In his Geography of Consciousness (1974; pp 117-9), William Arkle describes eight levels of consciousness spanning the physical and ideal worlds - at the lowest end is Man as almost unconscious: passive, instinctive and immersed in the social group; at the highest level, Man's consciousness has become that of a god: free, agent, autonomous, participating in the work of creation.
But as probably only one or a very few have ever attained Higher Man stage (Saint John the Evangelist, may be an example); it is stages 1-7 which we need to consider...
4. Sophisticated cynical - the Dead-Centre
1. Lower man
And in particular I wish to focus on the sophisticated cynic of stage 4 - which is the typical and defining stage of Modern Western Man - or, at least, the intellectual and institutional leadership class of Modern Western Man.
To paraphrase Arkle; the sophisticated cynic is at the Dead-Centre of the evolutionary scheme - poised, suspended, trapped between lower and higher consciousness. This is a state of wide awareness of options and possibilities; made possible by increased knowledge and learning - but experienced as a pervasive relativism.
Everything is known, but nothing known with confidence - all is suspect; one option is balanced and cancelled-out by the others. Movement upward, or downward, immediately leads to loss of confidence and a tendency to return to the Dead-Centre.
And the centre is 'dead' because there is a state of demotivation. The longer a period of time that is spent in the dead centre; the harder it gets to escape. The modern sophisticated cynic may yearn either to become a higher man, to live by pure ideals and non-material values; or (perhaps more often) he yearns to discard sophistication and cynicism and simply lapse back into passivity, instinct, spontaneity and unreflectiveness - to become natural...
But both are equally impossible. His materialism and hedonism reduces and deconstructs all higher values - while he 'knows better' than the natural, spontaneous, instinctive Man - and he finds he just cannot forget or discard his sophistication, science, philosophy, ideology... They come back, again and again, to haunt him.
The sophisticated cynic is therefore pulled in both directions; and also repelled by both directions. The sophisticated cynic is the permanent adolescent - too mature to be a child, too immature to be an adult; too bored by both immaturity and maturity, seeing-through the innocence of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood. He is cut-off from the basic satisfactions of simply getting-by in practical, material life; and also from the spiritual satisfactions of living for ideals located outwith mortal life and human limitation.
As the sophisticated cynic remains trapped by his own pre-conceptions; he may create vast belief-structures of ideology... but although initially promising, these invariably always lead-back (sooner or later) to where he began-from.(All apparent escape tunnels turn-out to be loops.)
The sophisticated cynic knows that the world of communications - of nature, of other people, of his own evanescent thoughts - are doubtful and unreliable: he has often experienced this unreliability. This insight itself implies that some other and solid form of knowing exists (with which communication is implicitly being contrasted); but when it comes to any specific knowledge, the sophisticated cynic remains unsure: he lives in an atomsphere of doubt... Yet at the same time, he doubts his own doubts, suspects there is 'more to life', and cannot embrace a fully nihilistic skepticism.
Thus the sophisticated cynic is trapped in the Dead Centre of consciousness.
The phase is a necessary point through-which Men must pass if they are to attain the autonomy required by higher consciousness; but if the lessons are to be learned, then the phase must feel real - must indeed be real - at the time it is being experienced. There must to be a pause in progression - and this pause may become prolonged and arrested into stasis.
(The ship must slow to a standstill, and actually stop - but once forward-momentum has been lost, the ship may become becalmed; at which point momentum and friction prevent it from moving again.)
Although many people do get stuck; some do escape - and in the right direction. What gets people out from the perpetual adolescence of sophisticated cynicism?
William Arkle then goes on to discuss the stages of consciousness beyond the sophisticated cynic and leading towards the Higher Man - who thinks in the divine mode, and who is the product of spiritual progression or theosis.
The idealist is the first step beyond the sophisticated cynic. He is motivated by 'ideas'; that is, by a theoretical understanding: specifically a set of metaphysical assumptions that acknowledge the possibility of a higher (and superior) mode of consciousness - above and beyond this-worldly materialism and emotions.
The poetic thinker adds imagination; that is, he 'pictures' or 'images' aspects of higher experience - not necessarily visually, but as an inner-generated perception of some kind. Thus the 'poet' has personal experience of higher things; not direct experience, but self-generated creative experience. More exactly, the poet has imagined the universal world of reality.
(The previous idealistic stage is necessary for the poet to regard his imaginations as real and significant - because if he is a metaphysical materialist, then he will not take-seriously his own imaginations.)
The mystic has experienced actual, direct-contact with the underlying divine and universal reality; he has experienced the universal world of truth, virtue and beauty.
(The previous stages of idealism and imagination are necessary so that the mystic may recognise and acknowledge the reality of that divine world.)
The mystic has (merely) experienced the underlying divine and universal reality - but the higher man creatively-participates in this world - beyond experiencing he actively sustains, reshapes and adds-to that created-reality - in line with God's primary creation. This is a divine form of participation; hence the higher man has become a co-creator and collaborator in God's great work of creation.