“Single Vision” and the Collapse of Reality
Now I a fourfold vision see,— William Blake
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!
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”).
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.
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.
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.