Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Implications of the evolution of 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.