History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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J.G. Bennett on the evolution of consciousness

September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

Consciousness and evolution in Bennett
Over at The Gurdjieff Con I put up some material from J. G. Bennett’s The Dramatic Universe on the issue of consciousness and human evolution, material so far from standard science as to be New Age science fiction, material I don’t accept, but whose very existence provokes a realization of our ignorance of how consciousness evolved. A closer look shows a series of cogent questions dressed up in a strange systematics created by Bennett. One issue is that for Bennett consciousness is not the same as the ‘awareness’ (or what he calls sensitivity) of the animal realm (and hence also human/animal realm). This is the most difficult part of human psychology to understand, and one can argue that Bennett imperfectly understood it, then created a myth to account for it.
But the basic issue won’t go away: the emergence of mind is a great discontinuity of nature, as great as the passage from matter to life. The point here is that Bennett could be crazy as a koot, but has nonetheless produced a formalized model, however outlandish, to take into account this factor.
The result is a design argument of another kind that would shock the Discovery Institute gang out of its boots.

The point here for me, since I am not a follower of Bennett, or a believer in his system, is that the question of the evolution of consciousness won’t yield to anything simple that we know. It is suddenly obvious in reading this kind of mythology that we are still apes unable to account for the evolution of our own consciousness.

To see this issue more clearly, it is useful to consider the more standard terminology of religions such as Buddhism, where the issue is consciousness vs self-consciousness (instead of Bennett’s reversal of the terms) and to see that the distinction is one that we don’t normally adopt, but which is a clear part of even everyday experience: we have a consciousness that is mechanized but which suddenly undergoes a transformation (self-consciousness) at the moment of attention.

It is clear from even a superficial exploration of the powers of attention that human ‘consciousness’ is somehow beyond man’s full control. So the point Bennett is making is not a bit of fiction. There is a complexity to consciousness in man that can’t be explained by univalent theories: we have to explicate the basic mechanized consciousness of man (and animals) and the moment of self-consciousness in man (probably in my view, to disagree with Bennett, marginally present in animals).

The point of all this that we tend to suppress what we can’t understand from human potential, and then devise theories of evolution that ignore who man is! The game is evident in Darwinian scientism, and Alfred Wallace, at least, woke up to it, disavowing his previous views. Darwin was simply incapable here, and never escaped his natural selection myth.

Tags: Evolution · New Age

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