Meditations: Consciousness, Evolution & Revolution
Consciousness, Evolution, and Revolution
Because human history, which is enfolded in the consciousness of every living person, is so ancient, there is a deep assumption that the basic course of humankind cannot be altered. But human consciousness is in an escalating crisis, and the cycles of history appear to be coming to a head.
Is a revolution in consciousness happening, or is humankind heading in the opposite direction? Clearly it’s not happening; indeed, ecological and social fragmentation is accelerating. Acknowledging this obvious fact does not mean despairing however. The human crisis is reaching a crescendo, and great things can happen, but not if wishful thinking continues to be the order of the day.
Obviously humankind has to quickly make the transition from nationalistic mentality to an effective global polity. But since nationalism (as well as ethnic, religious, or other partial identifications) is an ‘evolution’ of the basic tribal mentality that is tens of thousands of years old, it’s not simply a matter of ‘taking the next step.’ There must be a leap in the thinking/feeling of the human being.
For the disastrous course of humankind to change, a revolution in consciousness greater than anything that has occurred in human history has to ignite. The only precedent in history I know of is the creative explosion that occurred at the time of the Buddha, a regional phenomenon. The Greek creative explosion, which established the fundamental patterns of Western thought, was essentially intellectual.
In his book, “Becoming Human,” paleo-anthropologist Ian Tattersall says, “In both the anatomical and the technological realms, the history of our lineage has been one of episodic innovation, and not one of a gradual approach to perfection.”
When modern humans first emerged about 75,000 years ago in Africa (DNA studies indicate in present-day Tanzania), the elements of human evolution over the previous five million years or more came together to produce the human adaptive pattern.
It is our anthropomorphic habit to think that Homo sapiens is the culmination of the evolutionary process however, when in fact this stage is the biggest bump in the road to full-fledged human being. The development of symbolic thought poses a huge dilemma, since without a transformative insight into thought ‘man’ has inexorably fragmented the planet, and the human species, through the increasing sophistication of science and technology.
The notion that humankind’s split from nature occurred with the Agricultural Revolution, much less the Scientific Revolution, just begs the question. Both depend on the exceedingly powerful adaptation of symbolic thought, which rests on conscious separation and leads to greater and greater division and fragmentation without insight into it. Obviously psychological division and power also lead to tremendous economic inequity, permitting some peoples to prosper at the expense of others.
Genesis 1:27 is the agriculturalist’s manifesto: “God said…be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion…over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Given that humans are approaching seven billion, exhausting the soil, water, and air, and causing the extinction of animals and plants on a meteoric scale, the war against nature that this passage epitomizes is the ultimate Pyrrhic victory.
Tattersall says, “Language …is more or less synonymous with symbolic thought,” and asks, “Do the conditions now exist for new evolutionary developments out of Homo sapiens?” The answer for him is no, “because the conditions for true evolutionary innovation [the isolation of populations] within our species simply do not exist.”
But Tattersall is adhering to a simple evolutionary model, and denying the very possibility of a rapid diffusion of a new way of using the brain that he believes accounts for the rapid spread of modern humans. Tattersall feels that “language, with its associated mental abilities and behavioral complexities, spread and diversified from its place of origin through contact and diffusion among established human populations that already possessed the latent ability to acquire it.”
If that is plausible, then is it not quite possible that the latent ability for self-knowingly awakening insight into thought itself also exists in people throughout the world? And that under the right conditions, all it would take is a match to ignite such a revolution in consciousness? If so, the emergent consciousness would not require isolated populations, but insulated individuals as the basic ingredient.
In the past, isolated populations were, in Tattersall’s words, “the engines of innovation in evolution.” The isolation of populations no longer exists, due to the interconnection and intermingling of people through the jet and the net. Yet there is another kind of isolation, produced by fragmentation from the unwise use of ‘higher thought’ itself, making the individual, in many places, the laboratory for a leap in consciousness.
A revolution in consciousness will not be based on thought and language, but on going beyond them and the conditioning they bring about. The individual has the capacity to perceive what is, without the filters of thought, language and conditioning, and in so doing, ignite insight in themselves and human consciousness.
However, it won't be known whether humankind will make the transition and change our disastrous course until we actually do.
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.
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