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.

Cross of Reality C

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”.




10 responses to “The Function of Reason”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I just now came across a passage from one of Carl Jung’s seminars on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra that is remarkably pertinent to the post above:

    “When the tantric initiant enters the center of the mandala through the four gates of the functions, it is understood that he approaches the god, which in the philosophy of the Upanishads would be the super-personal Absolute Atman. In other words, the initiant brings the personal Atman [self] back to its divine source, the super-personal Atman. In the end, when he has entered through the four gates and has reached the center, then the climax of the contemplation would be the complete identity of the initiant with the god — if he is a man, with the Shiva, and if a woman, with the Shakti, the female aspect of the god.”

    The “four gates” are here also called “the functions”. These “functions” are the aspects of the psychic whole — thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition — in Jung’s terms. These are the “four gates”, and they correspond also to Blake’s Four Zoas, too. To “enter the center of the mandala through the four gates of the functions” is another way of saying “integral consciousness”.

    This brings to mind the legend of the Buddha’s enlightenment, for it is said that upon his enlightenment, he was visited the the Guardians of the Four Directions (North, South, East, and West) who in homage to his accomplishment, presented him with the gift of their own begging bowls, but which the Buddha “united with his own for the sake of his dharma”. This unification of the four produces the fifth, which is the centre, which again is the integral. The Guardians of the Four Directions are the four gates, are Blake’s Four Zoas, and probably correspond to Jung’s four psychic functions — thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. The dominance of one function over another probably corresponds to Gebser’s “structures of consciousness”, and so the Guardians of the Four Directions might be identical with Gebser’s archaic, magical, mythical, and mental rational structures.

  2. alex jay says :

    The “taxonomy of civilizations” – whether Spenglerian or Gebserian (a consciousness refinement in general terms) – also must include the underlying force of nature (Gaia). Archeological evidence demonstrates the rise and fall of civilizations and the corresponding shift in consciousness to factors ex-homo (I just made it up but you know what I mean), from the “Great Flood”, to the Minoan, to the Justinian Plague etc. etc. etc. (Next one being man-made and developed in a DARPA facility no doubt)

    In a metaphorical sense, I found yesterday’s earthquake in Pakistan a refreshing confirmation of the birth-death-rebirth cycle, albeit with remorse for the victims …

    Sorry for the source (Huffington), however I do excavate from all manner of floating information around the event horizon, irrespective of “Hawkins Radiation” … or how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. : )

    Incidentally, I’m drawn into an interesting mind game – with myself – fluctuating between Oswald Spengler’s “decline” (borrowed a lot from Nietzsche as you know) and Gebser’s more optimistic wishful thinking?

    Maybe? The new island that emerged from the Pakistani disaster favours Gebser? I’d like to think …

    Do you have any thoughts on Spengler’s version of culture/civilization?

    • alex jay says :

      Hawking’s – Just finished reading an article on Dawkins which stuck in my head … but then you know I’m senile : )

    • Scott Preston says :

      Do you have any thoughts on Spengler’s version of culture/civilization?

      The clash of Kultur with Zivilisation became a favourite theme of Nazi ideology and propaganda. Germany was depicted as representing Kultur, and the West as Zivilisation. This distinction was borrowed from Spengler. But I’ve never managed to finish reading (as yet) The Decline of the West.

      The Kultur/Zivilisation conflict, however, corresponds, respectively, to another dual pair Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft, Gemeinshaft being something akin to “community” (Gemein means “common”) and Gesellschaft being “society” (Gesell being an associate or colleague), and so there are undertones of the personal versus the impersonal, or the “organic” and vitalist versus the formal and mechanical. In some ways, these distinctions have some connection with the German language’s difference between the intimacy of the familiar “Du” personal pronoun (“you) and the formality and distance of the “Sie” pronoun for “you”.

      So, for the fascist intellectuals, Germany represented the constellation of “Kultur/Gemeinschaft” and this associated with youthfulness, vigour, and organicity of a Volksstaat, while the West (France, England, etc) was viewed as the opposite pole of “Zivilisation/Gesellschaft” — something deemed decadent and mechanical and impersonal. Kultur was like “Spring”, Zivilisation was like Fall or Winter or Old Age. All sorts of other underlying associations like warmth versus cold.

      Kultur became associated with the myth of blood and soil — Blut und Boden, and the “purity of the precious bodily fluids”, so to speak (to borrow the words from Kubrik’s General in Dr. Strangelove). Ultimately, this duality of Kultur/Zivilisation probably rests upon the Cartesian body/mind metaphysical dualism, and ended up as a kind of mystical Kult of the irrational versus the rationalism (and civility) of Zivilisation.

      Gebser severely criticizes Spengler’s “botanical” and cyclic model in Ursprung und Gegenwart (“Ever-Present Origin”) — the cyclic being the fateful, the image of the pagan ouroboros represented in the Hakenkreuz.

      This is one way to understand Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy as responses to the fascist era — the “cross of reality” versus the swastika; a “destiny” versus “fate” and fatality; the “integral consciousness” (as a destiny) versus the irrational fatalism of the “natural man” and his “myth of blood”.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Gebser’s four structures of consciousness, by the way, shouldn’t be confused with Spengler’s four “seasons” in the cycle of civilisations. Superficially, the archaic, the magical, the mythical and the mental-rational structures of consciousness bear some resemblance to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter of a civilisational cycle. Gebser, however, isn’t speaking of cycles and a linear succession of time as fate. The four structures of consciousness are latent potentialities of human consciousness, and are not “stages” in a psycho-historical evolution. The fascist period was a case in point where the mental-rational was submerged and overthrown, while the mythic and magical reasserted themselves and became dominant.

        Heidegger, by the way, seems to have fallen for the Spenglerian thesis and a false dualism of Kultur versus Zivilisation, the latter which he seems to have associated with the problematic character of technology and technicised mode of life/consciousness. Even his last statement “only a god can save us now” seems to reflect his views of the salvific power of the irrational.

        Gebser will have nothing to do with that, although his “a-perspectival” or “a-rational” consciousness might bear a superficial resemblance to the irrational. The integral consciousness isn’t another lopsided or reactionary response. It’s a transcendence, not a recidivism or reversion.

  3. alex jay says :

    Interesting … “Gebser severely criticizes Spengler’s “botanical” and cyclic model in Ursprung und Gegenwart (“Ever-Present Origin”) — the cyclic being the fateful, the image of the pagan ouroboros represented in the Hakenkreuz.”

    I can see the problem with the “cyclic” model, if envisaged as the “closed” image of ouroboros. However, the cyclic model can also be envisaged in an open system like a vortex for example – an evolutionary spiral, if you like? The “fateful” aspect would only relate to the original blueprint (pattern) with infinite room for tweeks and adjustments potentially evolving into new species without negating the pattern of origination (different yet still the same). Rejecting the “botanical” model does surprise me! After all, Spengler (Steiner et al) applied that model through the work of Goethe … and what right thinking German could ever criticize the great man? : )

    To overcome some of these problems of cyclical, linear etc., I quite like Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphogenic field” theory and morphic resonance as a consciousness model since it seems to me being very much in sync with Gebser’s mutation of consciousness and the ever present origin. What do you think?

    • Scott Preston says :

      the cyclic model can also be envisaged in an open system like a vortex for example

      The “spiral” is presently a new metaphor for “time”, as in the teaching of “Spiral Dynamics”, and which seeks to become a kind of “third way” between linear time and cyclic time — a kind of dialectical synthesis of thesis and anti-thesis. so one must understand that time as such isn’t the spiral, nor is it linear nor cyclic. These images or metaphors correspond to the shape or a structure of consciousness. Our images and metaphors of time are our autobiography, for as Augustine put it, “time is of the soul”, and so is timelessness or eternity of what we call “soul”, and this “timelessness” or “eternity” is the realisation of non-attachment, which is called “eternal Now” or “Here and Now” and so on.

      Time itself is not linear, not cycle, not spiral. Yet because “you create the reality you know”, it is also those things. They are cultural artifacts. Our images of time, especially, are evidence of the structure of our consciousness.

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    “The “four gates” are here also called “the functions”. These “functions” are the aspects of the psychic whole — thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition — in Jung’s terms.”

    This is completely in sync with the understanding I have developed about the structure of the “psychic whole.” When we shed our earthly cloak, those four aspects are what will have been left of us, including – very strangely – the sensation aspect.

    The description about the German language and the Nazi outlook during WWII is illuminating and enlightening. Thank you.

    “The integral consciousness isn’t another lopsided or reactionary response. It’s a transcendence, not a recidivism or reversion.”


    • Scott Preston says :

      This is completely in sync with the understanding I have developed about the structure of the “psychic whole.” When we shed our earthly cloak, those four aspects are what will have been left of us, including – very strangely – the sensation aspect.

      The four gates are the four directions, and the four directions are the four functions. The four functions are the “nafs” — the animal souls — of the Sufis, and are the four Zoas of Blake’s mythology. They are also the four elements of the classical world — earth, air, fire, and water. These are, correspondingly, the Guardians of the Four Directions in Asian lore, and which are the cardinal points — North, South, East, and West — of the Sacred Hoop in North American aboriginal culture. There is yet the unrealised fifth element or “quintessence” that was once referred to as the aether or “luminiferous aether” — a kind of missing link that held the four in balanced relationship, for in their disintegrate state they are evils. In their integrate state, they are called “good”, and the four correspond, equally, to the two aspects of time as past and future, and the two aspects of space as inner and outer. The fifth factor is called “Buddha Mind” or “Christ Consciousness”, and in terms of the Sacred Hoop is called he or she who “speaks from the centre of the voice”, which is the centre of the Sacred Hoop. This centre of the Sacred Hoop is also the intersection of all directions and of all spaces and times, equally depicted in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Cross of Reality” discussed earlier, and is the symbol of Christ on the Cross surrounded by the four evangelists (the four gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) in their zoomorphic aspects. This point or centre is also called “eye of the hurricane”. All this is depicted or represented in those diagrammes called “mandalas”, which are maps of the psyche. The four directions also correspond to Gebser’s four structures of consciousness. The four are in the vision of Ezekiel, and are both the four riders of the apocalypse as well as the four “beasts” who surround the throne of God in Revelation.

      These “structures” you may also call “grammars” or “architectures” or “forms”, but they also are the four nafs, directions, etc. Altogether, this is what constitutes what William Blake calls “the fourfold vision”.

      The integral consciousness is the four functions operating in harmonious relationship, which in current parlance is called “homeostasis” which is dynamic balance of energies. Loss of homeostasis is also called “loss of the vital centre”, or disintegrate state. This is the condition of Blake’s four Zoas in disintegrate Albion which is called “fall of man”.

      Just as any gate or portal has a dual aspect as exit or entrance, so the four nafs, Zoas, evangelists, directions, elements, etc have a dual aspect, as Dionysos is one aspect of Hades and the dreadful Gorgon is an aspect of Athena. These are the metamorphs or transforms, as implied in Rumi’s comments on the nafs, which are powers of both light and shadow. Yet one cannot separate light and shadow. Just so, the four functions have their “deficient” and “efficient” modes, as described by Gebser, and deficiency arises in overspecialisation of a function.

      Overspecialisation of function leads to lopsided, unbalanced development that, at the extremity, reverts to self-contradiction. Here Blake’s “more, more is the cry of the mistaken soul; less than All cannot satisfy Man” is pertinent, for this “more” leads to exaggeration and eventual disintegration at the periphery, while “All” is the integral functioning as a whole. Man cannot help but represent this reality as a quaternity of powers, for it is his own structure which he discovers in “reality”. Even the four forces of modern physics — the strong and weak nuclear force, the gravitational force, and the electro-magnetic force — are the gates, and the quest for the “Integral Theory” is the quest for the vital centre in which these forces will be reconciled. These four forces are just as much Blake’s Zoas or Rumi’s “nafs” or the four elements of classical mythology and philosophy — earth, air, fire, water. They are also the four arms of the crucifix.

      Reality itself is our mandala.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        Very illuminating and helpful. Especially:

        “Even the four forces of modern physics — the strong and weak nuclear force, the gravitational force, and the electro-magnetic force — are the gates…”

        Thank you, Scott. I have cut and pasted this in my file called “longsword.” 🙂

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