Curiouser and Curiouser, Said Alice

This morning feels like a watershed moment in the fortunes and direction of The Chrysalis, connected to a comment by reader “John” to my last post and my response, along with a comment by LittleBigMan to an earlier posting and my reply there, too. Something “twigged” in my mind, as they say.

I occurred with the fortuitous juxtaposition of two snippets of verse from the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) in the context of attempting to explain Blake’s objections to, and dread of, “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”, or Newtonianism as a Weltanschauung, or “world view” and a mode of perception.

The first selection is Pope’s homage to Newton, which Pope proposed as an epitaph for the great scientist,

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light.

The second selection is a snippet of verse that somehow reflects the first,

Love seldom haunts the breast where learning lies,
And Venus sets ere Mercury can rise.

These verses are not cryptic. Taken together, they provide profound insight (perhaps unwittingly on Pope’s part) to the meaning of what is called “The Enlightenment”, the development of the mental-rational consciousness structure, as well as its essential deficiency. They help illuminate the reasons for William Blake’s great dread of “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”.

Pope’s lines are a precise description of what Goethe was later to develop into his character “Faust” (c. 1806), who is considered the quintessential archetype of the human of the modern type as “Faustian Man”. This Faustian Man is what Blake dreads, the man who has bargained away his “soul” for the sake of power and knowledge. Pope gives us to understand — perhaps inadvertently — what that bargain actually entailed — the suppression of love, the sacrifice of love. Venus must set before Mercury can arise. And with the sacrifice of love, of course, also comes sacrifice of the powers of empathy. This is, in essence, the meaning of Jean Gebser’s use of the term “deficit” or “deficiency”, and which is connected to Christopher Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”, the counterpart of which is Gary Olson’s Empathy Imperiled.

This is what we now call “the objective attitude” or the attitude of “disinterestedness”. So, now we see what Sir Francis Bacon’s choice really involved in deciding between “science” (natural philosophy) or “magick” for our pursuit of power and knowledge, and why the “death of God” invariably follows from “scientia potens est“. For Blake, Newton was not “light”, but a plunging of the soul into darkness, the darkness later to be called “the unconscious” or “collective unconscious”.

What became “occult” or “arcane science” — magic or alchemy — had, as already discussed earlier, been entirely based upon love, compassion, empathy: “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know” is the principle of what we call “magic” or, today, as “shamanism”. Oddly enough, it was the Inquisition that provided the model of what the sacrifice of caritas (love or empathy) did for “inquiry”. Bacon’s method of “putting Nature to the rack” is modeled on the Inquisition, after all. So, it’s not at all surprising to see Inquisitorial methods once again exploited, this time in the name of “Reason” — in the so-called “war on terror” — “extraordinary rendition” (ie, “disappearing” or Nacht und Nebel operations), interrogation under torture, suspension of habeas corpus, etc.)

So, that leads to my second comment in reply to John’s as linked above, “the return of magic” in the form of what we might call “arcane science”. Mind as cause rather than effect. Consciousness as being intentional rather than simply reflective. But most importantly, the modus of arcane science being this: “to know the thing you must become it”. It’s a diametrically opposite approach to that of Faustian Man with his “objective attitude”. This kind of “knowing” is what we might call “Biblical” — a sacred marriage or hieros gamos. Indeed, we get our word “game” from the idea of marriage, as it originally meant “participation, communion, people together”, the central notion being “togetherness” or “communion”.  In ancient Greece, the “games” were where the gods and humans met and mingled, presided over by Eros, something like Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”.

So, it’s not surprising either that we understand neither the meaning of “games” nor of “marriage” any longer, which are after all the works of love.

The return of “arcane science” is the return of “empathetic epistemics” or “intimate knowing”. And, as I noted in the comment, there are some rather curious parallels between the transition also from the Piscean Age (the fish) to the Aquarian Age (water), or in terms now being used by theologians as the shift from the Pauline Age of the Church to the Johannine Era of “religionless Christianity” as some call it. The “ego” is the fish. But the water is consciousness.

What are the connections between all these events, if any? That’s the theme I want to dive right into and explore. I don’t think its a trail of gingerbread crumbs that only lead to the house of the wicked witch. There appears to be a common undercurrent to events that seem to escape our notice (because of our entrenched “perspectivising” habits), but which I find quite intriguing and exciting.

Let’s see where this undercurrent carries us.

 

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9 responses to “Curiouser and Curiouser, Said Alice”

  1. donsalmon says :

    This might be relevant, from our chapter on human history (the “outer analytic mind” here is equivalent to Gebser’s deficient rational consciousness)

    The Limitations of the Thinking Mind

    At the present time, our alienation from the inner consciousness has become extreme, and our experience of the world has become greatly impoverished as a result. Another consequence of our over-reliance on the outer, analytic mind has been a lack of harmony amongst the different aspects of our consciousness. In Sri Aurobindo’s words:

    [from The Life Divine] “The Life is at war with the body; it attempts to force it to satisfy life’s desires, impulses, satisfactions and demands from its limited capacity what could only be possible to an immortal and divine body; and the body, enslaved and tyrannised over, suffers and is in constant dumb revolt against the demands made upon it by the Life. The Mind is at war with both: sometimes it helps the Life against the Body, sometimes restrains the vital urge and seeks to protect the corporeal frame from life’s desires, passions and over-driving energies; it also seeks to possess the Life and turn its energy to the mind’s own ends, and the Life too finds itself enslaved and misused and is in frequent insurrection against the ignorant half-wise tyrant seated above it. This is the war of our members which the mind cannot satisfactorily resolve because it has to deal with a problem insoluble to it, the aspiration of an immortal being in a mortal life and body.”

    ****

    In recent times, the dividing tendency of the thinking mind has come to have still greater influence, with a resulting increase in conflict and alienation from our deeper selves. Several centuries ago, Galileo and Descartes applied mathematics to the investigation of matter, analyzing it into ever-smaller component parts. In the past century, individuals in other disciplines began using measurement to understand and gain control over their respective fields of endeavor. Applied to economics, the love of measurement has led to the misuse of “cost-benefit analysis” – weighing the material pros and cons of financial decisions without taking into account the human consequences. In biology, this habit of “divide and conquer” has reduced living creatures to a collection of parts, leaving the nature of the living organism a mystery. In psychology it threatens to reduce us to a series of quantifiable brain and other biochemical processes.

    This analytic mode of thought, in turn, has had a great impact on those who have employed it to the exclusion of other ways of knowing. In a particularly poignant account of this, Charles Darwin writes in his autobiography:

    “Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure…I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry…I have also lost almost any taste for pictures or music…My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

    ***

    As the analytic tendency of mind has come to affect greater numbers of people, it has led to widespread feelings of loneliness and isolation. Describing this trend, Jean Gebser writes:

    “Compelled to emphasize his [separate and distinct individuality] ever more strongly… man faces the world in hostile confrontation…Isolation is visible everywhere, isolation of individuals, of entire nations and continents.”

    ***

    Focusing on the understanding and conquest of the material world, the analytic mind has ended up analyzing away mind, consciousness and spirit. Beyond that, we seem to have lost our moorings with respect to matter as well. The process that began with dividing up the physical world did not stop until the very atom was split, revealing a strange, incomprehensible world.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    The emergence of the thinking mind heralded a new phase of evolution, the awakening of the universe to self-consciousness. Complex thought has enabled human beings to create great civilizations, beautiful works of art, machines of immense utility and staggering complexity. Because of their capacity for self-reflection, humans can choose to direct their lives toward the achievement of noble aims, working for causes beyond their own narrow self-interest. They can aspire to create a world in which beauty and harmony prevail. Ultimately, the gift of self-consciousness has made them capable of awakening to the Infinite.

    However, neither the most discriminating analysis nor the most integrated mental synthesis will suffice to resolve the problems that stem from by the essential limitations of the mind. No matter how it attempts to put together what it has divided into parts, the mind can never arrive at the unified vision that alone can ultimately resolve the problems facing humanity. The action of the mind deals

    [Sri Aurobindo, Life Divine] “with wholes that form part of a greater whole, and these subordinate wholes again are broken up into parts which are also treated as wholes…Mind may divide, multiply, add, subtract, but it cannot get beyond the limits of this mathematics. If it goes beyond and tries to conceive a real whole, it loses itself in a foreign element; it falls from its own firm ground into the ocean of the intangible, into the abysms of the infinite…Mind cannot possess the infinite, it can only suffer it or be possessed by it; it can only lie blissfully helpless under the luminous shadow of the Real cast down on it from planes of existence beyond its reach.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      That quote from Darwin is perhaps the most poignant and illustrative of the meaning of Pope’s eclipse of “Venus”. So revealing. Couldn’t have been better put.

      The last quote from Aurobindo immediately brought to mind Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem as well as Wittgenstein. Both have tested the limits of the logico-mathematical consciousness, and in art, Escher. I wonder what Gebser would have to say about Escher?

      • donsalmon says :

        beyond poignant to depressing:

        this person entirely ignores the horror of what happened to Darwin, simply citing it as evidence of the wonders of neuroplasticity: http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/10/24/darwins-self-reported-adult-neuroplasticity/

        • Scott Preston says :

          It’s also instructive how the Terror in post-revolutionary France grew up alongside “the cult of reason”, for often both were administered by the same people. And then we see this coincidentia oppositorum repeated again and again, and most drastically in Germany from 1919 through 1945. Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” may only have occurred to him (in a dream) around 1870, but he seems to have been in the making for some time earlier — a long process of “soul mitosis”, as it were.

  2. donsalmon says :

    On the other hand, some good news (from Appendix B of the yoga psych book)

    Preparation for Awakening and Transformation

    The Soul accepts this web of ego and karma as part of the adventure of evolution. In fact, when the individual begins to awaken, it is possible to see the sanction of the psychic being behind virtually every vibration of the inner and outer nature. It can be seen that, in a way, the intention of the psychic being is ultimately required for any movement of the physical, vital or mental consciousness.

    The psychic being [individualized “soul” personality; somewhat distantly related to what Alan Wallace calls the substrate consciousness; the alaya vijnana] is always seeking in some way to express – in whatever limited fashion available to it in the nature – its innate soul qualities of love, wisdom, strength, etc. At some point in development – in one lifetime or another – the psychic being is no longer content to have only an indirect influence on the surface consciousness. It is only by fully awakening that the psychic being can fully express its native qualities.

    The awakening of the psychic being may seem to come about suddenly, brought on perhaps by some kind of traumatic shock. However, it usually involves many lifetimes in which the Soul has gradually purified and harmonized the instruments of the nature. The mind, through calm, non-judgmental attention, can work to align the vital and physical consciousness with the Soul. It can do this to the extent it is guided by true faith – shraddha – always listening intently for intimations of the voice of the true Conscience, the influence of the psychic being in the outer nature.

    Through such mindful (and heartful) attention, the mind can minimize the constant conflict between the various grades of physical, vital and mental consciousness, enabling them to perform their appropriate functions. The ego will still be active, distorting the working of the nature, but through calm, mindful attention to the promptings of the psychic being, its influence can be minimized.

    Though this process of attention can be fruitful, as long as the consciousness is confined to the surface, its capacity is extremely limited. The surface consciousness knows things only as separate from itself. The mind, for example, cannot understand the vital, because it cannot enter into direct communion with it. When we enter within, however, we know things by direct contact. Not only are we in intimate contact with the various parts of our own nature, we can directly touch the consciousness of other people (and even of physical objects) in a way impossible for the surface consciousness. The inner consciousness, unlike the outer consciousness, is also open to the powerful energy of the universal physical, vital and mental fields, thus giving it potentially greater power to change the nature. Most important, the inner consciousness, being closer to the soul, is more open to its influence than is the outer consciousness.

    Awakening and Transformation – Individual

    Once the psychic being has awakened, it is possible to bring its influence directly to bear on the outer nature, allowing for the fuller manifestation of the swabhava – the true nature of the Soul. The whole process – the initial purification of the nature, the opening to the inner consciousness, and the awakening of the Soul – is hastened to the extent the individual is open to the direct influence of the Force, the Conscious-Energy (Chit-Shakti) of the Divine. Aligning one’s will with that of the Divine, the outer instruments gradually become transformed, guided now at every step by the awakened psychic being.

    The person, when awakened, discovers a method of “control’ which is entirely different from that of the unawakened outer nature. He realizes that the Soul’s consent is needed for every movement of consciousness. Rather than willfully dominating or controlling one part or another of his consciousness, he comes to see that merely removing that consent is sufficient to reject the distorted, egoic movements. He can also develop penetrating insight, by means of which he cam learn to see every layer and every detail of the complex karmic web woven by ego. By this spiritual insight, and by remaining open to the working of the Divine Force, the egoic distortions can not only be rejected, they can be transformed, restoring the proper function of each instrument.

    But the capacity of the Soul to fully express its true nature will be limited as long as the instruments of the nature are confined to the physical, vital and ordinary mental consciousness. It is possible to awaken levels of consciousness beyond the thinking mind, which in turn allows a greater power of Divine Force to descend, further transforming the nature. Ultimately, the individual consciousness can ascend beyond the mind altogether, awakening the supramental consciousness, which will allow for the descent of a Force so powerful, it will be possible to utterly transform not only the mind and vital but the physical body itself.

    Awakening and Transformation – Collective

    The same evolutionary processes are at work on the collective as on the individual level. At the collective level, there is both a group ego and group-soul. The actions of the family, community and nation accumulate karmic impressions, which are collected in the group-subconscient. As in the individual, the weight of these karmic traces intensifies the aspiration of the group-soul to awaken and manifest its true nature. As each individual member of the family, community, etc. awakens and transforms his individual consciousness, it becomes more possible for this to happen on the collective level.

    Just as with the individual, a collaborative effort toward purification and harmonization of the workings of the collective physical, vital and mental consciousness can prepare the ground for this awakening and transformation. Even now, the world may be going through a collective process leading to the next and potentially dangerous step, an opening to the influence of the vaster inner realms of consciousness. In the inner realm, the forces of ego and distortion are far more powerful and potentially destructive. Thus, it is imperative that we learn to open ourselves to the influence of the Divine Soul at the heart of things as we take this step.

    Some day we will all awaken. Guided by the Divine, we will be able to manifest the Divine Nature, creating together a world in which we consciously recognize all matter as the body of the Spirit, life as the movement and play of Spirit, and mind as a subordinate working of the Truth-consciousness beyond mind. We will see the “one Divine in all”; we will live in the awareness that “all are in the Divine, all are the Divine and there is nothing else in the Universe.” {from The Synthesis of Yoga”, Sri Aurobindo]

    ******

    [Sri Aurobindo, commentary on the Isha Upanishad] Lift your eyes towards the Sun; He is there in that wonderful heart of life and light and splendor. Watch at night the innumerable constellations glittering like so many solemn watchfires of the Eternal in the limitless silence which is no void but throbs with the presence of a single calm and tremendous existence; see there Orion with his sword and belt shining…Sirius in his splendor, Lyra sailing billions of miles away in the ocean of space. Remember that these innumerable worlds, most of them mightier than our own, are whirling with indescribable speed at the beck of that Ancient of Days whither none but He knoweth, and yet that they are a million times more ancient than your Himalaya, more steady than the roots of your hills and shall so remain until He at his will shakes them off like withered leaves from the eternal tree of the Universe. Imagine the endlessness of Time, realize the boundlessness of Space; and then remember that when these worlds were not, He was, the Same as now, and when these are not, He shall be, still the Same; perceive that beyond Lyra He is and far away in Space where the stars of the Southern Cross cannot be seen, still He is there.

    And then come back to the Earth and realize who this He is. He is quite near to you. See yonder old man who passes near you crouching and bent, with his stick. Do you realize that it is God who is passing? There a child runs laughing in the sunlight. Can you hear Him in that laughter? Nay, He is nearer still to you. He is in you, He is you. It is yourself that burns yonder millions of miles away in the infinite reaches of Space, that walks with confident steps on the tumbling billows of the ethereal sea; it is you who have set the stars in their places and woven the necklace of the suns not with hands but by that Yoga, that silent actionless impersonal Will which has set you here today listening to yourself in me. Look up, O child of the ancient Yoga, and be no longer a trembler and a doubter; fear not, doubt not, grieve not; for in your apparent body is One who can create and destroy worlds with a breath.”

    Sri Aurobindo, Commentary on the Isha Upanishad

  3. donsalmon says :

    apologies for excessively long comments…

    • Scott Preston says :

      I may not need to read your book after this 🙂

      Still working my way through The Life Divine in fits and starts. Most of what I know of Aurobindo otherwise is from his essays on supramental consciousness or from his followers, like H. Chaudhuri’s “Integral Consciousness”. The Life Divine is like rich cream. Can’t take in too much at once or I become bloated.

      • donsalmon says :

        took me 20 years (1976-1996) before i could get through more than a chapter of LD. After 4 days in Northern England at a Tibetan Buddhist retreat, intensely studying Nagarjuna, went back to LD and suddenly it was crystal clear. 19 years later, I think I’m maybe starting to understand it a little:>)

  4. LittleBigMan says :

    Thank you, Sir. Indeed. Newton’s “Single Vision” and the “Age of Reason” have been having their blowbacks, which we are now suffering in many different arenas from society to environment. Mental-rational consciousness and its products have been too alluring to the senses to resist. Hence, what has become of us now. Humanity has become too heavy falling too fast down a very high steep mountain. I fear for the younger generations.

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