The Evolution of Consciousness, Ultimate Purpose, Jean Gebser and Bernardo Kastrup
Despite my somewhat grandiose title, this is not going to be an in-depth discussion of these issues, rather some brief notes to make Medium readers aware of some interesting material, should they wish to pursue it further.
Last week I attended a Zoom talk by Gary Lachman¹, prolific writer on esoteric and spiritual matters, whose books include A Secret History of Consciousness and The Secret Teachers of the Western World. The subject of the talk was Jean Gebser, who Lachman believes was an important figure, but who has to some extent been overlooked.
His most famous book was The Ever-Present Origin. In it he identified various stages in the evolution of human consciousness: the Original, the Archaic, the Magical, the Mythic, the Mental-rational, and the Integral. Some of Gebser’s interesting ideas, as recounted by Lachman, were that:
- all the earlier psychological stages remain active at some level, even if one becomes more dominant at any given period, and the others lie dormant
- at some point, therefore, a re-emergence and integration of everything that has preceded becomes possible
- what was once a great asset, and necessary for our development as a species (i.e. a new stage), eventually becomes deficient, a liability, which is a sure sign that we are about to enter the next phase.
It probably does not need pointing out that we are currently in the Mental-rational stage. I am not going to argue the case, but it seems clear to me that we are nearing the end of it, and are about to reintegrate the Magical, Mythic, and possibly Archaic stages. The pioneer, and dare I say prophet, of this impending shift was Carl Jung, who adopted a rational and scientific approach to the archaic, magical, and mythical aspects of the human psyche, which he believed were essential for our psychological health. His own life was an outstanding example of this process.
He believed that the purpose of an individual’s life was the evolution of consciousness — the integration of unconscious, dormant aspects of personality in an ongoing process of individuation. It was interesting to hear that, according to Gebser, something similar has been going on at the level of humanity. As they say, the human being is the microcosm of the macrocosm.
Just before listening to Lachman’s talk, I had been reading Bernardo Kastrup’s Rationalist Spirituality, the subtitle of which is an exploration of the meaning of life and existence informed by logic and science. He says that “when I talk of meaning, I refer to an ultimate purpose for the very existence of the universe, defined as the collection of all existing aspects of nature, known and unknown”(p5). Without indulging in any major plot spoilers, let me just say that Kastrup concludes — as he says on the basis of logic and science — that there is such a purpose, and that it is very much in line with ideas around the evolution of consciousness and Eastern spiritual traditions. The goal is that “the (material) universe will be complete in its comprehension and awareness of itself” or, to paraphrase, that the Ultimate Source will come to know itself fully through the process of manifestation. Gebser seems to be describing stages in that ongoing process.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
- The talk is currently available on Youtube.