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.