Monday, December 9, 2019

The Evolution of Consciousness and Unresolved Materialism


There is a saying that runs; "the best trick the devil ever played on us was to convince us he doesn't exist"

Materialism is the world-view that assumes behind every occurrence there are material causes. Many argue against materialism in the hope to form a more spiritual understanding of reality. 

Yet all too often materialism is there in the background of our minds, in an unconscious form and as strong as ever - and when it really comes down to it, this materialism informs our thinking without us really being aware of it. Owen Barfield termed this phenomenon "unresolved positivism", or U.P for short. 

An area where unresolved positivism, or unresolved materialism, is rife is in the study of the evolution of consciousness itself.

Outer material things such as new forms of religious ceremonies, the development of writing, the printing press, the scientific revolution, the dawn of the modern secular state - these are all too easily interpreted as being the driving forces, facilitating and guiding the evolution of consciousness.

Then there is the rather obviously reductive theory of the evolution of consciousness in purely neurological terms. The theory of the divided brain is a shining example of unresolved positivism in the work of both Iain McGilchrist and Julian Jaynes - where the evolution of consciousness is seen as a shift in balance from the dominance of the right brain to the dominance of the left brain. (Barfield's critique of Jaynes' book can be read here)

In all of this, the habit of reducing everything to processes that can be positively verified by outer events assumes that without these outer events acting like auxiliary nudges, consciousness would have remained unchanged indefinitely. 

From this perspective, evolution is something that happens to consciousness; it isn't something that develops from within consciousness itself. 

But if outer arrangements did not shape the evolution of consciousness, then what did?

The challenge here is to begin to recognise that the spirit is its own cause, and that the world of appearance - which includes the evolution of consciousness - is an expression of spiritual causes, and not outer material causes.

This is to say that the evolution of consciousness towards self-consciousness is brought forth by powers that are inherent to the Self and not alien to it...

In fact precisely by recognising the active spirit in oneself leads to the recognition of the active spirit in nature, and visa versa. This is the spirit which is its own cause, and not the product of something external to it.

In the next post I will explore what this means for the relationship between the individual and society.

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