The Carrying Capacity of a Consciousness Structure, II
Just a quick follow-up to the previous post on the carrying capacity of a consciousness structure by drawing on an analogy sometimes described as “Russian fatalism” — a phenomenon that engaged Nietzsche, and which illustrates something of his technique of “revaluation of values”.
“Russian fatalism” was a term used to describe a condition in which the Tsar’s imperial troops — frequently exhausted, poorly provisioned, and poorly supplied or cared for — frequently just lay down in the snow to die: ostensibly. In fact, the horrors of fighting winter campaigns in Russia were experienced by Napoleonic and German troops as well. I happened to once meet a survivor of the German campaign while I was in Germany.
In any event, Nietzsche looked at this phenomenon of “Russian fatalism” and decided it had nothing to do with overtasked men just giving up and simply laying down in the snow to die. Rather, he saw an organism attempting to preserve its last spark of life, to conserve its last bit of energy or vitality. In that sense, it’s something similar to what we might describe as “cocooning” or, indeed, something that Marshall McLuhan referred to as “numbing”.
Of course, one could say that this is just an example of old glass-half-full or glass-half-empty paradox which it does, in some respects resemble. But more to the point, perhaps, it illustrates as well Nietzsche’s vaunted ability, as he described it, to “switch perspectives” or switch between foreground and background perspectives, which contributed to his proposal for a “revaluation of values”.
Now, from the “evidence of the senses” alone we would naturally conclude that the exhausted Russian soldier had simply laid down in the snow to die. It takes still another sense — an intuitive sense — to see rather the obverse — that the exhausted Russian soldier had not laid down in the snow to die but to preserve the last spark of energy or vitality. That insight is not given to the physical senses. It’s not part of the data of pure sense experience but comes by way of what we might call an “intuitive aperception” which, in some respects, corresponds to what Jean Gebser calls “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. This is somewhat more involved then deciding whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.
There are three things I would especially like to highlight about the example of “Russian fatalism”.
First of all, it illustrates what Nietzsche described as his “unique ability to switch perspectives”, meaning to switch between sensate perception and intuitive aperception, which Nietzsche appeared to be quite adept at. In those terms, it’s quite dangerous to read Nietzsche (as he well knew himself) without appreciating the value he placed on intuitive aperception, and it’s this distinction that also underlies his distinction between the “Ego” and the
“Self”, especially in that chapter in Zarathustra where this is made explicit: “The Despisers of the Body“.
Secondly, the example of “Russian fatalism” demonstrates the issue of “carrying capacity” as I raised it in the last post, even as it applies to a consciousness structure, and to the social phenomena of “cocooning” or “numbing” of the critical functions of the mental-rational consciousness due to “information overload” and the apparent inability of the consciousness structure to cope with “everything all the time”.
Thirdly and lastly, imagine, if you will, that this issue of perception exemplified by Nietzsche’s handling of the phenomenon of Russian fatalism applied to the whole of our reality — our “known reality” — and you also get a sense for what Blake means by “Ulro” or “Vala” and what is meant by the “veil of Maya”. In the case of “Russian fatalism”, the judgment of purely sensate consciousness is that the soldier lays down in the snow to die, but to intuitive aperception it is quite the obverse. And from this, too, you can see how it contributes to what Nietzsche means also by “transvaluation of values” or “revaluation of values”. And it also approaches what Gebser means by “diaphaneity” and “the transparency of the world”.
The example of Russian fatalism and the role of perception also illustrates something Rosenstock-Huessy once noted: that in the realm of nature, birth precedes death; but in the realm of the spiritual, it is the obverse: death precedes birth. And that insight, too, could only have come to Rosenstock-Huessy via an intuitive aperception.
Quite evidently, then, all this is reflected in Iain McGilchrist’s two modes of attention or perception of the “divided brain”, which he calls the “master” and the “emissary” modes, but which have also been described elsewhere in terms of the “suprasensible” and the “sensible” modalities of perception. And it is the “sensible” or sensate that is, today, under extreme stress and in distress. It is this “supra-” or “supersensible” modality that Gebser hold is today in process of unfolding, which Gebser calls “aperspectival” or which physicist David Bohm also calls “proprioception”, or which is sometimes referred to as “intuitive aperception”.
So, while the phrase “collapse of reality” might presently refer to the breakdown of sensate consciousness, it may also portend the initial “irruption”, as Gebser terms it, of the supersensible. It is, in any case, necessary to develop this facility of intuitive aperception or supersensible perception in order to survive the crisis and the chaos of the breakdown of the sensate consciousness, which is what the terms “post-truth”, “post-rational”, or “collapse of reality” refer to. (Not to confuse the terms “sensate” and “sensual”, by the way).
That supersensible modes of attention, knowing, or perception are more or less latently present to consciousness is an indisputable fact, and may be the only thing that can rescue us from dystopia, if not complete self-annihilation. (The supersensible is otherwise called “the spiritual”. But if you don’t care to use the term “spiritual”, you can use the term “supersensible” instead). What Gebser means by “concretion of the spiritual” is otherwise “supersensible reality”. Blake, of course, lived almost full-time in supersensible reality.
(In Castaneda’s works, the supersensible and the sensible modes are referred to as “nagual” and “tonal” respectively, or the awareness of the left-side and the awareness of the right-side respectively, which correlate, largely with McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary). When Blake, for example, insists that he sees not “with the eye” but “thro’ the eye”, he is making a distinction between sensible and supersensible “vision” or seeing.
There has been an mood of expectancy in some sectors of the world’s population for decades now — a sense of “waiting for something” (like the popularity of “Waiting for Godot”). I think we can say with some confidence what that “something” is — our innate and largely latent or dormant supersensible consciousness to announce itself, or what Gebser calls “the diaphainon“.
At least, it makes sense that “Godot” is the diaphainon.