Development is a term used to describe many particular processes, like cognitive development, moral development, social development, etc. But so far we have no description of the process itself. We sustain that development is universal natural occurrence. That is, it is a process that is common to all systems. Not all systems develop of course: molecules and atoms don’t develop. But for those that do, like organisms, neural networks or societies, the process is the same.

We define development as the process by which systems increase their complexity. That is, systems develop when they expand their differentiation and integration of their constituting parts (see Complexity).

In other words, development is a gradual and continuous process of growing complexity.

With a growing complexity development bring to systems several characteristics:

When systems develop they tend to become more stable. With an increase in complexity, systems become more flexible, adaptable and autonomous, which are often related with higher stability (see Complexity).

In a developmental process, higher states of complexity grow from previous lower states. And as a consequence, the dynamics of higher states tend to be subordinated to the dynamics of lower states.

The intensity of development also diminishes in time. And this is because in nature everything tends to remain in states of minimal variation.  The higher the development and the more stable the system becomes, the lower the tendency towards further development. As a consequence, higher states of development are more rare than lower states of development.

Development can sometimes be described in terms of stages. Developmental stages are qualitative distinct dynamic states. And given that development is a continuous process, there is no skipping of developmental stages.

Another important characteristic of development is that it is not an inevitable process. Systems don’t develop ‘naturally’. Systems by nature tend to remain in stable states. Systems only develop when given necessary conditions for development are met.

The opposite process to development, regression, is related with a decrease of differentiation and/or integration and a decline into simplicity. Simplicity in turn, is related which dynamic rigidity, dependency and instability.

Examples of developmental processes:

Social development

Moral development


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