Time, Modernity and Madness

When you think about it, the omission of time as a constituent of our reality until Einstein is quite astonishing. But that is what the three-dimensional universe did. Reality was deemed to be a structure (or ratio) of only three-dimensions of space — length, width and depth. This is the essential character of what Gebser calls “perspectival consciousness”, and it is space-dominated and space-obsessed. It also became a method of thinking with Descartes and his coordinate geometry. Time became “the unconscious”.

This omission is what informs Nietzsche’s remark, a couple of decades before Einstein, that the entire edifice of modern thought was erected upon a foundation of “running water” — time, in other words. Before Einstein, the late 19th century witnessed an increasing need to attend to time — Darwin, Nietzsche, Bergson, and even Stevenson’s Jekyll-and-Hyde myth. We’ve called this “the irruption of time”, especially deep time, into consciousness.

Time irrupted into a consciousness structure that was ill-adapted for it — what we call the Newtonian-Cartesian worldview. You may recall the social turmoil that Darwin’s evolutionary theory led to, and still does today. (Even the Islamic Golden Age had a theory of evolution long before Darwin). It was this irruption of time in the late 19th century that forced Einstein to include time as a fourth constituent of reality — the spacetime system.

When Nietzsche remarked about “running water”, he wasn’t alone referring to objective time, but to those ancient psychic energies and undercurrents that also constitute us. In fact, Nietzsche would probably concur with Augustine that “time is of the soul”, and so it is not accidental either that Einstein’s innovation coincides with the Freudian “discovery of the unconscious”, as such. And it is quite interesting how this “discovery” came about — through observing “the psychopathology of everyday life”, which was a result of this “running water” or psychic undercurrents beginning to press against and eroding the perspectival consciousness structure, for time is, among other things, a corrosive. Jung especially came to understand that time and “the unconscious” were pretty much one and the same matter.

Nietzsche’s remark was therefore an early sense of what was later called “the return of the repressed” — an option way of saying “the irruption of time”. Deep time and depth psychology grew up together because they are essentially two aspects of one and the same dynamic implied that ultimately there are no boundaries whatsoever between what we call “objective” and what we call “subjective”.

So mark this well — deep time and depth psychology are interchangeable terms as much as Einstein’s energy and matter are interchangeable and not two separate things. Hence dualism becomes obsolete as a mode of thought. This is going to be important in situating both Jean Gebser and David Bohm.

The resurfacing of repressed energies — also of time itself — first manifested as psychopathology or “the irrational” because the ratio of modern rationality is three-dimensional, three term logic adapted only to a reality of space and spaces. Thus the perspective (ego) consciousness’s sense of what is rational and proportionate is a triad — even it’s sense of justice since a “trial” is a triad. The irruption of time into this triadic structure thus first appears as irrationality and even psychosis and psychopathology as time begins to wear away at the foundations of this three-dimensional world.

This has only intensified with each passing decade, and has now become critical and acute, which accounts for the present urgency in discovering a new mode of four-term or quadrilateral logic that does not ignore the action of time. This is the shift from the pyramid or triangle to the mandala form.

The result of time’s action on the modern consciousness structure — the “perspectival” or “mental-rational” — is to erode and dissolve it. In consequence we see a “loss of perspective” and, therewith, all sense of proportionality and sense of what is reasonable (or rational). What is proportionate and disproportionate becomes all confused, and therefore what is reasonable and unreasonable as well. This is the situation we refer to as “post-rational” or “post-truth”. These are transitional phenomena contributing to what we call “chaotic transition”.

The irruption of time (which is also the soul’s irruption consequently, given that “time is of the soul”) demands of us a new sense of proportionality and a new sensibility organising as “the fourfold” commensurate with the universe in which we now find ourselves. This is the urgent task of transformation we see prefigured in people like William Blake, Jean Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, and David Bohm also. These, moreover, do not confuse the merely psychistic with the spiritual, which is an issue we will address later. For understanding how the spiritual differs from the psychistic is also the key to understanding what Buddhism means by “no-self” or “no-soul” as the realisation of “Ultimate Truth”.

(In other words, what Gebser calls the archaic, the magical, the mythical or the mental-rational are not to be confused with the spiritual, which is still “beyond” or “behind” all these modes or structures of consciousnness).

What we see today which looks so much like mass madness, neurosis and psychosis (which it is, to some extent) is the intensification of this process of time and the return of the repressed. It is the perspectival ego consciousness in the last throes of its dissolution and so you see extremes of irrationality and of cognitive dissonance, or what I call our own “four riders” of Double-Think, Double-Talk, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind. This is the action of time’s corrosive or entropic effect on the static “point-of-view” or perspectival, three-dimensional consciousness structure which feels that its world is falling apart.

Which it is, actually, although you might now understand why that is so and why we must become consciousness of time and time and change processes as a constituent of our full reality and ourselves.

If you understand the Holling Adaptive Cycle, you’ll see also that the path of energy and the path of time is the same, so what looks like “chaos” to the perspectival or mental-rational has, in fact, a logic of its own and that logic is also fourfold. This is real time and not the artificial quantified time of the Clockwork Universe. It is essentially, one energy in four phases of metamorphosis. This also meets the description of Nietzsche’s “Eternal Recurrence” except I do not think he conceived of it accurately and in the way represented by the Adaptive Cycle.

Holling’s Adaptive Cycle

This is but one characterisation of the shape and pattern of emergent consciousness we call “the integral”. There are others, but they are all characterised by one significant feature — they are fourfold in conception and take the form of a mandala, and therewith also a new sense of proportionality that is not based on the three dimensions of space alone. In fact, the inclusion of time itself transforms space itself into a fluid and flowing structure, and not a static picture of reality. Space also evolves, therefore, expanding and contracting like a liquid.

That is bound to unsettle any rigid and static consciousness structure which wants everything to always and everywhere remain the same and becomes anxious, angry, and frustrated, even psychotic, when it won’t.

And such is our present situation.


3 responses to “Time, Modernity and Madness”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Oooh, Kismet. Just came across this quote from Augustine (apparently his feast day today)

    “Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times” (St. Augustine, Sermon 30).

  2. Scott Preston says :

    “The bigger they get, the harder they fall”

    A truism, in effect. Especially when it comes to our egos. Our monuments and spectacles have to be as grandiose as our egos (and so do our monsters get bigger and bigger each decade).

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