More than anything, perhaps, propaganda (and in which I include advertising, branding, public relations, public diplomacy, etc) has laid waste to the Cartesian maxim cogito ergo sum. Propaganda has pretty much proved that thinking is not the central issue of being, nor can this res cogitans or “thinking thing” function as the “ground of being”. “Perception is reality” has displaced the Cartesian cogito from the centre of things. This “cogito” was prescriptive and proscriptive only. It deliberately overlooked the primacy of perception and the fact that this “thinking” could only be known by an act of perception itself. The “post-modern condition” is really the post-Cartesian or post-Enlightenment condition. It’s finally the odd-ball philosopher, Bishop Berkley, whose conclusion that “to be is to be perceived” countered the Cartesian formula, who now has had the last laugh.

The peculiarity of our present time is the “double-movement” that expresses itself as, simultaneously, the quest for “the Ground of Being” and yet also the Transcendent, but both of which attest to the fact that “cogito ergo sum” no longer works for us. We no longer have any faith in it as a guiding principle for the “good life”.

It’s precisely because “perception is reality” and “to be is to be perceived” have overtaken the Cartesian formula that we live “the post-modern condition” and why “perception management” has become the primary technology of social and political control. The fact is that Late Modernity is already “post-rational” and until we understand in what way it is so, we will remain hopelessly confused and bewildered about it.

We are obliged to turn our attention to the act of perception by the very fact of the ubiquity of “perception management” — advertising, branding, public diplomacy and so on. We are vulnerable if we don’t. But this shift from the act of thinking to the act of perception is even exemplified in the quandries and paradoxes of quantum physics, in which “Observer Created Reality” (OCR) or “Consciousness Created Reality” (CCR) has resulted in some dilemmas for “thinking”. The primacy of perception, and the liberation of perception from the “mind-forg’d manacles” and amalgamate false natures, was William Blake’s primary mission. And if Carlos Castaneda’s writings about his experiences as “sorcerer’s apprentice” continue to bedevil, perplex, and outrage his critics and the “debunkers”, it is also because of his teacher’s emphasis on “unfolding the wings of perception”.

Blake’s concern to “cleanse the doors of perception” and don Juan’s concern with “unfolding the wings of perception” are exactly equivalent. And this should concern us, too, since the act of perception is prior to the discovery of “thinking” itself, and for that reason has remained largely unconscious — in fact, is probably identical with what we mean by “unconscious”.

William Blake, Jean Gebser, Carlos Castaneda, Rudolf Steiner, Phenomenology, Rumi, and even, in some respects Nietzsche and quantum physics: what they all share — that which distinguishes them from the mainstream — is the recognition and acknowledgement of the primacy of the act of perception over the act of thinking. Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational, and the integral — are matters of perception and modes of perception. Likewise, Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamic explorations in The Master and His Emissary draw attention to the issue of the divided brain as two different “modes of attention”, ie, modes of perception.

A lot of confusion exists, about this matter, because of a lack of differentiation between the perceptual and the conceptual, or between the perceptual and the sensate. A lot of reductionist psychology, for example, willy-nilly conflates perception with thinking (idealism), and even perception with sensation (materialism). In fact, perception precedes reflection or “thinking about”. Likewise, in the act of perception the physical senses — sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing — are only marginally involved, just as much as are the acts we call intellection, ratiocination, mentation, calculation or “thinking” as we presently understand thinking.

In philosophical terms, Phenomenology (Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) have gone the furthest in articulating psychology and philosophy of perception and in terms of the “intentionality of consciousness”. This is the same issue as what Carlos Castaneda’s don Juan refers to as “intent” as the operative potency in the universe, and the basis of the magical structure of consciousness. What this means is, that every act of perception is simultaneously an act of creation (and very much connected with Jung’s “synchronicity”). Consciousness is inherently creative by virtue of this characteristic of intent or intentionality.  This shaping power of consciousness, as a issue of intending the reality it perceives, is what Blake calls “vision” or the “Imagination”, and is also implied in Heraclitus’ maxim that “character is fate”.

This is, in some ways, ancient knowledge. The pre-Socratic philosophers, for example, never thought of the physical senses, such as the eye, as passive recipients of sense impressions or sensory “data” from “outside”. Light was conceived as radiating outwards from the eye to illuminate what it saw. Seeing generated the sight. What they were trying to express, though, was the meaning of “intentionality” of perception. That the physical senses shape their environment was a residual memory, become somewhat obscured by the mythical structure of consciousness, of a much earlier knowledge of the magical potency of intentionality, still clear to Heraclitus, (appropriately renamed in our time as “the Greek Buddha”. In his own time, though, he was called “Heraclitus the Dark”, or “Heraclitus the Obscure” because still, with Heraclitus, the issue is the primacy of perception over thinking). On the other hand, his arch philosophical foe, Parmenides — the philosopher of “Being” — had declared that “thinking and being are the same” (later to be repeated in  Descartes’ formula “I think therefore I am”). And it was Parmenides and the primacy of thinking, and not Heraclitus and the primacy of perception, that was to set the cornerstone for all Western intellectual history since.

What propaganda as “perception management” has re-discovered, albeit in a very inadvertent and unconscious way itself, is the primacy of perception over thinking. And we are compelled by this fact to become conscious of the act of perception itself, simply as a matter of self-defence against the voodoo of propaganda, advertising, branding and other forms of contemporary “perception management”. We are being compelled by the facts of Late Modernity to realise and acknowledge that “thinking” and “consciousness” are not identical — that the “mental-rational consciousness structure” or “perspectival” consciousness as Gebser also calls it, is only one mode of perception available to consciousness, and a very limited and limiting one at that. It is certainly not foundational.

Iain McGilchrist’s insight, gleaned from neurodynamics, that your “mode of attention” determines your “mode of being” is very much, once again, the issue of intentionality and perception, and a recognition of the fact that the act of perception is simultaneously a constitutive act — ie, it is creative. And since the mode of attention determines the mode of being (which is fully the issue also of Jean Gebser’s different “structures of consciousness” as modes of perception) you can appreciate why certain commercial and power elites would seek to control and regulate the act of perception — to control and regulate “the mode of being”. In in our case, it is to make sure no one escapes the orbit of consumerist materialism.

It should be clear that we can’t go back to the cogito as foundational and primary, simply because it’s not. It was as much a “dream” — the dream of reason — as the fantasy reality generated by branding. We must get clear about the act of perception if we have any hope or desire of ridding ourselves of Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles”. And I am finding, in my present studies of brand culture, that a lot of otherwise useful and critical books on the subject suffer from an outdated loyalty and allegiance to the cogito and to the principles of the Enlightenment. Consequently, the end up pissing into the wind, and can make no headway against the potent falsities of the present.

Whether or not “perception is reality” and that “to be is to be perceived” are true can only be decided by becoming clear about the act of perception itself. We have simply ignored the primacy of perception for too long, or have taken it for granted, and in consequence have allowed propagandists and perception managers to run roughshod all over our nervous systems.

Opening “the doors of perception” (Blake), or “unfolding the wings of perception” (Castaneda) or “purify your eyes and see the pure world” (Rumi) just make eminent sense, don’t they? “Perception is reality”, as a replacement for the cogito, is a conclusion that is now treated as if it were a premise. The only way to test its truth or falsity is to investigate our own perception, unencumbered by the “mind-forg’d manacles” of assumptions, biases, beliefs, and prejudices that are, usually, not even our own but someone else’s — the “foreign installation”. Before we can even decide whether “perception is reality” or whether “to be is to be perceived”, we have to know perception. That’s where we should begin, and not with either the Cartesian cogito or the propagandist’s motto.



50 responses to “Post-Enlightenment”

  1. davidm58 says :

    This is another excellent,insightful, perceptive post!

    I would include the radical empiricists as the philosophers who’ve most deeply delved into the importance of the various modes of perception (before post-modernism). William James, Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, Bernard Loomer, Nancy Frankenberry, William Dean. Meland’s motto was “we live more deeply than we think.”

    Jean Gebser’s discussion in EPO on the magic structure does much to support what is said here. In regards to propaganda:
    “All magic, even today, occurs in the natural-vital, egoless, spaceless and timeless sphere. This requires — as far as present-day man is concerned — a sacrifice of consciousness; it occurs in the state of trance, or when the consciousness dissolves as a result of mass reactions, slogans, or “isms.” If we are not aware of this sphere in ourselves, it remains an entry for all kinds of magic influences. It does not matter whether such magic influences emanate knowingly from people or unknowingly from things which, in this sphere, have a vital magic knowledge of their own, or are linked with such vital knowledge.”

    There is a double movement involved in leaps of consciousness:
    “This release from nature is the struggle which underpins every significant will power-drive, and, in a very exact sense, every tragic drive for power. This enables magic man to stand out against the superior power of nature, so that he can escape the binding force of his merger with nature. Therewith he accomplishes that further leap into consciousness which is the real theme of mankind’s mutations.”

    About the “power of the earth” – this may be related to his conception of “the law of the earth”:

    “This remarable and deeply inveterate impulse to be free from miracles, taboos, forbidden names, which, if we think back on the archaic period, represents in the magic a falling away from the once-prevailing totality: this urge to freedom and the constant need to be against something resulting from it (because only this “being against” creates separation, and with it, possibilities of consciousness) may be the answering reaction of man, set adrift on earth, to the power of the earth. It may be curse, blessing, or mission. In any case, it may mean: whoever wishes to prevail over the earth must liberate himself from its power.

    Deep in the magic structure, at least at the outset, man is earth-bound and earth-imprisoned, natural and primal, so that he can scarcely overcome this merger with the primeval forest. (Even today we associate the forest — etymologically related, at least in German, with the word for “world” — with dark, pre-conscious life). Then, in the magic structure, he makes the almost superhuman attempt to free himself from the jungle-like bonds and spell of his fusion with nature. Here lies the basis of all sorcery and magic, such as rainmaking, ritual, and the countless other forms by which magic man tries to cope with nature.

    In the final analysis, our machines and technology, even our present-day power politics, arise from these magic roots: Nature, the surrounding world, other human beings must beruled so that man is not ruled by them. This fear that man is compelled to rule the outside world — so as not to be ruled by it — is symptomatic of our times. Every individual who fails to realize that he must rule himself falls victim to that drive.

    The skill needed in mastering and guiding our own being is still projected into the outside world. We may not have power over it, but, mindful of our forgotten heritage, we ought to maintain the right to guide it. The magic heritage — the striving for power — has not yet been overcome, in this split form as well.”

    Someone has typed up these relevant pages from EPO on the magic structure, pp. 46-60. For those who don’t have the book, you can read this section here:

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for going through the effort of posting all that! Pretty relevant to this current thread on brand “wizardry” and what not (and to what I’m presently reading in Ewen’s All Consuming Images) and to what I’m planning to post on “loss of soul”.

      Yeah… the battles of the past were all about “thinking” — ideology — as befits the centrality of the Cartesian “cogito”. But the battles of the present and future aren’t going to be about ideology so much as about perception. So Daniel Bell was probably right about ‘post-ideological society’ but maybe for all the wrong reasons

      • davidm58 says :

        This comment has been resonating for the last week since it was originally posted. This is a great summary statement that “the battles of the present and future aren’t going to be about ideology so much as about perception.”

        Perhaps also relevant to this thread is George Lakoff’s work, for example in this article, Why “Rational Reason” Doesn’t Work in Contemporary Politics: .
        And discussed in depth here:

        • Scott Preston says :

          Thanks for the links. I’ll get around to them when I get home. For some reason I didn’t received email notification of your comment. Not sure why. Just came across it by chance.

        • Scott Preston says :

          These seem to me to be on the right track, but it really boils down to this: who tells the better story, doesn’t it? Metaphorical thinking is symbolic or mythical thinking, and that’s all about stories. The most successful politicians have always been the best story tellers. That’s how aboriginal elders teach the young — always it’s “That reminds me of a story”… and off they go. And at the end of the story, you’re supposed to have learned something about yourself. The myths, as people now appreciate, weren’t for entertainment really — although they did that, they also served to teach. And myth is very much this same “embodied reason” that Lakoff extols. And as McGilchrist points out, its the predilection of the right-hemisphere to “think” in symbolic and metaphor terms, ie, mythically.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Can we know perception? Perception is like god unknowable and that is the idea to keep us involved in the search to know. Do not stop with any revelation. Perception is given but not every human being knows the proper way of utilizing this divine given. Here comes the intention to perceive properly and wisely as the road to avoid the fall which we are witnessing in the Cartesian cogito or the propagandist motto and to realize our humane human potentials. It is how to perceive is the deciding factor in shaping our life story. Intend to perceive because it is obvious that not every human is prone to utilize his perception in the manner intended for it to be used as a tool to understand himself and the universe around him and the power behind all that and how to be an effective creative and helping hand in this narcissistic world, after all what is the purpose of opening the doors of perception or unfolding the wings of such perception or purify our self to see the pure world if not to exercise the above mentioned tasks, to be compassionate and loving in a world that has missed or misused these beautiful emotions. It is a personal responsibility in perfecting the steps of his journey that it to be pure in order to see things around him pure, as Rumi puts it, the mirror! for every one will stand in front of he who has put in him the soul of his soul, alone.

  3. Dwig says :

    I think the works of Michael Polanyi fit in here ( Some relevant phrases: “All knowing is personal”, “we believe more than we can prove, and know more than we can say”, “Our tacit awareness connects us, albeit fallibly, with reality. It supplies us with the context within which our articulations have meaning.”, “He claimed that we experience the world by integrating our subsidiary awareness into a focal awareness.” “An example of a higher-level reality functioning as a downward causal force is consciousness – intentionality – generating meanings – intensionality.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’m familiar with Polyani’s phrase “tacit knowledge” or “tacit awareness”. It’s a good phrase. Beyond that, haven’t looked much further into him.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    For the last three days I have been reading several papers on Polanyi society site to understand what he meant by tacit knowledge. What I found a human being in search of god in this atmosphere of positive and reductive denial of the divine source of knowledge. A human that works toward reconnection to that source through activating the natural impulse of the human soul to contact the original, focal source that imbued the human with a particle of his spirit. Knowing that the unseen is a call for a never-ending discovery. A human that pursue a practical path starting with a stance of faith, to attach his awareness to the divine awareness distancing himself from the scientific culture that deprived the human from participating in the inner life of the divine through his soul,his antenna to sends and receives. The culture that detached the human awareness from its source. He Reminds me of Ibn Arabi whose path is to ignite that contact. Ibn Arabi who kept repeating that once the human forgets the indwelling divinity in him he goes astray. From the few flashes I get from the few I read I think Scott you will enjoy looking much further into this wonderful human.

  5. Mystic sofa says :

    I’ve been reading a detailed commentary on Steiner’s epistemology in the last few days, and indeed came by this site as a result of a google search to understand whether intentionality, as used by Steiner, i.e. in the Husserlian sense, is related to Intent in Castaneda’s works. The only point I would like to clarify in the above (which may already be well understood by the author) is that the world that appears as the result of intent is a co-creation of cognition, understood as the active act of organising percepts, and possibilities inherent in the given, understood as the undifferentiated field prior to any act of knowing. I interpret his main point as being that, in contrast to the new-age maxim ‘we create our own reality’, that in fact our personal realities are a co-creation of active organisation of possibilities inherent in ‘the given’, i.e. the undifferentiated world-field prior to any predicates being postulated by the act of cognition itself. This also seems to me to relate to Matura and Varela’s notion of an organism ‘bringing forth a world’ that is intelligible, through structural coupling. This formulation of the relationship between intention and the world-field is profoundly relational, something like an dance or a partnership, in which both side have agency in the creation of perception. I wonder if this is what TS Eliot had in mind when he wrote “and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well when the tongues of flames are in-folded into the crowned knot of fire and the fire and the rose are one”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. It’s been sometime since I’ve delved into Steiner, especially The Philosophy of Freedom and his commentaries on that, and as I recall Steiner was eager to prove “thinking as a spiritual activity”, which is kind of odd given that German already encodes “mind” and “spirit” as pretty much identical issues, ie, Geisteswissenschaft.

      William Blake also wanted to prove thinking as a spiritual activity, but he had a different problem, as English treats of the issues of mind and spirit differently. But in the idea of “The Imagination”, Blake hit upon the very thing that Steiner was attempting to say in The Philosophy of Freedom. Blake’s “Imagination” is intentionality, and is thinking as spiritual activity in the Anthroposophical sense. So, yes…. what you’ve described in your comment is also Blake’s meaning of “Imagination”. And this is equally pretty much the same as don Juan means by “intent”. For Blake “imagination” is the divine creative power within the human form, as “intent” is the basic operative power in the cosmos also in the human form, and the handling of intent as the true meaning of “sorcery”. And I’m pretty convinced that this “intent” was what Nietzsche hit on as his “will to power” as the fundamental operative force in the cosmos, ie, Steiner’s ‘creative forces’.

      I think, then, that when Steiner aimed to prove “thinking as a spiritual activity”, he meant to convey rather “thinking as a creative activity” — a world forming activity, by virtue of this same “intent” implicit in it, and which Blake knew as “Imagination” — the true Reason.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I might add to the foregoing, that there are occasions in Blake, in fact, where he uses “Intellect” as a substitute for “Imagination”, as the true “intelligence”. But generally avoids “Intellect” because of its association with the analytical mentality, or with reductionism and fundamentalism.

        Students of Blake can learn a good deal from Steiner about Blake, and vice versa, students of Steiner can learn a great deal from Blake, too.

        • Mystic sofa says :

          Thanks for the replies Scott. So, I think, then, that my question regards similarities / differences between Steiner’s and Castaneda’s notion of Intent specifically with references to constraints that act upon it in the activity of producing an intelligible world.

          For example, in the particular essay that I am reading on Steiner’s epistemology, the author writes that ‘all phenomena are cognitions – a unity of intention and sensation’, yet that ‘even as we know intentional activity is produced by us, that in sensible perception we are meeting something that is not-so produced’ and ‘our intentional activity cannot create such a reality, no amount of intending will produce the sensible content of perception. Thus we suffer the limitations that sensible content enforces on our ways of viewing’.

          It is a long time since I have read Castaneda in detail, and from memory it’s not clear whether the two versions of Intent are the same on this point. I was initially struck that Steiner’s forumulation of ‘the given’ as having no determinable features prior to our intentions as bearing some similarity to Castaneda’s description of the relationship between the tonal and the nagual. Also, it now occurs to me that Steiner’s argument that we must have adequate intentional proposals in order to percieve intelligibility in the given could possibly relate to Castaneda’s description of perception arising a result of alignment between emanations in the cocoon with those outside; however, this is loose speculation on my part.

          I’d be interested to know if you do have any thoughts or further insight on any of the above.

          • Mystic sofa says :

            …or, more simply stated, in your understanding is Castaneda’s version of Intent constrained by anything beyond itself when creating the percieved phenomenal world?

          • Scott Preston says :

            Not too sure what your Steinerian epistemologist is trying to say here. The senses lie. You could also say that about “mind” too. In Buddhism it’s treated as being itself a sense along with the physical senses. In that sense, corresponding to Castaneda’s “tonal”, because mind is dependent also on the inputs of the physical senses. Hence, the Buddhist doctrine of No-Mind.
            Meaning, at this point we are beyond the tonal and in the realm of the nagual — the realm of intent, which isn’t a personal possession at all. Intent is not the will. Will belongs to the tonal, although its probably true to say that “will” is a reflection of intent within the realm of the tonal. Hence, the old Christian saying “not my will be done but Thine, O Lord”. That is to say, the tonal would very much like its will to be aligned with intent, ie harmonised. In Castaneda, though, command of intent comes from surrendering to intent itself. Exactly the same formulation as you find in the Christian’s prayer. Ergo, what we know as “the will of God” is intent and is the formative force in the cosmos — the fundamental principle of its order. So say “intent” is the formative is to say that it is involved in translating the flux of energy that is the only reality into intelligible, perceptible or sensible objects — the familiar world we call “ordinary reality”. This translation appears to be the function of the divided brain, as described by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary. An excellent book which may well contain the answers to the questions you are looking for. (Some of it is available for reading on the internet).

            Don’t know if that approaches your question/comment. In principle intent is not limited by anything. as far as I understand it. Have you read Castaneda’s statement about that in the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Teachings of Don Juan. It was his final statement on his apprenticeship, and it’s well worth reading.

            • Mystic sofa says :

              I have not read Castaneda’s fina statement – is there a version online anywhere that you can point me towards, or would I need to buy that edition? The Mrs does, however, have a copy of The Master and his Emissary that I have just borrowed at your recommendation.

              I think, with reference to the Steiner commentary, perhaps I have not summarised well the arguments that the author is presenting, nor my own question to you. However, there seems to enough similarity in your response to suppose that both Castaneda and Steiner are talking about the same phenomenon.

              You write “intent… is involved in translating the flux of energy that is the only reality into intelligible, perceptible or sensible objects”. Here, ‘the flux of energy’ may correspond to what Steiner refers to as ‘the given’ – they both refer to whatever it is that intent translates / organises / forms, which is indeterminate prior to the activity of intent, i.e. whatever it is it is not yet the phenomenal world nor any of the objects in it.

              The question for me revolves around the possibilities open to intent when organising the flux of energy / the given. In Steiner’s formulation, the sets of perceptual relationships that intent proposes in the given / the flux of energy can be more or less adequate. The author writes “we do not create the world, but only it’s intelligble appearance, which is our knowledge of it. The success of our activity is measured by how intelligibly it can reveal a given”.

              He illustrates this using the example of the famous necker cube illusion. We can intend different sets of relationships leading to different perceptions of a three dimensional cube, but if we intend round or trinagular forms, nothing comes from these intentions as a perceptual result. It was this that I was intending to convey when I was asking whether in Castaneda’s formulaton the flux of energy places constraints on intent. My reading of the situation is that if it does not, then it becomes a one-sided form of idealism, i.e. we create our phenomenal worlds without reference to any ‘other’ at all, which might account for the regularities that we percieve in what appears as the world. The flip-side to this would be the belief that the sets of relations that we percieve in the world inhere in the world itself as properties, thereby missing entirely the organising activity of intent in creating the appearance of our phenomenal worlds.

              Anyway, I hope that clears things up a little, and thanks for persevering with me. If nothing else thinking this through and writing it down has helped me to clarify the commentary on The Philosopy of Freedom, which was written by a guy called Ron Brady. I’m pretty much a complete newcomer to Steiner (who I had dismissed as a bit of a kook, to be honest), so I was surprised to find such a cogent and rigourous approach to the problem of knowledge in subject / object epistemology. I can post the link here if you’re interested.

            • Scott Preston says :

              You’re in luck. I just happened to quote Castaneda’s definitive commentary in its entirety in an earlier post


              Yes, please post a link to Mr. Brady’s work.

              The question for me revolves around the possibilities open to intent when organising the flux of energy / the given. In Steiner’s formulation, the sets of perceptual relationships that intent proposes in the given / the flux of energy can be more or less adequate. The author writes “we do not create the world, but only it’s intelligble appearance, which is our knowledge of it. The success of our activity is measured by how intelligibly it can reveal a given”.

              If I’m reading this correctly, the question has to do with the possible constraints on “intent” in terms of the constrains imposed by the logic of the physical spacetime system, or whether indeed we can even intend “nothingness” itself or what Blake calls Non-Ens or Non-Entity.

              It seems that here we are dealing with Jean Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” and their different spacetime configurations — the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational, and the integral (also the “archaic” but this is another matter). And each of these is, indeed, characterised by a different collective representation of the physical system, a different spacetime configuration. Different structures of consciousness intend different spacetime configurations ie, “realities”, but in this the human ego is unknowing. It is simply the spectator of the creations of intent. This issue is, of course, what currently bedevils quantum physics, in terms of “Observer Created Reality” (OCR) or “Consciousness Created Reality”( CCR), and I’m not sure than anyone in the field (so to speak) has hit upon a resolution of their quandry. And Paul Watzlawick’s book How Real is Real? probably speaks to the very question you are asking — just how much of what we call “reality” is “given” and how much of reality is constituted in the very act of perception (intended). McGilchrist offers something of the same issue — your mode of attention determines your mode of being, and the boundaries and parameters of your being. IN PRINCIPLE, there are no boundaries or limits. That’s what Blake describes in much of his poetry — Eternity in the hour, the universe in a grain of sand, The finite world is Maya, or what Blake calls Ulro.

              Anyway, I’ll stop there so you can review Castaneda’s remarks on intent. It may suggest a different approach to the question of the “given”. But, when it comes right down to it, I don’t think even don Juan knew, and perhaps didn’t even care.

    • Dwig says :

      Mystic and all:
      Your mention of Maturana and Varela reminded me of a book of theirs that I haven’t read for a while: “The Tree of Knowledge”. I’ll have to pick it up again, with deeper insights gained from the conversations here. Thanks to all.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    This is my contribution to this useful discourse that I have come to through my personal experience in the mystic realm that starts from the faithful feeling of the creative source of everything that imbued the human with all the faculties that will help him to relate and communicate with his creator, with the cosmos , with himself and others and making him aware that activating these faculties require his presence in the circle of the effective radiations of the epistemological inputs of the source or his agents through honest devotion and constant perseverance in his path. To understand the interactions and the priority of the different tools given to him to perfectify his interactions. In the sufis tradition the intent is the inlet to all proper communications that help the attention from being misled and fine-tuning the use of perception and conception in their proper moods, that is why we read in their literature their call not to look on what ignite your animal desires or do not let yourselves indulge in idle talk and expose yourself always to his unseen radiations. Imagination is a very important tool in the process of the communication with the origin of everything, the real that pervades everything that is present with us all the time, if only we work ourselves to be consciously present with him.

  7. Mystic sofa says :

    Scott, there’s no option to reply to your most recent posting so I’ll do so here. Here’s the link to Brady’s PDF:

    To briefly respond to your post: “If I’m reading this correctly, the question has to do with the possible constraints on “intent” in terms of the constrains imposed by the logic of the physical spacetime system”. Not quite, I interpret Brady and Steiner’s point to be more subtle. Any ‘logic of the physical spacetime system’ would itself be the result of intending, as it would necessarily involves projecting those categories and sets of relations onto the given, or the flux of energy. There are no determinate structures in the given prior to intending them, to suppose that there are would be to miss the organising role of intent in perception, i.e. empiricism. Yet, neither will any old intention do, intention does not the create the world out of nothing (which would be idealism) – it responds to an ‘other’, the flux / given, in which possibilities for perception inhere, but are not pre-determined. What the limits of these possibilities are is to be determined by the intelligibility of the perceptual results of intent.

    Well… at least that’s my current understanding of it. At least you have the original PDF, which hopefully does a much better job of articulating all this. I’d be interested to know your thoughts if you do read it at some point.

    Thanks for the link to the Castaneda statement. I’ll read it and pick up the discussion over there if I have any questions / contributions.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There are no determinate structures in the given prior to intending them, to suppose that there are would be to miss the organising role of intent in perception

      Not quite. Intent itself is a logical principle, and yet a generalised force in the universe — not a subjective faculty. It is the Logos. In Castaneda, the great sea of energy and the sea of awareness are one and the same. That means the flux of energy is not random, but coherent. it follows a perceptible pattern.

      The Void is not nothingness, per se. And although it’s referred to as The Big Empty (Infinity) its the seething fullness of potentiality rather than actuality — the old Aristotelian notion of potens and actus. DavidM, here, is involved in interpreting the logical dynamics of the flux through “Pattern Dynamics”. The language of the flux is pattern. Without the pattern, the universe would be a very mad place indeed. The pattern isn’t amenable, though, to discursive, analytical logic — which destroys it in the very process of analysis. But symbolism, metaphor — these are attempts to represent the pattern. For that reason, intent and intelligence are pretty much identical terms.

      • Mystic sofa says :

        I think we may be agreeing here, although with differences in terminology. So, I entirely agree when you say that the flux / given is not random, but contains order / pattern / coherence that is both intellible, and perhaps itself an expression of intelligence – this is what I was trying to get at by saying that possibilities for perception inhere in the given, that can be percieved through an appropriate intention. However, what appears in perception does not necessarily exhaust the perceptual possibilities; hence, different intelligible perceptual worlds can appear according to different intentions, perhaps as you suggest related to different strata / types of consciousness.

        I would also agree that intention is not a subjective phenomenon. Given that the perception of a ‘subject’ must itself be intended, this would be to put the cart before the horse, so to speak. I like Castaneda’s description of intention and the flux of energy as different energetic aspects of a unified whole. In this formulation then intention is the means by which the universe comes to know itself. It strikes me now that this has interesting parallels with Goethean epistemology, in which the condition of ‘being known’ is a higher state of any entity.

        I did very briefly have a look at pattern dynamics through the link on your blogroll. My initial impression is that the patterns coded there seem to be related to system archetypes, following perhaps in the footsteps of (the fantastic) Gregory Bateson? Anyway, I shall take a more detailed look when time permits.

        Thanks for the stimulating discussion – I’ve very much enjoyed it!

        • Scott Preston says :

          You might also look into the book Charles Leiden recommended “The Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram. I’ve looked into it (and ordered it). It also treats of intentionality apparently as it bears on the magical structure of consciousness.

          • Mystic sofa says :

            I’m quite familiar with this particular book, and would also definitely recommend it. Abrams postulates that the self-reflective nature of modern consciousness has come about as a result of the development of the modern alphabet, which obscures the connection of language from it’s animistic origins in the world. I don’t know if you are familiar with the contemporary theory of metaphor, which started with Lakoff & Johnson in their book Metaphors We Live By; however, whilst recently doing some research it became apparent to me that investigating conceptual metaphors embedded in the etymology of many apparently abstract words / concepts can reveal their embodied / animistic roots.

    • Scott Preston says :

      By the way…not sure if you’re familiar with Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk about her “Stroke of Insight”. She’s a neuroscientist, and had a debiliating stroke that paralysed the left-hemisphere of her brain. She describes what happened in her book by that title, and here at her TED talk. Might help…

    • Scott Preston says :

      By the way… come to think of it… if you want to pursue this issue of ‘intent’ further, I’ld recommend the Seth material — particularly four volumes: The Seth Material, Seth Speaks, The Nature Of Personal Reality, and The Unknown Reality.

      Put aside the question about Seth’s nature — a multi-dimensional being who has figured out the trick of crossing the boundaries separating probable worlds, or “an energy personality essence no longer focussed in physical reality” (the “focus” being the issue of intentionality). If that’s too hard to swallow, just bracket it off and deal with the ideas in those volumes, ie principally the theme of “the physical universe as idea construction” and his very detailed explanation of how that comes about. I would say that, in these books alone, you have a real lifetime’s worth of guidance to exploring “intent”.

      Actually, shouldn’t be too difficult for us these days to appreciate the possibility of crossing over between probable worlds, or that we are ourselves multidimensional beings (necessarily the case if probable worlds theory is true…as Seth asserts it is).

    • davidm58 says :

      Mystic sofa,
      I like the way you put it here:
      “There are no determinate structures in the given prior to intending them, to suppose that there are would be to miss the organising role of intent in perception, i.e. empiricism. Yet, neither will any old intention do, intention does not the create the world out of nothing (which would be idealism) – it responds to an ‘other’, the flux / given, in which possibilities for perception inhere, but are not pre-determined.”

      Yes, change empiricism to radical empiricism, as I mentioned in my first comment. And I think your comment contrasting idealism with a more process-relational approach (responding to an ‘other’) is spot on. Nancy Frankenberry said it like this:
      “From the perspective of radical empiricism [William james, Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Meland, Bernard Loomer], the basic criticism of Kant’s philosophy is that it neglected the role of what Whitehead calls “physical feelings,” which form the nonconceptual element in experience. Although radical empiricists can agree with Kant that “intuitions without concepts are blind,” they want to add, with Whitehead, that this is so for a different reason: there are objects for knowledge in every act of experience, but knowledge arises only when intellectual functioning is included in that act of experiencing, and such inclusion is not always the case. For Kant there was nothing to know apart from concepts, since it was intellectual functioning which introduced order into what was otherwise a mere spatio-temporal flux of sensations. Mental operations were the foundation rather than the culmination of experience in Kant’s system. By contrast, radical empiricism involves an important inversion of Kant’s philosophy…For Kant, the world emerged from the subject; for radical empiricism, the subject emerges from the world.” – P. 172, Nancy Frankenberry, Religion and Radical Empiricism

      Bernard Meland, from his last book Fallible Forms & Symbols (1976): “Much of the meaning we appear to find in life, we bring to it, as Kant observed, through our own forms of sensibility and understanding. But, as James and Bergson were later to remark, countering the stance of Kant and Hume in one basic respect, the nexus of relationships that forms our existence is not projected, it is given. We do not create these relationships; we experience them, being given with existence…thus I am led empirically to speak of God as the Ultimate Efficacy within relationships.”

      Also, that was my page on PatternDynamics you were looking at. Indeed Gregory Bateson (always looking for “the pattern that connects”) was one influence on Tim Winton’s development of this modality. Others were Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language), Bill Mollison & David Holmgren (Permaculture’s emphasis on natural patterns), Ken Wilber, Sean Esjborn-Hargens, and Barrett Brown (integral sustainability), Ludwig von Bertalanffy (General Systems Theory), other complexity theorists, etc.

      • Mystic sofa says :


        Thank-you for the response. As you have probably noticed my recent posts here have largely been about clarifying whether there is a connection between the notion of intentionality as it appears in Steiner’s epistemology (not an author I’m particularly familiar with) compared with Castaneda’s deployment of it. In that particular sentence of mine that you quote I think perhaps I have not been as clear as I could have been – what I intended to convey here was that, according to Steiner, empiricism, incuding radical empiricism, misses the organising activity of intentionaility in perception, (athough he does acknowledge that there are certain similarities between the latter and his own approach).

        For me, the connection in all of this is the work of a particular writer called Henri Bortoft, who was a student of David Bohm’s, and wrote extensively on the ‘problem of wholeness’, particularly with reference to Goethe’s phenomenological approach to science. I would highly recommend his book ‘The Wholeness of Nature’ if you’re not already familiar with this, and also the later ‘Taking appearances seriously’. Steiner derived his approach to epistemology after working with Goethe, which is how I came to be looking into it recently.

        Prior to encountering Bortoft’s work I was more familiar with Bateson and the systems and complexity theorists, and in many ways still am today. Bortoft and Steiner, following Goethe whilst drawing on Meleau-Ponty and Husserl, however appear to have taken a different approach to relationship and wholeness, perhaps one that could be classified (at least superficially) as an ‘interior’ one in the Wilberian system. Also, after the discussion here, I am reasonably certain that there could also be a significant overlap with Castandeda’s cosmogeny.

        The main departure from empiricism of any sort, as far as I understand it, in Steiner’s epistemology is that the categories of ‘the world’ and all of the objects in it, are themselves the products of the process of knowing, therefore to interject them at the beginning as starting conditions of knowledge is a tautology. In more modern terms it is common to talk about representations in the brain (electro-chemical transformations of events in the world in Batesonian terms), however this formulation fails to acknowledge that within the terms of this framework the brain too is a representation, and therefore it suffers from the same tautological structure.

        As a result of the discussion here I’ve been thinking that perhaps one of the main difficulties that we face as individuals and as a species is overcoming our perceptual certainty that we live in a world of objects. Missing the role of intentionality in constructing this perceptual world, as empiricism does, it appears to be simply ‘what is’. I’m starting to better understand that what Goethe and Steiner were pointing to is a participatory epistemology, in which the phenomenal worlds that we experience are the result of intentions that can become increasingly adequate to percieve the implicate complexity order of the other / given / flux.

        Apologies for the lengthy post, and also if I am teaching Grandma to suck eggs here, so to speak. I’m really treating these interactions as an opportunity to learn from others and better clarify my own developing understanding around this material.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Some time ago, Castaneda penned an article for Psychology Today (I think it was) in which he mentions something that doesn’t appear in his books. He introduced don Juan to Edmund Husserl, he says, stll trying to find some correlation between the nagual’s world and his own experience as a Western Man. Can’t say how Castaneda might have explained Husserl to Don Juan, but don Juan, according to Castaneda, was very impressed with Husserl’s Phenomenology, and corroborated his understanding of intentionality.

          I was trying to find that article in the Web again, but instead came across this piece on “nagualism” which speaks a bit to that connection with Husserl and don Juan. Castaneda did quite a few interviews with some Argentinians which haven’t made it into English. This website attempts to translate some of those interviews conducted in Spanish into English (although some of the translations are a little rough, I’ve found).

        • davidm58 says :

          I’m not as familiar with the particular views of many of those being discussed (Steiner, Castanada, etc.) as I’d like to be. My current view is that there are really real objects. I think there’s something more going on than just our intentions, though I’m mostly on the same page regarding the importance of the role of intentions and interpretations. I like Seth’s statement often quoted by Scott: “We create the reality we know.” To me, this brings attention to the interpretive filter and intentional structurations we participate in. What “we know” is the key to the entire sentence. To say “We create our own reality” is a very different statement, and to me quite misleading. I believe in process-relational participation, so the other important element is the influence of our relationships on our intentions and interpretations.

          I’m also reminded of Bonnita Roy’s paper on “A Process Model With a View,” in which I believe David Bohm was one of her inspirations. A couple of relevant quotes:
          “In fact, the process model was written to point to a view where there is no sharp cut between self and world, subject and object, body and mind, perceptions and reality, “in here” and “out there”, phenomena and noumena, ur-reality and that which is really real.”

          “According to the process model, and its process philosophy, the cognitive occasion is a duration of a particular kind of enfoldment in a processural field. The dynamics in this processural field is the fundamental nature of reality.
          …This view is neither idealist nor realist, since there is no longer a dichotomous moral to the story. “

        • davidm58 says :

          For what it’s worth, here’s an excerpt of something I wrote about radical empiricism a year and a half ago…it might be relevant, or at least interesting here:

          As Nancy Frankenberry (p. 120-122) characterized Henry Nelson Wieman’s stance his book The Source of Human Good,

          “the basic metaphysical categories Wieman employed were events, made up of their quality and their relations. The ultimate actualities of the world were conceived as events, happenings, specific instances of energy. There is no substance or reality underlying this world of happenings. There are only relations, that is, structures, among these units of energy, at various levels of complexity. In human experience, events or energy-processes are apprehended immediately as the “flow of felt quality.” The metaphysical doctrine in Wieman’s radical empiricism was implicit in his claim that “quality then is the ultimate substance of the world out of which all else is made.”

          The place of quality in Wieman’s radical empiricism is exactly parallel to what James called “conjunctive relations.” …

          It was Wieman’s view that every event accessible to human experience is a quality or a complex of quality and every event is an instance of energy. He argued on this basis that whenever energy is experienced by the human organism, it is quality or a complex of qualities. The name “structure” is given to the demarcations and interrelations of events whereby events are experienced as different and yet as related. Whereas concrete events as qualities are immediately apprehended by feeling, they are known cognitively only through the discrimination of their structure or character or form. The discrimination is always an abstraction from concrete reality.”

          We see in the above section that Frankenberry is beginning to tease out the distinction between the non-cognitive “flow of felt quality” that is “immediately apprehended by feeling” as concrete events, and the cognitive abstractions that can be articulated via language.

          She next discusses “The importance of the claim that experience is not in itself knowledge,” as acknowledged by both Dewey and Wieman. “Since qualities cannot be described in their immediacy, they can be known only by the structures pertaining to them. Description of those structures is cognitive. Awareness of the immediacy of quality is noncognitive, Wieman maintained.”

          I’m very interested in how all this can apply to my interest in PatternDynamics. My thought here is that the Patterns found in PatternDynamics can represent to some degree these “qualities of felt experience,”(or the matrix of Patterns as the “complex of qualities”) thus giving name to experiences, which helps us to translate experience into a form of knowledge we can then communicate about via this new language of PatternDynamics. The concrete events are always “more” than can be articulated, but the more skillful we become in attempting to articulate these experiences, the richer those experiences become. This can move in a cycle back and forth between the non-cognitive and the cognitive, allowing ever richer experience, and growing awareness to emerge. The challenge is to never reify the Patterns that have been articulated, continuing to be open to and looking for the creative good, and not holding too tightly to the created good.

          • Mystic sofa says :

            Great post David. So many rich descptions here that can enhance ability to perceive greater complexity.

            “The importance of the claim that experience is not in itself knowledge,” as acknowledged by both Dewey and Wieman. “Since qualities cannot be described in their immediacy, they can be known only by the structures pertaining to them. Description of those structures is cognitive. Awareness of the immediacy of quality is noncognitive, Wieman maintained.”

            Yes, so the ongoing activity of structuring the flow experience leads to perception of our phenomenal worlds.

            The concrete events are always “more” than can be articulated, but the more skillful we become in attempting to articulate these experiences, the richer those experiences become

            Yes, so our intentional proposals (structuring of relations in immediate experience) reveal, but do not exhaust, the perceptual possibilities inherent in the flow of energy. In order to percieve an intelligible world, our intentions have to be in some way adequate to patterns / coherences / order in the flow, but our intentions can become increasingly adequate, resulting in apprehension of greater richness and complexity in our phenomenal worlds.

            For me, there still seems to be the possibility of a subtle cartesian dualism in the radical empiricist description, however I can’t quite articulate why I think is the case at the moment. It’s something to do with the split between cognition and non-cognition, and there’s a relation to Matura and Varela’s work, who expand the definition of cognition and identify it with the process of life itself. But there’s also something else that relates to the ‘where’ of perception. I’ll come back to you if I manage to formulate this more clearly in my own mind.

            • davidm58 says :

              I think you’ve made an astute observation about some subtle dualism in Wieman’s view. In the original discussion where I previously posted this, I followed with a discussion about Wieman’s student, friend, colleague, and friendly critic (probably in that order), Bernard Meland. It’s long so I’ll try to edit it down here at least a little bit. You can see the complete statement here:

              First, note that Wieman’s major writings occurred from 1920 to 1958, and Meland from the ’30s to the early ’70s. Quite ahead of their time, I believe, anticipating in some ways ideas more fully developed by post-modernists and complexity thinkers; but they would have benefited if they had access to the thinking of Maturna & Varela, etc.

              As Meland characterized his differences with Wieman, he stated that Wieman tended to focus on the “manageable aspects of experience,” whereas Meland tended to give more emphasis to the unmanageable aspects of experience.

              It is quite interesting and instructive to read Meland’s chapter on “The Root and Form of Wieman’s Thought” in the book The Empirical Theology of Henry Nelson Wieman (1963). Meland is careful to point out that Wieman did not altogether ignore the unmanageable aspects: “No one who has known Wieman personally could overlook the mystical passion in his thinking. But his own distrust of the imaginative mind and of common sensibilities led him to an exclusive dependence upon external methods for deriving cognitive security in the form of tested knowledge.”

              “…Here Wieman is a divided mind; or rather, the fullness of life’s process and experience confronts him with dual loyalties because it evokes in him simultaneously a mystical response to what is given in duration, and a demand of his own conscience and critical powers to deal selectively and judiciously with what is given in experience.”

              Later, Meland begins to outline his disagreement with Wieman. He begins by quoting from Wieman’s first book, Religious Experience and the Scientific Method (1926):
              “Open awareness is one of its dominant characteristics…Such awareness must be receptive to some more inclusive event, ultimately to that totality which is the ‘operative present…urging nature forward,’ including ‘the whole, in the remotest past as well as in the narrowest breadth of any present duration.’ “

              Meland asks, “does not the very procedure as described, making open awareness one of its dominant characteristics, argue against the bifurcated method which Wieman seems to employ? I am not arguing that one must intrude ‘one’s own emotional relation to this datum.’ I am suggesting that ‘open awarness’ itself must include more than Wieman apparently includes in his instrumental method, and must remain dominant over the more restrictive cognitive event.”
              Then Meland makes an interesting point, which supports my idea mentioned earlier that we’re talking about a polarity here, but expressed differently than I would, and bringing in some Whitehead: “…experience is bipolar, having a mental and a physical pole. All prehensions are not mental. Mentality consists primarily of conceptual prehensions, that is, in the prehension of universals. Presentational immediacy is regarded as exhibiting the extensive structure of the contemporary world…

              “What gives a basis for this deeper mode of empiricism is the importance attributed to perceptual experience – not necessarily in isolation from critical, cognitive acts, but as a deeper and qualitatively richer form of apprehension. Perception in this sense is a dimension of experience qualifying and ultimately sovereign over cognition in the more restricted sense; not the other way around.”

              Meland agrees with Wieman: “One cannot assume, however, that what the subject assimilates directly mirrors the data.”
              However, Meland argues for “giving to appreciative awareness a more decisive role in balancing, deepening, or sharpening the use of reason. The over-refined use of reason, as in scientific method when applied to complex data within the living context, can itself issue in a kind of illusion in the very act of dispelling illusion from the perceptual act. It tends to generate a form of blindness peculiar to the intellectual, for whom formula and graph can become more real than the living situation. But the critique of reason, except by reason itself, seems to have no place in Wieman’s theory or method. ..Absent from such a procedure, it seems to me, is a vivid and responsible sense of what is given as a reality of truth, a truth of relations, in the living situation.”

              “…Wieman speaks of truth as specifiable structure. I would regard specifiable structure as relevant to truth; but I would insist that truth has a more creative or dynamic character than this formula suggests…
              “Wieman could acknowledge this creative openness of truth, for it is implicit in his Creative Event, although not explicitly affirmed in what he says of this specifiable structure. But if this is true, his theory of knowledge might be made consonant with his doctrine of Creative Event and with this creative understanding of truth. Thus he would take fuller account of that dimension of the living situation which yields knowledge of, and perhaps bring into correlation the manageable and the unmanageable aspects of his metaphysics, which now seem to stand in mutual isolation.”

          • Mystic sofa says :

            One further thought, you write “The metaphysical doctrine in Wieman’s radical empiricism was implicit in his claim that “quality then is the ultimate substance of the world out of which all else is made.”, so I thought you might enjoy this article re the possibility of a science of qualities:


  8. Scott Preston says :

    Good… so we come at last to the real issue and question: is “perception management” really about managing perception at all? Or is it really about the manipulation and management of intentionality? — the intentionality that is implicit in the act of perception? This seems to be the essence of what we call “magic”.

    • Mystic sofa says :

      Scott, apologies, I must admit I’d lost sight of the topic of your original post in the ensuing discussion. I think given your question here and our recent discussion the conclusion would be that ‘perception management’, as practiced by propagandists, must indeed involve maninpulation of intentionality, which, to go into more detail, would involve directing attention to aspects of experience and structuring sets of relationships / associations between them.

      I noticed that David has in a previous post directed you towards George Lakoff on this subject, and he is spot on with this. Structuring sets of relationships, as we have been talking about, are in Lakoff’s terms examples of framing. Framing is an extensive subject and one that is well worth diving into in depth with relation to the manipulation of public opinion, particularly in relation to politics. I recommend any of his books – Moral Politics would be particularly relevant, or this site provides a good introduction to framing and how it is used in the news to influence public opinion:

  9. Scott Preston says :

    It seems to me then that we can conclude something about don Juan’s “nagualism” as it pertains to this discussion and Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

    First of all, that the “man of knowledge” (or “woman of knowledge” for that matter) is the master of intent. The mastery of intent is “total freedom”. “Total freedom” is “arriving at the totality of oneself” (paradoxically, the surrender to infinity). This “totality of oneself” can’t be considered any different from Gebser’s “integral consciousness” and “the diaphanon”, ie, the translucency or transparency of self and world. In Gebser, this “mastery of intent” takes the form of “time-freedom”.

    Correlative to all this is, (as pointed to in my earlier posts) is McGilchrist’s “two modes of attention” associated with the divided brain, one he calls “Master” mode and the other “the Emissary” mode (or “soul” and “ego” in the contemporary parlance), which correspond to the nagual and the tonal. And what don Juan did was induct Castaneda into the mode of perception of “the Master” — the right-hemisphere of the brain.

    In Blake, intent is called “Imagination” (and is “the true self”). The image of the “totality of the self” (the reintegration of the four Zoas) is the representative called “Albion”, who is Gebser’s “integral consciousness” or “diaphanon”.

    All seems to make perfect sense.

    • Mystic sofa says :

      Right, job’s a good’un then. Anyone fancy a quick pint down the boozer?

    • Mystic sofa says :

      Agreeing that this is the case, then, I’m curious to know what people see as meaningful forms of action in the world, particularly given the deepening ecological crisis?

      It seems that we agree that a fundamental component of the current common mode of perception is that it inadequately structures intentional proposals regarding harmonious relations between what we have variously referred to as the ego and the soul, or the master and the emissary, cognition and the given, etc. To surrender to infinity is to percieve the right order / relations between these two; to know how to undo the doings of time-based consciousness, and experience the creative ground of the universe as identical with oneself and the phenomenal world.

      Then what? The rest of the world is in serious trouble through the actions of narcissistic ego, as you have pointed out elsewhere on your blog. What is meaningful action?

      • Scott Preston says :

        Well… there’s the million dollar question. In Gebser’s estimation, the key was to know when to “let happen” and when to “make happen”, which is a question of tempo, timing, rhythm. And in this oscillation between repose and movement, or “letting happen” (or “letting go”) and “making happen” you see the workings of McGilchrist’s two modes of attention, eh? But actually, the oscillation is a kind of cybernetic relation between the intentional mode of awareness and the attentional or “a-waring” mode.

        The general view that has emerged, though, is that “breakdown is breakthrough”, so that things will follow their course until breakdown and collapse — the “apocalyptic” view. It’s also in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions which is also, principally, an apocalyptic approach to scientific revolutions. Gebser is in Kuhn’s team, in that sense (or vice versa). Gebser anticipates, likewise, catastrophic breakdown, but in that very breakdown the new consciousness will manifest itself (which is the meaning of the word “apocalypse” in any event, metanoia). Kuhn’s famous book is, I think, essential reading for those who want to get to the gist of Gebser’s cultural philosophy, too.

        Blake, of course, wrestled with the problem of how to bring human beings to a “perception of the infinite” and eternity hid within the finite. But it seems he too, felt that there was nothing for it but to let events unfold into their logical catastrophic consequence. Blake’s vision of “the Last Judgement” in that sense is, indeed, pretty bleak — a real “chaotic transition” and “havoc” as the economist Peter Pogany also anticipates.

        Heidegger too, in his final assessment, “only a god can save us now”, ironically, after all his years of busy mentation, surrenders to intellect to the necessity of a new revelation — the proverbial “shattering truth”. In essence, Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism” is of the same apocalyptic thinking, as is Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” and philosophy.

        “Let it be”, in other words. It’s another of Nietzsche’s ironies: “resist not evil”, as Jesus put it. Nietzsche is full of Christian chiliasm, only “transvalued”. Jung, and Rumi also, subscribe to the “breakdown is breakthrough” notion.

        Gebser would, I think, concur with Blake — that the true task is to rid ourselves of “the mind-forg’d manacles”, which is why I’m so intensely immersed presently in trying to understand the history of branding and “marketing 3.0” (“holistic branding”) as a propagandistic reconstruction of the mind-forg’d manacles.

        The central issue of Kuhn’s history of scientific revolutions is that new creative energies are released whenever an old structure hits the limits of its possibilities and collapses. Gebser insists that we remain cognizant of that fact and simply let the creative energies do their work with equanimity — ie, without losing our marbles and succumbing ourselves to “the law of the earth”, but which he foresees as a fate for a large part of humanity — panic, anxiety, frenzy, the maniacal, etc.

        The only political action that I think is possible presently is simply encouraging people to face the “foreign installation” — the mind-forg’d manacles — in themselves, and having them dismantle it. It’s in this sense that a lot of the present “turn to the spiritual” is, in fact, a revolutionary act — an inquisition, as it were, of the claims of the Emissary’s right to rule. The propagandists are just the heralds and ambassadors of the Emissary — and they are very clever. In fact, “too clever by half” I’ld say. .

      • Scott Preston says :

        Just to clarify, perhaps — the formula for effective propaganda or branding is actually very simple — first, snag attention, and while attention is focussed on the overt object of attention, go to work on shaping intention through the usual below-the-radar bag of tricks — suggestion, insinuation, innuendo, and so on. There’s the “overt message” or narrative and the “covert message” (or metanarrative), and the metanarrative must bear enough resemblance to “truth” (“truthiness”) as to be easily confused with it. There’s all sorts of ways around “truth in advertising”.

        “Only a hair separates the false from the true”, and the propagandist has figured that out effectively.

      • davidm58 says :

        Great question. In the conclusion of the paper I wrote last year (Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent, available here: ), I put it like this:

        “It may be unlikely that we are able to avert the crises, but the possibility always exists for transforming our own lives, working to prepare ourselves and to take steps to have a positive impact on the world.

        The answer will be an integral answer only if we have approached the integral in ourselves (Gebser, 1985, p. 141).

        This is no time to drop out, give in, or give up. It is a time to engage in Reflection (Winton, 2012c): to work on ourselves; to develop the inner spiritual resources that will assist us in handling whatever comes our way. It is also a time for Action (ibid): to develop the practical skills needed for energy descent. To develop the inter-personal skills necessary for working in difficult situations with other people. Finally, to participate in the development of the best techno-economic infrastructure for self, culture, and nature, locally and globally, based on a realistic estimate of available energy. For a brief review of ways to engage in the Masculine/Feminine polarity of Action and Reflection, please see Appendix D.

        Is the task at hand achievable? Can the worst of climate change be averted before mankind is annihilated? Can a complete meltdown of mutual self-destruction be averted if we experience a long term world-wide economic collapse accompanied by wide-spread environmental devastation? Those may be the wrong questions to ask. As David Holmgren (2009, p. 115) reminds us, “It is not the project but the living process that will be the measure of our actions.”

        Edgar Morin’s wisdom is appropriate here, applying his polarity oriented “dialogical” approach (see page 19 above):

        “All the great transformations or creations have been unthinkable until they come to pass…All the happy events of history have always been a priori impossible…[but this gives] no assurance. Life may accidentally meet death. The unthinkable will not necessarily come to pass. The improbable is not necessarily felicitous. The mole may destroy what ought to have been preserved. Rescue may be unequal to the peril. The adventure remains unknown. The Planetary Era may possibly come to naught before it has even begun to bloom. Perhaps humankind’s struggles may lead only to death and ruin. However, the worst is not yet certain, and the game is not yet over. In the absence of any certainty or even probability, there is the possibility of a better world. The task is huge and unassured. We cannot eschew either hope or despair. Both holding of and resignation from office seem equally impossible. We must have a ‘passionate patience.’ We stand on the threshold, not of the last, but of the early stages of the battle” (Morin, 1999, pp. 148-149).

        …What can we do now? Whatever the future holds (Holmgren, 2009), it behooves us to consider carefully the energy available to us, and how we can use it most ethically (Griffin, 2015). We can drastically reduce our use of fossil fuel energy, slow down, simplify (Elgin, 1993; Andrews, 1998), and drop into our bodies and this present moment. With very refined awareness, we can learn to better utilize each bit of energy we carry and have available to us (including our subtle energies), and to be very judicious with how we allocate this very precious resource (Wieman, 1929; Eden, 2008; Wilber, 2012). We can also put the time in now to cultivate the inner spiritual resources that will assist us in dealing with whatever comes our way (Young, 1997; Chodrin, 1997; Harvey, 2009). What are you gonna do when the earthquake comes?”

        And just yesterday I read an essay by Charles Eisenstein, which I recommend ( ). He said:
        “The illness seeks the medicine. The multiple crises that we face are precisely commensurate with the capacities they will draw forth from us. That is why both narratives I have voiced above [narratives of hope and despair] are necessary. We must apprehend the illness, or the medicine will remain inaccessible, stunted, an embarrassing secret in the cultural closet called “alternative.”

        Gazing into the most hopeless and horrifying phenomena on the planet, our own hidden wounds and unprocessed grief surface for clearing, and we discover that each form of denial – the outer circumstances and the inner wounds – mirror each other. For our optimism to be genuine as well as effective, it must countenance what is actually so.”

        • Mystic sofa says :

          Thanks Scott and David for your responses to my question. Much to consider here, so will be taking the time to fully digest their implications for a particular project that I am currently considering.

  10. Dwig says :

    I’ve reread “The Tree of Knowledge”, and I do think it’s relevant here. However, it uses a very different paradigm than the works we’ve been discussing in these comments. I’ll try to give a rough idea of it:

    First, Maturana and Varela were biologists by education and practice, not philosophers. However, working together over a period of years, they developed what could be considered a philosophy of living systems.

    In its structure, the book is organized to present a set of highly interconnected concepts in an advanced introductory fashion. They provide a pictorial “map” consisting of 10 blocks, one for each chapter, arranged around the edge of the paper, constituting a circular structure. Within each block is a set of phrases giving the themes covered in the chapter. Also, there are lines connecting the themes, both within and across chapter boundaries.

    The chapter titles give a sense of their content (I include the themes in parentheses):

    1. Knowing how we know (daily experience, phenomenon of knowing, scientific explanation, action, observer)

    2. The organization of living things (unity, organization, structure, autopoiesis, biologic phenomenology)

    3. History: reproduction and heredity (historical phenomena, conservation, variation, reproduction)

    4. The life of metacellulars (perturbations, structural coupling, ontogeny, second-order unities, operational closure)

    5. The natural drift of living beings (phylogeny, natural drift, history of interactions, conservation of adaptation, structural selection, structural determination)

    6. Behavioral domains (behavior, nervous system, logical accounting, representation vs. solipsism)

    7. The nervous system and cognition (cognitive acts, internal correlations, expansion of domain of interactions, structural plasticity)

    8. Social phenomena (cultural phenomena, social phenomena, third-order unities)

    9. Linguistic domains and human consciousness (linguistic domains, language, reflective consciousness)

    10. The tree of knowledge (knowing how we know, ethics\)

    An important point: they claim that it’s impossible to properly understand cognition without understanding the evolutionary history that gives rise to “cognizing” (my term). This motivates their retelling the story of life, starting with the arising of organic molecules.

    Another theme running through the book is their rejection of two opposed models of cognition: representationism (the mind contains representations of perceived external objects) and solipsism (the mind operates completely independently of the environment).

    A paragraph from Chapter 5: “All this results in ontogenies of living beings capable of reproduction, and phylogenies of different reproductive lineages that intertwine in a gigantic and diverse historical network. This is clear in the organic surrounding world of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria, as also in the differences we observe between ourselves as human beings and other living beings. This great network of historical transformations of living beings is the warp and woof of their existence as historical beings. … for without an adequate understanding of the historical mechanisms of structural transformation there is no understanding of the phenomenon of cognition.” This is a bold claim, especially in light of the fact that most works on human consciousness (at least the ones I’ve seen) take no account whatever of our evolutionary history.

    There’s some online resources at; I’ve only browsed the site lightly.

    • Mystic sofa says :

      Hi Dwig,

      You write: “another theme running through the book is their rejection of two opposed models of cognition: representationism (the mind contains representations of perceived external objects) and solipsism (the mind operates completely independently of the environment).”

      This was what I had in mind as being the main point of connection to this post and ensuing discussion, i.e. the proposition that, as Varela puts it, “organism and environment enfold into each other and unfold from one another”. Hence, perception, then, becomes a co-creative ‘dance’ between these two polarities of a unified flux.

      Scott, if you see this, it occurs to me that this may relate to your current theme around the emerging battle over the re-branding of the term ‘nature’, inasmuch as it implies that we cannot define our position against propagandists on the basis of the postulating an untouched or pristine nature.

  11. abdulmonem says :

    They say knowledge is the product of the process of knowing and one has to be aware not to be a slave to knowledge and forget his knowing process that enable him to be his own producer of his knowledge while at the same time not to stop with acquired knowledge but move to a new horizon of knowing. After all we are not one come but continual becoming. The sufis are constantly warning from being spellbound by the elusive, scattering ladder of the intellectuals and emphasize the never ending resources of the self, saying that you consider yourself a tiny germ and in you the larger cosmos is enfolded. That is why all traditions insist on understanding the self as the starting point in the epistemological journey through enhancing its connection with its original source. Ibn Arabi emphasizes that path of connection with the source as the key for authentic knowledge and declares that all his books are revelation of that connection. No wonder Oxford university has established a society(1977)to study his claim and has produced many books and papers discussing and proving that claim. Letters are light informational energy that through their intermarriage provide us with the language we are using, and to remember also the photons as carriers of information, and the angels who play a central role in carrying knowledge to human with the complete unawareness of almost all humans. The engendering of this connection is the study of so many in our time , among them is Polanyi who calls to remember the indwelling divinity in one construct, moving from a culture of detachment to a culture of attachment, following the original spiritual path of the prophets, remembering that we are swimming in the sea of the divine consciousness. Life is a pilgrimage to ward self rejuvenating in the frame of knowledge and good deed, in this context I remembered Tolstoy tale of the two who wanted to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, on the way one of them gets thirsty and went to fetch some water, in the house he knocked he found two old persons who need help and thus he stayed with them to help , the other one continued his journey to Jerusalem, then Tolstoy ask who has done his real pilgrimage. The tree of life is a tree of knowledge and in the Islamic mythology they start from being alive, then move to knowledge,then to the will ,then to the ability to put that will in action then to speech the tool that expresses the implications of all these different aspects including the following two steps that complete the branches of the tree that of generosity and justice. The outstanding mark in all these different interpretations of the path is truthfulness and justice. Let us be aware of the all seeing eye and all hearing ear, they say, in one of the many tales of Moses that Moses when was sent to Pharaoh he told god that his is afraid that pharaoh might be angry and harm him and his brother, god assured Moses That He will be with them seeing and hearing. The presence that leaves no one without his companionship, if only we pay close attention to what is going on inside us and outside us and be certain that the ugliness that is filling our world now will be burned gradually but surely because in our cosmos health is the rule and sickness is a passing mode. We have to remember that the journey to Him is enfolded with strife and hard work and it is not for the lazy and the coward and those who occupy themselves with the animal aspect of the human.

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