Anthropologists have spent a lot of time analyzing how humans made the leap from the vital consciousness of the animal to the mental consciousness and its powers of thought, will and action. Those who look at outward things describe the event of descending from the trees to walking upright on the earth as a seminal step that led to a different consciousness and the development of tool-making. Others have speculated that the influence of alien beings from another planet or galaxy came and enlivened our consciousness! Still others indicate that human beings were created out of dust and by eating of a certain fruit, the power of the mind was awakened.
Each of these approaches signifies, not a final determination of how this change occurred, nor even an inner insight into the processes of Nature that bring forth the results that are already encoded in the seed of each being, but they do indicate a recognition that some essential difference of consciousness arose that could be clearly distinguished from the vital animal consciousness. Even recognising that this transition has not been perfect, nor completed, it is fair to ask the question about the next phase in expression or development of consciousness beyond the mental phase, as it is clear that the mind is not a final step but an intermediate one.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “The secret of the transformation lies in the transference of our centre of living to a higher consciousness and in a change of our main power of living. This will be a leap or an ascent even more momentous than that which Nature must at one time have made from the vital mind of the animal to the thinking mind still imperfect in our human intelligence. The central will implicit in life must be no longer the vital will in the life and the body, but the spiritual will of which we have now only rare and dim intimations and glimpses. For now it comes to us hardly disclosed, weakened, disguised in the mental Idea; but it is in its own nature supramental and it is its supramental power and truth that we have somehow to discover. The main power of our living must be no longer the inferior vital urge of Nature which is already accomplished in us and can only whirl upon its rounds about the ego-centre, but that spiritual force of which we sometimes hear and speak but have not yet its inmost secret. For that is still retired in our depths and waits for our transcendence of the ego and the discovery of the true individual in whose universality we shall be united with all others. To transfer from the vital being, the instrumental reality in us, to the spirit, the central reality, to elevate to that height our will to be and our power of living is the secret which our nature is seeking to discover. All that we have done hitherto is some half-successful effort to transfer this will and power to the mental plane; our highest endeavour and labour has been to become the mental being and to live in the strength of the idea. But the mental idea in us is always intermediary and instrumental; always it depends on something other than it for its ground of action and therefore although it can follow for a time after its own separate satisfaction, it cannot rest for ever satisfied with that alone. It must either gravitate downwards and outwards towards the vital and physical life or it must elevate itself inwards and upwards towards the spirit.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 22, The Necessity of the Spiritual Transformation, pg. 241