Metanoia, Tetramorph, and Gebser’s “Pre-Existing Pattern”

“Social disintegration is a blessing in disguise since it compels us to wake up. The grammatical method insists that the negative aspects of society compel us to think, to speak, to write, to study, and nothing else makes us think really.”

Rosenstock-Huessy, Speech and Reality.

There is, indeed, a quite remarkable rethink going on during the present health crisis, and quite a lot of it is informed by the quadrilateral structure (the tetramorphic), Jean Gebser’s “pre-existing pattern”, that we have discussed for some time in the pages of The Chrysalis.

As Blake anticipated in his mythology of the four Zoas, “fourfold vision” appears to be the emerging consciousness in contemporary assessments of our situation. Once you perceive the mandala-like pattern, it seems to be everywhere, and you begin to marvel that so few perceived it before now.

This might be understandable, for it seems that Jean Gebser held that insight into the “pre-existing pattern” that informs the various articulations of his four “consciousness structures” had to await the innovation of a four-dimensional universe and the emergence of a planetary consciousness that could perceive the universality of the quadrilateral. Our mental habits of thinking in triads and only in terms of the three-dimensions of space kept us blind to the implicit mandala-like character of reality and consciousness.

So, now it’s here, and it’s emerging in all sorts of new Gestalts and configurations of thought — a real metanoia is underway. And the latest one I’ve come across is Daniel Christian Wahl’s work in regenerative cultures and life process that also follows a fourfold model, and holarchy, adapted from the phases of the Holling Adaptive Cycle and conformable with David Bohm’s “rheomode” of thinking.

What is the outstanding element in all these new forms of “systems thinking” is the time element — the shift from thinking in terms of spatial relations to temporics. The reason the quadrilateral was not perceived hitherto was because time hadn’t been integrated into the cosmic picture. And not until the disclosure of deep time in the late 19 century by geology, paleontology, archeaology, or Darwin or Bergson did it become necessary to account for time in our cosmic picture, which Einstein effectively did by his spacetime integration.

Now, suddenly, we begin to perceive how the quadrilateral is fundamental to our experience of reality and that it is also a true human universal basically corroborating the “lunatic” William Blake who anticipated fourfold vision as the future consciousness of his emerging “New Age” and this is the character of the new foundations that must be laid for any viable society that will survive the dissolution of the present one. If we are lurching from crisis to crisis in Late Modernity, it is because we erected this thing called “Modern Civilisation” upon an unstable structure which did not conform to our authentic reality. That was symbolised by the pyramid of power or the triangle of dialectical rationality, and assumed to be the true shape of Universal Reason (as illustrated here).

Dialectics Illustrated

This pyramid is a quite ubiquitous symbol of the Englightenment. It’s the shape of Cartesian logic and method, and old habits tend to persist even in the face of controverting new truth. So, you still see reactionary attempts to subordinate the new dimension of time to the old structure designed for thinking in terms of spaces, generating aberrations, deformities and absurdities (such as illustrated by the absurd DARPA Total Information Awareness logo which is only myopia illustrated in its attempt to subordinate the emergent dimension of time to itself)

Logo of the DARPA “Total Information Awareness” Programme

Once you begin thinking in terms of the mandala or quadrilateral, such an illustration of disembodied, abstract, rootless mind begins to look deranged and demeneted, and indeed it is the spitting image of William Blake’s deranged Zoa named Urizen (who he also calles “Selfhood”, “Satan” or “Nobodaddy”) — Newton’s God of “Single Vision”.

Urizen — Architect of the Ulro, “Ancient of Days”

Now, as you might already realise, Wahl’s particular depiction of the regenerative cycle and the life process is quite compatible with Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and “grammatical method” approach

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

For Rosenstock-Huessy, the prime task of effective consciousness is to coordinate the spaces inner and outer, subjective and objective, and to synchronise the times past and future, or trajective and prejective. These dual task of synchronisation of times and coordination of spaces is, in effect, the meaning of “integral consciousness”. So, it is not a “synthesis” but an authentic integration, which, in Gebser’s terms, is “systasis”, and systasis is the effective synchronisation and coordination.

A crisis (such as the general crisis we experience of Late Modernity) is a failure of synchronisation and coordination of the four fronts of life and society. This failure is what we call “breakdown” or “disintegration” or “decoherence”, many of the symptoms of the “New Normal” are this loss of articulation of the four directions — the disintegration of the mandala that informs speech and our reality (Yeats’ “widening gyre” of his ominous poem “The Second Coming” is this decoherence of the mandala.

This mandala-like structure is, as noted earlier, also what we find in both Buddhism (as the Vantra) and in the indigenous “Sacred Hoop” or “Medicine Wheel” symbol.

Buddhist “Vantra” — Mandala of the Integral
Sacred Hoop/Medicine Wheel

As you see, the structure repeats across different times and spaces, or up and down the scale of things. This was also illustrated by H.W. Percival as his “Order of Progression”, which expresses holarchy (or “panarchy”)

Percival’s Eternal Order of Progression

This structure is also the winged orb of the Hermetic “Rebis” (meaning “it is fulfilled” or “it is complete”, or “it is finished”) that concludes the successful transmutation as the hieros gamos or “sacred marriage”. The winged orb (like Gebser’s “sphere” symbol of the integral) is also depicted as a quadrilateral structure.

Rebis. The hieros gamos.

In summary, then: it took the irruption of deep time into consciousness, the reorganisation of our consciousness to accommodate a four-dimensional universe, and the emergence of planetary consciousness for the implicit pattern — Gebser’s “pre-existing pattern” in history — of the quadrilateral to emerge into clear perception, and this is the salient feature of what Gebser anticipates as the “transparency of the world”. This pattern also appears in Aurobindo’s book The Human Cycle as the pattern of the “fourfold Atman” or, in Blake’s terms, “Albion’s awakening”.

Interesting times indeed.

8 responses to “Metanoia, Tetramorph, and Gebser’s “Pre-Existing Pattern””

  1. Scott Preston says :

    There’s an artist who I’ve crossed paths with online who produces gorgeous mandalas. His name is Mark Allan Kaplan and you can see some of his creations here

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Another article by Dr. Wahl on the value of chaos or states far from equilibrium. Not an “antidote to chaos”.

    View at

  3. Peter Horsley says :

    Thanks Scott. It’s no coincidence that this necessary unravelling has its roots in health and healing and wholeness (from the Old English ;hale’ – being whole, sound, to make well, using a process of restoring health). Healing in a holistic sense has been lost in the verbage of Modernity with its narrow perceptual lenses and is now the pre-requisite for the painful re-crafting of Life in its fullness

    • Steve says :

      Friedrich Nietzsche wrote works like Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, Antichrist, and Ecce Homo, while suffering from neuro-syphilis and before he completely lost his mind. The biologist Karl Mobius even thought that Nietzsche wouldn’t have been able to write some of his works without the spirochetes and their toxins. Heinrich Heine, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Schiller, Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven, Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire, Edouard Manet, Emile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, and many others were also syphilitic. Many artist, poets, musicians and mystics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were syphilitic. The spirochete actually seems to stimulate the cerebral functions, heightening creativity and achievement potential. Perhaps the bacterial toxin, the endotoxins of the spirochetes, creates Huxley’s reduction valve, and the mind gets flooded with information that it must digest or at least process artistically. The spirochetes seem to cause creative energy to blaze up and empower before he burns out like a fire.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I’m planning on a future post about “new foundations”. These must be simple enough for most people to understand and concur with, and yet fertile and generative of new arts and sciences. New foundations cannot be so overly complex (like Ptolemy’s cycles and epicycles) that it becomes unfathomable to the mind.

      Descartes’ success lay in his radical simplification of thinking and new foundations, based on a few simple principles of perspectivism that we all learn in elementary school now. Likewise Copernicus radically simplified our picture of the cosmos after the Ptolemaic model became too complex and unwieldy, if not sterile.

      We are in similar territory today, and yet we move from the three to the four. Some contemporary offerings are just too complex for most people to understand, and won’t survive the sorting out. It’s the ones that begin with simple principles, commensurate with a four-dimensional universe, that will succeed.

      And that’s the simple structure called a “mandala”, and I think it’s destined to replace the pyramid and the triangle as symbol of the modern perspectival mind.

  4. Steve says :

    I think a new foundation could be to look at the absurd as an instrument of progress. That the presence of matter, although unexplained in its radical origin, does indeed seem to come from the same source as life and mind.
    What, in one sense, weighs down and hypnotizes this mind, brings down and slows the elan of this life, in another sense it is the instrument of its positive achievements. Matter is necessary to life as the springboard for the elan: the divine elan, however divine, needs something as leverage. Matter is thus a blessing and not a curse.

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