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.
Students of cultural historian Jean Gebser will, I think, find George Kubler’s short book The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things (1962) of especial interest. The Shape of Time is a book on art history, but essentially deals with time and change processes, and how these are differentially reflected in the arts and in the sciences.
A copy of the book is available online. The third chapter, “The Propagation of Things”, may be the most pertinent in that respect. Kulber, like Gebser, attempts to read the evolution of a culture’s artifacts (repetition and variation) for insight into it’s sensibilities, and he has some very interesting things to say in about time and change processes.
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.
“Since Copernicus man has been rolling from the centre towards X” — Nietzsche
When I was an undergrad, one of my professors encouraged me to read Simone Weil’s book The Need for Roots. I did, reluctantly. I really don’t recall much of it but, in any case, I was suspicious that said professor was trying to steer me in the direction of kind of counter-reformation Catholicism or a right-wing neo-reactionary Traditionalism. At that time, uprooting was my predilection rather, and I wanted no truck with a stodgy conservative Traditionalism that I held in suspicion as being little more than a disguised form of counter-reformation or neo-fascism.
Nonetheless, I did read a few other works by conservative philosophers, such as the late Canadian nationalist and Nietzsche-influenced philosopher George Grant, who also named “homelessness” — that is to say, uprootedness or what we call “alienation” — as the chief symptom of the nihilism of Late Modern Man. Grant was a paradox, in some ways, for although he was inclined towards conservatism, he preferred the company of the socialists. In that, he also reminds of the social philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. This seeming contradiction becomes understandable, though, when you appreciate that both conservatism and socialism were responses towards alienation, anomie, or uprootedness, which were seen as the chief liability and deficiency of liberal individualism.
In The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser warned about succumbing to a “maelstrom of blind anxiety” as human consciousness (and identity) undergoes a restructuration or “mutation”. It’s a very apt metaphor — even more than a metaphor. A maelstrom is a vortex, and the portal of initiation (which is the meaning of the crucible in alchemy) is also a vortex. W.B. Yeats’ “gyres” are also vortices.
A vortex is a very interesting energetic structure. If you are trapped in one, it seems like chaos — everything is disorienting; everything is constantly turning into its opposite or becoming inverted. But if you take the view “sub specie aeternitatis“, as they say — the detached overview rather than the view sub specie temporis, which is to be submerged in the vortex of temporicity — it has a very clear pattern logic. Dante’s Inferno is also a vortex, but it was also the portal of initiation, since his passage through hell led him to paradise.
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.