Creativity: The Roots of Consciousness

“Our global economy, reckless in its use of all resources and natural systems, shows many of the indicators of potential failure that brought down so many civilisations before ours.” — Jeremy Grentham, quoted in The Guardian.

“Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else”.  —  Seth, from The Unknown Reality

“The cistern contains; the fountain overflows” — William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”

These three citations are connected in their essential meaning. The roots of consciousness (or Blake’s “fountain”) are the sources of creativity and inspiration, the “waters of life”. Loss of those roots has the consequences Mr. Grentham and others have foreseen as a fate for the Modern Era — the drying up of the waters of life, of creativity, and inspiration.  This is the situation called “decadence”.

Mr. Grentham is not unique in anticipating the decay of modern civilisation.  A few years ago, Thomas Homer-Dixon made an impact with his book The Ingenuity Gap, suggesting that the modern intellect was no longer capable of mastering the circumstances it had created for itself. Homer-Dixon later followed up his thesis in the Ingenuity Gap with an even more somewhat pessimistic book The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization.

This “ingenuity gap” is, by the way, the same “gap” that exists between the ego consciousness and its roots, in Seth’s terms. It is Blake’s “cistern” that has become stagnant “standing water” because it no longer receives afresh and anew water from the overflowing “fountain”.  “Expect poison from the standing water” is one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell. “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind” is another.  Such is the consequence of confusing ideology with consciousness, which do, in some way, correspond also to the symbols of cistern and fountain.

Economists forecast the end of growth” is the article by Nafeez Ahmed in The Guardian from which I excerpted the Grentham quote. Of course, decades ago the Club of Rome was also forecasting the end of growth and was angrily denounced across the political spectrum, from left to right. Innovation, ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and productivity, it was countered, would continue to overcome limits. Science and technology would continue to find new ways of sustaining growth and “progress”.

But that was the confident faith that Homer-Dixon took issue with in The Ingenuity Gap. And ultimately this is the question Seth places before us — whether, having loss connection with the roots of our being, the sources of creativity (and therefore of growth), have dried up.

For much of the Modern Era, the chief outlets of creativity have been science and technology, technical invention and innovations in production. The flow of creative energy was channeled through and guided by the mental-rational structure of consciousness.  After the Renaissance, the arts — poetry, art, philosophy — really became quite marginal. The pursuit of power became the new imperative, under the banner of Bacon’s formula scientia potens est and in Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. The technological mastery of nature, the mastery of space — this was the chief thing.

It may seem completely contrary to the evidence that the sources of productivity and innovation have suddenly dried up, that inertia has set in; that we are, as someone once said, now merely and mechanically “living off the capital of earlier generations”.  It appears to be not so. We seem to see nothing but creativity, innovation, and invention pouring forth from the “New Economy” of electronic gadgetry.  But if so, it’s a peculiar kind of growth. For as Ahmed’s article, and others, have pointed out, it is not being translated into gains in productivity, economic growth, and employment, which appear, on the contrary, to be contracting.  Neither is it contributing to our ability to master our circumstances, that is, to gains in efficiency, to anticipate problems and overcome them in advance before they become critical.

“Crisis” is, in fact, just another term for the inability of the mental-rational consciousness structure to effectively master its circumstances. This is a question of creativity, and this is the issue of Homer-Dixon’s “ingenuity gap”.

Here, again, a confusion of values. We have not paid much attention to the issue of creativity and to the sources of creativity, of imagination, of inspiration. As a civilisation, we have been focussed merely on the products, the results, the inventions themselves.

Many years ago, even before the advent of the computer, an historian concluded that the chief goal of the Modern Age was to create “a system for inventing systems” — including ideological systems, one supposes.  The ideal is the formula. That seems to me quite accurate. But one should not overlook the implications of that for creativity. Nietzsche didn’t overlook that. “The will to a system is a lack of integrity” was his judgement of the modern ideal. Building castles (or dungeons) in the air was Nietzsche’s take on this will to a system. That is to say, the “system” as such would begin to close us off from the very roots of vitality and creativity itself.

Economism, productivism, scientism, even fundamentalism — all these represent the will to a system, to reduce everything to a formula. They uniformly rest upon a single error and confusion — that production and creation, or productivity and creativity, are the same. They are not the same. They stand in relation to one another as Blake’s cistern to fountain.  And this is precisely and exactly the complaint made by Einstein,

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

So, we return once more to the life and death question that Seth puts before us: “Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else”. And what can an ego consciousness that has lost contact with the sources of creativity, vitality, and identity other than itself a formula, an object, and a dead thing? An “It”?

We already have intimations of what this “something else” is in the symptoms of narcissism and the culture of narcissism.  Andy Warhol had a great phobia that he would awake one morning, look in the mirror, and see nothing there. Others have complained of feeling like machines, like a computer, like an automaton, of merely constantly “going through the motions”.  These are, however, the symptoms of an ego consciousness that has lost contact with its roots, and that has become merely a function in a system, a cog in the wheel.  Narcissism is the symptom of a consciousness now in a disintegrate state.

To repeat, productivity is not creativity. But all our measures of “growth”, “progress”, “performance”, GDP, “health” are mere measures of productivity, or even mere busy-ness. The numbers may keep increasing in volume and magnitude, giving the illusion of “progress”, even as the possibilities for further creativity wither at the root and become exhausted.

Thus decline and decay can easily be masked by appearances seemingly to the contrary. Jean Gebser once noted that “progression is also distantiation”. This statement is exactly equivalent to Seth’s description of an ego consciousness that has lost contact with its roots, and exactly equivalent to Einstein’s warning cited above,

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

That is to say, that has finally cut itself off from the roots of its own creativity, and must necessarily in consequence now go into its final stages of decline and fall. Unless, that is, and as Jean Gebser hopefully put it in The Ever-Present Origin, “some new factor were to emerge that would effectively overcome this menacing correlation.”

It remains an open question.


5 responses to “Creativity: The Roots of Consciousness”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    As usual, just as I posted this it occurred to me to mention an example of how the will to a system can eclipse our true “roots” and the authentic sources of vitality and creativity. The example being neo-Darwinian theories of evolution.

    Not all evolutionary biologists, even, share the premises and assumptions of neo-Darwinism. Most particularly, they object to the elimination of “subjective factors” or “internal factors” as being a deficiency of the theory and a factor in its incompleteness. The “objective” attitude, appropriate for physics but disastrous for biology and living processes, is a serious problem.

    What is eliminated by adopting this inappropriate attitude of physics towards biological processes is the whole subjective realm — desire, creativity, consciousness, even imagination. This is the essence of Rosenstock-Huessy’s complaint in his great essay “Farewell to Descartes” (available online, and I highly recommend it).

    One cannot treat living beings as if they were dead things. Thus, the whole attitude of so-called “life sciences” or the social sciences, insofar as it is derived from physics, is wrong-headed and actually contributes to the decay of our civilisation. One can’t even consider an evolutionary principle like “survival of the fittest” without taking into account the desire to survive.

    The “desire” of the life scientists to appear as “real scientists” by eliminating “subjective values” (desire, consciousness, intent, etc) from their models not only begins to involve them in absurdities and self-contradictions, it also contributes to the very problems that Seth mentions. It’s a first class example, actually, of the problem:

    “Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines.”

    Not even the “private experiences” of the scientists themselves correspond to their models, leading them to actually reject and suppress the truth of their own experience. That’s self-negating cynicism and nihilism. I previously quoted from a statement that illustrates the self-contradictions in the theories and thinking,

    “I suspect that we all — even the most hard-headed materialist — live with an unspoken hypocrisy: even as we assume determinism in our intellectual pursuits and professional lives, we actually experience our subjective lives as though free will reigns supreme. In our heart of hearts, we know that in most ways that really count (and many that don’t), we have plenty of free will, and so do those around us. Inconsistent? Yes, indeed. But like the denial of death, it is a useful inconsistency, and perhaps even one that is essential.” (cited in Beauregard, The Spiritual Brain).

    A fine example, in fact, of Nietzsche’s ‘the will to a system is a lack of integrity’.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Another example, now current in the Canadian media, springs to mind of how the “objective attitude” has become life-threatening, and has resulted in our now being cut off from our roots, the sources of our creativity, vitality and identity. This is the “deficient rationality” of the mental-rational structure of consciousness, as Gebser calls it.

    Recent research has revealed that government scientists during the 40s used aboriginal children as unwitting guinea pigs in nutritional experiments. The story is here,

    This is another example of what I call a “point-of-view, line-of-thought” (POVLOT consciousness) perspectivising consciousness become isolated, segregated, and trapped within its detached “point of view”, and which is no longer identified with life and the sources of life and therefore has lost the capacity for empathy.

    Is this “Nazi science”? Of course it is. But it’s a result of the same problem — an ego consciousness that has lost its life-line to its roots.

    (Also, the parable of Bowie’s song “Major Tom”, who is the ego consciousness)

    That is why I say that one could continue to unpack the Seth quote indefinitely. Its implications are inexhaustible, because it is the fundamental and core problem of our time. Everything else is just symptom, side-effect and blowback effect.

  3. abdul monem says :

    When humanity thinks its the sole source of making its system to run its own affairs ,regardless of the system of the universe, its rule and its messengers, catastrophe is expected. Disconnection from the root is death. History is full with stories of such death. Knowledge is not enough to change course, if there is no faith. In an age of lies and denial, there are no hopeful signs, if there is no reconnection to the root.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “…catastrophe is expected.”

      Indeed it is, Abdulmonem. It is indeed. And I feel it especially acutely this morning. And the only reason I can even endure it is in the knowing that the road to heaven passes through hell.

      “When any movement tends to the extremes it leads away from the center or nucleus toward eventual destruction at the outer limits where the connections to the life-giving center finally are severed. It would seem that today the connections are already broken,….” (Jean Gebser writing in The Ever-Present Origin)

      It’s an old insight, actually — hubris leading to Nemesis. Nemesis being the turning point, after which the Furies descend upon and destroy the transgressor of the limit. It seems that the same riddle of existence has to be reformulated in different languages, generation after generation, century after century, over and over and over again.

      So, are we getting anywhere as a species? Or is it the case, as don Juan told Castaneda, we “are not going anywhere”?

      At what point does “progress” become a disease? Probably at the point where progression becomes an end in itself.

  4. abdul monem says :

    Divine transmissions never stop both in its constructive mode or destructive mode. Transgressors of the limit activate the destructive mode. Those who keep the limit activate the constructive mode. The game is so constructed, heaven path is through hell and those who respect the limit have to endure, knowing that life is not a picnic but strife. One day happy ,one day sad, the path is cyclical ,and linearity is not the path of the universe , that is why we have to be very careful not to apply the human logic on god. God logic is illogical as far as the human is concerned, and that is the dilemma of the faithless.

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