The Crystal Spirit, II

My inclination is to want to write a long series of posts around the theme of “the crystal spirit”, pursuing this meme of the brain as being more an organ of perception rather than a calculator or calculating machine, and that, by virtue of its being divided, it resembles a prism in its functions. Buddhism, for example, does not consider “mind” to be different than any other sense organ. “Mind” is considered a sixth sense, and in that sense I think I have good grounds for holding the brain to be primarily an organ of perception.

We might, in that sense, consider Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” and civilisational types (in his The Ever-Present Origin) as facets of the crystalline structure of consciousness, and consider in what way these might be correlated with Iain McGilchrist’s illuminating study of the divided brain (in The Master and his Emissary).

To reiterate: Gebser has identified four historically realised modes of consciousness, those being the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational. Rather than think of these as evolutionary stages, they are better thought of as articulations of a single fourfold structure of consciousness in various degrees of dormancy (or latency) or manifestation. Even today in the Global Era they are co-present in various degrees of emphasis — the mystical, the shamanistic, the mytho-religious, and the mentalistic or rationalistic (the logico-mathematical mind). And the fact that they are co-present makes correlating and synchronising these structures, or modes of perception, pressing and urgent. These structures are the historically realised articulations of the fourfold human form, or the crystalline character of consciousness, corresponding to what William Blake called “fourfold vision”.

The “integral consciousness” — the prospective fifth structure anticipated by Gebser — will be the result of successfully coordinating and synchronising these historically realised structures within a new common framework called “Planetary Civilisation” or “Universal History”, and only then will “globalisation” actually acquire its authentic meaning and not, as presently conceived and enacted, as an imperialistic process, whether as militant mytho-religious consciousness or the calculating mental-rational religion of neo-liberal “free market” economism — that is, as fundamentalism or reductionism and dogmatism, all of which are deficient.

So, in these terms it’s best to think of “fourfold vision” as the four facets of a crystal-like structure which is already integral, but is not as yet realised as such insofar as each facet thinks of itself as being the whole crystal because it is not conscious of itself as being a facet or aspect of a greater whole, which greater awareness is called variously “jewel in the lotus”, “pearl of great price”, “ruby” or “diamond mind” and so on. And these facets of the crystalline structure of the greater awareness are called, by Blake, the “four Zoas” and the prospective fifth structure is called “Albion”, who is “Regenerate Man” or “the Real Man”, whose realisation as reintegrated awareness (or “metanoia” in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms) will usher in a New Age.

Evidently, these facets (or structures of consciousness) as being articulations of a greater singular awareness have something to do with Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” too – with its four arms representing time and space radiating backwards, forwards, inwards or outwards. So, it’s also best to think of Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic and “cross of reality” as describing the “matrix” of a crystalline structure. In that respect, too, what Rosenstock-Huessy calls subjective and objective orientations of consciousness in relation to the spaces, or trajective and prejective orientations of consciousness in relation to the times (past and future, origin and destiny, respectively) are also facets of a singular consciousness which becomes overspecialised in one direction of space and time, or another, which is called that facet’s prejudice or its “bias”. (I’ll address the “cross of reality” as crystal and in relation to Blake’s fourfold vision and McGilchrist’s neurodynamics in a later posting).

Now, the question we want to put here is whether we can relate Gebser’s historically realised facets or structures of consciousness to Iain McGilchrist’s insights into neurodynamics and the “divided brain”, for in other respects the empirical evidence from McGilchrist’s neurodynamics for Gebser’s more intuitive insights into human cultural history and consciousness is, indeed, quite impressive and very convincing. I think that, speaking in broad terms, we can correlate Gebser’s structures with the dynamics of brain bilateralism. I say “in broad terms” because what does not come into play very much in McGilchrist’s book is the anterior-posterior relationship of the brain, which correspond to “new” and “old” and which certainly must (and in fact do) play a supplementary role in the right-left brain bilateralism. This anterior-posterior dynamic is just as important to brain functioning as the left-right dynamic, and probably for reasons related to fuller appreciation of Gebser’s four consciousness structures. It’s understandable, I think, that McGilchrist chose to subdue all discussion of the anterior-posterior dynamic, as handling four variables rather than two (the left-right) would have required a more complex logic — a quadrilateral logic rather than a dialectical logic — that is not yet fully developed.

The unfolding of the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational from the archaic (which is closest to the “ever-present origin”) follows a pattern, Gebser insists. Something of that pattern is illuminated by McGilchrist in terms of the right->left->right pendulum-like shifts in modes of attention described by him, even in terms of “enantiodromia” (i.e., dynamic reversal at the extremity of action). The archaic would be all right-brain mode of perception — maximum non-differentiation, primordial unity or “oceanic feeling” but which is not conscious of itself as such. Sky and Earth are not yet conceptually separated.

The magical structure emerges as a leftward shift — the beginnings of differentiation, the embryonic ego-consciousness with a memory of origin in “the Great Mother”. The overriding concern of magic is with power or use or “making”. Magic and the Mage, “making”, and “Macht” (German “power”) are all related words, as is “majesty” — a concern with techne in the original sense of that word, which was used as virtually synonymous with magikos. (In fact, the first use of the word “technology” was not about machines but about “grammar” — the study of parts of grammar). This corresponds to McGilchrist’s observation that the left-hemisphere mode of the brain is most concerned with “making” or with power and usefulness or utilitarian values: hunting magic, fertility magic, healing magic, spell-casting, and so on.

The mythical consciousness aspect would represent another shift towards the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention. There is less interest in power and more interest in meaning. There is also an innate hostility towards the magical structure of consciousness that reflects the divided brain — “thou shall not suffer a witch to live”. There is less emphasis on nature spirits and more on the gods — the gods of high Olympus, for example, who are values or meanings. The Oracle or Sage replaces the Mage.

The mental-rational consciousness would then represent a lateral movement again towards the left-hemisphere — the logico-mathematical or logico-empirical. Again, as in magic, there is a concern with techne, and with power and utility. Scientia potens est — knowledge is power. The Sage as ideal is replaced by the Technician.

Evidently, other factors are involved, since it’s not just a right-left-right-left shift, but also involves anterior-posterior emphases to account for their differences. And what seems to trigger the shift is the sense that the particular structure of consciousness has become “deficient” in its later stages, after it has become fully articulate about itself and has become, in that sense also, over-articulate about itself or over-specialised — dogmatic, fundamentalist, reductionist as befits the saying “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail”. At that point, enantiodromia kicks in, and enantiodromia is just another way of saying “karmic law” or hybris followed by Nemesis.

Hybris is a structure of consciousness that has entered into its “deficient mode”. Nemesis is its breakdown and the collapse of its civilisational type along with the discrediting of its representative agency — the Mage, the Sage, the Priest, the Technocrat (a man of means, but not of meaning). In fact, Blake (and Nietzsche) considered the Priest the degenerated type of Sage, and the Technician as the degenerated form of the Mage. Coincidentally, the Priest and the Technician would, in McGilchrist’s terms, be considered left-hemispheric accentuated and as being, in some sense, the “shadow” forms of the archetypes of the Sage and the Mage.

As per my response to a comment by David in the last post on “The Crystal Spirit”, we can assume that the present “Great Unravelling” is another shift in the orientation of consciousness towards the first attention — one that is happening, in historical terms, fairly rapidly, since time has sped up quite dramatically at our “end of history” and we find ourselves with no time left. The “end of history” is kind of like that phenomenon you see when a spoked wheel begins to spin at a high velocity — when the spokes seem to suddenly stand still.

That is, just before the wheel disintegrates and flies apart by the sheer momentum of its centrifugal force.



4 responses to “The Crystal Spirit, II”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Dan Siegel, author of “Mindsight,” sometimes talks about horizontal integration and vertical integration of the brain. Horizontal integration is the left-right, and vertical integration refers to integration of the triune brain, since they are located bottom to tom, and includes:

    1) the brainstem, which is the reptile brain, where we might locate Gebser’s Archaic level of consciousness.
    2) the middle brain, which is the limbic system, where simple emotions reside and where we might locate both magic and mythic consciousness.
    3) the neocortex, where we find thoughts, meaning, and logic, where we might locate the mental-rational level of consciousness. (it seems like mythic might bridge the middle brain and the neocortex).

    book excerpt:


    • Scott Preston says :

      Ha! There’s a nut in the bottom left corner of that .PNG.

      McGilchrist does mention the vertical and horizontal axes of the brain, but restricts himself to the horizontal. I don’t think he took it from Siegel (no reference to Siegel in The Master and his Emissary), but I suppose it’s a common way of speaking of these dimensions of the brain. I’ll have a go at Siegel’s article (have scanned it only so far) and see where this might fit in.


  2. davidm58 says :

    I found another relevant quote from Wieman (Religious Experience and Scientific Method, p. 166-167), which I came across in my reading this morning, that reinforces this idea of the crystal, or “prism” in this instance. Only this time Wieman is quoting the famous astronomer and philosopher of science, and popularizer of general relativity to English speaking folks, Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944).

    “We have a world of point-events with their primary interval-relations. Out of these an unlimited number of more complicated relations and qualities can be built up mathematically describing various features of the state of the world. These exist in nature in the same sense as an unlimited number of walks exist on an open moor. But the existence is, as it were, latent unless someone gives a significance to the walk by following it; and in the same way the existence of any one of these qualities of the world only acquires significance above its fellows, if a mind singles it out for recognition. Mind filters out matter from the meaningless jumble of qualities, as the prism filters out the colours of the rainbow from the chaotic pulsations of white light. Mind exalts the permanent and ignores the transitory; and it appears from the mathematical study of relations that the only way in which mind can achieve her object is by picking out one particular quality as the permanent substance of the perceptual world, partitioning a perceptual time and space for it to be permanent in, and, as a necessary consequence of this Hobson’s choice, the laws of gravitation and mechanics and geometry have to be obeyed. Is it too much to say that the mind’s search for permanence has created the world of physics?”

    – Eddington, A.S., Space, Time and Gravitation (1920, p. 196)

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I’ve always intended to read Eddington ever since I read a quote from him: “the stuff of the universe is mind stuff”. This excerpt from Time and Gravitation is very relevant to McGilchrist’s interests. He could have used it. It’s really all captured in his very first sentence here: the “point events” belonging to the second attention (left-hemisphere) and the “primary interval-relations” belonging to the “betweenness” of things that McGilchrist states is the feature of the first attention (the right-hemisphere).

    “Mind filters out matter from the meaningless jumble of qualities, as the prism filters out the colours” is perfect. Gets to the gist of the “crystal spirit” quite nicely.

    Sounds like Eddington needs some space on my bookshelf, right next to Blake perhaps.

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