Cosmos and Consciousness in Jean Gebser
To appreciate Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy as presented in his magnum opus The Ever-Present Origin, it is necessary to understand its roots in the Hermetic Philosophy, and that, in those terms, this great work is, itself, a pointer to the “return of the repressed”.
The Hermetic Principle of “as above, so below” applies particularly to Gebser’s approach, in terms of the reciprocal relationship of cosmos and consciousness as he describes it. In fact, it’s near identity in Gebser. That is to say, any perceived change in the structure or logic of the cosmos correlates with some change in the structure or logos of consciousness. There is a relationship of reciprocity as if there were a dialogue transpiring between cosmos and consciousness. For Gebser, the current radical changes in cosmic structure, as much as we can speak of a “structure”, an order, or logos, have come about only because something has changed in the perceptual possibilities of consciousness. That which was formerly hid or unmanifest in our worldview or perception only becomes unhid or manifest because of some new perceptual possibility — an index into some change in the consciousness structure, or what Gebser calls “a mutation” in the structure.
All that is very lovely, of course, and the cosmos now looks like a very magical and mythical place. That is to say, it begins to resemble the descriptions of the Hermeticists or alchemists. But that comes with some implications and consequences.
The reason why the cosmos now takes on aspects of the earlier magical and mythical is, for Gebser, a signal that these earlier structures of consciousness or modes of perception are in process of re-emergence, all of which is connected with the theme of “the return of the repressed”. And all this is connected with the “end of the Grand Narrative” of modernity and the “post-modern condition” which, for all practical purposes, is synonymous with “chaotic transition” towards a new structure of consciousness. That is to say in large measure that the “end of the Grand Narrative” is the end of the Newtonian-Cartesian cosmos and the “paradigm” (or model) of consciousness and perception associated with that worldview, which Gebser calls “the perspectival” or “the mental-rational”.
In effect, the “return of the repressed” and the post-modern condition are quite identical processes. And although “post-modernity” is usually dated from Nietzsche and his return of the Dionysian, it should really be dated from William Blake, for all the reasons given in the previous post. For what Nietzsche calls “Dionysian” is essentially what Jill Bolte-Taylor called “the Life Force Power of the Universe” and this is what Blake understands also when he says that we are entering a New Age, when, after 6,000 years, the “cherubim with the flaming sword” is commanded to leave its guard at the root of the Tree of Life. That is, in effect, Hermetic Code for “return of the repressed”.
To say that we are now in the “post-modern condition”, and that this is identical with the meaning of “return of the repressed” and thus also with “chaotic transition”, is to say, amongst other things, that we are also Post-Cartesian and Post-Newtonian. Blake has had the last laugh on his archfoe Newton, and it’s not uncommon today to read new science quote Blake to illustrate some principle or another. But in large measure, this means the return of the Hermetic Philosophy of which Blake is representative and probably still its most important contemporary champion, although this tradition goes back at least to “the Greek Buddha” Heraclitus “the Dark”. For, in effect, the Logos of Heraclitus is identical with what Jean Gebser calls “ever-present origin”.
In effect, then, when St. John borrows from Heraclitus in his famous passage “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God” he is speaking of what Gebser also calls “ever-present origin”, but which others sometimes also translate as “soul”.
The post-modern condition is one of perplexity and bewilderment (but also characterised by anxiety and uncertainty) as one would expect from “chaotic transition”. The changes going on “out there” in those terms are simply a reflection of the changes occurring in the consciousness structure, principally the breakdown and disintegration of the perspectival paradigm that we call “Newtonian-Cartesian”, which is generally what we mean when we speak of being “modern” or as “modern consciousness”. Our social institutions, or ways of life, our pedagogy, the organisation of modern society, are mirrors of this worldview, reflective of the conviction that Newton and Descartes, or Locke, Bacon, Adam Smith and so on… had hit upon the true picture of the world. This picture of the world turns out to be not completely true, and so has entered into what Gebser calls “deficient mode” of functioning. And this “deficient mode” is connected with the meaning of “new normal” and “post-truth society” or “post-Enlightenment” and so on. What was once the “common sense” of perspectivist consciousness has now become, instead, “zombie logic”.
“Chaotic transition” can basically be expressed as “zombie logic meets return of the repressed” or clash of the Titans. In more specific terms, we can also say that “chaotic transition” means Clockwork Universe meets Holographic Universe, or Mechanical Philosophy meets Hermetic Philosophy, or we may say, with Gebser, the traditional rational-perspectival way of looking at things meets the emergent or incipient arational-aperspectival (or integral).
All that means, of course, that what we are calling “point-of-view” consciousness structure feels very, very threatened in its identity, which was quite literally forged in a different cosmos — a three-dimensional cosmos of spatial ratios (a threefold universe) that comprised its “common sense”. This cosmos, in those terms, doesn’t exist any more, so that it not only begins to feel “homeless” spiritually, but even under siege, while new consciousness is still burbling, and babbling, and trying to come to terms with its new reality in a four-dimensional or fourfold cosmos where time is relative, where synchronous or transluminal effects are “normal”, and matter (or at least our conventional understanding of “matter”) has basically disappeared and dissolved into pure energy, where everything is connected to everything else in subtle and mysterious ways. And, moreover, an energy that many physicists now believe is aware and self-aware.
The issue of climate change is a prime example. While many people will, even grudgingly, admit that human activities are degrading the biosphere, they will take a completely contrary stance when it comes to climate change, as if climate and biosphere were completely separate issues. This is what Gebser refers to as “sectoralisation” or “compartmentalisation” characteristic of deficient perspectivisation. In antiquity, it was impossible to segregate or compartmentalise like that, where what we today call “climate” was called “Sky Father”, and what we today call “biosphere” was called “Earth Mother”. Such terms, today, are considered illicit anthropomphism. But they certainly had the merit of a more holistic appreciation of the intimate relationship that obtains between climate and biosphere, one of reciprocity and mutuality as against sectoralisation and compartmentalisation. It’s actually quite insane, isn’t it? There is no boundary between climate and biosphere. This is illicit dualism. The Anthropocene, Climate Change, and the Sixth Extinction Event are not separate issues each pursuing separate courses. The fact that they are treated as such is now chaotic thinking that points to the fragmentation and disintegration of a consciousness structure that has much to do with the post-modern “loss of self” or “crisis of identity” more than anything.
And to that extent, it is quite clear that the “crisis”, as such, is not caused by externalities as much as it is an internal crisis of the consciousness structure and the modern personality. For generations, though, the perspectival consciousness structure got along with this compartmentalisation and sectoralisation (or abstraction more generally) without apparent consequence. That is no longer possible, and it is largely owing to the return of the repressed that it now appears to us as deficient, which in fact it is. To appreciate the holistic requires an empathetic or intuitive awareness that is still poorly developed in Modern Man, which requires us to critically examine, and let go or deconstruct older patterns of meaning, conduct, belief and identity that have become very dysfunctional.
This is what Nietzsche means by “it’s not the courage of one’s convictions that count. It’s the courage to attack one’s own convictions that counts”. That’s “deconstruction”. And related to that is “in times of peace a warrior goes to war against himself”. That’s “self-overcoming”. These are two aspects of the Nietzschean imperative “Become what you are!”
One can’t but help note the consistency, here. From Blake’s somewhat cryptic announcement of the “New Age” aborning when “the cherubim with its flaming sword is commanded to leave its guard at the tree of life” to Nietzsche’s eruption of the Dionysian consciousness and his imperative “Become what you are!”, to the “return of the repressed” of Freudian and Jungian depth psychology, to Gebser’s observation of the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure there is a common theme, which resembles what if not Blake’s own prophecy that,
I GIVE you the end of a golden string;. Only wind it into a ball,. It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate,. Built in Jerusalem’s wall.