Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative

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* Article: The Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative: An Integration of Integral Views. By Jennifer Gidley. INTEGRAL REVIEW 5, 2007

URL = https://www.academia.edu/197841/The_Evolution_of_Consciousness_as_a_Planetary_Imperative_An_Integration_of_Integral_Views


Michel Bauwens:

This article is actually an extended university thesis if not a book. I very strongly recommend reading this as a unique synthesis of the integrative interpretations of the evolution of humankind (and even the cosmos) through a reading of 'mutations of consciousness', in which the complex adaptive system that is the human mind, co-evolves with the complex adaptive systems of nature and human society. It summarizes and compares the views of Rudolf Steiner, Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber, using Gebser's subdivisions of archaic, magic, mytholological, mythologic-rational, rational and integral, distinguishing efficient from deficient modalities and paying attention to the transition processes between each mutation. I have yet to add my own extensive reading notes, but will do so later. The text also has 3 appendixes, with the two first one dealing with the evolution of spatial and temporal conceptions.

Contextual Quote

"In our current era that must contend with the deligitimation of the grand narratives of modernity, we are left with few options for providing new narratives of hope for our children and our future.

- We may continue to cling to old undeconstructed metanarratives in a traditional, mythic manner as if the great German and French philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Lyotard and Derrida were irrelevant.

- We may extend our rationality into rationalization, creating new reconstructed metanarratives, arguing that they are bigger and better and more reconstructed than either modernity and postmodernity has on offer.

- We may throw out the threading of narratives altogether, pluralize our perspectives, and allow each particularity to speak of its own uniqueness.

- Or we may, as Whitehead, cited in Gare (2002), recommended, “produce a variety of partial systems of limited generality” (p. 49). I have chosen to opt for the latter, not in a syncretizing way that would homogenize their differences, but rather to dive into their unique particularities.

By bringing them into conversation with each the commonalities authentically disclosed themselves—as unity in diversity. By keeping close to the actual text of the narrators, and engaging in thick description, a type of noospheric ethnography emerged. By thus slowing down the pace of my analysis, I have thwarted any tendency to rush into abstraction or quick generalities, or to manufacture a perfectly synthetic product. I have enjoyed the individual idiosyncrasies of content, style and texture, as if each bump and wrinkle were a sign that this tapestry is indeed woven of noospheric raw silk."

- Jennifer Gidley [1]


"In this article I aim to broaden and deepen the evolution of consciousness discourse by integrating the integral theoretic narratives of Rudolf Steiner, Jean Gebser, and Ken Wilber, who each point to the emergence of new ways of thinking that could address the complex, critical challenges of our planetary moment. I undertake a wide scan of the evolution discourse, noting it is dominantly limited to biology-based notions of human origins that are grounded in scientific materialism. I then broaden the discourse by introducing integral evolutionary theories using a transdisciplinary epistemology to work between, across and beyond diverse disciplines. I note the conceptual breadth of Wilber's integral evolutionary narrative in transcending both scientism and epistemological isolationism. I also draw attention to some limitations of Wilber’s integral project, notably his undervaluing of Gebser's actual text, and the substantial omission of the pioneering contribution of Steiner, who, as early as 1904 wrote extensively about the evolution of consciousness, including the imminent emergence of anew stage. I enact a deepening of integral evolutionary theory by honoring the significant yet undervalued theoretic components of participation/enactment and aesthetics/artistry via Steiner and Gebser, as a complement to Wilber. To this end, I undertake an in-depth hermeneutic dialogue between their writings utilizing theoretic bricolage, a multi-mode methodology that weaves between and within diverse and overlapping perspectives.

The hermeneutic methodology emphasizes interpretive textual analysis with the aim of deepening understanding of the individual works and the relationships among them. This analysis is embedded in an epic but pluralistic narrative that spans the entire human story through various previous movements of consciousness, arriving at a new emergence at the present time. I also discuss the relationship between these narratives and contemporary academic literature, culminating in a substantial consideration of research that identifies and/or enacts new stage(s) or movements of consciousness. In particular, I highlight the extensive adult developmental psychology research that identifies several stages of postformal thinking, and recent critical, ecological and philosophical literature that identifies an emerging planetary consciousness.

In summary, my research reveals an interpretation of scientific and other evidence that points beyond the formal, modernist worldview to an emerging postformal-integral-planetary consciousness. I posit that a broader academic consideration of such an integration of integral theoretic narratives could potentially broaden the general evolution discourse beyond its current biological bias. The article concludes with a rewinding of narrative threads, reflecting on the narrators, the journey, and the language of the discourse. Appendixes A and B explore the theoretical implications of the emergence of postformal-integral-planetary consciousness for a reframing of modernist conceptions of time and space. Appendix C holds an aesthetic lens to the evolution of consciousness through examples from the genealogy of writing."


Jennifer Gidley:

"In brief, my decision to focus primarily on these three researchers resulted from the following considerations:

• All three have made major contributions to conceptualizations of the evolution of consciousness yet have been marginalized in the dominant—predominantly biology- based—discourse on evolution.

• As significant contributors to the integral theory knowledge-base, both Gebser and Wilber are also well recognized in terms of their contributions to the evolution of consciousness, yet Gebser is often better “known” for what Wilber has said about himthan in his own right. My own study of Gebser has led to the perception that this is insufficient and that Gebser’s original writings have far more to contribute to the discourse than is generally acknowledged.

• Steiner’s substantial contribution to the conceptualization of the evolution of consciousness is an unfortunate omission in Wilber’s otherwise comprehensive work. Notably, Gebser also overlooked Steiner’s work even though there are major convergences between them, as this research shows. Steiner’s work has also been overlooked by many contemporary integral theorists and in my view deserves more consideration.

• No other substantial academic research has been undertaken that explores the relationships among the works of Steiner, Gebser and Wilber. Although this may not in itself be significant, the richness and depth that is brought to the discourse by an in-depth inclusion of Steiner’s and Gebser’s original research, alongside Wilber’s is highly significant, as demonstrated in this paper. Through my hermeneutic translation efforts, my research creates conceptual lines of flight between the three narratives.

• The major thrust of Wilber’s writing is cognitive/conceptual. By contrast, the narratives of Steiner and Gebser add important other dimensions to the enrichment of integral theory. Both Gebser and Steiner highlight the importance of participatory enactment of integrality and of the artistic/aesthetic domain in the development of new movements of consciousness. Gebser’s approach is also self-reflectively participatory in that he enacts integrality in his very writing.

• My integrative intent is also to offer interlinking counterweights to the main critiques that have been offered to each. Critiques of both Steiner’s and Gebser’s work are that it is too dense and difficult to read, whereas Wilber’s work is easily accessible to contemporary readers. By contrast the critique of cognicentrism in Wilber’s work could be complemented by the participatory and aesthetic features of Steiner’s and Gebser’s narratives.

• From a critical-feminist-relational -perspective, I also note that many members of the interpretive communities that are inspired by the works of Steiner, Gebser and Wilber have a tendency toward isolationism with an uncritical focus on what may be superior about one theory or another. My interest in this regard is to assist in the building of conceptual bridges between their approaches."


The Evolution of Consciousness Discourse

Jennifer Gidley:

"By consciousness, I am referring to the type of complex consciousness that is expressed by human thinking as it develops through various expressions over time, both historico-culturally(phylogenesis) and within individual psycho-spiritual development (ontogenesis). This is referred to in the consciousness studies literature as phenomenal consciousness or qualia, which is understandably described by David Chalmers as the hard problem, as distinct from simple perceptual consciousness which Chalmers calls the easy problem (1995, 1996). It includes, but is not limited to, cognition. My perspective on consciousness, which will be developed throughout this paper in the light of an elucidation of Steiner’s, Gebser’s and Wilber’s views, departs from much of the current, neurobiology-based, consciousness studies literature which claims that consciousness is dependent primarily on the brain for its existence.

My usage of the term evolution cannot be nutshelled here but will emerge throughout this paper. At the very least my meaning includes biological, socio-cultural and philosophical discourses. The notion of socio-cultural evolution has been contested since the abuses arising from 19th century socio-biological models—such as Social Darwinism—during the 2nd World War. Anthropological critiques include claims that cultural evolution models are ethnocentric, unilineal, too oriented towards technological materialism, privileging progress rather than preservation and speculative rather than evidence based. How this narrative addresses these issues will be discussed under theoretical issues. A range of disciplines and discourses that can inform evolution of consciousness are indicated in Figure 1 below. The evolution of consciousness discourse has a relatively short history in the academy.

The notion was originally seeded by several German Idealists and Romantics towards the end of the 18th century. Almost a century before Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species (1859/1998), Johann Gottfried von Herder published

This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity (1774/2002), setting out the notion that “there exist radical mental differences between historical periods, that people's concepts, beliefs, sensations, etc. differ in important ways from one period to another” (Forster, 2001). Von Herder’s seminal ideas on the evolution of consciousness were extended in manifold ways by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling.

These pioneering individuals both conceptualized and enacted an integrative worldview—for example Goethe was an eminent scientist, philosopher and literary pioneer. In particular, Schelling’s contribution foreshadowed current notions of conscious evolution (Teichmann, 2005). Although inspired by earlier unitive worldviews, these integral philosophers also pointed forward, beyond the limitations of both pre-modern, mythic consciousness and modernist formal rationality, foreshadowing a more conscious awakening of a postformal , integral consciousness.

In the early20th century these ideas were further developed by several pioneers (Aurobindo, 2000; Bergson,1911/1944; Gebser, 1970/2005; Lovejoy, 1936; Neumann, 1954/1995; Steiner, 1926/1966b,1959a; Teilhard de Chardin, 1959/2002, 1959/2004).The general notion of evolution—and thence consciousness evolution—became academically colonized by classical biology as a result of the mid 19th century interpretations of Darwin’s work.

Clearly, biology as a discipline has been transformed by such 20th century developments as chaos and complexity theories, with classical Darwinism and neo-Darwinism more recently making way for emergence theories (Braxton, 2006; Deacon, 2003; Goodenough & Deacon,2006; Thompson, 1991). In spite of these developments within biology, science during much of the 20th century was grounded in a materialist worldview. Darwinian evolutionary notions reputedly also influenced other late 19th century socio-cultural theories, such as pioneering sociologist, Auguste Comte’s (1855/2003) views on social progress, and Herbert Spencer’s(1857) developmental and progressive theories—most notably, Social Darwinism (Barnard &Spencer, 1998). The evolution discourse remained dominated by a physicalist form of biology, such that significant pioneering works on the evolution of consciousness, that were inclusive of spiritual dimensions, were ignored, dismissed or marginalized by the science of the day (Aurobindo, 2000; Bergson, 1911/1944; Gebser, 1970/2005; Neumann, 1954/1995; Steiner,1926/1966b, 1959a; Teilhard de Chardin, 1959/2002, 1959/2004). Although the last few decades have seen a reconsideration of some of these pioneers—particularly as a result of integral approaches to the evolution of consciousness—the new biological sciences still retain a powerful claim on the evolution of consciousness discourse (Loye, 2004). However, the growing awareness of a potential planetary crisis has highlighted the significance of finding new ways of thinking, if humankind is to move through our current complex challenges. This critical imperative appears to be mobilizing researchers from a wide range of disciplines to broaden the notion of evolution of consciousness beyond its biological bounds. Although only a small number of articles are as yet appearing in academic journals, there is evidence of some disciplinary diversity.

László (2006) aptly sums up this critical imperative in the following rallying call: Einstein was right: the problems created by the prevalent way of thinking cannot be solved by the same way of thinking. This is a crucial insight. Without renewing our culture and consciousness we will be unable to transform today’s dominant civilization and overcome the problems generated by its shortsighted mechanistic and manipulative thinking.. . . The conscious orientation of the next cultural mutation—the shift to a new civilization—depends on the evolution of our consciousness. This evolution has become a precondition of our collective survival. (pp. 39, 77)The evolution of consciousness has become a central theme in much of integral theory. In its many forms integral theory is making a significant contribution to the discourse. Yet leading integral theorists, such as Wilber and László, appear not to see eye to eye in their somewhat rivalrous endeavors to each create an Integral Theory of Everything (TOE) , within which their writings on the evolution of consciousness could be theoretically situated (László, 2007; Wilber,2000a). A major distinction appears to be that László (2007) builds his general evolution theory in a more formal, systematic manner. He claims that he built significantly on the theoretical traditions of Whitehead’s process theory, Bertalanffy’s general system theory and Prigogine’s non-linearly bifurcating dissipative structures (p. 164). Wilber’s process appears to have been much broader and more diverse—but perhaps less systematic—gathering together as many theorists in as many fields of knowledge as he could imagine, then arranging them according to the system that he developed—which he calls an integral operating system (Wilber, 2004).Another difference is that although they both appear to use imagination and intuition in the construction of their theoretical approaches, Wilber does not make this explicit whereas László(2007, p. 162) does. Numerous other researchers, particularly over the last decade, have also contributed to the evolution of consciousness discourse, but the various theoretical strands stillstand in relative isolation from each other. These issues will be discussed below. It is my view that no single discipline or field can colonize the evolution of consciousness discourse — not even science. Because of its complexity the topic can only adequately be approached in a transdisciplinary manner. Nor can it be colonized by a particular theoretical approach, no matter how apparently integral that approach claims to be. Such disciplinary and theoretical constraints would only serve to limit our potential understanding."



On integral thinkers:

On specific civilizational moments:

On the evolution of consciousness modes:

More information


Gidley, J. (2001, June). The dancer at the edge of knowledge: Imagination as a transdisciplinary force. Paper presented at the Second International Philosophy, Science and Theology Festival, Grafton, NSW, Australia.

Gidley, J. (2006). Spiritual epistemologies and integral cosmologies: Transforming thinking and culture. In S. Awbrey, D. Dana, V. Miller, P. Robinson, M. M. Ryan & D. K. Scott (Eds.), Integrative learning and action: A call to wholeness (pp. 29-53). New York: Peter Lang.

Gidley, J. (in press). Educational Imperatives of the evolution of consciousness: The integral visions of Rudolf Steiner and Ken Wilber. International Journal of Children's Spirituality.

Gidley, J. & Hampson, G. (2005, October 19). Integral education - An integrative perspective: Divining for the 'leading edge' of knowledge. Paper presented at the Community for Integrative Learning and Action, Amherst, MA, US.