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Avant-God, Metatheology, Perennialism, Publications, The Peasant and the King

The Four Evolutionary Stages of Human Consciousness

Note: the follow material is grafted mostly word-for-word from a long section of monologue in Chapter IV of “The Peasant and the King.” I consider it more of an extract than an excerpt, for I did take out all the elements that put it in the context of the story with characters speaking and listening respectively. The full context of this idea –including an exploration of the inherent problem we face due to the self-consciousness of cognizance , and how we resolve it by going beyond the fourth stage– really needs the whole story to be told, so this is just a teaser-appetizer, not meant to be comprehensive in any way.

One major change I made in terminology, for reason of its straight-forward and self-explanatory translation, is “the King” becomes “God.” I thought there would be others, but in every other case a footnote seemed more appropriate. –W.N.

Just as the universe is the body of God, consciousness is the mind of God. They are not two separate things; there is not a body ‘here’ and a mind ‘there.’ They are two ways of seeing the single manifestation of God, similar to form and function.

The body of God is the form taken by the whole field of energetic patterns [1]. The mind of God is the function of the whole energetic field— its interaction with itself through the communication between its patterns.

It has been observed that God is both the dancer and the dance. This means that what God is and what God does are two concepts expressing the exact same thing. Indeed— the universe is the Dancer, and consciousness is the Dance.

Only form, the Dancer, will register to your senses. Its function —the Dance of interaction between aspects of the Dancer— will not. The communication between energetic patterns occurs at far too fine a level to be perceptible, or else your perception of form would be overwhelmed by flux, yielding no details. Your senses channel your perception of reality into the simplest picture you need in order to be what you are, and human senses are fine tuned to perceive form, leaving function to be inferred.

But you will see the larger parts of the body in motion and recognize the patterns of the Dance. If you are still and quiet enough, you will hear the soft hum of the music to which they sway. Your senses will still trick you and report the moving forms without considering the intelligence expressed by their motion. In fact, the whole phenomenon of consciousness will baffle you until you see Mind as the function of the body, and the body as the form of the Mind.

If the cosmos is a unitary field of matter whose numeric value is One, then consciousness is also a unitary field of Mind that is One in number.

So if you start to doubt the omnipresence of consciousness and forget that the world around you is alive and aware, remember that the Dancer is inseparable from the Dance. The function of anything that exists is inherent in its form, and vice versa.

Everything that exists was created to interact, to be one of the infinitesimal points of knowledge in God’s web of consciousness. Every action within this field,  every part of the Dancer, tells some aspect of the multilayered story of the Dance.

Consciousness is also the tool that God uses to perceive itself. Everything that exists plays a part in this Dance of consciousness, from the dynamics of particles within every atom to the blazing expression of stars across interstellar space. Every part of the Dance is therefore both an act to be perceived, and a creative process that engenders its own perceivers. The Dance creates its own audience, including the ultra complex puzzle that you know as the human experience.

There are four stages of consciousness that comprise the human experience. Each stage is a mental function of increased complexity, rising concurrently with evolutions in form that capacitate the functional growth. Each function also builds upon and includes those that precede it. The stages are not separate things that stack like bricks, one upon the other. They are successive whole functions that grow from the ground up like a tower. The stage that you call the top floor, in other words, is not just one layer but essentially the whole building, from the ground floor to the roof, performing one coordinated dance of consciousness that involves all the stages.

In another age, one of your philosopher-poets will note the interdependent relationship of physical form and mental function as aspects of the universal Self. It will be written:

“God sleeps in the mineral, awakens in the plant, moves in the animal, and thinks in the human.” –Arthur Young

What this lacks in precision, it more than aptly provides as insight about the evolution of the Life through coordinated development of form and function. The drive of this evolution is to use the creative powers of the play of LightDark [2] to move God— the prime Knower and Experiencer of Life— from the pure simplicity of Uncreated Light into ever greater complexities of form and function, until a subjective knower, a peasant,  emerges from the known, and has the adventure of finding its way back home.

We will look at these four stages of evolution— pure consciousness, sentience, sapience, and cognizance— and how they progress into the fully subjective perspective of the peasant. By learning how you are tricked into the illusion of the lonely human who thinks himself into isolation, you will see clearly how to release yourself from this prison and recognize your home in the pure consciousness of God. This release has been described as ‘waking up in dreamless sleep.’ It is the end goal of all who meditate to find union with God. But it is a goal that is only achieved through the surrender of all goals.

Pure consciousness is the undisturbed omniscience of God. It is the awareness of all in all, of the absolute interbeing of all forms and functions, free of all notions of self and time and resistance to change. It is the primal simplicity of God, with the freedom to take innumerable forms within its boundless potential. As it does so, these elemental forms interact with absolute precision and attention only to the wordless Law of God [3] as it dwells within them and directs all of their dance steps.

In human terms, pure consciousness is like the state of dreamless sleep, in which the body of the sleeper continues to interact with its surroundings without any attention of a self, moved only by a simple will to live and grow and change. So, too, does the cosmic body of God interact with itself, performing all the functions that serve its simple will to live and grow and change.

Every part of the divine body— every atom, every rock, every mountain, every drop of water, every ocean, every beam of light, every speck of dust in the air, every star in the cosmos— all these are conscious of one thing: God itself. There is no false notion of ‘I am’ to interfere with the experience of the Self [4]. They communicate to each other what they must without differentiation, no division between knower and known.

And so the universe dances on, all things singing God’s praises continuously through the observance of the Law which is encoded wordlessly in their very being itself. Their obedience is natural and unchallenged, because they are not aware of any dual nature. They are not cognizant of themselves as distinct and individual and create no concept of separateness from each other— they simply know no other way to be than to be what they are.

But to a microscopic part of the universe, to a domain whose fraction of a percentage is so small that it can hardly be expressed by numbers, the evolution of consciousness has produced a feedback loop in the dance. This loop creates the mental function called sentience, a body’s ability to reflect upon its interaction with its surroundings. Sentience causes a body to feel sensations within itself, in the time-space location it occupies. It is the consciousness of consciousness itself.

Sentience is a rare phenomenon that emerges from pure consciousness when the play of LightDark creates conditions that make it possible. But there is no magic nor different class of reality happening when sentience manifests. It is the same elemental interaction, the same dance by the same kind of dancers, with merely an extra layer of dance happening within the body of the dancers. As a result, the being that has sentience is not only conscious, but is also beginning to be self-conscious.

If pure consciousness is simply dancing itself— the interaction of a body with the space around it, moved by the rhythmic play of LightDark— then sentience is the dancer becoming aware that there is dancing.

A being that is sentient is aware of itself as a distinct focal point of sensation— but not separate from God, not from the omniscient base and foundation of its own sentience. Consider that you may feel a pain located in your arm. You feel this because of the connection between nerves in your arm and pain receptors in your brain. Being aware that you consist of both brain and arm, you have reason not to think of them as separate, but parts of one nervous system in one body. So too the sentient being and God are one consciousness in one body.

This is a crucial point: they are not two, the pure consciousness of God and the sentience of the being. Sentience is a refinement of pure consciousness, a reflection of it in a specific place and time into a narrower channel of attention, allowing the sentient being to do what it does. Sentience simply enables a much greater range of interactive functions for the universe to perform.

Therefore, there is no sharp line between pure consciousness and the emergent quality of sentience, just as there is no line between a wave and the ocean, or a cloud and the sky.

A cloud is not something in the sky; it is a local condition of the sky itself. Likewise, sentience is a local condition of pure consciousness.

Sentience is the elementary level of the sense of a dual nature in the universe, of the awareness that one is both temporal and eternal, spatial and ever-present, both at once without contradiction.

This dual nature does not yet pose the existential dilemma behind the fear of one’s own death, because the sentient being is not fully subjective. Though it is aware of awareness, sentient intelligence does not create an image of itself as an agent of awareness, just as you may experience yourself in a dream without being aware that you are the dreamer.

The key point is that sentience is not framed by selective attention in such a way that it seems to originate in a separate self. It does not interfere with the sentient being’s awareness of its roots in God and the wordless Law [manifesting here as instinct], which still orchestrates all of its functions.

When we say, ‘God awakens in plants, moves in animals,’ this is a long and gradual awakening. The sentience of plants is much more comparable to a dreamer experiencing itself in a dream than the hypnopompic state of animal sentience. Plants also existed and thrived for aeons on the earth before animal life emerged, and their longevity is owed to the fact that their sentience is so deeply rooted in the wordless Law of God. Survival instinct and natural defenses begin to emerge with sentience, but being selfless and immobile like the mineral, the plant defends itself by design and then yields its fate. It thinks nothing of freely giving its existence to the further development of the Life from which it does not separate itself, both by transferring its energy to other life forms and propagating itself by spreading its seeds in the process. The same is true of the earliest and simplest forms of life that are called animals, which can be moved but are not movers unto themselves.

But mobility is another evolution that potentiates new functions for life forms within God. And voluntary motion requires a much more complex awareness of the kinetic relationship between a body and its surroundings, with a more defined boundary of self for the coordinated functions required to move. This further refined level of self-aware consciousness is sapience.

If sentience is the dancer’s awareness of dancing, then sapience is a being’s basic awareness that it is the thing that is dancing.   It is the act of identifying with the specific function of dancing and the conscious, intentional movements of the dance.

The sapient being is analogous to a dreamer that has awoken and is able to move its body, but not yet fully aware of what it is or what to call itself.

Identification with the form of the dancer begins in sapience with faint awareness of pleasure-pain centers in the body, and grows toward individualism in vertebrates and mammals, but full recognition of selfhood does not happen until the next stage, as we will see.

Sapience is not a new feedback loop of consciousness; it is a threshold of resolution and clarity in the self-consciousness produced by sentience. The framework of attention has come into play more than with sentience, though still guided by the Law through instinct more than volition. The sapient being has evolved into a coordinated, self-aware nexus of information with a tenacious will to persist, and increasingly complex means to that end.

But sapience is still rooted in pure consciousness. The actions of a sapient being are mostly guided by instinct— which is to say, by the wordless Law of God within its genetic structure— and the drive for survival of the body is still superseded by the interests of broader identities: propagation of the species, homeostasis of the local environment, planetary health, and ultimately, the path of God through evolutionary stages in which its individual perspectives get more and more refined.

The sapient animal is therefore aware enough of its individual role in the play of nature to do what it must, yet also fully at home in its place on the earth, and not complex enough to demand more. In that sense, one might presume it to be the pinnacle of God’s venture into subjectivity: the most distal point of evolution at which pure consciousness has stretched as far as possible from its omniscient base into manifold perspectives without snapping, and yet still knows that it is God.

But evolution has further to go. The fully subjective sense of ‘I’ has not yet emerged in the sapient animal. There is no sense of it in the drop of water nor leaf of grass; there is a faint sense in the bird, the bee, and the ant; there is a far more complex sense in many vertebrates and most mammals, but even in primates the identity as an ‘I’ is subordinate to various forms of ‘we’— the species, the colony, the pack, and so on— and most of the sapient primate’s actions are orchestrated by instinct.

It is in the human being that we see an image of the ‘I’ emerge, focused on the individual body and its faculties. This is the result of more than a sharpening of resolution, for the human brain completes a second feedback loop that can examine and categorize the information it finds in the first. The cognizant human, therefore, processes its own sentience and sapience in a way that no other animal does: as a property of its own body, its own personhood, and defining itself in the process.

If sapience is the dancer’s recognition of the sensation of being something that is dancing, cognizance puts that recognition into the words “I am dancing,” and adds, “therefore I am a dancer.” It also stores that information, so it identifies as a dancer even when it is not dancing.

Communication between forms is the essence of every stage of consciousness. and it requires no attentive self to be sustained, just as your body interacts with its surroundings and continues all vital functions while you sleep. But the variety of ways to communicate increase rapidly when a local self develops as a nexus of knowledge, with a will to extend its range as a knower. The Word is the tool by which the cognizant being extends its range.

The Word— a multidimensional narrative consisting of preconceptual knowledge of reality, compiled by God through its innumerable explorations of the Self— is what gives order and structure to the information gathered by the individual being through cognition.

Sometimes called “collective consciousness,” The Word is essentially cognizance while still rooted in a sense of connection to pure consciousness. It functions like a map in unfamiliar territory, and it increases the range of communication tools between the cognizant seeker of knowledge and its environment by leaps and bounds.

Verbal language is one such tool. Language is a refined structure of communication patterns that begins to be possible with the attentive power of primitive selfhood in advanced sentience. The linguistic skills of animals advance with the further refinement of self-awareness characteristic of sapience, though symbolic representation of words has not yet emerged. The dance itself still does all the talking.

But The Word, with its power to differentiate and classify all the different aspects of God, unleashes the full potential of language. The nervous system of the human can create a powerful framework of attention, and then process its own perceptions within the frame so vividly that it seems to create a world within the world, controlled by a local mind within the pure timeless Mind of God. This is the basis for the cognizant being’s experience of a fully subjective, virtual self within the Self.

Within the local mind of the cognizant self, there is a center of activity called the semantic brain. This is the focal point of the function of the second feedback loop that defines cognizance. The semantic brain is where the perceptions and feelings and thoughts of the self are compressed into a simplified lexical simulation of reality, built with symbolic images and words.

This is where the cognizant human’s local experience of The Word, rooted in pure consciousness, becomes words— units of symbolic meaning that differ by locality.

The semantic brain is a storehouse of symbolic meaning, and words are the units stored to be applied to the forms that they signify, once those forms are correctly or incorrectly categorized.

The semantic process, after all, is imperfect, because it is based upon the cognizant human’s sentience, on the image of reality captured by its local, subjective framework of attention, not upon reality itself. So it is subject to error.

The constructive power of The Word and the selective attention it uses to make a framework for a subjective self are still manifestations of God’s consciousness extended to its limits, to the point where it almost departs from its roots. But even its reflections and observations remain within God’s realm. While it is held, the illusion of a snake in the grass is still the true experience of an illusion. When a character in a play sees a ghost, the actor knows it is a stage prop to entertain the audience and help tell the story, but the character, who may be in a prison called Denmark at the time, is truly terrified. So it is with God and you, the character God has become to tell this serpentine tale.

As the cognizant human preserves his sense of his relationship with things by naming them, they still exist as they are, undistorted by their names, and just like his fellow sentient and sapient creatures, the human lives and moves and has his being in God. Though the veil of language and lexical imagery grows ever thicker and more complex, woven by the emergent intelligence acquired and stored within the framework of the cognizant mind, that mind is still a self-reflecting drop within the Ocean of God.

So while you perceive through your sentience and feel through your sapience, it is the reflection of sentience and sapience that constitutes your thoughts, and that reflection is still the dance of God. Cognizance is God thinking in the human, before those thoughts are formed into the semantic shell of words.

It is because of this second reflection of pure consciousness that the human is able to write and speak and measure and recollect and fantasize and plan— all the mental functions that make humans uniquely capable of shaping their environment and laboring to preserve their experience of life, which grows and enriches the self-knowledge of God. Thus it can still be said that through human beings, God writes and speaks and measures and recollects and fantasizes and plans. The thinking human is, like all other beings, not so much a thing as an action,  an improvisational dance performed by the Self, though the connection between Dancer and dance is by this point almost completely hidden, the Performer almost completely lost in its performance.

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