Explaining “Express Reality”

If you are familiar now with Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary on the nature of the divided brain, you’ll know that the central idea expressed in the book is this: the “mode of attention” which you bring to reality determines, or conditions, your “mode of being” in reality — your mode of existence.

This is but another way of expressing the Phenomenological idea of the intentionality of consciousness, or a way of saying that the act of perception is inherently a creative act. It intends its world, and structures its experience of reality in the very act of perception. Consciousness creates form. And it’s this very principle, however poorly understood, that nonetheless gives rise to psychological and social technologies of psychological warfare, propaganda, perception management, and branding.

So, “how real is real?” becomes the question of the day, as asked by Paul Watzlawick in a book by that title. Just what, under the circumstances, do we mean when we speak of an “objective” reality, since it can’t really exist? It’s always objective for some subject, and so can never exist as “objective” in any absolute or fully autonomous sense. The very word “ob-jective” objects to being objectified. It means “to thrust off” or “thrust away”, and so is not describe “given” or “the given” in the conventional sense. Objectification is what Gebser calls “distantiation” and is, finally, only a psychological or intellectual maneouvre. This distantiation is a useful and important psychological maneouvre, in some circumstances, but that’s all it is — a manoeuvre, a way of gaining psychological distance for the purposes of thinking or reflection. But it’s not true of our reality.

So, I’ve suggested “express reality” as more appropriate term than “objective”, although these two words have much the same meaning in terms of “casting off” or “thrusting away” and so both imply some degree of distantiation. The advantage of “express reality” is that it abides by McGilchrist’s “law” as it were — that the mode of attention that you bring to reality determines your mode of being and the manner of your existence. And a mode of being is what we call a “milieu”.

To put that in Gebser’s terms of civilisations as structures of consciousness, the express reality of the magical structure of consciousness is magical reality, the express reality of the mythological structure of consciousness is mythical reality, and the express reality of the mental-rational structure of consciousness is the rationalised world — the milieu of mechanos, of technique or technology.

Now, I wanted to raise this again because, as you know, I’m reading Daniel Kealey’s Revisioning Environmental Ethics, where he is beginning to discuss the writings of Plotinus and their possible relevance for a transformed ecological ethos based on Gebser’s insights into psychohistory. Plotinus is not someone I’m very familiar with, although I’m aware that he was a significant influence on the Hermetic philosophy. In the course of introducing Plotinus into his book, Kealey had this to say, which is very interesting and relevant, and which I’ll quote to give a better idea of the notion of “express reality” and the correspondence of different realities with distinct structures of consciousness, which reflects also McGilchrist’s views of the different modes of attention and their corresponding structurations of reality,

“Contemplation bridges the subject/object dichotomy, linking each level of reality with its corresponding level of consciousness (except in the case of the One which transcends all differentiation). Plotinus not only likens the subjective and objective poles of reality in this way but states further that these subjective sides of reality are ontologically prior to their objective manifestations., these latter being likened to poor images of their archetype. Plotinus called the states of consciousness theoria, contemplation, and their objective manifestations theorema, which can be translated as either work of contemplation, object of contemplation, or result of contemplation. The world as theorema is the product of contemplation. But the world stands to contemplation not only as product, for it too contemplates. To one degree or another all things contemplate and aspire to contemplation.” (p. 57)

That is pretty exciting stuff, and in principle it is easy enough to appreciate its meaning. Theoriai are modes of attention, which here are translated as “contemplations”. And the theoremata (plural theorema) are the distinct express realities (or various “modes of being”) generated by the distinct theoria or types of contemplation. In principle, then, this is not much different than Heraclitus’s earlier maxim: ethos anthropos daimon — or “ethos is fate”, where “ethos” is more often translated as “character”, but is probably closer in meaning to Plotinus’s theoria. Consciousness creates form. This is the work of what William Blake calls “the Imagination” (and corresponds to McGilchrist’s “Master”). So what Plotinus means by “contemplation” is what Blake calls “Imagination”. In other respects, what Plotinus calls theoriai are what George Lakoff refers to as “frames”, although that is a very perspectivist interpretation of what Plotinus intends by the meaning of “contemplations”. Nonetheless, Gebser’s “structures” and Lakoff’s “frames” could be considered to have similar meanings.

(I’ve yet to determine whether Plotinus’s theoriai or modes of contemplation correspond to Blake’s four Zoas, but I suspect they do. )

My point here is, that it is not unrealistic to anticipate a literal “new heaven and new earth” from a transformation of the consciousness structure. But such changes are always apocalyptic. And Gebser is, above all, an apocalyptic thinker.



15 responses to “Explaining “Express Reality””

  1. Charles Leiden says :

    Good writing.

    Just what, under the circumstances, do we mean when we speak of an “objective” reality, since it can’t really exist? It’s always objective for some subject, and so can never exist as “objective” in any absolute or fully autonomous sense.

    Good question. This is a question that I ask. As you write, phenomena are viewed through a frame, a mode, a paradigm, the imagination. They are maps but not the reality. Many writers suggest that reality is what people agree to take as reality. Human life on planet earth is in a double-bind at present because of faulty and short-term perceptual goals and meaning.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    As you know Scott my source of inspiration is the source of consciousness and sometime I come to surprising assertions. The human is what his god is. God is the issuance of a multifarious bundle of concepts. Human god is what the human aspires after, craves for, interest in and pursue in life. Al-halaj told his audience that your god is under my foot. They killed him only to find after digging the place where he was standing a treasure. In our time market worshipers are filling the space-time landscape, I mean all types of market,political market, celebrity market, commodity market, money market, ideas market etc. Contemplation Meditation, concentration, feeling, sensing, thinking, imagining intuiting, remembering,recalling and more have been made available to human to appreciate the faculties built in him and the signs that fill his cosmos and to appreciate the one who furnished him and the cosmos with these pearls.. What is apocalypse, but a process that occurs when the hidden is revealed, when something waiting under cover to be uncovered. We are divinely obligated to read, learn and uncover. Life is an adventure directed to understand the mystery of the repetitive processes of the universe and to see in some unusual occurrence as signs that demand our close attention. The grand can not be grandized because he is already grand and the benefit of the process of grandizing, returns to the human who exercise. Rational materialism is a bulldozer lurching down a dark abyss despite of all its bright appearances. One needs to be assured that there is a powerful force that activate all these particle in the way of accomplishing the purpose of the creative intention of the designer , including the human particles. We are living in a pre,post and in-between existence that is well designed in its opening and closure that have been preceded by so many openings and closures as reminder for those who are attentive to the movement of their universe and themselves. The movements of the night and the day, the river and the sea, the stars,the moon and the sun. the wind and the rains and the unusual snowballs you referred to in a previous post and the movements of ideas in the human personal and collective spheres. To be present with the original mover and not be consumed with apparent different movements. Yes we are living in an apocalyptic time and the appearance of apocalyptic writers is indicative.

  3. davidm58 says :

    Very good. You made the connection to McGilchrist sooner than I did, which is not surprising. It got very clear for me in the last chapter of Kealey’s book. Especially with quotes like this, from page 90:

    “It is primarily the feelings which realize value and bear persons up in moral development. The higher feelings, of which love is the quintessential, enable the bearer to see more of what is present, that is, more than what is empirically given. This seeing of the rich possibilities of value in what is loved helps the love object to actualize these values.”

    “…rather than attempting to determine which of these is primary or more fundamental, I think it would be more helpful for purposes of moral development to understand both reason and feeling as modes of contemplation. Here we take inspiration from Plotinus and Auribindo, both of whom take contemplation (or Yoga) as a characterization of the fundamental process of nature, most intensely manifested in humans.”

    And page 92:
    “Integral realization of value in life is effected through recruiting the cognitive and volitional powers of the passions, the imagination and the intellect so that one’s involvement in nature is not just along one line or another but one with full, multidimensional participation, which alone can bring into play the full range of values potential in nature.

    The apprehension of new, higher values in nature, the gnosis of an integral vision, the realization and embodiment of an ecological moral sensibility, are the theoria and piesis, the inward and outward dynamics, of contemplation. These are not so much the ingredients that make up contemplation as the expressions of healthy and unfettered contemplation, evolved contemplation. Hence in the integral structure it is contemplation as a whole, of the whole, and as the life of the whole, which must be emphasized over the particular expressions to which it has given birth. It must further be emphasized that the ideal of integral contemplation is not the steady-state equilibrium of the magical and mythic structures, nor the linear progress of a will-to-power as in the mental structure, but of a dynamic whole realizing itself in progressive diversifying integrations.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      You’re ahead of me there in Kealey. I’m still working on his interpretation of Plotinus. But now I see where it is leading, and I concur with that. Resembles what I posted above and in my commentaries on Blake in the comments section.

      I’m only up to page 65 at the moment — still mulling over Plotinus (who I really do have to get familiar with as he reminds of Blake in some ways).

  4. davidm58 says :

    One passage from Gebser that supports what you’re saying about “Express Reality” and “Consciousness Creates Form” is when he says “the adage that ‘how we shoult into the woods is how the echo will sound’ is undoubtedly accurate – and the woods are the world.
    Everything that happens to us, then, is only the answer and echo of what and how we ourselves are. And the answer will be an integral answer only if we have approached the integral in ourselves.” – p. 141 of The Ever-Present Origin.

    And this passage, that I was just reading recently, from p. 249-250, where Gebser seems to support panpsychism, as Kealey does:
    “It is assumed in these definitions that there was thought before the thinker, as there was breath before the breather, and sight before the eye. To explain this in rational terms we must suppose that the power of a possible manifestation itself creates an organ able to manifest this power. As applied to our own lives this statement shows that it is our inherent possibilities which shape the circumstances and the way we lead our lives in such a way as to allow these possibilities to become effective. In other words, the components in us which are to enter our mental awareness also create the preconditions for their own effective realization.
    …In a word, we are our chances and destiny. (As long as ‘positive’ events are understood, no one will quarrel with this definition; but where we speak of ‘negative’ ones, only relatively few will admit to having brought them about).”

    • Scott Preston says :

      wow. You have good retention. Yes, I remember that passage from EPO, and I probably could have used it in this post, and in the previous post on Plotinus’s theoria and theorema. Oddly, Gebser doesn’t include much of Plotinus at all in EPO, and only in a footnote and in a reference to Platonism. I’m thinking that that might have been hasty on Gebser’s part because Plotinus reminds me of Blake (but I’ll have to get more familiar with Plotinus before I come to that conclusion).

      • davidm58 says :

        I’m fortunate to have in my personal library a copy of Vol. 17 of “Great Books of the Western World,” which is The Six Enneads by Plotinus. After reading Kealey, I pulled it down, like you inspired to learn more from this thinker. However, I still haven’t found the time to follow through. But it is sitting on my bedside table – I guess I’m hoping for some osmosis or some such to happen. 🙂

  5. Charles Leiden says :

    David and Scott, are you familiar with Aldo Leopold who wrote the seminal essay The Land Ethic. http://www.waterculture.org/uploads/Leopold_TheLandEthic.pdf

    • davidm58 says :

      Of course, I’ve read many, many references to the pioneering work of Aldo Leopold, but I’ve not yet actually read A Sand County Almanac. So thanks for the link! Truly ahead of his time!

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’ve heard the name in some context or another. I’ll have a look. Thanks.

      • Charles Leiden says :

        Richard Tarnas gives insight in these concerns. At the end of Cosmos and Psyche he writes “our best philosophy of science, like our most acute self-reflections, has taught us the radical extent to which our assumptions configure and create our world…As Goethe recognized, it is often the case that the very faculties we require for our knowledge can only developed through our receptive engagement with what we wish to understand, which transforms us in the very process of our inquiry. Thus the study of archetypal forms opens the archetypal form. And thus the open encounter with the potential of an anima mundi makes possible its actual discernment.”

        • Scott Preston says :

          I have that book. I’ve yet to read it.

          • Charles Leiden says :

            The one sentence should be “Thus the study of archetypal forms opens the archetypal eye.” A big difference. Tarnas is a very erudite cultural historian understands the modern crisis and articulates this crisis in a clear way. An example: “The ambition to emancipate ourselves as autonomous subjects by objectifying the world has in a sense has come full circle, returned to haunt us, by turning the human self into an object as well-an ephemeral side effect of a random universe, an isolated atom in mass society…a commodity, passive prey to demands of the market.” Irony again.

  6. Charles Leiden says :

    “The more man identifies with matter, the more inconscient he becomes likewise, and so approaches the state of “Non-Ens” The closer the soul approaches this state of non-Ens, the more intense the Angst, anxiety and paranoia”

    It seems the descriptions are similar. Gregory Bateson would say there is a fundamental epistemological mistake.

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