Energy, Creativity, and Consciousness

Most dystopian literature depicts a future society in which humanity has ceased to be effectively creative. “Expect poison from the standing water”, as Blake put it in one of his Proverbs of Hell in his The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  Another one of Blake’s very wise Proverbs of Hell, related to this, is especially poignant today: “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind”. Indeed, “reptiles of the mind” is pretty much an accurate description of contemporary man’s state of mind, as we witness it daily — the irruption of the so-called “Lizard Brain” (which is probably what the alt-right’s adopted mascot “Pepe the Frog” signifies — the Lizard Brain associated with the Shadow). You may take these proverbs about the standing water as even the essential problem of the “point-of-view” consciousness structure now functioning, in Gebser’s terms, in “deficient mode”.

This effectively gives us another way of understanding Gebser’s distinction between the “effective” and “deficient” modes of a consciousness structure or civilisational type. Effective means creative; deficient means destructive. “Effective” means “generative”; deficient means “degenerative” or decadent. The one is associated with “Genesis” and the other with the Nihil, or Ens and Non-Ens.

It is practically the essential definition of “Post-Historic Man” — it certainly is of Nietzsche’s equivalent, “the Last Man” — that this type has ceased to be creative in any authentic sense. “All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?“. That, for Nietzsche, is the essential nihilism of the Last Man, or “Post-Historic Man”. For Nietzsche, in any event, what we call “evolution” was essentially creativity. For Nietzsche vitality and creativity are virtually identical in meaning, and creativity — the capacity to create — is essential to any true freedom.

Creativity and the sources of creativity remain a mystery to the rationalistic mentality. They were a mystery to earlier types of consciousness, too, but for different reasons. Creativity was divine and of divine origin. It was the “spark” of the divine in man. There is a very close affinity between energy and creativity. In fact, one can say that the Heraclitean flux is a flux precisely because energy is inherently creative, or that creativity is inherently energetic or dynamic.

What has happened to creativity that it has become such a matter of concern to men like Lewis Mumford or Nietzsche or William Blake? In fact, our objections to mere rationalism and to the Mechanical Philosophy is largely owing, not just to its neglect of creativity, but to the drying up of the font of creativity that they represent. Creativity has become almost totally confused with “productivity” and with notions of economic invention, growth, and expansion, purely mechanistic affairs that it is even believed machines can do autonomously. But it’s creativity that, presently, is the fault line between the living and the purely mechanical, and the underlying concern about AI, whether made explicit or not, is that the mechanical will even come to usurp that which was essential to the human — creativity.

That creativity has been collapsed into the meaning of “productivity” and narrowly confined to economic growth and technological expansion, is an example of that definition of nihilism that Nietzsche gave: “all higher values devalue themselves”, and it parallels that essential confusion of the Whole with the mere Totality — fundamentalism in religion and reductionism in philosophy and the sciences, a marriage of convenience between the dispirited and the demented.

Times of high creativity are equally times of high vitality and energy, such as the Renaissance. Creativity is very much implied what Gebser describes as the “intensification” of consciousness, a term which he prefers over notions of “expansion” of consciousness or a “widening” of perspective, largely because he feels these are inappropriate spatialised metaphors for what is a matter of time and history. “Intensification” is what is sometimes called a “quickening of the spirit”, and Gebser wants to highlight and emphasise the time element here rather than resort to spatial metaphors associated with the perspectival or mental-rational consciousness structure. Therefore, he emphasises the qualitative rather than the quantitative by his choice of the term “intensification”, and that largely means, also, a quickening of the latent or dormant creative forces in man.

I will not reason and compare: my business is to create”, Blake exclaims. No one has understood Nietzsche who hasn’t understood Blake, in that respect. They are very kindred spirits, and the real meaning of what they said and wrote is yet to be revealed fully, and perhaps only after we have survived Nietzsche’s “two centuries of nihilism” — if we survive it — and, having passed through the crucible, can read Blake and Nietzsche with fresh eyes and in light of the experience.

This is not surprising, really. It took two centuries before anyone began to understand William Blake as other than a “lunatic”. It will take just as long before anyone truly understands Nietzsche. We may be “post-Everything” presently, but we are not yet post-Blake or post-Nietzsche, and we won’t be until we understand their teachings on creativity. Even Rosenstock-Huessy’s maxim that “God is the power that makes men speak” is unintelligible until one understands this in terms of creativity, for it arises from that same place that Blake called “divine Imagination” or that Nietzsche called “the Dionysian”, or what Gebser also called “the vital centre” or “ever-present origin”. And it is equally true that what the Phenomenologists call the “intentionality” of consciousness (or what Castaneda describes as “intent” as the fundamental operative force at large in the cosmos) is essentially creativity. Even Heraclitus’s “character is fate” implies the same creativity, ie, “you create the reality you know”.

Nobody has understood freedom at all who doesn’t understand creativity in this sense, and how all this is connected with vitality and consciousness itself. The “truth that sets free” is mainly about how one’s core nature is identical with this creativity or intentionality at large in the universe, including the “time dimenion”. It’s creativity that is behind St. Augustine’s notion that “time is of the soul”. It’s the soul’s creativity that makes for the various “consciousness structures” as Gebser describes them — the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational.

Energy is creativity. Creativity is vitality. Energy “as it flows in the universe” is the whole issue. “Energy is Eternal Delight” (Blake).

We seem to think we know all about creativity. We’re full of bullshit. We’ve merely confused it with productivity, inventiveness, and expansion. That is our undoing. That is Gebser’s “mentality headed for a fall” as “Post-historic man”, the “Death Economy” and Lewis  Mumford’s “Megamachine”.

The mystery of creativity is the mystery of how something can come from nothing, or order emerge out of chaos (Ilya Prigogine). Likewise, David Bohm’s “holomovement” — the revival of the Heraclitean flux — is creativity.

Ways and forms of life are either free or unfree in various degrees according to their capacity for creativity, and not otherwise. Deficient or degenerated forms and ways of life are characterised by the exhaustion of their fund of creative energy. What Gebser calls a “plus mutation” of consciousness is creative. What he calls a “minus mutation” of a consciousness structure is an exhaustion of creativity and is destructive.

One shouldn’t be fooled by mere statistical or technocratic measures of economic or technical growth and expansion as indicative of the creativity and vitality or even the degree of freedom of a system. Libertinism has next to nothing to do with creativity or freedom in that sense. This is merely the confusion of creativity with productivity, and so it is that “only a hair separates the false from the true”, and therefore the shadow of the real from the real itself.

When Thatcher declared her TINA principle (There is No Alternative) and Fukuyama seconded that with his “End of History”, they might as well have announced the end of creativity and therefore the terminal decay of the Modern Era. Our apparent inability to even imagine a viable future or alternative to the Megamachine is testimony, too, to the exahustion of the consciousness structure’s fund of real energy and creativity, which is always life-affirming. The demoralised, the dispirited, the demented — these are merely symptoms of the exhaustion of the creative forces. The well or the fountain has dried up. These symptoms are wrongly called “disillusionment” because disillusionment is a very good thing, even if it comes as an apocalypse which, as “revelation”, represents a new upsurge of energy and an intensification of creativity as well. Basically, apocalypse is true “creative destruction”, and not the pathetic mimic and imitation that goes by that name today, which Naomi Klein rightly calls “disaster capitalism” — otherwise known as “the Death Economy”.

If it’s any consolation, it’s also in such circumstances — exhaustion, expiration, nihilism, decadence, death, chaos — that the energies of life are quickened and intensify as well. Chaos and Kosmos, Death and Life, Thanatos and Eros,  are like Siamese twins — a true coincidentia oppositorum and hieros gamos, in terms of the Hermetic Philosophy. Life is never more powerful, more potent, more intense, more acute, more creative than when it is facing the Abyss of Nothingness or Chaos, and so much so, in fact, that Life even seems to put itself deliberately “in harm’s way” and in such situations precisely for purposes of its revival and resurrection from decline into flabbiness, sloth, and mere routine existence. That’s what Gebser describes as “the double-movement” of our times — one of disintegration of the old, and a new integration or “mutation” of consciousness.

That’s essentially the meaning of Nietzsche’s remark in Zarathustra: “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.  Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.”

That is our present problem — the problem of “post-historic man” as Nietzsche’s “last man”. Denialism is the obstruction. Too many cling to narrow identities and routine forms of life that have become deficient, empty shells from which the spirit has flown and, in consequence, no longer serve life’s purposes and ends. They are already history’s “Past Men” but they very much resent that, even though it is true. That’s the essence of the current “denialism”, and it is very much connected with the general problem of the denial of death. This denial of death, of time, the denial of impermanence, of the mortality of all processes, is the real problem of “post-historic man”.

Yes, indeed. We are being set up by life for a “correction”, but not in the simply narrow economistic sense of a “correction”. Peter Pogany’s “havoc” or “chaotic transition” in all its aspects is the manner of this correction. And one has to be careful about how one proceeds here with the notion of “resistance”, because it could mean “resistance” to the very things life now urgently requires to overcome and transcend itself. Reactionaries also believe in “resistance”, and to reactionaries any change, however needful and necessary it may be for life to escape death, is an attack on age old identities and ways of life and therefore “evil”. It is practically the definition of “chaotic transition” that what some call evil, others call good, and what some call good, the others call evil. There is value confusion and no agreement about values. Few speak the same language at all. That “Tower of Babel” is also an aspect of the disintegrative dynamic described by Gebser.

We need, then, to focus our remaining energies on what is vital and cease to fritter our remaining energies away on what is trivial and not vital and is even de-vitalised completely. Too many are still indulging in the latter. And underlying most critiques of consumer capitalism and consumer culture is outrage at the continued indulgence in frivolous pursuits of self-interest at the expense of the needs of life as a whole. Nietzsche’s entire question of ethics hinges on one value: “what is its value for life?”; or, what is its value for the Earth considered as a whole, and not just as mankind’s playground for the satisfaction of man’s always insatiable desires.

“Be true to the Earth!” — that means a living Earth, not a dead planet or mere lump of matter. Those who think that Nietzsche is all about ego-aggrandisement have got it all wrong or perverted Nietzsche’s teachings for self-interested ends. To be “true to the Earth” refutes them, for it is the equivalent to one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell too: “The most sublime act is to set another before you.” In Nietzsche’s case, this was the living Earth — life as a whole.

That’s true globalism, not the phoney thing that currently goes by that name and is merely a narrow economistic or technocratic conception. Forget about “good” and “evil”. The only question worth asking is Nietzsche’s — “what is  its value for Life?” What is its value for the Earth? That is our only meaningful guide in these sinister days. Let that be your “good” and your “evil”. Reverence for life. Reverence for the living Earth — that is the only sane guide for our thinking and actions in the face of mass extinction events or climate change. The threat of death has a wonderful way of sobering up the mind and freeing it from narcissistic delusions. But it’s not a very effective stimulus to sobriety when we are in denial about it all.



18 responses to “Energy, Creativity, and Consciousness”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Life, Rosenstock-Huessy once wrote, is God’s poem, and the last lines have yet to be written. Apparently God threw out some early drafts, too.

    I like that. It highlights the role of creativity — not as a once and for all event, but as continuous creativity. It also demonstrates why Thatcherism and Fukuyama were such an outrage which nobody appreciated as such because, after all, “God is dead”. But that’s more autobiographical than real. “the Whited Sepulchres” of the New Testament, neat, tidy, and proper on the outside, full of decay, rot and dead men’s bones on the inside.

    Whited Sepulchre reminds of what if not the zombie? Very apt metaphor for today as well.

    • Dwig says :

      Life as God’s poem reminds me if Maturana and Varela’s conception of life as autopoietic. Wonderful! Creating a poem that then created itselr!

  2. Scott Preston says :

    One of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, which seems rather cryptic, should make sense in terms of this post too: “Drive your plough over the bones of the dead”.

    Basically, that corresponds somewhat to Gebser’s advice that we also focus our attention more on the new seedlings emerging through the detritus of the old, than focus too much on the decaying humus underneath.

    Before you can do that, though, you have to be able to effectively discern between the new and the old, so you don’t end up confusing them. You have to know the old as old before you can recognise the new as new, or what is truly “past” and what is truly “future”.

    • abdulmonem says :

      This remind me of Al-Moarey a poet who felt the humans bones underneath his steps call others to walk softly lest they harm the bones of other brothers that have passed since the earth is the abode of the living and the dead and since through the dead, life springs and out of the living death pops up.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Be true to god the source of creativity that makes the humans speak to express all these pearls of creation. Thank you god for building in me all these surprising phenomena and the ability to separate. Thank you Scott

  4. davidm58 says :


    Recall my draft of a paper called “Creative Navigation,” which I sent to you on 9/1/15. Email subject line “The Polarity of Expansion/Contraction as Final Cause.” See pages 16-33 of that document. Much to parallel your thoughts in this post, I think.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Was that the paper entitled “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent”? I saved it under another title, and just found it again.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yeah, I reread that. That’s very good. I like that quote from Morin too

      All the great transformations or creations have been unthinkable until they come to pass…All the happy events of history have always been a priori impossible…[but this gives] no assurance. Life may accidentally meet death. The unthinkable will not necessarily come to pass. The improbable is not necessarily felicitous. The mole may destroy what ought to have been preserved. Rescue may be unequal to the peril.
      The adventure remains unknown. The Planetary Era may possibly come to naught before it has even begun to bloom. Perhaps humankind’s struggles may lead only to death and ruin. However, the worst is not yet certain, and the game is not yet over. In the absence of any certainty or even probability, there is the possibility of a better world.
      The task is huge and unassured. We cannot eschew either hope or despair. Both holding of and resignation from office seem equally impossible. We must have a ‘passionate patience.’ We stand on the threshold, not of the last, but of the early stages of the battle (Morin, 1999, pp. 148-149).

      Have you posted your paper online somewhere David? I’m sure that many of the readers of the Chrysalis would love to read it. They would certainly profit from reading it, I think.

    • Scott Preston says :

      David’s paper: “Patterns for Navigating the Transition To a World in Energy Descent” is posted at Integral Leadership Review. Recommended reading

      • davidm58 says :

        Another option for accessing my published paper, if you have access to This has better formatting. I think a couple of the images went missing at Integral Leadership Review.

        HOWEVER, in my comment above, I was actually referring to a different, unpublished edit I sent you. In an earlier draft of the paper, I went into more detail exploring the idea that the Polarity of Expansion/Contraction could be considered a Final Cause (in the Aristotelian sense). It is this section, pages 16 and following that I think resonates with today’s post, where you say things like “Energy “as it flows in the universe” is the whole issue.” And “The mystery of creativity is the mystery of how something can come from nothing, or order emerge out of chaos (Ilya Prigogine). Likewise, David Bohm’s “holomovement” — the revival of the Heraclitean flux — is creativity.”

        I hope someday to turn this part of the paper into a part II or follow-up on the published paper.

        Here is an excerpt:
        “First is the Expand/Contract polarity. Winton identifies this Pattern as “a fundamental duality or opposition within any rhythmic movement or event…Expand/Contract demonstrates the relationship and interplay between the growth phase and the decline phase of any repeated activity or process.” According to spiritual teacher Shinzen Young, expansion and contraction is the fundamental force of the universe (Young, 1997). This is a big claim, which we’ll explore in more depth in subsequent pages.
        Here we note the similarity with the Pulse Pattern, but recognize the Pulse primarily emphasizes movement in time, whereas Expand/Contract tends to emphasize a polarity in space.
        Examples of this Pattern are the exercising of muscles, our breathing process, and life and death itself. When we see this Pattern at work in all processes, in all systems, it becomes easier to recognize the coming energy decline, or even the decline of civilization itself as an entirely natural process that at some point will become inevitable. Whether that’s in 1, 5, or 100 years, it will at some point occur.
        Over millions of years the resources of fossil energy expanded under the earth’s crust, but they have significantly contracted in less than 200 years as they have been extracted to fuel the economic and population expansion of industrial civilization. As discussed above, peak oil is likely here now; peak natural gas may be around the corner, and peak coal is a bit further out (Campbell, 2015; Horn & Stalne, 2014). The peaking of just oil alone is likely to cause havoc, as these fuels are not easily substitutable for one another (Heinberg, 2003, 2006; Kunstler, 2007).
        Also, as these resources contract, what remains becomes less and less desirable. For example, easy, cheap, “conventional” oil is harvested first – the low hanging fruit; as these deplete, that’s when the “unconventional” sources come into play – the more expensive, more polluting, harder to get, lower energy return resources. That is why we now see more and more tar sands oil from Canada, oil shale in the U.S. gained by fracking and horizontal drilling, Arctic exploration, and deep water drilling, such as that that resulted in the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. (Nikiforuk, 2008, MacLeod, 2014)
        Whether we will personally experience that crisis or not, there is one expansion and contraction we will all experience. We are all born, and we all will die. We are born, we grow, we decline, and we pass away – some sooner than others, but all of us without exception. As George Harrison sang, “All Things Must Pass” (Harrison, ; Gellert, 2008).
        Shinzen Young, following the lead of his teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi, asks the question, “What are you gonna do when the earthquake comes?” (Young, 1996). At some point, some kind of tragedy strikes us all. How are we preparing ourselves for that inevitable time, physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually? One place to start, as Young teaches, is to understand the nature of impermanence, which he understands to be the underlying vibratory (pulsing) nature of all things – expansion and contraction on many scales.”

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Irony and Crisis seem to go together. I really can’t stand the multiple ironies of the present. Take, for instance, NASA’s search for a Planet Protection Officer to protect us from alien life, when what the planet really needs first and foremost is protection from US and our own destructive activities.

    How bizarre does it get? It’s a clear case of projection, perhaps not what NASA intended sensibly, but that’s how it evolves — a clear case of projection. the “alien” is the Shadow.

    That’s what Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise and the movie I saw last night called Life are. Projections of the Shadow. The destructive, insatiable, hostile, violent lizard-like alien thing is the reptilian brain associated with the Shadow. It’s ancient. It’s the meaning of Rumi’s “Snake-Catcher of Baghdad”

    Most creation myths are stories of the hero’s struggle and combat with the serpent or dragon — Marduk and Tiamat, for example. That was the reflection of the struggle of the principle of intelligence with the Lizard brain — the reptilian part of our biopsychic inheritance. You might even say, of the neo-cortex with the paleo-cortex. The Beast cast into the Abyss.

    Now it literally “irrupts”, as in Alien or its current knock-off film Life out of the human form itself. Both aliens are reptilian and these are the Lizard Brain.

    Clear cases of the projection of the Shadow.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Poor reptiles. They’ve been taking all our flak since Genesis was written. Before, actually. Serpents, lizards…even Oriental dragons! Heck, Medusa had a head overflowing with serpents! (I notice also that they’re generally associated with the female aspect of ourselves. Eve, in the case of Genesis.) And, let’s not forget, not all reptiles are poisonous.

      Surely we can think of something more descriptive than “Lizard Brain” to describe that “part of our biopsychic inheritance.” Barbarous comes to mind and is somewhat androgynous, but probably doesn’t quite capture it.

      Anyway…. While I’m working on that, I’ll anticipate yet another excellent follow-up from this little island of sanity..

      • Scott Preston says :

        I’m rather fond of dragons myself. I have a humourous story about that, too.

        I have a pendant in the shape of a dragon, which I used to wear quite a bit. Well, I was living in Victoria once and I was in this grocery store, and this elderly lady saw my dragon pendant around my neck and started berating me about my apparent (in her mind) Satanism. If I was wearing a dragon pendant, I must be a Satanist. I said nothing, I was quite bemused by it all. But she was so outraged by my dragon that she attracted quite a lot of attention in the store, and from the teller where I was waiting in line to buy something or other.

        It’s quite a lovely dragon.

        I’ve tamed my dragon — at least, a little bit. But apparently she hadn’t tamed hers.

        More irony.

        • Dwig says :

          Some of Ursula LeGuin’s fantasy novels feature dragons as more than caricatures, the Earthsea stories among them.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    This anonymous “Google staffer” is a first class narcissist, by the sounds of it.

    The idea that he’s the universal standard of the effective human being, and anyone else who isn’t (who isn’t male, conservative, and white apparently) is deviant or “biased” is, of course, totally laughable. But it’s rather common, isn’t it? It’s a really fine example of narcissism in full bloom.

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