Evolution in Consciousness DOES Make a Difference

An excerpt for From Atlantis to the Sphinx by Colin Wilson that explains why left-brain development, painful as it might seem at times, has enhanced rather than detracted from the simpler right-brained focus of our ancestors. A valuable differentiation for the VF author to keep in mind:

We can be sure that our ancestors of 4000 years ago found it far easier to induce peak experiences, for they were relaxed and close to nature. Then came the ‘Fall’ into left- brain consciousness, which induces a kind of tunnel vision. Yet, as Maslow’s research demonstrated, it is not difficult for healthy human beings to throw off the tunnel vision and regain consciousness of freedom….

What is the lesson of the peak experience?

From Atlantis to the SphinxWhat is the lesson of the peak experience? This is easy to describe. It brings a sense of delight and courage—in fact, we see courage as being of central importance. We also see that the peak experience depends on a high degree of inner pressure—which is the opposite of ‘depression’. And if we wish to live in such a way that we have regular peak experiences, we need to maintain a sense of drive, purpose, optimism. We induce ‘depression’ by allowing ourselves to experience a ‘sinking feeling’. It is like letting air out of a tire. And when we feel cheerful and optimistic—say, on a spring morning, or setting out on a journey—we create a sense of high inner pressure by filling ourselves with a confident feeling of meaning and purpose. We do it ourselves. We imagine that the external world causes our problems, and sometimes, indeed, it does present us with real difficulties. But most of our problems are self-induced; we permit ourselves to become negative, or merely ‘blank’.

I am arguing that it was necessary for human evolution for us to escape from that pleasant collective consciousness that characterized our ancestors. It had enormous advantages, but it was essentially limited. It was too pleasant, too relaxed, and its achievements tended to be communal. The new left-brain consciousness was far harder, far more painful and exhausting, In Dostoevsky’s Possessed, the character Svidrigailov says that he dreamed of eternity the other night, and that it was like a narrow room full of cobwebs. This is the symbol of left-brain consciousness. And yet when galvanized by courage and optimism, it is capable of a far greater intensity—and sense of control—than right-brain consciousness.

Moreover, as Maslow realized, healthy people are always having experiences of right-brain consciousness—for the peak experience is right-brain consciousness. In spite of being trapped in the left brain, healthy and optimistic human beings can easily regain access to right- brain consciousness.

Advantage: Left Brainers

Colin Wilson
Colin Wilson in Cornwall 1984

In other words, left brainers have the choice. They can induce right-brain consciousness. But the typical right brainer finds it very distressing to try to induce left-brain consciousness—the kind of purposeful concentration required, for example, to solve a difficult mathematical or philosophical problem. Which means that, at this point in evolution, left brainers have the advantage. This is why these insights into past civilizations, to which this book has been devoted, are so important. We have been inclined to see them as less efficient versions of ourselves—superstitious, technologically. inadequate, deficient in reason and logic. Now it has become clear that this was a mistake. In some ways, they actually knew more than we do. Compared to their rich collective awareness, modern consciousness seems barren and constricted. They also knew more than we do about the hidden powers of the mind. In some ways they were far more efficient than we are. To really understand this comes as something of a revelation, which teaches us a great deal about what it means to be human. It makes us understand, to begin with, that evolution has actually given us far more than they had. Right-brain awareness tends to be passive; left-brain awareness is active. Right-brain awareness is like a broad, gently flowing river; left-brain awareness is like a powerful jet of water. Above all, left-brain awareness has the power to contemplate itself, as if in a mirror. To understand the men of the remote past is to understand something very important about ourselves—including how much reason we have to be satisfied with the place to which the last 3500 years have brought us. For we have not lost what they have; we still have it—but we also have a great deal more. Our chief disadvantage so far has been that we didn’t know that we had it—or, insofar as we did know, failed to understand what could be done with it.


3 thoughts on “Evolution in Consciousness DOES Make a Difference

  1. Margaret Duarte says:

    Another interesting book worth reading. Left-brain awareness as you discuss it here is indeed a reason to be satisfied with the place to which the last 3500 years have brought us. “Above all, left-brain awareness has the power to contemplate itself, as if in a mirror.” Unfortunately, we are sometimes blind to what the mirror reflects back to us. I refer to “mirror” 83 times in my first novel, Between Will and Surrender, usually as a metaphor for the mind/self-reflection. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jodine Turner says:

    Interesting. I remember hearing Julian Jaynes speak in the 1980’s. He wrote the book “The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.” I researched him again just now and found this description: He put forth the theory which argues that the human mind once operated in a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys—a bicameral mind. The experiences and memories of the right hemisphere of the brain are transmitted to the left hemisphere and experienced as auditory hallucinations. He posits that the evolutionary breakdown of this division gave rise to consciousness in humans.

    • Victor Smith says:

      I wish I was more adept with left-right brain phenomena, but what Colin Wilson observes makes sense. He is, by the way, one of my favorite authors on the artistic temperament and paranormal phenomena, starting with The Outsider, which I read in HS or college in the 60s and still very pertinent, especially to the somewhat isolated VF writer.


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