black and white photo of Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard in 1938
Aldous Huxley (left) with Gerald Heard at Black Mountain College in 1938

Gerald Heard (1889-1971) was a British historian, science writer, public lecturer, educator, and philosopher, who was one of the early progenitors of the human potential movement in the United States.  A a mentor to Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and other luminaries, he was instrumental in co-leading the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, the film director John Huston, and the entertainer Steve Allen in LSD sessions, influenced other psychedelic pioneers, and founded Trubuco College (1942-1949), an institution of higher learning that focused on comparative religious studies and practices.

Heard’s greatest contribution to the study of ideas was reputedly his book The Five Ages of Man: The Psychology of Human History (1963).  A wide-ranging speculative book that integrated material from history, anthropology, economics, psychology, mysticism, and other fields, it held that the development of consciousness through history mirrored the development of the individual through the lifespan (a variation of the ”ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” argument).

Heard divided the course of human development into five basic stages the included:

  1. The Pre-Individual (Co-Conscious Man):   In this stage, occurring during the first three years of life, the human being derives a sense of individuality from his parents.  The young child exists in a kind of peaceful symbiosis with his protectors. However, exposure to trauma, abuse, bullying, or deprivation of the needs as a young child – physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, and self esteem, can generate a crisis that prevents the child from emerging into the next stage of life.
  2. The Proto-Individual (Heroic, Self-Assertive Man).    During the next few years, the child seeks to assert himself in an effort to establish a sense of autonomy, take risks in the world, and develop feelings of self-esteem.  A crisis can occur when the parents try to thwart the development of individuality by attempting corrective authority.
  3. The Mid-individual (Ascetic, Self Accusing man).  Here the adolescence experiences a conflict between his own need to assert himself and the inhibiting influences of institutions, including schools, religions, and military service.  A crisis can arise from this conflict and potentially culminate in schizophrenic episodes. The creative self that can emerge from this stage is in danger of being beaten down, thus depriving society of the fruits of innovative thought.
  4. The Total Individual (Humanic, Self-Sufficient Man).  This is the stage of life that is typically associated with so-called ”normal” adults in society.  It is a state of extreme individualism, which can culminate in a rampant and flaring ego, or the exposure of this egotism to deflation resulting in a depressive mood. Alternatively, this conflict between the ego and society can also precipitate a transformation into the post-individual psychological state.
  5. The Post-Individual (Leptoid Man).  This is a self-actualizing stage of development where the individual becomes aware of states of consciousness that transcend the separate ego. The word ”leptoid” refers back to the Greek word lepsis, meaning ”to leap,” suggesting the jump made by the person from individualist thinking to awareness of other people, other states of awareness, global perception, and other post-individual states. In some cases, this stage of life can be precipitated by personal trauma. These individuals have the potential to become the spiritual leaders and sages of the modern world.

Heard’s model, while not well-known, was influential in integrating the ego psychologies of psychoanalytic thinkers with transpersonal models held by mystic traditions including Vedanta, and anticipated the theoretical models of Ken Wilber, Huston Smith, Ralph Metzner, and other New Age figures in the latter half of the twentieth century.


For more information about psycho-spiritual approaches to the stages of life, see my book The Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life (Ixia/Dover).

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education - https://amzn.to/2KAxT8F.

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