Evidence of a pattern in our collective evolution toward a global consciousness is seen in a thread running throughout the field of psychology. Wilhelm Wundt, founder of experimental psychology and pioneer in social psychology, outlined in his 1912 book, Elements of Folk Psychology, the four stages of the cultural, social, religious, and psychological development of mankind from Primitive Man, the childhood of humanity’s evolution, to The Totemic Age, the era of the symbolic world, to The Heroic Age, when community concerns give way to national concerns, to The Development to Humanity, when national affiliations give way to world-wide humanistic concerns.
For Wundt, “humanity” is a value-attribute referring to ethical characteristics that transcend “the limits of all more restricted associations, such as family, tribe, or State,” and in which the individual’s “appreciation of human worth shall have become a universal norm.” This evolution does not “entail the disappearance of previous conditions,” but “humanitarian culture takes…firmer root.”
Wundt outlined four steps leading toward world consciousness. The first, the rise of world empires, “involves the conscious idea of a unity embracing the whole of mankind.” The second step, world culture, results in an interest in humanity as a whole. In the third step, world religion, “we find religions that lay claim to being universal” in which national traits become secondary to universal characteristics. Finally, world culture and world religion form the basis for the fourth step leading to a global consciousness, or world history, in which there is “the historic consciousness of…the idea of mankind as a unity.” These four steps represent humanity’s conscious evolution toward the recognition of its own unity, or oneness.
It is quite remarkable how well Wundt’s stages and steps fit our actual experience. While there are still strong inclinations in certain places to hold firmly to national concerns, we can also recognize very pronounced leanings toward seeing humanity as a whole. This became evident just a few years after Wundt wrote about his stages, with the inception of the League of Nations, and was undeniable by the end of the Second World War, when the United Nations came into being, though there remained pockets resisting this shift.
C.G. Jung, who could be seen as a spiritual or psychological descendent of Wilhelm Wundt, came soon after with his concept of the collective unconscious, which he said contains the whole spiritual heritage of humanity’s evolution born anew in the mind of every individual. Thus, a pre-existent, inherited psychic system consisting of human universals move upward from an inner core of unconscious energy, through human ancestors to ethnic groups to national groups, and from tribe to family, and finally to the individual human psyche at the most conscious level.
Interestingly, both Wundt and Jung talk about the same goal, the psychic unity of mankind, yet have opposite ways of achieving it. Wundt sees it as an external, social process, Jung an internal, personal process. Merging what each is saying, they describe two different but essential parts to the same process. We are both born with the awareness of our oneness, and we gradually move toward a consciousness of this through the stages of our personal and collective evolution. Each type of awareness recognizes that inherent unity (collective unconscious) and intended unity (social consciousness) are both essential in achieving the goal of our collective evolution.
Following this thread in psychology through the 20thcentury, Erik Erikson’s core concept of identity offers another perspective on the evolution of consciousness. Building his original theory of life cycle development around the task of identity formation in adolescence, he later moved from the personal sphere to the social sphere when he spoke about “man’s wider, more inclusive identity.” Erikson says mankind’s task now is to move beyond an identity built upon exclusivity and superiority, representative of its collective adolescence, to one more fitting of its approaching maturity, by creating “a new and all-human identity.”
This thread running throughout psychology indicates that the evolution of consciousness is purposeful, directional, and progressive. This progression in social psychology also brings about a progression in moral psychology, that of expanding and widening the scope and reach of the Golden Rule from the personal to the collective level, leading ultimately to a unified system of global justice.