The Sociologist, the Philosopher, and the Mystic: Pitrim Sorokin, Jean Gebser, and Harold Waldwin Percival
Over the last few posts, I’ve been attempting to demonstrate how what we call “the transcendent” is actually present, here-and-now, within what is called “the secular”, but in a distorted and perverse way. The term Jean Gebser uses for this is “latency”, and the revelation, manifestation, or disclosure of the transcendent to immediate and direct perception he calls its “transparency” or “diaphaneity“.
Why we don’t perceive it is owing to something called “veil of Maya” or “Cloud of Unknowing,” or “the Dreaming,” but which I have more generally called the human condition of narcissism. Casting aside the veil, dispelling the cloud, awakening from the Dream is overcoming narcissism, is self-realisation, and is the issue of William Blake’s lines quoted earlier about cleansing “the doors of perception”,
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern
This “Here-And-Now” of the transcendent is the true root and source of the world, and for that reason was named by Jean Gebser, “the ever-present origin.” To Blake’s clarified and direct intuitive perception, it appeared as “Heaven in a Wild Flower” and “Eternity within the hour.” In fact, it is only called “transcendent” at all because human beings have sunk so deeply into the narcissistic fantasy and condition that what is present, here-and-now, is even considered “the other-worldly” or “Beyond.”
But it is, in fact, not “transcendent” at all. It is the real. It is what we call “the secular” or sensory world that is truly the “other-worldly”, for it exists as the shadow or image of the real. And when it is perceived that what is called “the transcendent” is, in fact, the immanent and the source, then the secular or sensate world is perceived, in fact, as being a metaphor or translation, and perhaps the most remote realisation of the transcendent.
This is implied, equally, in the ultimate conclusion of Buddhism: “nirvana and samsara are the same,” which is also the issue of William Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. But this wedding ceremony actually only occurs when the doors of perception are clarified. The immanence of the “transcendent” within the present is also the meaning of Jesus’ statement that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” or “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you” and “the body is the temple of the living God”. And you find very similar teachings amongst the great Sufi poets.
Now, let’s also see how this “translation” of the transcendental into the secular occurs in the works of the former Harvard sociologist Pitrim Sorokin and the former theosophist Harold Waldwin Percival.
I mentioned that I have been reading Sorokin’s The Crisis of Our Age, and that there are very strong correspondences between Sorokin’s work and that of Jean Gebser. Despite those strong correspondences and insights, I do think Sorokin has fallen somewhat short of Gebser’s understanding for that fact that he didn’t make the leap from the third to the fourth. The fourth is the dimension of “time” in which 4 becomes the new cosmic number. The addition of a new dimension — time — to the 3 dimensions of space is the issue of what Jean Gebser refers to as “the essential restructuration” of consciousness in our Age and provides the impetus, and necessity, for “the new integration”.
Einstein doesn’t even come in for a mention in Sorokin’s book, and so Picasso mystifies him even though he senses something important about Picasso. Gebser, on the other hand, perceived clearly what was important about Picasso and his relationship to Einstein and the realisation of the fourth dimension. Picasso was attempting to represent time, and make time visible and concrete.
In Blake’s terms, then, we could say that Sorokin represents the realisation of the “threefold vision,” and Jean Gebser, the “fourfold vision.”
Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And three fold in soft Beulahs night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newtons sleep. (“Letter to Thomas Butts”)
I’ll have occasion to comment on the meaning of Blake’s illustration of the fourfold vision later. Here I want to comment specifically on the relationship between Sorokin’s sociology and the vision of another eminent perceiver or seer, Harold Waldwin Percival, author of the book Thinking and Destiny. This comparison may help illustrate how what is called “the transcendent” is continuously manifested within and even as “the secular” and is, in fact, its shaper and formative power. This relationship between the “transcendent” and the “secular” is, in fact, what Seth refers to as Framework 2 and Framework 1, respectively.
Dr. Sorokin has a tripartite sociology of civilisations which he names “sensate”, “idealistic,” and “ideational,” and he discovers these types realised or articulated at various times in human history. Percival, “coincidentally,” has a tripartite or Trinitarian view of the complete “soul” as comprised of what he calls “Knower portion”, “Thinker portion,” and “Doer portion.” These do, in some ways, correspond to the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
These are representations of the three aspects or facets of the soul, considered as an integral whole. They correspond to the Knower, Thinker, and Doer portions of Percival. Nonetheless, one is typically more active or dominant at times than the others, and this results in the civilisational types described by Sorokin in terms of Ideational, Idealistic, or Sensate, correspondingly.
What is of interest here is the modes of knowing or modes of truth realisation associated with each civilisational type and how these reflect the “soul’s” efforts at self-realisation, self-actualisation, self-manifestation, or “epiphanisation.” For these do correspond to Sorokin’s (and ultimately, too, Jean Gebser’s) civilisational types, and these modes correspond to the intuitive, the rational, and the sensory.
In this context, then, we read in Sorokin as follows (from page 112 onwards):
“…. all three systems — the sensory, the rational, and the intuitional — are sources of valid cognition; that each of them, when adequately used, gives us knowledge of one of the important aspects of true reality; and that none of them, accordingly, is wholly false. On the other hand, each taken separately, not supplemented by the others, may prove misleading.”
Now this interesting passage, which follows an extended discussion of the characteristics of the three civilisational types, approaches the integralist ideal, Gebser’s own philosophy of integral consciousness and “the new integration” presently in process of realisation or “irruption”, as he terms it. In fact, Sorokin follows up this observation as follows,
“…[T]he position of intuition is in no way worse than that of sensation or dialecticism. None of them in itself, as has been said, can embrace the whole of truth. In the three-dimensional aspect of faith, reason, and sensation, integral truth is nearer to absolute truth than that furnished by any one of these three forms. Likewise, the integral three-dimensional truth, with its sources of intuition, reason, and the senses, is a closer approach to the infinite metalogical reality of the coincidentia oppositorum of Saint Augustine, Erigena, and Nicholas of Cusa than the purely sensory, rational, or intuitional reality disclosed by any single system. The empirico-sensory aspect is supplied by the senses; the rational aspect, by the reason; the superrational aspect, by faith. Each of these systems, when isolated from the rest, becomes less valid and more fallacious, even within the specific field of its own competence. The sense organs, when not controlled by reason or intuition, can furnish only a choatic mass of sensations, impressions, and perceptions. They are incapable of supplying any integrated knowledge — anything except disorderly bits of pseudo-observation and pseudo-impressions. At best they yield merely an agglomeration of ‘facts,’ devoid of coherence, relevance, or intelligibility. Deprived of the cooperation of reason and intuition, the sense organs are definitely limited instrumentalities, even in the apprehension of the sensory aspects of reality.”
This is quite an interesting passage — one of many — in which Sorokin bears witness, as it were, to the immanence of the transcendental within the secular and as the secular. His is an accomplished “threefold vision,” and the accomplishment here is how Sorokin brings the “transcendentalism” of someone like Harold Waldwin Percival into direct relationship with actual history, so that history is seen as the story of the unfolding, really, of our innermost selves — our own autobiography. This is the exercise in Gebser’s “transparency of the world” or “diaphaneity”.
What Sorokin has omitted — the fourth or even the fifth or “quintessence” — will be addressed later. But this brief discussion might serve to emphasise why the “new integration” of Sorokin and Gebser is actually the process of self-realisation or self-actualisation. Hitherto, the “soul” has existed in a disintegrate state, as the overspecialisation or over-activity of one facet only. In our time, it is the sensate or “Doer” portion that has suppressed or eclipsed the thinker and knower aspects (as well as the fourth). This is reflected in Blake’s mythology of the conflict of the “Four Zoas” who, in their disintegrate state, are fragments of the fallen human who became shattered “on the stems of vegetation”, as he cryptically put it.
What is important to realise in this is the falsity of dualism and dichotomising rationality, that the separation of the transcendental and the immanent, of what is called “spirit and matter”, of mind and body, is false consciousness. Being is not divided against itself in this way. Such dualism is delusive and serves only to exacerbate the disintegrate state of the human soul and self. This disintegrate state, now becoming acute, is the essential nihilism of our time.