Evolution and Consciousness

When Charles Darwin published his famous work The Origin of Species, he ignited a debate which continues today, between “science” and “religion”.  Science took the position that there was a natural process involved in the creation and development of life-forms, a process which could be studied and understood, through what he called “natural selection” of the “survival of the fittest” and a mutation process that allowed forms to develop and undertake this “natural selection”.

Western religion, in particular the dominant Christian religion, took the side of creationism, whereby God created the various life-forms and placed them onto the earth “ready-formed”.

Another view has emerged which basically adopts aspects of each.  In this view, God created life, and set up a process of systematic evolution of forms to bring things to their current state.

None of these approaches, however, address the issues, in any detailed or formal manner, of how it is that Matter can bring about Life, and how Mind arises within Life.  How does “clay” turn into “mind”?

In The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo takes up these questions, and thereby provides a solution to the meaning and process of evolution that is the key to Darwin’s observation of life-forms.  “…there seems to be no reason why Life should evolve out of material elements or Mind out of living form, unless we accept the Vedantic solution that Life is already involved in Matter and Mind in Life because in essence Matter is a form of veiled Life, Life is a form of veiled Consciousness.  And then there seems to be little objection to a farther step in the series and the admission that mental consciousness may itself be only a form and a veil of higher states which are beyond Mind.”

Western science has begun to acknowledge that Matter is a form of Energy, and that Energy is a form of Consciousness.  This begins the reconciliation process between the view of science, and the perceptions of the ancient Rishis who first expressed this understanding.

The question of how inanimate Matter could evolve Life and eventually Mind can now be addressed.  If we observe the processes of Nature, we recognize, with our understanding of modern science, that the oak tree arises from an acorn and that the DNA pattern of that oak tree is encoded in that acorn.  Similarly, every other form and being arises from a material “seed” that encodes the specifics for that life-form within it; in other words, as the Rishis pointed out, the conscious-energy formation of each being and each stage of development of the creation is involved in Matter, hidden there, waiting for the right conditions to manifest.  Any form of life, and subsequently, any activity of mind, is embedded into the specific material substance from which it later arises.

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter One, The Human Aspiration, pp. 1-4

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