The “Deficient Phase” of a Consciousness Structure


These three terms always occur to me whenever I encounter contemporary political discourse. It’s certainly no “high politics” by any means. Nor is it exclusive to the political right, although they seem to be most gathered and pronounced amongst self-styled “conservatives”. It strikes me as characteristic of the deterioration of the public discourse in general.

Last night, though, as I was reading even more mean-spirited, small-souled, and petty-minded political views and news, it struck me that this triad very closely corresponds to Buddha’s “Three Evils”, and that the Three Evils very closely correspond to the deficient phases of Gebser’s three consciousness structures — the magical, the mythical, the mental.

It would prove fortuitous if the matter of a “deficiency” of consciousness could be summarised in this way. And I don’t see why it can’t. Let’s look at the parallels.

The Three Evils of Buddhism are Greed, Malice (Ill-Will), and Ignorance (Delusion). Low and behold, these Three Evils very much resemble, respectively “small-souled” (Aristotle’s Mikropsychos), mean-spirited (malice and menace), and petty-minded (or narrow-minded).

What stands out in each case is one of the emphases of the consciousness structures — spirit and the magical, soul and the mythical, mind and the mental, so that the terms “mean-spirited”, “small souled”, and “petty-minded” would represent the negation of themselves. Let’s draw up a synoptic table to see how this might fit

a) mean-spirited — malice or ill-will — deficit of the magical structure of consciousness — willing / spirit
b) small-souled — greed or grasping — deficit of the mythical structure of consciousness — feeling/ soul
c) petty-minded — ignorance or delusion — deficit of the mental structure of consciousness — intellect/mind. Perspectivism.

The deteriorated phase of a consciousness structure would seem to be adequately represented in the three terms. Moreover, it gives even greater depth of meaning to the Buddha’s Three Evils of Greed, Malice, and Delusion/Ignorance if they correspond to the deteriorated or nihilistic stages of a consciousness structure in Jean Gebser’s sense.

In Buddhism, the Three Evils are met and countered in the “Three Gems”: The Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha. “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha” or sanctuary. It would seem that the “Buddha” counters the greedy and grasping (the small-souled) with generosity; the dharma counters the petty-minded by broadening the mind; and the sangha (the community) counters the mean-spirited and the malicious by mutual benevolence and consideration.

It simplifies matters pertaining to Gebser’s cultural philosophy a great deal if we can interpret the deficiency of consciousness structures in such terms, for spirit, soul, and mind are the cornerstones of three of the four consciousness structures/civilisational types — correspondingly, the magical, the mythical, and the mental.



4 responses to “The “Deficient Phase” of a Consciousness Structure”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Reflecting on this further during the course of the day, it raised the question of whether Gebser might be considered to have over-elaborated or even “mystified” the consciousness structures when, in our terms, they are readily accessible and perhaps even understandable, to ordinary everyday experience and consciousness, and do not require a specialised and scholarly idiom to describe (although I can well understand why Gebser might choose to speak in a scholarly idiom).

    I also mentioned earlier, in a posting “It Ain’t Rocket Science”
    That what Gebser calls “deficient perspectivisation” or “deficient mental-rational” is just as well called “myopia” or “tunnel vision”, or even “narrow-mindedness”, which terms are much easier to appreciate than “the mental-rational consciousness structure now functioning in deficient mode”.

    I may have to go back over Gebser again and translate him into everyday terms just to show how some of his notions of “consciousness structures” reveal themselves in everyday experience and language that doesn’t require a specialist language of description and characterisation.

  2. dadaharm says :


    I think that the symptoms you describe have a single cause: closure of the mind. I would guess that the closure of the mind is caused by having systematised the totality of experience in some fixed way. That is a success that leads to a form of hubris. Moreover, you want to defend your systematisation. That implies use of techniques like denial and other forms of reducing cognitive dissonance. That leads to mean-spirited, small-minded and petty-minded people.

    Of course, having systematised to totality of experience also means that in McGilchrist’s terms the left side of the brain is in control. Which is what one expects when a consciousness structure has reached the end of the road.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I think that the symptoms you describe have a single cause: closure of the mind.

    No. That’s not the case at all. “Closure of the mind” is a mentalist construct in itself, which ignores the vitalistic and the psychistic, terms Gebser uses himself to identify the magical and the mythical. Moreover, a strictly mentalist interpretation doesn’t even recognise the reality of “spirit” or “soul” as valid, so how can it hope to understand “mean-spirited” or “small-souled” as even problems in themselves, let alone “petty-minded”?

    Most people who are “petty-minded” don’t even recognise it in themselves, because they have nothing to compare it to in their conscious experience — unless something hits them like the proverbial bolt from the blue.

    • dadaharm says :


      I guess I should have said something like closure of the mind, soul and will. Having thought a little about it, I think it does not really matter.

      I think closure of the mind is not possible without the active participation of not only the mental, but also the magical and mythical consciousness structures. Particularly, defenses like denial belong to the magical and the emotional attachment to the certainty that your closed picture of reality provides belongs to the mythical consciousness structure.

      So I see a closed mind as a total package involving the mental-rational, mythical and magical structures simulataneously..

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