The Anthropocene and “the Global Brain”

For the last few posts, I’ve been examining the Anthropocene as an example of what Timothy Morton has called “hyperobjects”. Hyperobjects arise in that realm I previously wrote about as the “irreal” or as “Third Space”, as a kind of interstice between the strictly “subjective” and the strictly “objective”, and have in that sense a certain, what we might call “occult” or magical character in that they largely defy adequate definition or description in any indicative or prosaic language. Their very indistinctness, fuzziness, and indeterminability is what makes them hyperobjects in the first place. “God” for example. Hyperobjects are those issues and things that we have great difficulty “coming to terms with”, which is why we often resort to a more mythical idiom in an attempt to lend them some concreteness, since our language otherwise lacks precision.

So, I want to continue with our discussion of the Anthropocene and attendant concepts like “the Global Brain” as just such hyperobjects and perhaps give a convincingly clear explanation for the existence of these strange things called “hyperobjects” at all.

Imagine, if you will, that you are an interstellar visitor to planet Earth. From orbit, you would not see entities like “the United Kingdom” or “France” or “the United States” or “Canada” and so on at all. You see only land masses and geological formations. Nations are completely invisible and, as far as you are concerned, have no apparent existence at all. In order to begin to perceive anything like Nations, you would have to enter into the stream of human history and into the Earthlings’ particular consciousness structure. In those terms, “Nations” are also what we call “intentional objects”. Hyperobjects and intentional objects share quite a bit in common.

So, place names like “United Kingdom”, “France”, “America”, “Canada” and so on are names given to hyperobjects or intentional objects which don’t, in fact, have any purely material existence, yet we do not doubt that they exist and are real entities. They are, nonetheless, peculiar kinds of entities, already of a spiritual nature in those terms, and yet seem, at the same time, rather indistinct, indeterminate, hard to define and difficult to comprehend in their entirety. But they do have quite similar ontological status to “gods”, who also might be described in terms of “hyperobjects”.

And, of course, we also live inside or outside these hyperobjects, and in our attempts to make sense of them, we often resort to a more mythical imagery. The United Kingdom is “Britannia”, the United States is “Uncle Sam”, France is “Marianne”, and so on. And these become the avatars or personifications of thoughts and feelings, and of the meaning of the hyperobject.

Hyperobjects require such mythical representation. They largely defy any kind of definition but lend themselves readily to symbolisation. So there is this enormous realm of symbolic forms that has largely been ignored by our simplistic dualism of subject-object relations. Fact is, we live almost primarily in a world constituted of such hyperobjects.

William Blake was acutely aware of this. For him reality was completely transparent, and to adequately describe his experience with the world and with “hyperobjects” he had to resort to a mythical idiom. He saw that what we call “reality” emerged from “divine Imagination”. “What is now prov’d was once only imagined”, he wrote, and that we actually already lived in a world of spirit and spiritual forms, primarily, and physical only secondarily, whereas most people got this backwards.

If you begin to understand what is meant by the term “hyperobject” (or hyperreality) then you begin to understand, too, that we have always lived in the mythical and magical dimensions without really knowing it because, in Blake’s terms, we have been blinded by Urizen and “Ulro”. — the merely prosaic or matter-of-fact consciousness which requires “clear and distinct ideas” (as Descartes put it) and precise definitions for everything. A hyperobject, on the other hand, is not do much defined as interpreted, because it is not a “fact” as such, but a meaning.

The mental-rational consciousness prefers and exaggerates the prosaic or indicatival mode of speech, and only really recognises this mode of speech as valid. Other modes of speech are considered invalid or less valid — the mythical and poetic or lyrical, for example. Blake saw that this restriction of truth to what could only be expressed in the indicatival — what he referred to as “Single Vision & Newtons sleep” — could not adequately express the spiritual reality that he saw as being Man’s true and primary dimension of existence. His “four Zoas” of his “fourfold vision” — “the four mighty ones” in every human being who “reside in the Human Brain” — could not be adequately rendered visible through indicative speech alone, since they each had also their own mode of expression and mode of manifestation in terms of poetic, prophetic, philosophic, and scientific or, to put that another way, lyrical, dramatical, epical, and analytical-indicatival. Restricting the revelation and representation of truth to the analytical-indicatival alone meant suppressing the other three Zoas of the fourfold human form and would result in only caricatures of the human.

So, if Blake resorted to a more lyrical, mythical, or prophetic idiom to express his vision, it was because the nature of his vision required it, and also because he wanted to escape the clutches of “Urizen”, the dominant Zoa who is the now the spirit of the Anthropocene.

This is what underlies Blake’s statement:

If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, & stand still unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again

This “same dull round” being expressed in Blake’s image of “the dark Satanic Mill”, because for Blake, Urizen was Satan. At least in his fallen form. In his “Eternal Form” he was and is Lucifer, son of the morning and the light bringer, the divine principle in Intellect that has fallen into shadow. That might come as a surprise, but Lucifer is the latent or Urform of Urizen. The distinction, and relation, is usually that made between Reason and mere rationality.

Blake’s Lucifer

3 responses to “The Anthropocene and “the Global Brain””

  1. Steve says :


  2. K. says :

    How about, so as to counterpose the Global Brain, the Global Body, or “Hermetic Pangea”? World as Staff of Hermes…

    Africa, the spine or staff topped off by the Dionysian pine cone/pineal gland of the Fertile Crescent/Middle East…

    Latin America, one coiling snake; Australia/Southeast Asia/India, the other (as in this map of regions with most venomous animals: )

    Then the two wings/hemispheres of the brain: America/Western Europe on the left, China/Russia on the right. One atomistic, the other holistic, but both – because they are spiritually cut off from the body, the snakes, the principle of death and rebirth – veer towards their negative extremes. The former, fragmentation; the latter, totalitarianism.

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