The Cultural Maturity link at the top of any page provides a short overview description of the concept of Cultural Maturity. You might wish to read it first and then return to the FAQ section if you are not familiar with the basic concept.

FAQ: A Brief Cultural Maturity Question and Answer Summary


This FAQ summary briefly addresses questions commonly asked by people new to the concept of Culturally Maturity. Some are questions people who have never heard of the concept may ask. Others are questions that commonly come up once a people have started working with the notion.

What is Cultural Maturity?

The concept of Cultural Maturity describes changes reordering today’s world and further changes that will be necessary of we are to have a healthy and rewarding human future. The concept helps us make sense of why these changes are important, what they ask of us, and how these further changes might be more in the cards that we might imagine. Cultural Maturity is a specific concept within Creative Systems Theory’s more overarching picture of how human systems grow and change.

Can you briefly summarize the concept’s thesis?

The concept of Cultural Maturity proposes that our times challenge us to a critical next stage in our collective human development—put most simply, to an essential and now newly possible “growing up” as a species. The growing up takes us beyond what has always before been a parent/child relationship between culture and the individual. Cultural Maturity’s changes involve leaving behind the protective cultural absolutes of times past and assuming a new level of responsibility in all parts of our lives. They also involve engaging the more demanding and complex—but ultimately more rich and full—kinds of understanding and relating that doing so begins to make possible.

Why do we need such a notion?

Most immediately, the concept of Cultural Maturity offers perspective for making sense of what can easily be confusing and disturbing times. It also provides guidance for making good decision in all parts of our personal and collective lives. In addition, it offers a compelling picture of human possibility.

Beyond this, the concept of Cultural Maturity brings important detail to our thinking about the future. It helps us delineate the new characteristics that effective thinking, relating and acting in times ahead must have. And it helps us separate the wheat from the chaff in ideas we bring to addressing future challenges.

What evidence do we have that the concept of Cultural Maturity is correct?

Several different kinds. Some is empirical. If we list the most critical challenges ahead for the species, we find that effectively addressing—or really even just adequately understanding—each of them requires the greater maturity of perspective the concept of Cultural Maturity describes. There is also the way many of the most defining advances of the last century have reflected at least first steps toward the kinds of shifts in understanding that the concept of Cultural Maturity predicts.

Additional kinds of evidence are more conceptual and “developmental.”  We find that the societal changes the concept of Cultural Maturity describes have direct parallels in the changes that produce mature perception and mature values in our individual lives—what see with the effective addressing of second-half-of-life developmental tasks. Creative Systems Theory goes further to describe how these changes are consistent with those that reorder experience with the second half of any human formative process. Creative Systems Theory also describes how we can understand the new capacities that come with Cultural Maturity in terms of developmentally predicted changes in how cognition functions.

Some of the most important evidence has to do with inescapable realities.  We find that something at least similar to what the concept describes will be essential to moving forward for deeper reasons than just the need to effectively address new challenges. There are fundamental, structural reasons why continuing forward on history’s past trajectory is not an option. Cultural Maturity, or something related, becomes, in effect, the only game in town.

You speak of Cultural Maturity as a simple notion, but it doesn’t sound simple to me?  Is or isn’t it?

There are ways it is simple. It is a single brushstroke notion that we can apply to all sorts of very different questions. It also the case, as with all developmental processes, that when its changes are timely, we experience them as straightforward—they come to feel like common sense. This is a kind of common sense that before would have overwhelmed us, but in the end it is nothing esoteric. In fact its underlying properties are familiar to our experience. We know a lot about where it takes us from other kinds of developmental processes. As potential, Cultural Maturity is built into who we are.

The fact that culturally mature decision-making doesn’t necessarily require complex intellectual understanding also contributes to it feeling more straightforward than we might anticipate. In the end, Cultural Maturity is about the ability to hold experience with a more mature fullness than in times past, to get our arms around and tolerate a less certain, but ultimate more complete, kind of reality. All of Cultural Maturity’s conclusions follow from what the world look’s like from this more “grown up” place.

But simple does not mean easy. At the very least, culturally mature perspective requires surrendering assumptions (often favorite ones) and stepping into new territory. And it requires stretching sufficiently that we can tolerate the more nuanced and complex world the culturally mature perspective reveals. Without that stretch, not only does Cultural Maturity’s more sophisticated vantage not make sense, it is hard even to just appreciate why it might be needed.

The notion that our times require us to question and get beyond past culturally-specific beliefs sounds a lot like the postmodern argument. Is Culturally Maturity just different language for the same observation?

The concept of Cultural Maturity fundamentally challenges—or at least fundamentally extends and stretches—the post-modern thesis. It proposes that the confronting of once-and-for-all truths that post-modern social theory describes represents at best a first step. The post-modern thesis leaves unanswered just why we should see this confrontation. It also fails to give us much of anything to replace what it quite accurately takes away.  The concept of Cultural Maturity specifically addresses why we should see the changes we do. And it argues that the challenge ultimately is not just the surrendering of past sureties, but the ability to think, relate, and act in some fundamentally new—and newly demanding—ways.

Is Cultural Maturity just another way of talking about the transformations of the Information Age?

There are links. But Cultural Maturity’s picture is more encompassing and warns that thinking in information Age terms hold traps for the unwary.  Cultural Maturity argues that very few of the important concerns before us can be resolved solely by technological means. It also challenges the common assumption that invention is the ultimate driver of cultural change—it argues that just as much culture shapes what we are able to  invent and how we use what we invent.

And while much in the information revolution supports Cultural maturity’s changes, much also has the potential to fundamentally undermine culturally mature possibility.

Miss these differences and we can end up pursuing ends that we ultimately would not at all want.

You propose that culturally mature perspective requires us to think about social questions more systemically—in terms of systemic wholes. But you also propose that it requires us to think systemically in new ways and emphasize that we need to be wary of conceptual traps when using systems language. Could you clarify a bit?

Culturally mature perspective does challenge us to think systemically in a specific new sense. The kind of systems thinking we are most used to is the kind good engineers draw on. But human questions are not just engineering questions. We are not machines. Culturally Mature perspective invites us to think in ways that directly reflect that we are alive, and more than just this, that we are alive in the particular sense that makes us human.

But we can also miss the mark in an almost opposite way. Humanistic and philosophically romantic belief often uses the language of wholeness in a way that in the end reduces to an identification with the more subjective, interconnectedness-emphasizing aspects of experience. The results is as fundamentally different from mature systemic understanding as a mechanical gears-and-pulleys engineering picture. Wholeness in the dynamically encompassing sense Culturally Mature conception describes makes individuality and difference as important as interconnectedness.

The larger portion of what people speak of as  “new paradigm” thinking—certainly that of the more New Age sort—falls for a related kind of trap. Again what we see is not really new at all, and not anything that can ultimately helps us. Such thinking places time-worn philosophically idealist or spiritual/mystical ideas in new packaging. We’ve witnessed promises of a new Golden Age repeatedly over the course of history.

I think I get your argument for a more dynamic and complete kind of systemic understanding. But trying to think about it makes my head swim. A simple definition would be helpful.

It is appropriate that it might initially make your head swim. We are talking not just about new ideas and new policies, but new, more mature ways of holding reality. We aren’t used to all they require of us. It is also the case that where it takes us requires more than understanding in the objectivist sense we are used to associating with truth. One results is that definition as we usually think of it can’t ultimately capture our quarry.

A good way to understand what becomes new with culturally mature systemic understanding helps clarify this result. It has to do with what culturally mature understanding requires that we draw on in ourselves. Rarely can the intellect alone get us there. The new more systemic questions demand that we bring multiple aspects knowing—more of our own systemic complexity—to bear in addressing them.

We can see this need to draw on more aspects in how most all the new questions are not just questions of how to do things, but questions of value. For example, we have to better appreciate how having amazing new technologies and knowing how to use them wisely are not at all the same things. The intellect alone is great for questions that just require knowledge. Wise decision-making requires a more complex kind of engagement.

This appreciation for the importance of bring more of ourselves to bear helps get at the difference between the kind of systemic thinking culturally mature perspective makes possible and the more mechanical gears-and-pulleys systems thinking of good engineering. Rationality alone is quite adequate for describing systems understanding of the mechanical sort. We need the whole of intelligence, applied in a new conscious and integrated way, if we wish to apply the new more dynamic and alive kind of systemic understanding future questions will increasing require.

Could we say Cultural Maturity is about being more interdisciplinary in our perspective and more relativistic in how we think?

Certainly Cultural Maturity affirms the importance of multidisciplinary inquiry. It argues that most all the important questions of our time require it.  One of the reasons the academic world often providing much less leadership than we might prefer when it comes to the future is how impenetrable the walls between disciplines can be. (Another reason is the common assumption in academia that rational understanding is sufficient.)

Culturally mature truth is relativistic in the sense that it is contextual. It recognizes that a great multiplicity of factors that come into play with any question that matters. But it is explicitly not relativistic in the “different strokes for different folks” anything-goes sense. It is about bringing great discernment to critical concerns, not less.

Can you say more about how such perspective translates into everyday decision-making?

One of the best practical tools for helping us think with the needed greater sophistication also helps us avoid confusing culturally mature understanding with things it is not. This is the recognition that such understanding “bridges” familiar assumptions—it draws a circle around conclusions that we tend to think of as polar. The concept of Cultural Maturity describes how thinking in polar terms worked very well for the tasks of times past—indeed was critical to addressing them. This was the case whatever the polarity we focus on—us versus them in relationships countries, mind versus body, masculine versus feminine, or matter versus energy. The concept of Cultural Maturity also describes how continuing to think in polar terms in the future will more and more leave unable not just to answer critical questions, but unable to ask them in useful ways. Bridging results in something very different than either compromise out simple agreement. In the end, it increases our appreciation for both difference and commonality.

As far as practical decision-making, the polarity of political left versus political right makes a helpful example. Our current disgust with partisan pettiness reflects this need for more mature perspective. In the end, not only do the limited views of each extreme leave us short, simple compromise—splitting the difference gets us no closer to the kind of mature systemic view we have interest in. We need to be able to address and make sense of a larger, more dynamic and creative picture.

Note that this observation challenges not just politics as usual, but also usual notions of journalism. We’ve thought that “balanced” reporting was enough. Cultural Maturity argues that we can’t stop there if news is to be about identifying the questions that today most matter and addressing them in ways that will produce useful answers.

You emphasize the importance of better appreciating limits. Yet at the same time you say Cultural Maturity is about thinking more expansively. This seems like a contradiction.

Culturally Maturity is very much about a new relationship to limits—of all sorts. It is about better appreciating planetary limits. It is about new respect for limits inherent to the dynamics of relationship—whether between lovers or between nations. It is also about limits to any way of thinking that stops short of fully mature systemic perspective to effectively frame or answer out times defining questions.

At the same time, culturally mature perspective makes clear that a maturely conceived relationship to limits makes us more not less. For example, with regard to environmental limits it affirms that a new ethic of sustainability will be essential. At the same time it asserts that a mature understanding of sustainability is not (and cannot be) about doing with less. It must be about an ultimately fuller, and more fulfilling, understanding of more.

This more embracing kind of systemic perspective necessarily leaves us without definition in the usual rationally-conceived sense. And at the same time it points toward a needed fuller sort of definition.

The concept seems more psychological than most ways of thinking about cultural tasks. I guess that makes sense being that you are a psychiatrist. But I wonder whether that helps or hinders?

I suppose it could do either. Ultimately the concept of Cultural Maturity concerns the “psyche of culture,” who we are collectively and the particular challenges that today face the collective endeavor. But there is also a more personal psychological aspect. Cultural Maturity is not just about various ways of looking at the future. It is also about how the diverse ways we hold experience effect how we see the future (and also the present and the past). CST addresses this in great detail.  But the simple concept of Cultural Maturity is also in the end less about just what is than about how, at different times and places, we predictably interpret what is.

Cultural mature perspective is obviously pertinent to understanding human systems. What about the non-human, to understanding the inanimate, and nature?

It is certainly pertinent to understanding how and why we have understood the inanimate and nature in the odd and often contradictory ways we have through the course of the human story. It also invites more encompassing big-picture “whole ball of wax” reflections that helps us appreciate both how different kinds of existence are related and how they are different.

Do I need to understand Creative Systems Theory to make use of the concept of Cultural Maturity?

No. As simple metaphor or analogy, the Cultural Maturity works fine as a stand-alone concept. While the concept of Cultural Maturity is a formal Creative Systems Theory notion, there is no need to either understand or agree with the theory’s idea to make powerful use of it.

There are ways CST adds to the more basic concept. It helps make understandable why Cultural Maturity’s challenges and changes should be what we see and for understanding exactly what those changes ask of us. And while all the more nuanced aspects of the concept—and very often the devil is in the details—follow directly from Cultural Maturity as a concept (CST is not required), CST provides simple language for making many of the important distinctions. It can also provide great help when applying the concept of Cultural Maturity by helping us think about  systems at a level of detail that the concept of Cultural Maturity by itself does not provide.

CST is also significant with regard to the concept of Cultural Maturity because it models one successful effort at Culturally Mature theory (and one that can be applied in highly nuanced ways to a wide variety of questions). But the concept of Cultural Maturity, when understood deeply, requires no support from Creative Systems Theory.

Could you say more about how the concept of Cultural Maturity provides hope for the future?

The concept of Cultural Maturity articulates a story for the future that in potential brings an important kind of achievement and reward to the human endeavor. In doing so, it supports that there is very much reason to go on. In addition, it supports the conclusion that making the possibilities that story offers manifest need not be some idealist hope or something of our far off future. It describes how the potential for the kind of thinking, relating, and acting the future will require is in important ways “build into” us. (Cultural Maturity is a “developmental” notion.) And the fact that many of the most defining advances of the last hundred years reflect the beginnings of culturally mature sensibility supports the conclusion that we are already a good distance on our way (even if we have not had overarching perspective for understanding just what we have been up to.)


The Domains section addresses how the concept of Cultural Maturity applies to particular concerns, both specific topics (such as morality or leadership) and broader domains of culture (such as government or art).

The Theory Topics section addresses concepts that may be pertinent to blog posts. Most draw on the thinking of Creative Systems Theory, but some apply more generally to culturally mature perspective.