I was reflecting lately on the observation, which has been made here recently, that if we are entering into a new “integral” era — a new mutation of the structure of consciousness as Jean Gebser suggests — there seems to be little social evidence for it in everyday life, outside “specialist” circles such as the biological and physical sciences, or in literature.
I think the case can be made that it is also happening, autonomously and spontaneously, in general culture.
Yesterday, I revisited Jean Gebsers opus, The Ever-Present Origin, while looking up another passage but fell upon this one. It’s worth remarking upon.
“…no truly decisive process, that is to say, something besides a tentative and arbitrary occurrence with its provisionalities and recurrences, is a continuum. A true process always occurs in quanta, that is, in leaps; or, expressed in quasi-biological and not physical terms, in mutations. It occurs spontaneously, indeterminately, and, consequently, discontinuously. Moreover, we become aware of such presumably invisible processes only when they have reached sufficient strength to manifest themselves on the basis of their cumulative momentum (a limitation we must observe when applying this concept to psychic events). The apparent continuity is no more than a sequence subsequently superimposed onto overlapping events to lend them the reassuring appearance of a logically determinate progression.” (p. 37, “The Four Mutations of Consciousness”).
This passage is significant if for no other reason than that long before there was something we now call “Chaos Theory” (c. 1960), Gebser was already thinking in those terms. No process is a continuum — that is to say, no real process follows a linear, sequential (syllogistic) logic. That logic is something that the mind adds to the reality. For Gebser, rather, real process or action occurs non-linearly, and is characterised by spontaneity, indeterminism, and discontinuities or anomalies — in discrete quanta or “leaps”.
Many scientists do complain that standard public school textbooks and curricula actually misrepresent the history and process of science (and reason, too), and leave the false impression that the history of science has followed a rigorously direct, linear progressive model, while ignoring the follies, the bungling, the dead-ends, the errors, the sudden unexpected anomalies and discontinuities that became suggestive of new lines of inquiry. The textbooks actually portray science as being a nearly faultless machine pursuing a sure path that is constantly, confidently, routinely and mechanically adding, and adding, and adding to the cumulative body of knowledge. One of the very great books of the last century, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) demonstrated that this is not the case, and that the actual history of science has been misrepresented and misunderstood. Science progresses through surprising discontinuities, spontaneities or “anomalies” that were completely unforeseen, very much in the way Gebser describes also — as “irruptions” (the anomalous instance or event). Kuhn’s book profoundly changed the way scientists and historians of science thought about the actual activity of science.
Gebser’s use of the term “irruption” my tempt us into thinking that the emergence of the new integral structure of consciousness is a one time or a once-and-for-all event. But given the passage cited above, it’s more correct to think of this in the plural — as “irruptions”: up-wellings of the new consciousness structure from the depths which endure for a spell then die down or fall back, as if the new consciousness was simply testing the water or testing itself, then taking stock of its experience in repose before spontaneously irrupting and testing itself again under different circumstances. This is the “quanta” or discontinuous nature of the irruption that Gebser wants to highlight. This is, I think, how Gebser sees the emergence of the integral consciousness, and not as “a logically determinate progression”.
When one appreciates how the new structure proceeds, not in this logical, sequential, syllogistic fashion but in terms of “quanta”, then it is actually clearer. One could appreciate how some social events (say, the sixties) constitute such a discrete quantum which arises, tests the waters, persists for a time, but then falls back into repose once more to marshall its resources for another experimental energetic “leap”. We tend to call these events “breakthroughs” with good reason, or experience them as “inspirations”. Gebser refers to this in terms of “intensities” — a sudden intensification of consciousness or of our social energies.
But it can also be destructive (which is the significance of Rumi’s poem “Green Ears” and of Nietzsche’s meaning of “positive nihilism” or of the word “apocalyse” also). To the other features that Gebser ascribes to the integral consciousness — atemporal, arational, aperspectival — you will have to add amoral and asocial, too. Any legacy consciousness structure inherited from the past will invariably interpret the new consciousness structure in criminal terms. And in those terms, it is “criminal”. Essentially, though, amoral or asocial are attributes of Nietzsche’s own “transhuman”, or of what Rudolf Steiner also called “ethical individualism“. Amoral and asocial might sound negative or nihilistic (although these do not mean immoral or anti-social), but the fact is, the consciousness structure does not take its orders from the ego structure.
“Many actions which seem cruel
are from a deep friendship.
Many demolitions are actually renovations” — Rumi
And it does seem to me that many cases of mental illness today are owing to the attempt of the ego (or society) to inhibit or suppress the more spontaneous and energetic “irruptions” of the new consciousness structure, both individually and socially. The terms sometimes used to describe that are kind of revealing in themselves: “up-tight” or “anal retentive”.
However, “the spice must flow”.
Like Nietzsche, I’m not a big fan of those who preach “moral inhibitions” as the only source of social order, who seem to be egotists themselves afraid of their own souls. Someone who teaches the doctrine of inhibitions teaches a doctrine of fear and weakness, really. Obviously, they must themselves sense their own inner self as being something evil, and therefore to be resisted. This was Nietzsche’s objection to moralism (it was also Jesus’ — “resist not evil”). The inner self is not evil. It is the inhibitions that pervert it’s expression. The ego’s purpose, really, is not to inhibit but to guide and sublimate. The difference is as that between the destructive and the creative.
“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about” — Rumi
There are a number of other passages from Rumi that speak to this — even to the meaning of Gebser’s “irruption”.
“This being human is a guest house. Ever a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”
Learn the alchemy True Human Beings know:
the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given
the door opens.
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade.
Joke with torment brought by the Friend.”
And on the superiority of sublimation over inhibition (and in some sense, “transformation” is sublimation),
“The rooster of lust, the peacock of wanting
to be famous, the crow of ownership, and the duck
of urgency, kill them and revive them
in another form, changed and harmless.”