Friday, September 25, 2015

Evolution vs the Perennial Philosophy

I don't believe that consciousness 'evolves'. Evolution is a 19th century abstraction that we impose on our experience. And I'm suspicious, because the primary mechanism for evolution is 'survival of the fittest', a harsh and unforgiving ethos that merely reflects the capitalism of the day. A Creation Myth (for that is what it is) that justifies the worst in human nature.

A few months ago I had a dream in which I saw a speckled moth, beautifully part of and belonging to its surroundings, and at the same time I understood that evolution as we know it told us virtually nothing about how this moth came to be.

I'm not a creationist. You could say I'm a metaphysical agnostic: I just don't know how these things come to be, and I don't think they can be understood in any simple 'rational' way.

I think that Evolution is generally understood mythologically rather than scientifically. This is because most of us haven't seriously studied the evidence, yet so many accept it as a fact that you don't seriously question. It is therefore mostly a belief. We accept it because it tells a story about how we came to be, that is more acceptable nowadays than the Biblical creation myth. We accept it more for emotional than intellectual reasons.

There is nothing wrong with this. We need stories about the world that are emotionally appealing. It has always been this way. These stories contain truths about existence, and ideally you need some of them to contradict each other, just so we don't think we are in possession of the 'one truth'.

The problem with evolution as a story is that it twists life into a brutal struggle, and reduces the scope of existence to the visible, material world. (As quantum physicists have asserted, it is consciousness, not matter, that is primary.) Evolution is a story posing as an unassailable fact, that continues in an inverted form the brutal creation myth of the Old Testament.

It is this resonance with what came before that contributes to the emotional appeal of evolution. Intellectually we are satisfied because evolution opposes the religion we have left, emotionally we are satisfied because it resembles that religion, with the added bonus that humans are now at the top of the Great Chain of Being instead of somewhere in the middle.

It is because of this emotional appeal that Evolution is firmly accepted as a theory on the basis of evidence that would be laughed out of court in most other scientific disciplines. There is more direct evidence, for example, of homeopathy working, but again for emotional reasons, that evidence is frequently rejected.

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No-one has seen evolution occur, the most we have directly seen is a bit of adaption to circumstances, which is not the same thing. The evidence is partial and circumstantial. Something has gone on, we know that from the fossil record. And DNA studies show that all forms of life on earth are closely related to one another, which is a wonderful result.

But how a whole new species arises is not understood. Assuming it is consciousness, not matter, that is primary (though that statement itself suggests a divide between matter and consciousness that I don't think exists), I think new species are dreamed into being by consciousness, as much as they are generated by physical processes.

Though to what purpose they are dreamed into being is a mystery, part of the Great Mystery, the unknowability of existence.

This piece was prompted by an article by astrologer Glenn Perry, in which he sets the development of astrology in the context of a purported 'evolution' of human consciousness, in which he (wrong-headedly) declares "It must be emphasized that human awareness at this stage (4000 B.C.-1500 B.C.) was still quite dim, more like a toddler’s consciousness than a modern adult human."

Evolution has become central to the way we think about life, and it is natural to take the step of thinking of evolution as not just a physical process but as a mental/emotional process.

Evolution implies progress from an inferior stage to a superior stage of life. It is not just saying that change occurs - which would be fair enough - but that there is a value to it that makes the later stage in some way 'better' than the earlier stage.

It is one way of making sense of human history, but I think it is hard to get away from the implication that we are more 'advanced' than our forebears. I don't think this is justified, and if you junk that idea, then I think you have to junk the whole idea that human consciousness 'evolves'.

I used to have a Canadian Indian friend visit (yes, they call themselves Indians, not native this or that) and he was brought up speaking the language of the Chippewa Cree and immersed in their stories and philosophy. One thing that impressed me was their subtle understanding, through the stories of Wisahitsa, of the human ego and the tricks it gets up to: one of those tricks would surely be the self-important idea that we are 'superior' to our ancestors! Philosophically the tradition is keenly aware of how unknowable the universe is, refusing, for example, to take a position on what happens after death. And their philosophy and psychology is set in the richly imaginative context of the traditional stories, which my friend was able not just to tell but to expound on their meanings.

The usual patronising evolutionary story is that early people had their wonderful participation mystique with nature, which we have lost, but that is the price we have had to pay for the development of self-awareness, individuality, a strong ego and rationality.

In "The Passion of the Western Mind", astrologer Richard Tarnas says that it has been the task of masculine consciousness to forge its own autonomy and then come to terms with the great feminine principle in life, and thus recover its connection with the whole. This will constitute "the fulfillment of the underlying goal of Western intellectual and spiritual evolution." (p442)

In "The Philosopher's Secret Fire" (pp 263-6), Patrick Harpur takes issue with this position: "Evolution is a spirit notion which soul does not recognise. Traditional societies do not evolve. They live within a mythology which contains all imaginative possibilities, Earth Goddesses no less than Heraclean egos... Because we are changing, we think of ourselves as evolving. We are not. We are literalising the old myths...  If the rational ego is to disappear it is more likely to be destroyed by the ricochets of ideologies made in its own image."

My experience with my Indian friend suggested to me that early peoples are NOT lacking in rational egos - if you think about it, they needed to be a lot more creative and thoughtful than we need to be just to survive, apart from any philosophical sophistication they may have had - but rather, that ego has not become divorced from a sense of participation in nature.

As the poet Ted Hughes said: "The story of mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man."

I think that is the real story.

I think there are perennial truths about existence that have always been available to people from the earliest times, along with elements in our nature that can take us away from those truths. And the big truth we have lost is a felt sense of our participation in nature. What has gradually developed over the last few thousand years - ever since Plato and his separation of 'ideal forms' from nature - has been a massive loss of soul.

For a great exposition of this theme, see Anne Baring's book The Dream of the Cosmos. She explores this idea in the context of a well-researched account of the shift from lunar to solar mythologies.

There has been dazzling technological progress, and in a way it is natural to assume that makes us more 'advanced' than people who do not have that technology - as if we personally invented it! But I don't think it has made us more whole as humans.

What has developed has not been the rational ego - that has always been there - but the rational ego divorced from nature. Nature as something we can separate ourselves from and look on dispassionately, out of which has come at least as much harm as good, as the environmental crisis testifies to.

I think it is possible to view much of the technological progress of recent times as a mad dream created by an out-of-control rational ego. We didn't need all this technology for tens of thousands of years. It has been produced by a crazed mind, crazed because it has lost its roots in who it is.

The world we live in needs re-dreaming. We need to recover the perennial truths of existence, in which we are participants in, rather than observers of, the cosmos, and use that as a point of balance.


mataharifilms said...

Aho. Nice work.

LotusLady9 said...

Your writing always gives me the gift of re-thinking our existense and our place with it. Thanks so much! I have a distaste for the way so many people seem to be worshipping technology and my un-ease with it has been increasing. I wasn't exactly clear about why. My natal chart has Uranus in the 12th and one decription I read described this aspect of not being comfortable with technology. But some of your points seem to offer possibilities for my discomfort with worshipping technology and our mistaking this progress as our superiority rather than our ignorance and arrogance.

Debbie Rutter said...

Your post comes hot on the heels of an email I just received:

Unknown said...

As much as many of us lament the 'age of technology' it seems an inevitable part of the coming Aquarian Age.

Unknown said...

You say that "evolution is a story posing as an unassailable fact, that continues in an inverted form the brutal creation myth of the Old Testament." Perhaps the brutal creation myth seems to be apart of the reality of the physical world. If one believes that the physical and the spiritual (or conscious) are inseparable then one would seem to have to accept that life is brutal. If one believes that consciousness is separate from material then one can justify the separation from nature. I personally don't know anything other than I am (seem) to be here and sometimes seem not to be here so I can see both sides of possibility.

Unknown said...

Your assertion that consciousness has not "evolved" seems probable. There have been some very wise words from sages from many (?) thousands of years ago that resonate just as strong today. And of course there are people who seem to be somewhat dimwitted today so it would seem that there has always been different levels of consciousness no matter what period of time. There would seem to be no way to say for sure what level before written history but consciousness should not be mistaken for technological or intellectual awareness and of course we don't know for sure that there have not been technologically advanced periods on earth or visitations from technologically advanced beings.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, as always, Barry!

Christina said...

And you're right, the paradigm of evolution has a pernicious effect on society. It has impact not just on how we deal with the economy but on how we respond to refugees or wage war. One result of the victory of evolutionary theory is the (wrong) idea that society is evolving in one direction, that is towards Western democracy.

Thank you Barry for putting this so clearly. I wish the great consciousness would dream up a unicorn.

Morvah said...

Your posts are among the few nowadays that I can read to the end without losing interest Barry. Are we perforce evolving a more highly developed sense of discrimination? Lots to think about here, not least semantics.. Great post, thankyou..

Anonymous said...

First off I do agree that the common interpretation of evolution is dismal, it translates into 'survival of the most violent', putting a scientific spin on the concepts of 'noble birth' that had been relied on through the millenia where those in possession of wealth and power were entitled to express it and use it to dominate because god/gods gave it to them and thus, they were meant to have it. So evolution removed the gods but kept the violence and thus inferred that since dominant individuals survived, thus was nature's plan. It is odd to me that science and psychiatry are so seemingly unknowingly at odds on this concept, as psychiatry deems individuals who can't follow the rules of society and community as aberrant "anti-social" individuals with personality disorders or 'sociopaths'. Yet in the view of evolution, the sociopath would be heralded as successful, for passing on his/her dna. It really is a curious contradiction. I do greatly respect the courage of Charles Darwin though in publishing his theories at a time when they were greatly heretical, at other times in history he'd have been executed like many before him. We forget nowadays that suggesting species were not zapped into being fully formed at the will of god 6000 years ago was revolutionary and dangerous at the time. There was a study done in the last few years concerning an island depopulated by a hurricane in which scientists intended to study evolution. They placed different species of lizards on the island, some long legged and some short legged, apparently anticipating the longer legged lizards would outstrip the shorter legged ones and prove survival of the fittest (apparently the leg length was beneficial concerning the terrain and vegetation), but when they returned to study them, ALL of the lizard species had developed longer legs relative to where they started. So I think there are diverse factors involved in terms of how we relate/change to the environment or what might be the interaction with our genetics, 'soul', or what have you and the consciousness of this planet or environment; clearly something triggered in the lizard species a genetic changed that allowed ALL of them to evolve to better suit the environment.

Anonymous said...

I found that Tarnas quote insufferable though; if there is one clear and consistent pattern in human history it is that in order for a creature (of any species) to be exploited it must be propagandized against, and the male exploitation of the female which clearly came about in concert with the switch from hunting gathering to animal husbandry in the last 5 to 10 millennia resulted because humans began to ruthlessly enslave and exploit animals, desensitizing themselves to a point where it began to seem feasible to experience life as through a paradigm of 'might makes right' and thus enslave the females right beside them as well. If you think this unreasonable and overwrought, remind yourself that not only did males demote females (through the brute force known as 'domestic violence') to the status of enslaved animals, but they also began to systematically mutilate the genitalia of their own infants as well, in a practice that clearly modeled itself after the neutering of herd animals, to the point where now circumcision is routine in many cultures and 90 million girls in Africa alone have undergone genital mutilation. I personally think there was such an environmental crisis during this time that the most brutal males overtook society bit by bit and indoctrinated their created cultures with their own top down hierarchical belief systems, convenient of course, to the ways they wanted to conduct themselves (i.e. the indo-europeans and all of their herding cult religions including the abrahamics). We have many remnants of geographically isolated tribes that have survived without exposure to these brutish cultures and the status of women is almost always higher and the sexual freedom of women more prevalent; this is very important as anyone can see that the manufactured races of the middle east and north african abrahamic cults in which women have very low status have created incredibly dysfunctional societies for which the main impetus seems to be the maintenance of unchanged y chromsomes through generations, and this homogenousness leads to 'racism' (<violent enforcement of homogenous genetic traits in a culture)...these cultures, were women breeding at will and introducing diversity into the species which is THE breeding instinct of female humans, (introducing genetic diversity into their social group to give their offspring genetic variation and better odds at survival)simply would not exist. Something got righteously off balance in these males, in my opinion the psychological desensitization that originated as a coping mechanism from routine required cruelty to and slaughter of livestock. Now our whole planet is paying the price and held in thrall daily by the next bombing or mass shooting, I look with wonder at whether we will be able to undo the damage and erase the whole philosophy that originated from animal husbandry, which Darwin probably unintentionally underwrote with his theories on evolution.

mike said...

For the same reason astrologers are annoyed with scientists denigrating their studies as proviso pseudo-science, perhaps astrologers shouldn't merit their boundaries upon the fields of science that have met the rigors of that discipline.

Astrology in Canada said...

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Jacker said...

Are you familiar with the phrase "not even wrong," Barry? If you aren't, I suggest you look it up, as it perfectly encapsulates the stream of mental diarrhoea that you posted. You literally got virtually every "fact" you typed up wrong. For instance, evolution is not a progression of increasing superiority, as you and your fellow creatards claim, but simply becoming more adapted to your environment. For example, you would likely not call a reptile superior to a fish, even though the current evolutionary model places reptiles as descendants of fish via amphibians. Also, rational people don't reject biblical fables for emotional reasons, like you claim, but rather because the book contradicts both itself and reality far too many times to be considered reliable to anyone with even a passing interest in such trifles as "factual accuracy." Oh and another thing, tgat thing that you described as not being evolution? Yeah, it totally fucking is. See, you're looking at these small adaptations the same way flatheads look at the earth; much like how they refuse to zoom out from the straight line to see that it's actually curved, you refuse to pull back from organisms adapting to their environment via natural selection to see how, over time, these small changes will result in a new species. See, the thing that creatards don't get is that evolution doesn't work like Pokémon, okay? An animal doesn't just level up enough times and then bam, it's suddenly a different species. And contrary to your claims, scientists actually HAVE observed evolution, or more precisely, speciation, in the lab, unless bacteria don't count?

Barry Goddard said...

Bit of a schoolboy debate style you have, 'Jacker': completely rubbish the opponent in every way you can. If you go away and learn the art of discussion, I would be glad to discuss.

Astrologer Sunil said...

Nice Post. Keep it up.