An Evolutionary Vision A Personal Statement by George Leonard and Michael Murphy Involution-evolution
Henry James Sr., father of William and Henry James, also viewed the world as an unfoldment of God. For him, the inorganic, animal, and human realms press to manifest the divinity that is latent in them. “Whatsoever creates a thing,” he wrote, “gives it being, involves the thing. The Creator involves the creature; the creature evolves the Creator.”
Some fifty years later, the Indian mystic and philosopher Sri Aurobindo articulated a vision of involution-evolution that resembles that of Schelling, Hegel, and James. In his philosophical work, The Life Divine, he wrote: “If it be true that Spirit is involved in Matter and apparent Nature is secret God, then the realization of God within and without is the highest and most legitimate aim possible to man upon earth.”
In the twentieth century, a similar worldview was beautifully articulated by Henri Bergson, the Nobel prize-winning author, who saw the world’s great mystics as pioneers of our human advance. And in recent years, the American philosopher Ken Wilber has integrated this perspective with the discoveries of dynamic psychiatry, developmental psychology, general systems theory, transpersonal psychology, contemporary anthropology, and other fields of inquiry.
Though their visions have differed in various ways, these thinkers regard “apparent Nature” to be “secret God,” and see divinity emerging more fully through the uneven but inexorable evolution of the universe. They have “temporalized the great chain of being,” to use historian Arthur Lovejoy’s phrase, conceiving the world’s hierarchy of inorganic, animal, and human forms “not as the inventory but as the program of nature.”
Until notions of progress and the fact of evolution became prominent in the West, visions of human betterment were usually embedded in worldviews that regarded the world to be a static or cyclical existence to which time adds nothing new. In Lovejoy’s words, the conception of the Chain of Being (the hierarchy of the manifest world, including matter, life, and humankind) was in accord with the Solomonic dictum that there is not—and never will be—anything new under the sun.
But human visions change. Hegel, the elder James, and Aurobindo represent an historic shift of perspective by many thinkers from the view that the world is static to a belief that it is moving, however haphazardly, toward higher levels of existence. According to these philosophers, our growth as individuals is inextricably linked with the world’s growth. Spirit progressively manifests through us and the world’s evolution. By the unfoldment of our latent capacities, we and the world share the ongoing manifestation of the divinity latent in nature.