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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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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 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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The Within, The Without

The German forester Peter Wohlleben has aroused the ire of some scientists, as reported in The Guardian, with his book on The Hidden Life of Trees. Some scientists, it seems, have accused Wohlleben of writing “fairy tales” about the inner life of trees and forests.

This controversy is, in some ways, an excellent illustration of the dichotomy of the “outside” and “inside”, or of the explicate and implicate, or subjective and objective orientations that was raised in the comments to the previous post. I only know of the contents of Wohlleben’s book from hearsay, but the notion of “the secret life of plants” or plant consciousness is hardly a new one, even among some plant ecologists.

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Frenzy and “The Return of the Repressed”

It strikes me that the word “frenzy” best describes the current situation — frenzy being the marker of our “chaotic transition”, or of Jean Gebser’s “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, or of Peter Pogany’s “havoc”, or of Nietzsche’s anticipation of the “madness” that would attend his anticipated “two centuries of nihilism”. The contemporary terms being used for this frenzy are, of course, “irrational exuberance” or “animal spirits”.

It’s in respect of this “frenzy” (which some describe as “the Crazies”) that I want to return to something I posted some time back, and entitled “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature”, because for me the words were, and remain, daunting and haunting.

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