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The Evolution of the Human Psyche

[Posted 5th October, 2008. © Stephen Pirie]

Finding our way home

Given current world circumstances (e.g. the 2008 global economic situation; recent and current controversies in the USA over the teaching of "Intelligent Design" and recent demonstrations against cartoons and books that are deemed blasphemous) perhaps it's timely that we gain a fuller perspective.

It is quite evident there are conflicting views on what is "Truth." Is capitalism the best system? Is Intelligent Design a valid alternative to the Theory of Evolution? Is it genuinely blasphemous to create an image of that which is deemed sacred?

How can we see our way clear of the jungle of conflicting faiths and beliefs?

If we are lost in a forest it is wise to climb a mountain or tree to gain some sense of location, and to see potential dangers in the way ahead.

Evolution of the human psyche -> click to enlargeIn the contemporary jungle of ideas, facts and faiths, it is likewise helpful to gain a high vantage point in order to see through and beyond the 'prison bars' of religious, scientific and cultural beliefs. These 'prison bars' of belief can be (and often are) invisible to many. Nevertheless they can be as strong and as limiting as any jail cell – blocking and keeping us from seeing and living life more freely and fully.

A philosophical high-ground is gained in part by seeing the broad sweep of historical change of the human race; and how that change reflects our growing maturity as a species, and how that maturity, or lack of, influences how we think and behave.

Where are we as a global-collective?

Historical records reveal our developing maturity in understanding our world and universe.

We can appreciate that we've matured beyond the infantile beliefs of the ancient Hebrews, Babylonians and Egyptians who believed that their world was "...an oyster, with water underneath, and more water overhead, supported by the solid firmament."1 During their time rain was believed to be due to a leaky roof letting the "water overhead" fall into their oyster-shell world.

We can also appreciate that we've matured beyond many of what are typically young adolescent superstitions that characterized middle and later Ages, such as the executions of those who were believed to be witches (e.g. the 19 hanged as a result of the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692).2

However, in light of current world circumstances, a pertinent question to ask is are we, as a race, adults who ensure some order and peace in our global home? Do we, as a global collective, ensure that those nation-siblings who are well-fed and prosperous share with their lesser fortunate "third-world" brethren? We may reasonably conclude that as a race we have not matured sufficiently to ensure world peace and plenty for all.

To determine our present racial maturity, it is helpful to understand the process of growth of any normal human child.

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Stage I: Oneness (~Infancy)

Early collectives (cultures) parallel early childhood with a primary sense of "oneness" with Mother /Earth – as reflected in the beliefs and traditions of native peoples who feel they are at-one with rocks, trees, animals and the natural environment. Refer Fig 1. (PDF version).

The ancient Hebrews, Babylonians and Egyptians believed, as might any infant, that their world was "of moderate dimensions, and as safely closed in on all sides as a cot in a nursery or a babe in the womb."3

This phase of development also included the Pythagorean era. The Pythagoreans remained aware "that the symbols of mythology and the symbols of mathematical science were different aspects of the same, indivisible Reality. They did not live in a 'divided house of faith and reason'; the two were interlocking, like ground-plan and elevation of an architect's drawing."4

Stage II: Individuation (~Childhood)

This phase of development was when “the unitary awareness faded, religious and rational philosophizing split apart,"5 echoed by Platonic concepts of a perfect spiritual realm split apart from everyday actuality.

This phase began the focused development of reasoning, science and technology.

The Latin root of the words reason and rational is ratio. Thus to reason is to conceptually separate and compare. This is the origin of objectivity: to separate oneself and to compare oneself with that which is perceived.

That is to say, (without an integrated world-view):

The more we reason,
the more we separate and compare,
the more we objectify and compete.

An objective sense of a separate independence from nature begins the expedient development of technology, domination and use (and abuse) of people, flora, fauna and the natural world.

The religious concepts of a perfect spiritual source (God, Allah) and afterlife (Heaven) is also born at this time, with 'here' split apart from a (believed) perfect 'up there'. This 'splitting apart' is reported in ancient texts as the Fall of Mankind ('Original Sin') when reason began to over-ride instinctive integration with nature. Around 600 years after Plato, Plotinus widened the perceived split by asserting that everyday physical existence and all "matter is to be identified with evil and privation of all form or intelligibility"6

This phase enables greater emphasis upon, development of, and subservience to competitive, hierarchical (patriarchal) societies. Religious faiths believe in their own superiority, and that their particular sect, faith, and sacred texts (e.g. Bible, Koran) is truth, and their God is the only true God.

Stage III: Peak Disconnect (~Adolescence)

This is the era when the adolescent cultural focus on rational analysis (science and technology) is greatly sharpened and accentuated. It engendered the Industrial Revolution and subsequent technological advances.

This peak-disconnect enabled significant advances in science, technology, democracy and individualism, competitive national agendas and the domination of native and socialist cultures.

This era culminates in the ‘clock-work universe’ view:

The Universe is a gigantic Newtonian clockwork. Cause and effect rule. Nothing is by chance; everything is ultimately accountable ... Perfect determinism, from heartbreak to an empire’s rise and fall, was no more than the inevitable workings of the Great Machine.7

Medicine and science become enmeshed in seeking to understand the workings of the Great Machine. Ideas and awareness of unconscious nonlocal dynamics playing a role in healing have largely disappeared from (Western medical) awareness and belief.

The peak-disconnect also sees the emergence of fundamentalist religious cultures, again due to the natural unconscious (nonlocal) potentials and connections having been disconnected from everyday beliefs and expectation.

Darwinian competitive (survival of the fittest) theories are 'naturally selected' during this phase. Mutation is believed to be due to chance, entirely disconnected from the volition and intent of the biological systems in which the change occurs.

Late in this stage, we can observe the peak-disconnect between opposing political beliefs played out on a global scale: the capitalist versus communist Cold War.

This 'peak disconnect' led many to comment on the mistrust of intuitive, nonlocal potentials, and its effect on the social milieu:

In no other period of history were the learned so mistrustful of the divine possibilities in man as they are now."8
the world we live in is intolerable and our own time is an unprecedented dark age.9

Stage IV: Reconnecting (Early Adulthood)

An intuitive recognition of the need to expand and embrace holistic beliefs. A period in which such movements as the peace and hippy movements emerge.

Partly to offset rampant individualism, technology and reasoning, during this phase various spiritual movements discard or deny the role of the ego’s reasoning abilities and the role of conscious choice in co-determining reality.

Various new-age beliefs flourish, with practitioners still seeking to reach some perfect transcendent (egoless) enlightenment, devoid of individuality and conscious choice.

Even with an intuitive awareness of the eventual merging of spiritual with physical, this phase is still heavily rooted in “old-paradigm” thinking that began with the Platonic belief in a perfect ideal separated from everyday actuality. Science in general remains rooted in 'reductionism': the belief that behaviours of physical things, groups and systems can be entirely 'reduced' to their physical component 'parts', such as genes, viruses, atoms and 'attractors'.

As a result, this phase lacks integration of faith with fact, of conscious-ego with unconscious-collective, of collectivism and individualism.

Stage V: ICU Integrated Conscious - Unconscious. Self-Aware-Systems Thinking (Adulthood)

This phase is when there is widespread acceptance of an integrated systems perspective, that we live within a participatory universe that is newly forming. The irreducible paradox of life – the inseparable-duality of individual and community; of part and whole – is integrated into personal, cultural and political belief-systems. Reason is reconciled and integrated with faith; unconscious potentials are married with conscious ego to form a more fulfilling world dynamic.

Belief-systems that were rooted in Stage 3 thinking such as religion are now seen from a fuller, holistic perspective:

"Religion ... was for most of human history, always childlike and by definition authoritarian. It was, to be specific, a primary activity of the childhood of our humanity as a species."10

This phase of development recognises the validity and importance of the paradoxical at-once nature of individual ego and the collective; of infinite and finite; of competition and cooperation; of surprise and predictability.

Earlier phases, in particular Stage III are recognised by identification with either-or thinking11 : left-wing or right-wing; right (perfect) or wrong (imperfect); socialism or capitalism. In contemporary times, political systems and cultures are still (as a general rule) biased towards either individual rights (Western cultures) – at the expense of world/community, or collectivism (Eastern cultures) – at the expense of individual (human) rights.

With the foregoing in mind, we may reasonably categorise the human psyche as being (as a collective-ego) in the late-adolescent/early adulthood stage of development.

Contrary to the denial of ego in Stage IV, this phase does not involve dampening individuality, 'transcending the ego', or that individuals should be 'politically correct' - nice and agreeable - for the supposed benefit of family, organisation or community. This long-term phase12 in which individuals learn to be more themselves in a genuine spirit-filled context, collectively and paradoxically congeals vibrant, creative and compassionate communities.

We can expect, based on the time-scale of development thus far, that the unconscious rhythms and momentum of the human psyche towards development and maturation will (if not too actively resisted) see this phase of development become widely experienced and adopted somewhere within the next 30 to 60 years (~2040-2070). Adoption of this phase might be accelerated by the increasing turmoil in global circumstances.

If this phase is actively resisted, the religious and scientific restrictions on believing in, and utilising greater unconscious potentials and creativity will cause deepening anxiety, turmoil, illness and conflict. Scientific and religious conservative efforts to adhere to old-paradigm (mechanical, hierarchical, good-bad) beliefs, will see the emergence and practice of divisive fundamentalist religious beliefs (rooted in a strict and harsh Platonic divide between an imagined realm of perfection and physical life). Opportunities to resolve tenuous world difficulties will be marred by science's belief in a mechanical, objective universe (one that ignores the deeper rhythms of intent and nonlocal potentials).

circa 2000AD:

four hundred years ago, with Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and others, we started the separatist sail and we went on a separate journey of separateness, but that’s only the first part of the hero’s journey. Then the hero discovers and the hero returns. It is the hero’s return that we are now witnessing through this new paradigm.13

 

We are at that very point in time when a 400-year-old age is dying and another is struggling to be born -- a shifting of culture, science, society, and institutions enormously greater than the world has ever experienced. Ahead, the possibility of the regeneration of individuality, liberty, community, and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another, and with the divine intelligence such as the world has never dreamed.14

Notes:

  • 1. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of man’s changing vision of the Universe, ARKANA Penguin Books, London 1989, p.19.
  • 2. It should be noted that those executed were tried before official magistrates within county courts of law, indicating that reasonably intelligent folk in high-ranking offices can be significantly influenced by the prevailing cultural superstitions (belief-systems).
  • 3. Koestler, p.19.
  • 4. Koestler, p.38.
  • 5. Koestler, p.38.
  • 6. Excerpt of Stanford Encyclopedia. See also The Philosopher's Zone
  • 7. Fred Alan Wolf, Taking the Quantum Leap, Harper & Row New York 1989, page 43.
  • 8. Gopi Krishna, 1903-1984.
  • 9. Nicholas Wroe, “The happy pessimist,” quoting 1972 Booker Prize winning novelist John Berger, The Sydney Morning Herald, John Fairfax Holdings Ltd, Saturday April 10, 1999. Good Weekend, page 35.
  • 10. John Shelby Spong, "Eternal Life: A New Vision; Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell", HarperCollinsPublishers, Sydney, 2009, p. 168.
  • 11. See Key Principle of Life, for Life: No. 2
  • 12. Extrapolating the historical rate of development indicates this phase will span 8-10 millennia. The Nostradamus prophecy that a thousand years peace will ensue from around ~2030+ could be expected to be an order of magnitude deficient for this era. Nevertheless, he may well have intuitively connected with our probable future to correctly set the beginning of this phase for around 2030.
  • 13. Prof. Amit Goswami, Scientific Proof of the Existence of God.
  • 14. Dee Hock, Excerpt Fast Company Interview

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