The flaws in this book should not obscure the fact that this may be one of the most important books on human behavior of the millennium-probably even more important than even the authors realize. For this is the first book to link two of the most important concepts in human behavior of our time-the theories of psychologist Clare Graves and the concept of memes.
(I have been working with Graves' theories for about 25 years, and had the pleasure to collaborate with him on a consulting project in 1976. Regarding memes, I have been teaching about them for about 5 years.)
Graves integrated "bio-psycho-and socio-" in a way that resulted in the identification of clearly distinct levels of existence, with each level having its own psychological and behavioral characteristics. This was a remarkable revolutionary achievement, especially in light of the subsequent work of others that corroborate the characteristics of each level. Beck and Cowan have conveniently provided excellent references for each level.
A second revolutionary idea comes from the 1973 work of Richard Dawkins, who while discussing the need that genes have to replicate themselves ("The Selfish Gene"), also posited the existence of another replicator, a unit of cultural transmission, which he dubbed a "meme" after the French word for imitation. After lying dormant for many years (except at Microsoft-see Richard Brodie's "Virus of the Mind") the concept of memes has arrived. And although I have been teaching about memes for five years, even I have underestimated their importance until recently, thanks to Susan Blackmore's book "The Meme Machine." Since Beck and Cowan are the first to write about the linkage of Graves' theories and memes, they are blazing the trail for what may become a major field of study in the future.
And now for some nit picking. The authors use colors (Red, Blue, Orange, etc.) to identify the Gravesian levels. I understand why they did so, because I, too, have grappled with the issue of whether to use Graves' original nomenclature or some other scheme. I personally prefer Graves' original nomenclature, and believe colors have more disadvantages than advantages.
Somewhat more troublesome is the authors' tendency not to clearly differentiate Dr. Graves' theories from their own extensions of his work. While I have no trouble separating the two, the average reader would have trouble doing so. Nor am I comfortable with calling the various levels "vMEMES," because it implies that each Gravesian level is primarily memes as opposed to a complex combination of a neuro-chemical predisposition and memes that are compatible with it.
One major advantage of Graves' theories is that it allows for prediction of second tier characteristics based on the characteristics of corresponding first tier levels. The authors missed the opportunity to project what the "Coral" (Graves' C'P') level would look like. The authors also omitted consideration of where Graves got some of his memes. They don't mention the early influence of Gerald Heard ("The Five Ages of Man") or the work of Harvey, Hunt and Schroder ("Conceptual Systems and Personality Organization").
Aside from these relatively minor criticisms, Beck and Cowan's book is extremely important because it ushers in a new focus on Gravesian levels and memes-a terrific combination for understanding and predicting human behavior. Hopefully their book will stimulate academic research as well as a wide range of practical applications.