For the longest time — the era spanning what we call “the Modern Era” — we knew only of a reality of three-dimensions: the three dimensions of physical space described in terms of the extensions of length, width and depth. The discovery of the third dimension — depth — was the innovation of the Renaissance, and chiefly of the perspective artists.
This innovation largely marks the difference between the Modern and the Medieval worlds. The Medieval world was predominantly two-dimensional. Much of the social turbulence that attended the transition from the Medieval to the Modern, in terms of social outlook and organisation, was very much owing to this major “paradigm shift” in what were deemed to be the true dimensions of our reality, if not truth itself.
As we have discussed many times before in The Chrysalis, and as Jean Gebser explored in his great book The Ever-Present Origin, the addition of a new dimension to our perception of physical reality alters the entire pattern or Gestalt not only of physical reality, but of the structure of consciousness and perception itself. All the previous structures of consciousness — described by Gebser as the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational — and which continue to constitute us, are characterised by the number of dimensions of physical reality that they perceived and recognised as real. Other latent dimensions, not yet articulated, were considered dream-like.
For that reason, “Renaissance Man” is a fascinating subject of study as a transitional figure. He largely embodied this new perspectivisting, three-dimensional consciousness structure and its associated mode of perception which so sharply distinguishes him from his Medieval counterpart. The development of this perspectivising consciousness from the Early Renaissance onwards — and these artists’ struggles to make this new dimension explicit, conscious, and visible — can teach us much about ages of transition.
Only recently, it seems, have historians of science, philosophy, and technology come to credit the innovation of the perspective artists with the development of science and the objective attitude characteristic of the scientific mind. Perspective art (or perspective illusionism) suggested an entire new way of looking at things that also influenced Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, etc. If we today speak of “framing” or having a “point-of-view”, or “keeping things in perspective”, we are using terms appropriated from the realm of Renaissance perspective art. Our habitual approach to reality is very much as if it were a painting rendered in perspective and perspective dimensions.
So, it has come as something of a shock to our system of perception (and “identities”) that reality isn’t like that at all, and this is largely owing to the disclosure of the fourth dimension — time. It’s not possible, now, to uphold the pretense that we are detached observers looking at physical reality as an “object” from a detached “point-of-view” as if reality were like a static, perspective painting rendered in three dimensions.
Three-dimensional reality is giving way before a four-dimensional reality, in which time is becoming the explicit and pre-eminent factor or “dimension”, thanks, largely, to Einstein’s and Picasso’s innovations in science and art respectively. Not surprisingly, then, we are undergoing some of the very same or similar symptoms of “chaotic transition” that characterised the breakdown of the Medieval world and the ascent of the Modern as our reality Gestalt also breaks down and restructures. This is also what Gebser calls “the double-movement” of disintegration and re-integration.
The crisis of post-modernity (or Late Modernity) is a crisis of both reality and consciousness/perception as we once again undergo a transition in dimensions. Everything we call “post-truth”, “post-rational”, “collapse of reality”, and so on is the breakdown of the old perspectivising consciousness and its (potential) restructuration as “integral consciousness”. We are, as it were, transitioning or mutating or undergoing a metamorphosis from being three-dimensional beings to becoming four-dimensional beings. We are, however, not coping with this very well or any better than did Late Medieval Man with the breakdown of Christendom. We are actually in process of moving into a new reality and a new consciousness. What Gebser calls “the double-movement” or what Jacob Bronowski calls “the crisis of paradox” — the same thing, essentially — is symptomatic of this metamorphosis. It is also a case of what Nietzsche calls
a “revaluation of values” or “transvaluation of values”.
Under the circumstances, then, the “identity crisis” makes perfect sense as the breakdown of this static “point-of-view”, three-dimensional ego-consciousness (or what we call “Modern Mind”) that looked at reality as if it were a fixed object, like a painting rendered in three-dimensions, and not the dynamic and evolving reality it actually is. But identity, consciousness, and perception were meant to be much more flexible, fluid, and polymorphous than these things have become as a result of modern division of labour, over-specialisation of function within “the Megamachine” (or William Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”).
Transitioning from a three-dimensional to a four-dimensional cosmos — and to a mode of consciousness fit and adequate for a four-dimensional cosmos — isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a complete restructuration — a complete metamorphosis or transformation of the Gestalt of reality that really does seem like Alice down the rabbit hole. And for the period of transition, uncertainty and unpredictability become the norm. If it were not so, we wouldn’t be calling it “chaotic transition”.
So, the stakes are quite simply put: we either meet this new challenge reality presents to us, develop a new and integral consciousness, or we will perish along with the Earth itself. Becoming integral is a matter of becoming a four-dimensional being. That’s basically the meaning of Blake’s “fourfold vision”.