The Fourth Age and the Cosmological Picture
Having raised the issue of an incipient “Fourth Age” in the previous post, it behooves me, I think, to try to delineate (if that’s the right word) what may well be the likely characteristics of this Fourth Age, beginning with something rather fundamental — the “mutation”, if you will, in our cosmological picture.
Historians and philosophers of science have frequently noted the odd relationship between social organisation and the cosmic picture in different eras and ages. Jean Gebser has also observed that intimate connection between a civilisation’s cosmic picture — how it configures its experience of space and time — with its “structure of consciousness” or mode of perception. Gebser once penned a short book entitled Der grammatische Spiegel (“The Grammatical Mirror”) to illustrate how his consciousness structures are revealed in and through a language’s grammar, and how that grammar, in turn, conditions the cosmic picture. In turn, changes in grammatical structure reflect mutations in the consciousness structure associated, equally, with mutations of the cosmic picture.
“As above. So below”; or, “a new Heaven and a new Earth”.
Nick Herbert, author of Quantum Reality: Beyond The New Physics, also took note of how changes in the cosmological picture came to be reflected in social relations and organisation. And it’s quite true. One can’t fully understand the meaning of Lewis Mumford’s critique of the “Megamachine”, for example, except in the greater context of the corresponding cosmological picture — the mechanical world view or Clockwork Universe (otherwise called “the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview”). And there is an excellent short discussion between Nick Herbert and Jeffrey Mishlove on YouTube regarding the radical changes in cosmological picture introduced by quantum mechanics.
Gebser, of course, also saw deep implications in these radical changes in the cosmological picture and their implications for consciousness and culture, although there are still many conservative forces within the sciences which are attempting to reconcile these changes with the mechanical worldview and the Megamachine, despite a growing sense that this is quite impossible and that the Mechanical Model is defective. (As Max Planck once quipped, science only really progresses “funeral by funeral”). Herbert and Mishlove explore that also in relation to Einstein’s resistance to the discoveries of quantum mechanics. For as many scientists who think of the cosmos as being like a gigantic computer, there are others (perhaps even more others) who now think of it as more like a living whole, an organism, and even one with inherent intelligence. This controversy reflects Gebser’s distinction between totalities and wholes. Machines are assembled from parts. But the irony of that is, as Nick Herbert points out, the “parts” don’t really exist in any conventional sense or in a solid way. And in any event, the whole always precedes, and is antecedent to, its analysis into parts anyway.
This controversy reflects H. Bortoft’s reflections on “authentic and counterfeit wholes“. The fact is, though, that the new cosmological picture emerging isn’t fully commensurate with the old mechanical worldview. But that means, also, that the new emerging structure of consciousness is also not fully commensurate with the old structure of consciousness — what Gebser calls “the mental-rational” or “perspectival”. This change in the cosmological picture is also a mutation in the consciousness structure — Gebser’s “aperspectival” or “arational” mode. So, much of what we call presently “chaotic transition” has its roots in radical changes in the cosmological picture, which are beginning to be reflected in consciousness, and having, thereby correlative consequences for social organisation. In effect, the foundations upon which the mechanical worldview (and consequently the “Megamachine”) were erected are crumbling — a grand edifice that, as Nietzsche put it, was built upon “running water”.
In the discussion between Herbert and Mishlove a number of things stand out as being likely characteristics of the Fourth Age. One is the precedence of the whole (and the holistic) over any system or totality or mere sum or aggregation. The second is the “ambiguity” at the very heart of things — the paradox or coincidentia oppositorum. The third is the disappearance of the solid world which is now revealed, not as machine, but as energetic flux.
The holistic, the paradoxical, the energetic flux — these are, we may conclude, three fundamental characteristics of the Fourth Age. But they are also principles associated with the Hermetic philosophy, and also addressed in depth in Gebser’s cultural philosophy also as features of his “integral consciousness structure”. These three features (not exhaustive) have, alone, enormous implications for the future organisation of consciousness and culture.
Implications that I will want to address in future posts.