Holonic Awareness and “The Age of Discovery”.
I recently spent another enjoyable afternoon of coffee-drinking and conversation with Chris Kutarna, co-author (with Ian Goldlin) of The Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance. The conversation was pretty wide-ranging — anything from the meaning of the “zombie” as cultural meme, to Game of Thrones, to contemporary politics (local and global), to the limits of Cartesianism and dialectics (and thus to perspectivisation or the “point-of-view” consciousness and mode of perception). Always stimulating, these conversations over coffee help me articulate what is my “Holy Grail” in terms of any prospective “New Renaissance” or “Age of Discovery” — that is to say, that which remains to be “discovered” (rather than simply invented) and why we must move from a triadic or tripartite logic to a four-term or quadratic logic. My “Age of Discovery” thus involves the realisation of holonic awareness and perception.
There have been a number of such “Ages of Discovery” in human history — the “discovery of the soul”, the “discovery of the will”, the “discovery of the mind“. The discovery of a new “dimension” to our reality was always coincident with the disclosure of some new potency or faculty in the human form and configuration leading to a radical reconstruction of perception and to the meanings of “truth”, “human nature”, or “cosmos” — literally a “new Heaven and a new Earth”. This is what Gebser refers to as the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure and the self-revelation of what was previously a hidden dimension or domain.
For Jean Gebser, the as yet “undiscovered country”, as it were, is the diaphainon and diaphaneity — a more truly “universal way of looking at things” and the “transparency of the world”, as he puts it in The Ever-Present Origin. Gebser describes this diaphainon in other terms as “the Itself”, or “aperspectival consciousness”, or “ever-present origin” or “integral consciousness”, but we can just as well name it “holonic awareness”.
Ages of Discovery are very turbulent, chaotic, disruptive, and even very violent and nihilistic ages — Axial Age, Heroic Age, Age of Reason (also being the Age of Revolutions), and so on. The New attacks the Old, and the Old attacks the New. Past and Future are in conflict and the “times are out of joint”, as Shakespeare aptly put it. New Ages irrupt only when an older Age has already run it’s course and has exhausted its creative possibilities and potentialities for further growth and articulation. They become, in a sense, over-articulated. Gebser refers to that as the “deficient” mode of functioning of a consciousness structure. The original fund of inspiration is spent, and what remains is only an empty shell without vitality.
That is the real meaning, for example, of Jesus’ cursing of the tree that no longer bore any fruit. Decadent Ages and civilisations as “consciousness structures” are spiritually fruitless ages because their original fund of sustaining inspiration — the vitality and life-blood of society — is spent. Nihilism is the term for this condition of “deficiency”. Fundamentalism in religion and reductionism in thinking are present proof that the original fund of inspiration that drove Renaissance and Reformation is now exhausted, and we are indeed “post-modern” in that sense. In other words, the “Perspectival Age” has run its course and “The Age of Reason” is in deep, deep crisis.
Any previous Age of Discovery, though, represented a self-overcoming and self-transcendence. Life abhors stagnation and a vacuum and revolts against it. Times of crisis are, at a deeper level, the struggle of Life with Death, of Genesis with the Nihil, of creation with destruction, of inspiration with expiration, of the revolutionary with the reactionary. Previous Ages of Discovery were the form of the revival and resuscitation of dead forms of human and social life by new inspiration, which is a new influx of vital energy — often initially, wild, disorganised, and arriving apocalyptically or like a “force of nature” and as “the shock of the real”. Only gradually amidst the shouting and the slogans, does the “shattering truth” of the “hidden dimension” or “hidden domain” reveal itself as a “discovery”. Gebser’s “irruption” is the self-realisation of what was previously the same hidden dimension or repressed domain.
That, to me, is the significance of works like anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s The Hidden Dimension or Norman Friedman’s The Hidden Domain. The discovery of a new dimension or domain requires a mutation in the consciousness structure and its mode of perception, because a “dimension” is less a quantifiable magnitude than it is a directedness of our consciousness (also called “intentionality” of consciousness). The discovery of any new “dimension” is practically synonymous with the term “Age of Discovery”, and the discovery of any new domain or dimension is correspondingly the result of a mutation in the way of looking or in the mode of perception.
It’s becoming quite evident that the mutation in question, presently, is towards holonic perception. It’s suggested in such developments as the “holographic universe” or “the holotropic mind“. It’s suggested in the growth and development of eco-logical thinking, or in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “ecodynamic laws” of society. It’s suggested also in the shift from analytical modes to notions of “pattern recognition” — the perception of wholes or holons — and thus to more metaphorical or symbolic modes of cognitising. More generally, it is represented in the shift from the Mechanical Philosophy to what I call “the Hermetic Philosophy”.
The irruption of this “hidden domain” or “hidden dimension” into consciousness is not going to happen without a lot of anxiety, confusion, havoc, mayhem, pandaemonium, social turbulence, and an extreme polarisation into reactionary and revolutionary (or trajective and prejective) orientations. The times are, indeed, in those terms, “out of joint”.
I want to illustrate that by an image that circulated not long ago that, to my mind, represents a confrontation of the deficient perspectival with the emergent aperspectival, or the “point-of-view” consciousness structure with the holonic consciousness — the pyramid meets the sphere, as it were, for it beautifully illustrates (despite its intentions) the deficiency of the mental-rational or perspectival in relation to the holonic
This is the logo of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Programme. Here, the perspectival eye and mode of perception — symbolised by the pyramid — is declaring its rightful hegemony over the spherical, global, or holonic. It’s absurd. It’s one of the most absurd and irrational statements about the present reality I’ve ever seen. You will note that the perspectival eye is blind to at least half of the sphere, yet claims to be “total” awareness when it is quite obviously not. The all-seeing eye presumes to be “global”, when it’s not. In this logo, I see the past attempting to preserve its hegemony over the future, perspective consciousness attempting to assert its power and authority over holonic perception and consciousness. This logo is a pretty good example of what Gebser means by the “deficient mode” of the mental-rational or perspectival consciousness structure. It claims to be a “total” view when it is, evidently, only partial.
In this logo, I don’t see a “clash of civilisations”, but a clash of past and future, and of consciousness structures — a clash of the deficient perspectival with the incipient aperspectival or holonic. This logo is very reactionary.
Would it be too much to suggest that this logo perfectly illustrates the war of the Emissary on the Master or what Ian McGilchrist describes as the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master in his book on neurodynamics and the divided brain: The Master of His Emissary ? I would suggest that it does represent that. Here is , I think, that fateful confusion of the meanings of the Whole and the Totality, and the merely partial and partisan to declare its hegemony over the whole as a “totality”.
Feel your way into this symbolisation. Which of these structures most describes you and satisfies your intuition about yourself? The pyramid or the sphere? Note how Picasso, for example, completely differs from this kind of perspectivist representation in its attempt to actually be holistic representation. I can’t help but feel that this logo summarises, beautifully if inadvertently, the essential contemporary problem, and the struggle of the whole with the mere totality, or of the Master with the Emissary.