The Mutation Into Machinery
In his book Yuga: An Anatomy of Our Fate, Marty Glass highlighted five essential features of the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age. These five are 1) The Fall Into Time; 2) the Reign of Quantity; 3) the Mutation into Machinery; 4) the End of Nature; and, 5) the Prison of Unreality.
Although, arguably, the latter four are consequential from the first — the Fall Into Time — they are all implicated in one another as inseparable aspects of one and the same process which we could broadly refer to as samsara or samsaric existence, and in those terms also, aspects of what William Blake called “Ulro” — the realm of Shadow or Maya, which Blake calls “the Sleep of Ulro”. Ulro can therefore be taken as Blake’s own symbolisation of what is called the Kali Yuga or “Dark Age”.
While the Fall into Time is the leading edge of the Kali Yuga, my concern today is principally with one aspect of that fall, and that is “the Mutation into Machinery”, or, described differently, the mutation of the human form into a mere “automaton of reflexes”, which could also be called “post-conscious”. This would be the final triumph of the “Sleep of Ulro”.
But since The Fall Into Time is the sine qua non for all the other negative manifestations of the Kali Yuga, it is necessary to first say a few words about that, since “time” (or “Generation” in Blake’s terms) is the meaning of the word “secular”, which is also the domain of what is called “Relative Truth” — truth which is time-constrained and time-bound, which is what we call “the facts of the matter”. But, as we have insisted throughout The Chrysalis, there is a distinction to be made between “the truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter” which bears on the distinction between Ultimate Truth and Relative Truth, and therefore, correspondingly, to the difference between the Whole and the Totality which are, today, confused in men’s minds.
Logically, the Whole always precedes a mere Totality, which is a mere systematisation or aggregation of particulars or factoids, and therefore reflects the distinction between Ultimate and Relative Truth domains, even though they are connected. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time”, as Blake puts it acknowledging that the Whole is already implicit in the Totality, just as Ultimate Truth is implicit in the Relative (ie, “Heaven in a Wild Flower” and “Eternity in the hour”, as Blake also puts it). Once you appreciate this distinction between the Whole and the Totality, and between Ultimate and Relative, you will understand Iain McGilchrist’s neurodynamic principles described in his book The Master and His Emissary, and the two modes of perception of the divided brain.
It is my conviction that anyone today who wants to escape from the Sleep of Ulro or the nihilism of the Kali Yuga must engage with Dr. McGilchrist’s book, and to see how his “two modes of perception” are equally reflected in, and corroborated by, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight”, also, and how these two modalities of perception called “Master” and “Emissary” by McGilchrist, also bear on the distinction between the Whole and the Totality, and therefore with distinctions of the domains of Ultimate Truth and Relative Truth, or what was also traditionally understood as eternity and time.
Traditionally, also, a distinction was made between the noumenal and the phenomenal aspects of reality, and traditionally the noumenal was considered the prior, the substantive and the real, while the phenomenal was the image or shadow of the real, informed by the noumenal but not identical with it. The noumenal was not accessible via the physical senses, by only by “insight” or “vision”, and those with that insight or vision were therefore also called Seers. Therefore, a distinction was also made between wisdom and knowledge or belief, and correspondingly between the “truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter”. Traditionally, therefore, the noumenal, being also the substantial, was invisible to the physical senses. So, when Seth, for example, insists that “consciousness creates form, and not vice versa”, this is a reference to the noumenal underpinning of what we call “reality” — the real power behind the throne, as it were.
The Fall into Time is therefore coincident with the fall into merely Sensate Consciousness, which McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” and which is associated with the left-hemisphere’s mode of perception or “ego consciousness”. In consequence of this fall into sensate consciousness (and therefore into time, Ulro, Maya, or samsara) was the elimination of the noumenal side of things. The merely phenomenal or apparent was now taken as the sole and substantive reality, even though the phenomenal is only the most remote manifestation of the noumenal, the noumenal having also been associated with the formative forces, and which persists still in Phenomenology as “intentionality” or “intentionality of consciousness”. These formative forces are what Blake calls “the divine Imagination”.
The noumenal and the phenomenal (or the invisible and the visible) are two sides of one reality because of the nature of the divided brain and its two modes of perception. We may assume that, at one time, the two modes of perception were more harmoniously engaged for this distinction to be known. In fact, it is encapsulated in the ultimate paradox of Buddhism: nirvana and samsara are the same; nirvana and samsara are not the same. This is, essentially, Blake’s insight into the nature of things also — “the infinite in all things”, or the mysterious coincidentia oppositorum of eternity and time, and of the infinite with the finite that Blake calls “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”.
The Fall into Time is therefore an intelligible idea, coincident with the lapse of consciousness into merely sensate or sense-bound consciousness, the disappearance (as self-alienation) of the noumenal, which is the meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son and his journey into a “far away land”, which is egoism. Jean Gebser calls this estrangement “distantiation” from the “vital centre” (from the roots of consciousness itself), those roots that are identical with what he calls “the ever-present origin”. But, in effect, this estrangement is a dissociation of the Emissary from its roots in the Master’s mode of perception, which is holistic and associated with the noumenal side of things. This dissociation is today’s “mad, mad world”.
The Mutation into Machinery is therefore associated also with the lapse into sensate consciousness, along with a hyper-exaggeration of the merely material and mechanical aspects of the body and nature. The body is a Gestalt of electrical, chemical, thermal, and mechanical energies, whose interplay is called “homeostasis”. This differentiation, however, overlooks the term that is common to all four — energy. The body is essentially an energy form or pattern and therefore itself, in those terms, a numinosity. As Blake puts it equally: ” Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy”. In all likelihood, therefore, Blake’s “four Zoas” are associated with this energy ecology, and his hegemonic Zoa named “Urizen” (who is rationality) is associated with the purely mechanical energies, and thus became associated with the Clockwork Universe theme. Descartes, especially, exaggerated the mechanical aspects of the body and of reality.
And part of the reason that materialism and the Mechanical Philosophy is in trouble today is because of that exaggeration, since electrical energy is becoming more prominent in thinking than the mechanical, and electrical energy emphasises polarity and complementarity. It may even be the case that various forms of “religion” throughout history — animism, vitalism, psychism, or mentalism, and Gebser’s associated “structures of consciousness” — are coincident with the four modalities of energy represented in the human body — mechanical, chemical, electrical, or thermal.
So, presently, we have the “two mutations”, as it were, for Glass’s “mutation into machinery” has its contrary tendency in what Jean Gebser calls the “mutation” towards the “integral consciousness” — a major bifurcation or discontinuity in the human evolutionary narrative, perhaps even a branching. The Mutation into Machinery is what concerns writers like Jacques Ellul (in his sociology of the Technological Society) or Lewis Mumford’s interpretations of the “Megamachine”. It’s what underlies a good many critical reflections on the Technological System, for there is no doubt at all that the technological environment that man has created for himself (the Anthropocene) associated with the “End of Nature” and the “Prison of Unreality” is also pressing him to become more machine-like also — more akin to an automaton of simple reflexes. Last year, for example, I reported extensively on what is being called “marketing 3.0” (or “holistic branding” or “spiritual marketing” and so on) whose disguised aim is precisely the creation of cradle-to-grave “branded behaviours”. “Branded behaviours” is just another way of saying “automatons of reflexes”.
And that is basically the zombie meme so prevalent today. A Zombie is a mere “automaton of reflexes”, and it is prevalent because the zombie is the meaning of the Kali Yuga and the Mutation into Machinery. If there is, today, such a concern with “mindfulness” and mindfulness practice, as counter-measure, it is largely because mindlessness has become the norm, and there are certainly plenty of those “teachers of Sleep” as Nietzsche called them who wish to encourage others to give up their autonomy in favour of becoming simple automatons. This is what Algis Mikunas has described as “technocratic shamanism”.
We even talk about some people knowing “how to push people’s buttons” as if they were already little more than machines or automatons of reflexes — routine, predictable, controllable. A lot of dystopian science fiction is all about this Mutation into Machinery — of human beings having been reduced to little more than automatons of reflexes.
Everybody today speaks of our “post-human future”, and it’s very ambiguous. Ironically, in one way or another it’s going to be true, for humanity can go many ways presently — towards self-annihilation. towards the Mutation into Machinery, or effectively towards Gebser’s “integral consciousness” (or Aurobindo’s “supramental consciousness” or Nietzsche’s “transhuman”).
To be in a state of crisis is to be at a crossroads. And we should really be clear about the choices facing us and not walk into this blindly or asleep at the wheel.