The Function of Reason
Jean Gebser’s taxonomy of civilisations as being realisations or expressions of different “structures of consciousness” is a very fruitful way of approaching human history. Gebser identified four main types or species of such consciousness structures which he called archaic, magical, mythological, and the mental-rational. He also anticipated, and provided evidence for, the contemporary emergence of a new fifth structure, appropriate to the new Global Era, which he called “the integral consciousness”.
These consciousness structures (or architectures) must not be thought of in terms of “stages” or evolutionary successions or “progressions”. It is merely an affectation and bias of the Modern structure of consciousness — the mental-rational with its own characteristic linear time-sense — to think in terms of sequential, evolutionary, developmental stages, advancements, or progressions. In the Planetary Era presently emerging, the evident co-existence of this multiplicity, of these various “species of consciousness,” (as Seth uses) is a fact. To speak of a “clash of civilisations” or contest of historical traditions as a unique problem of the new era is superficial, fallacious, and ignorant. This “clash” is an unnecessary conflict between consciousness architectures or species of consciousness which rightfully form an ecology of consciousness. In the Planetary Era, all “eras” or “times”, considered in terms of consciousness structures, now exist simultaneously. Only in that sense is it permissible at all to speak of an “end of history”.
That consciousness has an architecture or structure (an orderliness, organisation, or logic of its own) is made apparent in the different cultural patterns which are that structure’s expression of its implicit potentialities and possibilities, which manifest in artifacts such as language/grammar, music, dance, art, social organisation, religion, etc,, which are the “concretion” or “presentiation” (to employ Gebser’s terms) of its specific energies, and which reveal its mode of experience and self-understanding within the framework of space and time. Anyone who has, for example, attempted to learn another language (especially an ancient language or a non-Western language if a Westerner) will have noted that the grammatical distribution of spaces and times, in the arrangement of the grammatical persons and tenses, can seem radically different from what is considered, from a certain perspective, logic and “common sense”.
When speaking of a specific “structure of consciousness”, too, the biological cannot be overlooked. Gebser does not touch on this so much, but such consciousness structures have biological correlates. The principle physical systems — the metabolic, the respiratory, the circulatory, the nervous system — are correlated with the consciousness structures named by Gebser, and in some ways the architecture of any consciousness expresses a dominance or exaggeration of one of these biological systems. Consciousness, for example, has not always been identified with the brain and the central nervous system, as the Modern mental-rational structure merely assumes. Other cultures, past and present, have located the “seat of the soul” in surprisingly different areas of the body, and depending upon where this “seat of the soul” was identified — the limbs, the blood, the heart, the breath — you have animism or vitalism, etc. The four biological systems, and the transmigration of the psyche or soul through them, correspond to Blake’s “four Zoas” of the disintegrate Albion or Adam and are equally the four nafs or animal souls of Sufism and Rumi’s poetry,
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.
These nafs or animal souls correspond to the four Zoas (“beasts”) named by Blake — Urthona, Luvah, Urizen, Tharmas in their segregated state, the mad god Urizen being the now dominant Zoa of the Modern Age who represents the mental-rational function and is identified with Jehovah. The various migrations of the soul through the physical frame was observed in Bruno Snell’s brilliant book The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought. These migrations may correspond to the classical “four ages” of man — the decline, as the Greeks saw it, from the Golden, to the Silver, to the Bronze, to the Iron Age, and which correspond to the four Yugas or Ages of Hinduism. Blake associated his Urizen with “iron” also, and in the Hindu Yuga cycle, we are presently in the final stage of the cycle — the “Kali Yuga” or Dark Age; a very nihilistic age.
So, Gebser’s four structures of consciousness are implicit or latent in the human frame and have biological correlates in the four systems — metabolic, circulatory, respiratory, nervous — which are associated with the four classical archetypal elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire respectively.
Pay particular and close attention whenever you come across patterns of “four”. It may signify nothing or it may be something connected with the integral consciousness structure. I have already raised, for example, the possible significance of the new four-term logic proposed by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy as being integralist or holistic, as represented by his “cross of reality” of time-space, where the vertical axis represents inwards and outwards of spaces, and the horizontal axis represents backwards and forwards of times.
The mandala formed by this “cross of reality” is actually a new model of consciousness which could be called “the integral consciousness”, as it bears comparison with Buddhist-type mandalas, as below.
For Gebser, any consciousness structure has both an effective or efficient mode and a defective or deficient mode of functioning. We would call the latter an era’s “decadence”. Gebser asserts that the mental-rational consciousness structure in formation for the last 500 years of the “modern” period has now entered its deficient or defective mode of functioning. Any “deficient” mode of functioning of the mental-rational structure would be the demented or the deranged, resembling the function of Blake’s mad Zoa Urizen. Gebser makes a distinction between reason and rationality, the latter which he sees as a lower order or reduced mode of functioning of the former, as well as a “lop-sided” or over-specialised development of the mental-rational function to the neglect of the other ways of knowing and potentialities of consciousness.
Consequently, Gebser sees the mental-rational consciousness as being now in the throes of disintegration and the mental-rational civilisation “headed for a fall”. Homeostasis would be the four consciousness structures functioning integrally and holistically, preserving the whole, and homeostasis describes that integral functioning, as an ecological whole, of the four main systems of the body — metabolic, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous. This is the true “ratio” or proportionateness of the “rational”. It is notable that “loss of homeostasis” has become the current medical definition of death, where the body’s biological systems do not function integrally. This “loss of homeostasis” also describes the condition of Blake’s Albion having become a battlefield in which the four Zoas contend with each other for dominance. Thus Gebser’s “integral consciousness”, which is also Blake’s Albion restored to unity, is intimately connected with the homeostatic functioning of the body’s energies.
Homeostasis is just another word for “integral”.