What It Means To Be Post-Cartesian

Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead

William Blake, The Proverbs of Hell

One very crucial aspect of the present transition between Ages and consciousness structures is the emergence of what we might call “post-Cartesian” modes of thought. The citation from Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” that opens today’s essay is a reminder to never allow one’s regard and respect for the past to inhibit the realisation of our destiny, and our destiny is “fourfold vision”. In order to understand what the term “post-Cartesian” actually signifies, we need to thoroughly understand also what is meant by “Cartesian” and why it is being left behind.

There is a legend, apocryphal as it might be, that Descartes hit upon his “wondrous strange method” — his new mode of thinking — after confining himself int a “poêle” — a french word that could refer to a furnace, oven or some type of closet. That’s the joke implied in the illustration above. Although probably not factually true, it persists as legend (even Rosenstock-Huessy mentions it) because it is, in a psychological sense, quite accurate.

The effect of Cartesian method, and its famous slogan “cogito ergo sum“, (which was, as previously discussed, a development and refinement of perspectivism invented by the Renaissance artists), was also it’s intensification of the ego-consciousness or the “I” or what we call “the point-of-view”. In effect, awareness withdrew from the world-at-large (or “Lebenswelt“) and became localised behind the skull as identity contracted into the cogito or “point-of-view”. This is clearly the case in the various illustrations from the time of Cartesian method and perspective consciousness.

This is the structure of consciousness and the modern ego that Gebser refers to as “perspectival” or “mental-rational”, based on a triadic ratio of three dimensions of reality — the spaces of length, width and depth. It was, in those terms, a triadic or triangulating logic formalised in the symbol of the pyramid — thesis, antithesis and synthesis corresponding to the spatial dimensions. You will perhaps observe how it leaves whole zones of reality outside its focus which essentially become background or “the unconscious”. Gebser calls this the “sectoral” view.

This is what William Blake has in mind when he writes that,

“For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”

So, the legend of Descartes’ quarantining himself in a poêle in order to think is not so far from the actual truth. Awareness and identity withdrew and confined itself to this “point” behind the eyes and localised in the brain.

There is a joke about this that is relevant to Descartes. A man, desirous of discovering final truth, locks himself away in a closet, vowing never to leave until truth reveals itself to him. Truth, meanwhile, observing his devotion to her, approaches the door of the man’s closet and knocks. “Go away”, shouts the man from his self-isolation, “I’m looking for the Truth!” And Truth turns and departs.

This too is not so far from the truth.

This intensification of the “I” or ego consciousness was also formalised into the political principle called “rational pursuit of self-interest”. Self-interest and its pursuit (rational or otherwise) seemed to become the foundational mode of our being-in-the-world. But this has finally decayed into what Christopher Lasch has described as “the culture of narcissism” and what we call the “narcissistic mentality” and a reification of the “point” of “the point-of-view” consciousness structure.

Before proceeding further in our discussion, here, we should also make note of how Cartesian method (dialectical) differs radically from Socratic method (dialogical). For Socrates, reasoning was something done in the open and in public — in the Athenian agora. It was the method of speaking and listening, question and answer. Dialectics abstracts this whole process making reasoning something that goes on principally in one and the same abstract mind, which ends up as a conception of mind-body dualism. In Socrates, reasoning is embodied process — a dialogical process. In Socratic method, two or more individuals attempt to become present to one another, whereas Cartesian method emphasises distance and what we call “objectification”. But this objectification is a kind of absenting and also intensifies the sense of subjective isolation within the skull.

Many people now chafe at this confinement or restriction of awareness to a mere “point” behind the eyes and within the skull. Moreover, it is no longer even considered to be true of ourselves and our reality, and is even considered dangerously erroneous in that it is now driving us towards disaster by its very incompleteness, while still having some usefulness but only within certain limits and “domains of relevance.”

Our stepping out from this self-enclosure and confinement within the cave of the skull and into the open air of a truly “universal way of looking at things” is what Gebser means by “time-freedom” or “spacetime-freedom”, which he calls “aperspectival” or “arational” consciousness. This is reflected in the current tendency to consider “the field” primary over the particulate, but also in the paradox of non-locality (or quantum synchroncity) in quantum physics. This becomes a new metaphor for the full awareness itself quite in contrast to Descartes’ closeted viewpoint. Awareness is no longer perceived as being merely localised within an ego or behind the eyes and within the cave of the skull, but “smeared out”, as it were, like the energetic field itself.

So, we see various offerings today such as “panpsychism” or Sheldrake’s “morphic fields” or quantum field theory or Jung’s insight that “all psyches are one psyche” as breaking out of this confinement of our awareness within the mere point-of-view. For someone like David Bohm likewise, our fundamental awareness is identical with his “undivided wholeness and flowing movement” that he perceives as underlying all manifested realities — that, and the “implicate order” as the “Logos that is common to all” as Heraclitus put it who did perceive this “undivided wholeness in flowing movement” and the “implicate order” within that flux. I could almost be convinced that Bohm is the reincarnation of Heraclitus, or in some way mutually “entangled” in the quantum sense of non-locality.

There is, at least, a great affinity between Bohm and Heraclitus.

The great anxiety and paranoia about the present transition is the Cartesian ego’s fear of being dissolved into that “universal flux” — a loss of self and identity, so it clings to this little “point” as a drowning sailor might cling to the flotsam and jetsam of a shipwreck. These fears and anxieties that are driving us towards catastrophe in a “maelstom of blind anxiety” are deeply misguided because your true identity actually expands to include the entire cosmos — the entirety of “the field”. It does, however, imply dying to one’s own petty- and narrow- mindedness and being reborn again as a kind of “Mahatma” or “Great Soul” and to know that, as Krishnamurti put it, “You are the World”.

This was William Blake’s desire for us, of course — that we expand into fields of Eternity. Jill Bolte-Taylor had the same experience with her “Stroke of Insight”

This is also the whole import, too, of Buddhism or of Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Something, of course, that few contemporary fundamentalist Christians actually heed or understand anyway, but is also the import of Blake’s remark:

More! More!’ is the cry of a mistaken soul: less than All cannot satisfy Man.

You may also experience such times when you not only sense that you are a part of all that is, but also that you are identical with all that is. These are intimations of the new consciousness aborning within us. This is Truth knocking at your door. But then, perhaps, something kicks in and the feeling vanishes as quickly as it seemed to come.

That “something” is Blake’s Urizen, who is the jealous god.

30 responses to “What It Means To Be Post-Cartesian”

  1. AA says :

    Very well written. I am currently writing about the philosophical issues in modernity, and want to explore the shift from the I/thou to I/it relationship. Would you mind if I reblog this onto my blog, citing you?

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Tis an age of extremes to be sure.

    One the one hand, you have newer views of consciousness as not localised in the brain but extending well beyond the physical frame. And on the other, views that consciousness is an illusion and doesn’t exist.

    This is a bizarre state of affairs. But this view that consciousness is an illusion and that it doesn’t exist shows how the contraction of awareness into the “point” now threatens to disappear altogether into obliviousness.

    That’s the only thing I can think would compel someone to adopt such a seemingly absurd thesis that consciousness does not exist (Dennett calls it “the brain’s user illusion”). And I’m sure Gebser would point to that as the ultimate logic of nihilism.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    “Creativity is not only essential for science, but also for the whole of life—if we get stuck in the mechanical repetitious order, we will degenerate, and then the creative energy will gradually fade away.” David Bohm

    One should not underestimate this — it’s even why some can question whether consciousness is an illusion. It bears on what Marty Glass described as “Our mutation into machinery”. No consciousness is necessary with the mutation into machinery, we would otherwise merely rely upon this “mechanical repetitious order” as a fate for us, requiring no consciousness at all. Thus this mere “point” of the point-of-view threatens to disappear altogether.

    This is what Blake dreaded as “the dark Satanic Mill”.

  4. John says :

    I don’t understand how this couldn’t be a conspiracy. The way I see things today, techno-fascism ties into the entropic deterioration phase of the mental-rational consciousness somehow. Yet I find it difficult to map a distinction between think tank global policy making power grabbers intentions, and the greater semi-conscious dynamics of the mental rational structure’s spatializing conquest of all time-space.

    According to Alison’s compellingly heartfelt and empirical research, it was the intent of certain billionaires, military think tanks, [etc] to create digital-blockchain human capital markets and invest in the whole digital surveillance 5G/crypto network, backdoor data mining of the public [revealed during Cambridge Analytica scandal etc]. All of which ties into bionically/VR “enhanced” humans — humans and pre-k kids monitored and predictively steered down profitable pathways of behavior for gameified [surveillanced] careers, and for billionaires and tech gods to hedge on. Then we have all this DARPA tech tied in with it, including DNA altering mRNA vaccines [if I remember right], gene drive crispr fascist technologies, and then Bill Gates funded ‘trust stamp’ biometric linked vaccine passports, which are being tested in Africa as we speak. On and on.

    My tentative conclusion is that the conspiracy market was vastly inflated by Alex Jones, CIA, et al, and flooded into the alternative media during the Trump campaign, in order to further weaponize conspiracies and keep people off the trail of the military ushering in techno-fascism under the guise of a bio-security police state. Kinda like 9/11 which seems to have spawned several honey pot alternative narratives, in order to steer questioners of the official story down dead ends.
    The structural engineer, Dr Judy Wood, conducted the most compelling investigation into that whole fiasco, using the actual photographic archive of the rubble from the NIST — who subcontracted SAIC to conduct specialized analysis of the destruction. SAIC was a company, oddly enough, involved in research and development of exotic weaponry and specializing in psychological operations. If I remember right Cheney sat on their board too. Can’t remember. Pretty sure they all got sued along with the Port Authority lol. Who knows!!

    Where do we draw the line between conspiracy and corruption? I don’t get it. All the politicos now admit we were lied into Iraq. I think Alex Jones was kinda correct, and we’re run by globalist psychopaths who would rather die than give up power. But i think he works with em as he’s from a big military city and has some odd friendships. Whatever.

    • Steve says :

      yes

    • Scott Preston says :

      Well, yes indeed. Quite a few of these conspiracy theorists are actually part of the conspiracy itself, intended to deflect attention from the real conspiracy. What is this “deep state” meme but Eisenhower’s military-industrial-congressional complex (since expanded like Matt Taibbi’s “giant vampire squid” , it’s tentacles of corruption reaching into every corner of life). And, of course, you have Samuel Huntington’s formula for the exercise of power — keep it dark because power, like shadow, tends to evaporate with sunlight.

      So, yes. there are definitely groups using Samuel Huntington’s formula, and we’ve certainly seen that in evidence in the case of another vampire squid — Cambridge Analytica.

      My objection to a lot of conspiracy theorists is that they are indeed part of the cover-up, part of the conspiracy meant to deflect attention and to cast a fog over what is really happening. That’s why I say there’s always a kernel of “truthness” to most conspiracy theories, but the truth often gets distorted and buried under a fog of non sequiturs, projections, scapegoating, fantasies and phantasmagorias etc, etc.

      I’ll give you an example. The Project for a New American Century (PNAc) could qualify as a conspiracy, even though its manifesto and statements of intent were all quite public. The only reason it was a “conspiracy” is because no body bothered to actually read their public documents. Meanwhile I knew people who were raving about a so-called “Committee of 300” supposedly the cause of everything that happens — some shadowy group that no one could ever identify but, of course, was for that reason ripe for projection. And yet, when you showed them the real conspiracy that was in plain sight, they weren’t the slightest bit interested. It just wasn’t dark and mysterious enough.

      There is an old saying, of course, largely true. The best and most effective conspiracies are those that hide in plain sight.

      I had a friend (an odd friendship, have to say) who was obsessed with the “Committee of 300”, and it didn’t take long to realise that this was the old “Elders of Zion” conspiracy resurfaced in another form — and actually he was quite envious and resentful of that he hadn’t been included as member 301 (I had that straight from his partner). So, he had constructed this elaborate and dramatic image in his mind of what this “Committee of 300” was — representatives of dark metaphysical forces that controlled human destiny.

      This guy was a doctor (and now ex-friend).

      In any case, he had this elaborate and dramatic image of this conspiracy of the “Committee of 300” and so when a real conspiracy came along, like the PNAC, he couldn’t even see it or wouldn’t see it because it did not conform to his mental image of what a conspiracy looked like — it had to look like this “Committee of 300”.

      And that kind of conspiracy theorising served the PNAC folks quite well, because it was a distraction from the real deal that was, in effect, a quite open conspiracy.

      As I say, it didn’t take long before I realised that his conspiracy theory of “The Committee of 300” was a sly repackaging of the discredited fraud about “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” schtick. It has been repackaged in a dozen other ways as well.

      And this is why I’m suspicious of all “conspiracy theories” and theorists as not being particularly honest, or that there is some deep need for people to believe they are engaged in righteous cosmic struggle against dark metaphysical evil. So, they couldn’t even see PNAC as a conspiracy because it didn’t conform to that — it was too banal to be a real conspiracy.

      I rest my case.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Okay. I’ll say it again: I have little patience for “conspiracy theories” unless it’s agreed by all involved that the “conspiracy” is unconscious.

        I rest my case.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    “When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has found.”

    Sufi proverb

  6. Scott Preston says :

    No matter how fast you run, your shadow
    keeps up. Sometimes it’s in front!

    Only full overhead sun diminishes your shadow.
    But that shadow has been serving you.

    What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is
    your candle. Your boundaries are your quest. — Rumi

    Gospel of Thomas

  7. AA says :

    Reblogged this on A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life and commented:
    How is it that we have come to think of ourselves primarily as isolated/self-interested individuals?

    I will reflect on Charles Eisenstein’s reflection on ‘The Story of Separation’ and how we have become alienated from nature and from others in my next post.

    However, I wanted to reblog this post from “The Chrysalis – LongsWorde blog” because it dives into some of the philosophical ideas underpinning our modern consumeristic society.

    It provides some helpful context to tie in some of my writings on the issues we face in modernity.

  8. Steve says :

    Scott…….You must get the book…” Jesus Christ Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism. ” If you liked, ” Living Time”
    you will eat this book up and it will not give you acid reflux. By David Fideler.

  9. t_r_a_v_e_l_l_e_r says :

    I read ‘Sleeping IN oven’ first😂😂

    • Scott Preston says :

      A lot of people actually took Descartes initially to have said he did exactly that, and they were probably right, actually — Descartes isolated himself inside a poele. Otherwise, why would he even mention something as commonplace as the “poele” at all?

      • t_r_a_v_e_l_l_e_r says :

        Probably but not Exactly correct…. Minute but a difference… and maybe a common myth, regardless😂

        • Scott Preston says :

          I can well believe it. There were no sensory deprivation tanks in Descartes’ day, and I can well believe that wanting to be isolated from sensory distractions, and alone with “pure thought”, he would crawl into some space that would serve the purpose — a stove (or furnace or oven) big enough to hold a man, isolated from all sensory influences.

          • t_r_a_v_e_l_l_e_r says :

            Maybe he was more surrounded around people and wanted isolation so bad that he really did that…

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