“Single Vision” and the Collapse of Reality

Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me;
‘Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
And twofold Always. May God us keep
From Single vision & Newton’s sleep!

— William Blake

What Blake refers to as “Single Vision” is what Jean Gebser refers to as the deficient mode of the mental-rational or perspectival consciousness structure. “Single Vision” is the twin curses of fundamentalism and reductionism — the contraction or narrowing of consciousness into the “point” of the “point-of-view” which also characterises the culture of narcissism. “Fourfold vision” is the corrective to Single Vision and to our current epidemic of fundamentalisms, reductionisms, and the culture of narcissism.

“Single Vision” is also pretty much equivalent to what Iain McGilchrist calls the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master mode of attention and perception in his great book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. McGilchrist’s book, too, is a fine corrective to Single Vision and to reductionistic and fundamentalist modes of thinking. For what we today call “Collapse of Reality” is the consequence of Single Vision.

It’s for this reason, too, that I press for greater understanding and appreciation for what Blake means by “fourfold vision” as a corrective to the deficient mode of the perspectival/mental-rational consciousness, and why I advocate for Jean Gebser and for Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and “cross of reality” model as exemplary of fourfold vision, and why you might consider that “cross of reality” as a kind of new Big Bang of consciousness which Rosenstock-Huessy calls a “metanoia” (or “new mind”).

Rosenstock-Huessy’s Basic Cross of Reality

Single Vision (effectively what we mean by fundamentalism and reductionism) is the collapse of the cross of reality to one branch or arm of our full cross of reality, and this translates also into what we mean by the “hyper-partisan”. Single vision makes caricatures of human beings. The myth of Narcissus and Echo is a parable of a mind trapped in Single Vision.

One can also see Blake’s “fourfold vision” and his mythology of the four Zoas reflected in the ecology of Holling’s Adaptive Cycle, as discussed in other places. This, too, should serve effectively as a corrective to Single Vision and to all fundamentalist and reductionistic modes of thinking.

Holling’s Adaptive Cycle

Also implied in the Holling Adaptive Cycle is an implicit ‘cross of reality’ as described by Rosenstock-Huessy, and the four phases of the circulation of energy map equally well to the four branches of the cross of reality, as well as modeling the efficient and deficient modes — or rise and fall — of Gebser’s consciousness structures as civilisational types.

It would seem very clear, then, would it not? The way out of the historical trap of Single Vision and the “collapse of reality” into which we have fallen is to nurture fourfold vision and to cultivate Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and recognise “the Multiformity of Man” as also reflected in Gebser’s four civilisational types as four “consciousness structures”.

Fourfold vision also has the good fortune of intersecting with Eastern modes of thought, such as Aurobindo’s description of the “fourfold Atman” and the centrality of the mandala structure in Buddhism (as well as Buddhism’s “Guardians of the Four Directions”). Fourfold vision is also rendered, as also discussed previously, in the indigenous “Sacred Hoop” symbol and Sacred Hoop teachings. It is an authentic human universal, and one that is also, as Rosenstock-Huessy argues, encoded in the very structure of grammatical speech.

Sacred Hoop /Medicine Wheel

Single Vision is also what Jacques Ellul critiqued in his sociology of the technological system (or Mumford’s “Megamachine”) and its ideology of “the one best way”, which many of Ellul’s critics did not properly understand as this same problem of reductionism and fundamentalism. We would not have our contemporary problem with totalitarianisms if it were not for the curse of “Single Vision”, and all the best and most vital thinking today has been in the direction of recognising the quadrilateral as a corrective to our lapse into reductionism and fundamentalism as the deficiency of the mental-rational consciousness.

The most important struggle of our time is overcoming this Single Vision in ourselves and in society, since so many the numerous crises of Late Modernity hinge and pivot upon this and have followed logically as consequence. Single Vision is arrogance. Single Vision is intolerance. Single Vision is the culture of narcissism. Can’t put it too much simpler than that.

The main threat to a genuinely and effectively functioning democracy is Single Vision.

22 responses to ““Single Vision” and the Collapse of Reality”

  1. franknsteinway says :

    Is the argument that Newton was too literal in his perceptions? “X” has to be plugged into a lot of math formulas to get a result. Is probability unhealthy perception or does it have usefulness?
    I read this to understand the critique by Blake.


  2. Scott Preston says :

    O yes. I am reminded today of a book by Margaret Wertheim entitled The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet. Very good book, and Wertheim noticed many of the same things that Gebser noted about the development of perspectival space. So, it’s a good book to read in relation to Gebser studies, too.


    • Scott Preston says :

      Wertheim’s book was published in 2000, and was an important contribution to understanding the emergence of the “Global Brain”. 2000 was the year Rolf Jensen also published The Dream Society, and the two books are related in that sense.

      Basically, the realm of cyberspace becomes the manifest form of the Jungian “collective unconscious” and the playground of the archetypes (including the Shadow).

  3. Scott Preston says :

    “Our catastrophic self-sabotage” — a quite insightful interview with film director Laszlo Nemes (and about “popcorn eating machines” which recalls Marty Glass’s remarks about the Kali Yuga and “our mutation into machinery”).


  4. Scott Preston says :

    We are looking to brands for poetry and for spirituality, because we’re not getting those things from our communities or from each other

    — Naomi Klein.

    Hence, the logic of “marketing 3.0” or “spiritual branding” in the context of neo-liberal capitalism.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Given the derivation of the word “truth” from the ancient word for “tree” (*dru-), these remarks by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus are quite intriguing

    Socrates: “They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances. The people of that time, not being so wise as you young folks, were content in their simplicity to hear an oak or a rock, provided only it spoke the truth; but to you, perhaps, it makes a difference who the speaker is and where he comes from, for you do not consider only whether his words are true or not.”

    Not least of interest in this respect is the name “Dionysus”, which translates as “He of the Trees”.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    Descartes and mental health is the subject of this essay in Aeon


  7. Scott Preston says :

    An interesting account of the life of Blake. Deserves some commentary, but I’ll refrain from that for the time being


  8. Scott Preston says :

    This is an interesting essay by Paul Kosmin in Aeon entitled “A Revolution in Time”.


    What makes it interesting is that this period also coincides with the beginnings of Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine”, so it has to do with the quantification of time and the fall into time (and the mechanisation of time).

  9. Steve Lavendusky says :

    Scott,you are absolutely correct that the most important struggle of our time is overcoming this Single Vision. Greek poets like Pindar believed that there are moments in life when a divine glory illuminates earthly things and makes men partake of the timeless felicity of the gods, so Romantics believed that what matters most is this interpenetration of the familiar scene by some everlasting presence / Ever Present Origin which overlaps and explains it. It is this that makes Romantic poetry what it is, and this above all is due to the Romantic trust in the imagination , which works through the senses to something beyond and above. Blake understood this very well. By associating single sensible experiences with some undefined superior order of things, the Romantics have enriched our appreciation of the familiar world and awakened a new awe and wonder at it . But our deficient mode of the mental-rational will have non of it. On all sides we are faced with destruction by fire: global warming, new viral epidemics etc. etc.I think of my daughter and the world she will inherit. Will she get lost wondering in the desert of material wealth and success, pinning for the comforts and illusions of civilization? Will she keep the covenant with planet Earth and beat the tambourine in joy in a globally cool New Jerusalem or weep by the polluted waters of Babylon?

  10. Scott Preston says :

    I was hit by a pickup truck on Monday, and with some force. Threw me for a few metres and laid me out flat. Nothing broken or life-threatening, but I am nursing some soreness and stiffness – mainly right leg and lower back.

  11. Scott Preston says :

    Very interesting. Here’s Marshall McLuhan in 1977 speaking about violence, identity, ,and propaganda

  12. Steve Lavendusky says :

    Natural Supernaturalism : Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature

    by M.H. Abrams


  13. Scott Preston says :

    Jeremy Johnson being interviewed on “Emerge” about Gebser and integral consciousness.


  14. Scott Preston says :

    It is not an accident that the two countries today that are most in arrest with political turmoil and chaos — Britain and the United States — are also the the land of Thatcherism, on the one hand, and Reaganomics on the other — that is to say, neo-liberalism, Hayek in the case of Thatcher, Milton Friedman in the case of Reaganomics.

    So, I was just reading a thing by a Mark Manson entitled “5 Books that Explain Why It Seems the World is So Messed Up”, although most of them are America-centric. https://markmanson.net/5-books-that-explain-why-it-seems-the-world-is-so-fucked

    Not books I would have selected, because, as you may note, they all address symptoms, not the causes, and what they reflect is the cultural consequence and contradictions of neo-liberal capitalism. In any case, neo-liberal capitalism can also be understood as symptom as well of a deeper malaise — a disease of consciousness.

  15. Scott Preston says :

    My, how we have fallen. I’m apparently descended from an aristocratic Scottish family that built Craigmillar Castle in Scotland, and with some connection to Mary Queen of Scots. I heard rumours about that as a child, which I never took very seriously. Turns out to be true.


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