The Evolutionary Option for the Emergence of Human Consciousness

Having outlined the two major options that can account for the appearance of human consciousness, Sri Aurobindo now explores each of the two to determine how well they each fit with the facts as we can apprehend them. First he takes up what we will call the “evolutionary option” which is essentially based in the concept that human consciousness came about as a progression built upon the basis of animal consciousness. “The necessary condition for the change from the normal animal to the human character of existence would be a development of the physical organisation which would capacitate a rapid progression, a reversal or turnover of the consciousness, a reaching to a new height and a looking down from it at the lower stages, a heightening and widening of capacity which would enable the being to take up the old animal faculties with a larger and more plastic, a human intelligence, and at the same time or later to develop greater and subtler powers proper to the new type of being, powers of reason, reflection, complex observation, organised inventin, thought and discovery.”

Sri Aurobindo points out that the basic aspects of animal consciousness already contain some of the primary capacities needed as the basis for the proposed developments. “…the working of these faculties is more mechanical, less deliberate, marked with the character of an automatism of Nature-Energy driving an operation of primitive consciousness and not, as in man, of a conscious Energy observing and to a great extent directing and governing and deliberately changing or modifying its own operations. Other animal habits of consciousness are not fundamentally different from man’s; all he had to do was to develop and enlarge them on a higher mental level and wherever possible, to mentalise, refine, subtilise,–in brief, to bring to them the enlightenment of his new understanding and intellectual capacity and a power of reasoned control denied to the animal.”

The turning back and working upon the preceding gradation of manifestation is an established principle of Nature, which we see as Life-Energy turns back and works upon Matter; and as the Mental Consciousness as expressed in the animal works upon Life-Energy and Matter. So it is consistent with Nature’s methodology for the human consciousness to turn back and work upon the preceding levels, as we see actually does occur.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 23, “Man and the Evolution”


The Appearance of Man in the Evolutionary Process: Part 1 The Options

Sri Aurobindo has systematically developed the concept of a spiritual evolution that is systematically developing forms appropriate to hold the increased complexity and power of consciousness of the series of gradations that have manifested in Matter. It is within this framework that we can now take up the appearance of Man in this manifestation. In the West we basically have two diametrically opposed viewpoints that tend to hold sway: “creationism” and “evolution”. In the first one, an external personified all-powerful, all-knowing God simply creates Man by fiat, provides him a field of action and that is it. Fully formed, fully functioning as a human being, this creation takes charge of the world and orders it to his own satisfaction. The second one basically holds that there has been a systematic physical evolution of forms, and with this evolution of forms we find that Mankind evolved from within the framework of the previous existing creations, and in particular, from the higher primates, which seem to share some 98% of the DNA structure with humans.

We find that Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint does not exactly correspond with either of these, but actually takes on certain characteristics found in one or the other, while going beyond both. “There are here two possibilities; either there was the sudden appearance of a human body and consciousness in the earth-nature, an abrupt creation or independent automatic manifestation of reasoning mentality in the material world intervening upon a previous similar manifestation of subconscious life-forms and of living conscious bodies in Matter, or else there was an evolution of humanity out of animal being, slow perhaps in its preparation and in its stages of development, but with strong leaps of change at the decisive points of the transition.”

This extensive topic shall require several posts which will follow in the next few days’ time.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 23, “Man and the Evolution”