Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. — Kierkegaard
We cannot really understand what it means to live the “post-modern condition” and what it might portend until we come to terms with the passing era called “Modernity”, which generally begins with the Reformation and Renaissance in Europe some 500 years ago in the midst of the disintegration of Christendom and the waning of the Middle Ages. The quotation of Kierkegaard above highlights the problem of what Lewis Mumford and Roderick Seidenberg refer to as “post-historic man” in this regard. It’s just another way of saying that if you don’t know where you’ve been, you can’t know where you are going. The problem of post-historic man (who Loren Eiseley also calls “the asphalt animal“) is that he is a creature who thinks and acts as if he were born yesterday, and also lives and acts as if there were no tomorrow. Necessarily, such a creature also becomes post-conscious, too. As both Jean Gebser and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy have noted, consciousness is very much a matter of how we structure the times and spaces of our reality. Consciousness, consequently, can undergo the same processes of expansion or contraction characteristic of all dynamic processes found in nature or the cosmos at large. In effect, “post-historic man” belongs to Christopher Lasch’s “culture of narcissism”.
Lately, I have immersed myself in the history and philosophy behind the idea of evolution and, of course, the new human concern with and discourse about time. And in the course of my studies of man’s ever evolving understanding of time and the evolutionary idea, I realised what a tremendous Tower of Babel exists in the sciences and the common culture not just about the meaning of the term “evolution” and time, but of “Nature” and of the “natural”. There is a tremendous amount of unarticulated and unconscious presumption about the meaning of names like “evolution” and “nature” — or “life” for that matter — as if people knew exactly what these names describe and represent when, in fact, for the most part they know nothing and are simply faking it.
“Nature: The History and Philosophy of a Name” (or “Idea”) would make a very good book, and perhaps it has already been attempted. “Nature” isn’t just another word, like “the” about which hardly anyone quibbles. “The” has determinant meaning and is non-controversial. “Nature”, though, isn’t just a word, it’s a name — a name for something we know not what, but which we only presume to know, much like the name of “Truth” or “Life” itself, or, for that matter, the idea of democracy.
In his book Yuga: An Anatomy of Our Fate, Marty Glass highlighted five essential features of the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age. These five are 1) The Fall Into Time; 2) the Reign of Quantity; 3) the Mutation into Machinery; 4) the End of Nature; and, 5) the Prison of Unreality.
Although, arguably, the latter four are consequential from the first — the Fall Into Time — they are all implicated in one another as inseparable aspects of one and the same process which we could broadly refer to as samsara or samsaric existence, and in those terms also, aspects of what William Blake called “Ulro” — the realm of Shadow or Maya, which Blake calls “the Sleep of Ulro”. Ulro can therefore be taken as Blake’s own symbolisation of what is called the Kali Yuga or “Dark Age”.
While the Fall into Time is the leading edge of the Kali Yuga, my concern today is principally with one aspect of that fall, and that is “the Mutation into Machinery”, or, described differently, the mutation of the human form into a mere “automaton of reflexes”, which could also be called “post-conscious”. This would be the final triumph of the “Sleep of Ulro”.
I’m presently reading The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. Fans of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary will also appreciate The Tree of Knowledge, as will students of the “speech philosopher” Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and of his “grammatical method”, although the connection may not become really apparent until the last couple of chapters of Maturana’s and Varela’s book . This is evolutionary biology and the psychology of cognition done differently.
It was in the course of reading the book, and the authors’ own contribution to understanding the divided brain, that I came across of reference to another book called The Integrated Mind by M.S. Gazzaniga and J.E. LeDoux (1978). A quick check of McGilchrist’s bibliography for The Master of His Emissary shows that it is referenced there. I managed to locate and order an inexpensive copy through the internet, but it is unfortunately otherwise very, very pricey. I’m very keen to see how these two neuroscientists, in their own way, approach the issue of integral consciousness as described also by Jean Gebser in his The Ever-Present Origin.
Have you ever played spider solitaire? I was fooling around with a computer copy of the game on my computer last night and I thought of an analogy between it and the Overview Effect — that is, the emergence in our time of a more holistic view of things from already tacit unconscious knowledge; or, as Jean Gebser puts it, the “irruption” into consciousness of already implicit or latent ancient knowledge which is now beginning to force a restructuration of the mental-rational (or ego consciousness), or what we refer to here as the “perspectival” world view or “point-of-view, line-of-thought” consciousness structure.
It’s a simple — maybe even a trivial — example, but you can extrapolate from this simple analogy to the world-at-large. There’s a great deal of interest these days, for necessary reasons, with effecting the “overview”, or “the big picture view”, or the “universal view” or the “holistic view” or the “integral view” and so on. This simple analogy might be taken as an illustration of that emergence. As is said, big things sometimes come in very small packages, and in even seemingly trivial events — like the birth of a baby in a manger.
The old monasteries of Christendom were governed by a single “Rule” from which the monastic order and its activity were derived. The Rule shaped its life. The Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, even The Brethren of the Free Spirit, and so on, all had their own “Rule”, and that Rule was the central idea they sought to bring into the world. The Rule, in turn, was derived from some aspect of the Cross or the Gospels and so the monasteries remained within the “bosom of the Church”. In some ways, then, the monasteries were very much like the faculties of a university, and much of the structure of the university as an institution took its structure from the monastery because it was the Church that founded the first universities. Before the university, it was most often the monasteries that preserved and conserved classical learning and literature through the long European Dark Age. The alleged “first scientist”, Roger Bacon, was a monk, and many of our contemporary technical inventions had their origin in the monasteries (the clock, for instance, or early genetics). And I have argued that even contemporary political ideologies were derived from the monasteries, after Luther sent his monks and nuns out of the monasteries and into the world to make their own way. They simply took their Rule with them.
Today, the monasteries are, for the most part, sad and deserted places. I’ve visited a couple of them. Only a handful of aging monks left to tend to sometimes very large compounds.
I’m rushing things into print a bit. Sorry for the overwhelm, but while these matters are atop my mind I’ld like to set them down.
There are some remarkable things happening to our consciousness and to our self-understanding in “post-modernity” — a mutation of consciousness that Rosenstock-Huessy also described as a “metanoia” (or “New Mind”). But like all mutations, some will be successful and some not successful and abortive — in fact, some will be outright thanatic and destructive, or what Erich Fromm calls of “necrophilous character” in his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.
This belongs to the paradoxical “double-movement” or double dynamic described by Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin — as a coincidentia oppositorum. There is a disintegrative and degenerative dynamic (or nihilism) proceeding apace with a new integrative or regenerative dynamic (holism), and this is, quite literally, a life and death struggle between the nihilistic and the holistic, in the context of which a great many symptoms of pathology and morbidity appear. Jungians would say that the nihilistic or thanatic manifestations in our time are the eruption of “the Shadow” — the dark or unintegrated aspects of the psychic totality that threatens to overwhelm, and even take over, our little light of consciousness (the zombie meme). The stakes are very high indeed.