Ecologics and Integrality
As noted in a comment in the last post, those who balk at diving into Iain McGilchrist’s lengthier book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World will be pleased to know that McGilchrist has published a precis of the book as an e-book entitled The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning, which is available through the usual online sources. This is a 10,000 word essay. It’s quite inexpensive, and all the core themes and ideas from the lengthier book are presented in the essay. It’s a good synopsis of what’s in the book.
As noted earlier, I don’t think we can appreciate fully the nature of contemporary events (or much of history for that matter) without reference to neurodynamics and brain asymmetry as described by McGilchrist, inclusive of the emergence of “ecology” and the bearing of that on the meaning of Jean Gebser’s “mutation” towards the integral consciousness. Ecologics or ecodynamics is one of the manifestations of this mutation. And it is somewhat surprising, then, that it isn’t raised in McGilchrist’s book, which takes a rather pessimistic tone about the human prospect.
The neglect of ecologics parallels the neglect of the laws of thermodynamics by mainstream economics, (which has had its present unhappy logical consequences called “climate change”), as identified also by Peter Pogany in his Havoc, Thy Name is Twenty-First Century. Ecology and thermodynamics are beginning to coalesce in the form of “Chaos Theory” or “Complexity Theory” in the manner of what Ilya Prigogine called “man’s new dialogue with Nature”, the subtitle of his seminal book Order Out of Chaos.
There is, in other words, an implicit connection between ecodynamics, thermodynamics and neurodynamics. They are all related as aspects of the same movement we call “paradigm shift”. This shifting manifests also as “chaotic transition” or Pogany’s “havoc” and informs the apocalyptic mood of the present, inclusive of Gebser’s anticipation of “global catastrophe” or, for that matter, Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism”. “Paradigm shift” is equally what Gebser calls “the irruption” of a new consciousness structure in our time manifested as a “double-movement” as “coincidence of opposites” — one dynamic towards disintegration and another dynamic towards a new integration. The real merit of McGilchrist’s book (and essay) is that it allows us to understand this consciousness mutation in terms of neurodynamics. The “irruption” is the “shift”, and a literal shift of the focus of consciousness from the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention (which is perspectivising) more to the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention (which is holistic).
What has triggered this “shift” or “mutation”? It’s a quite uncanny thing, in a way, that the word “ecology” was invented at the same time Nietzsche was writing about the irruption of the suppressed Dionysian consciousness — the “return of the native”, as it were. Apparently, the trigger for the shift was simply need, a need in response to the incipient breakdown of the mental-rational or perspectivising consciousness structure become isolated in the left-hemisphere of the brain, and this was simultaneously reflected in Robert Louis Stevenson’s contemporary myth of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “Hubris” is what McGilchrist calls the total usurpation of awareness by the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention, and Nemesis (or revenge effect) is the wages of hubris. And, as Gebser explores, the art of Picasso reflects both the disintegration of perspectivisation as well as the attempt at a new integration. This Gebser calls “the aperspectival” consciousness. Clearly, this emergent “aperspective consciousness” has something to do with the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention, and it follows quite logically from McGilchrist’s understanding of neurodynamics. McGilchrist’s neurodynamics is also a very apt description of the process of enantiodromia, too — reversal at the extremity.
The breakdown of the perspectivising consciousness structure (in development since the Renaissance, and which reached its apotheosis in the Enlightenment) was reflected in the disillusionment and attendant cynicism of the intelligentsia following the First World War — the shattered utopian dreams of the Enlightenment turned instead into a wave of dystopian novels — Wells, Huxley, Orwell, etc. However, painful this disillusionment, however, it did represent a fruitful opening of the mind also, especially exemplified in Aldous Huxley, author of both Brave New World and yet, at the same time, The Perennial Philosophy and The Doors of Perception. The left-hemisphere began looking for an “exit” from itself and from its isolation and self-enclosure, and in consequence it turned towards the more intuitive — a shift towards the brain’s left-hemisphere’s mode of attention or “the first attention”. The breakdown of perspectivism and the “point-of-view, line-of-thought” consciousness created an opening for the more holistic aperceptions of the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention.
Nonetheless, old forms and habits of thought die hard and harden into cliche, routine, formula, empty ritual, automatisms — the “zombie mode” and the “lost cause” — and McGilchrist also expresses his frustration that even after a century during which the mental-rational and the perspectivising “objective attitude” has proven its deficiency and inadequacy, it still persists as the “norm”. It’s running on auto-pilot. The isolation of the left-hemisphere’s mode of being from its roots in the right-hemisphere’s mode of being (the “master” as McGilchrist calls it) is what Gebser calls “compartmentalisation” or “sectoralisation”. And it is, finally, the meaning of Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles” and his diagnosis of the human condition,
“For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”
Deficiency, decadence, degeneration — all the negative aspects of the isolation of the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention (the “second attention”) from its roots in the right hemishere’s mode of attention (the “first attention”). Religion, consequently, has decayed into dogmatism; Reformation has decayed into fundamentalism; Renaissance into reductionism; Enlightenment into cynicism; Reason decayed into instrumentalist rationality and utilitarianism; humanism has decayed into narcissism and a mere anthropocentrism. These things are the manifestation of that dreadful state that Blake called “Single Vision” — sure signs that the old structure of consciousness has already long exceeded its shelf-life and sell-by date.
Yet it persists. And it persists perversely. I’ve even read tracts purporting to be “ecological” that were still afflicted with the Cartesian delusion that the human and the human consciousness were isolated and separate from the milieu and from the non-human — the abstract attitude. This presumption of separateness of consciousness from the milieu was abandoned even by physics along ago, and yet much of it still persists as habitual attitude and thought process, even in biology and the humanities and social sciences — zombie mode It is to McGilchrist’s merit that he demonstrates that the structure of reality cannot be isolated from the mode of attention of the hemispheres of the brain. Each intends a different world by its mode of attention. The right-hemisphere of the brain perceives reality as a dynamis, an endless flux of interconnected energy fields, while the left-hemisphere intends stasis — a world of frozen forms and objects existing in isolation from one another.
This distinction in modes of attention of the brain was reflected in the controversies between Parmenides (the philosopher of Being or stasis) and Heraclitus (the philosopher of the flux or Becoming). We are entering now into the Age of Heraclitus, which corresponds to Thomas Berry’s “Ecozoic Era” in The Great Work. It’s actually easy to understand this controversy between Being and Becoming, or Parmenides and Heraclitus, in terms of neurodynamics. An authentic ecology is the integration of the two — stasis with dynamis — which is, in ecological terms, unity in diversity.
So the emergence of ecodynamics, thermodynamics, neurodynamics — these are indices into that “mutation” of consciousness, a “metanoia” — highlighted by Jean Gebser, the irruption of the integral consciousness structure, the unification of consciousness and cosmos that is Thomas Berry’s “Great Work” and the theme of the “Ecozoic Era”. This is really quite key, because the “Anthropocene” and the “Ecozoic” are competing understandings of the human, and it can easily be said that the “Anthropocene” is indeed, an anthropocentric and narcissistic construction of the isolated left-hemisphere of the brain, while the Ecozoic is the ideal of the right-hemisphere’s holistic understanding of reality.
What could be clearer? What could be more illustrative of the truth that “consciousness creates form”– intends its world? And that is the central idea also of McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary.