Meditations: Addressing Evolution’s Error
Addressing Evolution’s Error
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a paleontologist and Jesuit priest who believed humankind represents a milestone in an ascending evolution of all life. His work is a touchstone for thinkers on the meaning and future of humanity. Rarely has a thinker been so right and so wrong at the same time.
Given the madhouse that the world has become, Teilhard’s notion of humankind being a “thinking layer,” or “noosphere,” covering the planet seems like a bad joke. On the other hand, his reflections on evolution as being more than just a random, mechanical process are gaining more serious attention, even by scientists who have long derided his poetically expressed ideas.
Here is an example of Teilhard’s boundless optimism about the human condition and prospect: "A glow rippled outward from the first spark of conscious reflection. The point of ignition grows larger. The fire spreads in ever-widening circles, till finally the whole planet is covered with incandescence."
Even 30 years ago, as a young man passionately pursuing studies in what philosophy calls “theories of human nature,” I found such pronouncements wildly off the mark. My inquiry began with the question: Given that nature moves in a dynamic order, and that humans evolved along with all other life, how is it that humankind could become such a force of disorder and destructiveness to the entire planet?
At a time when our wired world instantaneously carries the information that hundreds of children have been shot in the back in an escalating “global war on terror,” the idea of the incandescent glow of human consciousness is beyond absurd. And yet, the darker things get, the closer human consciousness may be getting to a breakthrough.
At best, Teilhard totally missed a step in evolution—the misstep that is ‘man.’ But how could nature make such a mistake? And is understanding and resolving evolution’s error potentially part of the process of breaking through to the next stage of consciousness?
The contemplative in me agrees with Teilhard when he says that there is an intrinsic intent within all matter and energy to evolve a brain capable of awareness of Mind. However human consciousness as we know it, based on memory and thought, is increasingly destructive and unsustainable. In order to awaken the awareness of Mind, content consciousness has to be negated by the individual through undivided observation of its movement within one.
Human chaos is of a completely different character than chaos in nature. The latter is inextricably part of an infinite order that includes a high degree of randomness. The former is marked by an increasing degeneration and deterioration, culminating now in a planetary crisis that only a transmutation in consciousness can resolve. Obviously this insight, if true, turns the entire idea of human progress with regard to civilization (as opposed to science and technology) on its head.
Consciousness as humans have known it for over 100,000 years (with very few exceptions) has reached its life-threatening and logical end. Humankind is imperiling not only itself, but also the very viability of the biosphere. In addition, the logical end of content/information consciousness is the computers that we are making as analogs of that consciousness.
There is another kind of consciousness altogether available to the human being, but it isn’t just going to drop into our heads. Each person has to do his or her own spadework to make the breakthrough. Content consciousness is derived from and turns on memory; insight consciousness derives from and turns on direct perception of what is, which illuminates what is.
Teilhard’s notion of a “noosphere” as a “thinking layer” of the biosphere now seems almost willfully naïve. Humankind represents a deep error in evolution, which only we, by awakening insight within ourselves, can put right.
Evolution’s error is not ‘man’ or ‘higher thought’ per se, but the inherent tendency of symbolic thought to divide, grow like a cancer, and fragment the world all to hell. Progressive evolution is therefore an illusion of the highest order.
It follows that the computer and the Internet aren’t more layers in “the ascension of inner sap spreading out in a forest of consolidated instincts,” as Teilhard turgidly put it. Rather, together they are the ultimate expression of content consciousness, which threatens to engulf everyone in a ‘matrix’ of information control.
The alternative to the real and present danger of losing one’s humanity is radical change through self-knowing, which frees the brain to be aware of, and even participate in ongoing creation. What a time to be alive!
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.