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.



9 responses to “The Fourth Age and the Cosmological Picture”

  1. mikemackd says :

    Well, I realise what I am about to say is unfair to Nick Herbert – it was just a sound bite, the tip of the tip of the tip etc. of the iceberg – but it would seem that physicists are not only running out of things to do as he said, but also things to say. I recall discussions like that one around four decades ago.

    One point of that discussion from with our Blakean lenses on is the implicit support of Bishop Berkeley’s philosophy. Blake was much influenced by Berkeley.

    However, the core point he got across remains EXTREMELY important. I submit that, while the term “quantum mechanics” describes the methodology that led to discovering that point, that very methodology, while it has made that and other momentous discoveries, was never going to be sufficient to optimally address its field, and never will be.

    Adopting Bohm’s phrase “quantum organics” would be a definite improvement, but unintended consequences would include a reduction in extrinsic value of the term “organic”; quantum events occur just as much in what we term inorganic – for example, an iron bar – as they do in living creatures.

    Nor would a term such as quantum energics suffice, as there is a kind of trinity down there of light, energy and information (the last having been defined by Gregory Bateson as “differences that make a difference”).

    A Spanish professor of linguistics, Antony Bastardas-Boada, has been attempting to establish a discipline he terms “complexics”. He looks to it as arising from Edgar Morin’s recommendation that we do not look to start from reducing complexity to simplicity, but rather to find ways and means of interrogating complexity on its own terms.

    The field that quantum physics attempts to address is the most fundamental, and thereby (in lacking all of the emergent qualities at higher organisational levels), is the least intrinsically valuable but potentially most extrinsically valuable, of all.

    I therefore consider that what is now termed “quantum mechanics” should develop into “quantum complexics”, and be integrated into this fourth age of which you write and which, I submit, is being pioneered, at least inside academia, by people like Bastardas-Boada.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes, but I haven’t heard as good an accounting of the conundrums of quantum mechanics as Herbert manages to give in 7 minutes, and i thought that was quite impressive.

      There’s a snippet of verse from Rumi that occurred to me as I was listening to Herbert. “It’s all in the middle of its happening”.

      The other matter that interested me was Herbert’s account of “fuzziness”. That’s something of the problem called “non-visualisability” of fundamental reality. Visualisability is very important to science, and the quantum domain defies that. But I think the “fuzziness” is connected with that verse from Rumi.

      The whole is ungraspable, the flux is ungraspable. That’s basically Heraclitus in a nutshell. When the mind attempts to conceptualise the whole, everything becomes fuzzy — mind, reality. And that’s basically McGilchrist’s “emissary” attempting to grasp what can only be known via the Master — at least, that’s my interpretation of the fuzziness (something I experienced in my “Dream of the Fish” recounted earlier. So that resonates with me). Another term for “fuzziness” might be “ineffable”.

      It also brought to mind one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell

      “The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man”

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Discovered an e-book online by Jeffrey Mishlove entitled The Roots of Consciousness, for anyone interested (haven’t delved too far into it myself as yet)

    Click to access The-Roots-of-Consciousness.pdf

  3. Scott Preston says :

    I suppose we could also refer to a Fourth Age as The Fourth Cosmological Age, inasmuch as there is the magical cosmology, the mythical cosmology, the mental-rational cosmology, and they are all quite distinct, as befits their respective consciousness structure.

    Of course, all that is relative in terms of speaking of “Ages” because they still exist in many parts of the world. I havent’ included the “archaic” because it didn’t have a cosmology. It was identical with the world process — conscious as, but not of.

    Gebser, of course, holds that the archaic is returning, but this time awake to itself and in full consciousness of itself as being identical with the world process — something you see in Bolte-Taylor, and there are hints of that in Herbert’s presentation — consciousness being entangted with the world process.

    There’s a name among some Plain’s indigenous people that I find intriguing “Starwalker”. Buffy St. Marie (who’s from the area I live in) has a great song about Starwalker.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Just as a matter of interest (nothing to do really with the posting) Buffy St. Marie has a song about the area she was raised in, which is where I now live too. Not one of her best, though.

    • Scott Preston says :

      BTW, I have heard stories about “star walkers”. One story also occurs in George Nelson’s book The Orders of the Dreamed. Nelson was a young furtrader stationed at La Ronge, Saskatchewan around 1800. The book recounts his strange experiences with indigenous life and religion at that time.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Chief Arvol Looking Horse is a name I hear spoken frequently and respectfully in my parts — considered the spiritual leader of the Lakota. He has published an article in today’s Guardian.

    He mentions the Sacred Hoop, and, in fact, it guides his whole thinking process, which is what I found interesting about the article. .

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Seven is also an important number in Sioux lore, just as in European lore. The seven sacred rites, the “seven campfires” of the Sioux Confederacy, and the seven campfires are connected with the seven stars of the Pleiades constellation.

    There is something archetypal about the number seven — something even, perhaps, associated with knowledge of the seven chakras of the human body. Those chakras may be even considered as “seven campfires”.

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