The Mind

I live in a small town on the prairies.  It does not have much in the way of services, but one thing it does have is a very large and active classic car restoration club.  Each summer, this classic car club puts on a spectacular show of restored old iron and early muscle cars. I have become acquainted with some of its local members. This fraternity of old car afficionados, connoisseurs,  and enthusiasts belong to a fascinating species from which I have learned something about the nature of “mind”.

Perhaps few of these small town men and women have advanced education, and their behaviours are often highly stereotyped – what you might call “the good ole’ boy”.  They are not deft in the handling of abstract thought and generalisation. For that reason, others who have gone on to advanced academic studies (and whose behaviours are just as highly stereotyped in another and slightly different direction) might think of them as “mindless” yahoos, while these “good ole boys” often distain those educated in the ways of abstract reasoning and logical generalisation as impractical “elitists” or “ivory-towered academics” and so on.

Yet, regardless of these apparent differences, the local yahoo and the cosmopolitan share in common a certain consciousness structure — what we call “mind”.  This consciousness structure has a certain common logic and orientation that we call “the modern outlook”, or what the sophisticated and cosmopolitan would call, after the German, a Weltanschauung — a world view or perspective. This modern shared “mind” or logical structure is what cultural historian Jean Gebser called “the mental-rational structure of consciousness”, or what some might call “the common sense” of this particular era.

My interest turned to how these young men, who don’t demonstrate much in the way of refined dialectical thinking or abstract, syllogistic logic, appropriated this contemporary “mind” even if they haven’t gone too far towards a more formal education and aren’t entirely reflective or conscious of the process of abstract thought and the ways of generalisation. How did they appropriate, nonetheless, this “mind” or “modern outlook” while equally nonetheless considering themselves “practical”, “hands on”, and “common sense” types. And I came to realise that they appropriated the fundamental logical structure of the modern mind through working with the internal combustion engine, which is perhaps the specific artifact par excellence which exemplifies the logical structure of the modern mental-rational consciousness.  The internal combustion engine is the objectified, embodied architecture of this particular consciousness structure.

The artifact educates. As the old cathedrals have been described as “the Bible in stone”, and reveal the logic, shape, structure, and attributes of the mythological consciousness structure, so the internal combustion engine serves equally for the modern or mental-rational consciousness structure. The logical interconnection of the components and parts is largely a matter of proper symbolisation — of learning these components proper names and how they fit together into a kind of grammar.  The internal combustion engine is, basically, a symbol system. It has a grammar which prescribes its assembly, and that grammar is the grammar of the mental-rational consciousness structure.

I recall, now, an anecdote from the life of the current Dalai Lama who, as a young boy, expressed endless fascination with the workings of watches and motor-cars (he still claims to have a watch fetish).  It was through his tinkering with the innards of the watch and the motor-car that he acquired familiarity with the Western mind — the mental-rational consciousness.  He learned its grammar, as it were.

What we call “mind” is a particular systematic, symbolic and symbolising construct with its own identifiable grammar which can be interpreted.  Any artifact reveals a people’s and a society’s self-understanding, and that self-understanding is the objective projection or expression of its structure of consciousness.  And just as cathedrals were “the Bible in stone”, and (like all temples) expresses the grammar and self-understanding of the mythical consciousness structure, the internal combustion engine is the shape or grammar of the mental-rational consciousness or “modern mind” and its world outlook.

In that sense, the fate of the internal combustion engine is tied to any mutations in the consciousness structure which it manifests. There are already signals that the internal combustion engine is on its way out, perhaps a signal also of a change in human self-understanding and the structure or pattern of “mind”. And this fact, it seems to me, is closely connected with the climate change controversy, for it is a most peculiar thing how this love affair with the internal combustion engine and climate change denialism so frequently seem to coincide in the same mind.


4 responses to “The Mind”

  1. LittleBigMan says :

    One night, about midnight, when I was heading back from the gym, the freeway on-ramp was closed due to construction, and so I had to take the city streets.

    The detour forced me to pass near the Google campus. At this late hour, there was only one car ahead of me and as it made a quick clean U-Turn, I noticed that it was one of those driverless Google cars. It was basically a Prius equipped with Google’s driver-less driving technology. Some blind fellow already owns one of these and gave an interview some time ago about how it had changed his life.

    To me, as I saw the car in person for the first time, it seemed as if the car had a soul put into it! Driving around, signaling and reducing speed before a turn all by itself.

    It seems to me that each of the structures of consciousness is an ocean all by itself. It is unclear to me whether we are stepping toward a more integral mode of consciousness, or if we are sinking further into the mental-rational mode.

    • Scott Preston says :

      It seems to me that each of the structures of consciousness is an ocean all by itself. It is unclear to me whether we are stepping toward a more integral mode of consciousness, or if we are sinking further into the mental-rational mode.

      Both are happening simultaneously, but not necessarily proportionately at this time. As Gebser noted, the emerging integral is presently fragile, and could be abortive for many reasons. It could take another millennium if it is suppressed/repressed.

      But this bifurcation or discontinuity of times (past and future, or mental-rational/integral) is typical of times of transition. It’s most evident conflict presently is in the controversy around climate change. There are some who get it and some who don’t get it. It’s less about the science of climate change, than it is about non-linear and linear consciousness in conflict — the integral and the mental-rational, for climate science is a very holistic approach, and that presents certain difficulties for the strict, perspectivist “point of view, train of thought” mentality.

      One aspect of Gebser’s diagnosis of a consciousness structure entering its “deficient” mode of functioning is a relapse or recourse to earlier or other structures as an attempt to compensate. Keep in mind, here, the homeostatic nature of the body as parallel. When one of the principle systems of the body — whether circulatory, respiratory, metabolic, or nervous — becomes deficient (which we call “illness” in this case), the other systems become hyper-active in an attempt to compensate for or support the failing system. Remember, death is now defined as “homeostatic failure” — the failure of all the systems to function harmoniously and in a balanced, proportionate (ie, “ratio”) way. And, of course, the mental-rational is biologically supported by the nervous system, and this function has become exaggerated and lopsided, forgetting even the “ratio” that informs its functioning as “rationality”

      When a consciousness structure becomes “deficient” in that sense it, it starts to lose its specific coherence. Mythological and magical elements are activated. Although they are, indeed, part of the psychic whole, their hyperactivity relative to the mental-rational structure is itself a manifestation of deficiency, and you get “magical thinking” and mythical thinking confusedly and incoherently intermixed with dialectical or syllogistic reasoning. This is quite common today. The result of this “tower of Babel” is, as Seth described — a rebirth of superstition and the unnecessary war of intuition and reason — a Jekyll and Hyde state of self-contradiction.

      Gebser’s archaic, the magical, and the mythical consciousness structures are part of the psychic whole, yet they have been repressed and suppressed by the mental-rational consciousness structure. The result has been the fragmentation of the psychic structure. Each consciousness structure is a “jealous god” and universal lord that will suffer no competitors. This is the state described by Blake in his mythology of the warring Zoas — Urizen, Tharmas, Luvah, Urthona –, who are these very psychic aspects or structures functioning disintegrately. These are Jung’s “four functions” or gates of the mandala or psychic whole — thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition. These four functions are the “structure” of any one of Gebser’s consciousness structures also.

      I do need to resume my series on Seth’s warning about ego consciousness losing touch with its roots in “framework 2” and how Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” forms the paradigm for the proper balance or ratio of the structures in the psychic whole, which would allow us to escape the dire consequences Seth foresees should we fail to harmonise and balance the functions/structures. That will come, although I’m still busy with the harvest.

      • Scott Preston says :

        By the way, Jung’s “psychological types”, based on these four functions of thinking, feeling, intuition, sensation are Gebser’s “four structures” of consciousness as civilisational types — archaic, magical, mythical, mental-rational. These are also the “four gates” of the mandala of course — The Guardians of the Four Directions — and are the meaning of Blake’s Zoas, who could be interpreted in terms of Jung’s psychological types or Gebser’s structures of consciousness.

        Now know — the four functions, gates, guardians, Zoas are the powers of time and space, time as past and future, space as inner and outer. In their disintegrate state, this is dualism of times and spaces — past and future at war; inner and outer at war. This conflict within the psychic whole is the four social diseases described by Rosenstock-Huessy — war, revolution (civil war), anarchy (chaos), decadence. This is, correspondingly, the disintegrate self or loss of the psychic whole.

        Now know this too — the “integral” consciousness structure means the co-presence therefore of all powers of time and space. When the powers of time and space become presence or co-presence, the wheel of time and space stops. Nothing is suppressed or repressed but is transfigured or metamorphosed (Nietzsche would say “revalued”, Freud would say “sublimated”). Gebser calls this “presentiation” or making present or presence, and therefore the timelessness of Origin.

        • LittleBigMan says :

          Thank you, Scott, for this tremendous clarification and profound thoughts.

          I am looking forward to your essays on the ego consciousness losing touch with “Framework 2.” I certainly have known individuals that fit in that category.

          “That will come, although I’m still busy with the harvest.”

          Not a problem at all. That harvest has helped me keep up 🙂

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