Lately I’ve found myself drawn repeatedly to Matthew Arnold’s famous poem “Dover Beach“, which is one of the great poems of English literature. It is difficult for me to read this poem, because it is full of the despair of existence, and it anticipates Nietzsche’s announcement of the death of God by two decades, at least. In that sense, it expresses something quintessential about the modern mood, which is already traceable in the earlier poetry of John Donne (1572 – 1631) and William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) – the eclipse of the soul; the looming dark night of the soul. The death of God was already anticipated by Donne much earlier, in his great poem “An Anatomy of the World“.
“Dover Beach”, it seems to me, stands somewhere between Donne’s “Anatomy of the World” and Nietzsche’s final pronouncement of the “death of God”. It expresses the world as the realisation of “Single Vision & Newtons sleep” as William Blake anticipated with dread and horror — the Kali Yuga.
We are reminded by historians now and then that the breakdown and collapse of empires and civilisations is often due to something they call “overreach”. In a sense, the reach of empire exceeds the grasp, or “pride goeth before a fall”.
In effect, “overreach” is just another term for what the ancient Greeks called “hybris”, and what others called “sin” or “transgression”. Hybris was inevitably followed by Nemesis. “Nemesis” is what I’ve often referred to here by other names as “revenge effect”, “perverse outcome”, “unintended consequence”, “reversal of fortune” or “ironic reversal”. It is, of course, connected with the meaning of enantiodromia — the tendency of all action to negate or contradict itself at the extremity or limit. Enantiodromia is the result because coincidentia oppositorum is the rule, not the exception. And all these — hybris, nemesis, enantiodromia, coincidentia oppositorum — are aspects of the karmic law of action and reaction.
In the broadest terms, our era is being referred to as “the sixth extinction event”, or the Holocene extinction. It also happens to correspond to what some are calling the Anthropocene Era in recognition of the significant impact of the human species and its activities on the Earth System. That influence was again highlighted recently by a report of the Stockholm Resilience Centre suggesting that this present, existing Earth had entered a danger zone (“Climate change, extinctions signal Earth in danger zone — study“, Reuters).
I don’t know if anyone has noted the odd polarity that exists in the cultural representations of the monstrous. I suppose we might call those representations “memes”. On the one hand, you have the zombie, which is mindless. On the other, you have the Artificial Intelligence, which is hyper-rationality. These memes seem to me somewhat unique to the mental-rational structure of consciousness, as being its boundary conditions. What it means to be “human” is conceived as somewhere between the zombie and the machine; or, between the completely non-rational and the hyper-rational. What is the meaning of these extremes? What do they represent for our self-understanding?
This world of Time and Death, which we call the secular order, is the dark side. It is the domain of the hungry ghosts, and we are those hungry ghosts in both life and death. We are the depraved ones. That is the meaning of samsara and of samsaric existence. We must be clear on this before we can even hope to understand the first Noble Truth of Buddhism — life is dukkha — let alone hope for emancipation from samsaric existence. That is to say, what the Church calls mysterium iniquitatis — the mystery of iniquity — is samsaric existence. Samsara and the mysterium iniquitatis are the same.
Bear in mind, too, that “samsara” has the meaning of “wandering” — the lost — and thus with the fuller meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
In the last couple of posts I neglected also to mention that Dana Zohar’s The Quantum Self, and her follow up book The Quantum Society, also point to the Daemon as emergent consciousness structure. I regret that I have only skimmed these books so I can’t really comment on them as yet, but only to point out the new efforts to revision mind and society in terms of the cosmos described by quantum physics. There isn’t as yet a “quantum psychology” (or a “quantum biology“) except what is being described as a “proto-science”.
In this post, though, I want to take a stab at it in connection with the meaning of “the Daemon” and time. I see that the December edition of Scientific American has a “special collector’s edition” devoted to time called “A Matter of Time: It begins, it ends, it’s real, it’s an illusion. It’s the ultimate paradox.” The title alone summarises our present confusion about time, particularly as being “the ultimate paradox”.
Last evening, around supper time, I went into my meditation. I went very, very deep. Deeper than I had ever gone before. When I came out of meditation I was quite disoriented. I simply wasn’t there. The physical world seemed drab and dreary. I had to re-construct myself like a jigsaw puzzle. It was tedious and fatiguing work, so I went to bed. I slept for almost 16 hours! As far as I recall, I have never in my life slept that long.
But what a trip! I’m not even going to try and narrate what strange, disturbing dreams I had during that time, because if you suspect I might be crazy now, you would certainly do so afterwards. I’m hoping that these dreams are just dreams, and not rehearsals or anticipations of things to come — the apocalyptic “global catastrophe” that Jean Gebser anticipates as co-incident with the “irruption” of the new consciousness structure — the integral consciousness. I’ve taken to calling that integral consciousness structure “the Daemon” after the historian William Irwin Thompson.