The Shape of Consciousness: A Review
The addition of C.S. Holling’s “Adaptive Cycle” to the discussion, along with the revelations of Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics described in The Master and his Emissary, have added a new dimension to the exploration of “consciousness structures” and their evolution. It would seem that a review of the material covered in The Chrysalis so far is in order, not only to integrate this new material into the discussion of consciousness structures, but also to brief new subscribers to the blog who may be puzzled as to what The Chrysalis is about.
So, let’s refresh our memory of what it means to be “modern”, or what Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin described as the “mental-rational consciousness structure” or the “perspectivist” consciousness now in the process of disintegration. And after this, it will be seen also what it means to be “post-modern” or even “trans-modern”.
Briefly once again, the beginnings of perspective perception, or the first attempts at the intellectual mastery and representation of space conceived in three dimensions, lie with the 14th century Italian artist Giotto, (1266 – 1337) who is considered the first in the line of the great Renaissance artists. But it takes another century before Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – 1472) articulate the mathematical axioms for the construction of the proper ratio of spaces for the undistorted representation of three dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface, followed by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) who fully perfects and fully applies the laws of perspective. What began as an intuition with Giotto is consummated in da Vinci (with important contributions from the German artist Albrecht Dürer, 1471 – 1528) and becomes fully articulated and explicit, for which reason da Vinci is remembered as the quintessential “Renaissance Man”.
The re-imagination of space by the Renaissance artists is antecedent to the Scientific Revolution (Copernican heliocentrism (1473 – 1543), Galilean “Ideal Space” (1564 – 1642)) suggesting that the Renaissance artists provided the intellectual framework, technique, and mode of perception for thinking about anything whatsoever — perspectivism and the point-of-view. and that this new structure of consciousness and method of perception is formalised by Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650) as his “wondrous strange method”, and finally enshrined in his formula, cogito, ergo sum.
Da Vinci’s representation of the perspectivising eye as a pyramid,
becomes in Descartes the shape of consciousness and the pattern of reason itself, in Descartes’ own illustration of his metaphysical dualism,
This pattern subsequently becomes the emblem of the Illuminati — the Enlightenment philosophers — as the pyramid of vision and as being the normative shape of consciousness, and which is still found on the American dollar bill,
This triadic structure is not only established as the normative shape of consciousness and reason, but also provides the blueprint for the reorganisation of reality, philosophy, and of society. And this is the shape of consciousness that Blake denounces as “Single Vision & Newton’s sleep”. This same pattern or shape of consciousness is what Blake reveals in his portrait of his false god “Urizen” and Urizenic Man in the form of Isaac Newton,
This “shape” or form of consciousness, which Gebser calls “the mental-rational” or “perspectivising” and which is presumed to be the human form in terms of a hierarchy of functions, and it was against this self-understanding that the “Romantic revolt” more or less consciously objected. This shape is what I’ve referred to as “point-of-view-line-of-thought” consciousness. The “ratio” that informs rationality is presumed to be, by establishment, a ratio or proportion of spaces — length, width, depth or reality conceived in three dimensions only. This structure is the implicit form of modern thought, even in terms of dialectics – thesis and antithesis resolved in a higher synthesis.
So, along comes Mr. Einstein who says “Duh! Boys, you’ve forgotten to include time in your ratio. This isn’t a three dimensional universe. It’s a “four dimensional” universe”. Oops. That vast wasteland outside the parameters of the pyramid? That’s mostly time. It’s actually anything that does not lend itself to perspectivisation or rationalisation and which are, in McGichrist’s terms, the mode of attention of the left-hemisphere of the brain only.
A lot of people had (and still have) diffculty with Einstein’s four dimensional universe and time because the received logic, which is dyadic and triadic and is this perspectivising pyramid shape, is by default the “common sense”. While the logic seems to work in some circumstances, it doesn’t seem to work in all circumstances which, unfortunate for the ideal and presumption of “Universal Reason”, means that “reason” isn’t as universal as was assumed. And that is as much as to say that what perspectivism and the “cone of vision” amounted to was a self-limitation on the possibilities of fuller awareness. In consequence, the recieved logic or “modern mind” is quite incapable of coping with a multivariate and larger reality, and this results in anxiety and paranoia and even the sense of being on the brink and the edge.
Gebser has largely linked the “deficiency” of the mental-rational or perspectivist consciousness to lack of awareness of time and the meaning of time. Related to that is the reification of the “point-of-view” which is the ego-consciousness or the self-interest and which has become “culture of narcissism” by virtue of its reification. Universal Reason as egocentric consciousness deliberately excluded time from its “ratio” because it wanted to be timeless, deathless, omnipotent, unchangeable, immutable and, in short, immortal and permanent, and it wanted to construct a world in its image — the “end of history” and the Anthropocene are the result of that, images of its own narcissism which correlates with the “empathy deficit” precisely because of the reification of the point-of-view in the self-interest principle, which is isolation, dissociation, disconnection and, in those terms, disintegration.
In Gebser’s terms, then, the perplexification of the modern mind is largely the consequence of the irruption of time (even in terms of Seth’s “ancient force”) into this structure of consciousness that had suppressed and ignored it, throwing it into disarray, perplexity, confusion, bewilderment, but also ultra-conservative, reactionary denialism. Urizenic Man’s fear of time and change and the energetic flux was amply illustrated by conservative Winston Churchill’s vain boast that the sun would never set on the British Empire for a thousand years (even as it was falling apart) and Hitler’s equally vain boast of a Thousand-Year Reich. Both were gone in a few short years.
It is principally this irruption of time that has stimulated the quest for a new transformed or transfigured logic or new consciousness compatible with a four dimensional universe. The time element is the outstanding feature of all the successful new fourfold or quadrilateral logics. Time-sense is an interpretation of the energetic flux, or of processes and events rather than things, objects, and positions; dynamis rather than stasis. And what that means is that the 2500-year old spell that Parmenides, the Philosopher of Being, cast over the mind is being dispelled, and it is his philosophical foe, “Heraclitus the Dark”, the Philosopher of Becoming, or the paradox and of the energetic flux, that now has the last laugh. And that is revolutionary. In McGilchrist’s terms, Parmenides and Heraclitus would be representatives of the left and right-brain hemispheres, or the second and first attentions, or “emissary” and “master”.
The ascent of a new consciousness structure is never an easy matter. As someone once put it, times of major transition are as comfortable as “sitting on the edge of a razor”. I’ve already mentioned a few times Arthur Miller’s book Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung. You can learn a great deal about “chaotic transition” from reading the inner struggle of the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli as he tries to make sense of his world and the transition from the cosmic number “3” to the cosmic number “4”.
Therein lies the significance of the new logics, such as Holling’s “adaptive cycle”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”, or indeed William Blake’s “fourfold vision”. Time and the energetic flux are the most prominent features of the new logics. New faculties, new senses and organs of perception are required to handle such a multivariate reality (or at least unused ones), so that describing reality in fourfold terms requires a reorganisation of consciousness itself, which Gebser calls a “mutation” of the consciousness structure into a new pattern. And that’s what both Holling’s adaptive cycle and Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” are — maps of a new consciousness structure — the “integral”,
These, of course, are mandalas, and quite different from the pyramid in that respect, although the pyramid structure is still retained within the cross of reality, in any case, as one quadrant of the whole. The dyadic and triadic is not excluded from the quadratic, but are contained within it in a much larger context.
The difference between Holling’s model and Rosenstock-Huessy’s is that one is cyclic and the other radiant. These seem contradictory. But, as I suggested in a comment to the last post, the difference can be accounted for in terms of Iain McGilchrist’s “divided brain” and neurodynamics. Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” really does map the cognitive matrix of the second attention (the left-hemisphere of the brain) in terms of its interpretation of the flux of energy as the “sea of Time & Space”, while Holling’s model of the adaptive cycle conforms to McGilchrist’s interpretation of the reciprocity of the flow of energy/information between the brain hemispheres, or between the first attention and the second attention. Both have described their models in terms of “ecodynamics” — the lawful flow of energy.
As the time element is highly accentuated in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method”, so it is also in Holling’s adaptive cycle where increases (and decreases) in potentiality and increases (or decreases) in “connectedness” are processes in time, considered as entropy and neg-entropy. In other words it maps what we call “creative destruction” and which is also the meaning of the Dance of Shiva (who, coincidentally, is also four-armed),
Shiva’s dance is the dance of energy, and since all energy is deemed to be conscious, it is also the dance of consciousness. Shiva’s arms are also Blake’s “four Zoas”.
The cyclic and the radiant would appear to be contradictory, but I would suggest that they are so only in the sense that McGilchrist describes the right and left brain hemispheres’ respective “modes of attention” as contradictory — as two distinct cognitive minds. It’s more in the manner of a complementarity or a paradox or polarity as befits the philosophy of Heraclitus. What the first attention perceives as a whole — the energetic flux — is passed onto the left-hemisphere where it is refracted into the spectrum of spaces and times by the pattern provided by grammar. In that sense, grammar is “generative”. In that sense, “In the beginning was the Word” or Logos has a completely intelligible and determinant meaning. Grammar provides the blueprint for the translation of the primary flux into the forms of perceptible reality, which would otherwise remain (as William Blake put it) “forms of Eternity too great for the eyes of Man”.
We have the additional testimony of her personal experience by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor that this is so (in her TED talk on her “stroke of insight” if you haven’t yet viewed it). What Blake calls “the Mundane Shell” is the world according to the second attention or “reason”, while the apocalyptic Dance of Shiva is the world according to the first attention, or what we call “revelation”.
“Connectedness”, and the increase or decrease of connectedness, is one of the parameters of Holling’s adaptive cycle, variable with increases or decreases of potentiality (neg-entropy or entropy). Connectedness corresponds to McGilchrist’s understanding that the first or primary attention of the right-brain is concerned with “betweenness”. That is to say, both “connectedness” and “betweenness” are synonyms for “meaning”. Meaning is in the flow, not in the “things”. The very word “meaning” has this implication of “betweenness”, and that is the significance of the word “intelligence” or “intellect”, too — discernment of meaning or connectedness (the “inter-” prefix). By the same token, “potentiality” is but a synonym for “vitality” — which is the other parameter of Holling’s model.
In other words, meaning and vitality are correlated, as they are also in Rosenstock-Huessy’s radiant model. This is explicit in Rosenstock’s social philosophy. The expansion or contraction of the cross of reality is correlated with the increase or decrease in vitality or potentiality. In this, the models are in agreement.
So, the next question is: what uses can we make of these besides an insightful hermeneutics and perhaps as a diagnostic tool?