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,

Saher on Gebser

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”,

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

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.

Urizen -- Architect of the Ulro

Urizen — Architect of the Ulro

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,

da Vinci's Perspective: the Eye and the Pyramid of Vision

da Vinci’s Perspective: the Eye and the Pyramid of Vision

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.

Masonic Symbol

Masonic Symbol

Here, Blake’s “Newton” is depicted in the same posture as the Zoa Urizen,

Blake's "Newton"

Blake’s “Newton”

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.

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

Metaphysical Dualism Illustrated by Rene Descartes

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.

Eye of Sauron

Eye of Sauron

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”.

Logo of the DARPA "Total Information Awareness" Programme

Logo of the DARPA “Total Information Awareness” Programme

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,

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision

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.



9 responses to “Saher’s Commentary on Integral Consciousness”

  1. Dwig says :

    Scott and all,

    First, thanks for getting me interested enough in Gebser’s work to tackle The Ever-Present Origin. I’m working my way through it now.

    So, I was a bit surprised to find the phrase “expansion of consciousness” used. In fact, Gebser says that achieving the integral requires an _instensification_ of consciousness, and contrasts it with “expansion”. For example, on p. 131, he says “But: everything depends on an intensification, not on an expansion or extension of consciousness.” (See the index for a few other refernces.)

    I’m still working to get a good sense of the distinction…

    I’m also enjoying the way you pull multiple threads together. Thanks again!

    • Scott Preston says :

      So, I was a bit surprised to find the phrase “expansion of consciousness” used. In fact, Gebser says that achieving the integral requires an _instensification_ of consciousness, and contrasts it with “expansion”

      Yes, absolutely correct. Gebser dislikes the term “expansion” applied to integral consciousness because it implies extension — whereas consciousness really finds itself only in two modes as intentional or attentional. Nonetheless, others continue to use the term “expansion” or stretching to mean “quickening”, and that sense of “quickening” is really what Gebser wants to insist upon when he uses the term “intensification” instead. But it is a moot point, because in the end, “intensification” is also expansion. Seth speaks of the “expansion of ego consciousness” to include previously unconscious factors and faculties, and that seems to me a valid usage.

      Gebser wants to get away from the idea of “spaciousness” and perspective, but only to emphasise the centrality of time in his thinking, so he prefers “intensity” over extensity. That is a valid concern, but I consider it quibbling, in some ways. Infinity and eternity are two aspects of the same “thing”, not separate, so whether we speak of “expansion” or “intensification” makes no difference to me. I consider them one and the same.

      The first part of Ever-Present Origin is the best. I think Gebser strains a bit in the second part. At least, I did not really get much out of the second part compared to the first. But it took me also a very long time to work my way through the book in its entirety.

      • Dwig says :

        Thanks much for the clarification. Yes, Gebser struggles mightily to describe what an integral structure would look like, using the available “tools”, most of which are artifacts of the mental (and even rational).

        Speaking of time, I recently stumbled on the works of J. T. Fraser, who made a career of pulling together research into the various notions of time. I recommend his book “Time, the Familiar Stranger” as a good starting point. I keep wondering what Gebser would have thought of his work (Fraser was also a poet, and it’s evident in his writing, which is a joy to read.)

        I see from the Table of Contents of “Origin” that Gebser discusses it as well. I’m looking forward to comparing the two works.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The thought occurs to me this morning, that one of the exercises recommended by Seth (and I think it’s a pretty good one) is to imagine your consciousness expanding to fill the entire cosmos, as being coincident with the cosmos itself.

      Many would scoff at that, or find it ridiculous, but it’s not far off the truth. Nietzsche’s remark that “fundamentally, we experience only ourselves” has greater depth to it than is usually credited to it. Even contemporary cosmologists sense that there is an intimate connection between cosmos and consciousness, and that we aren’t just exploring the physical structure of the universe but also, and at the same time, of consciousness itself — always pushing at the boundaries of consciousness and at the limits, or frontiers, of perception. Planck’s Wall is actually a beautiful example of this coincidence of cosmos and consciousness. The “Wall” doesn’t actually exist in the cosmos. It’s the confession of an absolute limit to the logico-mathematical consciousness (otherwise called “mental-rational” or “intellect”). It cannot go beyond Planck’s Wall, and that limit seems to be reflected equally in Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorems, too.

      Because the mental-rational (or logico-mathematical) consciousness has discovered an absolute limit for itself, a lot of cosmologists have taken an interest in Buddhism. The question is, can Planck’s Wall be surmounted by other means? That also leads to the Gebserian issue of “the ever-present origin”, as something simultaneously implicit to the time-space system, and yet “outside” of it — beyond Planck’s Wall, as it were.

      It might be difficult to get our noodle around the notion that cosmos and consciousness are coincident. We have generations of the subject-object dichotomy and of “education” in metaphysical dualism and Newtonianism to overcome. These are real obstacles to “integral insight” that have distorted the possibilities of perception, pinioned or clipped the wings of possible perception. Yet, the “Measurement Problem”, as it is called, is simultaneously the discovery of a limit to the further expansion of the logico-mathematical consciousness structure, and yet an opening beyond it, as it were. This is implied in Saher’s (and Gebser’s) belief that consciousness is presently undergoing a new “mutation”, and one that even allows us now to actually see the old consciousness structure as a perspectivising construct, and not something final or identical with “the natural order of things”.

      “Intensification” might be something one experiences in the fractal dimension, while “expansion” into “spaciousness” (or the “spacious Now” as some call it) is the experience of “cosmic consciousness”, But in reality, the microcosm and the macrocosm are identical and coincident. This coincidence of finite and infinite is Blake’s perception of the infinite and eternal hidden in all things, and that reflects the Buddha’s remark,

      “How wonderful! How wonderful! All things are perfect exactly as they are!”

      Yet, also empty of any kind of “self-nature” because already infinite. By “perfect” the Buddha means the contrary of dukkha — lack or the unfulfilled or unsatisfactory. “Perfect” means nothing can be added to it and nothing subtracted from it — and that “perfect” means already complete, entire, fulfilled precisely because it is the limitless.

  2. Dwig says :

    Korszybski’s maxim “the map is not the territory” might be useful here. It’s becoming increasingly clear that our perceptual as well as conceptual apparatus is fundamentally “map-making” (in a loose sense), so in effect we literally do “perceive/conceive only ourselves”.

    At the same time, we mentally try to separate ourselves from our maps; perhaps Seth is telling us that we need to more directly (integrally?) experience them.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Korszybski’s maxim “the map is not the territory” might be useful here.

      Yes, indeed. “Cognitive maps” is a very good way of describing structures of consciousness. E.F. Schumacher has a good book about that, which I read many years ago called A Guide for the Perplexed, and Schumacher also had a fourfold model for a new logic. I’ll have to re-read that.

      So, the quest for the new cosmic number proceeds at many levels and in many different sectors as we attempt to reconcile our cognitive maps with a four-dimensional reality and a post-Newtonian, post-Cartesian cosmos (“post-modern”, in other words). A reality of four dimensions or coordinates already suggests a mandala structure as a more appropriate cognitive map, so we do approach Blake’s “fourfold vision”. And the Blake revival that has been going on since Northrop Frye published his study of Blake Fearful Symmetry seems to me connected also with Gebser’s “new integration” and Miller’s quest for the cosmic number (in Deciphering the Cosmic Number), and so much else, too, including Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method”.

      So, it is an age of transition, to be sure… very Alice-in-Wonderland-like. Many people find this quite uncomfortable because their cognitive maps are falling apart. The old “urban legend” about how only a handful of people really understood Einstein’s four-dimensional universe is really a pointer to how difficult it is to reconstruct such cognitive maps, yet it some ways it is as simple as shifting from the number “3” to the number “4”, from pyramid to sphere.

      So, “the new integration” has come about simply as a necessity of reconstructing our cognitive maps. Time is the mightiest of all dimensions (Titans), and is now even felt as a force and a pressure on our consciousness, and this is also having a great destabilising effect on our society and civilisation, because it was arranged and ordered according to Newtonian-Cartesian principles which are no longer universally valid and in which time was completely ignored. Only motion and extension really “mattered”, as it were. Time didn’t matter because it was in the hands of God, or so Descartes mused. His “wondrous strange” method couldn’t account for time.

      This issue of “time” goes back to the controversy between Parmenides and Heraclitus, which set the tone for 2,500 years of philosophy. Parmenides thought time was an illusion that could be ignored. Only “Being” was real. Heraclitus objected that time could not be ignored, and there was no such thing as “Being”, only Becoming. Heraclitus was largely ignored for 2,500 years, but not any more.

      I could go on and on about this and the profound implications, but, of course, that is what The Chrysalis is for.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Let me just add something to that last comment: It was Parmenides who first proposed that “thinking and being are the same”. Descartes was, with his cogito ergo sum, merely a footnote to that. In other words, thinking (or intellect, mind) and consciousness were considered identical. Heraclitus objected to that, quite rightly. And, of course, Gebser takes the part of Heraclitus. Parmenides (and subsequently Descartes and the Enlightenment) were wrong to equate thinking and consciousness. Thinking (or reason) is one of the faculties and resources of consciousness, but not identical with it.

        In retrospect it seems so elementary an error — the act of perception precedes conception; consciousness precedes thinking. So there you have “the tyranny of reason” over perception and over the greater potentialities of awareness itself. This belongs to Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”, or clipping “the wings of perception”, as Castaneda’s don Juan described it.

        It’s for that reason that Rosenstock called Heraclitus “the Greek Buddha”. The Heraclitiean “Logos” is the same as what is called “Buddha Nature” — more fundamental still, more foundational than thinking. This is exactly what Gebser calls “the ever-present origin” as our place of arising, and the mind is not the vital centre of existence nor identical with being.

        It was this over-identification with mind-with-being and thinking (or intellect) with consciousness that generated “the unconscious” as something Freud “discovered”. In hindsight, it’s a completely ridiculous and laughable error whose absurdity is just beginning to dawn on us.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    An essay filled with wonderful insights and brilliant thoughts. Thank you.

    “The question is, can Planck’s Wall be surmounted by other means? That also leads to the Gebserian issue of “the ever-present origin”, as something simultaneously implicit to the time-space system, and yet “outside” of it — beyond Planck’s Wall, as it were.”

    The answer to that question is a big YES! I believe that what you describe as:

    “The Heraclitiean “Logos” is the same as what is called “Buddha Nature” — more fundamental still, more foundational than thinking.”

    …….this “Buddha Nature” that knows about the coincidence of cosmos and consciousness. It is a wellspring of knowledge ordained to it as a loved part of the universe. One salient lesson from Robert Monroe’s journeys out of his body is that in Framework 2, nothing is hidden. There are no secrets. All intents, thoughts, desires, wants, emotions and feelings are transparent by species of consciousness that cross paths. In such a universe, the Planck’s Wall exists only as proof that ego-consciousness has not been able to break out of the its limited shell.

    The Planck Wall is right here in us. It is called the “assemblage point” – in don Juan Matus’ words. If we manage to manage the assemblage point, the Planck’s Wall will collapse into the palm of our hands.

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