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.

The Cartesian “cogito” illustrated by Descartes

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.

Jacob Boehme

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

The Great Seal

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,

Sacred Hoop/Medicine Wheel

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.

33 responses to “Twilight of the Modern Mind”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Mephistophelean character was probably first represented in the figure of the wicked sorcerer Klingsor from the Grail Legend. He attempted to prevent Parsifal from achieving his destiny (to find the Grail) by tricks, wiles, and illusions. But the name “Parsifal” (or “Percival”) means “Pierces the Veil”.

    Klingsor is the proto-type of today’s “perception manager”. And it’s this that Gebser critiques as “sorceric”. He undoubtedly has Klingsor in mind. There is a similar figure in indigenous folklore called “Spider”, a wicked shaman who, jealous of the Sunboy, traps him, kills him, and dismembers him, and then throws him in a pot. But by the grace of the sun, he is restored and ascends to the Sun and to the light.

    Spider, of course, corresponds in meaning to what we would call “spin doctor” or “spinner” today.

    • Steve says :

      I’ve been reading Simone Weil this past week and came across something that I absolutely identify with. She envisions a free society that is built around neither consumption nor mindless technology, but productive labor, considered as the highest human activity, bringing all human faculties into play. Manuel labor would be given a new meaning in terms of what might be called an epistemology of work in which wholehearted work constitutes the fundamental human relation to the world. The idea of conquering nature or establishing human dominion over the world was a nineteenth-century dream that has turned into a twentieth-century nightmare. I would think that Rosenstock Huessy could relate to this idea. I know Gurdjieff said manual labor made the three centers in man more harmonious. According to him we have an intellectual center that controls our thinking, an emotional center which controls what emotion we feel, and a moving center which controls all the movements of the body. These centers do not work in harmony with each other so the need to work on oneself. Dynamic physical activity can help harmonize. Anyway, to my thinking, as I look at the world and people, hard manual labor and not sitting in a chair all day would be a good thing.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I think that is what E.F. Schumacher wrote about in his book Good Work. In any case, my supervisor at Uni was a fan of both Schumacher and Simone Weil. And I think this is also what Blake means by “The Arts and all things in common”. The arts, in his day of course, were largely manual arts. Steiner also has a similar view of work and handicraft and working with materials

        • Steve says :

          As I sent that reply a friend sent me article. Neurolink revealed plans to use lasers to shoot holes in skulls and feed threads of electrodes into the human brain. Elon Musk plans to start wiring people’s brains to the internet this year with his Neurolink start up. What a fucking douchebag !!

          • Scott Preston says :

            Cyborgism and the desolation and desecration of the planet would seem to be logically interconnected, to be sure. And I’m sure wiring the human brain directly into the internet will go without a hitch (not).

            • Steve says :

              We are becoming victims of our own assault on nature, and this points to a profound principle emphasized by Heidegger: the solution to the problem of technology cannot be more technology. The essence of technology is not technological. It lies in metaphysics, the essence of which appears now to be the Promethean Will to seize and control the world.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Something I posted to Twitter a few moments ago:

              “Weaving together into a new tapestry the various strands of history and story of the full human experience of the Earth is the work of a Global Soul. This new soul scarcely exists as yet, but we’ve seen precursors in people like Jean Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, and Aurobindo.”

              There is a certain irony in what Elon Musk is trying to do with his “neurolink” idea. It is an artificial global soul, not the real deal. It chooses the wrong means to it. The aspiration is true, but the implementation is false, and in those terms we could say it is a manifestation of the deficient form of the integral.

            • Scott Preston says :

              That is to say, it attempts to achieve by technological means something that can only be achieved by spiritual effort. This is the problem.

  2. Steve says :

    Agreed…..I still don’t like him. Ahrimanic Douchebag. What we need is a
    ” One Straw Revolution.” Out of all the books I have recommended to you Scott that’s the one I would like you to read. I sent you a copy.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Brain-computer interface, actually. It is supposedly an improvement on existing medical devices, e.g. those intended to assist paraplegics in completing everyday tasks, though I imagine an Internet hook-up wouldn’t be far behind. (If not him, then someone else.)

      For someone who preaches about the dangers of AI, one would think Musk would be avoiding the cyborgism bug at all costs. Shooting for the stars, maybe. But cyborgism?

      Musk, though a wunderkind in many respects, actually has said that his primary influence when undergoing an existential crisis at 14 was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, having found Nietzsche and Schopenhauer “really negative” at that age. (And people wonder why so many of his ideas are “whimsical.”)

      His companies’ work in solar energy (technology available to us more than 50 years ago), however, does show promise.

      I wouldn’t say he’s a douchebag. He’s quite the dreamer, but he doesn’t seem too keen on self-reflection. I can’t help but imagine that if those aspirations were properly harnessed and focused, he might rival his car company’s namesake in the genius department and, perhaps, even join the revolution.

      • yuri says :

        Actually, his outspoken justification for Neuralink is that AI will make humans irrelevant and useless… Basically, a if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em rationale.

        As I posted here before, the Pentagon itself just released a report about its cyborg program. Here’s some choice words from it:

        “The U.S. Government should support efforts to establish a whole-of-nation approach to human/machine enhancement technologies versus a whole-of-government approach. Federal and commercial investments in these areas are uncoordinated and are being outpaced by Chinese research and development efforts, which could result in a loss of U.S.
        dominance in human/machine enhancement technologies within the projected timeframe of this study. Near-peer dominance in the commercial sector will place U.S. interests in the defense sector at a disadvantage and could lead to an offset disadvantage in the realm of human/machine
        enhancement by the year 2050. A national effort to sustain U.S. dominance in cyborg technologies is in the best interests of the DOD and the nation.”

        It is also pretty direct in suggesting the all the ways these technologies will help the disabled will get the public used to the notion that a man-machine fusion is desirable and inevitable.

        This will surely go well.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Cosmologist Brian Swimme on the new Universe Story

    • Steve says :

      Decline and Participation Gebsers final book:

      Haste is replaced by silence and the capacity for silence;

      Goal oriented, purposive thought is replaced by unintentionalness’

      The pursuit of power is replaced by the genuine capacity for love;

      Quantitative idle motion is replaced by the qualitative spiritual process;

      Manipulation is replaced by the patient acceptance of the providential powers;

      Mechanistic classification and organisation is replaced by the being-in-order.

      Prejudice is replaced by the renunciation of value judgements, that is to say, the emotional short-circuit is replaced by unsentimental tolerance;

      Action is replaced by poise;

      Homo faber is replaced by homo integer;

      The divided human is replaced by the who;e human being;

      The emptiness of the limited world is replaced by the open expanse of the open world.

      From the book “Seeing Through the World” by Jeremy Johnson

  4. yuri says :

    Interesting parallel in that Berman book description – “a new monastic individual” – with Alisdair McIntyre’s After Virtue which ends this way:
    It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman Empire declined into the Dark Ages. None the less certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There are a few such secular (or non-sectarian) monastic formations today. Here’s one I came across a few weeks ago

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      yuri said: This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.

      In various forms, since the beginning of human history.

      Steve said: the solution to the problem of technology cannot be more technology. The essence of technology is not technological. It lies in metaphysics

      Is technology a problem we need to solve? I was under the impression that the problem is we’ve unwittingly enthroned a single human faculty as lord and master over us as a civilization. Technology is an offshoot that many of the younger generations, especially, think it’s a gnarly idea to turn on ourselves (as if we haven’t already done that), when the very phrase “integral consciousness” suggests, rather, that it be subsumed to its proper place among the “four Zoas” so that it may serve Life rather than the other way around.

      Every, single one of us was born and raised in a civilization Gebser characterized as “the mental-rational structure.” Yet, to hear many tell it, every single one of us should be fully conscious of that by default regardless the time we’ve been subjected to and trained in it; regardless whether we’ve ever heard of the idea or not.

      That one line from D’angelo’s “Unshaken” seems to me a perfect summary of our present condition: “I can’t quite remember just what guided me this way.”

      Well, we appear to be at least in the process of remembrance of just what guided us this way, yet also still appear to be in the habit of projecting the problem onto each other as though we’re not dealing with it within ourselves as well, not to mention expecting someone to turn up and lead us out of the mess we’ve created as a species.

      Not sure what to think about that.

  5. Steve says :

    If we could float above the Earth and become aware of all the negativity going on, we would never laugh again. There is a story about Gurdjieff. A man hits Gurdjieff in the face and Gurdjieff gives him the other cheek. The man hits him again, and Gurdjieff gives a major blow back, saying: ” I can only be a true Christian for a very short time.”

  6. Scott Preston says :

    I’m not gleeful about Jordan Peterson’s troubles, but I do think a man who can’t handle chaos in his own life without tranquilizers and himself becoming an addict hasn’t much business telling others how to do so. This is just so much part of the pandemic of cognitive dissonance and double-think of “the New Normal”

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      I think, most of all, we have to remember: we were (and are) all there once, if — in fact — we haven’t already had our turn, whether through our first brush with mortality or the the fact that we may have a terminal illness. (As I do, btw).

      We’re all in this together. If people have to lean on Peterson for a time, I’m a-okay with that… as long as they find their own feet again, so to speak.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Certainly, he may come out of this a better man (or worse). “A man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind” (Blake). That was always evidently Peterson’s problem.

        I don’t recall that tranquilization was one of the 12-steps in Peterson’s promotion of rules for life and managing one’s anxieties and chaos, and I think that was quite disingenuous of him. And I think, in that sense, he led a lot of people down the proverbial garden path.

        Sorry to hear about your illness, whatever that is. But, as you know, so am I. But I’m still here and still managing it, seemingly successfully, always surprising my medical team by my method of management by no-management.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Peterson’s a flash in the pan. Why are you bothering yourself about him?

          • Scott Preston says :

            I gave my answer to that… because he misled very many people when we needed to all focus our energies in other directions. His message of “order” had a dimension of hidden darkness and chaos that has become all too evident, now, and will in others who follow his way. But it’s instructive of so much today. Peterson raged against a darkness and chaos (and his own anxieties about that) that was actually inside him all along. He made his own personal problem seem like it was the universal, societal and the global one that demanded immediate attention.

            That’s one reason I suggested people start paying more attention to McGilchrist and less to Peterson.

          • Scott Preston says :

            This is the other thing about Peterson — his promotion of dietary rules (his carnivore diet) when, in fact, it was due to an autoimmune disorder that he had. Do you not find that utterly strange? He had a deficiency of personal functioning, apparently unconsciously he attempted to make a social virtue of that deficiency by promoting a diet and a way of life that was rooted in disease. That is definitely narcissistic.

          • Scott Preston says :

            My interest is not in Peterson-bashing, by the way, but in dissuading people from following in that path, because it will not lead to a good place. It is not what the indigenous would call “the good Red Road”.

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