Developmental Stages and the Brain
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein
During the Nineteen-Eighties, while gathering materials for a manuscript I was writing about brain maturation and development, it dawned on me that a compelling co-occurrence exists among various developmental theories. It seemed that the times during which the brain undergoes significant neural reorganization—the periods of neural growth spurts and/0r neural “pruning”—are precisely reflected in those periods, long recognized by childhood developmental theorists as periods during which shifts in cognitive process, moral development, values orientation, and so forth, take place. This makes perfect sense of course, how could it be otherwise? From that simple realization came the framework, above (the graph reads from bottom, the first stage of development, to top), which served to guide my thinking, teaching and writing about the developmental potential in children and adolescents.
While the broad stages of human development across the lifespan have been understood for some time, recent findings in evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and systems thinking have deepened our understanding of what it means to be fully human. From this emerging view of human possibility, I wondered how a broad outline of such a view might appear; and whether a helpful framework, to serve as a guide, might be fashioned. Over the course of the subsequent decade of the Nineties, the following graphic took shape, suggesting just such a framework for human possibility—one that has guided my teaching and writing ever since.