“Something unknown is doing we know not what” — physicist Sir Arthur Eddington
InfiniteWarrior sent me a link this morning to an article by the astrophysicist Adam Frank. The article, in Aeon, is entitled “Minding Matter” in which Frank explains why materialism ultimately cannot account for “the riddle of consciousness”. More importantly, it provides further insight into what I earlier wrote about the crumbling foundations of the Modern Era, or, put alternatively, the disintegration of the mental-rational consciousness structure, as anticipated by Jean Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin.
Now, strangely as it may seem, the challenges posed by quantum physics for conventional cosmology and our understanding of matter and consciousness, as described by Frank in the Aeon article, tie into the aspects of the pop culture Poppy meme I spoke to in the last three postings, as well as to Caroline Orr’s very interesting work on internet propaganda that I linked to yesterday. In a very peculiar way, they all provide a peek behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain. Put simply, they all, in their own way, point to the erosion of the structural foundations of modern consciousness.
OK. I lied. At the conclusion to the previous posting on “Poppy’s World” I wrote that I would say no more about the Poppy meme. Yet, I left off feeling that I had not at all gotten to the gist of the Poppy meme in a satisfactory way — that there had to be more to it. Something more had to account for the range of responses to Poppy, from seemingly mindless and cultish devotion to indignation and outrage.
So, I returned to Poppy’s YouTube channel and watched her videos all over again, and I followed the evolution of the Poppy meme over the last couple of years. Something so seemingly unserious as “Poppy” might seem a strange topic for The Chrysalis, but I since a fellow student of Gebser, Jeremy Johnson, has also found something intriguing in the Poppy meme pertinent to the issue of culture and consciousness, I don’t think it is entirely frivolous.
Poppy and Poppy’s World are, basically, a riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, updated for cyberspace and virtual reality. It’s surprising, then, that so many people find Poppy perplexing, since everybody probably knows the story of Alice. Poppy is Alice, and the characters that inhabit Poppy’s World of cyberspace, which appear in her YouTube videos — a talking skeleton, a talking plant, a talking mannequin, faceless men, computer boy — these are counterparts to the characters that appear in Alice’s Wonderland.
The confusion and perplexity (and sometimes indignation and hostility) about Poppy and Poppy’s World that you find in a lot of commentaries on Poppy teaches us something quite profound about changes in the way we approach story. Poppy actually reveals something also about changes in consciousness and “chaotic transition”, which is what got me interesting in the Poppy meme in the first place.
Who and what is “Poppy”? And why should something seemingly so banal and unserious even matter, to the extent that I would waste my time chasing it down or posting anything about it?
Fair questions. They were also my first responses to reading an article in The Guardian a few days ago about Poppy and her collaborator Titanic Sinclair, where Poppy is described as “a disturbing internet meme“. So, the relevance of “Poppy” is as an example of what is called “Meme Magic”, and given my life-long interest in propaganda (or “technocratic shamanism”, as Algis Mikunas also calls it appropriately) I was drawn into “Poppy’s World”.
I’ve been thinking of late how to simplify and clarify the meaning of “chaotic transition” in a way that might further illuminate what cultural philosopher Jean Gebser means by the “disintegrative” dynamic of Late Modernity; what he means by the mental-rational/perspectival structure of consciousness now functioning in “deficient mode”, and the prospect, too, of civilisational collapse.
Nietzsche once observed that the foundations of the Modern Age were erected upon “running water”, invoking the idea of the Heraclitean flux, yes, but also the unstable metaphysical assumptions upon which the whole Age was erected. The whole structure has become quite wobbly because those assumptions have now proven to be questionable or, indeed, wrong. Here, I’ve attempted to identify at least four such metaphysical assumptions that have served as main pillars or foundation stones of the modern order and worldview. In this way, we can gain insight into the present havoc.
Dwig, a couple of posts back, issued something of a challenge for me to unfold the meaning of the shamanic consciousness, or what Jean Gebser calls “the magical structure of consciousness”. This I will attempt to do today, although my first impulse was to comment on an article that appeared in The Atlantic on the limits to scientific understanding. I can work some of that into today’s post also. It is often the case that the limits to scientific understanding are also the beginnings of the mythical or the magical and shamanic one.
You may recall the Hermetic principle of epistemology — empathetic epistemics: “to know the thing, you must become the thing you want to know”. This, naturally, requires great fluidity and flexibility of consciousness and identity and a readiness to forego the mere “point-of-view” and “line-of-thought” approach associated with what is called “the objective attitude”. This is sometimes represented as “the descent into the Underworld”. This is possible for any one of us, as Gebser, Jung, and Blake also demonstrate. Since these “structures of consciousness” or modes of perception are latent within us still, we can access them. In fact, we frequently do without really being conscious of doing so. The boundaries between the consciousness structures/modes of perception are rather porous and permeable.
There is yet another voice of concern, a former Facebook executive, raised about the pernicious influence of social media: “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth“. The technology, says , is “ripping society apart”.
But is it? No. Not really. The divergent, disjunctive, disintegrative and chaotic social tendencies were there before they were projected, amplified, and reinforced by the technology and by social media. Social media has simply amplified the crisis of consciousness. What is travelling through the “global brain” or global “nervous system” is what we call “the stream of consciousness”. And that stream of consciousness is largely impulsive and chaotic. Anything that can pass through the human nervous system now becomes extended through and passes into the global nervous system — the malignant as well as the benign, the dark as well as the light, the conscious as well as the unconscious. The global internet, and social media, are making the stream of conscious manifest.