The Subject – Object Dichotomy and Climate Change
The “mind-body problem”, or subject/object dichotomy (Cartesian metaphysical dualism) began its career only as a convention. Not even Descartes thought there was an absolute incommensurability between mind and matter, or mind and body (res cogitans and res extensa). In fact, Descartes also had a tripartite vision of reality — as three “substances”: res cogitans, res extensa, and God. And this triangulation, so essential to dialectical reasoning, is clearly illustrated by Descartes himself.
Which, of course, leads to this — the famous symbol of the “Illuminati”
And it was against this eculidean or triangular model of thinking and consciousness that the mystic and Hermeticist Jakob Boehme (and Blake later) hurled his own understanding of the fourfold and his own quadrilateral logic,
… which is very much akin to Rosenstock-Huessy’s own “cross of reality” as well as the indigenous Sacred Hoop or Medicine Wheel.
We know, today, that the mind-body problem or the subject-object dichotomy has been greatly overdrawn and exaggerated, and in fact Descartes himself only adopted it as a convention of his methodology for the sake of his goal of obtaining “clear and distinct ideas”. That is to say, it was an attempt to save the law of noncontradiction by suppressing the coincidentia oppositorum, unity of the opposites, or the paradox from our thought and consciousness as was implied in the Hermetic Philosophy of the doctrine of the affinities and the principle “as above/so below” which denied any absolute divide between mind and body, consciousness and cosmos. All new science today now recognises a correspondence and a reciprocity between consciousness and reality, and that these are co-evolutionary. It’s the meaning of Prigogine’s “New Dialogue With Nature” in his great book Order Out of Chaos and also of the “Measurement Problem” in quantum mechanics.
It’s this convention in thought, one that eventually got out of hand, that has Gebser speaking of “deficient” mode of the perspectivist consciousness structure, which we call “the point-of-view” consciousness. The subject-object, or mind-body, dichotomy is very much implicated in the decay of Reformation into fundamentalism and of Renaissance into reductionism. If there is contrariwise, as all this suggests, a fundamental reciprocity or conviviality between inner soul and outer nature, or awareness and cosmos, or the within and the without — a dialogical rather than a dialectical relationship — then we have been badly mis – informed. But we continue to have this croaking toad — Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles” — squatting atop our toad-stool brains telling us that there is no reciprocity or commensurability between the “in-here” and the “out-there”. (And that croaking toad is the real “puppet master”).
Since we remain oblivious, for the most part, to this reciprocity, mutuality or conviviality between soul and nature, psyche and cosmos, we might also wonder whether, with climate change, the crisis of nature — or “death of Nature” as some call it — is not also insinuating itself into our very thought processes and behaviours without our being in the least aware of that, in fact is being denied altogether, because the anguish of the Earth (and the “law of the Earth”) becomes also our anguish and our law.
Physis, for the pre-Socratic Greeks, made absolutely no distinction between subject and object states. It was a single continuum but nonetheless also fourfold in nature, in terms of the powers of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, which were not considered inert substances but living essences or powers. Physis was the realm of life, and not, as it later became, of inert or dead matter, and the life was one life, whether it expressed itself in the four primary elements or as metabolic system, respiratory system, nervous system, and circulatory system that made up the physical body or the psyche. A lot of pre-Socratic philosophy sounds sometimes strange to our ears precisely because they made not distinction between what we call “mind” and “body”, or between “body” and “nature”. It was all one realm of Physis, which meant then “Life”.
A lot of what we call “post-modernity” is connected with the breakdown of the subject-object dichotomy and the return of the paradoxical relationship between the “in-here” and the “out-there” as we have conceived of these things, and what is now taking its place is the notion of “field”, and very much in the ancient sense used by the pre-Socratics — physis. This also suggests an impending shift towards the mode of perception of McGilchrist’s “master” — the consciousness associated with the right-hemisphere of the brain, and the nature of that mode of attention is its immediate (rather than mediate) connection with the field (which the neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor called “Life force power of the universe” in her TED talk).
(Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and his “grammatical method” is a contemporary field theory, by the way, which also maps the realm of “physis“).
This raises an interesting question about the field and our (albeit mostly unconscious) embeddedness within the field (what was implied also in what was formerly called participation mystique), and whether the “crazies” which we are currently witness to aren’t, in some fashion, the climate crisis, as field effect in all its nuances, itself insinuating itself directly into the thought processes of late modern man by virtue of the the right-hemisphere’s immediate connection with the field, (ie a “disturbance in the force”, so to speak) and whether this isn’t behind the current epidemic of the crazies (in the form of cognitive dissonance, “symbolic belief”, duplicity and so on). This would suggest that denialism, and also an exaggerated identity politics, is fundamentally an attempt to preserve identity as subjectivity in the midst of the breakdown of the subject-object or mind-body dichotomy in which the field (as holonic), rather than the point-of-view (as partial or partisan view), gains ascendancy.
It’s a novel way of looking at it — that, in some sense, the attempt to preserve and save the “status quo ante” is a reaction formation to the incipient emergence of the field into awareness over the conventional subject-object dichotomy, for the field is also paradoxical in nature. We know that the mode of perception of the “Master” or right hemisphere, by virtue of its more holistic perceptions, is more sensitive to the flux of energy, and to disturbances in that flux, than the Emissary is because of the “Master’s” immediate and direct connection with that flux. And this may well be connected with Gebser’s preference for speaking of an “irruption” (rather than an e-ruption) of a new consciousness structure through chaotic transition.
At least, I tend to think that this is so — that much of this denialism (and by implication also “culture of narcissism”) is connected with the ego-nature (or identity) attempting to preserve the subject-object or Ego-It (or us-them) relation against the emergent pressures of the “field”. Or, to perhaps put that another way, the Totality at war with the Whole.