Transitions in the Evolution of Consciousness Through Forms, Part 1

As Sri Aurobindo continues his review of the stages of evolution, he comes across similar types of “gaps” in the manifestation of consciousness as scientists have found in the evolution of forms. He points out that the gaps are “deeper, but less wide” the further one rises in the scale of consciousness. We consider rock to be inconscient, inanimate matter (although review at the molecular level of science is now showing the extremely organised, complex structure of consciousness that goes into “inanimate” Matter. But within the scope of Matter we also have metals, which clearly are another stage in material development beyond bare rock. Metals begin to exhibit characteristics that could be considered “rudiments of life-reaction”, such as responsiveness to various types of stimuli, as well as the phenomena of metal fatigue. Sri Aurobindo indicates that at the higher levels of pure material evolution we begin to see signs of the development of the framework for the appearance of the true life-reactions. The “gap” of which he speaks is clearly evident when we view the difference between metals at the upper levels of Matter, and even the lowest levels of plant life. “what might be called the vital-physical difference is so considerable that one seems to us inanimate, the other, though not apparently conscious, might be called a living creature.”

Similarly, we can trace an increasing sophistication and organisation of consciousness through the plant kingdom, “Between the highest plant life and lowest animal the gulf is visibly deeper, for it is the difference between mind and the entire absence of any apparent or even rudimentary movement of mind: in the one this stuff of mental consciousness is unawakened though there is a life of vital reactions, a suppressed or subconscious or perhaps only sub-mental sense-vibration which seems to be intensely active; in the other, though the life is at first less automatic and secure in the subconscious way of living and in its own new way of overt consciousness imperfectly determined, still mind is awakened,–there is a conscious life, a profound transition has been made.”

Studies by Jagdish Chandra Bose, and further research reported in The Secret Life of Plants confirms the sometimes remarkable ability of plants to experience and respond. What is missing is the clear evidence of the action of the mental consciousness.

We shall continue this review in the next post.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 18, The Evolutionary Process — Ascent and Integration