Consciousness in Perspective

In the post William Blake: The Cistern and the Fountain (and in a few other places in The Chrysalis), I attempted to describe through reference to its own abundant symbols, the architecture, form, geometry, or structure of the modern mind, or what Jean Gebser calls “the mental-rational structure of consciousness” which he identifies with perspectivising consciousness, Perspectivisation is the modern mind’s dominant mode of perception.  So, when you are enjoined to “keep things in perspective!”, and this is considered the norm or “common sense”, a great deal more is implied in that commandment than meets the eye, so to speak.

In this post, I want to delve a little further into the largely invisible architecture and geometry of the modern mind, how it has articulated itself over the last 500 years or so since the Renaissance, and why it has now become, in Gebser’s terms, “deficient” or functionally impaired.  Also, why Gebser feels that this impairment, deformation, or fragmentation of the mental-rational structure may presage a new and healthier transformation, “mutation”, or restructuration of consciousness and perception.

Each of you has appropriated this structure in the course of your upbringing, through parents, education, society and so on, and usually with some trauma or difficulty. Appropriating the mental-rational structure, (which I have sometimes referred to as “the foreign installation” following Castaneda’s usage) is your often painful initiation rite into adulthood in modern society, and it definitely ruins some people.

Crane Brinton (I believe) once described modernity as “the invention of a system for creating systems”, and that is about as accurate a definition of “modernity” and of the mental-rational consciousness that I’ve come across, that “system” being perspectivising perception itself, which has its origins in the Renaissance, and the first signs of its incipient breakdown around the time of the First World War.  This “system” or architecture of the mind is what the English poet and artist William Blake denounced in his time as “Single Vision & Newton’s Sleep”, and also as “the mind-forg’d manacles”.

Your initiation into this “system” or structure — the reshaping of your consciousness and perception — you will know from your own earlier experience or in that of your children.  Children delight in painting and drawing, and in their productions you do not see the self-conscious attempt to “keep things in perspective” at all. Mom is as big as the house or the dog Spot may be bigger than Dad. Mom may be always in close proximity to house, too, because “home” is not the space of house, but of Mom and house together, where Mom and house together signify warmth and safety.

In the innocence of their consciousness, children do not paint or draw “things” or objects, but values and valencies and qualities (or what Jung might call “feeling-tones”). And here space is not the revealed objective or three-dimensional space of mathematical and geometrical dynamics and relationships but that dream-like space of psycho-dynamics. Things are “close” or “distant” only in psychic terms and only as values or feeling-tones.  And we may call this type of consciousness (which we also see more formally in pre-Renaissance art) “un-perspectival” or “pre-perspectival”.  The magic spell of quantification and perspectivism — of mathematics and geometry — has not yet been cast over the mind.

In other words, perspectivising perception, which arranges the things and objects of space into a web of abstract mathematical relationships, vectors, and ratios, does not come naturally to the mind but must be induced.  For the young consciousness who stands before the doorway of initiation into modern society and the mental-rational structure of consciousness stands a stern and demanding Plato who shouts “Let none ignorant of geometry enter here!” which, it is said, was directed against the poets — that is to say, against the mythical consciousness.  This is Blake’s “Poetic Genius in Man”.

So, it is not at all true that children are born “tabula rasa” or as blank slates waiting to be impressed and imprinted by society.  This was the assumption of the educator Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his proposals for modern public education,

If you want to influence him [the child] at all, you must do more than merely talk to him ; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than you wish him to will.

The new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible. Such a will can henceforth be relied on with confidence and certainty.

The consciousness of children is not a blank slate or a chaos of incoherent impressions. That would be indistinguishable from insanity. It may be “irrational” (meaning “unperspectival”) from the point of view of the mental-rational consciousness structure, but it has an intelligible coherence and structure in its own right, which is revealed in the works of children in art, play, and speech to be closer to the mythical and magical.  What the sociologist Max Weber famously called “the disenchantment of the world” as part of the malaise of modernity is the result of breaking the affinities children naturally perceive between themselves and the world, between subject and object, and with “the Poetic Genius”. The affinities are turned, rather, into definitions, and “values” into abstractions, ratios, quantities, magnitudes, and so on.  Breaking the affinities between things begins with the child’s induction into perspectivism.  Freud’s original “oceanic feeling” of the infant consciousness is induced to narrow and focus, rather, and to become merely “a point of view” and a “line of thought” — terms derived, in fact, from perspective art which encourages an “objective attitude”.  The disenchantment of the world begins, then, with the breaking of the affinities, and that means, subject and object spaces, and consequently the division of reality also into quality and quantity, the separate space of “Ego” and the objective space of “It”.  This “point of view” consciousness structure is the pyramid or the narrowing “cone of perception” that is so familiar in the symbols of modernity (as introduced in evidence in The Cistern and the Fountain).

In other words, the formation of the mental-rational consciousness is simultaneously a de-formation in another direction.  To say that the “oceanic feeling” is suppressed is to say that the mental-rational consciousness structure (the ego consciousness with it’s “point of view”) ceases to be identified with life, and this rupture is called “disenchantment of the world”.  And it is a piece of cruelty, which is why Blake raged against “Single Vision & Newton’s Sleep”.

Now, let’s consider Blake for a moment, as he is a most interesting character in the context of his times — the “Age of Reason” and the European Enlightenment.  How did an artist who saw the new perspectivising consciousness as also disenchantment of the world and life, and as the self-enclosure of the mind upon itself and into abstraction as “single vision” might have, with his “fourfold vision” by contrast, produced something different. And that is the case if one examines closely some of his works of art.

Blake’s consciousness and depiction of space is quite different from the perspective space of his contemporaries, and there are clues in his poems and his other illustrations into how that space is to be interpreted.  It is not the objective “rational” space of the perspectivising, mental-rational consciousness. It is the space of psycho-dynamics and a space of proportions rather than ratios.  It is space not perceived in terms of a pyramid or cone of vision, but as a kind of mandala, for example, from one of his “Proverbs of Hell”

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.

The figure the human form cuts in space is the form of a mandala, and Blake has charged that the mental-rational consciousness gives precedence to the head alone. The gist of his “fourfold vision” is represented in this Proverb of Hell as much as the template for his artwork is represented in his illustration of integral man (and one can compare Blake’s illustration of “Albion” with da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”)

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision


Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

One deals with proportion, and the other with ratio.  And there is something rather coldly abstract and geometrical about da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man compared to a very similar depiction of Albion restored entitled “Glad Day”,

Glad Day -- Albion Reborn

Glad Day — Albion Reborn

As well, Blake’s satirical depiction of Newton — that is, as representative of the “single vision” of perspectivising consciousness and the mental-rational — has a Newton submerged at the bottom of an ocean of space calculating with a protractor (Blake’s image of perspective mind) just as he has depicted his demonic and demented god “Urizen” (“Ancient of Days”) with the protractor, as below,




William Blake: Urizen -- Ancient of Days

William Blake: Urizen — Ancient of Days

The protractor seems to be Blake’s way of symbolising the structure of the mental-rational consciousness in terms of the “pyramid of vision” or “cone of vision” which he calls “Single Vision”, and also as being a kind of blindness or unconsciousness, as being akin to just one slice of the pie rather than the whole pie.

More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul, less than All cannot satisfy Man

Perspective space is not absent in Blake’s paintings, but it is quite subdued because the space of Blake’s paintings is predominantly “mood space” or psychological space, not an empty abstract objective space of geometrical ratios through which figures merely move.  It is still the “enchanted” space of life that Weber saw as becoming disenchanted through excessive rationalisation and intellectualisation.

Blake’s illustration of man as fourfold mandala form recalls Jung’s characterisation of the four psychological functions (image borrowed from

Jung's four psychological functionsAnd this in turn recalls Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, also a mandala-like structure of integral reality and consciousness,

Cross of Reality B

And this cruciform structure, like Blake’s fourfold vision, is substantially different from the pyramid that has come to symbolise the shape of the modern mind and intellect.  The all-seeing eye that surmounts the perspectivist pyramid is now relocated to the centre of the cross or mandala form as the basic image of the integral consciousness.  It is not a pyramid but a tree, and unlike the all-seeing eye of the pyramid trapped in single vision, the eye (consciousness) of the mandala is fourfold, and this befits a consciousness that is now moving from a three-dimensional reality to a four-dimensional reality.

The switch from space to time is the basic “trigger” for the new mutation in consciousness. Perspectivising mind was adequate for the intellectual mastery of space when the problem of the third dimension of space triggered an mutation from the mythological to the mental-rational. It is not adequate to deal with time as if time were like space. The riddle of time will likewise trigger a mutation of the mental-rational.  This mutation is what Gebser calls “the aperspectival” consciousness structure and which is, as the mandala and cruciform symbols suggest, much more fluid and flexible than the “point-of-view, line-of-thought” consciousness.

That’s the real significance of the “Age of Aquarius” and its association with water.

Age of Aquarius

Age of Aquarius




12 responses to “Consciousness in Perspective”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Regarding Jung’s 4 psychological functions I came across this quote from a webpage on that,

    For Jung, daily life was a question of seeking balance between the four functions: Thinking, Feeling, Intuition and Sensation. No one function can be allowed too much dominance in any of us without its opposite number seeking expression, if only in a roundabout and sometimes destructive manner. We are all given all of these ‘cards’ in our deck – and we must play (use) them or they will play us!

    That’s pretty consistent with Blake’s views in his mythology of the four Zoas, too.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Came across this quote today by psychiatrist R.D. Laing. It’s in Jensen and Draffan’s book Welcome to the Machine:

    “Children are not yet fools, but we shall make them into imbeciles like ourselves, with high IQs if possible.”

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    “Children delight in painting and drawing, and in their productions you do not see the self-conscious attempt to “keep things in perspective” at all. Mom is as big as the house or the dog Spot may be bigger than Dad. Mom may be always in close proximity to house, too, because “home” is not the space of house, but of Mom and house together, where Mom and house together signify warmth and safety.”

    Beyond brilliant.

    Thank you for that meaningful quote by R.D. Laing.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The “anti-life” (or anti-biotic) tendencies of the dukkha economy were evident to Blake in his time, and continue into our time, and this is true of what is mistakenly called today “education”.

      The innate creativity and purposeful activity of consciousness as value realisation, as revealed in the activities of children, is evident to anyone with any wit (hence it is said, “unless ye become as little children”). So how did this activity come to be so overlooked that the modern mentality could come to the conclusion that consciousness is initially ‘tabula rasa’ — a blank slate needing to be imprinted, impressed, molded, shaped, and massaged into a specific form according to a recipe?

      The confusion of values with concepts; the confusion of consciousness with “mind”; the confusion of intent with something called “the will”. Dispense with these errors, and the inherent vitality of consciousness becomes apparent.

      Consciousness is action, and this action occurs in two modalities — the polarity of the attentional and the intentional, which is its alternating current so to speak. One could say a “passive mode” and an “active mode” that corresponds to listening and speaking, although both are nonetheless forms of action. Hence the Buddhist saying “he who sees the action in inaction is wise indeed”.

      This polarity of the attentional and intentional is the yin and yang of awareness. The Book of Genesis is not about the origins of the world, but about the origins of consciousness in this polarity of the attentional and intentional, for “the Word” is the intentional or active, and the “Void” is the attentional or passive mode. The Void is all ear, in a sense — all listening. Nonetheless, whether attentional or intentional, these are modes of action. As such, there can be no such thing as “Nothingness” per se.

      What is presently called “mind” is the product of a mis-leading education, and might even be considered a malformation or distortion of original consciousness itself. In some ways, this is traceable to the Cartesian error of “cogito ergo sum” — I think, therefore I am. The “thinking thing” or res cogitans is not primary, but rather a secondary development on consciousness. But this foolish error has resulted in absurdities taken as being “truths” — that ideology is consciousness, for example. And that a perfect “system” of ideology would be the perfection of consciousness. That is total delusion, and a very dangerous one. “Mind” is, in fact, what is called “Mara”. As Nietzsche also once put it “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”.

      Ideally, the function of education is to provide the tools necessary for consciousness to realise its purposes, which is value realisation and not indoctrination. Most contemporary education is quite ruinous and nothing more than a kind of breeding programme for shaping a human being into a role and a function — that is to say, the famous “cog in the machine”.

      But learning — true learning — is possible only because consciousness alternates between the attentive and the intentive modes. The act of perception thus has this double aspect, of not only intending the reality it perceives, but attending to the reality it intends. This is becoming evident in Quantum physics, for example. But by this double process “you create the reality you know”, and this is for learning.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Should have concluded the last comment by saying, every consciousness formation is an artist, and “all the world’s a stage” (or a canvas) is essentially true.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Apropos this morning’s comments, this article in The Guardian appeared this morning “Growing up behaviour too often labelled antisocial, says police chief”

    Call it “another turn of the screw”. And she is quite right… a society that has become afraid of its children to this extent should scrutinise itself and those sources of its own anxieties and fears that drive its “law & order” priorities, or which criminalises behaviour not previously deemed criminal at all. To make policemen bear the brunt of the frontline flak for those anxieties is also a bit irresponsible, and not adult.

    But more to the point, I think, is why people have come to think of public space as being dangerous and a no-man’s land needing to be constantly policed.

    • LittleBigMan says :

      “The innate creativity and purposeful activity of consciousness as value realisation, as revealed in the activities of children, is evident to anyone with any wit.”

      But the vast majority of people don’t view children’s activities as that. It’s quite remarkable, unique, and accurate, I believe, that you decipher children’s activities that way; especially in the way they draw things out of scale. I always found that quite comical. But your deciphering of children’s activities is quite enlightening.

      “But learning — true learning — is possible only because consciousness alternates between the attentive and the intentive modes. The act of perception thus has this double aspect, of not only intending the reality it perceives, but attending to the reality it intends.”

      It seems to me, then, that “feelings” are the attentive mode of consciousness in action.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        By the way, it’s about time someone wrote an article like that one in The Guardian. Here in California, there was intense debate on the radio about that same issue. I’ve heard schools have become the place where kids get their first “jacket” so to speak for the most menial things like cutting through their wooden desks with a sharp object. This isn’t right.

        • Scott Preston says :

          A society which has become afraid or anxious about the young has become a reactionary society. The only precedent I know of this was Aristotle’s distinction between “megalopsychos” and “mikropsychos”, and his association of the former with the young and the latter with the old (that is to say, “young” or “old” in energetic terms rather than specifically years of age).

          This could be taken as another symptom of Gebser’s “disintegration” of the modern era. It is a peculiar time, as are all times of transition. You have a coincidence of “blurred lines” as well as sharp divisions or, to put that another way, confusion on the one hand, perplexity on the other. Controversies about the burqa on the one hand versus Miley Cyrus on the other are about other issues — pre-modern or post-modern, about enclosure and disclosure, about private and public. Miley Cyrus, for example, is the enactment or performance of the implicit “post-modern” logic of social media and the blurring of the lines between private and public.

          “War of the sexes”, “culture war”, and intergenerational conflict — these probably attest to the atomisation and fragmentation of the modern age.

          I’ll post something about this later, but it is interesting to note that at the entrance to every Buddhist temple are positioned two lions or demons on each side of the passage. These are highly symbolic. On the one side is confusion, on the other is perplexity. The buddhist in his or her passage must pass between and overcome both — confusion and perplexity.

          They are not the same, however. It is an error to treat them as synonyms, because this blinds us to their significance. They are the extremes of error represented in the zigzag path. Con-fusion is “to melt together”, and corresponds to centripetal force, so it is a blurring of the lines. Perplexity is fragmentation, dissociation, atomisation — apparent randomness, and corresponds to centrifugal force. Confusion and perplexity pull apart in opposite directions, and both express the facets of disintegration.

          By the way, the Muslim’s “shariah” is of the same meaning as this Buddhist “middle way” between and over confusion and perplexity. Shariah is the path through the desert to the oasis. On the left or right are thirst, and the wasteland of spiritual confusion or perplexity. So all purely legalistic interpretations of Shariah are themselves error and confusion. The path through the desert to water is actually a very profound and meaningful spiritual symbol, and is very similar to the Buddhist’s “Middle Way”.

          Confusion and perplexification mean essentially this: things which should be differentiated are not, and things which are differentiated should not be. Error at both extremes.

          • Scott Preston says :

            I should have added — that confusion and perplexity are two aspects of nihilism. For, in essence, Nietzsche’s formula for nihilism — “all higher values devalue themselves” — speaks to confusion — the “melting together” or lack of distinction or differentiation between higher and lower. Perplexification occurs when the inherent connection between the higher and the lower, or the unseen and the seen, is broken.

      • Scott Preston says :

        This inherent purposefulness of consciousness as value realisation, as seen in the child, is still to a certain extent retained in adult sports and games despite their perversion and distortion by commercialisation and professionalisation where values have become quantitites. The “score” is the shadow of the value or even the ghost of the value.

        Here is where the difference between the symbolic and the diabolic is made plain. The word “symbolic” means “to bring together”, while the diabolic means the opposite tendency — “to thrust apart” or to hinder or throw obstacles in the way; to separate or segregate. In the symbol, the quality and the quantity are integrated or the value and its representation. A symbol is successful when it is transparent in this way, when the value is perceived in and through the physical form or representation. This is the meaning of “illustration” or illustrious — the light shines through.

        The diabolic situation exists when the unseen (or quality or value) is occluded by the seen. There is a lack of transparency or “illustration”, as I have been using this word. The connection between the higher and lower, between the value and its representation, is broken.

        Blake’s poetry and art is very much rooted in this play or contrast of the symbolic and diabolic. “Heaven in a wild flower”, “universe in a grain of sand”, or “eternity in the hour” speaks to the transparency of the symbolic form in which everything that exists is symbolic form and was transparent to Blake’s perception or his “third eye” as some call it. But when the infinite is hid, this is, for Blake, the diabolic situation — things are not transparent but opaque to the eye of single vision. Things and events are not seen as symbolic form and symbolic action, but as “objects”, appearances and surfaces.

        To Blake’s perception (as to Rumi’s too) the entire world was a world of symbolic form and symbolic action, arising from the “Imagination” and the workings of the “Poetic Genius”, and to his eye the infinite was not hid. Others lived in a diabolic situation, perceiving only the shadows of the real — its surfaces only. So, he was quite anxious to help others “cleanse the doors of perception” so that they could perceive “the infinite which is hid” — that is to say, that the world should become transparent to our perception as symbolic form and action. This is the “integral consciousness” also as Gebser knew it, and as Rumi also knew it. For this is what he means when he writes,

        “Being is not what it seems. Nor non-Being. The world’s existence is not in the world”.

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