Some Thoughts on the Evolution of Consciousness

Fundamental to who I am and what I write about is my belief in the inexorable (or perhaps even irresistible) development of human consciousness from what I would call a “less evolved” to a “more evolved” state. I understand that this is not a universally held position, even among the progressive community that I consider myself a part of. But I think it is the basis of my generally positive outlook for the future and my push to acknowledge individual liberty, self-direction in a context of a circle of equals rather than hierarchical structures of control.

In my writing I talk a lot about “evolution” in terms of the development of and individual human consciousness and of the human species as a whole. The word can be used in a neutral context of adaptive change that is not necessarily for the better, but I generally use it intending a positive connotation of a perhaps slow but profound and irreversible advancement and progress. (Maybe someone can share with me a better word for this concept since this one has such a range of meaning and baggage and does not quite have the precision of language that I would look for in my “day job” doing technical writing.)

Key in my thinking of the primacy of evolution is that the experience and wisdom gained from every life lived is not lost on succeeding generations. Each generation, at least in the aggregate, I see beginning their lives from a more highly evolved position than the previous generations. Again, you could make a reasonable argument that this is not necessarily the case, but in the spirit of confessing ones biases, this is the “working theory” that I continue to adopt. I have not found sufficient grounds to discard it nor have I found a better theory to explain my own experience, the experience of others, or the story of history as I have read it.

A focus on this evolving edifice of human knowledge and wisdom explains my keen interest in the technologies to store and distribute that wisdom and knowledge, including the printed page in the 16th Century and the modern era that followed and now the Internet and a new era that I see dawning with or even because of it.

But also at a more metaphysical or theological level is my own perhaps unorthodox “working theory” of the persistence of consciousness from one human lifetime to another. That the soul that inhabits my body and those that inhabit others are truly “old”, having lived many serial lives and starting each retaining key lessons learned and even negative baggage retained from the previous incarnations. I see all this within a context of not believing in God or other deities or some “super consciousness” greater than our own.

I don’t see it in the Hindu karmic way either, where a human consciousness (or more exactly a consciousness that can animate a human body) would have had prior (or have future) lives as some other species depending on how ethically the life was lived. But instead in a steady progression of development, though certainly with lives along the way where mistakes were made and opportunities were lost.

Again, it’s just my personal working theory, and I acknowledge that there are many others that are equally legitimate, even those that do involve “God”, or other manifestations of greater consciousnesses beyond our own. I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but I think it is important to call out since if consciousness is persistent, what else could be of more importance than gaining the learning that each lifetime offers. (Think Bill Murray’s movie “Groundhog Day” as the metaphor.)

There are a range of concepts that I see associated with moving toward a more “evolved” position. This would include moving away from motivation through fear towards motivation through love, from external control to self-direction, and from thinking in terms of “us and them” to only “us”. And hopefully not too inconsistently, I acknowledge that human culture has and may continue to take three steps forward and then two steps back at times.

My working theory attempts to accommodate the apparent reality that life is not fair. Whether it is fair or not, you play the hand you are dealt as best you can, and your own and other souls benefit from the lessons learned. It also frames a life as an adventure, not necessarily happy or successful, but well lived if it is a compelling story worth telling. The unfairness, unhappiness, failure, and opportunities lost in any given life led are mitigated by the learning and having many more chances to lead more lives.

An obvious concern here is that this working theory might give one license to ignore various forms of inequity and “sin” in the world, since those afflicted will have or have had other lives and better opportunities. To address that I would say that challenging inequity is an opportunity to move toward a position of caring and love and an all encompassing “us”. I would also say that it can keep the magnitude of the world’s troubles becoming so overwhelming that the individual soul is paralyzed to act.

So in my framing of this crazy world of ours, it is all about the intertwining of our unique individual stories into the collective narrative of life on Earth, and in particular the contribution of the human species (animated by persistent consciousness) to that global narrative. Building the story of a planet we can eventually be proud of, should we ever encounter sentient aliens from other worlds.

6 replies on “Some Thoughts on the Evolution of Consciousness”

  1. I think you’ve got it. I would add that there is only consciousness. All of the cornucopia of apparent identities are just that, apparent. There is only one consciousness. We and the “ten thousand things” are facets or tendrils of that unitary consciousness. All of our interactions are recorded in the one mind. Nothing is ever lost. You are right to be optimistic, even about humanity. We have the ability to create heavens or hells. As ego has reigned throughout history, we have had the greater tendency to create hells. Our great teachers have pointed to routes out of this dilemma. Not liking the hells of our own creation, we are occasionally motivated to do better. In general, humanity is gradually lurching in the direction of loving kindness. As more and more of us reach the realization that we are all one and that everything that we do to another, we do to ourself, we find forgiveness. That is the way out.

  2. Joe… thanks for the second. One thing I wrestle with that maybe you can give me more of your wisdom on. In your comment you are focusing on that “we are all one”, that interconnection between all things that I get. But I focus on that all of our consciousnesses are unique, and that we bring to the world our own special insight and contribution. I know the two don’t have to be incompatible, but sometimes I struggle to bring the two together.

    Like if we are all one, then we don’t need to have a democracy because we share the same consciousness and I can speak for you.

    So would love to hear your further thoughts.

  3. Cooper, what I appreciate most about you work here is the empowering view that all experience—including hardship, challenge and failure—is fertile soil for growth, creating the condition for inevitable evolution. I appreciate your use of the word “evolution” in this context. Our lexicon constantly updates itself based on how we use our language. Co-opting and redefining basic words helps us to continually refine and evolve the collective mind-frame that drives our society. Thanks for your contributions!

  4. Scott… I appreciate your thoughts and your support for me and my work.

    Your talk about reinventing words reminds me of my dad, an English professor who also did work in linguistics. He felt that a language evolved from what some would call “misuse” or bastardization, and that an insistence on learning and using “proper” English was a hindrance rather than a help to the strength and dynamism of the language.

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