Once the Jung book was on the ground, I turned to the question of the how of conscious evolution. The result was a comprehensive work on the interdependent evolution of genes, culture, mind, and language, titled, at least for now, How Cognition, Language, Myth, and Culture Came Together To Make Us What We Are [interior link]. This may seem odd, but the lynchpin of the whole thing is a myth.
Here’s how. One needs a mental narrative to stitch together episodes of experience into a cohesive representation of the outside world. Myth can be such a narrative. In essence, a myth is a story. The story doesn’t have to be an accurate one, and what emerged was anything but; yet it is what proved to be adequate, in the evolutionary sense, to enable our present adaption to reality, whatever reality really is.
It happened first in the Middle East. According to my researches, before the arrival of the first myth human thought was conducted in a magical spirit realm, in a stage of cultural evolution sometimes called animism. At its hub was the interdependency of life and death. As we evolved from it we entered upon a mythic form of mentation. Following upon myth, so the thesis goes, came sacrifice and religion. From there, cultural evolution proceeded in a straight line to the Bronze Age Great Mother religions that flourished in Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean up into classical times.
In the course of developing upon all this, I came to the view that fully human language, and hence “consciousness” in the modern sense, did not begin to emerge until about 12,000 years ago. Although my conclusion in this regard, and in some others as well, challenge presently entrenched beliefs, I am convinced that the argument taken as a whole is a sound one. As a long-time trial lawyer, having presented many arguments in tribunals of every sort, I know a solid case when I see one.
Finally, and most importantly, all of this came about through cultural change — change that has reached a point where culture has now come to evolve on its own, freed entirely from the cumbrous mechanisms of genetic change.
The process has been labeled “cumulative cultural evolution”, and it has been a part of all of that sketched out above. Operating within the framework of increasingly concentrated and integrated human interaction, culture now evolves on its own. And it is this that has brought us to the complex, technology-based civilizations of the world today.
The consequence is that we have brought about a world that is changing at a pace faster than we may be able to keep up with. This is the most serious challenge humanity has ever faced, and it can only be met through changes in culture that only we can bring about.