Martin LeFevre: The ‘Riddle of Man’
The ‘Riddle of Man’
As I see it, human consciousness is an unexplained contradiction in the infinitely dynamic order of the universe. Consciousness is not ‘evolving,’ and things are going from bad to worse. Is there an understanding of the relationship between humankind and the universe that offers genuine hope?
The attempt by many nowadays to blur the distinction between human consciousness and the natural order is just making the human mind even more confused. Given that consciousness is not evolving however, but rather growing more and more disordered, does that mean one must just give up, as so many have done?
The choice between cynical self-absorption and New Age self-absorption is no choice at all. But can we really find out what humankind’s place in and relationship to the universe is?
If one believes the universe is a completely random interaction of energy and matter, then cosmic intelligence and sanctity are just the inventions and illusions of despondent or despotic minds. Religious beliefs previously served to give meaning to the many, while enabling the few to have control. Belief systems these days have become increasingly reactionary, whether in the Judeo-Christian or Islamic worlds.
To the person who has actually experienced the living order, mystery, and holiness that permeates the cosmos, human consciousness is a great contradiction and conundrum. It used to be called ‘the riddle of man.’ This puzzle cannot be resolved either by religious belief, or by mushy appeals to the ‘oneness of our deeper selves.’
Is evolution working out something significant in human consciousness? (Not that Earth is the center of the universe; just that consciousness is obviously coming to a head here, apocalyptic theology notwithstanding.) The central question to my mind is: How did the human brain, which is generating unsustainable levels of fragmentation and disorder on this planet, evolve from the infinitely dynamic order of the universe?
It may be that given the right conditions and enough time, evolution produces brains capable of symbolic thought. That doesn’t imply a hierarchy, much less ‘man being created in the image of God,’ but rather an enigma and growing crisis for the species in which conscious thought has evolved.
Though it's an incredibly powerful adaptation, symbolic thought rests on a principle that is the antithesis of the wholeness and order of the cosmos. That is, thought separates things.
On one hand, the ability to mentally and physically remove ‘things’ from the environment has given the human species immense powers of manipulation and control over the environment, even down to the molecular level. On the other hand, using thought without insight into its nature and limitations is fragmenting the earth and society all to hell.
Consciousness, as we usually know it, is a growing momentum of useful knowledge and useless accretion (that is, ‘baggage’). The net result, denial notwithstanding, is increasing division, conflict, and fragmentation. Further, the accumulation in consciousness of useless content (e.g. hurts and hate, grudges and garbage) is the source of darkness and evil in the world.
Despite the growth in scientific knowledge, human consciousness is not an ascending spiral of wisdom, but a descending spiral of chaos. There have been points of possible radical change at every step of the way, but we appear to be running out of chances to change course.
Thought-based consciousness has reached a point where the fragmentation it is generating threatens the viability of the Earth’s ecosystems. Self-made fragmentation is in turn putting tremendous pressure on human beings to radically change human consciousness.
The great paradox is that symbolic thought is both a necessary precondition for conscious, silent awareness of Mind, as well as the greatest impediment to it, given thought’s predisposition for division and noise. Self-knowing therefore is not just the path for Buddhists and Socratic aficionados; it is the foundation for the survival of the species.
Enlightenment means stepping out of the stream of the past altogether. That requires great self-awareness and inner spadework. No person can compel another to take the path of self-knowing; it has to come entirely from within. But the price of willful ignorance is getting higher and higher.
So is there a cosmic intelligence that cares about the fate of humankind? I feel there is an intrinsic intent in the universe to evolve, through a haphazard and largely random process, brains capable of awareness of Mind. Human beings can feel and share in that intent.
Can the revolution in consciousness that finally changes the disastrous course of humankind ignite at this juncture of history?
- 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.