On the Crumbling Metaphysical Foundations of the Modern Era, II

“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.

I chose to introduce this post with that famous quote from Arthur Eddington — something unknown doing we know not what — because it really underscores a great deal of what is so strange about the contemporary milieu. That includes, also, Frank’s discussion of the Uncertainty Principle and the Measurement Problem in contemporary physics, or the sciences, more generally. Franks’ article provides further insight into what the physicist Jacob Bronowski earlier spoke to as the irruption of the paradoxical and the attendant “crisis of mechanism” in his great series of lectures published as The Origins of Knowledge and Imagination.

“Something unknown is doing we know not what” reflects Nietzsche’s remark that “Since Copernicus, man has been rolling from the centre towards X“. So, let’s call this mysterious something “Factor X” for short. What Adam Frank has done in his article is lift the curtain a bit, to show that the ostensible (or presumptious) certainties of the conventional physicalist or mechanical models rest upon nothing but “running water” (in Nietzsche’s phrase, rather than “Ground of Being”). So, we may take that “running water” as synonymous with Factor X.

Frank’s article thus provides a very good point of reference for interpreting the more general erosion of the structural foundations, or metaphysical foundations, of modern consciousness. Something like wave action upon a shoreline is not a bad comparison or metaphor for Factor X, or for what Gebser calls “irruption”, and which I have linked to the meaning of the word “irreal“. The irreal and the eerie, and the ironic and paradoxical, are closely related, and the irreal doesn’t fall neatly into our conventional dualistic logics of “real or unreal”, of “true or false” and “either/or”.

So, the emergence or irruption of Factor X throws the mental-rational structure into perplexity and confusion, anxiety and paranoia (especially about “identity”) since there is also a close connection between paradox and paranoia. In those terms, the emergence or irruption of Factor X is implicated also in the present as a period of “chaotic transition”.

The mysterious “something unknown doing we know not what” is, as Frank shows, open to a number of interpretations or “points-of-view”, and we seem presently a far cry from that “universal way of looking at things” that Gebser anticipated as “integral consciousness”. Science thus seems no more immune against the “post-modern condition” than the popular culture is. The fragmentation and atomisation of the cultural milieu is equally reflected, and perhaps rooted in, the transformation of the university into the “multiversity”. The multicultural and the multiversity are coincident phenomena — or perhaps we should say, the polycultural and the polyuniverse. There is, correspondingly, a breakdown of the principle of universality and of “reality” itself. “How Real is Real?” asks Paul Watzlawick in a book by that title, subtitled Confusion, Disinformation, Communication. Pretty much a must read, too, for our chaotic times.

Many people feel like drowning sailors, clinging to any flotsam and jetsam that happens to float nearby, which accounts for what is sometimes called “zombie logic” or “symbolic belief”. Many scientists are no more immune to this than anyone else. They are likewise drowning in Factor X. “Something unknown doing we know not what” makes people, scientist or lay-person, profoundly uneasy. It is natural for people to want to put a face or identity to the unknown, but the”Non-visualisability” of Factor X for the sciences means how you attempt to visualise Factor X just becomes a matter of your predilection or personal preference, as Frank notes. And in pop culture, this takes the form of shadowy conspiracies, like the “Illuminati” or notions like a secretive “Committee of 300” (or “301” perhaps).

(Aha! The exact number of subscribers to The Chrysalis, official organ of the Committee of 300!)

The content of a structure of consciousness really doesn’t matter so much as the structure itself. This is what Marshall McLuhan was trying to get at with his formula that “the medium is the message” — the structure itself rather than the contents of that structure. Pop culture and the sciences do, in those terms, reveal the same structural crisis. The mysterious “something” we’re calling “Factor X” which so unsettles the sciences simply appears as the mysterious “they” of pop culture, or as the hidden, secret occult forces called “Illuminati” that the Poppy meme plays upon. It’s supposed to be ironic, but many people take “they” and “them” very seriously.

Factor X arouses all sorts of “memes” — the mysterious force of “creative destruction”, or “nihilism”, or “satanic” (my own personal preference is for Shiva and the Dance of Shiva to visualise Factor X). For some it is a dragon; for others the “creative forces”. For Nietzsche, it was the Dionysian irruption. For Gebser — and perhaps for Jung, too — it was the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure — or “return of the repressed”. Factor X it is that often makes people feel like they are little more than dry leaves being blown about by powerful winds (or “running water”). In one sense, they may not be far wrong in that. Factor X is what gives rise, in Gebser’s terms, to that “maelstrom of blind anxiety” that Gebser believed would end in global catastrophe.

(The forth-coming movie called Annihilation intrigues me in that sense, since it seems to also try to put a meaning to “Factor X”).

Factor X bears some resemblance to the Heraclitean flux. For the time being, just think of it as the Dance of the Nataraj.


21 responses to “On the Crumbling Metaphysical Foundations of the Modern Era, II”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I should give a shout-out to “Coconut”, who recently became the 300th member of The Chrysalis. I’ld say that The Chrysalis has a better claim to be the true organ and instrument of the Illuminati/Committee of 300 than Poppy does. Poppy’s number is “3:36”. Wrong number. Nothing mysterious about that. It’s just the average length of your average Pop song made to look occultish.

    (ie, her song “Interweb” is exactly 3.minutes 36 seconds. Welcome to Poppy Airlines Flight 336).

    So there. The Chrysalis is the official gathering place and organ of the Illuminati. Poppy’s is fake — fake news. You can’t argue with the numbers!

  2. Scott Preston says :

    InfiniteWarrior would like Poppy. Poppy also struggles with infinity — at least, in her own weird way

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Infi neither likes nor dislikes Poppy. Infi thinks Poppy is creepy, like those dolls that walk when you hold their hands. Poppy is a blank slate. Ergo, Infi finds nothing of interest about Poppy.

      Speaking of memes, though. Among the most popular of 2017 is a quote: “Sometimes when things are falling apart they may actually be falling into place.”

      No one sharing it (including HuffPo) seems to know where it came from. Ergo, it has never been credited to its original source, which I suspect is a song by Casting Crowns. The actual quote is: “Your world is not falling apart; it’s falling into place.”

      • Scott Preston says :

        “Sometimes when things are falling apart they may actually be falling into place.

        Is the glass half full or half empty? Highly ambiguous. Of course, that’s the nature of the double-movement and the paradox. In transitional ages, you’re coming and going at the same time. The twirly woos. But, that’s how a vortex works, too. and one man’s cycle is another man’s vortex. Mountains become molehills, molehills become mountains, and tempests rage in teacups. “What goes round comes round”, which is about as succinct a description of ironic reversal I can think of. But that’s a description of a maelstrom.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Actually, the comment about things falling into place brought to mind a song by one of my favourite bands, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, called “Standing on the Rock”.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          I like that one. The quote also reminds me of your recent comment about the convergence of all these “streams of consciousness” in a common tributary. I don’t remember exactly what you said and the inability to search comments doesn’t help, but hopefully everyone will remember it, regardless. The sense I get (erroneously or not) is that all those “splits” in the “foundation” that occurred at the beginning of the Renaissance may be somehow on the mend as opposed to “the pieces” flying further apart.

          There’s something of that “double movement” in Casting Crowns’ song, too, in a different sense. “Painting beauty with the ashes,” letting go of “control” and “surrendering” to the flow of the “Tao,” so to speak, which of course doesn’t mean throwing up your hands and giving up, but “surrendering” that egoic instinct of “control” to it, which brings to mind another meme that seems to resonate with a lot of people: “Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow.”

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I’ld like to draw your attention to what is, I think, a very good distillation and interpretation of Adam Curtis’s “Hypernormalisation” documentary by Gerald Samms of “The Noisy Mouse”.


  4. Scott Preston says :

    Ever notice how Gandalf the Wise looks a lot like Aqualung? Put Gandalf in a trench-coat (they are coming back in fashion) and drag him out of Middle Earth onto the street and he’ld be the spitting image of Aqualung.

    Maybe Aqualung is Gandalf’s alter ego, like the Gorgon is Athena’s?

    (I only mention this because some people now tell me that I’m beginning to look like Gandalf. They probably mean I’m beginning to look like Aqualung, but are too polite to say so).

  5. mikemackd says :

    On the older metaphysical (and calendrical) ancient foundations that Infi and I were discussing several posts ago, I would like to wish everyone a new year of implementing loving kindness by skillful means.

    • Scott Preston says :

      The ghost of Christmases past! Thank you Mike and the same to you and yours, and to all. I imagine it’s summer where you are, while we Hyperboreans are putting up with -40 to -50 C temperatures. Makes you grateful for little things like central heating.

  6. Dwig says :

    A joyful winter/summer solstice to all, celebrated in whatever rituals you prefer!

    One comment on the article: “The content of a structure of consciousness really doesn’t matter so much as the structure itself.”

    I submit that, for living entities, the structure is the content (or vice versa if you prefer ;^) You need look no farther than your own body for examples. I was recently fascinated to learn that even our skeletons are constantly “morphing” in response to changing conditions (look up “bone remodeling”, which I think of as “the dance of the three osteos”: osteoblasts, osteocytes, and osteocysts).

    • Scott Preston says :

      It’s 2018. And I know its tradition to wish one and all happiness in the new year. Instead I’ll steal a line from The Game of Thrones which I think is now more appropriate: “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come”.

      as to the meaning of structure: I tend to think of consciousness structures as distinct grammars. This bears also on Gebser’s meaning also, I think, since for Gebser, consciousness structures are distinctive Gestalts of space and time, and spacing and timing is the function of grammar. The grammar specifies how the phonemes and morphemes or memes of a language are to be knitted together (ie, articulated). As Gebser demonstrates in his EPO, there is a reciprocal relationship between the phonemic and morphemic elements of a language and a grammar, but they remain, nonetheless, distinct.

      A grammatical pattern, therefore, is akin to the idea of the archetype, perhaps in both the Jungian and Platonic senses, or in Blake’s sense of the “Eternal Forms”. The archetype is an energy pattern or Gestalt that informs the manifested form within the matrix of time and space. Archetypes are blueprints in that sense.

      How the archetype self-manifests is therefore quite contingent upon the matrix, the structure of consciousness, within which it manifests. Take, for example, the “Chimera” as manifestation of an archetype (and energy pattern). Within the magical structure, the Chimera is a polymorphous being or shape-shifter. Within the mythical structure of consciousness, the Chimera is a hybrid being, like a Satyr or perhaps even the image of Aeon having a lion’s head, a man’s body, a bird’s wings, and a snake for a crown. The Biblical Cherubim are also said to be Chimerae.

      “Poppy”, I’ve argued, is also a Chimera within the context of the technological culture or the mental-rational structure: she is, also, as cyborgian creature, a Chimera.

      I’ld argue, they are all the same archetype, only manifesting differently within their own appropriate matrix or structure of consciousness. So, in those terms, the structure very much conditions, or largely determines, the meaning of its own contents, in very much the same way a grammar specifies the meaning of its own constituent phonemic of morphemic elements.

  7. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    New year is always an opportunity for renewal, a rereading process to aspire for the higher. Humans are field for multi-varied expressions, the dilemma starts when the humans let themselves be besieged by one painting, like the character of poppy that has been hypnotized in a state of spiritual derailment, Pulling all together is the road to strength. Freedom is in surrendering to god ,the path to self realization. It is an intentional waiting mobilizing all the inner capacities and faculties toward spiritual growth the errand of life. We have not been given all these inner tools in vain. It is the artistic self mode that seeks it honest self independent expression that consists our first obligation to ourselves. In that expression resides the true understanding that helps us all in seeing the new rising path. It is the understanding of all prophets that have set a new path for humanity to pursue away from the chained imitative past that have killed all initiatives to the real truthful new. It is the sad chain of poppy and the marvelous consciousness that pops up of a crippled deformed body . Yes they are signs to be pondered in a world that will leave nothing under cover.

  8. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    It is a matrix of sounds, the realm of the phoneme that gives life to the diverse realm of the morpheme. Ibn Arabi spoke about the dance of the letters in the light of the the musical sound they hear to form the intended. it is a cosmos of energetic sound strings that take the intended shapes in light of the divine dictation. Out of the imitative sphere into the intuitive sphere where objective clarity enter the field of the human subjectivity. There is a difference between human argumentation and intuitive feeling. Some do not argue but they feel. All human languages share in the sound of the phoneme but differ in the expression of the morpheme of that sounds. In this context the different language determine the structure of the consciousness of that particular tongue. Yes it is a war of information that determines the shape of the human future. The present mental structure of our civilization is facing a real crisis as it is clear from all the destructive signs scattered across our polluted globe. Religion is not an argumentative procedure but a faithful stand build on principles, the principles of honesty truth and justice not on power, exploitation and deception. A trend that will face its intentional distortions and its misleading interpretation of the cosmic truth. Last night I was listening to a Jew giving a sermon in an christian church speaking about the blunder of Ishmael ( I do not know the occasion nor why the Christians offering a chair to this man to distort other people picture ) He was telling them how Ishmael refused the concept of the father because of his father negligence to him.. Out christian brothers are listening without inquiry or questions. The purpose is to give a bad picture of such people as it is well known from the history of the western propaganda against Islam . What make me wonder is how the Christians have lost their religious independence and became a tail to the Jews and instead of being a partial arbiter in the struggle between the two sons of Abraham they took the side of the Jews irrespective of the situations and the coming incidence like the american president who is very quick and ready to serve the masters. It is really a puzzling divine trajectory our world is wheeled on. Chomsky the Jew said it that the Christian Zionist are more Zionist that the Zionist themselves. I think this issue is more important that the poppy issue. Thank you Scott and all and it s time to address what is urgent in this coming new year that many expect to carries a lot of ominous signs. Pulling ourselves from the mill of destruction, gaining the independent vision to navigate truthfully in this world that can no longer tolerate the elites of lies and falsification. Everything has an end and history tells us that no previous civilizations have perpetuated over the landscape of this swimming earth.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      What make me wonder is how the Christians have lost their religious independence….

      I believe you answered your own question there: many, but not all, of our “Christian brothers are listening without inquiry or questions.” And, of course, it’s not just our Christian brethren who are doing this. Human beings in general are doing and are highly prone to doing this. It’s also not just people living in our time, which is why my own interest is not narrowly confined to the modern era or the “disintegration” of its “metaphysical foundations,” as important an observation as that is.

      This is a condition that obviously always has been with us. Think upon it. How many Egyptians might have been complaining about much the same living conditions as we happen to be experiencing right now at the beginning, height and decline of the ancient Egyptian civilization? How many Greeks? How many Romans? How many Ottomans? How many Aztecs? How many British? How many Easter Islanders, for that matter? How many, in fact, of every human civilization imaginable throughout history have suffered and struggled under the same yoke…of hubris?

      Every, single one of them invariably has exhibited the ‘”1%” has everything while the rest are gradually left with nothing’…thing…we’ve got going as a species and, obviously, whether the “mental-rational structure of consciousness” (much less Neoliberalism) was involved or not. Could be wrong, but I’d hazard to guess that’s why Gebser included every form or “structure of consciousness” of which he was aware in his dynamic opus. I honestly can’t think of a time in human history that was not marked and marred by a “power over” dynamic that none but a few seemed to know how to transform, then or now. On the bright side, those few were obviously not entirely unsuccessful.

      it is a war of information that determines the shape of the human future.

      Is it? Bummer. Well, in that case, I think I’ll just hang out in those venues where congruity is most often the norm. The “Information Wars” will just have to continue on without me, thank you very much. While everyone around us is insisting we must “resist” and “fight” this or that (including the Internet entity, Infowars itself, apparently), just patiently and diligently working through it with others seems a much healthier (and powerful) plan of action to me.

      There is a difference between human argumentation and intuitive feeling. Some do not argue but they feel.

      100% agreed.

      People are going to think what they want to think. No one is going to change their minds (or hearts) via argumentation or anything else, the reason being that everyone goes about the process of self-discovery and self-realization in their own way and at their own pace. If we want to help that process along — both in ourselves and others — it requires nothing on our part, imo, other than the activation of the innate qualities of wonder, compassion and capacity for inquiry (self and otherwise) that all human beings inherently possess. The religious principle, of course, is “ask and you shall receive.” Shams Tabrizi knew that. Jesus knew that. The Buddah knew that. Many others knew that. Not many of our contemporaries seem to know that. While most are engaged in hitting each other over the heads (or, more often, in the face) with their ideological hammers — repelling everyone in sight in the process — others are doing just that: quietly appealing to those innate, inherent qualities.

      Bless ’em. I think they will be far more successful in the long run than any ideologue or “culture warrior” could ever hope to be.

      history tells us that no previous civilizations have perpetuated over the landscape of this swimming earth.

      Funny (i.e. “strange”). Just yesterday, I was composing a response to a comment with the point I wished to make being that empires (including “the American Empire”, obviously) tend to be exceptionally short-lived for obvious reasons. With the passing of each, life nevertheless somehow goes on or, as Malcolm put it in Jurrassic Park: “Life finds a way.”

      I never finished composing the comment. It ultimately seemed pointless to point out impermanence, all things considered. With “BRICS now vying with its Western counterparts for “world dominance,” I suspect we’ll have to wait a long time yet for the sound of the guns to stop. In the meantime, though, nothing is stopping us from planting seeds of a different kind.

      It is now 2018, but a charming cartoon by Jim Nieto from 2017 seems fitting to share given the circumstances.

      • Dwig says :

        IW, thanks for the heartening comments and cartoon. I think it fits with a book I’ve started to read: “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States”, by James C. Scott. He takes exception to the standard narrative of the “rise of humanity into civilization”, pointing out that it was generally only “civilized” peoples who left records in non-perishable form, while it’s taken considerable research to discover the relatively healthy lifeways of those peoples who stayed close to the earth. He notes “The facts as I have come to understand them are that an evenhanded species history would give the state a far more modest role than it is normally accorded.”

        The “near future history” may play out similarly; those who survive and create viable societies may well be those who are able to avoid, or turn away from the lures of concentrated energy and power. (Perhaps the meaning of “integral” may include a recognition that human life is integrated with all life; that our destiny is involved with the destiny of “all creatures great and small”.)

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Perhaps the meaning of “integral” may include a recognition that human life is integrated with all life; that our destiny is involved with the destiny of “all creatures great and small”.

          Those of us who didn’t know that already are certainly getting a crash course in it now with the advent of the Sixth Extinction Event. Even with the knowledge that this is occurring, however, there are still those self-imposed blinders (and ear plugs) with which to contend, the question that most often arises being, “Does this affect humans?”

          Seriously? “Does this affect humans?” How could it not affect humans, humans being inextricably embedded in the web of Life of which this planet is comprised?

          I’m sure I’ve no idea where this question comes from or why, but with every new report of plastics, toxins, etc. having been found in organisms great and small — everywhere, including the deepest reaches of the ocean — that is the first question that invariably arises. Apparently, few take note of things, e.g. the islands of plastic we’ve been aware for years are floating in the Pacific, until someone says it is affecting humans.

          Why should anyone have to be told that? Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t this something we intuitively know? But, more specifically, why do most of us apparently consider such things important or even remotely worth caring or thinking about only when someone says it is affecting humans?

          Well, we do know it intuitively. We shouldn’t have to be told, but there is that factor of numbed or deadened sensibilities to consider when discussing it along with what it is about modern societies that prevents some of us from tapping into and exercising those innate and, otherwise, fully functioning sensibilities.

        • Scott Preston says :

          (Perhaps the meaning of “integral” may include a recognition that human life is integrated with all life; that our destiny is involved with the destiny of “all creatures great and small”.)

          O yes. It most certainly DOES mean that. Gebser’s “diaphainon” (or “the Itself”) and Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe” are exactly the same.

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