Lecture 5: Visionaries: Consciousness Evolution
(This is the 5th of a 6-lecture series for Senior University Georgetown, October 24, 2011)
The first lecture, introduced the idea
of visionary and the different types, considering the paradigm shifts
The second lecture explored new
dimensions of philosophy.
lecture addressed visionaries in psychology.
The fourth lecture presented visionaries in the arena of education and creativity.
This is the fifth lecture and will consider the
evolution of consciousness. (Here is the link to a related lecture on
"The Great Story, about cosmic evolution, presented in June 2009)
The sixth lecture considers the essential unity of all faiths and
the underlying dynamics of spirituality and religion. (This also speaks
to the lecture series on "interspirituality" given for the Senior
University in the Spring of 2009.)
Originally, the term
applied to biology, a historical-genetic approach. Gradually, people
began to realize that many things had not just risen and fallen without
much change in the status of what was involved---the rise and fall of
dynasties and even empires, maybe even the birth and death of stars,
but that with the birth of more and more interstellar material that
included heavier elements, with the emergence of life, something new
has happened. Far more complexity has emerged from relative simplicity,
and this applies not just to biological systems, but stellar systems,
ecosystems, and all streams within the ever-accelerating history of
Consciousness has been evolving with the history of writing and other
inventions, and the question now is whether we can become explicitly
aware of this process and, based on this growing awareness of its many
facets, begin to exercise increasing influence so that we evolve wisely
instead of stupidly and self-destructively. The truth is that it's all
so complicated that we cannot know for sure, know comprehensively, and
use this knowledge to control. There's a fair chance our species has
become more cancer-like and will end up generating its own extinction,
along with a goodly amount of life on this planet---as hinted out in
the movie Wall-E. (Disney-Pixar, 2008, computer-graphic-animated). To
the right is a picture of the human becoming more conscious, lighting
up the "chakra" centers of awareness.
One of my points is that genes, culture, and technology co-evolve
and potentials are released in the mind that may not have been active
before. (See a picture on the left.) A related point was made by Marshall McLuhan, an academic who published the book Understanding Media
in 1964 (picture below right) (This and related books were quite widely
read among intellectuals over the next ten years---his point
essentially being that each medium has its own
power to affect the way we
think.) McLuhan noted that when two media are mixed---and I might add,
two or more technologies---these fusions might be recognized as
"hybrids" that in turn "release great energy." For example, when
photography and radio mix, not only does television result, but
innumerable sub-forms and varieties of expressions come from this,
modes of production, and since McLuhan's work, now these have evolved
into the internet, video games, 3-D graphic animated films, etc.
This phenomenon in part explains the accelerating growth of all sorts
of technology and information. Things build on each other!
Teilhard de Chardin
paleontologist had a quasi-mystical insight that rather then evolution,
rather than being opposed to religion, was indeed how creation
happened. I mentioned this in the second lecture. and it is relevant
again here. Teilhard coined the term "theosphere" to describe the
growing realm of reflections about our metaphysical origins, and his
point is that just as it was natural for the earth to give birth to
life (the geosphere generating the biosphere), so too the biosphere
will give birth to a noosphere, a category that includes all forms of
sentience and interconnectedness, from bird-brains and bird-calls to
human thought and cell-phones.
But, also, even as it is
natural for the universe to become complex in new ways, so one of those
types of complexity is the emergence of the intuition of a "pattern
that connects," a "wholeness," the concepts of gods and a universal
spirit that integrates all the other spirits---i.e., the noosphere
gives birth to a theosphere. In this sese, we are all participating in
the evolution of and movement towards what Teilhard called the "Christ"
of the cosmos---which, for him, was exemplified in the person of Jesus,
as Teilhard was, after all, a Jesuit. But Teilhard was really talking
about the movement potentially emerging in every soul towards higher
A Map of Emergence of the Noosphere
Below is a picture that
suggests the way the noosphere emerges from the biosphere, and that
from the geosphere. Note the peculiar shape of widening cone. That
means that as time passes the sphere expands exponentially. And more
and more sub-types appear---that's what it means by "variance."
I would suggest that we
also dare add another cone of wisdom sprouting out of the the culture:
Theosphere? Or is this a synthesis (as I think it should be) among
psychology, philosophy (belief systems), and perspectives that attempt
to penetrate the limitations of left-brain consciousness, that resonate
with myth-making, that balance critical thinking with imaginativeness,
creativity, and empathy! And some myth-making may be part of all this,
a myth that goes beyond the traditional notions of theism? (But this
then reaches into the topic of the next lecture, inter-spirituality.)
The Exponential Curve
It isn't just a matter
of a linear slope upwards, X this year, X+20% next year, and that
product + 20% the year after---that's a linear acceleration..An
exponential curve doubles and re-doubles, and that's what has been
happening with population every generation, or with information
transmission every few years, or with information available on Google
or to librarians, or many other variables. That's the time we're in---a
time when the slope of progress isn't a straight line up, but a curved
line, like the one on the right.
The point here is that
many variables that accompany our transition from agrarian to
industrial to modern to post-modern culture follow this curve. We're on
a steeply rising acceleration of events, and we need to develop
philosophies and theologies that take these changes into account. They
are not necessarily positive---our rates of extinction of animals and
pollution also follow such curves.
The "Anthropocene" Era
This is a term recently
coined to speak to a historical time when the human species shifts from
riding in and on the biosphere to increasingly altering it---generally
not for the better---and so the era of "dominion" of humanity needs to
shift from exploitation to husbanding, protecting, sustaining the
biosphere. Will we be able to learn the skills, and shift the economic
and political systems to allow us to survive? This picture below
is from The Economist, May 28, 2011.
We are here at the last part of the bottom right.
What Should Be Recognized as Steps in the Evolution of Consciousness?
Perhaps, as the
neuroscientist Ramachandran speculates, the evolution of the "mirror
neuron" system that allows for more efficient imitation was a
significant leap forward: (Cartoon by Gary Larson in 1982 on left).
That may have occurred around 40, 000 years ago, followed by further
developments in tool-making.
To the right: Was fire a step towards consciousness? Fire not only is
used for warmth and for cooking, but spears can be hardened by toasting
them but not burning them in the fire.
Writing: Another Step
Last year I gave a class on "scriptology: the lore of writing systems. I confess that I think the invention of ways to take thoughts and place them were they can be re-viewed, literally, made thinking more complex.
36. What do you think would or should count as a step in the evolution of consciousness?
How about these?
- The invention of writing, fire, wheel, domestication of animals, agriculture
- The development of the scientific method in the 17th century, and
many kinds of research. Really questioning what others just believe.
- .Challenging traditions of kingship, aristocracy, slavery, and many other oppressions.
- Beginning to value creativity over mindless obedience
- Beginning to think about the way we think---"meta-cognition," and look at the ways we fool ourselves, interpersonal manipulations, cultural deceptions.
Or how about the following: Would they count as steps in the evolution
- Substituting lure-based rather than fear -based
motivational systems in politics, religion, parenting, schools and
- Religion shifts its emphasis on ensuring orthodoxy on what
people believe and instead emphasize helping people to find out for
themselves what lifts them, ennobles them, helps them feel more
- People truly realizing that advances require trade-offs, especially getting past illusions of childhood
... what steps would you imagine? I'm open to your emailing me with suggestsions.
This on the right is
a "Venn Diagram" that shows how various fields of
activity or dimensions ot a program overlap. What it illustrates to me
is that things are interrelated, there are good things and bad things
associated with various processes, and the various categories may
transform over time. I'm especially interested in games to the
right, because these can be a powerful learning tool and social action
tool, as described in a book titled Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal.
For the reasons on the right---which is only a small part of what is
up---I can relate to, say, positive psychology, discussed in the second
lecture, and so forth.
Turning It Around
I am hoping, though, that
things might be headed in a better direction. On the left, a kind of
trajectory was suggested by Jean Gebser, who was discussed in the
second lecture. Note the qualities that mark the present and immediate
future. Can we do that?
A related book titled The Empathic Civilization
by Jeremy Rifkin, makes a lengthy and elegant case for how people can
move toward the next step.. A point to note is that this kind of
activity will not be done for us by an omnipotent God, but rather
requires us to work on our changing our own consciousness---and this
starts with noticing how you think, how often you slip, and not blaming
or punishing yourself, but just
gently brining it into
line. Can we develop heart chakra compassion and move towards
flow, and beyond that to wisdom? To the right is another diagram
that hints at the kinds of progress that needs to be made. These
visionaries cannot claim to know, but if they can do it, you can do it,
Regarding the chart to the right, I know the idea of globalization
is politically problematical, but note that there are allready a
number of global institutions—operating beyond any borders—
professional, religious, non-governmental aid organizations, research,
health, and so forth, in addition to numerous efforts by one country or
group of countries to foster peacemaking or conflict resolution beyond
their own borders. (Note the ordinate or horizontal line is decreasing
exponentially.. Meaning that all this is getting faster)....
In the second lecture we
talked about Ken Wilber, Don Beck, Claire Graves, and others. They
offer a vision of cultural evolution that you can build on: the picture
of "spiral dynamics" on the left. We're mainly in the middle, blue,
orange, green, but can we move towards yellow and turquoise in the next
few centuries? Susanne Cook-Grueter made another chart below that
suggests what percentage of the population are involved at each level
around the mid 1980s. It's moved up I think, but only slightly.
Here's a photo of Ms Cook Greuter:
44. Here’s a lady who has made good contributions to this and the point
in this chart is the general numbers of the population, which I
wouldn’t disagree with except to say that in the last generation maybe
the upper numbers have gone up proportionally a little bit... I do
think we’re advancing...
Most folks live at the level
of early industrialization and literacy and in the blue realm, some in
the orange or modern, a modest percentage of college/psychology types
more 4-5, and most visionaries here with vision...
So, Let's aim for the best! Next time we'll talk about interspirituality
email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.