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Our Mental Meltdown: Mind in Dissolution

Regular Guardian columnist Kenan Malik published a short piece today about the deep connections between Europe and Islam as revealed in Renaissance art. It is necessarily short because the invention of perspectivism in the Renaissance marked a parting of the ways, since perspective in art — and photographic effect — was rejected by Islamic authorities at the time as “competing with God” (ie “magic” or sorcery). Ironically, though, it was Islamic scholars — men like Averroes (ibn Rushd), Avicenna, among others – who helped prepare the way for the European Renaissance, including Islamic works on optics that were used by Europe’s “first scientist”, the monk Roger Bacon (also called Doctor Mirabilis). That work on optics laid the important foundations for the invention of perspective art in the Renaissance, beginning largely with the pioneering works of Giotto.

If you have been with The Chrysalis for any length of time — or have read cultural philosopher Jean Gebser’s account of the ascendance of the mental-rational or perspective consciousness — you will perhaps appreciate how the invention of perspective is foundational to what we call “modern mind” or “modern self”, presently in the throes of dissolution, confusion and chaos. Malik’s short article has reminded me to revisit those earlier postings and the dissolution and incoherence of perspective consciousness now manifesting in today’s social and individual phenomena of chaotic emotion and cognitive dissonance.

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Time and Chaos

What we call “chaos”, and what is very much implicated in “chaotic transition”, is intimately connected with time. More specifically, it is intimately connected with the breakdown of the Clockwork Universe and the reflection of that Clockwork in the social order. The irruption of the spontaneous and paradoxical — the uncertain and the unpredictable — offends the clockwork orderliness of things. Something or someone, we say, has “thrown a spanner into the works”. Someone has sabotaged our sense of order, and that sense of order is based on the Clockwork. At such times people cast about for someone who, like a Mussolini, “will make the trains run on time” — that is to say, restore the Clockwork. The Clockwork is the pulsing heart of the Megamachine and is, in many respects, also Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”.

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The Field Concept in Jung’s “Collective Unconscious”

To continue from the previous post: the emergence of the Field concept in physics, in biology, in psychology, in sociology is, in all likelihood, the fundamental phenomenon behind what we are calling “paradigm shift”, and we can begin to appreciate the meaning of Jean Gebser’s consciousness “mutations” or his “irruption” of a new consciousness structure in those terms, ie, that the growing interest and concern with holism or integrality is also a reflection of the Field, or that the Field is the truly subsistent reality. The Field is also energy and corresponds to the Heraclitean “flux”, which can only be described in terms of patterns or Gestalts, and so you see a corresponding interest in the issue of “pattern recognition” or pattern cognition, which belongs to the more intuitive faculties.

But today I want to speak, briefly, to how Jung’s Archetypal Psychology also relates to the emergence of the Field into consciousness, in terms of the so-called “Collective Unconscious” and his doctrine of “synchronicity” which does parallel issues of non-locality (or transluminal effect) in quantum physics, or what Einstein himself once dismissed as “spooky action at a distance”, although it was, ironically enough, already implied in Einstein’s view that time was a “stubborn illusion”.

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Evolution According to Gebser’s “Pre-Existing Pattern”

Some who have read Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin might have been intrigued by his assertion that what we call “evolution” has largely been misunderstood — that it is neither “chance” nor random but is an “unfolding” (as the word “e-volution” actually means) according to what he calls “a pre-existing pattern”. And it must also be the case that, since all dynamics are polar in nature, even according to the laws of action in physics, any evolutionary dynamic must also be an involutionary one — a complementarity. For if every action (which is energy) has an equal and opposite reaction, according to physicist’s own universal law of action, physicists would be in self-contradiction to insist that the law is universal but that is doesn’t also apply to all forms of action.

And much of what is called the “Standard Model” of physics (and of all conventional science generally) is in a state of self-contradiction, which is a deficiency of integration. This state of self-contradiction is connected with what Jacob Bronowski, in his Origins of Knowledge and Imagination, calls “the crisis of paradox”, connected with the chaotic, but which is, in effect, only a crisis for the Mechanical Model and the Mechanical Philosophy and for dialectical rationality. This condition of self-contradiction is now generalised throughout the culture and has become characteristic of the consciousness of the late modern mind.

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Jean Gebser’s “Structures of Consciousness”

I refer to the cultural philosopher Jean Gebser quite a lot in the pages of The Chrysalis. His history of consciousness and “civilisations as structures of consciousness”, described in his magnum opus entitled (in the English translation) The Ever-Present Origin, is among the most profound contributions to the “hard problem” of consciousness I have read.

So, following upon my brief discussion in the previous post of what I consider the deficiencies in Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, (judging from the reviews alone) I thought I would today provide a brief account of Gebser’s very different understanding and of what Gebser means by “structures of consciousness” and civilisational types as structures of consciousness.

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Homo Deus

Until a few days ago, I had never heard of Yuval Noah Harari, allegedly one of the most popular and best-selling contemporary public intellectuals (or “celebrity gurus” if you prefer). Harari and his book Homo Deus came in for some criticism in Mark Vernon’s and Rupert Sheldrake’s podcast on “The Jordan Peterson Effect“. I guess I move in the wrong circles.

Harari is an historian who has a side gig as a fortune-teller and futurist, and not having heard of his book Homo Deus until recently, I decided to look up a few reviews, most of which found Harari’s book unpleasant reading (The Oxonian Review, The New York Times, and The Guardian as a selection). Harari’s thesis is that some human beings are on their way to godhood thanks to technology and the Megamachine.

I think not. I think Harari has confused what Algis Mikunas calls “technocratic shamanism” (magic, essentially) with the meaning of divinity and epiphany.

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Tragedy and the Value of Learning

Nah ist. Und schwer zu fassen der Gott. Wo aber die Gefahr ist, wächst Das Rettende auch. — Friedrich Hölderlin, “Patmos”

Friedrich Hölderlin (1770 – 1843) is one of the greatest of the German poets, and Jean Gebser refers to Hölderlin’s poetry quite a lot in his Ever-Present Origin. Just as you can learn a great deal about what Nietzsche really meant by reading Gebser (and vice versa), so you can learn a great deal about what Gebser meant by reading Hölderlin (and vice versa). I prefer to think of Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Blake, and Gebser as but four strands of a much larger golden braid. They have much to teach us about the present troubles and the meaning of the double-movement. This I will explain and justify in today’s post.

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