Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Implications of the evolution-development of human consciousness

It was Owen Barfield's central theme, through most of his writings from Saving the Appearances (1957) onward, that humanity had undergone an 'evolution' of consciousness through recorded history (and presumably before recorded history). 

NOTE: It is vital to understand that when he deployed the term 'evolution', Barfield was using the pre-Darwinian concept; which meant something much more like 'developmental-unfolding'. In other words, the evolution of consciousness is being conceptualised as closely-analogous to the maturation of a human being from childhood, through adolescence into adulthood - but occurring over a timescale of centuries, rather than years. This means that the evolution of human consciousness was intended, and has been built-into the 'species'; and implicitly the evolution of consciousness was built-in by God.

Barfield's special contribution was to trace this evolution through the changing use of language, especially the nature of changes in word meanings, which form an unfolding pattern (most clearly set-out in the early book: History in English Words, 1926).

(I find it best to regard Barfield's mass of linguistic evidence as an illustration of the evolution of consciousness, and consistent-with the theory that consciousness has evoloved; rather than 'proving' that consciousness has evolved; an assertion that is, strictly, a metaphysical assumption - therefore something that cannot be either proven or disproven.)

The implications of accepting the reality of the evolution of consciousness is that the nature of Men changes through history; therefore the nature of human societies will change. This is absolutely inevitable, because societies are made of Men, and when Men change, the same socio-political organisation (the same incentives and punishments, motivations and deterrents) will produce different outcomes.

Men can either accept these changes of consciousness, learn about them, and take them into account; or they can ignore, deny and try to oppose them - which is what we are currently doing.

Radicals (the great majority in The West) deny the idea of God, therefore deny that there could be a divinely-destined - necessary and Good - evolution of consciousness - and insofar as this is acknowledged it would be opposed.

Reactionaries (a shrinking minority in The West) regard human consciousness as fixed, regard past societies as preferable to the current, and therefore hope to try to restore some earlier and better version of society.

But if human consciousness is really developing, and if this is divinely destined; if - for example The West has been in an unfolding 'adolescence of consciousness' since about 1750; then both the present and the past are impossible. The present is impossible because adolescence is a transitional phase; the past is impossible because we have left-behind our spiritual childhood.

If the evolution of consciousness is real, in the way that Barfield explained it; then Man can only move forward, can only accept or reject maturity; and such a move will be into-the-unknown - because, as adolescents, we cannot know what it will be like to become adult until we actually get there. 


4 comments:

  1. I can accept that our cultural use of language to be more precise and specific in describing both the nature of the world and the nature of ourselves has evolved. I can accept that each individual consciousness evolves, has done so since long before our mortal life, and will continue to do so long afterwards.

    But I do not believe that there is any real connection between the sophistication of our specialized language and the general prevalence in the population of what you have termed primary thinking, which I take to imply rational appreciation of divine truth. If there are more humans now communing with the mind of God at any given moment of our era than in past eras, it is largely a function of there simply being more humans alive to do so...and I'm not convinced that increase in sheer number is not (at least partially) offset by some considerable decline in the percentages of humankind engaged in this mode of consciousness.

    I see the future shape of society not as a return to Eden but as a reprisal of the path of prophets who walked with God. I believe it must come, lest all flesh be cleansed from the earth as by fire, but I doubt it will come without some (and likely many more than not) being consumed.

    That is to say, to that future, as to heaven, we must make our journey more as individuals who stand apart from the wickedness of the world, not by relying on the "class average" of the evolving consciousness of humanity as a whole.

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  2. @CCL - You may be misunderstanding, or don't know, what Barfield (and Steiner) are saying. They certainly do Not claim anything on the lines that modern humans have an increased prevalence of primary thinking - indeed almost the opposite. What they do claim is that modern humans are more self-conscious; and detached/ alienated from the world as they perceive it.

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  3. Well, and that is not a matter of general evolution so much as of conditioning.

    Unless you mean genuinely philosophical detachment, which was so far as I can tell more common in the past. The conditioned detachment that comes from experiencing few meaningful consequences of our actions can be easily distinguished from philosophical detachment...simply take the detached individual and put them in a life and death situation, where their continued life clearly and evidently hangs on their actions. The philosophically detached will remain emotionally calm and mentally reflective, the merely conditioned detachment will dissolve rapidly into raw terror.

    The experiment has been repeated extensively for us, least we feel impelled to do anything unethical in search of knowledge. Modern people are, by and large, not philosophical in their detachment, it is merely conditioned and vanishes as soon as they confront the imminent possibility of death.

    I do not foresee any future in which this conditioned detachment will survive as the commonplace factor it is in our modern world.

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  4. We've clearly gone off our path. It's safer and easier to backtrack to where you've gone off the path then continue on your journey.

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