Twilight of the Modern Mind
I have a book by Morris Berman entitled The Twilight of American Culture. I think it would have been better named The Twilight of the Modern Mind. This is not a specifically American matter, but a global one.
I was reflecting again on this “twilight” this morning after spending some time reading the commentaries on social media – wading into the swamp of unreason and illogic, as it were, and observing in real-time the mental disintegration and incoherence of the Modern Mind; yet marveling, too, at Jean Gebser’s perspicuity in anticipating this great unraveling and breakdown we call “the New Normal”.
The chaos and confusion of this “New Normal” is largely self-inflicted, the result of three-dimensional beings and their mode of perception and being-in-the-world now struggling to cope with the irruption of a four-dimensional reality, but still reliant upon older habits of consciousness. I’m persuaded that this is the cause of the present pandemic of cognitive dissonance and the cacophony of the mind.
Let’s review this problem again — the problem of what Jean Gebser referred to as the breakdown of the perspectivising consciousness or the “mental-rational consciousness structure” now functioning in “deficient” mode. Perspectivising consciousness is triangulating (Cartesian) consciousness and a method of thought using a three-term logic (called “dialectic”) of thesis, antithesis, synthesis adapted to a cosmos conceived as being a three-dimensional structure of space in terms of length, width, and depth. In those terms, the habit of thought and perception is: there is the mind, and there is the body, and there is our thoughts about them. This has become insufficient.
What Rene Descartes did in coming up with his “wondrous strange method” of thinking about anything was distill from the innovation of perspectivism in the Renaissance a method of thinking more generally. That is clearly evident from his own illustration of his wondrous strange method — it is triangulating and perspectivist.
This innovation gave rise to some rather strange enthusiasms for perspectivism, as this illustration shows
This rather astonishing illustration points out one of the fallacies of the perspectivist/triangulating logic with it’s “point-of-view-line-of-thought” approach. It is sectoralising of reality. The men here aren’t participating in any common view of reality, and this translates into a principle of modern conduct — the “rational pursuit of self-interest”.
It becomes rather obvious, here, that the thing that gives perspectivism, dialectic, and Cartesian method its great strength and virtue is simultaneously its greatest weakness, deficiency, and Achilles Heel. It generates an enormous blindspot. A whole dimension of reality and experience is omitted from its focus. This is what is now called “the fourth-dimension”, and it is throwing this older, triangulating and perspectivising mode of consciousness and perception for a loop.
So, essentially what we call “the return of the repressed” or what is also referred to by Jean Gebser as an “irruption” is a kind of invasion of this sector by the hidden dimension, as it were. What was previously “outside” or cast into the outer darkness beyond this sectorisation is, as it were, taking its revenge upon the perspectivising consciousness, and it is largely the dimension we call “time”.
The point of the point-of-view of this mode of thinking and perception is what is presently called “identity”, so that this irruption of the hitherto neglected dimension of reality is also occasion for great anxiety and paranoia. The “point” of the “point-of-view” grows ever narrower, more constrained and constraining, and limiting the horizons of our possible awareness. This is what Blake means in saying that ‘man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern’. This is what is called also “the culture of narcissism”.
This is also implicated in something I found yesterday in Rosenstock-Huessy’s essay “The Soul of William James” and which seems so appropriate in this respect:
“Make nationalism shrink so that the universe can grow”.
As you might tell, Blake’s remark on the contraction of the horizons of our awareness and Rosenstock-Huessy’s remark about “nationalism” (and “identity politics” as we also describe it) are the same, and the same is called by Blake “Single Vision”.
Now, this triangulating (or dialectical or perspectival) mode of thinking and perception gives you a very different kind of reality than that viewed from the centre of a mandala. A mandala is representative of what Blake calls “fourfold vision”. The Cartesian method is, in fact, representative of only one quadrant of a mandala. Yet, the mandala form is the most appropriate one for thinking of a reality constituted in four dimensions.
Again, observe where the “eye” of awareness is positioned in this structure compared to both Descartes’ “eye” or the similar and familiar structure that adorns the Great Seal of the United States and is the symbol of the European Enlightenment
Comparing the two symbols, it becomes very obvious where the deficiency of the contemporary “mental-rational consciousness structure” lies. It is not fully integral, and is ill-adapted to a four-dimensional universe. Yet, there is very little understanding of this.
But it is in light of this weakness and deficiency of the perspectival/triangulating mode of consciousness and its three-term logic that we now also see efforts to articulate a new, and more appropriate four-term logic. That’s what David Bohm is attempting with his “rheomode” of thinking or Rosenstock-Huessy with his “cross of reality” and “grammatical method”, or Blake with his “fourfold vision” or Aurobindo with his “fourfold Atman”, or Carl Jung through his Hermetic psychology of the “Integral Self” and the four functions of consciousness. These are transcendent modes of thinking and perception by that very fact.
Now, it is true that this structure is often revealed in “traditional” modes of consciousness such as represented in the indigenous “Medicine Wheel” or “Sacred Hoop” symbol, which is also a mandala form,
But the fuller meaning of this symbol does not become revealed until it is drawn into relationship with other mandala-like structures from different cultures and in conjunction with new thought also. And when one performs this, then one is becoming a “Global Soul”, by weaving together or integrating the different times or ages. And this is what it means to say “nationalism must shrink so that the universe can grow”. That is just another way of saying the “culture of narcissism must shrink so that the awareness can expand”.
Yet, its damnably difficult to get people to understand that their thinking is increasingly forcing them into an ever-narrowing, self-limiting, and shrinking corner, quite literally. It is, of course, the symptom of a declining and decadent age. It is entirely self-inflicted, and self-negating.
It may seem hopeless, but at the same time we have Gebser’s insights into “the double-movement” of disintegration and integration, and there is at the same time an intensification of the counter-dynamic to the deficiencies of “Single Vision”, and that is what we can generally characterise as “fourfold vision” after Blake, and which is represented in the mandala symbol. It includes the triangular, perspectival, but subordinates it to the greater whole.
So, if there is a front in “the culture wars”, it lies in our own thinking processes, in habits of thought and perception that must be transcended. This is what the mandala symbol and “fourfold vision” can do, properly understood.