The Emergence of the Holistic View from Unconscious Knowledge

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.

Spider Solitaire can be a complex game, but for simplicity we will use the “medium” skill set one as an example. It is similar to solitaire, but uses two decks of cards instead of one, arranged, face down initially, in 10 rows, except for the very last row which is face up. From this initial position, you have to begin to arrange and order the face cards in suits, king to ace, before you can remove the suit from the game and the table. You win the game when all the cards have gradually been turned over, arranged in suits, and removed from the table, et voila — the empty table.

Now, you know (because you’ve learned it) that a deck has 52 cards and 4 suits of 13 cards each, so in spider solitaire you have double that — 104 cards and 8 suits of 13 cards each, so you have to remove 8 suits to empty the table. I assume you know the rules of solitaire, so I’ll skip over that.

You begin with the face-up cards and begin moving them around, if possible, to arrange them in descending order and in suits. When you remove a face card from its row onto another row, a face-down card is then turned up with the possibility of moving that card onto another row, and so on. So at any particular point in the game, you have a number of cards manifested, and a number of cards unmanifested, ie, you don’t know when or where the rabbit will jump out of the hat.

Now, if someone were to ask you to stop right now in the middle of the game and tell them which cards are manifested and which cards are unmanifested, you would have to do a very painstaking — and that means “time-consuming” — inventory in your mind (called “analysis”) of which cards were showing and then deduce from that which of the 104 cards are not revealed. This would take some energy and effort on your part. As you progress through the game, though, and have fewer and fewer unrevealed or unmanifested cards, you can much more quickly deduce, through analysis, which card values — number and suit — are still hidden or face-down. The ego-consciousness is very slow in that respect.

At the same time, though, from the very start of the game (and even before the game) there is an unconscious part of you that knows instantly what cards are hidden. It relies on the ego-consciousness for learned knowledge (called “experience”) of certain simple aspects and descriptions of the cards and the rules of the game, but doesn’t require the ego-consciousness’s time-consuming and painstaking deducing and analyising. This is sometimes called the “intuitive”, and unlike the ego-consciousness it does not pause to reflect or to take time to analyse and deduce. It knows. It always knows in “no-time” at any particular point in the game what cards are showing and which are not, but it is always in the background of the focus of the ego-consciousness (which we can call “foreground” or “point-of-view”).

Now, if someone (or yourself) were to stop you at any point in the game, and ask you to say, right now, what cards are still unmanifested, you could not do it. You’ld have to take time to analyse and deduce the answer from the evidence of the face cards. However, if you could draw upon that tacit knowing of the intuitive self, you could rattle that answer off in no-time, relatively speaking. In fact, so-called “idiot savants” are very good at that. But also, in stopping to think, you also become aware of time and duration, because thinking takes time, while you intuitive self takes, as we say, “no time at all”. Or, as Rumi puts it, “it’s all in the middle of its happening”.

Now, if the ego-consciousness with its time-consuming and painstaking analytical and deductive mode of attention were to get out of the way or otherwise tap into the knowledge of its more intuitive self (or what Seth also calls “the You of you”), it would greatly increase the odds of winning every game. Sounds great except that, at the same time, the game would become very very boring and largely predictable and routine. It wouldn’t offer much of a challenge. So, it often deliberately attenuates or abbreviates or ignores the insights of the intuitive Self because (as even Castaneda’s don Juan exclaimed) it’s more exciting not to know when and where the rabbit will pop out of the hat.

This is a simple analogy for Iain McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary” relation. At any time, there is a tacit or implicit part of you (a great big part) that perceives instantaneously and holistically (or what we weakly call “intuitively”) while another part — the intensely focussed part called the “ego-consciousness” or the “point of view” — that must take time, if not make time, to deduce and analyse, interpret and explain, but which clings to time, and consequently to its explanations, desciptions, analyses, and deductions, as if its very life depended upon it, by this intense “grasping” nature.

So, the “emissary” mode of consciousness is, indeed, a kind of “scout” for the master mode of awareness, but a scout that has, to a great extent, itself lost its bearings. It does, in a sense, “float” upon the greater awareness of the master or intuitive self, which seems endless patient with the scout and tolerates its foibles because as something that happens in “no-time”, it doesn’t know impatience.

This description of the game of spider solitaire is a kind of parable for the holistic and particularistic relationship, and is therefore somewhat parallel to what William Blake also calls “Imagination” and “Selfhood”, or, correspondingly, “fourfold vision” and “single vision,” respectively.

In some respects, there is also an analogy here with Harold W. Percival’s tripartite description of the human into Knower, Thinker, and Doer portions (in his book Thinking and Destiny). The “Knower” corresponds to McGilchrist’s “Master”, and to the “no time” of the intuitive “You of you”, the “Thinker” must “take time” to think, and the Doer portion actually “makes time” or “does time”, as we say, and we would call the latter “the player”, and in terms of the game metaphor, Knower, Thinker, and Doer would correspond to imagination, rule maker, and player. So, there is even one step beyond McGilchrist’s “emissary” mode and that is called “persona” — the doer is the mask.

And in that sense, you can say, too, that the Knower corresponds to the “vital centre” of the cross of reality, the “Thinker” is the generator of the cross of reality — its temporal and spatial dimensions, and the “doer” is that portion of us that acts within the cross of reality. And, by a kind of reversal, you can say that the “Doer” corresponds to Newtonian Mechanics, the “Thinker” to Einsteinian Relativity, and the “Knower” to the Quantum Field — different domains, as it were, each with their own distinctive characteristics and features called “laws”, effective within their respective domains, but not very effective in each other’s domains. But the quantum approach is the most intuitive and holistic of them all, which suggests the truth of the emergence of more “unconscious knowledge” in our time (or what Seth also calls “the ancient force”).

The things you can learn from a game of solitaire!








5 responses to “The Emergence of the Holistic View from Unconscious Knowledge”

  1. Eric Nicholson says :

    Rosenstock-Huessy and Gebser are new to me. Where would you recommend I start?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Good question, as their best material has sometimes not been translated yet into English. With Gebser, you really have to start with the big kahuna, and that’s his voluminous work The Ever-Present Origin. Apart from that you can find some material by googling up the terms “integral consciousness” and “gebser”.

      As for Rosenstock-Huessy, try the website It has some books and essays freely available online. For my money, though, two of the best are a collection of essays called Speech and Reality and a shorter work called The Origin of Speech. His two volume study called Soziologie isn’t, as far as I know, yet available in English. (One volume deals with the spaces, the other volume deals with the times of the cross of reality).

      • Eric Nicholson says :

        Thanks, Scott. I’ll look up the website – don’t think I’ll have time to read thick tomes at the moment with my on-going Blake book project! (I can see how both writers relate to Blake; that is why I’m interested.)

        • Scott Preston says :

          To my mind, Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, and Blake form that “Eternal Golden Braid” that Hofstadter thought he saw in Godel, Escher and Bach, but one even more foundational. There is implicit in Blake’s “fourfold vision”, the methodology that was drawn out (inadvertently) by Rosenstock-Huessy. In turn, Rosenstock-Huessy provides the methodolgical foundation that Gebser sought for in his own grammatical approach to interpretations of civilisational structures as structures of consciousness. And those structures of consciousness circle back to illuminate Blake’s mythology of the four Zoas.

          Hence, the “braid” metapho, which seems another metaphor for a spiral, and for spiral dynamics.

  2. srosesmith says :

    Thank you so much, Scott! This is one of your most important for me to know!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: