Elgin had been previously studied anthropology, systems theory, psychology, comparative religion. economics, physics, future studies and sociology and philosophy. He had worked in policy studies, and strategic planning and had also explored in some depth contemplative Christianity, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. The following insights arose from a sixth month self-guided self-retreat, which involved a breakthrough at the last possible moment. As always, we must judge the results for ourselves. His formulations resonated with me on a profound level.
Much of the material in this essay is based on Elgin's books Awakening Earth and Promise Ahead. I chose this route, because I could not find a clearer way to express these ideas with the elegance Elgin brought to this immense heroic journey. Others who informed Elgin's work include Pere de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo.
Exanimating the data. Elgin came to similar conclusions to Gebser's; however, he foresaw higher levels of growth -- within the Integral - as revealing four stages, each of which can be differentiated and would be built on the achievements of that which proceeded it. We will be focused on what Elgin posits as the stage we are now entering.
Like Gebser, he sees our emergence from the animal kingdom lasting millions of years as our ancestors struggled in a twilight of self-recognition and the very beginnings of a capacity for reflection.
Then, sometime during the rugged conditions of the last great ice age - some 35,000 thousand years ago -physically modern humans broke free of the limited consciousness of the animal kingdom with a decisive self-awareness lasting 25,000 years
With this initial awakening, a time of a nomadic life of hunting and gathering, we entered an era which witnessed the manifestation and growth of language, art, trading networks, musical instruments and new tools of stone wood, and bone.
Then, roughly 10 thousand years ago we began to develop a settled life in small villages that relied on subsistence agriculture. Farming consciousness arose. Relatively peaceful and simple village life endured for thousands of years; out of this lifestyle emerged the world's largest cities, which appeared between five and six thousand years ago. Major civilizations emerged around the world, and here we saw the development of writing, division of labor, a priestly class, religion, state governments and massive architecture.
By the 1700's Europe's magical and mythical worldview began giving way to an impersonal science and the analyzing intellect. A progressing time sense coupled with a materialistic view of reality focused on a new era of material progress. Technical innovations were accompanied by mass production, the development of massive urban centers and the rise of strong nation states.
In our current phase of development, given the pervasiveness of computers, and satellite systems, people around the world are finding themselves joined via a "communications revolution." This is occurring just in time to enter into dialogue about how to cope with our intertwined system of problems that now threaten our future. Elgin believes that with communications so widespread we can discover a shared vision of a sustainable future.
Elgin posits seven phases of development. In the first three phases (above) humanity has been separating ourselves from nature and developing our sense of autonomy. In the following four stages we will be able to reintegrate our ourselves with nature, find ways to explore a deep bonding with one another, and learn to act in conscious harmony with the universe.
Elgin also asserts that each of these phases is itself a "perceptual paradigm" in which we experience life to the limited degree that a given paradigm allows -- until there is a movement into the following worldview. He posits that the invisible "dimensional geometry" that structures physical space also structures psychological or perceptual space as an organizing framework.
Each new dimension or context is designed to call forth new potentials from us. As we perceive the possibilities inherent in each new dimension we begin to actualize them, such that each provides new opportunities or learning contexts for individuals and societies to fill in with creative actions.
Archaic humans reveal a "contracted consciousness"- in a sense similar to a black hole where nothing can escape -- even light; hunters and gatherers display a sensing consciousness; farm-based civilizations -- a feeling consciousness; scientific-industrial civilizations -- a thinking consciousness, and the communication era-- an observing, self-aware consciousness.
One crucial point regarding the further development of a planetary-wide observing consciousness (through the proliferation of communication technologies) is that it is likely to involve sincere grief, shock, (and an appropriate share of outrage) as we begin to recognize the effects of our assault on the earth, human rights and on the human spirit. There will be tones of anger, sadness, and, hopefully remorse as we struggle with what we have wrought and this will need to be worked through on a species level. Emerging successfully from this stage will lead us into what Elgin foresees as the "bonding era."
The perceptual paradigm of the scientific industrial era generated an epoch of unprecedented social dynamism, moral relativism, nation-state egotism and a no-limits-to growth mentality. At the same time, we paid a very high price for the accumulated learning of this era. The life and mystery of the cosmos was bleached out by analytical sciences, leaving us adrift in a universe that seems indifferent to our struggles.