The Primal Imperatives and the Physical System

Let’s return to the subject of an earlier series of posts on what neurologists call “the four Fs” — the four primal drives or imperatives of fight or flight, feeding and, well, sexual reproduction, also referred to as “the basic instincts”. These are often associated with the so-called “Lizard Brain” — our evolutionary reptilian legacy and inheritance. And again we note here the recurrence of that odd tetrad of affects. This is not unexpected given that the physical system (spacetime) in which these primal imperatives must work themselves out is itself a four-dimensional or fourfold structure of two times (past and future) and two spaces (inner and outer).

So, even in these very basic terms, the human organism reveals itself as a tetramorph.

So, even in these very basic terms we see something of Blake’s “fourfold vision” and Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral “cross of reality”. And it is also entirely possible to develop a nearly complete conception of human life, human history and evolution, and human social institutions as being little more than more effective ways of meeting and satisfying the primal imperatives — armies, agriculture, governments, arts, etc as little more than clever “sublimations” of the primal drives. For example, we might even conclude that the four psychological functions of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing are only evolved functions for meeting and satisfying the four primal imperatives, and thus to preserve the organism or species in life and the physical system.

This would be a pretty reductionistic, mechanical, and pretty utilitarian (if not cynical) view of matters, even when there is a modicum of truth in it. Indeed, most people’s concept of “good and evil” is also rooted in the primal imperatives. “Good” is that which satisfies the primal urges. “Evil” is that which resists or obstructs the satisfaction of the primal imperatives.

You could, therefore, have a complete picture of man as little more than “the naked ape” — simply a more clever animal at figuring out how to more effectively satisfy its primal urges, and that functions of thinking, feeling, sensing, and willing are no more than that — better methods of organising survival within the physical system.

So, under the circumstances, you might be forgiven for thinking that all this mystical stuff about “fourfold vision” or “fourfold Atman”, or Christ as the Holy human Tetramorph, or matters like the indigenous “Sacred Hoop” are nothing more than “sublimations” of the basic structure and instincts of the Lizard Brain — artful illusions of sanctity for something that is, in effect, pretty banal and mundane — that we are really only machines biologically programmed to satisfy our primal imperatives of fighting or fleeing or feeding or fucking.

There is, of course, an element of truthiness in this, and a lot of evolutionary biology represents this pretty meagre view of human life and history. But there is a very large overlooked factor in all of that — the role and function of consciousness, intentionality, creativity and imagination required to fulfill the primal imperatives.

This is not surprising given that subjective factors are deliberately ignored or suppressed in the accounts of most theories of evolution — that there is in fact a corresponding and reciprocal “involution” as well as an “evolution”. And the result of ignoring these subjective factors has resulted in a gross caricature of life and of what it means to be human — the naked ape or the mechanical model.

Yet, while we acknowledge that there is an element of convincing and persuasive “truthiness” in this meagre view, we are also required to muse on what Aurobindo and Blake, among others, even detect of the presence of the “divine” and “Holy” even within the primal imperatives. It is precisely these factors of consciousness, intentionality, creativity and imagination that more “scientistic” accounts of evolution ignore, because they really don’t know what these are at all.

So, we acknowledge the four primal imperatives, and that all life forms show these primal imperatives simply because, we now understand, our physical reality is a four-dimension structure, and organisms must organise their life activities to meet the requirements of survival within this four dimensional physical system. Visionaries like Blake and Aurobindo do not deny it. So, why do they insist that there is still a holy, a divine, and a sublime factor even here in this crudest picture of “human nature”?

Firstly, one must appreciate that what Blake calls “the four Zoas” — the “beasts” — are these same primal imperatives. The four primal imperatives are the same “four mighty ones in every man”, or woman for that matter. Blake also calls these “our Energies”. But Blake also recognises that these “Energies” or Zoas have both a temporal aspect (an “emanation”) and their “Eternal Form”, and he gives even different names to the secular “emanation” (or “avatar” as we say today) and to its Eternal Form. Los, for example, is the name of the emanation of Urthona.

What’s going on here?

Blake, here, converts the conventional wisdom that has it that human social institutions are sublimations of the basic instincts or primal drives. It’s the inverse. The secular or physical forms of things are sublimations of the divine or Eternal forms, including “our Energies” that make for the primal imperatives. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” is this very thing. The divine is even present in the primal imperatives, even if beclouded and hid within the “Cloud of Unknowing”.

In effect, then, to see the presence of the divine or sacred even within the four primal imperatives is the same as “enlightenment”. “Every thing that lives is Holy” is Blake’s insight into that. This is also implicated in what Gebser also calls “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”. For Blake, the opaque order, which we usually call “secular” or the order of time, is a veil cast over the divine, a veil or opacity he calls “Ulro” or “Vala”.

What it amounts to is this: the physical system or “spacetime” exerts a continuous pressure on the organism — including the human organism — to meet and fulfill is prime imperatives and thus preserve itself in life. That pressure takes the form of resistances or obstacles to the satisfaction of the prime imperatives. To meet and overcome these resistances, it must develop latent or dormant resources of consciousness, creativity, and imagination, as well as more effective or “skillful” deployment of such resources as thought, feeling (or intuition), or willing and sensing. Human beings may deploy such resources skillfully or unskillfully, artfully or basely, effectively or deficiently.

So, that’s the “meaning of life” in a nutshell. The physical system is a kind of bootcamp or training ground for becoming conscious, and learning the skillful, artful, or effective deployment of “our Energies”. To goad us towards developing these latent resources of consciousness, creativity, and imagination, it exerts a continuous pressure not just to “survive”, but to develop these inner often latent resources of consciousness, creativity and imagination. To wit- — we are, as Blake knew, gods in training, and the physical system is like bootcamp or kindergarten for teaching the skillful, artful — and that means responsible — use of “our Energies”. And for that reason, Blake (and Nietzsche) was dead-set against all moral codes that sought to suppress or inhibit even the primal imperatives.

This also accounts for Nietzsche’s principle of “amor fati“. Nietzsche knew that the physical system existed for precisely this purpose, with all its challenges, dangers, risks, resistances, seeming cruelties, to goad human beings, if not life itself, to ever higher states of awareness and creativity.

The present climate crisis is certainly an extreme pressure that the physical system exerts upon us now — a massive throw of the dice, in fact — in which we now must fully develop these inner resources and potentialities for consciousness, intentionality, creativity and imagination, or perish from our failure to do so. The lesson we are supposed to learn from this crisis is, that we have not deployed our resources or potentialities for consciousness, creativity, and imagination in a responsible, skillful, or effective manner to date.

This was the thing Blake dreaded about “Single Vision & Newtons sleep”.

The physical system presents opportunities for evolving these faculties of intentionality, creativity, and imagination and opportunities for growth in spiritual matters, that are simply not available in other milieus.


11 responses to “The Primal Imperatives and the Physical System”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    You can think of the climate crisis or the Anthropocene more generally as a kind of “crucial” or “critical experiment” to determine whether we have the wherewithall to effectively transcend ourselves. This would not be amiss.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    What! Alex Jones admits he has a “psychosis”. That oughta rattle a few cages.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Interesting article on science and magic also in Today’s Guardian. But magic isn’t always about illusionism, misdirection or forcing. There are also real matters like placebo and nocebo effects or the kinds of impulses behind technology.

  4. Max Leyf says :

    Extraordinary, thank you!

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Reading into Walter Wiora’s The Four Ages of Music, and pretty well establishes that magic was the mother of speech, dance, and music in the First Age. This is, I think, corroborated by my experience of the more shamanistic or indigenous tribes of North America, for whom these activities of speech, dance and music are also shamanistic.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    I was googling up something about an old bronze age musical instrument called a “lur”, when I came upon this video. Included in the video are 3,000 year old petroglyphs found in the “King’s Grave” in Sweden, which immediately diverted my attention from the “lur”, because, as you can see near the end of this short video, the symbols inscribed in the rock is the same familiar symbol of the North American indigenous “Sacred Hoop”

  7. Scott Preston says :

    This is a pretty strange story — not the fact that Trump cheats at golf, but that he invents realities that never were — like creating a civil war event that never happened and then memorialising it with a plaque.

    What is this? P.T. Barnum kind of stuff, comes to mind. Well, he’s been known to do that in other cases, as well — invented historical events that never happened. OK. Fantasyland it is. But I still don’t know what motivates him to do that. If the closest thing that comes to mind is P.T. Barnum, does that mean the Trump is a circus master? He obviously enjoys the power of pushing people’s buttons and pulling their strings, both followers and foes alike.

    • Scott Preston says :

      We seem to have gone from “Reality TV” to “Fantasy Island” without anyone noticing the transition much. Maybe “Fantasy Island” was really more in tune with what was going on than people care to admit.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    More weirdness. Notice any similarities between this comedian running for President in the Ukraine (and leading) and Donald Trump?

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