Thursday 8 December 2011

How do I Become an Evolved Person?

People often write about levels of consciousness which is curious, since no one yet even knows what consciousness is, let alone able to define levels of this elusive concept!
     Brian Hall (Figure 1), Clare Graves (Figure 2) and others go so far as to suggest that human development is correlated to levels of consciousness.
Figure 1. Stages & Phases of Human Development (Source: Brian hall)
     Clare Graves goes further than Hall's global consciousness level, seeming to imply there's no limit (Figure 2):
Figure 2. Levels of Human Consciousness Development
Supposedly, any person who has the global level consciousness of Hall's model, or is at level 10 or above of the Graves model, is an evolved person. There are two flaws in these and similar models of human development:
  1. Evolution cannot be tied to growth, development, progress or any other like concept. Identifying someone is an evolved person actually says nothing about who they are as a person, in fact the statement is rather meaningless.
  2. Levels of consciousness cannot be tied to values development.
Let's look at these flaws in more detail...

Evolution Cannot be Tied to Growth/Progress
Figure 3 is a typical technology timeline advertisement which explicitly assumes a link between evolution and progress:
Figure 3. Linking Evolution & Progress
However, Darwin himself pointed out that evolution is only about species adapting to change--those which adapt appropriately survive. It's about the continued existence of the fittest to survive. Those which survive are not better or more intelligent that those which didn't survive. They are simply those which survived because, by chance. they adapted to changed conditions in a way which prevented them from becoming extinct. The current evolution of the human species looks more like that depicted in the two cartoons of Figure 3:
Figure 3. Evolution of Man (Note: Not sexist, just  couldn't find equivalent cartoons with women in too)
If progress really was tied to evolution one would perhaps have expected a result more like this:
Figure 4. An Evolutionary Fantasy (sorry still sexist)
The cartoons of Figures 2 & 3 represent canonical icons--i.e. iconic depictions of an unconscious belief-set (in this case, a false belief-set) embedded in the psyche of Western culture. Interestingly, as highlighted by the side notes in the captions, these canonical icons are also linking males to evolution and progress. Figure 5 is the only one found which did include a female. How do you react to this image? Is it a cynical dig at the male concept of evolution and progress? Or, is it just using sexual imagery to promote something?
Figure 5. What's the Canonical Message?
In summary, there's no link between evolution and progress. In fact, letting this false belief guide our collective behaviour is a form of "cop-out": we don't have to think, put the brain in neutral and let random selection create a better world for us--"Sorry. It ain't gonna happen!"

Levels of Consciousness Cannot be tied to Values Development
What is consciousness? For starters, consciousness is not like an on-off switch where we are either conscious or unconscious. It's more like a dimmer switch, where it can go through a continuum from were you are totally disconnected from the world (asleep or in a coma) to the other end where you are totally pre-occupied with some worldly issue be it operating one someone's brain, repairing a car motor, writing a song, solving the problems of the world with a colleague, landscaping the garden...(Greenfield, 2000)
      Latest neuroscience (Geddes, 2011) has identified that consciousness is correlated with the synchronisation process of brain activities. The more our brain is involved in connecting all the dots, the more conscious we are. When we are most conscious, paradoxically, we disconnect from the world around us (our senses are effectively "turned off") and we lose track of time--we are in a state Czikszentmihalyi (1992) describes as flow...

Figure 6 is a simplified version of the diagram Czikszentmihalyi uses in his video.
Figure 6. Commensurate Increases in Challenge & Skills Creates Flow Experiences  
The animate below provides an expanded explanation of flow...

Raised consciousness (flow experience) is linked to skills development. The link with values stems from the fact that we are only ever self-motivated to take on challenge and skills associated with activities which match our values.

So the term evolved person is rather meaningless because there's no link between evolution and progress or development. So lets re-frame the question to,  "How do I use my values to guide my personal development." Answer:
  1. Know and live your own values ("If you are not living your values, whose values are you living?)
  2. Continually seek to increase your skills in living your values using the model given in Figure 6 and explained further in the animate.
  3. Because we are part of nature, we cannot live our values any way we want, so live your values in consideration of other life on this planet.
Put simply, personal growth is synonymous with values-based skills development.

Click here for a case study where this approach is applied to living the value health/well-being.


dougal said...

very insightful and useful information to be able to offer an alternative view to those determined to push us along the path of 'evolutionary progress'

Jackie said...

Really thought provoking post.

One of the things I think the idea of "evolution" does have to offer us at this point is that evolution is ingenious. Through evolution the resources of an organism if not useful in its next form become something else - for example ribs became gill arches became jaws became the bones (ossicles)of the middle ear that enable us to hear.

So I wonder if there maybe something ingenious in becoming conscious of our values in such as way as we can make new connections with things that are important and thus deliberately stimulate ourselves to adapt to change in a useful (rather than wasteful)fashion.

Paul Chippendale said...

Jackie, you are making a good case for Conscious Evolution. There is some interesting work coming out of Quantum Physics on this topic: