Consciousness: Expansion and Intensification

The trend over the last six or seven generations has been a, now slower, now faster, expansion of consciousness. It is not a linear expansion, but proceeds by “jumps”, and with much turbulence. That expansion, which I have dubbed a movement from “point-of-view” to “overview”, is reflected also in contemporary politics.

That expansionary trend, as reflected in politics, is the emergence of larger and larger political units. The individual as political unit was formally recognised in liberalism; the family (or clan) as political unit was formally recognised in conservatism; the “public” or commonwealth was formally recognised as a political unit in socialism; and presently, Nature — the Earth itself — is being formally recognised in environmentalism.

Although this expansion is clear, it is not yet an integration.

Expansion or intensification? Jean Gebser, in his Ever-Present Origin, prefers to describe the changes underway as an “intensification” of consciousness because Gebser sees the shift as being from “space” to “time”. Others, however, still speak of an “expansion” of consciousness. These aren’t necessarily contradictory if you realise that “expansion” or “intensification” are just alternate ways of describing a double process of evolution and involution. Evolution is an “unfolding” but which is simultaneously an “involution” as it necessarily leads also to a new self-understanding or “metanoia“. This evolution-involution polarity is simply a reflection of the Hermetic principle “as above, so below” or what is called coincidentia oppositorum — the conjunction or coincidence of opposites, or the paradoxical.

It seems clear enough from the contemporary historical record that human consciousness and perception are, indeed, expanding or “unfolding” in that sense, and is reflected in these ever-expanding political units. Gebser wants to insist, however (and this is also true of Rosenstock-Huessy) that this isn’t just a change in the quantitative, but in the qualitative aspects of consciousness. What today is called “globalism”, and which has as its counterpart “the global soul,” is the latest expansionary movement of consciousness, and this is also what is reflected in that wonderful documentary “The Overview Effect“.

This is not an even or linear process in society. It is being resisted in all sorts of reactionary ways — such as the phenomenon of “identity politics” which feels the force of globalism as a threat, as “loss of self” or a crisis of “family values” or “national values”, and so on. Traditional social institutions and political structures were largely designed for a duopoly, and they have not themselves evolved to reflect social reality. Dualistic thinking and “the point-of-view-line-of-thought” approach to things has become simply inadequate for the new, emergent reality.

So, although “globalism” does represent an “expansion” of consciousness, it is not yet itself an integration, an integration that would establish peace between the various political units that presently see each other as, not complementaries, but as rivals, competitors, opponents and even threats. This is because the human psyche is not at peace with itself and its own multiformity. So, in that sense globalism and “the global soul” is not yet an integral or integrating consciousness, but is the precondition for the “leap”.

The other aspect of globalism is that this “expansion” is much more temporal than spatial. The political process parallels what Gebser sees as the emergent integration of all historical consciousness structures — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — in and through the fifth or quintessential form, “the integral”. Although we tend to think of these as bygone civilisations or as ancient history, or as “stages” in the progressive “ascent of man”, they still exist in many parts of the globe. They co-exist. So what we, from the perspectivism of the mental-rational, call “ancient history” is, in fact, present and contemporary, and yet are very much in intense conflict with each other also. That is to say, not synchronised. So, in that sense, and chiefly in that sense, “globalism” is not yet “synchronisation” or what Rosenstock-Huessy calls “synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries”, and that’s pretty much the same as Gebser’s “integral consciousness”. It is not essentially about space, therefore, but about time.

So, time becomes of the essence in Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic and “cross of reality”, which is a map of the integral or holistic, and an effective framework for thinking in terms of globalism and universal history,

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

It is a map of consciousness as well — of the fourfold human. The “evolution” of consciousness actually unfolds in four directions of space and time from the vital centre. The vital centre is the “Eternal Now”, as it were, and the radiance of consciousness — its dynamic “expansion” backwards, forwards, inwards, and outwards, is a “making present” of everything spatial and temporal, which is what Gebser calls “presentiation” — coordination of spaces, synchronisation of times.

In that sense, “expansion” and “intensification” are reciprocal processes that we may likewise call the evolutionary and the involutionary.

This “presentiation” is also reflected in the paradoxical oddities of the new physics and the spacetime continuum — the further you look out into space, the deeper also you peer into time. The entire “past” of the universe is still present, is still retained in the memory of the cosmos. The cosmos’ memory of its origins are still retained in the cosmic background radiation and in ancient light, at least up until “Planck’s Wall”, and perhaps even beyond Planck’s Wall in the form of “dark energy“. “Dark energy” is the correlate to the “archaic structure of consciousness”, a state of non-differentiation, “when the soul slept in beams of light”, as William Blake once put it.

Any real “mutation” of consciousness, however, must be reflected in a gain in intelligence, and by that I mean the emergence of new faculties or powers of consciousness — “new” in a relative sense. It’s the very meaning of the word “intelligence” (inter-ligere) as pattern recognition — to draw new and previously unseen relationships between things hitherto not seen as related at all. Necessarily, then, an increase in intelligence corresponds to a change in the mode of perception and not just in what is perceived. The mode of perception of the mental-rational consciousness has been perspectivist/analytical. The mode of perception of the integral is more pattern recognition, and that means more intuitive, and that’s what the “overview effect” essentially amounts to — pattern recognition. Discursive logic doesn’t really lend itself well to pattern recognition, so it also means a revival of more symbolic forms of thinking.

The quickening of this intuitive faculty is what Gebser means by “intensification” of consciousness — less of a reliance on the outer senses and more of an awakening of the “inner senses”, which are the senses of the “inner ego” or “Self”. The expansion of consciousness is also a complexification (pluralism, diversity, multiformity). The physical senses are not well adapted to handling such complexity. The “inner senses” or intuitive senses can handle and manage complexity, so there will be more and more stress and pressure on the sense-bound ego-consciousness to relinquish its grasp or “point-of-view” in favour of the more intuitive senses and their symbolic mode of perception.



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