“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” — George Orwell, “1984”.
“Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.” — Samuel Huntington
These two statements are related, of course, in terms of what we might call “Reality Control”. What underlies both formulas, though, is a metaphysical principle: “perception is reality”. I really want to emphasise and highlight this, because it lies at the root of almost everything today that seems absurd, surreal, dream-like, or chaotic, especially the apparent breakdown of discernment between the subjective and objective aspects of existence, and, consequently, fact and fiction, fantasy and reality, or the representations (images) and that which is represented. This lack of discernment, which we are calling “chaos”, attests to the disintegration of the ego-consciousness or what Jean Gebser describes as “the breakdown of the mental-rational” (or “perspectival”) consciousness structure, also known as “the Modern Mind”.
“Perception is reality” not only accounts for Adam Curtis’s theme of “Hypernormalisation” (or “New Normal”) in his documentary by that name, but also what the contemporary situation in Putin’s Russia or, for that matter, everywhere, including Trump’s America. Rudy Guliani’s outburst in which he declared that “truth isn’t truth” belongs to the same phenomena as do Trump’s awful “Tweets”. What Peter Pomerantsev describes about the Russian situation in Nothing is True Everything is Permitted, and which is explored additionally and more generally in Gary Lachman’s Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Era of Trump, rests on a more or less unstated conviction that “perception is reality” and that to control reality, you only need to control the act of perception, or imagination.
In those terms, “Reality Control” is implicit in what the late Philip Slater described as “Control Culture“.
The principle that “perception is reality” belongs to magic and the magical structure of consciousness. When, for example in the Grail legend of Parsifal, the sorcerer Klingsor casts a spell over Parsifal to make him perceive a reality that isn’t, in fact, real, but a mirage, it is owing to the principle that “perception is reality”. Klingsor and his sorceric illusion is exactly what recurs in The Matrix as the “Architect”, where Parsifal returns in the character of “Neo”. “Neo” is a clever anagram of the “One” — as Parsifal was the “one” who was destined to find the Holy Grail and redeem Amfortas from his wounded existence. The principle that “perception is reality” invites sorcery and spell-casting — and the manipulation of perception — as technique of Reality Control.
The “modern mind” (or mental-rational, or perspectival consciousness) is unused to this seemingly novel notion that perception is reality, and is, therefore, very vulnerable to it, since it’s effective truth remains hidden to it. It is fully convinced of a completely autonomous, independent, objective reality “out there” that has nothing to do with the “in here”, the subjective realm, ie, with perception and consciousness. This has been the legacy of Cartesian metaphysical mind-body dualism and of “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”, as William Blake described it, or what Gebser described as the arising of the objective attitude (and the point-of-view) out of the invention of perspectivism in the Renaissance, which not only disclosed an objective three-dimensional spatial world “out there”, but simultaneously intensified the ego and the ego-consciousness in its “point-of-view”. As previously discussed, this perspectival and objectifying outlook is exactly what is represented in Descartes’ “wondrous strange method” of metaphysical dualism, in his own hand
So, when we today hear about matters like the breakdown of the mental-rational/perspectival, or “post-rational”, “post-truth” or even “collapse of reality”, it is the breakdown of this pyramidal, triangulating method of thinking, that arose with Giotto/Alberti/Leonardo in the Renaissance, was adopted by Galileo, and formulated by Rene Descartes as a general method of looking at the world and for thinking about reality. But as you can see from Descartes’ own illustration of the “cogito”, it can survey only a very limited spectrum of its reality at any one time. It is very highly focussed and concentrated, but, at the same time, limited and constrained to a very narrow band of potential experience, since a full three-quarters (what we call “the context” or “big picture view”) remains detached and outside its purview.
It’s not accidental, although it is truly co-incidental, that the words “occult” and “consciousness” only came into usage in the same 16th century. It is perfectly explicable in terms of Descartes’ own illustration of his “wondrous strange method” and the radical dichotomisation of the subject and object (or mind and body, or res cogitans and res extensa). “Consciousness” is whatever is focussed on a single quadrant, represented by a pyramid, cone, or triangle. Even our word “evidence” is bound to the eye (e-vide), so that “seeing is believing” became, even, the only test of evidence and potential knowledge. This limitation of awareness to a pretty narrow spectrum of experience is what is called “sensate consciousness” (or “materialism”), ie, awareness that has become completely dependent upon sense data for its self-understanding.
This is typically what is meant by “ego-nature” or “ego-consciousness”. It’s Blake’s objection to sensate consciousness as “Single Vision” that is described in his famous remark that he saw not “with the eye” but “thro’ the eye”.
Even in Descartes’ time, though, Bishop George Berkeley, in his Three Dialogues for example, had objected that Descartes had more or less just leapt over, or taken for granted, the act of perception in his over-eagerness to get to conception or the cogito. Although Blake knew of Berkeley’s work, Berkeley remained a somewhat marginal figure in the European Enlightenment. But it is largely owing to Descartes that we have confused the meanings of “mind” and “consciousness”, which is why some people today (myself included) prefer to speak of a distinction between “awareness” and “consciousness”, which more or less corresponds to Iain McGilchrist’s “Master” and “Emissary” modes of perception or attention. (I also note that Paul Levy also prefers to discern between awareness and consciousness in similar terms).
Berkeley had countered Descartes’ cogito ergo sum with his own esse is percipi — “to be is to be perceived” rather than “I think, therefore I am”. And so you can see how esse is percipi becomes transmuted into “perception is reality”. In some respects, Merleau-Ponty’s notable book The Phenomenology of Perception, which also argues for “the primacy of perception”, is related.
Much of the confusion in contemporary discourse thus rests on a controversy over the primacy of perception or the primacy of conception. Rudolf Steiner explored that, as well, in his remarkable book The Philosophy of Freedom (which is available online for those interested in this question. In fact, I would describe Steiner’s The Philosophy of Freedom as a key text for anyone hoping to understand present events or what Jean Gebser also means by “time-freedom”).
I think a lot of people have been taken quite unawares by assertion of this new metaphysic that “perception is reality”, although it certainly hasn’t been ignored even in the academic world (for example, Paul Watzlawick’s How Real is Real? Confusion, Disinformation, Communication). Nor has it been neglected by marketers and branders in terms of the “battle for mindshare” or the “Attention Economy” and so on. Contemporary propaganda techniques rest entirely upon the conviction that “perception is reality”, and that to control reality you need only to control perception or “the imagination”, or the intentionality (or “intent”) implicit in the act of perception, which is what some people refer to as “framing” (or “the Gestalt“).
In assessing the meaning of “perception is reality”, it is, therefore, very important to understand this “intentionality of consciousness”, as the Phenomenologists describe it. I’m quite convinced that it is this “intentionality of consciousness” — its drive to pattern or structure experience in some way — that Nietzsche meant by “will to power” as a general operative principle in the universe, and also what Blake meant by “Divine Imagination”. For Blake, “the primacy of imagination” is the case, rather than the primacy of perception or the primacy of conception. “What is now prov’d was once only imagined” is his statement on the primacy of imagination.
This is the ironic, and rather perverse truth, behind Rolf Jensen’s “Dream Society” with its regulation and manipulation of “imagination”. It, in fact, unwittingly honours Blake’s view of the primacy of imagination, but in an altogether perverse and aberrant way. It’s the control of the imagination that gives one control over reality. To put that another way, it is to control the “intentionality of consciousness” implict in the act of perception that gives one control over reality. This is what informs all current surreptitious attempts in “perception management”.
It is, of course, disputed how effective perception management actually is, which is, by the same token, to question how effective “magic” actually is, or what Gebser refers to as “the sorceric” or Algis Mikunas as “technocratic shamanism”. There is no doubt, though, that it is a very widespread practice today, and I doubt whether it would continue to be so if were not effective. All propaganda techniques rely on it, and it’s quite ridiculous to suggest that propaganda isn’t effective.
In fact, the principle that “perception is reality” largely emerged from the successes of propaganda in the First World War coincident with the development of mass media, culminating in today’s “Global Brain” — the “new within”, which means, of course, our “within” is now our “without” as well. This increasing “subjectivisation” of reality is completely bewildering to the Cartesian mind, although it has also taken root as the “field” concept in quantum physics along with the so-called “Measurement Problem”. This theme of the subjectivisation of reality has been an ongoing topic on the Aurobindo website (example, today’s posting there on “The Subjective Stage of Human Development: Significance and Dangers”). If “perception is reality” has established itself as guide to contemporary “reality control”, or Jensen’s “Dream Society” is conceivable at all, it is because this “subjectivisation” of reality is actually happening, which is also why Rolf Jensen’s univeral, ubiquitous “market” bears such a striking resemblance to Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious” or also the “field” concept in contemporary physics.
The subordination of the human imagination to “the market” (but actually, to the technocratic shaman) is one of those perils that Aurobindo speaks to in those citations from his writings on “the Subjective Stage”. Yet, at the same time it bears witness, too, to Gebser’s “irruption” or the return of the repressed. In other words, that today in which we “live, move, and have our being” is our own deep subjectivity. And it’s this that we need to urgently wake up to. It’s this that must become “transparent” to our perception. Presently, it’s opaque.
And that’s what makes us vulnerable. The subjectivisation of reality is, in many respects, also an awakening to the realisation that “soul” and “world” are only two related aspects of a singular underlying reality, a unity of being, that are slowly being reconciled in the “field” concept. “Thou art that” as the Yogis say. The enlightened ego consciousness is that which truly serves its function as a gateway or mediator between these two aspects of the singular underlying reality represented in “soul” and “world” or cosmos, which is the meaning, too, of Blake’s “fourfold vision”, which is also Gebser’s “integral consciousness” (which should perhaps be better called “integrating consciousness”).
So, if we let them, the “technocratic shamans” will take control of our inner realities and “nervous system” which are now becoming “outered”, just as the sorcerer Klingsor took control of Parsifal’s imagination and perception. We need to understand in how and why “magic” can be effective, even in terms of the placebo and nocebo effects. In fact, Philip Pullman published an article on this in yesterday’s Guardian, although it barely touches upon the reality of magic or the meaning of Gebser’s “magical structure of consciousness”.
Magic is real and effective, although it takes an enlightened ego consciousness to handle that constructively and creatively. We know from the placebo and nocebo effects that it is real and effective. It’s also something that I appreciated in the Frankfurt School, at least in Adorno and Horkheimer who, in Dialectic of Enlightenment, also recognised that myth was also enlightenment, and enlightenment also myth. Not only would Gebser have approved, he probably would have seen it as a, at least partial, corroboration of his thesis about the “irruption” of a new consciousness structure.
We really do need to wake up to the fact that the images or collective representations with which we have surrounded, and even encased ourselves (the meaning of the chrysalis stage) are manifestations of our own hidden, unknown, and deeply subjective natures that also make for “the Dream Society”. Although this is often referred to as “projection” it is something a little more involved than that. I prefer to think of it as our contemporary “milieu”. There is an intimate connection — what is called ‘acausal’ connection — between inner and outer events (Jungian synchronicity is another term) because there is a continuum here that is explicable in terms of Aurobindo’s “subjectivisation”, even in terms of the “Anthropocene”.
The subjectivisation of reality is, at the same time and reciprocally, the objectification or alienation of the subject or “self” and of everything that constitutes that subjectivity — the mythical and magical, or the Jungian “collective unconscious”. This may seem absolutely bizarre, but it’s really happening. Our “inhere” is fast becoming also our “outthere” so that they both become indistinguishable from one another. Even in terms of “brands” as “archetypes of the collective unconscious”.
And insight into this is also what Gebser means by “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. We are remain narcissistic until we perceive clearly that “thou art that”. For with this insight, this diaphaneity, comes release, too, from narcissistic infatuations or delusions. For the problem of Narcissus was not that he fell in love with his own reflection, but that he did not know it was his own reflection. That’s the key difference.
Had Narcissus come to the insight that the image in the reflecting pool that seemed to him so objectively real and autonomous was, in fact, only his reflection, he would have broken the spell that kept him bound to the image, and which caused him to squander himself and waste away.
It is especially important, now, that we do not fall into the same trap as a species.