Thoughts & Insights

The Halftime of Evolution

Up to about fifteen thousand years ago, our ancestors were nomads living in a simple world of the transitory present. Feeding themselves by hunting and gathering, they could see no further than the immediate satisfaction of their daily needs.

The development of agriculture brought with it not only the rise of settled communities, but crucially the development of the “agricultural consciousness” in which Homo sapiens developed the notion of a future that could be actively shaped and planned for.

The continuously repeated cycle of the sowing, harvesting and selling or storing of foodstuffs changed the mode of thinking and gave rise to a huge array of cultural artifacts including social classes, formation of the (city) state and kingdoms, methods of organization and social control but above all differentiation of the spoken language through to the invention of the first written characters. This must have been one of the most radical transformations of consciousness, if not the most radical, that our species has ever seen. It laid the foundations on which our modern world is built.

Time and money became the key determinants of power and thus the most important factors influencing human action. And the desire for everlasting life which was the subject of the last blogpost, increasingly found its ultimate expression in the material world of power – in the hoarding of gold bars, and the piling of stone upon stone to build palaces, monuments and mausoleums. The Egyptian pharaohs’ cult of power and cult of the dead with its gigantic pyramids is one of the most compelling examples of such an apotheosis.

Yet although in many ways we have obviously made great progress since then, even today we still have not really progressed beyond the level of consciousness first formed in those times. Just like our forebears, we are still striving to gain time and money, and the power and influence that go with them. And – at least in our collectivity as a species – we still not have really accepted our mortality for what it truly is – the essential condition which allows us to live. The greater part of our consciousness is still that of individuals who perceive and experience themselves as something separate from the rest of nature, not as integral parts of a great cosmic system. The best we can say is that we are now at the “halftime of evolution” of our potential consciousness as human beings.

But possibly today, ten to fifteen thousand years later – which on the evolutionary time scale is less than the batting of an eyelid – we have reached a stage of history where there is the chance of the next watershed of consciousness. Our knowledge of the cosmos in which our own planet and our solar system are only a minute particle in an infinitely greater order, and our knowledge of possible future developments and the impact of our present actions in shaping the future has taken a tremendous leap forward over the past two decades. Yet on the other hand, there has been no corresponding change in our ability to visualize the consequences of our behavior in such clear and forceful scenarios that we compelled to take quick and drastic action to change the way we live. Yet the practical predictable consequences of the way we are now living have reached an order of magnitude where they appear to pose a serious threat to our continued existence on this planet. Our ability to acknowledge the seriousness of the threat carries with it the potential of a kind of New Age future shock which could perhaps act as a catalyst for the next transformation of our consciousness, a watershed every bit as momentous as the development of the agricultural consciousness twelve thousand years ago.

The title and two quoted words are taken from Ken Wilber’s book Up from Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution.