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Gebser’s Empathetic Epistemics

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins” — translated from an indigenous proverb

Today, I’ld like to spend a little time speaking to cultural philosopher Jean Gebser’s approach to knowledge, which will facilitate understanding and appreciating his major work, The Ever-Present Origin and what he means by the “aperspectival” or “integral” consciousness which he himself practiced. Gebser’s hermeneutics, or “method”, has nothing essentially “mystical” about it. That’s a judgement from the confines, or perspectivism, of mere rationalism. Aperspectival or integral consciousness is an eminently pragmatic and practical matter, manifestly so in Gebser’s own case. I would prefer to describe Gebser’s approach as “empathetic epistemics” rather than “hermeneutics” for various reasons. I hope to demonstrate here why I believe Gebser is an archetype or prototype of the aperspectival or integral consciousness structure that he believed was already in the process of “irrupting” more generally.

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Intimations of Eternity, Glimpses of Nothingness

I received word this morning from the West Coast that my elderly father is in his last stages of life and is preparing to pass over. He apparently isn’t taking this very well. The prospect of his impending mortality has him “crying like a baby” according to my mother. And I thought of the contrast between that and Jean Gebser’s belief that we should pass on from existence “with a smile” (as he did himself, reputedly).

I may have to leave on a moment’s notice, although I wish I could be there right now to talk to my father about how he need not fear death and dying. We have never been very close, my father and I. In fact, our relationship was the very epitome of the “Generation Gap” of the sixties and seventies. His impending mortality brought me round to musing about that Gap and why it was largely unbridgeable, and about the processes of birth, dying, and death.

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Ultimate Truth and Relative Truth in the Post-Truth Era

Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth — William Blake, The Proverbs of Hell
The whole world is a form of truth. — Rumi, “Green Ears

It seems strange to write about the status of truth in a post-truth era. The controversy about “truth” and truthfulness, and about the distinction between “ultimate truth” and “relative truth” that emerged in the comments to the last post suggests we need to delve a little deeper into truth and the meaning on truth especially in the context of this very cynical age which, like Pontius Pilate of the New Testament story, asks “What is truth?” without expectation of ever receiving an answer (and who apparently didn’t recognise it in the flesh anyway when the avatar of truth was standing right in front of him).

(I actually have some sympathy for the evidently cynical and world-weary Pilate. Although the official agent of the Roman Empire in occupied Palestine, I don’t think he was quite the total villain that Christianity subsequently made him out to be). History, as usual, is full of ironies.

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The Archaic One and Individuation

Reflecting further on Albert Schweitzer’s ethos of “reverence for life” has led me round to the contemplation of Jean Gebser’s “archaic consciousness structure” as the “ever-present origin” — the archaic One or Wholeness, which may also be named “the Primal One”. It is appropriate to visual the archaic One in terms of Nicholas of Cusa’s famous description of God as “a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”, a root principle of the Hermetic Philosophy and which is basically an attempt to give a sense of form or structure to the Infinite and the Eternal (or the spaceless and timeless Presence), for such is the nature of the archaic One as “ever-present origin”, which has never ceased to be presence.

And it is, furthermore, appropriate to reflect on the archaic One as the singular Origin (or Ursprung) which is ever-present as also being identical with Jill Bolte-Taylor’s experience of “the Life Force Power of the Universe”, which she tried to describe in her very moving TED talk on her “Stroke of Insight”. This “Life Force Power of the Universe”, which Schweitzer also senses as underlying his own “reverence for life” ethos, and which Nietzsche sensed as the “Dionysian” power of his own “Life Philosophy”, is the same “archaic structure of consciousness” addressed by Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin. The expansive “oceanic feeling” that psychologists often attribute to the infant or the mystic is an intimation of Origin and the archaic One.

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The Logos and the Tao

The theme of today’s posting was suggested by the commentary to the earlier post on “Too Much of a Good Thing”, in which C.S. Lewis’s use of the term “Tao” was raised. I wondered why Lewis, a devout Christian as we know, would have preferred the name “Tao” over “Logos“, since they are equivalent in meaning. A comparison of some of the fragments of Heraclitus (who first used the term “Logos”) with the writings of Lao Tse on the Tao pretty much confirms that the Logos, the Tao, and (in some contexts) the “Dharma” of Buddhism are the same. In the passages cited from Lewis in the comments, you could substitute “Logos” or “Dharma” for “Tao” without any loss of meaning.

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The Shock of the Real

I’m not sure who should be credited with the phrase “the shock of the real” (but it is, apparently, the American environmentalist Edward Abbey from his book Desert Solitaire). It’s a very good phrase. It’s basically the meaning of the word “apocalypse” and has been borrowed extensively by others too to describe the bursting of bubbles of all kinds. “Shock” has become something of a theme of Late Modernity or the post-modern condition — Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, or, indeed, “Shock and Awe”. Shock might even be said to be the essence of “the New Normal”.

The phrase “shock of the real” brings to mind the Tarot card called “The Fool”.

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