Saher’s Commentary on Integral Consciousness
I received a scan of a couple of pages of commentary on Jean Gebser and integral consciousness recently. It is scanned from a book by P.J. Saher called Eastern Wisdom and Western Thought, Comparative Study In The Modern Philosophy Of Religion (1969). I thought I would repost it here as it makes some interesting points, even if Mr. Saher’s points really require a broader (or deeper) contextualisation in order to be properly understood. Nonetheless, for those interested in Gebser and his philosophy of integral consciousness, this is a nice, compact presentation. I hope it’s legible. My own commentary to follow,
This passage might be helpful to some who may be struggling with Gebser’s cultural philosophy of the emerging “arational” or “aperspectival consciousness” (a.k.a. “integral consciousness” or “integral insight”) as I have occasionally referred to it. Although Saher makes some important points, he also stumbles in a few places.
First of all, what Saher calls “the cult of reason-worship” is equivalent to what I have been referring to as the narcissism (or self-idolatry) of the mental-rational consciousness structure — at least, its specific form of narcissism, and in its most specific form as technocratic rationality and “rationalisation”. This narcissism of the consciousness structure (perhaps we could call it the cogito-centric) is equivalent to what Ralston Saul calls “degeneracy of the intellect” in his book Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West (as also in his The Unconscious Civilization). Narcissism and idolatry are the same thing, in fact.
This narcissism cum idolatry of the mental-rational consciousness structure is what Blake decried as “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”, and the cultishness is the cult of the mad Zoa named “Urizen“, who is called by Blake also the false god and “the Jehovah of this world”. In other words, it is recognised that the mental-rational consciousness structure itself rests upon a primordial foundation of myth and magic which are simply assumed — that is to say, unconscious to it and even “occult”. That is to say further, that they belong to “the Shadow”. Becoming conscious of these latent or implicit psychic undercurrents, which still remain active if only as unconscious assumptions, is what is called “integral insight”. This is the insight also of men like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, as persistent ancient archetype or contemporary myth and magic.
“Integral insight” is, equivalently, what William Blake called “fourfold vision”, which I have also called mandala consciousness in contrast to the “pyramid of perception” or the triangular consciousness that is the chief symbol of the mental-rational consciousness or “modern era” — perspectivising consciousness in development (and over-development) since the Renaissance, as illustrated below and as discussed extensively in earlier postings on the structure of the “modern”,
This image of the perspective eye surmounting a pyramid is a precise image of the self-understanding and self-representation of the mental-rational consciousness structure — its own self-portrait, as it were. It is an image of the dialectic, and it is valid in those terms. But “over-developed” means it has generated, as a wasteland outside itself, a terrifying desolation that it is fully in the process of becoming actualised in reality. This “outside itself” of its inherent boundaries and limits is what is called “occult” or “the unconscious”. And as you can see, Blake’s false god Urizen, also called the Ancient of Days, remarkably takes the same pyramidal form. Urizen is the mental-rational consciousness itself.
This structure of consciousness is called “perspectivist” because it has been in development since the Renaissance and the disclosure of the third dimension of space. It is the consciousness structure most highly attuned to space in three dimensions, as you can see from this illustration from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks of the perspective eye and its cone of vision from which the pyramid symbol is derived,
This was taken as the symbol of the “Illuminati” — the enlightened ones — because what was illuminated was the third dimension — depth, and so we find this same symbol reproduced as the symbol of Freemasonry, too.
Here, Blake’s “Newton” is depicted in the same posture as the Zoa Urizen,
And even more clearly, in his own illustration of his new “wondrous strange” method, the father of modern rationalism, Rene Descartes, tried to illustrate the shape and action of thinking.
This form of consciousness is very highly focussed, but now focussed to the point of fascination, which is not a healthy thing. Fascination is related to the word “fascism” through the Latin “fascinum“, which means “binding” or bonds, and which also means an enchantment or magic spell. Perspective consciousness is also a narrowing to a mere “point-of-view-and-line-of-thought”, and as Gebser also pointed out, this “narrowing” is the meaning of the word “anxiety” (related to the word “angle”) — the fear of the unknown is the dread of everything that lies outside the focus and the point-of-view. The irony is, that the very structure of this consciousness produces the “unknown” from itself, because it is exclusionary of other possibilities and potentialities of consciousness. Consciousness becomes increasingly diminished.
This over-development of the perspectivising and focal “eye” (or “I”) in “the cult of reason-worship” is the same “eye” surmounting the tower that Tolkien depicts as Sauron in Lord of the Rings.
The “Eye of Sauron” is the same as Da Vinci’s perspective eye, now become panopticon, very powerful in focus, but also now trapped by it as well. The Eye of Sauron is unfree. Tolkien’s Sauron is also a critique of the same “cult of reason-worship” and of the overdevelopment of the perspectivist or mental-rational structure of consciousness. “Mordor” is the exact same desolate wasteland as lies outside the perimeters of the pyramid of perception that is the novus ordo seclorum. The perversion of the mental-rational consciousness — its hybris — is this Eye of Sauron also now become Total Information Awareness (TIA), with its motto “scientia est potentia” — “knowledge is power”.
Sauron represents the same “tyranny of reason” which has resulted from the pursuit of knowledge as power. The result has been command of power but without mastery. This is the very dangerous situation we are in, because the mental-rational consciousness has confused command and manipulation with mastery, which it has not achieved and does not possess. This accounts for the strange paradox that, today, human beings have more power at their fingertips than at any previous time in history, and yet they feel utterly helpless at the same time.
Saher mentions that the adherents of the integral consciousness, by contrast, “rebel against the tyranny of reason which they wish to replace with an all-round view of life…” This “all-round view” is apt to be vague and abstract unless it is understood as the mandala against the pyramid. Actually, it’s not so much against the pyramid as it is about incorporating the pyramid within a larger structure, and this larger structure is called “expansion of consciousness”. This is the meaning of “integral consciousness” and “integral insight”. Transcending the “tyranny of reason” is what Gebser means by “arational” or “aperspectival” or “suprarational” consciousness.
As Saher notes,
“the phase of logical-rational consciousness has committed the blunder of overdoing itself. As a result it is now fading and making room for a new mutation. In fact reason is already regarded as dethroned. That we do not realize this , is considered a contributing cause of our suffering and our inability to cope with modern problems. Whereas the phase of magic-consciousness was irrational, that of the myth-derived was non-rational and the mental period was rational, so is the new phase, into which we are now supposed to have evolved, suprarational.”
The symptoms of the fact that the mental-rational consciousness has now “overdone itself” — exceeded its sell-by date, as it were — I have mentioned previously — ironic reversal, perverse outcome, unintended consequence, revenge effect, blowback, the “accidental”. In general, what is called “the new normal” is this “blunder” described by Saher. These are all symptoms of command without mastery. Mastery requires an expansion of consciousness beyond the “point-of-view-line-of-thought” mode, and that is the secret of the mandala.
The mandala, rather than the pyramid, is the truer human form, and that is what William Blake depicted as his own objection to “Single Vision & Newtons sleep” and the rule of Urizen,
This is an image of “integral consciousness”, and its exactly how Blake perceived the true form of the human. And he’s right. The human is a fourfold being. The human is the shape of a mandala. This is the real “metaphysics” of the human, without which “only an animal will be left”, as Saher rightly notes while adding “This is the danger which appears to threaten us. We cannot get a living impulse out of a dead metaphysics. In order to remain dynamic metaphysics must be nourished by intuitions.” “Intuitions” really means, awakening to the roots of consciousness in what Gebser calls “the ever-present origin”.
There is a problem with Saher’s interpretation, though, and it is crucial and quite representative of the problem of the mental-rational consciousness itself. That problem is his habit of interpreting time as “evolutionary”, and so Saher somewhat misrepresents Gebser’s “ages” of consciousness as “Age of Magic”, preceded by the “archaic”, and succeeded by Age of Myth and then Mental Age, which he compares to Huxley’s “evolutionary Humanism”.
This habit of handling time as a sequence of ages, one following the other, is a rather pernicious habit of the perspective consciousness which tends to translate matters of time into spatial terms — as “near” or “far”, “close” or “remote”, “distant past”, etc. There is no particularly “progressive” or phasic order or march of time that leads from one stage to the other. All such historical times or “stages” exist at once, in a kind of spacious Now called “the ever-present origin”. What Gebser calls “archaic”, “magical”, “mythical”, and “mental” structures of consciousness all still abide in the present, in various degrees of actualisation or realisation, that is, degrees of manifestation or latency, activity or repose (or repression and suppression). All such “Ages” are actually “present” in the Now just as all ages of the universe are visible to the astronomer and the astrophysicist (and to you too). When you gaze out into the cosmos, you are also gazing into time, too. The cosmic past is also present, even up to what is called Planck’s Wall, which is actually an absolute limit of the mental-rational consciousness itself, beyond which it cannot go and still remain itself. There is no logical or mathematical byway around Planck’s Wall.