We all know the story physical life has built up slowly on this earth. Its diversity now ranges from prokayotes to individuals possessing self-conscious creativity.
Out of those that believe in some form of evolution who would take issue with the very rough account that follows?
Life has its beginning in water. Multi-cellular life makes its appearance. The atmosphere changes in such a way as to allow animal life to evolve. Living creatures emerge from the water, moving over the land and breathing the air. At some point plants also spread out of the water and colonised the land. With animals came sentience and the development of individual consciousness. Possessing four limbs provided mobility while also allowing further development which gave a stable means of supporting the body. Organisms can then evolve in which these limbs are in a position to hold the body clear of the ground. Sentience develops to the stage where animals not only possess various sensations but they can also consciously communicate their inner feelings to others and make sense of the communication of others. The latest novel attributes of life are self consciousness and rational thinking. Humans not only communicate feelings but we can communicate objective thinking and are the most creative beings on the planet. We also have a modicum of free will which can be continuously developed over time. My account is beginning to contain details which, if people have any interest, a few might deem worth challenging.
Now it gets more controversial.
From our studies and research we see that nothing is static, everything is in some form of motion. Polarity is a fundamental feature of existence and becoming. I believe that in the living world we can recognise two poles. These can be thought of as matter and spirit. The material consists of the physical composition of organisms. I regard eating as an example of a physical process and rational thinking is an example of a spiritual process. The body is in the domain of matter and the mind in the domain of spirit. It could be argued that everything comes from matter or everything comes from spirit, or they are two sides of one process, but it might pay to take the time to simply observe and to think about what we observe and to resist the temptation to make snap judgements. Regarding physical nature, according to Goethe, we cannot force Nature to give up her secrets but if we approach with the right attitude her secrets will be revealed to us.
The world of our experience is a world of relationships which is a world of polarities. As we know these include positive and negative, left and right, up and down, growth and decay, summer and winter, life and death, light and darkness, hot and cold, night and day, expansion and contraction, male and female, and on and on.
Our material bodies give us an awareness of being separate entities but we are united in our rational thinking. Features of the material pole are such things as bodies, multiplicity, the constrictive force of gravity and solidity. This is the world of our senses, the ever changing world of Hericlitus. On the side of the spiritual pole there is mind, unity, levity, unrestricted expanse, and light. This relates to the oneness as understood by Parmenides. Parmenides was looking back at a primal unity which he took to be the source from whence we have sprung, Heraclitus brings us down to earth with his astute observations of the surrounding world. This polarity in thinking can be seen again in comparing the thoughts of Plato with those of Aristotle. As in Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ Plato is pointing upwards towards the heavens and Aristotle has his hand depicted to represent a plane with the palm facing the earth. The Timaeus is concerned with creation from above and the Nicomachean Ethics deals with how we should live on earth. The polarity of past and future.
And looking to the future, the organisms that have the most control over their own individual destiny are humans. We humans have sense experiences in common with animals, but we alone have reason.
Life forms condensed and separated out of an aqueous environment. Today the more advanced life forms maintain an inner aqueous environment which is more isolated from and more independent of the outer environment. As Claude Bernard put it:
The stability of the internal environment [the milieu intérieur] is the condition for the free and independent life
Evolution is a path towards individual freedom. But in order to reach the stage where this freedom could be expressed the right balance between the two poles had to be maintained. Creatures which evolved in a one-sided,
exaggerated way in relation to the earthly pole would not become free in any meaningful way. They must remain bound to the earth. For example the dinosaurs in which the force of gravity had too big an effect could not progress any further in their evolution. Cetaceans rely on their water environment to become relatively free from the pull of gravity. They cannot escape from their lives under water.
From the spiritual pole, in relation to consciousness, the advanced life forms have a more concentrated, individual consciousness. For early more primal life consciousness was more instinctive and diffuse and was not focused within individual forms. Instinctive behaviour is shared consciousness in which organisms do not have any forms of self awareness. The progress from instinctive behaviour to individual learned behaviour is evidence of the concentration of consciousness into individuals.
Living forms are not just bags of chemicals, they are processes of becoming. Our age has instilled in us the concept of life as things. We talk of living beings and human beings as objects in space, when in actual fact we should be thinking in terms of living becomings and human becomings. Over and above existing as spacial beings we are beings in time. I am a process of a zygote becoming an embryo, becoming a child, becoming a man, becoming an old man. I am an instinctive individual, becoming a feeling individual, becoming a reasoning individual. So any self reflective being, (and I would say all of us here would claim to be such), can say to itself, “I am the past, the present and the future”.
To be a physical being is to live in the moment. To be a spiritual being is to live in the all. We share an animal nature in that we have desires. We have a spiritual nature in that we know and recognise that we have desires. We can rise above our desires in a way that animals cannot do. Like Goldilocks, the evolutionary path which has led to the form of the human has maintained the necessary balance. It is easy to point out many ways in which we humans are inferior to other species, but the reason that we have progressed this far by because we are average. We have arrived at this point via the middle path.