Consciousness, Reason and The Middle Way

One must be careful to discern between science and scientism;  likewise economics and economism and not confuse the sound with the unsound. The original ideal of science remains valid. That noble ideal was to liberate the mind from aggregate falsehoods, error, superstition, and dogma that made for the “mind-forg’d manacles,” as William Blake called them, through the clarification of human experience. It therefore ran a course parallel to the Age of Faith in that respect, for what the Age of the Church attempted — redemption of the soul from “sin” through pure faith, the Age of Reason likewise attempted — redemption of consciousness from error through pure reason alone.

But, unfortunately, pure reason and consciousness are not the same thing, even though they were and still are assumed to be so. This is the chief characteristic only of the “mental” structure of consciousness which has now bumped up against its limits of intelligibility and has become, instead, a species of madness itself.

Studying the transition from Age of Faith to Age of Reason is an object lesson in what Nietzsche means by “the transvaluation of values” or “revaluation of values” — die Umwertung aller Werten — and also in the equivalent sense an object lesson in what Jean Gebser describes as a chaotic transition from one structure of consciousness to another structure of consciousness — not just a change of contents of consciousness. The ideals and concerns of the High Middle Ages — the most effective and creative period of Christendom — are not different from the subsequent Age of Reason after Christendom entered into its decline and decadence, or “deficient mode” of functioning. The emerging mental civilisation and consciousness structure of the time, which we call “Modern Era” grounded in Reformation and Renaissance, was in many ways only a translation of Christian or theological values into a rational or secular idiom — even as “ideology” rather than as mythology. The old maxim that “the more things change the more they stay the same” is profoundly true in  many respects, and it reflects Blake’s acknowledgement that “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” or “Eternity in the hour”. The values or “eternal verities” of the High Middle Ages were exhausted by time, but they were revived and resurrected in new forms suitable for the Age of Reason.

So, there was this shift from the emphasis upon man’s “soul” and its redemption from error through pure faith to man’s “mind” and its redemption from error through “pure reason”, for the death and disintegration of Christendom — the collapse — made a revaluation absolutely necessary. It is true that “death is the beginning of all knowledge” as Rosenzweig asserts in The Star of Redemption (“Vom Tode und nur vom Tode faengt alles Erkennen an”), and there was a corresponding shift from the symbolic mode of knowing and discourse (or symbolic thinking characteristic of the mythical structure of consciousness) to more prosaic or discursive mode of thinking which we call the “analytical” or “indicatival”. This is the logico-mathematical or “mental-rational” mode of discourse, and is what George Morgan calls “Prosaic Mind” or what Blake describes as Urizen and Urizenic Man.

There was, then, a total restructuration of what was meant by “truth” and what was understood as being “human nature” also, for these matters had become confused and labrynthine (much like today) and the mind had become desperate for clarity. Reason was identified as the sole defining attribute of the human that distinguished the human from other forms of life, and the purification of reason as “Pure Reason” (or “Universal Reason”) became synonymous with the clarification of experience and the purification of the awareness. The sectarianism and factionalism (disintegration) of Christendom is the parallel to the hyper-partisan character of the present and the problem of the “multiversity” as the disintegration of the unity of knowledge and the collapse of the Age into fundamentalisms and reductionisms. These are, as argued in the previous post, diseased forms of consciousness, or what Gebser calls “deficient” modes of functioning of a consciousness structure.

As Owen Barfield argues in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, the real contest between Galileo and his Inquisitors was about the nature of truth itself, and that theme is taken up also by Maurice Nicoll in Living Time: And the Integration of the Life. The “truth that sets free” which was formerly a matter of faith and revelation, and thus of the inner life or soul, is displaced into the objective or outer world — as the world of facticity. “Truth” is no longer to be found within, but without — in the realm of the objective, and the symbolic (or metaphorical) mode of thinking and discourse was displaced by the logical and analytical which indicates also a reorientation and restructuration of consciousness that Gebser calls also “perspectival” or “perspectivising”.

The eclipse of the inner light called “soul” by “mind” as “pure reason” eventually leads to the “death of God” and the collapse of the awareness into the ever-narrowing thing called “the point-of-view” now become synonymous with “the identity” or even “the individual” — atomisation and fragmentation. John Donne, in his masterly poem “An Anatomy of the World” already anticipated that eclipse of the soul and its disintegration into fragments or mere factoids. But as went God, so went necessarily notions of “Universal Reason” and rationalism has become reactionary in response even though it was hoist on its own petard.

“Pure Reason” confused itself with the purification of consciousness and perception. It tried to make rationality synonymous with consciousness and ended up putting its own shackles on perception, whereas logic is only one aspect or facet of consciousness and certainly not the essence of it. So it became itself, ironically, a superstition and a dogma, and itself a burden and a limitation on the further possibilities of consciousness and awareness — in many ways a complete inversion and reversal of its original emancipatory aims. In fact, it has become a threat to life on Earth. And if you examine many contemporary critiques of scientism and techno-science what underlies them is a sense that science (or the mental-rational, logico-mathematical method) has deviated from its original mandate to clarify our perception and actual experience.

Science needs “the Middle Way”, as suggested in the previous post. It needs to come to remembrance of itself like the wayward Prodigal Son of the parable who has deviated too far from the ‘vital centre’ and into realms of annihilation and self-annihilation — nihilism. Nihilism wasn’t its original mandate, nor was “Pure Reason”. The clarification of experience and the purification of our awareness was its mandate — that is to say, “the truth that sets free” and not so much “the facts of the matter”. Things like “scientism” or “economism”, which are just forms of reductionism and fundamentalism, are attempts to impose new shackles upon awareness and perception in the name of “Pure Reason”.

That’s the essence of Blake’s complaint about the mad Zoa “Urizen”.

Consciousness is more than reason alone can encompass. That’s the issue of “integral consciousness”. “Pure Reason” simply confused itself with the purification of awareness.

What Buddhism calls “the Middle Way” is not a dialectical synthesis. It is the vital centre in the way described in the previous post. We are embedded in a fourfold order of times and spaces, and this is pretty much the common consciousness of the world. The relative equilibrium of these powers of time and space is called “the Sacred Balance”. The Buddhist “Middle Way” is not different from what the Christian calls “the Way of the Cross”, nor what the indigenous North American calls “the Good Red Road” (connected with the meaning of the Sacred Hoop), and it is not even different from the Muslim’s “Sharia”. The meaning of much of this, however, has been forgotten.

Take the Sharia. Literally, it means the path that leads through the desert to water or the oasis. The spiritual or symbolic meaning of this, though, is quite clear. A path has an origin and a destination — the two poles of time as past and future times. The path also has a left hand and a right hand in space. Deviate from the path too far to either side (called “lop-sided” development) and you perish of thirst in the desert. The Sharia is the “path with heart”, and is also cruciform in structure just as much as “the Way of the Cross” or the aboriginal’s “Good Red Road” that is the form of the Sacred Hoop. On the “path with heart” (as Castaneda’s don Juan also calls it) you are whole, harmonious, and integral, and you are in a fourfold relationship with your origin and your destiny, your past and future, and with the spaces to your left and your right.

These are all metaphors for the fourfold self. Rumi also calls these orientations the four nafs. These nafs or “souls” are Blake’s four Zoas, and are also Jung’s “four psychological types”, they are implicated in Castaneda’s “four enemies of the man of knowledge” (fear, clarity, power, and old age). They are the shape of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” which is also the shape of the fourfold self, and they are connected with the four structures of consciousness (the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental) identified by cultural philosopher Jean Gebser. They are the four directions of the Sacred Hoop and they are “the Guardians of the Four Directions” in Buddhism, and in much else besides.

The “Middle Way” is not a synthesis, but an integration and a harmonisation of the contraries, which means that paradox (or coincidentia oppositorum) is actually foundational to any vital form of knowledge, or what Nietzsche means by “holding the tension of the opposites”. “Pure Reason” attempts to suppress the paradoxical and the tension of the opposites via the law of non-contradiction. But to deny this tension of the opposites or suppress the paradoxical not only generates the Jekyll-and-Hyde problem (and the Ego and Shadow problem), but is also to become anti-life. The ideal becomes the machine, or an “automaton of reflexes”.

What is the automaton and Artificial Intelligence, after all, but the idolatry of “Pure Reason”?


7 responses to “Consciousness, Reason and The Middle Way”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Globalism has brought with it the recognition of the fourfold as a human universal. That’s also implicated in the meaning of the “Global Soul”. The discovery of a universal is something that should get science excited, but it seems not to have. That has been pursued instead by the “ecumenical movement” or “inter-faith dialogue”, so ironically, it is the religious who are indeed being more “scientific” today than the scientists in following up on this apparent universal of the human experience.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    On Contraction, as we have discussed in a few places in relation to the identity anxiety, there’s an interesting take by Connor Habib on YouTube that explores Gebser’s philosophy in connection with the contemporary experience of space and time

    • Scott Preston says :

      By the way, this “contraction” to the “point-of-view” and “point-in-time” does resemble what precedes the “Big Bang” effect, also an example of enantiodromia in action which would meet also Gebser’s observation of “the double-movement”. The contraction is the collapse of the mental-rational spacetime structure. It’s uncanny, actually, how the cosmological image mirrors and echoes the state of human consciousness. In effect, the cosmological image is more a work of art in that respect than it is of “science” per se, or perhaps we should say that science is also tacitly poetry and art and imagination.

  3. mikemackd says :

    I mentioned the Science Show’s mention of 42 in its light-hearted celebration of its 42nd birthday. The feature before was even more of a spoof, an interview with “Professor Harry Diculus” about the role of feelings in science (; transcript available).

    Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks, “And this [emotional intelligence] is the most important intelligence, more important than scientific reasoning, evidence-based research, hypotheses, facts, proofs?

    Professor Diculus, a “Schadenfreude Professor of Solipsism at Salzburg” who thereby “takes everything with a grain of salt” and has an interest in false dichotomies, replied “yes”, and then when the interviewer disagreed, agreed with him.

    Now, that question about “the most important intelligence” is an example of simplex thinking, and as I have already quoted Panikkar as saying, if you answer a wrong question on its own terms you will give a wrong answer. The question to be asked behind that wrong question is, how do you value their importance?

    As Bonnitta Roy put it at

    “Values drive all organizational life … Intentional-motivational states are patterns that emerge through complex responsive processes operating in the value streams. Identities form as discrete roles through the continuous process of negotiating asymmetrical values, skills and power relations.”


    [A]ttention is inescapably bound up with value … Values enter through the way in which [cognitive] functions are exercised: they can be used in different ways for different purposes to different ends. Attention, however, intrinsically is a way in which, not a thing: it is intrinsically a relationship, not a brute fact. It is a ‘howness’, a something between, an aspect of consciousness itself, not a ‘whatness’, a thing in itself, an object of consciousness. It brings into being a world and, with it, depending on its nature, a set of values … The nature of the attention one brings to bear on anything alters what one finds (McGilchrist 2009, pp. 28-29).

    Scientism actively censors intrinsic valuations. An adherent to this religion cannot know why a human life could be more valuable than that of a gnat, because it is blind, deaf and dumb to intrinsic valuation on purpose. If the scientist is not so bound, that scientist is per se not bound inside scientism. To repeat my quote of John Cleese a couple of weeks ago: “science is a method of investigation, and NOT a belief system”. On the other hand, scientism is a belief system, one ignorant of intrinsic valuation, and thereby intrinsically worthless.

    As Mumford put it in The Pentagon of Power:

    As a result of this setback, the mechanical New World displaced the ‘romantic’ New World in men’s minds: the latter became a mere escapist dream, not a serious alternative to the existing order. For in the meanwhile a new God appeared and a new religion had taken possession of the mind: and out of this conjunction arose the new mechanical world picture which, with every fresh scientific discovery, every successful new invention, had displaced both the natural world and the diverse symbols of human culture with an environment cut solely to the measure of the machine. This ideology gave primacy to the denatured and dehumanized environment to which the new technological complex could flourish without being limited to any human interests and values other than those of technology itself. All too soon a large portion of the human race would virtually forget that there had ever existed any other kind of environment, any alternative mode of life.

    • Scott Preston says :

      In this respect, I can’t recommend Maurice Nicoll’s Living Time highly enough. It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read. The person who lent it to me couldn’t make heads nor tails of it, but neither was she familiar with Gebser or Blake or many of the others who we have discussed in the pages of The Chrysalis. I consider it an essential book for Gebser studies, even though Nicoll knew nothing of Gebser.

      What he does explore, majestically, is the meaning of the fourth-dimension (time) as it applies to consciousness and “the four-dimensional human” as he notes (what we’ve been calling fourfold vision and the fourfold Self). The whole book Living Time: and the integration of the Life is so resonant with Gebserian ideas that it’s astonishing that they didn’t know of each other. But Nicoll does explore, and in a very profound way, what Gebser means by “ever-present origin” and “time-freedom” and how this relates to integral consciousness and the fourth-dimension. So, yes, Nicoll’s book is about integral consciousness, although it would seem, I would think, largely opaque to someone who doesn’t also know Gebser. It’s full of very rich insights into the present period, even though it was published in 1952 originally.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Remarkably, I might add, Nicoll does use many of the same themes as Gebser to illustrate consciousness structures, pointing out their connection with dimensionalisation of reality. So he uses the analogy of the “point” (magical structure or unidimensional) moving into a “line” (mythical structure or two-dimensional polarity) and the “line” into a “cube” (three-dimensional, although Gebser would also suggest the triangle). Nicoll hasn’t (yet in my reading) suggested a suggestive geometric structure for the four-dimensional, although Gebser sees the “sphere” as that structure.

      In fact, in a lot of older alchemical illustrations, you see a sphere, and the sphere contains implicitly the other structures of point, line, triangle, square indicating that it is a symbolisation of the integral.

      It would not take too much to re-imagine the indigenous Sacred Hoop as a sphere or even Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” as a sphere.

      • mikemackd says :

        My Star Key goes through those dimensions. While unmentioned there, the third and fourth ones, of depth and time, enter via the serpents of seven rotating the circle into a sphere around the spine of nines.

        Tweedy expands upon Blake’s warning about stars in his sub-chapter “God-like stars” on p. 222.226, and points out how the application of ideograms such as the Star Key to the stars in the sky (another example of the inept nature of the left hemisphere) led to what Mumford independently identified as the rise of the megamachine:

        p. 222
        God-like Stars
        As we have seen, all stars belong to Urizen, and the star is his emblem. As Damon notes, in Blake’s work “the stars symbolize reason”, and constitute the visible machinery of Urizenic processes and laws: “they are assigned to Urizen” (Damon, p. 386). Star worship, and the identification of “god” with the stars, and with looking “up”, seems to have originated in the early Mesopotamian cities around six thousand years ago, and one of the most powerful re-enforcers of the idea of “up” in psychological terms, was the appearance of the pentagram or five-pointed star ideogram. As Wellard notes, this ideogram originated in a completely new development within western civilizations: a “concept” of heaven – and a heaven that is suddenly displaced from the
        Reality of earth and of a divinity “within” – and relocated millions of miles above anybody’d head where no-one can get to it. This is the brilliant manoeuvre of Urizenic consciousness, magnificently correlating and aligning its own ascendancy within the psyche with the radically new forms of authority and therefore of worship that characterised this emergence. The pyramidal forms which the slaves were constructing so laboriously to bear witness to this new advent – the “rise of the élites”, as Renfrew put it – were powerful temples to the “God” enthroned upon these new rationalised and socially stratified worlds:

        Quote by Tweedy
        It is, of course, of course, axiomatic that as soon as man was intelligent, he drew pictures for purposes of communication: it is this need to transfer information across space and time which is surely the key to the prehistoric rock art of southern Europe and of Africa. But from picture-characters, as of a star, to ideogram where the star now stands for the concept of heaven is a very long step. [Wellard, 1972, p. 83].
        Unquote by Tweedy

        But it was a step that the post-Sumerian élites took. Something had changed within their psyches to enable this development: a shift, an intensification in the process of abstraction and conceptualisation. The stars, always the realm of Urizen in Blake’s conceptual framework, now became identified with divinity itself, and a divinity of a very particular and rather disturbed or pathological kind. The key point in Wellard’s analysis, however, is his observation of the historical emergence of these ideograms within the Mesopotamian civilizations at this time: “writing, then, as we know it, was systematised, even if not actually invented, by the Sumerians, who certainly adapted simple pictographs into ideograms which could express actions and ideas as well as objects” (Ibid., p. 83; see also Liungman, 1974, p. 43, p. 335). The identification of the five-pointed star “ideogram” with “the concept of heaven”, and both within the left-hemisphere’s need to be “Up”, found a lasting and potent resonance (M&E, p. 484) ….
        Heaven is most definitely positioned “up” here, and humans are little better than baboons; God is an abstract geometrical shape, one whose operations and nature are known, if at all, only to an élite who are able to understand applied mathematics, numerology, and vast astronomical systems. It is not quite like Blake’s Circle with a “white dot calld a Centre”, but it is not far off. And it is similarly “Worshipd as God by the Mighty Ones of the Earth (J 29:18, p. 175).

        Tweedy gets quite Urizenic about this (a paradox he warns his readers about at the book’s beginning). The Star Key describes the relationship between Blake’s circle and Urizen’s stars, but in my opinion Tweedy insufficiently articulates how it is the Urizenic manipulation of those ideograms, rather than the ideograms themselves, where Lucifer descends into the Satanic State, as via Mumford’s Pentagon of Power.

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