The German forester Peter Wohlleben has aroused the ire of some scientists, as reported in The Guardian, with his book on The Hidden Life of Trees. Some scientists, it seems, have accused Wohlleben of writing “fairy tales” about the inner life of trees and forests.
This controversy is, in some ways, an excellent illustration of the dichotomy of the “outside” and “inside”, or of the explicate and implicate, or subjective and objective orientations that was raised in the comments to the previous post. I only know of the contents of Wohlleben’s book from hearsay, but the notion of “the secret life of plants” or plant consciousness is hardly a new one, even among some plant ecologists.
I mentioned earlier that I was reading George Morgan’s The Human Predicament: Dissolution and Wholeness (1968), and excerpted a couple of quotes from the introduction to post in the comments to the last post on Smith’s “Invisible Hand”. I do recommend Morgan’s book in connection with Gebser studies, since The Human Predicament can be considered a more extended treatment of — or contribution towards fuller understanding of — what Jean Gebser means by the “disintegration” of the consciousness and personality structure of modern man, ie, the “perspectival” or “mental-rational consciousness structure”.
I woke up this morning thinking about neo-liberal economics, Jean Gebser, Adam Smith and his “Invisible Hand”, and how this metaphor (or simile) of the “Invisible Hand” morphed into “mechanism” in the term “market mechanism” — and, in those terms, whether in the form of “Invisible Hand” or “mechanism” (Mumford’s “Megamachine”), we aren’t dealing with a superstition masquerading as “science” or ideology.
There is, actually, an ancient antecedent and precursor to this benevolent “invisible hand” — it is the tribal “genius” (“genie”), or tutelary deity. And this relationship between Smith’s “invisible hand” and the tribal “genius” reveals something very significant about Jean Gebser’s philosophy of “consciousness structures” as well.
Crane Brinton once offered what I consider the best brief definition of the meaning of “modernity” yet — “the invention of a system for inventing systems”. That definition of modernity must be played against Nietzsche’s remark also that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity” in order to appreciate Brinton’s meaning here. With these two statements we really come to the gist of the issue — the origin, history, and the meaning of “the System”.
The invention of a system for creating systems also describes that “ensemble of techniques” that Jacques Ellul analysed and interpreted in his many writings on The Technological Society or (later) The Technological System. That “ensemble of techniques” (or orchestration of systems) constitutes the meaning of Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine” as he described it in Technics and Civilization and in The Myth of the Machine.
But there is yet the Metamachine, which is akin to the “Master Narrative” of the Modern Era and has its origins in the metaphor of “the Clockwork Universe”. The Metamachine is the Master System that serves as the blueprint for all systems or techniques, which specifies their form and function and how they are to relate to one another as an “ensemble” or orchestra of systems, thus constituting the totality of the “built environment” and, in those terms, perhaps even the very meaning of “the Anthropocene”. This Metamachine is the Architect of our “invisible environment” (Blake’s Ulro) and Blake gave it name and purpose — Urizen.
It strikes me that the word “frenzy” best describes the current situation — frenzy being the marker of our “chaotic transition”, or of Jean Gebser’s “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, or of Peter Pogany’s “havoc”, or of Nietzsche’s anticipation of the “madness” that would attend his anticipated “two centuries of nihilism”. The contemporary terms being used for this frenzy are, of course, “irrational exuberance” or “animal spirits”.
It’s in respect of this “frenzy” (which some describe as “the Crazies”) that I want to return to something I posted some time back, and entitled “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature”, because for me the words were, and remain, daunting and haunting.
Norbert Wiener’s God and Golem, Inc (available also online) certainly speaks to the same issues as Lewis Mumford and his critique of “the Megamachine”, as well as Jacques Ellul’s sociology of the technological system. Wiener is known as “the father of cybernetics” and his more philosophical and sociological reflections on the “golem” (which is Mumford’s Megamachine equally) are as pertinent today as when he wrote them. In fact, I don’t think “the Matrix” is anything other than Wiener’s “golem”, Mumford’s “Megamachine”, or Ellul’s “technological system” (or, for that matter, Neal Gabler’s Life: The Movie) They are all attempts to give answer to the question that obsessed the character Neo in the movie: “What is the Matrix?”
So, what is the Matrix?