the stages of development that humanity as a whole has progressed through over millions of years. He explains,
“This parallel occurs because the stages that we, as conscious individuals, progress through are the same stages our human ancestors progressed through–‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’: our individual consciousness necessarily charts the same course that our species’ consciousness has taken as a whole. Wherever consciousness emerges it will first become self-aware, then it will start to experiment with its power to effectively understand and thus manage change, then it will seek to understand the meaning behind all change, and from there it will obviously try to comply with that meaning. In the case of consciousness developing in us individually and in our ancestors, that journey was disrupted by our necessary search for the understanding of why we did not comply with the integrative, cooperative meaning of existence.” (Freedom: Expanded Book 1).
Key to Griffith’s exposition is that the reason that humanity has not been able to ‘comply with the integrative, cooperative meaning of existence’ is because the emerging conscious mind unavoidably came into conflict with our already established instincts and as a result we became increasingly ‘upset’ both as a species, and as individuals. Griffith describes having to live in a state of guilt as a result of not being able to explain our non-ideal behaviour, not being able to explain the human condition.
You may feel confronted by the honesty of Griffith’s descriptions, but, read in the broad context that Griffith presents them, that humans have been breathtakingly heroic in persevering with the task of mastering consciousness, despite the criticism it has attracted from our instinctive self, they are ‘enlightening’–through Griffith’s biological understanding of these stages we can, individually and as a species, now mature from ‘insecure adolescence to secure adulthood’.
So to very briefly summarise the eight stages that characterise our individual lives and the development of our species:
1. Infancy. The species: our early ape ancestors, including Sehalanthropus, Orrorin and Ardipithecus–12 to 4 million years ago; the individual–0 to 3 years old.
Infancy is when humans become sufficiently conscious, sufficiently aware of cause and effect to realize that ‘I exist’–that we as individuals are at the center of constantly changing experiences.
2. Childhood. The species: Australopithecus–4 to 1.3 million years ago; the individual–4 to 11 years old.
Childhood follows as our emerging consciousness begins to experiment in self-adjustment and manage events to its own chosen ends. From the time when the intellect becomes sufficiently able to understand the relationship between cause and effect to begin actively experimenting–‘playing’–with the conscious power to self-manage and self-adjust; to when the intellect becomes demonstrative of the power of free will and experiences its first encounter with the frustrations of a conflict with the instincts, which is the human condition. Mistakes are made by a mind trying to reason how to behave, a degree of ‘nastiness’ creeps into the conscious self’s behavior, mild anger and egocentricity starts to appear in retaliation to the criticism emanating from the instincts. Reassurance is sought in this confusing and turbulent time and a resistance to the inevitable process of ‘growing up’ is present.
3. Early Adolescence. The species: the first half of Homo habilis’ reign–2 to 1.5 million years ago; the individual–12 and 13 years old.
The early stages of adolescence encompass the time when we encounter, in earnest, the sobering imperfections of life under the duress of the human condition. We realize that lashing out in exasperation at the ‘injustice of the world’ doesn’t change anything and that the only possible way is to find answers for our frustrations. ‘The child matures from a frustrated, extroverted protestor into a sobered, deeply thoughtful, introverted adolescent.’ (Freedom: Expanded Book 1)
4. Late Adolescence. The species: the second half of Homo habilis’ reign–2 to 1.5 million years ago. The individual–14 to 21 years old.
Through this time adolescents struggle with the depression that engaging the issue of the human condition, both ‘without’ and ‘within’ causes . Eventually, finding no answers, we have no choice other than to resign to living in denial of the issue and to blocking out any thinking that brought that issue into focus, a process Griffith terms ‘Resignation’. Having finally adjusted ourselves to the reality of life, young adults then ‘get on with’ getting on in life.
5. Our 20s. The species: Homo erectus–1.5 to 0.5 million years ago; The individual–21 to 30 year old.
Initially naïve to all that life encompasses our enthusiasm for daring to take on adventure is infectious and that adventure becomes one of two positives that the 20 year old can find sustenance in (the other being romance). Hence the significance of the long-held tradition in Western societies to hold a so-called ‘coming of age’ party for offspring when they reached this milestone, at which they were typically given a ‘key’ symbolizing that they were at last ready to leave home and ‘face the world’, and so with a big kiss from Mum and a slap on the back from Dad the young adult sets off to see what life holds for them. By now deeply committed to the task of proving ourselves in the world, our 20s is a time of exploration and discovery, all the while learning more about the corruption in the world and the corruption within ourselves. Our 20s show a rapid decline in innocence and naïvety as the realities of life under the duress of the human condition become realized and the innocence of childhood a distant memory.
6. Our 30s. The species: Homo sapiens–0.5 million (500,000) to 0.05 million (50,000) years ago. The individual: 30 to 40 years old.
The more we search for knowledge the more angry, egocentric and alienated (what Griffith refers to as the ‘upset’ in humans), we become and by the time we reach 30 our frustration arising from our inability to prove our self worth is countered by a layer of self-restraint, or what we call ‘civility’. We are forced to accept that the corrupting life of seeking power, fame, fortune and glory was not going to be a genuinely meaningful and thus satisfying way of living. We now had to learn to restrain our upset and develop a ‘calm, controlled, even compassionate and considerate exterior’ (Freedom: Expanded Book 1).
7. Our 40s. The species: Homo sapiens sapiens–0.05 million (50,000) years ago to the present day; The individual–40 to 50 years old.
Having become extremely upset and disenchanted with our efforts to ‘conquer the world’, we enter our 40s and the ‘mid-life crisis’–this crisis of confidence resulted in a decision to take up support of some form of ‘idealism’ in order to make ourselves feel better about our corrupted state. Griffith says that this relieving, ‘born-again’, ‘feel good’, ‘warm inner glow’, ‘blissed out’ positive of having restrained our upset and behaved in a ‘good’ or ideal or cooperative way became the entire focus of our existence.
8. Our 50s and beyond. The species: Homo sapiens sapiens’–0.05 million (50,000) years ago to the present day; The individual–50 plus years old.
Our 50s see us become so disillusioned with the extreme dishonesty of our 40s born-again state that we return to our old ways of seeking fame, fortune and glory, but by now extremely cynical and angry. This is sobering indeed, BUT it must be remembered that Griffith presents these descriptions in the context that it has been heroic for humans to endure self-corruption in order to champion our emerging consciousness and in fact solve the crux question facing our species of the human condition; of ‘are we worthwhile beings or blights on the planet?’, allowing us to finally reach mature adulthood where we no longer have to endure these torturous stages under the duress of the human condition. Looked at from this macro perspective each stage is a celebration of humanity’s courage in the face of extreme odds to bring clarity and understanding to the core of who we really are, thus bringing about a transformation of the human race.
To read the full account of these stages by Jeremy Griffith, and understand just why humans’ had to endure self-corruption in order to champion consciousness, visit: www.worldtransformation.com/freedom-ch8-the-greatest-most-heroic-story-ever-told/.