Shifting Gears: The Sea of Time
Some time ago in The Chrysalis, I suggested we change the designation “spacetime” continuum to “timespace”, reflecting the primacy of the time “dimension” for the lifeworld. Time is of the essence. And yet nothing perplexes and confounds the mind, or arouses its anxieties, as the mystery of time. Descartes, the father of contemporary rationalism, was baffled by time and consequently made no place for it at all in his “wondrous strange method”.
The Chrysalis has been both a critique of space-bound perspectivising rationality or “point-of-view” consciousness and perception, as well as a preparation for a kind of “revaluation of values” — much as the chrysalis stage is itself. It’s appropriate because the butterfly or moth is also a traditional symbol of the soul. And as Augustine once put it, “time is of the soul”.
Space-bound thinking emphasised point-of-view perspectivism and the subject-object divide and dichotomy. Existentially speaking, we first come to know a difference between the “in here” and “out there” only by the fact that desires and needs arise in us that meet resistance to their immediate satisfaction from “out there”. The belief that “Nature can’t do anything right”, which is the fundamental premise of the Modern Age really (and a pretty narcissistic evaluation in itself), and the motive for our becoming “masters and possessors of nature”, as Descartes framed it, originates from the discrepancy between desire and the resistance to the satisfaction of that desire thrown up by “Nature” or objective reality more generally (or society for that matter). “Scientia potens est“, or “knowledge is power” — pretty much the motto of the Age of Reason — makes the pursuit of power, of command and control, the meaning and chief activity of modernity. Happiness, the ostensible goal of it all, being a matter of progressively overcoming, if not obliterating, by rational and technical methods the differential between subjective desire and the objective reality’s apparent resistance to the satisfaction of that desire.
The Eastern tradition, on the other hand, takes a much different approach to the issue of the unsatisfactoriness (dukkha — malaise or suffering) of existence. Since unsatisfactoriness or dukkha arises from unsated need and desire (which is associated with a consuming “fire”) the extinguishment of need and desire is seen as the cure for samsaric existence. In effect, to dispossess ourselves of ourselves by non-attachment or disinterestedness. The onus is not on Nature to change her apparently insufficient ways, but on man to change his nature and his expectations. The progressive satisfaction of need (and sense of neediness) as the meaning of the pursuit of power in the West, is matched by the progressive elimination of need and desire in the East. Ostensibly, both aim for the same goal — happiness. One aims for the conquest of objective space, another for the conquest of subjective space.
This contest between desire and resistance to desire, or between will and necessity, is ancient man’s first dawning awareness of his situation in physical reality — his first awareness of a differential. Magic was the first technology to overcome the difference between desire and its satisfaction. One might say that magic was even the first economy, the first “means of production” — the first pursuit of power by spell-casting. It is also the structure of consciousness that has the greatest affinity with the rational structure in terms of making and power (“make”, Macht, machine, magistrate, and magic are related words). When Francis Bacon weighed the relative merits of science or magic for man’s gaining knowledge and power over Nature, it was precisely because science and magic shared this affinity. In fact, the Greek word techne (art or means) was synonymous with magic as well. Tool magic, hunting magic, fertility magic, shapeshifting, warfare magic — you name it, it was all covered by an appropriate spell and magical technique or formula. And there’s no question that it was effective in its terms, as attested to by many anthropologists who have familiarised themselves with even contemporary shamanistic cultures. Placebo effect, nocebo effect, and the black magic and spell-casting of contemporary propaganda attest to its latent persistence within us, even in the form of technology, in contemporary “rational” civilisation. The perennial question of ‘mind over matter’ (or the “masses”) is the question of the effectuality of magic, and a lot of quantum scientists would (and do) today attest to its (often dangerous) effective reality.
The intentionality of consciousness — or intent — is the magical element and factor. “You create the reality you know” is, essentially, the persistence of the magical factor implicit in consciousness. Consciousness is doing something funny with space and time. In fact, the magical consciousness structure, and the magical factor of intentionality, plays a big role in Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamics, as described in his book The Master and his Emissary. If, as he insists, the “mode of attention” you bring to the world determines your “mode of being” in that world, that’s intentionality, and that’s the magical factor — the factor of “making happen”. The Emissary is, though, the proverbial “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in this regard — the image of Gebser’s “deficient magical consciousness” owing to its lack of insight into this ancient influence still present in its activities. Whether we know it or not, we are all “magical beings”, as Castaneda’s don Juan told him. We are all magical beings, by virtue of the intentionality of consciousness, although some of us don’t know it, and that makes us vulnerable to the “dark side”, as it were. The “dark side” is just the unilluminated and unintegrated aspects of the psychic whole.
Becoming conscious of this magical factor in our consciousness and psychic constitution is a big part of achieving “integral consciousness”, and it hinges on the proper recognition of intentionality and intent. The ego-consciousness believes it is the master of intent, as “will power”, “captain of its soul” and fate. But that’s essentially a delusion of the “Emissary” because the ego-consciousness is, itself, a construct of intent, but which it then confuses with its own “will”. Nonetheless, it experiences the workings of intent as a “fate” (Heraclitus’ maxim, “character is fate” is all about the magic of intentionality). So, intent has much to do with the meaning of the karmic law of action and reaction. It is intent that not only turns the wheel of space and time, but also intent that “stops the wheel of space and time”, or what Castaneda also referred to as “stopping the world”.
But we’ll return to that and the role of intent in stopping and starting the wheel of time and space when we resume the discussion of the relationship between Now and the Momentary, and the primacy of time. But it’s because the “Emissary” (the second attention or “Prodigal Son”) as “usurper” has become dissociated and estranged from the Master or the core, that it has become the proverbial “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It’s will is not aligned with intent, and the consequence is perverse outcome, unintended consequence, reversal of fortune, blowback and revenge effect, all of which are now becoming epidemic at our “end of history”. These are the consequences of the “deficient mental” consciousness, which Gebser calls “rationality” — the image of H.G. Wells’ realisation that “mind” was now at “the end of its tether”.
Insight into the various hitherto realised consciousness structures that constitute the human psychic whole and persist as effectual (albeit unconsciously so) in everyday life is the key to integral consciousness, or the “aperspectival-arational”. Otherwise, we end up as their “playthings”, as Gebser puts it. Then we feel like helpless dry leaves blown about by strong winds. The pathway to the aperspectival, arational, and achronic (of which more later) hinges on one very simple rule: to know when to “make happen” and to know when to “let happen”, which is a matter of time, tempo, and timing. All that really amounts to is the knowledge of when to “intend” and when to “attend“, which are the two poles of consciousness in its yin and yang aspects, or animus and anima aspects.
“Gebser’s Rule”, as we might call it: to know when to “make happen” and to know when to “let happen”, emphasises time and timing (and which is also a major theme of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “time-thinking” also). But if you know Castaneda’s writings, you might also recognise that in a rebuke that don Juan issued to Castaneda about his clumsiness, something to the effect that “you’re problem is that you rush when you should wait, and you wait when you should rush”. In other words, when to intend or “make happen” and when to attend or “let happen”.
Castaneda’s problem was, of course, that he was a “modern man” with all the “modern man’s” peculiar sense of time, timing, and tempo. It’s the clock, machine time — the time of economic production and interest rate calculation — that conditions modern man’s insensitivity to the meaning of time and timing. Modern man’s soul has been mechanised, routinised, measured, weighed, calculated and quantified. And it’s a fact of which he is almost completely unaware because he knows no other meaning of time or tempo.
So, for his soul’s sake, the human of the modern type must wake up to the meaning of time, and the conversation of time and eternity– in which the polarity of “Now” and the “momentary” supercedes that of subject-object dualism. Time is the primary dimension of the human lifeworld, time and the achronon. So, it’s to time that we will turn for the clue to the new and emergent consciousness structure — the “aperspectival” or integral.
And one of the first places we are going to look is, in all places, the economics of Adam Smith and neo-liberal economics — the economics of acquisitive individualism and competitive egoism. For Smith did something peculiar to time even when he himself knew better. And we are, today, largely living with the consequences.