From Sentience to Sapience

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    The great irony of evolution is that, though it took billions of years to evolve a brain capable of awareness of the sacred through self-knowing, employing time prevents us from the realization of that potential.

    Most people believe, consciously or sub-consciously, that man is either made in the image of God, or man is incapable of changing. Indeed, some people hold both views at once!

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    The first thing to realize is that consciousness is not ‘evolving.’ Consciousness, as we generally know it, cannot evolve; it can only accumulate. And by psychologically accumulating experience over the ages, content-consciousness has deteriorated and darkened in our age to the point of spiritual suffocation.

    Except for science and technology, man is declining, and quite rapidly. Increasingly disconnected from nature since the Industrial Revolution, the accretion of the past is now eroding not just traditions all over the world, but the essence of what it has meant to be human since time immemorial.

    We humans are also in the process of wiping out at least half the animals with which we share the earth. We are on the brink of another nuclear arms race, involving a number of smaller countries, which will make us nostalgic for the Cold War. Drought, famine, disease, and terrorism are becoming much more prevalent.

    A leap of consciousness is required simply to preserve what is left of the richness of ecological and cultural diversity of the earth. But on the positive side, conscious transmutation will enable every succeeding generation to grow into human beings.

    Though psychological revolution appears unlikely at this point in human history, it could still happen. The more interconnected the world becomes, and the more self-destructive man becomes, the clearer the imperative of radical change in consciousness. Short of that, the man-made momentum of division, fragmentation, and self-centeredness will continue to grow, and overwhelm the best-laid plans and policies.

    Certainly life is not unique to one planet, out of billions in this galaxy alone. There must be other sentient species that have successfully or unsuccessfully passed through the planetary crisis that man, using symbolic thought, is passing through on the earth. But what is a sentient species?

    A sentient species is one that constructs a self out of image and identification, and is capable of deconstructing it through self-knowing. As such, humans are the only sentient animals on earth. And with sentience also comes the capacity for sapience, that is, for self-transcendence.

    But as things are, the human brain is dominated by the functions of symbolic thought. That is, we live by words, images, memories, beliefs, traditions, and opinions. In short, we are conditioned. An awakening human being, on the other hand, is no longer dominated by conditioning, but is moving in the direction of insight and liberation.

    At bottom, thought rests on separation, which is defined as “the ability to remove and make ready for use.” In actuality there are no ‘things,’ and therefore there is no mind-to-hand or mind-to-mind manipulation without thought.

    Symbolic thought is the most powerful adaptation that has ever evolved on earth. It is so powerful that it is impossible to believe that it could only have arisen on this planet alone.

    Used unwisely, as it overwhelmingly is, thought becomes inimical to life itself. As such, thought generates a growing existential crisis and conundrum for the species in which it evolves.

    Either we awaken a growing insight into thought and content-consciousness, or this experiment in consciousness will fail, and man will perish. So in the end, perhaps the evolution of ‘higher thought’ is a crucible.

    The true conjunction of religion and science is not in some fantasy of co-existence between faith and fact. Rather, it’s in seeing the place of the mind-as-thought (of which science is one of the highest expressions), and the primacy of the mind-as-stillness and insight.

    Transcending thought would not make humanity any less scientific or technological; indeed, we would probably be more so. Rather, it would allow us to be intelligent in our application of science and technology. That, I submit, is the meaning of sapience.

    To go from the nadir of creation to the ‘pinnacle of creation,’ the human brain has to negate the movement of thought and end psychological time. Then, the human being is one with the silence, sacredness, and creativity that permeate the universe.

    That is the daily foundation we must each pour within ourselves if we are to manifest and build a world in which peace, justice, and harmony are not to be increasingly hollow and meaningless words.

    Martin LeFevre

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