Have you ever played spider solitaire? I was fooling around with a computer copy of the game on my computer last night and I thought of an analogy between it and the Overview Effect — that is, the emergence in our time of a more holistic view of things from already tacit unconscious knowledge; or, as Jean Gebser puts it, the “irruption” into consciousness of already implicit or latent ancient knowledge which is now beginning to force a restructuration of the mental-rational (or ego consciousness), or what we refer to here as the “perspectival” world view or “point-of-view, line-of-thought” consciousness structure.
It’s a simple — maybe even a trivial — example, but you can extrapolate from this simple analogy to the world-at-large. There’s a great deal of interest these days, for necessary reasons, with effecting the “overview”, or “the big picture view”, or the “universal view” or the “holistic view” or the “integral view” and so on. This simple analogy might be taken as an illustration of that emergence. As is said, big things sometimes come in very small packages, and in even seemingly trivial events — like the birth of a baby in a manger.
The naive mind brings to the machine the kind of reverence once reserved for the gods in mythological culture, or for the power object in magical culture. The machine becomes an idol and a fetish because it is believed to be an incarnation of the “truth that sets free”, if only as the labour-saving or the life-saving device. For the naive mind, what works is what is true, and what is true is what works. Science is valued only as a discoverer of truths that can then be incarnated in the functioning machine as proof of truth. The machine then becomes not just the proof of the truth of Science, but the very incarnation of Truth itself, the embodied “miracles” of existence. Technology becomes the sacred object of reverence because it is truth itself made manifest and, alone, the truth that sets free.
This is, of course, idolatry, superstition and fetish, but a very powerful one that holds an extraordinary grip on the mind. Technology, here, is not just useful for achieving useful purposes and ends, but becomes an end and purpose in itself and for itself. Technology becomes incarnate truth, and there is no truth outside its incarnation as the machine. There is a kind of intimation of that in David Bowie’s great song “Saviour Machine“. In effect, technology proclaims “I am the Truth, and you shall have no other truth before me”.
The old monasteries of Christendom were governed by a single “Rule” from which the monastic order and its activity were derived. The Rule shaped its life. The Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, even The Brethren of the Free Spirit, and so on, all had their own “Rule”, and that Rule was the central idea they sought to bring into the world. The Rule, in turn, was derived from some aspect of the Cross or the Gospels and so the monasteries remained within the “bosom of the Church”. In some ways, then, the monasteries were very much like the faculties of a university, and much of the structure of the university as an institution took its structure from the monastery because it was the Church that founded the first universities. Before the university, it was most often the monasteries that preserved and conserved classical learning and literature through the long European Dark Age. The alleged “first scientist”, Roger Bacon, was a monk, and many of our contemporary technical inventions had their origin in the monasteries (the clock, for instance, or early genetics). And I have argued that even contemporary political ideologies were derived from the monasteries, after Luther sent his monks and nuns out of the monasteries and into the world to make their own way. They simply took their Rule with them.
Today, the monasteries are, for the most part, sad and deserted places. I’ve visited a couple of them. Only a handful of aging monks left to tend to sometimes very large compounds.