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.
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.
Chaos Theory describes states in relative equilibrium and states “far from equilibrium” (or “chaotic”). Basically, “far from equilibrium” means crisis or critical, a word which is related to “cross” and “crucial” (and “crucible” and “crucifix”) because a crisis is a crossroads, and traditionally crossroads were sensed as being places of evil or evil-doing, mainly because they are associated with life and death decisions. When Francis Fukuyama penned his ridiculous “End of History” thesis, he almost immediately followed that up with America at the Crossroads, apparently without even noticing the self-contradiction. But that kind of double-think — thought descending into self-negation and self-contradiction — is very characteristic of the state of mind of post-modernity, which we might describe as a consciousness structure now in a state “far from equilibrium”.
But to be in a state “far from equilibrium” (which is death by another name, also described as “homeostatic failure”) means that the cross of reality is broken or disintegrate, and along with this decay or disintegration of the cross of reality come symptoms of nihilism, morbidity, and what Erich Fromm calls a “necrophilous” or a thanatic dynamic (destructivness). So, today we want to carry on with the exploration of the meaning of “the Guardians of the Four Directions” at peace and at war (or integrate and disintegrate states) as these pertain to the quadrilateral of the cross of reality and the meaning of equilibrium and “far from equilibrium” as life and death states of the cross or reality.
Every so often I do a summary or recap of the former Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis for new subscribers — of which there have been quite a few lately — as orientation to the history of the blog. With the passing of time, those summations kept getting longer and longer. I want to keep this one blessedly short.
Needless to say, perhaps, the reason for the earlier Dark Age Blog and the present Chrysalis is declared in the blog’s masthead, in the quote from William Blake: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”. That is the problem of “contraction”, and is the problem of a purely sensate consciousness that is pretty much synonymous with “dark age” (the Kali Yuga) and with “post-historic man” (Seidenberg, Mumford) — this “post-historic man” (or “Urizenic Man” or “Prosaic Man“) being also Nietzsche’s decadent “Last Man” as described in his Zarathustra. It is the de-souling of man via his own mechanisation through submission to mechanism, and what this actually signifies for the further possibilities for all life on this planet. This submission to mechanism is obedience to the Great Clockwork now embodied on Earth as Mumford’s “Megamachine” (or “Death Economy”) and as the shape of the Anthropocene as well. It is W.B. Yeats’ “rough beast” from his poem “The Second Coming“, and is the return of the ancient “Moloch” of Alan Ginsberg’s “Howl“.
And yet, this situation of “contraction” into purely sensate consciousness (which Jean Gebser also calls “disintegration” or the “deficient mode” of a consciousness structure) is strangely ambiguous and paradoxical, for the social isolation, “culture of narcissism”, and “cocooning” that it describes is also the chrysalis stage — the passage through the crucible — that precedes the birth of the butterfly, which is the ancient significance of the word psyche or “soul“.
There are diseases of consciousness. That is the meaning, after all, of what Charles Taylor calls “the malaise of modernity” and what Buddhism calls “dukkha“. Malaise and dukkha are the same. The phenomenon of “projection” is a symptom of a disease of consciousness. The healing of consciousness from disease is called “integration” (integrare means “to heal” or “to mend”), and this is essentially what is meant by “purification” of awareness or achieving clarity and the clarification of perception and experience. “Purity” isn’t what most people make of it, nor is it a moral issue at all, nor is the ideal of “perfection”. These matters pertain to healing the diseases of consciousness and perception.
So, this post is about such diseases of consciousness, among which I include scientism (or reductionism) or its apparent antitheses such as “New Age mysticism”. We will explore these issues as diseases of consciousness with the aid of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s grammatical method and “cross of reality”.