Sub specie aeternitatis

The phrase sub specie aeternitatis, meaning something like “the view from eternity” or something seen “from the aspect of eternity”, was apparently coined by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. Jung uses the phrase quite a bit. Formally, it is defined as ” expression describing what is universally and eternally true, without any reference to or dependence upon the temporal portions of reality. “

It is pretty much what Jean Gebser also means by “integral consciousness” or “aperspectival consciousness”, “time-freedom”, and a corresponding “universal way of looking at things”. Sub specie aeternitatis means that “universal way of looking at things,” which is aperspectival.

Some will say that such a view sub specie aeternitatis is quite impossible — that consciousness and perception are completely sense-bound and therefore limited to perspectives and the “point-of-view”.Therefore something akin to what we call “cosmic consciousness” or a “universal way of looking at things” is not possible.

Others will tell you, though, that this is just a self-limiting belief that keeps our awareness trapped within a certain “mentality” or a self-limiting logic. Jean Gebser was certainly one who objected to this self-limiting logic. William Blake was another. It is also the latent potentiality of Iain McGilchrist’s “Master” mode of perception as he described that in his great book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. The native mode of perception of the”Master” is what we refer to when we speak of the view sub specie aeternitatis.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor is another, of course, and her own experience of her “Stroke of Insight” does corroborate much of what Dr. McGilchrist writes about the divided brain and its two modes of attention or perception. Again, I would refer you to her TED talk about that experience, and especially, in this context, the part where she talks about having to return to her “tiny little body” from her expanded state of awareness brought about by her stroke and the breakdown of her “Emissary” mode of consciousness.

The Emissary’s “usurpation” of the potential fullness of perception is a remarkable case of self-sabotage. And listening and watching Bolte-Taylor give her TED talk, or reading Dr. McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary (now a film, too) always also brings to mind a verse from Goethe about the “two souls” from Faust.

“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast,
And each from the other would be parted.
The one in sturdy lust for love
With clutching organs clinging to the world,
The other strongly rises from the gloom
To lofty fields of ancient heritage”

“Ancient heritage”, of course, is what Jean Gebser actually calls “the ever-present origin” in his book by that title.

Blake also is one who knew the view sub specie aeternitatis,

“The Visions of Eternity, by reason of narrowed perceptions, are become weak Visions of Time & Space” (Jerusalem). “The Vegetative Universe opens like a flower from the Earth’s centre in which is Eternity. It expands in Stars to the Mundane Shell and there it meets Eternity again, both within and without” (Jerusalem).

I think it is safe to say, then, that another way of speaking of what Gebser calls “a universal way of looking at things” or “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world” is sub specie aeternitatis.

(And, by the way, Blake’s remarks from Jerusalem, that ” “The Vegetative Universe opens like a flower from the Earth’s centre in which is Eternity. It expands in Stars to the Mundane Shell and there it meets Eternity again, both within and without”, not only describes the mandala form, but is also reflected in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and grammatical method. It’s pretty much the same vision).

Rosenstock-Huessy’s Basic Cross of Reality

10 responses to “Sub specie aeternitatis

  1. Scott Preston says :

    I just discovered this Blake website this morning — called “”. It looks to be an excellent site for exploring the meaning of Blake generally.

  2. Risto Juhani says :

    Kierkegaard also used that phrase quite a lot. He was my first love in philosophy. Nice to see you make that connection to work of Gebser et al, no wonder I resonated with your blog immediately.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    The Green New Deal probably won’t catch fire really until there is another market meltdown — which, from the look of things, looks to be pretty close to happening again.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Strange thing, fire. It can smoulder for quite some time before it bursts into flames. This one has been smouldering for a while now and, while the flash point has yet to be reached, it’s most certainly getting there.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      There’s just one thing: the “New Deal” part.

      From what we’re hearing, the “Green New Deal” will afford jobs and prosperity for all…at least, for two decades as we transition from fossil fuels to “enviromentally friendly” alternatives.

      Not only is there is still quite a lot of debate about what actually is “enviromentally friendly,” but there is also the question of what’s to happen after that.

      Two decades of, essentially, business-as-usual, but “green?” Aren’t we still thinking a little short-sightedly?

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