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The Involution and Evolution of Consciousness

The idea that reality, or consciousness, in coming into existence, passes through stages of involution or descent, becomes caught up or trapped  in embodied existence [1], but eventually frees itself or is freed, to return the Source, is a venerable one.  It is central to Platonism and Neoplatonism , Gnosticism and Manichaeism , Samkhyan, Vedantic, and Tantric cosmology, in Lurianic Kabbalah and Hassidism.  On purely arbitrary and chauvanistic grounds, we can refer to these pre-scientific cosmologies as "first generational" (of course, some of these so-called "first generational" cosmologies are far more sophisticated than any modern cosmology).

The impact of Darwinism in the 19th Century, and the interpretation or misinterpretation [2] of Darwinian thought as describing the ascent of man from the slime to the pinnacle of life on Earth enabled visionary teachers to incorporate scientific with esoteric thought.  The Darwinian evolution of life was interpreted as the "upward arc" of evolution.  A number of detailed cosmologies were developed, beginning with the Theosophy of Blavatsky and her successors, and including the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, and Meher Baba.  Although these incorporated certain nineteenth and early twentieth century insights, they do not include sophisticated process theory or cybernetic insights.

Finally (for now) we have the "third generational", cybernetic, process-orientated, or autopoeitic-orientated cosmologies.  The earliest of these that I know of is Edward Haskell's Unified Science.  Other examples are Arthur M. Young's Theory of Process, Eric Jantsch's Self-Organizing Universe, Ken Wilber's Integral Philosophy (the Great Nest of Being) and the on-going Principia Cybernetica project.  Note that with the exception of Arthur Young's theory, all of these are evolution only, not involution-evolution, cosmologies.  Which brings us once again to the fact that the terms first, second, or third generation do not indicate a value judgment or qualitattive improvement; but simply the way in which these cosnmologies incorporate an understanding of physical-material reality into a larger picture.

Some Involution-Evolution Cosmic Diagrams

a theosophical diagram of the involution and evolution of existnce, according to the intrepretation of the Adyar School (post-Blavatsky)

Most involution-evolution cosmologies describe the evolution part at least in terms of the the four kingdoms of nature

[1] Embodied existence being the body or Matter, according to the Western/Middle Eastern (Platonic, Gnostic, etc) perspective, and Ignorance of one's own essential nature in the Indian (Buddhistic, Vedantic, etc) position.

[2] Stephen Jay Gould argues that Darwin never made value judgments regarding his Theory of Natural Selection.  It was not supposed to refer to any sort of ascent, but simply the selection by natural means of organisms best adapted to their environment.  In fact, he never even used the word "evolution" which was coined by Herbet Spencer, the man most responsible for the misinterpretation of Darwin's theory. However other evolutionary theorists have pointed out that biological evolution does involve increased complexity - e.g. modern day ecosystems are more complex than those of the Cambrian period

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text content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 14 June 1999, relocated and last modified 3 July 2004