In the last few posts we provided a broad overview of evolution and saw how Teilhard observed that the key evolutionary phenomenon isn’t “survival of the fittest” in Darwin’s Natural Selection, but the rise in complexity over time, leading to the phenomenon of the unique consciousness of the human person. We also saw how ‘complexity’, while acknowledged by materialist evolutionists, is denied as a key metric of evolution in their argument against religion.
Today we will begin to address the key concept of the phenomenon of human relationships: ‘love’, now understood as the latest of the cosmic fields of energy which unites the latest emergent entities, ‘human persons’, in a way that extends the action of cosmic evolution past the arena of biology. This post and the next will basically sum up the previous blog, “The Phenomenon of Love” (access to which can be found on my website).
Development of Complexity in Human Relationships
The key to increasing complexity in the human person is found in the action of human unity: its basis lies in the interaction between human persons. Love enriches humans by means of their relationships, and this enrichment reciprocally enhances the relationship. Extension of this dynamic to relations among groups of humans is the basis of society. The stability of a society therefore can be seen to rest on the maturity of the persons which make it up.
Nearly all the ancient thinkers recognized that a key to human maturity lies in a person’s rise above egoism, for personal growth and as well as for relationship. The concept of “losing” oneself as a step toward personal fulfillment is common in many venerable systems of thought. The actual practice in which these results occur varies significantly among the religions and philosophies in which they are critical, but all the thinkers of the Axial Age (900-200 BCE) recognized that ‘you needed other persons to elicit your full humanity’. They saw self-cultivation as a reciprocal process. In the words of Confucius:
“In order to establish oneself, one should try to establish others. In order to enlarge oneself, one should try to enlarge others”.
Karen Armstrong sees this perspective as common to all the thinkers of the Axial Age:
“In one way or the other, their programs were designed to eradicate the egoism that is largely responsible for our violence, and promoted the empathic spirituality of the Golden Rule.”
The ancient thinkers understood that this reciprocal process required that we treat others as we would be treated. This requires us to be able to rise above the limitations of our self, to become less focused inward and more open to “the other”: the overcoming of egoism.
Excentration and Centration
Teilhard articulates this dynamic further, seeing it in the light of cosmic evolution and in its continuation in the human person. In relationships between persons, Teilhard sees the dialog of love coming about through the reciprocating dynamic of “excentration” and “centration”.
“Excentration” occurs when we are able to grow beyond our biases, assumptions and dogmas and become aware of different and better concepts of life: the “aha” moment in which we come to realize this or that presumption which holds us back. Excentration naturally leads to increased transparency, openness and honesty, which are necessary for a deep relationship. Engaging in such a deep relationship, or deepening the relationship that already exists, enhances the beloved and contributes to his own ability to “excentrate”, and thus increases maturity and capacity for love. As his level of person is enhanced and the love returned, the result is an increased level of self-understanding in both persons.
The “excentration” has thus led to a renewed “centration“. Both persons become more complete, more “realized of their potentials” than before. This new plateau of centration increases the potential for further unity, leading to further spirals of excentration and centration. In this way relationships can be understood as a key to personal growth. This growth permits us to deepen our relationships to further mature us.
Not that this dynamic is without cost. The process of “excentration”, traditionally expressed as “loss of one’s self”, “transcendence of egoism”, or even “dying to self” does not come easy. Nothing is as difficult to us as change, and the more deeply rooted the need for change, the more painful the task. In the words of Teilhard:
“Nothing is more beatific than union attained; nothing more laborious than the pursuit of union. In order to unify in ourselves or unite with others, we must change, renounce, give ourselves; and this violence to ourselves partakes of pain.”
Or, as Khalil Gibran asserts:
“The pain that you feel is the breaking of the shell which encloses your understanding”.
‘Differentiation in Union’
Teilhard goes on to further articulate this process of human unification under the energy of love. Again, against popular perspective, Teilhard sees the centration of the person effected by the energy of love as leading to ‘differentiation’. Individuals do not become more like those they love when they become centrated, they become more themselves. He sees it as the latest manifestation of the universal characteristic of evolution: “True union differentiates”:
“In any domain-whether it be the cells of a body, the members of a society or the elements of a spiritual synthesis – union differentiates. In every organized whole, the parts perfect themselves and fulfil themselves.”
“(as they evolve) the grains of consciousness do not tend to lose their outlines and blend, but, on the contrary, they accentuate the depth and incommunicability of their egos. The more ‘other’ they become in conjunction, the more they find themselves as ‘self’ “.
Teihard thus stresses that the self is not lost in this process; it is enhanced:
“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfil them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves. At what moment do lovers come into the most complete possession of themselves if not when they say they are lost in each other?”
Therefore, the true, underlying, core nature of the human person is the latest manifestation of the long rise of consciousness as it continues to follow the thread of complexity through ongoing cosmic evolution. The thread of complexity which manifested itself as rising through life, awareness, and consciousness now continues through maturity of the human person.
Teilhard captures this law of complexity-consciousness, applicable at every rung of evolution, as:
“Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.
So, now, as seen in the vision of Teilhard, the place of the human person in the unfolding of the cosmos can be properly understood as:
the latest manifestation
of the ongoing play of entities
of increasing complexity
united by forces
which increase their complexity
through their unification.
This same vantage point now permits us to understand love as the latest manifestation of these forces.
The Next Post
Having seen how the energy of love unites human persons by increasing their complexity by fulfilling their potential, the next post will continue from this perspective to understanding the role of the energy of love in the ongoing ‘becoming’ of the universe.