Has Consciousness Evolved?

by Richard Smoley, New DawnWaking Times

The idea that consciousness is evolving is one of the most important doctrines of the New Age. But is it true?

Over the long term, the answer seems obvious. Even the stupidest of humans is far more intelligent and sophisticated than a trilobite. Although materialists have skirted the conclusion that evolution has a direction – and that this direction is toward greater complexity – they have not managed to shoot it down.

The New Age idea of evolving consciousness is a little different. Many advocates of the new paradigm insist that human consciousness has gotten more sophisticated within historical times, and that it is destined to make another grand leap. It’s a harder case to argue.

It was H.P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, who first introduced the idea of evolving consciousness in the late nineteenth century. The basic theory of evolution as propounded by Darwin was already well known, but it had not been connected with consciousness in any important way.

In her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky made this connection. Indeed she went further. She held that not only humans and all organic life, but everything in the cosmos, down to the smallest atom, was perpetually evolving over the course of boundless eons toward a goal of unimaginable perfection.

Blavatsky was a bit more cautious about the evolution of human consciousness. While she propounded the allegedly ancient and secret doctrine of the Root Races, whereby humans would eventually develop supernatural capacities, she did not see this as coming any time soon. According to Blavatsky, the present, Fifth Root Race – encompassing practically all of humankind currently on earth – was going to be around for a while.

Nevertheless, Blavatsky set the stage, and it is interesting, though difficult, to try to figure out how much she influenced twentieth-century advocates of creative evolution such as Henri Bergson andPierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The man who may be most responsible for the idea that human consciousness has evolved within historical times, and is making a transition to a new stage, is the Swiss philosopher Jean Gebser. In his masterwork, The Ever-Present Origin, published in 1949, Gebser outlined a development of civilisation in five stages: the archaic; the magic; the mythical; the mental; and the integral. Gebser’s argument is hard to summarise, but he essentially said that the shifts between these phases meant a change in human consciousness, even in how we view spatial dimensions. The “mythical” stage, the age of classical antiquity, was conceptually “spaceless.” The new “integral” consciousness is, by contrast, “space-free” and “time-free.”

Gebser’s arguments do not always hold up well. For example, he said that the dawn of the mental stage of development – which included the discovery of perspective in art – started in medieval times. A crucial moment was the Italian poet Petrarch’s ascent of Mount Ventoux in southern France in 1336. This, Gebser claimed, was the first time that anyone ever climbed a mountain solely to see the view. As such, it was “the discovery of landscape.” Unfortunately for Gebser’s theory, Petrarch himself said he had been inspired by the ascent of a mountain in Greece by King Philip of Macedon in the fourth century BCE. (Gebser tries, unconvincingly, to explain why Petrarch’s climb was so revolutionary and Philip’s was not.) Besides, perspective painting had been practiced in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Gebser is not well-known in the English-speaking world, but he has been very influential, largely through the works of the American philosopher Ken Wilber, whose “integral philosophy” was inspired by Gebser and by such figures as Arthur Koestler, Sri Aurobindo, and the American guru Adi Da (Franklin Jones).

If we want to decide whether consciousness is evolving and has evolved within living memory, it might be good to consider what consciousness is. For Gebser, it was “wakeful presence.” In my work, especially The Dice Game of Shiva, I have defined consciousness as the relation of self to other. To take a simple example, you are in your bedroom. You are awake. You see the furniture, the walls, the pictures. They are other, and you are you. Then you fall into a deep sleep. There is no longer a sense of self and other; you are no longer aware of your surroundings. You are unconscious.

What, then, is higher consciousness? What makes one kind of consciousness higher, or more evolved, than another?

In his book When Beliefs Fail: Toward a Psychology of Hope, Jim Stempel sets out a clear and engaging argument for the evolutionary perspective. He says: “The goal of spiritual growth is actually quite simple. It is complete awareness, the capacity to understand all of reality as well as ourselves…. Thus we enlarge our worldview until it incorporates everything.” To use the language of my theory, consciousness evolves as our view of the other, that is the world, expands.

Thus it would seem that consciousness has evolved. For a medieval peasant, the world was his village. The people in the village five or ten miles away were remote and menacing; they may as well have been extraterrestrials. Today we log into a computer and learn about places on the other side of the world in almost no time. Presto! Our worldview is enlarged. That means our consciousness is higher, more evolved…

more…

http://www.wakingtimes.com/2015/05/28/has-consciousness-evolved/

WIKK WEB GURU
WIKK WEB GURU

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