Responding to Michael about Root Images in the Philosophy of Nature

Several months ago, Michael (who blogs at Archive Fire and contributes to synthetic_zero) posted a comment on a post of mine about philosophical vitalism.

I’m just now getting around to responding to what for me were really helpful questions as I try to further flesh out my thoughts on etheric imagination.

Michael writes:

I like your point about a root image of a root, but from my view I think part of our problem to begin with is that we rely too heavily on metaphors when we should be attending to the particular characteristics of things and strata and complexity as they occur. That is to say, why do we need a root image? What cognitive work gets done by understanding everything as “machines” or “objects” or “organisms” beyond what particular situations express naturally?

My desire to encounter and interact (cope?) more or less directly (in terms of consequence) with the brute actualities of life and the possibility spaces afforded among such contingencies (differences) comes from a deeply unsettling realization of the limits of language and signification. I think there is a philosophy or three of embodiment and ethics that could be gleaned from a closer relationship with matter-energy and its emergent orders as it continues to evolvebeyond the effects and masks and affordances of decisional philosophy.

In response, I suppose I don’t see an alternative to working with the play of metaphor and imagery. It’s not that we need “root images” (Goethe called them Ur-Phänomen; Jung and Hillman called them archetypes; Tarnas calls them planetary aspects), its that we could not do and never have done without such images. It isn’t possible to ‘need’ a root image because we are always already being imagined by the root images of the cosmos. Its a matter of inverting what we usually think has creative agency, of turning the neoliberal concept-wielding subject inside out so that a new kind of non-representational, imaginative cognitive regime comes to discover the way real images (imago vera) are rooted in and grow out of the things themselves. The subject cannot choose root images like it might choose concepts; rather, root images chthonically emerge from the vitality of matter-energy itself.

Imagination

The ur-images of earth and sky always already encompass us, as the ur-images of light and warmth always already pervade and enliven our bodies, as the ur-image of the (n)one cosmic life, or world egg, expresses itself as this or that particular body. The life of the cosmos is not just The Tree of Life but every single twisting vine, every leaf, every flower, every fallen petal and rotten fruit and freshly planted seed in the soil.

These images are the necessary roots–not only the transcendental but also the physical conditions–of our coming to consciousness of an agential self or a lawful world. How else can a speaking animal understand its sensori-motor intra-enaction with all the other living bodies around and inside it without dwelling in the play of imagery? If it’s the particular characteristics of complexly stratified matter-energy processes that we are hoping to depict accurately and to transact with compassionately, through what medium but imagination could we possibly hope to do so? Is the real creative chaos underlying the ideal cosmos accessible to deductive reason, to scientific observation, to mathematical computation, or even to Zen meditation alone? Perhaps sometimes it is. Perhaps on those occasions, its because reason, or science, or math, or meditation has been mixed with a strong dose of imagination? I would say that without the underlying play of images (whether explicit or unconscious) like “machine” and “organism,” no cognitive work can be done at all, period. Without the play of imagination, the understanding falls limp and goes to sleep. This is Kant’s really important discovery, the discovery it took him three critiques to make.

So I’m all for direct encounter and immediate coping. But not because I think language/signification is limited. Perhaps this is because I don’t think language is primarily a matter of signs and signals. Rather, language is symbolic. Language does not and cannot designate things, though it can pretend to. It is precisely in this pretense that the symbolic intensity of language erupts into physical expression. A symbol points only to itself; it is “tautagorical,” as Coleridge put it. So root images are not propositional signs pointing at things, nor are they transcendental concepts conditioning the categorical possibilities of things. They are not ghostly forms traced upon solid materials or mere human abstractions projected onto earthly realities. The root images described here are not meant to stand in for, or to represent, the flow of actual matter-energy. What I’m claiming is that the spatial flow of matter-energy has a naturally occurring imagistic dimension, and that by experimenting in this mundis imaginalis we may discover new forms of embodied praxis in congruence with the universe, new ways of being-on-the-earth and materially-energetically transacting with one another.

I don’t know what you mean by decisional philosophy, exactly. But I know I try to stay as far away from philosophical decisiveness as I can. I prefer experimental philosophy to decisional philosophy, in the sense that I reserve the right to change my mind about anything at any time if it turns out I was wrong or that a more creative or compassionate response is possible. I’m not here to complete the absolute system or to publish the encyclopedia of philosophy. I’m here to try to uproot the conceptual sources of misplaced concreteness and to re-plant the most resilient image-seeds I can find growing in my earthly habitat (image seeds, or root images, like trees, sunlight, flowing water, etc.).

Robert Romanyshyn’s “alchemical hermeneutics” as the foundation of a method in the participatory study of esotericism

Romanyshyn’s alchemical hermeneutics as the foundation of a method in the participatory study of esotericism

Robert Romanyshyn has developed a depth psychological method informed by hermeneutic phenomenology but ultimately rooted in alchemy. In approaching my research on the etheric imagination, I’ve turned to Romanyshyn’s method of alchemical hermeneutics because it allows for the retrieval of pre-modern esoteric wisdom in a post-modern academic context. An alchemical hermeneutics avails me of many of the same symbolic spells and metaphoric magic once invoked by ancient alchemists in the ritual performance of their ensouled universe stories. Romanyshyn has made it easier to become methodologically aware of the creative power of the very etheric imagination my historical research aims to discover. My study of esoteric philosophy can thus itself proceed by way of a magical method. As Fichte wrote, the sufficiently imaginative philosopher “has the power of telling his hearers in advance what he will produce in them and, if they will but understand him, the power of producing it.”57

Fichte, despite being a philosopher of absolute subjectivity, immediately adds to the above statement that he not only has the power to produce insight in his listeners, he has the power to do so “with certainty.” Philosophy has long been dreaming of an infallible, scientific method–a way of presenting its findings that would imitate geometry (more geometrico) so as to force any listeners to accept its objectively derived verdict. Romanyshyn argues that anxiety concerning the ambiguous presence of the subject in scientific work provides the principle motivation underlying “method” in the sciences.58 Scientific method in this sense becomes “technique” and is “designed to replace the presence of the researcher as subject.”59 In practice, such methods only succeed in repressing the “transference field”60 that inevitably emerges between a researcher and his or her work.

Romanyshyn draws on Martin Packer and Richard Addison’s Entering the Circle: Hermeneutic Investigation in Psychology (1989) by suggesting that philosophers and psychologists have had only two “traditional twins” to draw from in pursuit of a method that apes the sciences: rationalism and empiricism. “In both stances,” they write, “method is considered a matter of procedure or technique, involving analytical operations that require no involvement of human judgment and valuation.”61 Romanyshyn, like Schelling and Whitehead, opts for a third way beyond the simple opposition between empiricism and rationalism by articulating an imaginal approach to philosophical hermeneutics.

For Schelling, it may seem at first that idealism would be preferred over empiricism, but even in his early System of Transcendental Idealism (1800),62 he already understood how these apparently distinct philosophical schools represent the dependently co-arising active/intellectual and passive/sensory poles of imagination. Imagination always oscillates between the ideal and the real without settling on either as primary.63 From Whitehead’s perspective, both the empiricist and the rationalist branches of modern epistemology stem from an identical set of related mistakes: 1) the assumption that the five senses are the only definite “avenues of communication” between human experience and the external world, and 2) the assumption that conscious introspection is our sole means of analyzing experience.64 The first mistake is to ignore the fact that “the living organ of experience is the living body as a whole.”65 This “living organ” is etheric imagination, capable of perceiving the creative advance of nature through a sub-sensory mode of experience referred to by Whitehead as “causal efficacy.” The second, related mistake is to ignore the way that conscious introspection, though it “lifts the clear-cut data of sensation into primacy,” for that very reason “cloaks the vague compulsions and derivations which form the main stuff of experience.”66 Whitehead’s speculative philosophical method, like Romanyshyn’s psychologically-informed method of alchemical hermeneutics, attempts to draw its data not only from the clear and distinct ideas of conscious attention, but from the unconscious depths of psychosomatic experience.

Rather than attempting to remove the subject from research by repressing the transference field between researcher and work, an alchemical hermeneutics is ever attentive to the depths of the unconscious psyche, depths ranging “from the personal through the cultural-historical and collective-archetypal to the eco-cosmological realms of the psychoid archetype.”67 Contrary to those who cling to the solar rationality of consciousness by dismissing the unconscious as purely irrational, Romanyshyn affirms the capacity of the unconscious to think in its own lunar way, a way of thinking the ancients believed was reflective of the lumen naturae, the “light of nature.” Despite the daytime brightness of our egoic consciousness, we still ultimately live within the unconscious of nature and so remain at least dimly aware of nature’s “dark-light.”68 Just as Plato suspected in Timaeus, the soul is active in perception due to a dark-light that streams from the eyes to meet the day-light reflected off of material things. Before the “dayenglish” of our spoken signs, “dark precursors” silently run ahead of conscious meaning to dissolve and coagulate the meaning of things themselves. The meaning of the world, like language itself, is encrypted. If words, sentences, and stories lose their living spirit, language dissolves into letters, mere bones lying still in a silent crypt. An alchemical hermeneutics approaches imaginative work as a magical, theurgical practice–a practice capable, with proper cultivation, of raising the dead letter to its spiritual meaning.

Romanyshyn etymologically links “method” to the images of a path or a journey. When one articulates a method, they are mapping out the journey to be taken from a place of not knowing one’s topic to the place of coming to know it.69 A researcher’s chosen method already incarnates and enacts his beliefs about his subject. The “transference field” that emerges between a researcher and his work is a function of these beliefs and the metaphors deployed to support them. “Method is a perspective that both reveals a topic and conceals it,” writes Romanyshyn.70 Whitehead similarly suggests that, while “theory dictates method,” method provides the criteria determining in advance what can count as evidence in support of the theory.71 This means the researcher must remain hermeneutically sensitive to the way the metaphors deployed by his theoretical method have their generative roots in the polarity between identity and difference. The goal is to maintain a tension between these poles in the deployment of metaphors, without allowing them to slacken such that one or the other pole becomes the sole focus of one’s theory.72 If identity becomes the focus, the researcher becomes trapped in a sort of literalist realism, while if difference becomes the focus, he becomes trapped in relativism. It follows that we should not ask whether a theoretical method is true or false; rather, we should remain ever-attentive to the scope of its pragmatic application in the elucidation of experience.73

Hermeneutics is the method of choice whenever an ambiguous experiential topos, like etheric imagination, is the site of one’s interpretative activity. Romanyshyn links hermeneutics to the phenomenological practice of distinguishing between a text’s “presence” and “meaning.”74 This practice involves following the way meaning unfolds through repeated acts of turning and returning to the text. “Within the embrace of this circle of understanding, the knower approaches a text with some foreknowledge of it, which in turn is questioned and challenged and amplified by the text, thereby transforming the knower who returns to the text with a different understanding of it.”75 The hermeneutic circle of interpretation is a never-ending and so infinite task whereby the reader and the text entire a “spiral of engaged confrontation.”76 In the context of Schelling and Whitehead’s etheric process philosophies of nature, the researcher must be understood not only to turn and return to the latent meaning of historical texts, but also to find himself immersed in the sub-sensory textures of the physical cosmos, encompassed by the elemental forces of earth and sky informing our experience of the visible world. “The time of merely historical faith is past,” writes Schelling, “as soon as the possibility of immediate knowledge is given. We have an earlier revelation than any written one–nature. It contains archetypes which no one has yet interpreted, whereas the written ones have long since received their fulfillment and exegesis. If the understanding of that unwritten revelation were inaugurated, the only true system of religion and science would appear, not in the miserable garb pieced together out of a few philosophical and critical conceptions, but at once in the full significance of truth and nature.”77

By bringing hermeneutics to bear on alchemy, Romanyshyn aims to make the research process as receptive as it is reactive. By bringing alchemy to bear on hermeneutics, he aims to allow the researcher to be content to linger in reverie before immediately turning to critical analysis. Romanyshyn writes: “Alchemical hermeneutics is a way of remaining present to the fact that the wholly and holy other is present in the complexes that haunt our concepts, as well as in the myths that haunt our meanings, in the dreams that haunt our reasons, in the symptoms that haunt our symbols, in the fantasies that haunt our facts, in the fictions that haunt our ideas, and in the images…that dwell in events.”78 In this sense, alchemical hermeneutics aims to return the critical mind to its virginal state, such that Sophia and Hermes can stand beside one another: “To let Sophia join Hermes in the hermeneutic act challenges the usual position of the critical ego-mind in the research process,” writes Romanyshyn. “Alchemical hermeneutics is a joint affair, an animated hermeneutics of reveries and hospitality akin to the kind of presence that the alchemists and soror mysitca of old brought to their work.”79 Schelling calls the “mystical sister” of his own modern alchemical philosophy Beauty: “finally the idea which unites all, the idea of beauty, the word taken in the higher platonic sense. I am convinced that the highest act of reason…is an aesthetic act, and that truth [Hermes] and goodness [Sophia] are united like sisters only in beauty–The philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet. The people without aesthetic sense are our philosophers of the letter. The philosophy of the spirit is an aesthetic philosophy.”80

As in alchemy, the key to an imaginal process philosophy is to continually “dissolve and coagulate,” since the goal is not to arrive at some final meaning as a solution, but to continually dissolve the meanings that emerge until the deeper soul of the work has been heard.81 We can be sure myth is operating unconsciously whenever we read a philosopher claiming self-certainty in method and meaning. To make myth consciously, we must engage the process of knowing poetically, which is to say, we must approach philosophy imaginatively. This means re-searching not for explanation, and not simply for understanding, but primarily for transmutation of both self and world. In service to such transmutation, an alchemical hermeneutics takes seriously not only conscious thoughts and sensations, but unconscious feelings and intuitions. In other words, all four of Jung’s psychological functions, or imaginal powers, are brought to the table (thinking, sensing, feeling, and intuiting). As an imaginal method, alchemical hermeneutics begins at the root of these four functions: imagination, which is not simply the common sense, but rather the protean organism without organs underlying each sense organ’s specialized function.82

Romanyshyn lists seven characteristic of an alchemical hermeneutic83:

Creative- it remains open “to whatever emerges from the ongoing dialogue between researcher and topic;

Dialogical- it seeks not a self-certain monological deduction or formal proof, but an other-hospitable con-spiracy capable of discovering truth not only through “complete speech” but through active listening (Hermes married to Sophia);

Imaginative- it “gives primacy to the invisible, an invisible that lends all sensible phenomena an other, supersensible reality”;

Aesthetic- it encourages writing poetically from experience, or writing that arises out of experience, rather than writing about experience;

Hierarchic- it “transmutes everything visible into symbols,” thereby “saving the appearances” of things by returning them to their original form (akin to Henri Corbin’s mystical method of “ta’wil”). “Maybe all our attempts at re-search,” writes Romanyshyn, “are sacred acts whose deep motive is salvation or redemption. Maybe all our research re-enacts the Gnostic dream of the fall of soul into time and its desire to return home”;

Spiritual- research can and must become an aspect of the individuation process;

Recreational- it is never finished, an infinite task, an ongoing play with others, with ancestors, those who shepherd the work. Akin to alchemical “meditatio” where the practitioner engages in inner dialogue with someone unseen.

 

Footnotes

57 Fichte, The Basic Traits of the Present Age (1804), transl. by Fritz Marti, introduction to On the Unconditioned, 18.

58 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 208.

59 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 209.

60 The “transference field” is “the alchemical vessel in which the complex researcher and the unfinished business in the soul of the work are mixed” (Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 227).

61 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 27.

62 Before his later differentiation between negative, rationalistic philosophy, and positive, “metaphysically empiricist,” philosophy.

63 Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 70.

64 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 225.

65 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 225.

66 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 226.

67 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 210. The “psychoid,” following Jung, is “the place where consciousness matters and matter is ‘conscious’” (Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 255).

68 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 256.

69 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 215.

70 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 212.

71 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 221-222.

72 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 213.

73 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 221.

74 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 221.

75 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 221.

76 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 233.

77 Schelling, Philosophical Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom transl. by James Gutman (Peru, Illinois: Open Court, 1936), 98.

78 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 226.

79 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 233.

80 “Oldest System Program of German Idealism”

81 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 233.

82 See my discussion of Deleuze’s “body without organs” in relation to the synthesis of the faculties.

83 Romanyshyn, The Wounded Researcher, 265-271.

 

[Rough Draft] “The Re-Emergence of Schelling” – Literature review

Again, sorry for the lack of italics. I don’t know how to paste from Pages while keeping the formatting. For a PDF of the document (with italics in tact!), click: The Re-Emergence of Schelling: Philosophy in a Time of Emergency.

Literature review

This section assesses the reasons for the contemporary resurgence of scholarly interest in Schelling. At least since the 1990s, after more than a century and a half on the shelf, Schelling’s corpus has been re-emerging “with increasing intensity” in the English speaking world.65 There are many reasons to reconsider Schelling’s philosophical oeuvre, but the current resurgence in interest seems to orbit primarily around his unique approach to the problem of nature, whether the nature of the cosmos, of the human, or of the divine.

In his prized 1809 essay Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, Schelling writes:

The entire new European philosophy since its beginning (with Descartes) has the common defect that nature is not available for it and that it lacks a living ground.66

The non-existence of nature for thought in the modern period has had terrible consequences for human history and the natural world alike. From Descartes through to Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, reason and science became increasingly self-castrating and solipsistic; “like the priests of the Phrygian goddess,” modern thought detached itself from the living forces of its natural ground.67

In his Philosophies of Nature After Schelling (2005), Iain Hamilton Grant articulates the scientific and metaphysical consequences of ignoring nature, arguing that

deep geological time defeats a priori the prospect of [nature’s] appearance for any finite phenomenologizing consciousness.68

In other words, while the Kantian turn in the philosophy of science drained nature of ontological significance by defining it phenomenologically as “the sum total of appearing bodies,” the empirico-mathematical study of nature nonetheless came to reveal world-ages prior to the emergence of any consciousness for whom material nature could have made an appearance. Further, contemporary physics has de-corporealized (and so de-phenomenalized) matter in favor of a dynamic, field-theoretic understanding of natural forces. Schelling’s Naturphilosophie not only foresaw and helped to initiate these discoveries,69 it provides the new sciences of self-organizing systems with a more coherent and adequate metaphysical foundation than the old mechanistic atomism.70 Naturphilosophie’s principle aim is to articulate, in a systematic but non-reductive way, how it is possible that natural productivity (natura naturans), and not representational consciousness (cogito cogitans), is a priori. Grant suggests that Schelling was able to overturn the Kantian Revolution, not by outright dismissing the primacy of practical reason, but by literally grounding it in a “geology of morals” that transforms ethics into physics.71 The relevance of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie to the metaphysical foundations of contemporary natural science will be taken up again in a subsequent section.72

Some contemporary scholars, like Andrew Bowie in his Schelling and Modern European Philosophy (1993), dismiss Schelling’s later mythopoeic and theogonic speculations into the divinity of nature and the nature of divinity as “evidently dead,”73 while others, like Grant, simply ignore it. In The Dark Ground of Spirit: Schelling and the Unconscious (2012), S. J. McGrath pays very close attention to Schelling’s Böhmian musings, but interprets them largely in a depth psychological, rather than cosmological or philosophical context. While I agree with McGrath that Schelling deserves credit for initiating a mode of inquiry into the unconscious that would later be developed by Freud and Jung, the ontological agnosticism of the depth psychological approach makes it inappropriate for an appreciation of Schelling’s philosophical project. Bruce Matthews, in his Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy (2011), documents the influence of the theosophists Philipp Matthäus Hahn and Friedrich Christoph Oetinger on Schelling, but his analysis leaves Schelling’s writing after 1804 unconsidered. Of the scholars who do engage with the later religious dimension of Schelling’s thought on its own terms, Joseph Lawrence does so with the most forceful and direct voice by highlighting the socioeconomic and ecological consequences of the secular erasure of God from human and cosmic nature. All that remains to guide humanity’s hopes and dreams once the public sphere has been inoculated against authentic religiosity is the myth of the market, which according to Lawrence,

[eliminates] from view any acceptable alternative to the world of money and power, to which science itself has been subordinated.74

Lawrence admits that if the worldview of scientific materialism is deemed “the last rational, and so discussable option,” then Schelling’s mythopoeic, cosmotheological project “can indeed be declared dead.”75 Contra positivism, just because natural science has epistemic limits doesn’t mean the questions it leaves unanswered are not worth asking:

…the inability to answer a question within the framework of demonstrative science does not mean that the question cannot be answered but rather than it must always be answered anew.76

Lawrence defends Schelling’s prophetic call for a philosophical religion not because it offers some conclusive explanation for the nature and existence of reality, but because it allows us once again to ask ultimate questions, seeking not certainty about or mastery over nature, but redemptive participation in her creative powers of becoming.77

Instead of relenting to the deification of the market, which “leaves us with nothing to live for beyond personal desire,”78 Lawrence strives to realize Schelling’s demand that we transform ourselves “beyond the confines of self-interest [to] the possibility of a future in which what is right takes the place of what is right ‘for me.’”79 Without such transformation, the market will continue to reign with dire consequences for humanity and the planet. “The Earth does not have the carrying capacity for a universalized suburbia.”80 Lawrence’s concern for the social and ecological consequences of the secularization of nature is not uncommon among Schelling scholars.

Matthews (2012) begins his study of Schelling by dwelling on the ecological consequences of nature’s non-existence for human thought, arguing that Schelling’s

analysis of how subjectivism sets the theoretical stage for the actual destruction of our natural environment

is the most important reason for returning to his work.81 Indeed, many of Schelling’s recent commentators agree that the ecological emergency is directly related to the failure of modernity’s Kantian, positivistic understanding of nature and the “economic-teleological” exploitation of earth that it supports.82 Bowie, despite his discomfort with theology, is in agreement with Matthews and Lawrence that Schelling’s thought has become increasingly relevant precisely because it speaks to

the contemporary suspicion…that Western rationality has proven to be a narcissistic illusion…the root of nihilism [and] the ecological crisis.83

In The Indivisible Remainder: On Schelling and Related Matters (1996), Slavoj Žižek looks to Schelling’s insights into the nature of human freedom in order to grasp how the possibility of an ecological crisis is

opened up by man’s split nature–by the fact that man is simultaneously a living organism (and, as such, part of nature) and a spiritual entity (and, as such, elevated above nature).84

If humanity were completely spiritual, we would be utterly free of material needs and so have no reason to exploit nature, while if we were simply animal, we would symbiotically co-exist within the circle of life like any other predator. But because of our split nature, and our spiritual propensity for evil, “normal animal egotism” has become “self-illuminated,…raised to the power of Spirit,” leading to an absolute domination of nature “which no longer serves the end of survival but turns into an end-in-itself.”85 This is the “economic-teleological” principle: exploitation of earth purely for monetary profit. The detachment of humanity’s spiritual nature from the living reality of its earthly ground has lead to the decimation of that ground. Many contemporary eco-philosophers blame anthropocentrism–the perceived superiority of humanity over any other species–for the ecological crisis, but Schelling’s position is subtler:

For Schelling, it is the very fact that man is ‘the being of the Center’ which confers upon him the proper responsibility and humility–it is the ordinary materialist attitude of reducing man to an insignificant species on a small planet in a distant galaxy which effectively involves the subjective attitude of domination over nature and its ruthless exploitation.86

The essence of human spirituality, according to Schelling, is freedom, the decision between good and evil. Humanity’s fall into hubris is caused by the elevation of our animal nature over all other living creatures. The fall is not a fall into animality, but an inversion of the spiritual principle of freedom leading to the elevation of the periphery (our creatureliness) above the Center (our divine likeness). Further discussion of Schelling’s understanding of human freedom will be taken up in a subsequent section.87

Given that Schelling’s insights into the essence of human freedom are genuine, it would appear that more anthrodecentric nihilism can only exacerbate the ecological crisis. We must take responsibility for our knowledge and power. Healing human-earth relations will require that humanity actualize its spiritual potential as the burgeoning wisdom and compassion of cosmogenesis: “Created out of the source of things and the same as it,” writes Schelling in The Ages of the World, “the human soul is conscientious (Mitwissenschaft) of creation.”88

Also among those commentators coming to Schelling in the context of ecological emergency is Arran Gare, who similarly argues that Schelling’s Naturphilosophie provides a way to

overcome the nihilism of European civilization…a nihilism that is reaching its apogee in the deification of the global market, postmodern fragmentation, and the specter of global ecocide.89

Gare goes on to argue that Schelling should be interpreted, not as an idealist, but as a Naturphilosoph responsible for producing “the first coherent system of process metaphysics.”90 Gare cites the third draft of Schelling’s die Weltalter (1815), where Schelling explicitly condemns idealism not only on philosophical, but on religious and scientific grounds, since it had reduced in turn both God and the natural world to

an image, nay, an image of an image, a nothing of nothing, a shadow of a shadow…[arriving] at the dissolution of everything in itself into thoughts.91

Grant similarly challenges the mistaken assumption, popular since Hegel’s quip regarding “the night in which all cows are black,” that Schelling’s philosophy culminates in undifferentiated identity, arguing instead that he remained primarily a Naturphilosoph attentive to the contingent materiality of the actual world through every phase of his philosophical career.92 Frederick Beiser’s also claims in his German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism (2002) that Schelling, even in his writings during the so-called Identitätssystem phase, never wavered in his allegiance to Naturephilosophie:

Schelling says that the philosopher can proceed in either of two directions: from nature to us, or form us to nature; but he makes his own preferences all too clear: the true direction for he who prizes knowledge above everything is the path of nature itself, which is that followed by the Naturphilosoph.93

In his retrospective lectures On the History of Modern Philosophy in 1834, Schelling himself expressed his dismay that the phrase “identity system,” used only once in the preface of his 1801 text Presentation of My System of Philosophy, was interpreted as signaling a break with Naturphilosophie:

this designation was…used by those who never penetrated to the interior of the system to infer, or to make the uneducated part of the public believe, that in this system all differences, namely every difference of matter and spirit, of good and evil, even of truth and falsity, were annulled, that according to this system it was, in the everyday sense, all the same.94

It is not unlikely that Schelling is here referring at least in part to Hegel’s infamous joke in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), mentioned above, about the “night in which, as the saying goes, all cows are black.”95 In a letter to Schelling dated May 1, 1807, Hegel claimed to have been aiming his jibe at the shallowest of Schelling’s followers, rather than Schelling himself. Even earlier, in his history of philosophy lectures at the University of Jena in 1805, Hegel is careful to distinguish Schelling from his poor imitators.96 Schelling asked that Hegel clarify his real position in a second edition, but the next printing contained no such addition. It was the last letter ever exchanged between the two former friends.97

Schelling’s emergence from the shadow of Hegel is due in no small part to the re-evaluation of this exchange by contemporary scholars. In his Schelling and the End of Idealism (1996), Dale Snow notes that Schelling had already addressed Hegel’s criticisms of the Identitätssystem in texts published as early as 1802.98 In his Further Presentations from the System of Philosophy (1803), Schelling himself criticized those who

see in the being of the absolute nothing but a pure night [and] a mere negation of multiplicity.99

Snow is lead to conclude that, despite never amending the preface, Hegel was probably sincere in his letter to Schelling in 1807.100 According to Jason Wirth, the two did meet again by chance 22 years later at a bath house in Karlsbad. Hegel wrote to his wife after the encounter that the two hit it off instantly “like cordial friends of old” as though nothing had happened.101 Schelling became increasingly critical of Hegel’s system after his death in 1831–or at least critical of what Hegel asserted his purely “negative” system was capable of deducing. Despite their differences (or perhaps because of them), Schelling probably wouldn’t have hesitated to apply his historical statement about the apparently opposed philosophies of Descartes and Bacon to Hegel and himself:

In this history of the human spirit it is easy to see a certain simultaneity among great minds, who from differing sides nevertheless are finally working towards the same goal.102

Whether Hegel’s polemical comment was directed at Schelling or not, its effect was that most histories of philosophy have come to place Hegel’s system at the pinnacle of the German Idealist project, with Schelling’s work seen as a mere stepping stone if it is mentioned at all. The difference between the philosophical approaches of Schelling and Hegel will be explored in a subsequent section.103

Rounding out the notable commentaries on Schelling’s philosophy are Bernard Freydberg’s Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay: Provocative Philosophy Then and Now (2008) and Jason Wirth’s The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time (2011). Freydberg proposes that Schelling’s thought is receiving more attention today “due precisely to its untimeliness.”104 Schelling had a unique ability to integrate aspects of ancient and modern thought, producing a strange hybrid philosophy that offers a fresh way forward for a generation of thinkers tired of the postmodern ban on metaphysics.105 Freydberg also draws out the significance of Schelling’s dialogical method, a method first announced in a footnote in the Freedom essay:

In the future, [I] will…maintain the course…taken in the present treatise where, even if the external shape of a dialogue is lacking, everything arises as a sort of dialogue.106

Freydberg describes Schelling’s literary style in the Freedom essay, and in the later drafts of The Ages of the World, as participatory, more akin to “a map for a journey” than “a series of philosophical claims.”107

Wirth similarly argues that, with Schelling, “the question of style is not frivolous.”108 Schelling’s presentation of philosophy as a work of freedom makes it “as much art as science.”109 Schelling’s scientific art of dialogue begins always in media res, according to Wirth, such that in order to engage in philosophical composition, Schelling must first give over total authority over the course of a work’s self-development to the darkness of the Other.110 Wirth offers Schelling’s dialogical style as an example of the “deep difference” between his own and Hegel’s more abstract dialectical approach.111

In a chapter bringing Schelling into conversation with Sri Aurobindo, Wirth points to their treatment of the Indian spiritual traditions to further distinguish Schelling from Hegel.112 Unlike Hegel, who declared that India was “sunk in the most frightful and scandalous superstition,”113 Schelling cherished the Bhagavad-Gitā and even believed, according to Wirth, that “Greek philosophy should be considered a flower of South Asia.”114 In his introduction to Schelling Now: Contemporary Readings (2005), Wirth further suggests that Schelling’s “ecological sensitivity” and “receptivity to the call of the earth” represent philosophical possibilities “left largely unexplored by Hegel.”115

Footnotes

65 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 585.

66 Schelling, Philosophical Investigations Into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt, 26.

67 Schelling, Philosophical Investigations Into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Love and Schmidt, 26.

68 Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 6.

69 Consider, for example, Schelling’s influence on Hans Christian Ørsted’s discovery of electromagnetism in 1820.

70 Marie-Luise Heuser-Kessler, Die Produktivität der Natur: Schellings Naturphilosophie und das neue Paradigma der Selbsorganization in den Naturwissenshaften.

71 Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 6, 199.

72 See section heading “Metaphysically (un)grounding the natural sciences” below.

73 Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy, 5.

74 Joseph Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 14.

75 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 15.

76 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 17.

77 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 15-16.

78 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 18.

79 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 21.

80 Lawrence, “Philosophical Religion and the Quest for Authenticity,” Schelling Now, 16.

81 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 3.

82 Matthews, Schelling’s Organic Form of Philosophy, 3.

83 Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy, 10.

84 Slavoj Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, 63.

85 Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, 63.

86 Žižek, The Indivisible Remainder, 88n70.

87 See section heading “The nature of human freedom” below.

88 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, xxxvi.

89 Arran Gare. “From Kant to Schelling to Process Metaphysics: On the Way to Ecological Civilization,” 26, 68.

90 Gare, “From Kant to Schelling to Process Metaphysics: On the Way to Ecological Civilization,” 28.

91 Schelling, The Ages of the World, trans. Wirth, 106.

92 Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, 3-4.

93 Beiser, German Idealism, 489.

94 Schelling, On the History of Modern Philosophy, trans. Bowie, 120.

95 Hegel, The Hegel Reader, trans. Stephen Houlgate, 52.

96 Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy (1805-1806), http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hp/hpschell.htm, D:3 (accessed 7/27/2012).

97 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 587.

98 Snow, Schelling and the End of Idealism, 187.

99 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 586.

100 Snow, Schelling and the End of Idealism, 187.

101 Wirth, “Schelling’s Contemporary Resurgence,” 587.

102 Schelling, On the History of Modern Philosophy, trans. Bowie, 61.

103 See section heading “The difference between Hegel’s and Schelling’s system of philosophy” below.

104 Bernard Freydberg, Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay: Provocative Philosophy Then and Now, 1.

105 See especially Graham Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things: “The term ‘guerrilla metaphysics’ is meant to signal…my full awareness that the traditional cathedrals of metaphysics lie in ruins. Let the rubble sleep–or kick it a bit longer, if you must. But new towers or monuments are still possible, more solid and perhaps more startling that those that came before” (256).

106 Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Love and Schmidt, 72.

107 Freydberg, Schelling’s Dialogical Freedom Essay: Provocative Philosophy Then and Now, 3.

108 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 158.

109 Schelling, On Construction in Philosophy, trans. Andrew David and Alexi Kukuljevic, 269.

110 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 159.

111 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 216.

112 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 223.

113 Hegel, The Philosophy of Right (1820), Sec. 247, http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/pr/prcivils.htm#PR248 (accessed 7/28/2012).

114 Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life, 223.

115 Wirth, “Introduction,” Schelling Now, 5.

Thinking with Steiner Beyond the Brain: Reflections on My Bildung and the Philosophy of Freedom

Part 1: Remembering Childhood

Until about age seven, children seem to be naturally aware of the reality of a world beyond their physical senses. As they age, most of them seem to lose touch with this deeper dimension of the world. According to the common sense of our materialistic age, this is because their once overactive imaginations eventually come to be properly educated so as to distinguish objective fact from subjective fantasy.

If I think back to my own childhood, it was around seven years old that I first understood that my mother would die. This made me so sad that I cried on and off for three days. On one of these days, I was so choked up and distraught that she had to leave work early to pick me up from my second grade class just a few minutes after the school bus had dropped me off in the morning. I told the teacher my tears were the result of a stomach ache, but really I just couldn’t bear but to spend every remaining hour by my mother’s side.

Given the new knowledge I had acquired, all of the sudden life had weight and became quite serious. The games I played in what now seemed to be the “inner” world of my imagination could no longer be taken seriously in the “outside” world of toil, tax, and tomb. It wasn’t long after awakening to the devastating fact that my mother would die that I began to pay attention, instead, to the fact that this meant I would eventually die, as well. This wasn’t exactly a sad thought. On the contrary, at first being confronted by my own death was a relief: if my mother died before me, at least my own death would eventually bring a stop to my grief. But my initially nihilistic response to the fact of my own death never fully satisfied me. The question was never closed in the same way that my mother’s death had come to seem. To the extent that I kept the question open and continued to contemplate the meaning of my own death, the grief I had needed to escape from resulting from my mother’s death was increasingly transformed into awe and wonder in the face of the wide world she had bore me into. Sadness became curiosity. Wonder carried me through grade school: I drank up as much natural science as I could, especially the cosmology of Hawking and the biology of Dawkins. By 15, I was beginning to speak up about what I perceived to be the blindnesses of “religion,” even calling myself an atheist. I began to forget about the mystery of death, though it was still hovering just behind and to the side of all the new knowledge I was acquiring. At 17, I was exposed to the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, and Alan Watts. Prior to that point, I’d never explicitly studied “thoughts.” I’d only studied the pictures provided to me by popular science books about the way the outside world really is, despite whatever I may “think” about it. Quarks, quasars, genes, neurons… I believed these had to be the final real things of which the world was made. It could not be made of mere ideas, mere words! These, I thought, were prone to fantasy and illusion, while only physical things could be real.

It was these three thinkers who first made me aware of the power of the word to transform our consciousness of reality. Their inquiries into the freedom, the depth, the spontaneity, and the cosmic dimensions of the psyche drew my attention back again to the abiding mystery of death. Taking another look at death, this time as a portal rather than a pit or an abyss, all my scientific picture-knowledge of a machine-like world came to seem petty and stupid. None of it mattered, since the ego pretending to master it all was subject to death, and to the deeper, more creative and intelligent spiritual power that preceded my birth and will survive my death. As a result of passionately pursuing the threads of these men’s thoughts–and of philosophizing in my own right–death’s mystery opened out into my first glimpses of immortality. By 21, my idle curiosity about the world had been transfigured into a love, not only for my mother’s, but for the whole of the world-soul’s sacrifice for me. This I consider my opening to the “other side,” and it remains to this day, at least so long as I keep both love and death in mind while thinking into reality.

But it wasn’t until Rudolf Steiner, at age 23, that I found a truly coherent and practical way of thinking the relationship between life, death, and love. Nietzsche was too individualistic and iconoclast, Jung too metaphysically coy, and Watts a rascal-trickster whose only stated aim was to “entertain.” Steiner, on the other hand, provided a way of consciously seeing beyond the sense-bound limits of my materialistically educated soul and its fancied clock-work world. Nietzsche, Jung, Watts, and by this time many others, too, had succeeded in convincing me of the falseness of the film of mundane familiarity I had been raised to take for granted as real. But only with Steiner did I begin to realize that scientific knowledge of a reality beyond the sensible–on the other side of the threshold of death–is possible.

Part 2: Thinking with Steiner

Rudolf Steiner was a child with an extra-ordinary awareness of the spiritual world. Not only was he probably aware of the reality of his mother’s and his own death at seven, he was in touch with the ghost of a dead relative.1 This awareness did not subside as he became an adult, even after a comprehensive education in natural science and philosophy. His commitment to scientific thinking did not dispel as illusory the supersensory perceptions he had been experiencing since childhood, but on the contrary deepened and developed them. At 27, in 1888, he met the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann, with whom he had already had a long correspondence.

Steiner, according to his translator Michael Wilson,

“describes the chilling effect on him of the way this philosopher of pessimism denied that thinking could ever reach reality, but must forever deal with illusions.”2

Six years later, after the completion of his doctoral dissertation in philosophy, Steiner published The Philosophy of Freedom (1894) in an attempt to prove, using spiritual scientific methods (i.e., something like a phenomenology of thinking in every day life3), that the human being is a free spirit capable of true knowledge of the world and real love of others. Hartmann seems to have provided Steiner with precisely the adversarial resistance he needed in order to strengthen his own grasp of the issues at stake. He came to feel the desperate need for human beings to understand their own consciousness in a scientific way, for otherwise, science lacks a solid epistemological and ontological foundation. Science without such a foundation in genuine philosophy (i.e., the love of wisdom and the search for self-knowledge) is reduced to what Owen Barfield later called “dashboard knowledge,”4 a sort of technological means of manipulating physical phenomena without understanding their underlying spiritual causes. Ignorance of the work of spirit in ourselves and in nature has ethical implications, as well: global consumer capitalism and ecosystem collapse are the chief results of several centuries of ever advancing socio-techno-scientific5 power in the absence of spiritual wisdom.

Steiner wanted to show others not blessed with his innate clairvoyance how it is possible to achieve conscious knowledge of oneself as a spirit so as to act freely out of no other desire than that of love for the deed itself. In short, his aim in The Philosophy of Freedom is to teach us how to think beyond the limits of the brain by leading us to an immediate awareness of our own thinking.

“While observation of objects and processes, and thinking about them, are both everyday situations that fill my ongoing life, the observation of thinking is a kind of exceptional state.”6

Without an intuition of the freedom of their own self-consciousness, the thinking of the average person reverts to mere “dashboard knowledge.” From the dashboard perspective of the sense-bound ego, the body becomes an automobile and the world a paved highway or parking lot to be driven over. Even consciousness itself becomes objectified into an electro-chemical neural correlate, something we can now medically modulate with pharmaceuticals and observe on computer screens using fMRIs. The philosophically naïve neuroscientist will argue that neurons are stimulus-response machines, and that the only reason we think a salmon, a pig, or a human being is any less determined than a rock is that we see the cause of the rock’s motion (being kicked) but not the cause of the thinking of these beings (neural activity), since their thinking takes place out of sight hidden within their skulls.7 Such a scientist forgets that it is only their own thinking that initially supplies them with this explanation. They thereby ignore the self-evidently spiritual nature of their own thinking activity by falsely explaining an inner noetic reality in terms of an outer appearance.

When the human scientist is not aware of their own thinking in a living way (i.e., as free), they have no other option but to conceive of the physical world as dead and deterministic.

“We can only find nature outside us if we first know her within us. What is akin to her within us will be our guide.”8

The self-conscious, and so living thinking capable of finding nature Steiner would later come to call etheric. Etheric thinking intuits the formative forces flowing through the natural world behind or within its outward sensory appearances. Such thinking represents the individual’s discovery within themselves of the same living spiritual power underlying nature (natura naturans), that which is always in dynamic motion, sloughing off “external” nature (natura naturata) like a snake shedding its skin. “Nature alive” as Whitehead called it,9 never sits still long enough to be caught in the conceptual net of the sense-bound understanding. To think nature alive, our own thinking must come to life. Etheric thinking is not generated by the brain, and so is not limited to what the physical senses reveal about the external world. Etheric thinking is the expression of a higher dimensional process that is itself responsible for generating the physical brain. Steiner calls this the etheric body, but the term “body” can be misleading to the extent that we are tempted to imagine something that exists in extended, three dimensional space.

The etheric “body” is a four dimensional entity, more aptly conceived of as an ongoing process than as a finished thing. It is best pictured, if we insist on picturing it at all, as an undulating torus fluidly turning itself inside out to leave the living, breathing organism in its wake. Picturing it is impossible (since pictures are derived from sense experience of extended bodies), but the toroidal images seems to me better than imaging some kind of gaseous cloud floating around and guiding an otherwise mechanical physical body.

The mental pictures we form through brain-bound thinking are subjective, relative to our own perspective as distinct organisms separated from others and the world. My mother literally “bore” my organism into the world: I awaken initially as a hole in the world, a sort of split off part seeking reconnection with the whole. I find temporary reconnection through concepts, which struggle to complete the perceptual world by teaching me about the causes underlying its behavior. Eventually, if I am at all interested in thinking about my experience of the world, I end up tracing the causes of that experience back to my sensory organs and neural tissue, as though thinking we “in” the skull looking “out” through the senses at the world. Brain-bound thoughts stop at this picture, pretending to be satisfied with an explanation of thinking, a noumenal activity, in terms of something phenomenal. Such thinking falsely assumes one phenomenon can explain another phenomenon (i.e., that neural activity could explain “redness”), when what was sought were the causes of phenomenality itself.

“Only if I could perceive how the percept of an object affects the percept of the subject, or–conversely–only if I could observe the construction of a perceptual form by the subject, would it be possible to speak like modern physiology and the critical idealism built upon it…The link between the subjective and the objective is not built…by any perceptible event. It is built by thinking alone.”10

When our thinking is permeated with spiritual life, we recognize the universality of the ideas underlying our individual mental pictures. I know longer stand apart from the world struggling to subjectively represent it. I do not think about ideas; rather, cosmic ideas think in me.11 An idea cannot be “mine”: ideas are universal and so belong to everyone or no one. Etheric thinking cannot be grasped with subjective percepts or objective concepts, since it is the source of both. From the Ether comes all conceptual intelligence in the mind and all conceptual intelligibility in nature. Either the mind and nature share in its One Life, or mind is imprisoned in the skull and nature ruled by death.

It is important here to mark the difference between ideas, concepts, and mental pictures. A mental picture is an inner representation of a percept. Mental pictures are already mixed with concepts, of course, but it takes free self-consciousness of supersensory ideas to realize this. Without etheric thinking, that is, consciousness remains unaware of its participation in the realm of ideas, becoming limited instead to sensory perceptions of the outer world and habitual responses regarding them. Many people speak of concepts and ideas as if they were mere words, scribbles on paper or sounds in the air. This is the mistake of nominalism. The nominalist forgets that logic, the universal laws of thinking, can never be reduced to the rules of some particular language. If logic were reducible to language, no free thoughts would ever be possible, since I’d only be able to parrot what I’d heard from others. Language is the husk of logic, the skin it is always outgrowing and transforming in its creative pursuit of the truth. similarly, mental pictures are not the limit of thinking’s knowledge of reality.

Thinking can reach deeper, since the same logos that thinks in me, grows and evolves in the cosmos. The Ding an Sich that remains always beyond the grasp of naive ego-consciousness becomes, with the cultivation of an imaginal organ of etheric thinking, identified with my own inner most nature (and thereby, with the true nature of all things).

Part 3: The School of Spirit

The dawning of my own self-consciousness occurred only once I had separated from my mother. Becoming aware of her mortality forever altered the sense of identity I had up to that point assumed. My feelings of immense sadness made life seem like a trap, a cruel joke with no escape. But as my awareness of my mother’s death shifted to an awareness of my own death, feelings of sadness became thoughts of wonder. The prospect of my own death raised all sorts of questions, questions that brought me beyond the subjectivity of my own feelings and into the objectivity of thinking. I realized that life was a deep mystery, and not a tragedy. As Socrates suggests in the Apology, wisdom begins in the knowledge of one’s own ignorance. When it comes to the matter of death, only the ignorant are fearful. For those properly prepared, death may turn out to be a blessing.

Wonder, and the learned ignorance it engenders, can be further cultivated in order to produce what Steiner called “spiritual science.” Spiritual science, unlike natural science, is not undertaken in abstraction from ethical concerns, since, as a way of knowing, it is “the power of love in spiritual form.”12 Spiritual science is a kind of active thinking that is also a loving.

Those trapped in the benumbed world of abstract concepts cannot grasp the meaning of the teachings of a Socrates or a Jesus. They lose all moral imagination and become utilitarian nominalists who drink only from the well of the senses. But as Steiner makes clear, it is only after we’ve become self-conscious by divorcing ourselves from the chaotic womb of cosmogenesis that we can hope to re-marry the life of the whole willingly. Without first securing an ego by confronting death, we cannot crucify it to be resurrected in Christ. The only way to God is through me and out the other side. Steiner teaches that the soul has another side, not opposite but dimensionally internal to the outward facing senses. To perceive the world of the spirit that lies hidden beneath the world of the senses, the soul must cultivate the proper organ. We are born with physical eyes, but must birth within ourselves the I of the spirit.

As a child, I was taught in school that the brain produces consciousness. Steiner offers another teaching, that behind or beneath neural tissue there is something to us not created in the cranium. As we have seen, this is the etheric body of formative forces, that which is not produced by the brain but in fact produces the brain. The brain’s mortal perception of external space and of the passage of clock-time are imaginations originating in the etheric body. If ordinary consciousness turns inward to contemplate its own limits, it finds there a passageway to the ethereal. This door is the Imagination, the first stage in the development of the organ of spirit. Imagination is akin to seeing the outside, the surface, of inner spiritual realities. Further development is needed to penetrate to the core. Seeing the reflected image in the still water at the base of the soul, one then hears the voice of what speaks from within it. This is the stage of Inspiration. We not only see the light of the Word, but hear it in our own heart. We are warmed by Its Love. Finally, in the stage of Intuition, the organ of spiritual perception/cognition is complete. We are born through the water of the soul into spirit. We become one with the Word.

Notes

1 5, The New Essential Steiner, ed. by Robert McDermott

2 viii, The Philosophy of Freedom transl. by Michael Wilson, 1970

3 Though also more than a phenomenology of the life-world, since Steiner sought to catch thinking in the act, as nous, rather than to simply track the phenomenal products of thinking (i.e., thoughts, images, etc.).

4 See Saving the Appearances, 1988

5 See The Power of the Machine: Global Inequalities of Economy, Technology, and Environment (2001) by Alf Hornborg to learn about the links between bourgeois social relations, industrial machines, mechanistic science, and the ecological crisis.

6 31, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, transl. by Michael Lipson, 1995

7 15, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, transl. by Michael Lipson, 1995

8 25, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, transl. by Michael Lipson, 1995

9 See Modes of Thought (1938)

10 91-92, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, transl. by Michael Lipson, 1995

11 As Paul put it, “It is not I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:19).

12 133, Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, transl. by Michael Lipson, 1995

Notes on imagination, Poetry as Soul-making

Poetry as soul-making

Strictly speaking, what I want to talk about today does not exist, or at least if it does, remains for the most part unconscious to the rational, waking ego’s daylight gaze. Nonetheless, I’m forced to call this unknown phantasm something, and the name ‘imagination’ seems to suit it fine. Imagination is that matrix of possibility somewhere between the Real and the Ideal. Imagination is the engine of human life, the shaper of our desires and performer of our ideals.  Jung called it the Psyche, Jesus called it Christ, Plato called it the Good. These are ‘large’ words. ‘Heavy’ words. Their meaning is saturated, so much so that it overflows and all but defies comprehension.

Talking about the imagination is a lot like talking about silence, since every time I speak a sentence, I blow out the candle warming the perceptuo-image of my organismic experience with words I learned in school. I turn the reality of the light of the Real into the shadows of my educated mind’s finite ideas.

The Psyche is a philosophical invention. Or at least, whatever I say about her becomes a philosophical invention. I prefer the term imagination as a metaphysical ultimate, much in the sense that Whitehead employs the term creativity. I cannot be sure what I mean when I call it, ‘imagination,’ in the same way I am never quite sure what I mean when I say I.

Jung, The Red Book (Liber Primus, fol iii(r)):

“When you say that the place of the soul is not, then it is not. But if you say that it is, then it is. Notice what the ancients said in images: the word is a creative act. The ancients said: in the beginning was the Word. Consider this and think about it. The words that oscillate between nonsense and supreme meaning are the oldest and truest.”

Schelling: “nature is the unconscious poetry of the spirit”

Blake: “The imagination is the divine body of the lord Jesus, blessed forever”

Blake thought every honest person is a prophet. (Poetry not a unique skill, but a universal endowment).

What I want to say cannot be said, but if I am able I will here attempt to display it. I cannot describe for you the myths within which we live and breathe, but I can enact them for you here upon the state. If we are lucky, I will invoke common fields of feeling, and the ideas in each of our private minds will receive a shared sense of being. A concept is a common field of feeling, something which grasps us in an environment and calls us to attention. A conception is not an idea in an individual mind. It is an event in the world. I speak in order to call attention to something that is always already there—always already here. It “is” silence, the absence of speech, of presence, of world, of order, of Logos. The silence is the supreme meaning, the promise of perfect meaning. Derrida spoke of the messianicity of language, the need to be hopeful about the final word that is always to come. Our conversations can never be settled, we must always agree to meet again, or sever.

Jung (Liber Primus, iii(v)):

“The meaning of events is the supreme meaning, that is not in events, and not in the soul, but is the God standing between events and the soul, the mediator of life, the way, the bridge and the going across. My soul is my supreme meaning, my image of God, neither God himself nor the supreme meaning. God becomes apparent in the supreme meaning of the human community.”

The poetic imagination is not a highly prized and rare skill, but an essential aspect of every literate soul’s life-process.

Shakespeare, A midsummer’s night dream:

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
As imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name. (5.1.7-12).

Plato was not trying to annihilate or deconstruct poetry, as such; he was calling the Homeric psyche into a more intimate relation with itself, into a tighter coiling of consciousness upon itself. Prior to Plato, the Logos had only collective, mythological significance. After Plato, it’s meaning was given to men. Aristotle swallowed the songs of ages, turning the rumors of orality into the rhetorico-physical description (not prediction) of categorical schemes and logical analyses. But St. Paul warns in 2 Corinthians that the letter kills; only the spirit gives life. Aristotle’s impersonal poetics can be inwardized, or personalized, even further. Not philosophical description, but poetic participation becomes the goal of our soul’s incarnation.

John Keats:

[to Benjamin Bailey] “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not – for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty. The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream, – he awoke and found it truth. I am more zealous in this affair because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth by consecutive reasoning – and yet it must be. Can it be that even the greatest philosopher ever arrived at his goal without putting aside numerous objections? However it may be, O for a life of sensation rather than of thoughts! It is a ‘Vision in the form of Youth,’ a shadow of reality to come. And this consideration has further convinced me, – for it has come as auxiliary to another favorite speculation of mine, – that we shall enjoy ourselves hereafter by having what we called happiness on earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation, rather than hunger as you do after truth. Adam’s dream will do here, and seems to be a conviction that imagination and its empyreal reflection is the same as human life and its spiritual repetition. But, as I was saying, the simple imaginative mind may have its rewards in the repetition of its own silent working coming continually on the spirit with a fine suddenness – to compare great things with small – have you never by being Surprised with an old Melody – in a delicious place – by a delicious voice, felt over again your very Speculations and Surmises at the time it first operated on your Soul – do you not remember forming to yourself the singer’s face more beautiful than it was possible and yet with the elevation of the Moment you did not think so – even then you were mounted on the Wings of Imagination so high – that the Protrotype must be here after – that delicius face you will see. What a time! I am continually running away from the subject – sure this cannot be exactly the case with a complex Mind – one that is imaginative and at the same time careful of its fruits – who would exist partly on Sensation partly on thought – to whom it is necessary that years should bring the philosophic Mind – such an one I consider your’s and therefore it is necessary to your eternal Happiness that you not only drink this old Wine of Heaven, which I shall call the redigestion of our most ethereal Musings on Earth; but also increase in knowledge and know all things.”

“Invention which I take to be the Polar Star of Poetry, as Fancy is the Sails, and Imagination the Rudder.”

 The Poet

WHERE’S the Poet? show him! show him,
Muses nine! that I may know him!
‘Tis the man who with a man
Is an equal, be he King,
Or poorest of the beggar-clan,
Or any other wondrous thing
A man may be ‘twixt ape and Plato;
‘Tis the man who with a bird,
Wren or Eagle, finds his way to
All its instincts; he hath heard
The Lion’s roaring, and can tell
What his horny throat expresseth,
And to him the Tiger’s yell
Comes articulate and presseth
On his ear like mother-tongue.

[to Shelly on Aug. 16, 1820]

“And is this not extraordinary talk for the writer of Endymion, whose mind was like a pack of scattered cards? I am picked up and sorted to a pip. My imagination is a monastery, and I am its monk. You must explain my metaphors to yourself. I am in expectation of Prometheus every day.”

[February 14-May 3, 1819]

The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is “a vale of tears” from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven–what a little circumscribe[d] straightened notion! Call the world if you Please “The vale of Soul-making” Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say “Soul making” Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence-There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions–but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. I[n]telligences are atoms of perception –they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God –how then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them–so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each ones individual existence? How, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I sincerely wish to consider because I think it a grander system of salvation than the Christian religion — or rather it is a system of Spirit-creation–This is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years–These three Materials are the Intelligence–the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming theSoul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity. I can scarcely express what I but dimly perceive-and vet I think I perceive it–that you may judge the more clearly I will put it in the most homely form possible– I will call the world a School instituted for the purpose of teaching little children to read–I will call the human heart the horn Book used in that School–and I will call the Child able to read, the Soulmade from that school and itshornbook. Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul! A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways! Not merely is the Heart a Hornbook, It is the Minds Bible, it is the Minds experience, it is the teat from which the mind or intelligence sucks its identity–As various as the Lives of Men are–so various become their souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, Identical Souls of the sparks of his own essence–This appears to me faint sketch of a system of Salvation which does not affront our reason and humanity–I am convinced that many difficulties which Christians labour under would vanish before it–there is one wh[i]ch even now Strikes me–the Salvation of Children–In them the Spark or intelligence returns to God without an identity-it having had no time to learn of, and be altered by, the heart–or seat of the human Passions…

[May 3, 1818]

… axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses: We read fine things but never feel them to the full until we have gone the same Steps as the Author –I know this is not plain; you will know exactly my meaning when I say, that now I shall relish Hamlet more than I ever have done-… Until we are sick, we understand not;–in fine, as Byron says, “Knowledge is sorrow,” and I go on to say that “Sorrow is Wisdom”–and further for aught we can know for certainty! “Wisdom is folly”… I compare human life to a large mansion of Many Apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me–The first we step into we call the infant or thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think–We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it; but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the awakening of the thinking principle –within us–we no sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-Thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere,we see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight: However among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one’s vision into the-head heart and nature of Man–of convincing ones nerves that the World is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression–whereby This Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darken’d and at the same time on all sides of it many doors are set open–but all dark–all leading to dark passages–We see not the balance of good and evil. We are in a Mist–We are now in that state–We feel the “burden of the Mystery,” To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive when he wrote “Tintern Abbey” and it seems to me that his Genius is explorative of those dark Passages. Now if we live, and go on thinking, we too shall explore them. he is a Genius and superior [to] us…

[February 3, 1818]

My dear Reynolds,

It may be said that we ought to read our Contemporaries, that Wordsworth&c should have their due from us. but for the sake of a few fine imaginative or domestic passages, are we to be bullied into a certain Philosophy engendered in the whims of an Egotist– Every man has his speculations, but every man does not brood and peacock over them till he makes a false coinage and deceives himself–Many a man can travel to the very bourne of Heaven,and yet want confidence to put down his half seeing… Poetry should be great & unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself but with its subject.-How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, admire me I am a violet! dote upon me I am a primrose! Modern poets differ from the Elizabethans in this.

[February 27, 1818]

My dear Taylor,

… In Poetry I have a few axioms, and you will see how far I am from their center. I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by Singularity–it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance-l” Its touches of Beauty should never be half way thereby making the reader breathless instead of content: the rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural natural too him–shine over him and set soberly although in magnificence leaving him in the Luxury of twilight–but it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it–and this leads me on to another axiom. That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all…

Plato on poetry:

Republic X (p. 1211/606e), after suggesting poetry leads us to enjoy the sufferings of others, as in Homer’s tragedy, Socrates says to Glaucon:

“…When you happen to meet those who praise Homer and say that he’s the poet who educated Greece, that it’s worth taking up his works in order to learn how to manage and educate people, an that one should arrange one’s whole life in accordance with his teachings, you should welcome these people and treat them as friends, since they’re as good as they’re capable of being, and you should agree that Homer is the most poetic of the tragedians and the first among them. But you should also know that hymns to the gods and eulogies to good people are the only poetry we can admit into our city. If you admit the pleasure-giving Muse, whether in lyric or epic poetry, pleasure and pain will be kings in your city instead of law or the thing that everyone has always believed to be best, namely, reason… in view of the nature of poetry, we had reason to banish it from the city earlier, for our argument compelled us to do so. But in case we are charged with a certain harshness and lack of sophistication, let’s also tell poetry that there is an ancient quarrel between it and philosophy, which is evidenced by such expressions as ‘the dog yelping and shrieking at its master,’ ‘great in the empty eloquence of fools,’ ‘the mob of wise men that has mastered Zeus,’ and the ‘subtle thinkers, beggars all.’ Nonetheless, if the poetry that aims at pleasure and imitation has any argument to bring forward that proves it ought to have a place in a well-governed city, we at least would be glad to admit it, for we are well aware of the charm it exercises. But, be that as it may, to betray what one believes to be the truth is impious… we’ll allow its defenders, who aren’t poets themselves but lovers of poetry, to speak in prose on its behalf and to show that it not only gives pleasure but is beneficial both to constitutions and to human life. Indeed, we’ll listen to them graciously, for we’d certainly profit if poetry were shown to be not only pleasant but also beneficial… if such a defence isn’t made, we’ll behave like people who have fallen in love with someone but who force themselves to stay away from him, because they realize that their passion isn’t beneficial. In the same way, because the love of this sort of poetry has been implanted in us by the upbringing we have received under our fine constitutions, we are well disposed to any proof that it is the best and truest thing. But if it isn’t able to produce such a defense, then, whenever we listen to it, we’ll repeat the argument we have just now put forward like an incantation so as to preserve ourselves from slipping back into that childish passion for poetry which the majority of people have. And we’ll go on chanting that such poetry is not to be taken seriously or treated as a serious undertaking with some kind of hold on the truth, but that anyone who is anxious about the constitution within him must be careful when he hears it and must continue to believe what we have said about it.”

(Republic ~395):

“Unlike simple narrative, mimesis poses a particular psychic danger, because as the speaker of the narrative one may take on the character of literary persona in question. It is as though the fictionality of the persona is forgotten; in acting out a part one acts the part, and then one begins to act (in “real life”) as the character would act. One does not actually take oneself to bethe fictional character; rather, the “model” or pattern of response or sentiment or thought one has acted out when “imitating” the character becomes enacted. There is no air-tight barrier between throwing yourself (especially habitually) into a certain part, body and soul, and being molded by the part; no firm boundary, in that sense, between what happens on and off the stage. By contrast, Socrates argues, a simple narration preserves distance between narrator and narrated…..He is asserting, though without filling out the psychological mechanisms in the detail for which one would wish, that from childhood up, mimesis shapes our images and our fantasies, our unconscious or semi-conscious pictures and feelings, and thereby shapes our characters, especially that part of our nature prone to what he thinks of as irrational or non-rational.” –Stanford Encyclopedia

“on the one hand, poetry promotes intrapsychic conflict; on the other, it keeps us unconscious of that conflict, for the irrational part of our psyche cannot hear reason’s corrections. That is why poetry, with its throbbing rhythms and beating of breasts, appeals equally to the nondescript mob in the theater and to the best among us. But if poetry goes straight to the lower part of the psyche, that is where it must come from.” -J. Lear, “Inside and outside the Republic,” in his Open Minded (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 240

 

Walt Whitman from Song of Myself:

Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-washed babe, and am not contained between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and everyone good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of the earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)
Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,
For me those that have been boys and that love women,
For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted,
For me the sweetheart and the old maid, for me mothers and the mothers of mothers,
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
For me children and the begetters of children.
Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,
I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,
And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be shaken away.

 

Rilke Sonnets to Orpheus “Endless Trace” (trans. Chris Bamford):

But you O divine one, resounder to the end, when the swarm of unrequited maenads fell upon you, o beautiful one, your over sung their cries with order, your edifying song rose from the destroyers’. No one was present who could crush your head and lyre, no matter how they struggled and wrested. And all the sharp stones they threw at your heart, on touching you, became tender and gifted with hearing. Finally they tore you, impelled by vengeance, while your sound still lingered in rock and lions, in trees and birds, you still sing there now. O you lost god, you endless trace.  Only because in the end hate divided you are we now nature’s mouth and listeners.

The New Reformation: Whitehead on Christian Metaphysics

“…if you want to make a new start in religion, you must be content to wait a thousand years.” -Alfred North Whitehead

I’ve been thinking through my recent posts on the philosophical import of religious experience, and in light of some of the concerns brought up by Jason Hills, I wanted to further unpack the nature of the spiritual integration I’m trying to pull off. I think Jason’s worries concerning syncretism and equivocation are well-founded, and I appreciate being given the opportunity to articulate further how an evolutionary panentheism might allow “post-secular” philosophy to converse meaningfully with more traditional forms of religious sense-making. Following thinkers like Jean Gebser and Rudolf Steiner, my approach is not, at least in theory, an attempt to meld the content of different religious visions into some amorphous conception of “God,” but rather to give an account of the history of religious experience in terms of an evolution of consciousness. I’ve written a bit about what such a scheme entails (HERE and HERE), but I’ll admit much work remains ahead of me if I hope to adequately disentangle an integral account of the evolution of consciousness from a syncretic melding of religions.

In this post, I will consult chapter 10 of Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas, “The New Reformation,” wherein he focuses on the evolving relationship between metaphysics and religion in Western history. He concentrates upon “three culminating phases”: 1) an intellectual discovery by Plato, 2) the exemplification of this discovery in the life of Christ, and 3) the metaphysical interpretation of these events generated in the formative period of Christian theology.

Before discussing the nature of these phases, Whitehead comments on the “steady decay” of Protestant Christianity in the modern age: “its dogmas no longer dominate, its divisions no longer interest, its institutions no longer direct the patterns of life” (p. 160). I think it is important to point out in this context that the forces of secularization that were pushing Christianity out of public life while Whitehead was writing [~1930] simultaneously functioned to further interiorize religious belief. What had been public became increasingly individual, especially in 1960s America, as exported Asian traditions began to influence a spiritually-orphaned youth, leading to wholly novel forms of mostly unaffiliated religious practice. So rather than considering religiosity and secularity to be opposed forms of socialization, I think it makes more sense to recognize the interactive role of each in our still developing “post-secular/post-religious” situation.

While Whitehead recognized the decline of traditional religions in Europe and America during the first half of the 20th century, he also pointed to the non-violent uprisings in India orchestrated by Gandhi as evidence that the religious spirit “still holds its old power, even more than its old power, over the minds and the consciences of men” (p. 161). Had he lived to see the civil rights movements of the 60s inspired by MLK, I think Whitehead would have felt a further assurance of this spirit’s continued effectiveness in America, as well.

Whitehead, here as elsewhere, asks us to be attentive to a contrast: religion is decaying even as it survives in new and more powerful forms. Instead of erecting a false dichotomy, where religion is pegged as a superstitious and regressive force preventing the spread of rationality and science, Whitehead asks us to look again at the history of our civilization.

“Must ‘religion,'” he asks,

“always be a synonym for ‘hatred’? The great social ideal for religion is that it should be the common basis for the unity of civilization… The religious spirit is always in process of being explained away, distorted, buried. Yet, since the travel of mankind towards civilization, it is always there” (p. 172).

Whitehead’s thesis is that a “New Reformation” is underway across every continent, but that its success depends upon the integration of conflicting beliefs into some general spiritual scheme. I quote him at length:

“I do not hold it to be possible, or even desirable, that identity of detailed belief can be attained. But it is possible that amid diversities of belief, arising from differences of stress exhibited in metaphysical insight and from differences of sympathetic intuition respecting historical events,–that it is possible, amid these differences, to reach a general agreement as to those elements, in intimate human experience and general history, which we select to exemplify that ultimate theme of the divine immanence, as a completion required by our cosmological outlook. In other words, we may agree as to the qualitative aspects of religious facts, and as to their general way of coordination in metaphysical theory, while disagreeing in various explanatory formulations” (p. 161).

Absent such a coordination of humanity’s varied spiritual expressions, I am not at all optimistic regarding the future of our civilization. Capitalism and war have already bound the planet together into an ever-tightening knot, yet we still lack the “Earth ethos” that will surely be necessary to sustain a planetary civilization into the 21st century and beyond. Given this increasingly precarious situation, my position is rather straightforward: only a widespread renewal of humanity’s religious spirit, reformed in light of contemporary ecological and cultural conditions, can save us now.

In this context, philosophy’s most urgent role is to midwife the birth of this new planetary spirit. But short of a fragile and superficial syncretic patchwork of different traditions, how is the varied religious experience of humanity to be given metaphysical expression? Whitehead’s approach may be criticized by atheists as inheriting too much from his Christian background, except for the fact that his cosmology, upon his own admission, “seems to approximate more to some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought, than to Western Asiatic, or European, thought” (Process and Reality, p. 11). From my perspective, Whitehead’s thoroughly historical approach rightly emphasizes the progression, or evolution, of religious consciousness, which, through “the effort of Reason,” has been trained so as to “safeguard against the wild emotions of superstition” (p. 162).

Levi Bryant has argued (also HERE and HERE) that, while individual religious experiences obviously do occur, the content of many of these experiences (e.g., God) is probably illusory in light of the explanatory reductions made possible by the social and natural sciences. In appealing to the history of religious experience, Whitehead does not mean to suggest that we should avoid discrimination of the evidence. He employs two grounds of criticism, aesthetic and logical, which are to be “welded together in the final judgment of reason as to the comparison of historical periods, one with the other” (p. 164). He dismisses the idea that the requisite evidence for the content of religious experience can be derived from “direct introspection conducted in one epoch by a few clear-sighted individuals” (ibid.). Rather, when Whitehead considers the history of religion from a philosophical perspective, he does so as an “appeal to summits of attainment beyond any immediate clarity in our own individual existence” (p. 162). In other words, he sees in the historical development of our civilization an accumulation of spiritual wisdom, based not in the fleeting dreams of isolated individuals, but in the enduring “actions, thoughts, emotions, and institutions, which great persons and great occasions [have] made effective” (p. 165).

“Each age deposits its message as to the secret character of the nature of things. Civilizations can only be understood by those who are civilized. And they have this property, that the appropriation of them in the understanding unveils truths concerning our own natures. It has been said that the great dramatic tragedies in their representations before audiences act as a purification of the passions. In the same way, the great periods of history act as an enlightenment. They reveal ourselves to ourselves” (p. 164).

Returning now to the “threefold revelation” singled out by Whitehead at the outset of this essay, I’d like to spend a moment examining the unique role I believe is still to be played by Christianity–that strange and unsteady amalgam of Hebrew prophecy and Greek philosophy–in our planetizing civilization. Whitehead, like Steiner, Gebser, Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung, and Owen Barfield (all 20th century thinkers who have significantly influenced my own thinking), believes, both for reasons of historical honesty and popular effectiveness, that “the leaders of religious thought should today concentrate upon the Christian tradition.” Each of the above mentioned men had no shortage of respect for the profound wisdom generated by other traditions, but nonetheless, saw in the archetypal motifs of Christianity an embodiment of “the greatest advances in the expression of moral and intellectual intuitions [marking] the growth of recent civilization” (p. 166).

The incarnation of Christ is, according to Christianity, the supreme moment in religious history. The Christ event revealed the true nature of God and of God’s agency in the world. Though the historical record is fragmentary and inconsistent, Whitehead argues that “there can be no doubt as to what elements in the record have evoked a response from all that is best in human nature”:

“The Mother, the Child, and the bare manger: the lowly man, homeless and self-forgetful, with his message of peace, love, and sympathy: the suffering, the agony, the tender words as life ebbed, the final despair: and the whole with the authority of supreme victory” (p. 167).

But, while Whitehead admits that the singular beauty and moral example of Christ’s life “forms the driving power of the religion,” he also points to the importance of an intellectual discovery made several centuries prior:

“Can there be any doubt that the power of Christianity lies in its revelation in act, of that which Plato divined in theory?” (p. 167).

Whitehead credits Plato with “one of the greatest intellectual discoveries in the history of religion,” that being the enunciation (in the Sophist and the Timaeus) of the doctrine of Grace: that divine persuasion, rather than coercion, is the foundation of the order of the world. Unfortunately, Plato, more a visionary than a systematic philosopher, failed to coordinate this doctrine with the rest of his cosmology. Aside from a few glimpses of a more participatory possibility, when Plato is asked to schematize the relationship between God and God’s Ideas to the world, he depicts the latter as a derivative and second-rate imitation of the former. Ideas were brought into relation with the physical world only through the supernatural power of divine will. This is unacceptable from a metaphysical perspective, wherein the relationship between God and the world must be grounded in the necessity of their natures, rather than the accidents of will.

Whitehead suggests that the formative phase of Christian theology was principally concerned with the struggle to overcome Platonism. He credits early theologians for partially overcoming the Platonic dualism by “deciding for some sort of direct immanence of God in the World,” however differently it was worked out in detail (p. 169). They failed to fully generalize the metaphysical implications of the doctrine of divine immanence, however, since “the nature of God was exempted from all the categories which applied to individual things in the temporal world” (ibid.). The final verdict of Christian theology was that God is necessary for the world’s existence, but the world itself was deemed entirely contingent, a free creation of divine will. It remains the task of philosophy to correct the arbitrary gap hewn by traditional theology between God and the world. As it stands at present, God’s nature remains largely obscure, since, “it is only by drawing the long bow of mysticism that evidences for his existence can be collected from our temporal world” (ibid.).

“The task of [a properly philosophical] Theology,” writes Whitehead,

“is to show how the world is founded on something beyond mere transient fact, and how it issues in something beyond the perishing of occasions. The temporal world is the stage of finite accomplishment. We ask of Theology to express that element in perishing lives which is undying by reason of its expression of perfections proper to our finite natures. In this way we shall understand how life includes a mode of satisfaction deeper than joy or sorrow” (p. 172).

——————————————————

For a better sense of how I think Christianity is relevant to Speculative Realism generally, see my essay “Towards a Christolgical Realism: Thinking the Correlation with Teilhard and Barfield.”

God and Religious Experience in Whitehead: another response to Levi Bryant

Levi Bryant has problematized my attempt to clarify Whitehead’s position on the function of divinity in the universe. He writes:

“You make the claim that without God there would be chaos and no order. This is a problematic claim for two reasons. First, you have repeatedly tried to claim that God isn’t supposed to explain anything, yet here you are evoking God to explain order. Second, it is unclear why, 1) God is required to explain order (the fact that order exists doesn’t entail that it must have been designed), and 2) it is not clear what God would explain about this order in such an account…”

I will admit that I am still thinking through these issues myself. Whitehead’s writing in this area is illuminating, but much remains obscure. I am struggling to “think with” Whitehead, not so much because his “arguments” are convincing, but because I come to his work already sharing many of the problems he found interesting. One of these is the problem of God, but I did not come to philosophize about God in order to rationalize my faith. God was not at first a religious belief for me. Though I went to temple and church as a child (mixed religious family), I began referring to myself as an atheist at 12 years old after learning a bit about cosmology from Steven Hawking and biology from Richard Dawkins. I remained highly skeptical of religious claims as my understanding of science and cultural relativity grew throughout my teens. Then, as a 17 year old, I learned a bit about the psychology of religion from Carl Jung. I came to to realize that our scientific narratives about the origins of the universe and life on earth are still mythically structured and shaped by cultural attitudes. Jung lead me into a deeper study of anthropology and the evolution of consciousness, allowing me to bracket the “reality” of God in order to consider God’s effect as a symbol, or archetypal complex, on the history of the human psyche. Soon after, I discovered the work of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser (a friend and associate of Jung’s), who completely transformed the way I conceive of the relationship between rational and religious consciousness. Eventually, like Whitehead, I came back to religion and theology (I feel most at home in the dialogue and practice emerging from the encounter between Buddhism and Christianity) as a result of philosophical reflection upon life. As a teenager, I thought God seemed like a belief added to experience by religious doctrine. After reading Jung and Gebser, I came to see the experience of God as constitutive of the order and harmony of our human consciousness of the world. After reading Whitehead, I saw that, for the sake of metaphysical coherence, God must also be constitutive of the order of the world itself.

One of Whitehead’s colleagues at Harvard, Ernest Hocking, reports that (Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on his Philosophy, 1963, p. 16), in regards to the concept of God, Whitehead once told him:

“I should never have included it, if it had not been strictly required for descriptive completeness. You must set all your essentials into the foundation. It is no use putting up a set of terms, and then remarking, ‘Oh, by the way, I believe there’s a God.”

Is God an explanation for order in Whitehead’s system? Not exactly. God is not best described as the cause of harmony, nor the designer of the world, since Whitehead’s God is involved in the world, as much the effect of its harmony as its cause. It would still be true to say that, without God, chaos would reign; but this doesn’t necessarily mean God is the explanation for order. Rather, God is the very presence of order in the world, not an absent designer who orchestrates the world’s order from a position beyond it. God is embedded in the world as a kind of aesthetic gravity holding otherwise conflicting possibilities together so as to transform them into novel contrasts in the experiences of actual occasions. Actual occasions are the only reasons for Whitehead, which is to say that God is not an explanation for the order brought forth by their individual decisions. God is also an actual occasion, a creature of Creativity, but God’s creatureliness is everlasting. As a result, God’s primordial nature conditions all temporal experiences as an ingredient in the concrescence of those experiences. God is what mediates between the infinite possibilities of Creativity and the finite actualities of the Universe. God is the World-Soul allowing ideas passage into reality. In this sense, Whitehead’s reformed Platonism is similar to Schelling’s, who built on the description of the World-Soul and its role in the realization of Ideas given by Plato in the Timeaus (I unpack these ideas in this essay on Schelling).

It may still remain unclear to Bryant exactly why God became necessary in the course of Whitehead’s, and my own, reflection upon reality. As I said at the outset, I struggle to think with Whitehead because I share his sense of what matters, of what the problems of philosophy ought to be given the facts of experience. Given these facts, as I experience them, the most urgent philosophical task is to bring together the insights of scientific experiment and religious experience into one rational scheme of thought.

Bryant writes:

“Throughout this discussion you have repeatedly appealed to 30,000 years of human religious experience that philosophy has a duty to account for. You seem to take this experience as evidence that there must be some ontological truth to the claims of religion (i.e., that God exists). Over at Knowledge Ecology’s blog I pointed out that there are at least 30,000 years of racism and sexism and that the form of your argument about God seems to commit you and Whitehead to the position that the ontological claims of racism and sexism must contain some truth.”

Adam has offered a response that I am largely in agreement with. He distinguishes between facts of experience and truths of experience. Religion, racism, and sexism are each facts of experience, though I am not prepared to claim that the content of these experiential modes necessarily corresponds to reality. I take a broadly Jamesian/Deweyan/Peircian approach to truth, however, in that I am more concerned with the effects of our descriptions of reality than with their accurate correspondence to a supposedly pre-given world. The truth of the claims arising out of religious experience are to be judged, from the pragmaticist perspective, by a “consideration of the experimental differences in the conduct of life which would conceivably result from the affirmation or denial of the [claim] in question,” as Dewey puts it (Century Dictionary, 1909). I think certain religious ideas and meanings stand on far better footing than racism and sexism in this respect, since the later two modes of thought have only been productive of hatred, violence, and injustice. I judge the experiential possibilities of racism and sexism to be undesirable based on “the experimental differences in the conduct of life” that their practice has been productive of in the past. No doubt some religious ideas have also been productive of violence and injustice, but I think it would be disingenuous to claim that religion has offered nothing positive to humanity. My pragmaticism may go beyond traditional definitions at this point, but when dealing with the ontology of the claims arising from experience, I take a radically participatory view. The history of humanity represents the Universe’s struggle to discover its own nature: we are the Universe’s conscious testing ground of truth, beauty, and goodness. These are ideals which are still in the process of working themselves out in our (and the universe’s) history. It is not simply a given that racism is wrong; its wrongness is a fact that must be discovered in our moral feelings and defended by our ethical practices. If Nazi Germany had won WW2, and its Final Solution had succeeded, we might be living in a world where the experiential facts confirmed the truth of racism. Fortunately, because of an outpouring of ethical will, this possibility was kept at bay. It has now become an ethical fact that genocidal racism is wrong, but only because the moral feelings of one sector of global society won out over another. Goodness is always at stake, always being defined and redefined in the adventure of civilization.

I’ve written about what a participatory spirituality looks like for me. I have more work to do to flesh it out, of course…

Finally, Bryant writes:

In your post over at footnotes2plato you make the odd claim that somehow naturalism prevents us from fighting neoliberal capitalism. This ignores the rather obvious fact that 1) Marxist thought is a naturalistic position, 2) those European countries that are most socialized are also overwhelmingly secular, and 3) religion has repeatedly sided with capitalism throughout history and provided support for forces that underly these forms of capitalism.

I would make the claim that atheistic naturalism (wherein the whole point of the scientific endeavor becomes the thorough disenchantment of the universe) makes criticism of neoliberal capitalism more difficult, since I think such critiques must penetrate to the metaphysical underpinnings of capitalism in order to be effective. These underpinnings include what Donna Haraway has referred to as “productionism”:

“Productionism and its corollary, humanism, come down to the story line that ‘man makes everything, including himself, out of the world that can only be resource and potency to his project and active agency’” -“The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others,” in Cultural Studies (1992), p. 297

Marx’s humanistic orientation and productionist metaphysics suggests to me that his naturalistic assumptions leave the deeper metaphysical structure of capitalism (that which makes it so socially and ecologically disruptive) untouched. Also, even if Marx himself was less than enthusiastic about religion, there are plenty of examples of religious communists, for whom it is religious experience that compels them to adopt communist ideals. Marx’s may have been a naturalistic position, but the Marxisms emerging in his wake have not always been.

As for “secularized” Europe, polls suggest that as much as 76% of Sweden, 80% of Denmark, 79% of Norway, 61% of France, 72% of Germany, 71% of the Netherlands, and 78% of the United Kingdom either believe in God or in”some sort of spirit or life force.” Church attendance may be down across much of the Continent, but this seems to be reflective of a move toward less conventional, more individual forms of post-religious spiritual expression.

A religious revival itself will not necessarily put a dent in capitalism. Žižek is fond of pointing out how New Age spirituality only functions to support the commodification of religious practice. And in some sense, even religion as understood esoterically (in both Western and Eastern contexts) may only foster a withdrawal into the apoliticism of mystical contemplation. This is why I think Whitehead’s philosophical project is so important, since it presents us with a way to bring science, religion, and politics into a more mutually enhancing relationship.

SR/OOO and Nihilism: a response to Harman and Bryant

I’ve already posted a short response to Harman, but I wanted to re-visit the issues explored in that post concerning the difference between Homo Sapiens, as an object among objects, and the Anthropos, as an ideal toward which every object tends. I will also try to disentangle my own “cosmotheandric” position from the generic anti-nihilism Levi Bryant has rightfully critiqued.

I should preface this by saying that Speculative Realism/Object-Oriented Ontology excites me a great deal. I think it puts philosophical heat on many of the right places in contemporary phenomenology and naturalism, where the residue of dualism and anthropocentrism is still too thick for my post-secular taste. When I suggested in an earlier post that SR/OOO needs to unpack its theological and anthropological implications, I did so with the hopeful expectation that, were an object-oriented theology, psychology, or anthropology developed, it might provide a viable alternative to the philosophical exaggerations of Creationism and Nihilism alike.

When I refer to nihilism in the context of SR/OOO, I am thinking in particular of Ray Brassier‘s eliminative materialism. As far as Brassier is concerned, the “manifest image” of the human as an ensouled organism participating in an intrinsically meaningful world should be replaced by the “scientific image” of the human as a biological machine competing for survival in an uncaring material universe. Brassier’s nihilism has several main characteristics: 1) it denies the cognitive role of myth, imagination, and intuition in human consciousness, since 2) it asserts that truth is available to scientific rationality alone, and 3) it asserts the contingency of thought for matter, and matter’s priority to thought.

I’ve written on the relation between Mythos and Logos, or story and science, before. I agree with Donna Haraway, when she writes in Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Science. (1997), that “There is no way to rationality—to actually existing worlds—outside stories, not for our species, anyway” (p. 44). Myth provides the cognitive and imaginal condition necessary for the emergence of logic and empiricism. You cannot think about ideas until after you’ve contemplated the gods; this is true in terms of both the collective history of our species and the development of an individual. Haraway makes the case that, without the Christian mythos as its cultural background, the Scientific Revolution never would have happened. The cultural philosopher Jean Gebser makes a similar case in his magnum opus The Ever-Present Origin. Gebser offers an archeology of human consciousness, depicting the emergence of de-mythologized rationality (beginning with Plato, and ending, perhaps, with Hegel) as a necessary, but not sufficient phase in the evolution of consciousness. Somehow, consciousness must find a way to integrate each phase of its own evolution (Gebser distinguishes 4: archaic, magic, mythic, and mental), or face annihilation.

Bryant says he is unable to understand why one might assume SR/OOO has anything to do with nihilism, since an flat ontology doesn’t mean humans can’t still relate ethically and meaningfully with one another.

Despite the fact that humans are on equal ontological footing with other beings, this in no way leads to the disappearance of values and goals for human beings. We still value things. We still set goals for ourselves. We still evaluate things about ourselves, the world around us, society, and other people in terms of these goals, and so on. Why would all of this suddenly disappear?

I don’t think nihilism necessarily follows from a flat ontology, but it all depends on how we do the flattening. Alan Watts wasn’t exactly a systematic philosopher (he usually preferred to refer to himself as a spiritual entertainer), but he did articulate his own flavor of a flat ontology, wherein every object is essentially God in disguise:

God is not the maker and architect of the universe but the actor of it, and is playing all the parts at once, and this connects up with the idea of each one of us as persons, because a person is a mask, from the Latin persona, the mask worn by the actors in Greco-Roman drama… And, so, imagine a situation in which you have the best of all possible actors, namely God, and the best of all possible audiences ready to be taken in and convinced that it’s real, namely God, and that you are all many, many masks which the basic consciousness, the basic mind of the universe, is assuming. To use a verse from G. K. Chesterton:

But now a great thing in the street
Seems any human nod
Where shift in strange democracy
The million masks of God.

 It is like the mask of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, a multiple mask which illustrates the fact that the one who looks out of my eyes and out of everyone’s eyes is the same center.
I think Watts’ sense that everything is God pretending not to be God is similar to what I want to say about the Anthropos, which is not to be simply identified with Homo sapiens, but is rather a cosmic principle at work to shape the becoming of every actual entity. I take the speculative risk of suggesting that the evolution of the Cosmos is influenced by divine lures, the Anthropos being among the most pre-eminent of all such lures, or archetypes, with a taste for actualization. I’ve been influenced  here both by Carl Jung’s modern interpretation of Alchemy and Hermeticism, and Whitehead’s process theology.

“God’s role,” writes Whitehead,

“is not the combat of productive force with productive force, of destructive force with destructive force; it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. He does not create the world, he saves it: or, more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness” (Process and Reality, p. 346).

I think Whitehead was struggling to secularize theology, such that science and religion–the study of nature and the worship of divinity–could mutually enhance one another, rather than being placed in irremediable conflict on either side of a universe bifurcated between Nature and Spirit. Bryant questions whether any good evidence exists for believing in God, but it seems that he is imagining a God who issues decrees and determines the future course of the universe in advance. Whitehead’s God has no such power, but rather is alike in kind to all other actual entities. God is with the world, not above it. God does not guarantee anything but the possibility of relevant and meaningful experience to every actual occasion. It is up to each actual occasion to decide upon its future based on its own subjective ends. There is little scientific evidence for the existence of a transcendent, law imposing God like the one Bryant is critiquing (I say “little” evidence only because of the way some physicists remain rutted in a non-historical paradigm that conceives of physical laws as arbitrarily imposed upon nature from beyond nature); but from Whitehead’s panentheistic perspective, the evidence for God is aesthetic and moral, not just scientific. That there is a Cosmos at all, rather than chaos, is evidence of Beauty’s participation in bringing the cosmic democracy of objects into (a still evolutionary and open-ended!) harmonization. That human beings are capable of struggling for Justice (even if it remains largely an ideal imperfectly realized) is evidence that God’s infinite love for each and every entity is ingredient in our more limited experience of entities. And finally, that human beings are capable of doing metaphysics and philosophy so as to reveal the inner workings of reality is evidence that a deeper Intelligence is involved in bringing forth both the knower and the known.

Last month, Bryant articulated what he calls a “wilderness ontology.” I’m very sympathetic to the idea that humans not be given special status, and would like to extend it into new terrain. I can’t fully unpack its implications at the moment, but what of the possibility of a “wilderness theology,” wherein God is considered as a metaphysical scheme’s chief exemplar, rather than its ultimate explanation or unique exception? Whitehead’s God, immanent and responsive to the creative decisions of each and every other actual entity, is a good starting place for the development of such a wilderness theology. Theology doesn’t necessarily require inserting some vertical scale of values into the universe, such that humans rank higher than animals and animals rank higher than plants in some Great Chain of Being. From the perspective of a panentheism (or cosmotheandrism) like Whitehead’s, values are neither horizontally constructed by human society nor vertically imposed by divine will; his theology is an attempt to upset this neat dichotomy between nihilism and deism so that the Being of God’s mind manifests itself here and now in the twists and turns of the forest path of Becoming.

Uncovering the Unconscious: Towards an Integral Psychology

Introduction

The movements of the soul, as Jungians well know, tend to manifest in polarities.  The most fundamental of these polarities is that between birth and death: to be alive and animate is already to be dying. Likewise, daytime consciousness is only possible when one has slept properly the night before. Remaining cogent requires of the ego that it remain in steady rhythm, sinking into the darkness of dreams each evening in order to arise again refreshed in the morning.

There is little scientific consensus concerning the reason, physiological or otherwise, that the human soul must cycle through its solar and lunar phases. Shakespeare, it seems, was right: the soul is ungraspable, being such stuff as dreams are made of. Rational inquiry provides little clear and demonstrable information regarding why sleep and dreams should be necessary. Death, too, presents the rational ego with a complete mystery unbreachable by empirical or logical study. Shining the ego’s light on the strange facts of sleep and death does not reveal them for what they are, but only reflects consciousness back upon itself. The nature of the soul, we are at first forced to concede, is largely unconscious.

“The hypothesis of the unconscious,” writes Jung, “puts a large question mark after the idea of the psyche.”[1] Philosophers had for many centuries assumed that the structure and function of the soul was already known in every detail, but as the 19th century came to a close, the burgeoning discipline of psychology began to reveal a far more complex and even irrational subterranean source of conscious processes. Rather than working with the static and compartmentalized model of the soul constructed by Scholastic thinkers, Jung was forced by his experience as a clinician to develop a dynamic, living relationship with psychic processes. As his practice matured, Jung came to realize that the soul is not a scientific object at all; on the contrary, it is what makes such objectification possible: “every science is a function of the psyche, and all knowledge is rooted in it.”[2]

But how is psychology—the science of the soul—to proceed if its foundational hypothesis admits the existence of an autonomously functioning unconscious? The cultural philosopher Jean Gebser recognized this difficultly, and though he had the highest respect for Jung’s groundbreaking work, he nonetheless called into question the concept of the unconscious:

“There is no so-called unconscious. There are only various modalities (or intensities) of consciousness: a one-dimensional magical, a two-dimensional mythical, a three-dimensional mental consciousness. And there will also be an integral four-dimensional consciousness of the whole.”[3]

Gebser suggests that the concept of the unconscious may still be used to describe the relationship between a structure of consciousness one dimension less than the incremented structure above it, but rejects entirely the dualistic framework, wherein consciousness is opposed to an unconscious. Jung himself rarely if ever collapsed the psychic terrain into so neat a dichotomy, but Gebser’s phenomenology of consciousness[4] in terms of a potentially ever-present, and yet also historically unfolding series of structures assures that such a rationalistic reduction is avoided.

In light of Gebser’s important critique of the notion of an unconscious,[5] Jung’s work will be interpreted in what follows as the tentative beginnings of an integral psychology. Both Gebser and Rudolf Steiner will provide important additions and amendments to Jung’s psychology, so as to avoid the undue reduction of spiritual realities to psychic projections. The purpose of psychology, I will argue, is to enter conscious dialogue with the archetypal energies of the soul, re-connecting with its magic powers of synchronicity and mythic powers of polarity so as to heal the dualistic split our mental-rational civilization has hewn between cosmic and human intelligences. Jung’s practice of “active imagination,” as artfully displayed in The Red Book, will provide a working example of how this dialogue can be initiated and sustained. Though plenty of references will be made, the synthesis—or better, synairesis[6]—of these three men’s ideas will not be an exercise in textual exegesis. Rather, my aim is to creatively weave each figure’s most important insights into an integral whole.

Individuation as Integration

“In the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung,” writes Gebser, “we can discern a manifest attempt to overcome…the psychic dualism that is the terminological heritage of Freud’s materialistic psychoanalysis.”[7] Gebser points specifically to Jung’s theory of individuation as the most promising move in this direction. The archetype of the Self is, for Jung, both the center and the circumference of the psyche. It unifies all opposites, not by submerging them back into undifferentiated unconsciousness, but by luring the psyche toward a more complex form of wholeness, wherein eventually maximum interior differentiation (perfect individuality) is achieved alongside maximum exterior harmony (complete communion).

Whereas for Freud, the desire for psychic wholeness is nothing but a regressive infantile longing for a past existence in our mother’s womb, for Jung it represents our human need to simultaneously discover our cosmic extent and penetrate to our spiritual essence. In this section, I will speculate upon how the complex wholeness of the incarnating Self re-situates the dualistic partiality of egoic consciousness. These speculations concerning the emergence of the Self rest upon the premise that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that the individual in some sense contains and relives the collective history of the species. Jung,[8] Gebser, and Steiner are all in agreement on this point, which is subtle but important. While the evolution of consciousness is collective, real action takes place as a result of individual transformation.

“In our unconscious we have to find the most essential transitional forces for the whole of human kind,” says Steiner, “just as we must find in the individual the most important forces for the development of a fully awake consciousness.[9]

Recognition of the mutual interplay between the individual and the collective should be at the heart of any deep inquiry into the psyche. The psychologist must take great care not to neglect the power of the one in favor of the many, or vice versa, since in the first place any especially insightful individual’s attempt to reveal what for most remains occult depends upon successfully speaking in a tongue that the ears of the spirit of the times are capable of hearing. The confrontation with the unconscious that lead Jung to produce The Red Book forced him into solitude, and though he knew there was no way to rationally justify the gnosis imparted to him by the spirit of the depths,[10] he was compelled nonetheless to communicate its symbolic meanings to others. Individuation, though individual, is never simply an inner process, but is bound up with the transformation of other people and of the world itself: “…the spirit of the depths in me,” writes Jung, is “at the same time the ruler of the depths of world affairs.”[11]

Gebser’s approach to the evolution of consciousness (i.e., the incarnation of the Self) rests upon the phenomenological observation that, in the course of human history, “clearly discernable worlds stand out whose development or unfolding took place in mutations of consciousness.”[12] These world-structures (which Gebser classifies into archaic, magic, mythic, and mental, each with its respective spatiotemporal character) remain present and effectual even for our contemporary, deficient form of mental-rational consciousness. Humanity has not overcome each structure as if climbing a ladder, leaving lower rungs behind; instead, our path has been one of dimensional intensification, whereby each increase in dimensionality depends upon the structural integrity of the prior layers. Gebser’s realization that our species is in the midst of the collapse of an old, and the emergence of a new structure of consciousness, namely the integral-aperspectival, is congruent with Jung’s ego-shattering encounter, as recounted in The Red Book, with the “new God”[13] being conceived and born out of the human soul.

Prior to composing The Red Book, Jung had achieved the heights of professional acclaim. By 1910, at age 35, he had received an honorary degree from Clark University and been elected to the presidency of an international psychoanalytic association.[14] The new scientific understanding of the psyche that Jung was at the forefront of securing gave no outward indication of the as yet unconscious inner turmoil that would soon be unleashed upon the world. In 1913, Jung received his first hint in a waking vision of a “terrible flood” that covered all of Europe with “yellow waves, swimming rubble, and the death of countless thousands.”[15] The visions continued to trouble Jung into 1914, producing a great inner uncertainty. He began to fear he was on the way to “doing a schizophrenia,”[16] and in April resigned from his positions as president of the International Psychoanalytical Association and lecturer at the University of Zürich. More dreams of catastrophe haunted him until finally, on August 1st, 1914, war broke out in Europe, relieving Jung from the worst of his fears:

“Now I was sure that no schizophrenia was threatening me. I understood that my dreams and my visions came to me from the subsoil of the collective unconscious.”[17]

Jung’s personal visionary experiences during this period mirrored the collective European psyche’s descent into the underworld beginning with the First World War. Gebser, writing several decades later, places the early 20th century at the climax of the mutation from the alienated rationalistic ego of the deficient mental structure of consciousness to the holistic and re-enchanted consciousness of the integral structure. This mutational process is still underway today, and though signs of integration can be found, nothing guarantees the success of such an epochal transformation. In The Red Book, Jung artfully exemplifies for collective view the imaginal process of soul-making that can remind the autonomous, perspectival ego of its origin in a shared substratum of myth and magic. Jung’s practice of active imagination can aid the transformation out of mental-rational consciousness, giving rise to the conditions necessary for a second birth, not of the water but of the spirit.[18]

The shortcoming of modern psychoanalytic theory, Jung realized, was certainly not its verification of a psychic totality deeper than egoic consciousness, but its objectifying and epistemologically skeptical method of inquiry into the nature of this totality. Modern psychology had turned the soul into a scientific object. This basic lack of openness to the meaning-producing capacity of the soul inevitably lead to the reductive explanation of its living symbolic processes in terms of impersonal mechanistic forces. “I had to accept that what I had previously called my soul was not at all my soul,” writes Jung, “but a dead system.”[19]

Gebser, too, goes to great lengths in The Ever-Present Origin to point out the disintegrative effects of an exclusively mental-perspectival form of consciousness unable to divorce itself from “an exclusively three-dimensional spatial framework”:

“We of the European-Atlantic cultural community have as of yet been unable to make the leap at the crucial moment from the three-dimensional world of our fathers into the fourth-dimensional reality of our day. And as long as we fail to make this leap, crisis, uncertainty, and anxiety will continue to prevail; and they can destroy us in the short run unless we can realize the new world reality.”[20]

For Gebser, the “illuminative” potential of pure consciousness is “definitely not restricted to spatialization and temporalization.”[21] But trapped in the three-dimensionality of the mental-rational structure, consciousness becomes spatially frozen, unable to conceive of time, the fourth-dimension, in terms other than that of partition and division (i.e., quantity). Time loses the qualitative texture of its flow and its transparency to the wholeness of eternity, becoming the fractured clock-time of mechanistic physics, wherein the simultaneity of spatial extension constitutes all of reality. There is literally no room for the soul and its mythos in the spatial world of the disembedded ego, and so they are forced into preperspectival subconsciousness, there generating through compensation the collective neurosis inflicting techno-industrial society.

“If the world is regarded only through wakefulness,” writes Gebser,

“it loses its undivided dream-like and somnolent aspects and precipitates their separation. The dividing deed leads to…the death of man and his entire culture.”[22]

Jung and Gebser each recognized the direness of our situation: Wakeful egoic consciousness must come to terms with the deeper undivided temporal polarity constituting its psychic totality if our civilization is to survive the mutational process that has already begun on this planet. The soul must awaken not just to the bright light of noonday, and from dreams beneath the dim midnight moon, but to the clarity that transluces all relative spatial-orbital horizons to reveal the fourth-dimensional hypersphere beneath.[23] Here, at the hearth of the world, light returns to shadow, night completes day, and the angel of death rounds each of our lives with a peaceful sleep. The ego must admit its dependence upon sleep, dreams, and death (which is also to say, upon the structural integrity of archaic, magic, and mythic consciousness). It must forego the hubristic desire to murder the “self-existing being” of the soul by reduction to the abstract concepts of learned scholarship.[24]

Aperspectival-integral (i.e., individuated) consciousness will not involve the dissolution of the ego and its directed mode of rational thought, but rather the integration of this mode with the imaginal and unitive modes of the mythic and magic structures. The rational ego has re-made the world in its own image, constructing cities more suited for machines than human beings. The majority of Western humanity now dwells in deadened environments that lack altogether the numinosity that encompassed earlier forms of consciousness. The lack of integration of these earlier structures must not be mistaken for their lack of, albeit deficient, influence over our daily lives. The power of magic and the meaning of myth may lack the transparency provided by a fully individuated and integrated consciousness, but just because our deficient-mental society is ignorant of their effects does not at all make these effects negligible.

On the contrary, as Jung makes clear, “nobody can dismiss these numinous factors on merely rational grounds”:

“They are important constituents of our mental make-up and cannot be eradicated without serious loss…Even tendencies that might be able to exert a beneficial influence turn into veritable demons when they are repressed…No wonder the Western world feels uneasy, for it does not know how much it plays into the hands of the uproarious underworld and what it has lost through the destruction of its numinosities.”[25]

The meaning-making function of the non-perspectival structures has been subverted by the anti-myths and black magic inherent to the techno-scientific worldview. Not psychic wholeness and civilizational resilience, but material power and social control now constitute our general modus operandi. The values and purposes of the larger Earth community have been negated by a Cartesian mechanistic science whose methods are predicated upon the evacuation of soul from nature. Descartes’ cogito, the founding mythos of our disenchanted way of life, functions as an anti-myth, since in its enactment it ostensibly denies its own mythic origins by claiming to be a purely rational derivation. Economic progress has become the sole raison d’être of Western civilization, a progress measured only in terms of the accumulation of fiat currency. The unchallenged power of paper money, which now mediates almost every interpersonal encounter of our lives, is the result of a fetishization, the undue attribution of magical power (i.e., numinosity) to something inanimate. Originally invented to be a means to an end, money has today become the end itself.

In his diagnosis of the ills of modern society, Gebser attempts to steer clear of

“the abyss into which many are plunging and will continue to plunge as long as they regard the task only from its negative aspect as renunciation, and not from its other aspect as work yet to be done.”[26]

The task, that of bringing to awareness an integral, individuated mode of consciousness, is not at all that of shedding more primitive ways of being and knowing. The Enlightenment project aimed at the total rationalization of life employed itself with precisely this task. The near divinization of the ego and its superficial desire for complete control has not eliminated the non-rational, but merely pushed the instincts of the magic and the archetypes of the mythic structures into subconsciousness, where they still fester in their deficient mode and find compensation through all the great social ills of our time.

“We must bring our original mind back to consciousness,” writes Jung,

“where it has never been before, and where it has never undergone critical self-reflection. We have been that mind, but we have never known it. We got rid of it before understanding it.”[27]

Re-acquainting ourselves with the ever-present origin of consciousness is no simple task, since individuation cannot be accomplished by mental reflection alone. In the next section, Jung’s method of active imagination will be explored and developed along side Steiner’s spiritual science in the hopes that a possible way toward the integration of body, soul, and spirit is uncovered.

Activating the Imagination

For Jung, the initial irruption of psychic disturbances that he later came to describe as the result of a process of “active imagination” were more traumatic than constructive. In the year prior to the outbreak of war, Jung had been experiencing great doubt in his own professional motivations. In his autobiography, he recounts the anxiety he experienced at this time (December 1913) in response to “the fantasies which were stirring in [him] ‘underground.’”[28] Eventually, on December 12th, he built up the courage to “let [himself] drop”:

“Suddenly it was as though the ground literally gave way beneath my feet and I plunged down into dark depths. I could not fend off a feeling of panic. But then, abruptly, at not too great a depth I landed on my feet.”[29]

In the depths of his solitude, Jung met himself. “We are alone and our being together threatens to become unbearably boring.”[30] He decided to educate himself, to teach himself a greater form of self-esteem, “or else our life together will become wretched.”[31] Jung then enters into a dialogue and dispute with his own mirror image, which in typical enantiodramic fashion, is simultaneously his Self/spirit and his shadow. “This confrontation,” he would later write, “is the first test of courage on the inner way, sufficient to frighten off most people.”[32]

The point of imaginatively activating the unconscious in such a way is not merely to wonder at the play of images. Some contemporary Jungians even warn that carelessness in the practice of this method may lead to psychopathology.[33] Rather, active imagination should serve as the preparatory work necessary for achieving genuine spiritual inspiration along the way to individuation.

According to Steiner, human beings long ago lost immediate contact with the spiritual world due to the emergence of the ego, which has redirected all our attention to the physical body and the external sensory world. Our task today, says Steiner, is to consciously develop the imagination so as to transform it from a generator of fantasies into an organ of perception. “When our soul really attains to imagination,” says Steiner,

“it senses in its life of visualizations something akin to what it feels in its life of perceptions. In the latter the soul feels its direct contact with the outer world, with corporeality; in imagination it feels an indirect contact with a world that at first also appears to it as an outer world, but this is the outer world of the spirit.”[34]

Steiner’s mention of the “outerness” of the spiritual world disclosed by imagination is meant to emphasize the independent (though not separate) existence of this realm. Jung also suggests that the numinous images, or archetypes, encountered in such altered states of consciousness are autonomous living entities, not to be confused with mere projections or personal memories.[35] They should be engaged on their own terms as beings no less real than our own ego.

For Jung, individuation is all that can prevent human civilization from spiraling into the disorder and chaos of mass-mindedness. “The change must begin with one individual,” he writes,

“Nobody can afford to look around and wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. As nobody knows what he could do, he might be bold enough to ask himself whether by any chance his unconscious might know something helpful, when there is no satisfactory conscious answer anywhere in sight.”[36]

The method of active imagination is Jung’s way of gaining access to the intelligence and transformative power of the subterranean structures of the psyche. Like Steiner, he realized that modern human beings had become so captivated by the ego’s ability to predict and control nature that we have “simply forgotten the age-old fact that God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions.”[37] It is not in the outer sensory world, but within our own hearts and minds that the deeper meaning and spiritual truth that we long for is to be discovered.

Steiner, however, levels an important criticism upon those approaches to psychology that would limit the transformative reach of the archetypal beings encountered within the imaginatively activated soul. Jung is careful to guard against the intellect’s tendency to dismiss or rationalize the intense emotions that numinous encounters produce, but as Steiner points out,

“If the soul never emerged out of itself, but merely kept wanting to experience desires and emotions—anything from the deepest reverence to disgust—nothing would happen that is independent of the soul.”[38]

For Steiner, the whole point of developing one’s capacity for imaginative perception is to rise above the limited subjectivity of the egocentric soul. Active imagination develops self-understanding, but the aim is not just to know oneself truly; it is also to will what is good. All stirrings of conscience, according to Steiner, emerge in the liminal space between the subjective emotionality of the soul and the transpersonal intuition of the spirit.

Though Jung limits himself to phenomenological descriptions of the psyche’s manifestations in his more scientific writings, in The Red Book—perhaps because of the collective importance of its message—he goes beyond the appearances in an attempt to grasp the occult reality that they symbolize.

In “Scrutinies,” as was mentioned above, Jung recounts his inner experience of hearing the call of conscience. The dialogue can be read in several ways, as a conversation between the Self and the ego, between the spirit and the soul, or between the Self and the shadow. What is clear is that Jung encounters a higher self who is disgusted by the “sensitivity and desirousness” of his ego: “What is concealed in you,” says this higher self, “I will drag out into the light…I will crush your superiority under my feet.”

The Self continues:

“I will burn out of you the contents of which you were so proud, so that you will become empty like a poured-out vessel… You should be a vessel of life, so kill your idols.”[39]

The false idols the Self demands be killed are Jung’s sense of pride, self-righteousness, and ambition. The Self chastises Jung’s ego for putting his personal concerns above the whole of humanity. “You are responsible to humanity in everything that you think, feel, and do.”[40] This experience represents the rising of the collective unconscious to awareness, and the harsh treatment Jung’s ego receives is reflective of just how far modern civilization has strayed from its instinctual roots. A universal spiritual will emerges within him, reminding Jung of the impotence of his finite personality. Steiner suggests that learning to identify with this will, rather than remaining in an egoic relation to it through the emotions of reverence or disgust, allows the human soul to build a bridge into the spiritual world, such that true inspiration from spiritual beings becomes possible.

“As a rule,” says Steiner, “spiritual events are much closer to emotions than to conceptions.”[41] The thinking function is unable to reconcile itself with the powerful emotionality of the unconscious; the individual human being must include other modalities of consciousness to make sense of the feeling-toned images that erupt from its depths. Active imagination makes it possible for the alienated ego to develop an awareness of and renewed participation in the mythic archetypes binding it together with the collective psyche of humanity. Jung’s method directs attention to the symbolic visualization of numinous emotions, which may indeed be heralding the presence of higher worlds. Individuation is a process of imaginative generation, wherein a separate soul becomes pregnant with the universal Self.

“If forethinking and pleasure unite in me, a third arises from them, the divine son, who is the supreme meaning, the symbol, the passing over into a new creation.”[42]

Jung offers the modern individual a new path of initiation with no outward cult or ritual. It is a path of solitude and inner development. Successful initiates pass through the threshold of the ordinary world and “[arrive] among the beings who bring about spiritual events.”[43]

Conclusion: Concrescence of the Spiritual

“Previously the spiritual was realizable only approximately,” writes Gebser,

“in the emotional darkness of the magical, in the twilight of imagination in the mythical, and in the brightness of abstraction in the mental…The mode of realization now manifesting itself… ensures that… it is also perceptible concretely as it begins to coalesce with our consciousness.”[44]

Gebser’s entire project was to reveal the integral transparency of the structures of consciousness, such that each played its proper role in the perception of the whole. In his eyes, the rise of the unconscious and its contents at the turn of the 20th century corresponded to “nothing other than the psychic form of time’s irruption into our consciousness.”[45] Jung, too, was drawn to understand the role of time in psychic development. He spent his last decades working out the nature of the synchronicity between psyche and cosmos. An essay of greater length would have allowed for a deeper look at the way in which the timeless and spaceless unity of the magical structure accounts for the qualitative texture of time as experienced mythically. From the point of view of the nascent integral structure of consciousness, space-time is psychically relative, as much of Jung’s research documented.[46] This psychic relativity of space-time does not mean that integral consciousness is without space and time; rather, it is space- and time-free, no longer limited by the partial perspectives of simple location. Integral consciousness is synairetic, able to bind the parts into a whole without enclosing them in a system.

As Jung, Gebser, and Steiner have helped to make clear, the evolution of consciousness has both individual and collective elements. It draws upon the earthly power of instinct and the celestial influence of spiritual beings. The degree to which we remain unconscious of these powers and influences is that to which we fail to participate in the “merging or coalescence, the concrescence of origin and the present.”[47] The human being is potentially the consciousness of the Earth, which “on its great journey across the millennia…hastens through the changing landscapes of ‘heaven,’ transforming its own countenance and [humanity’s].”[48] It is my hope that this essay will in some small way aid our continued realization of this potency.

Bibliography

(1) Gebser, Jean

The Ever-Present Origin  (transl. 1985)

(2) Jung, Carl

Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1989)

On the Nature of the Psyche (1969)

The Red Book (2009)

The Undiscovered Self (1990)

(3) Main, Roderick

Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal (1998)

(4) Wehr, Gerhard

Jung and Steiner: The Birth of a New Psychology (2002)


[1] OTNOTP, p. 77

[2] ibid.

[3] EPO, p. 204

[4] For Gebser, “consciousness is not identical to the process of thinking, nor is it limited to awareness of the ego… [It is] the ability to survey those interconnections which constitute us: it is a continuous act of integration and directing” (EPO, p. 204).

[5] “Our questioning of the validity of the concept of the unconscious in no way invalidates it; rather our questioning must be understood as a concretion and differentiation of a general phenomenon that only gradually reveals all of its aspects” [emphasis mine] (EPO, p. 397).

[6] Synairesis literally means “to synthesize, or collect,” but “whereas synthesis is a logical-causal conclusion, a mental (trinitary) unification of thesis and antithesis (which falls apart because it becomes itself a thesis as a result of dividing, perspectival perception), synairesis is an integral act of completion encompassing all sides and perceiving aperspectivally.” (EPO, p. 312).

[7] EPO, p. 397

[8] “As the evolution of the embryonic body repeats its prehistory, so the mind grows up through the series of its prehistoric stages” (UDS, p. 138).

[9] public lecture 5/1/1919

[10] The Red Book, p. 229

[11] ibid., p. 230-231

[12] EPO, p. 1

[13] The Red Book., p. 243

[14] ibid., p. 197

[15] ibid., p. 231

[16] ibid., p. 201

[17] ibid.

[18] See John 3:5. “…except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” The spiritual potential of active imagination will be explored in the next section.

[19] The Red Book, p. 232

[20] ibid., p. 231-232

[21] EPO, p. 204

[22] ibid., p. 232

[23] Just as the shadow of a sphere is a circle, the shadow of a hypersphere is a sphere. The Earth known to the materialist physics of the mental-rational structure of consciousness is the shadow of a higher dimensional, spiritual event.

[24] ibid., p. 232

[25] UDS, p. 133-134

[26] EPO, p. 425

[27] UDS, p. 138

[28] MDR, p. 179

[29] ibid.

[30] The Red Book, p. 333

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid., p. 334

[33] See Jungian psychotherapy (1978) by Michael Fordham, p. 149: “…active imagination…can be, and often is, both in adults and children put to nefarious purposes and promotes psychopathology”

[34] lecture 12/15/1911

[35] UDS, p. 140

[36] ibid., p. 141

[37] ibid., p. 142

[38] lecture 12/15/1911

[39] The Red Book, p. 334

[40] ibid.

[41] lecture 12/15/1911

[42] The Red Book, p. (Elijah & Salome)

[43] lecture 12/15/1911

[44] EPO, p. 542

[45] ibid., p. 396

[46] Jung’s research revealed at least two distinct types of synchronicity: 1) that related to psychically relative  space-time, and 2) that related to the notion of qualitative time. The limits of this essay do not permit a fuller articulation of the difference, but in short, it seems that, in theory, both types depend upon the unity of the magic structure, the first as filtered through the integral, and the second as filtered through the mythic structure of consciousness. See Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal, p. 15

[47] EPO, p. 542

[48] ibid., p. 541

A taste of what’s to come…

Two abstracts for the papers I am writing for courses on Carl Jung and the Philosophy of Relgion, respectively.
—————————————————

Uncovering the Unconscious: Psychology and the Soul

William James credits W. H. Myers with the discovery of “subliminal consciousness” (i.e., the unconscious) in 1886, a discovery James’ suggests is psychology’s most important insight into human nature. But Carl Jung is still forced to admit more than half a century later that psychology is a long way from the mature state of other natural sciences: “Swamped by the knowledge of external objects, the subject of knowledge has been temporarily eclipsed” (OTNOTP, par. 357). Psychology, so long as it treats the soul or the unconscious as a natural object like any other, remains to this day in a sort of pre-Copernican state. Rather than a science seeking to explain and control the soul, psychology, I will argue, would be better served by seeking out reliable means of opening and sustaining imaginal dialogue with living psychic processes. The rational ego accesses and produces detailed scientific knowledge about the external cosmos, but it is precisely the alienating force of the ego’s outward-focused and divisive eye that pushes the psyche (and indeed the psyche-cosmu) into the shadows and the depths. My paper will ask: “How is the psychologist to develop and articulate a meaningful, systematic discourse concerning the soul if the greater part of her processes are unconscious?” Jung asked the same question, and may have been forced to re-imagine the traditional relation between self and cosmos in order to answer it. Following Jean Gebser’s rejection of a dualistic conception of consciousness and unconsciousness (see The Ever-Present Origin, p. 137, 204), I will attempt to develop Jung’s own intimations of a participatory and cosmocentric psychology.

Sources:
On the Nature of the Psyche by Carl Jung
The Undiscovered Self by Carl Jung
The Red Book by Carl Jung
The Ever-Present Origin by Jean Gebser
Jung and Steiner: The Birth of a New Psychology by Gerhard Wehr

Notes from Gebser’s EPO:

“After the heights of heaven have been lost, the sciences pose themselves the task of “‘exploring the depths.'” (p. 393)
“Since the super-terrestrial no longer affects man, the subterranean surges upwards.” (p. 394)
“If we are sufficiently bold as to consider the ‘unconscious’ as an acategorical element, which is suggested by the spacelessness of the psyche, then the emergent awareness of the unconscious is nothing other than the psychic form of time’s irruption into our consciousness.” (p. 396)
“There is no so-called Unconscious. There are only various modalities (or intensities) of consciousness; a one-dimensional magical, a two-dimensional mythical, a three-dimensional mental consciousness. And there will also be an integral four-dimensional consciousness of the whole.” (p. 204)
“The ‘unconscious,’ if one insists on using this misleading term at all, is the structure of consciousness one dimension less than a particular or given structure; and it is the next ‘higher’ or incremented consciousness structure which makes the unconscious amenable to its mode of understanding.” (p. 204)

Steiner on Jung:
“Everywhere we find important facts that can only be successfully dealt with by spiritual psychology (anthroposophy). At least psychoanalysis has made us aware that the reality of the soul is to be accepted as such, but the devil is at their heals. By that I mean that they are neither able nor willing to approach spiritual reality.” (JS, p. 83)

Sample writing (introduction):

“The hypothesis of the unconscious,” writes Jung, “puts a large question mark after the idea of the psyche” (OTNOTP, p. 77). Philosophers had for many centuries assumed that the structure and function of the soul was already known in every detail, but as the 19th century came to a close, the burgeoning discipline of psychology began to reveal a far more complex and even irrational subterranean source of conscious processes. Rather than the static and easily compartmentalized model of the soul constructed by Scholastic thinkers, Jung was forced by his experience as a clinician to develop a dynamic, living relationship with psychic processes. For him, the soul was not a scientific object; on the contrary, it is what makes such objectification possible: “every science is a function of the psyche, and all knowledge is rooted in it” (ibid.).

But how is psychology, the study of the soul, to proceed if its foundational hypothesis assumes the existence of an autonomously functioning unconscious? The cultural philosopher Jean Gebser recognized this difficultly, and though he had the highest respect for Jung’s groundbreaking work, he nonetheless called into question the concept of the unconscious: “There is no so-called unconscious. There are only various modalities (or intensities) of consciousness; a one-dimensional magical, a two-dimensional mythical, a three-dimensional mental consciousness. And there will also be an integral four-dimensional consciousness of the whole,” (EPO, p. 204). Gebser suggests that the concept may still be used to describe the relationship between a structure of consciousness one dimension less than the incremented structure above it, but rejects entirely the dualistic framework, wherein consciousness is opposed to an unconscious. Jung himself rarely if ever collapsed the psychic terrain into so neat a dichotomy, but Gebser’s phenomenology of consciousness in terms of an unfolding series of structures assures that such a rationalistic reduction is avoided.

In light of Gebser’s important critique of the notion of an unconscious, Jung’s work will be interpreted in what follows as the tentative beginnings of an integral psychology. Both Gebser and Rudolf Steiner will provide important additions and amendments to Jung’s psychology, so as to avoid the undue reduction of spiritual realities to psychic projections. The purpose of psychology, I will argue, is to enter conscious dialogue with the archetypal energies of the soul, so as to heal the split our mental-rational civilization has hewn between instinct and intelligence. Jung’s practice of “active imagination,” as artfully displayed in The Red Book, will provide a working example of how this dialogue can be initiated and sustained.

Outline
I. Introduction
a. The discovery of the Unconscious
b. What have Jung, Gebser, and Steiner to do with one another?
II. Gebser’s structures and critique of the unconscious
III. Steiner’s spiritual psychology
IV. Towards a neo-Jungian re-imagination of the psyche
V. Conclusion

—————————————-
Towards a Spiritual Science: An New Story of Human Nature

The continuing and indeed growing influence of traditional religious modalities and New Age spiritual practices in the supposedly secular Western world has forced scholars to reconsider the role of such modalities and practices in human life at both the collective and the individual level. The inevitable decline of religion as a result of the march of technoscientific progress long theorized by sociologists has not materialized as expected. Instead, we live in a world both increasingly polarized by a diverse panoply of irreconcilable belief systems and increasingly unified by the planet-wide implications of ecology and the mind-bending revelations of physical cosmology.

In my paper, I’d like to explore the creative tension at the heart of the so-called culture war between science and religion, or more specifically, between New Atheism and what, after Sean Kelly, I’d like to call Gaian panentheism. The categories of “science” and “religion” as popularly understood serve as poor conceptual placeholders for a more complex philosophical terrain. Atheists and traditional believers alike tend to misunderstand the nature and scope of the scientific method; similarly, they over-literalize and so kill the spirit of religion. My goal is to unpack and deconstruct the categories of science and religion by way of a historical overview (with a focus on Platonic, Thomist, Cartesian, and Hegelian sources) and, then, to re-construct a more metaphysically nuanced account of their relation to human being and knowing in light of Barfield’s and Whitehead’s philosophical contributions. My research will focus especially on the rhetoric of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and PZ Myers, whose voices are cheered by a growing contingent of atheists who have begun calling themselves “confrontationists” to make clear their secular belief that religious belief “poisons everything,” as another outspoken New Atheist Christopher Hitchens has put it. (“Confrontationists” can be contrasted with “accommodationists,” or those who feel science and religion need not be in conflict).

My general thesis is that while New Atheism drastically oversimplifies both science and religion, its aggressive mode of discourse may in the end be providing the necessary intellectual and psychological impetus for a sort of second axial revolution. Such a revolution, I hope to show, must overcome the sharp divisions between ancient animism, medieval theism, and modern atheism/agnosticism by making transparent the evolutionary trajectory of our species toward a more wholesome integration of spirit and matter. A Gaian panentheism would preserve the rigor and empiricism of science and at the same time celebrate the participation of divinity in the course of earthly events.

Sources:

Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on Aquinas
A Secular Age by Charles Taylor
Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield
Adventures of Ideas by Alfred North Whitehead
PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula

Outline:

I. Theory and Theos in Western Thought
II. Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science
III. Steiner’s conception of the Human
IV. A Third Option: Gaian Panentheism

Sample pages (introduction):

The last century has arguably brought more change to the Earth, measured either in terms of increased complexity (of culture and consciousness), or in terms of entropy release (as pollution), than any other 100 year period in the planet’s history. Human civilization, and the technoscientific mode of life which has come to dominate it, is largely responsible for this rapid transformation. Whether it be the population explosion and global poverty, the continued threat of world war, civil rights, feminist, and other social justice movements, peak oil, or the ecological crisis, ours’ is a world with much at stake for whom the fast approaching future may just as easily bring tragedy or triumph, or perhaps equal doses of each.

In such an unstable and uncertain context as this, how is humanity to orient itself cosmologically, and in the service of what ideals is it to direct its spiritual aspirations? These are not peripheral questions–they inevitably burn in the hearts of every individual faced with the aforementioned chaos. Answering them in an integral enough way so as to overcome political divisiveness while at the same time avoiding the subsumption of cultural difference is essential to assuring the future flourishing of our species and the planet. The possibility of a planetary civilization rests upon re-inventing our complex human identity, such that it is inclusive of our origins as embodied earthlings and our destiny as immortal spirits.

Whether our aim be scientific investigation of the cosmos, or religious worship of the divine, sooner or later we are going to have to articulate a conception of human nature. Are we creatures of God, or products of Nature? Or, is there an alternative conception of humanity (of God, of Nature) that overcomes this false dichotomy? The following essay is my attempt to provide such an alternative: an integral anthropology, or theory of the human, which is neither exclusively theological nor cosmological. After Pinnikar, my approach in what follows might be called “cosmotheandric,” in that I am attempting to tell a story about human origins and destiny that does justice to our traditional spiritual intuitions and is adequate to our modern scientific realizations. Contemporary debates, especially in popular media outlets, tend to collapse the complexity of the science/religion dialectic into easily digestible slogans derived from the most extreme ends of the spectrum of opinion. The cosmological options are typically dichotomously construed as atheistic scientific naturalism vs. literalistic creationism. These are not the only options.

The process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and the spiritual science of Rudolf Steiner will be the primary protagonists in the alternative narrative I hope to construct. Before beginning this reconstruction, however, I must deconstruct the popular conceptualizations of “science” and “religion” which pit them one against the other as if irreconcilably opposed. Only a new synthesis can provide humanity with a viable way forward.

Power and Presence in Theology

Another response to NRG’s questions for me on Pharyngula:

I have trouble conceiving of God as all-powerful because of the problem of evil and my experience of human freedom. I associated God’s omnipresence with “will” even though, for God, there is really nothing to “do.” From the “perspective” of eternity, God is already everywhere and everywhen at once. It is when omnipresence get’s stepped down into its human incarnation, that it becomes will or desire; unlike God, humans between birth and death have a particular embodied perspective on space-time, but volition is our means of approaching the infinite presence of God. To actually unite with God’s infinite presence, I believe one would have to die for the love of or in love with all other sentient beings. We only get one chance per lifetime to will the infinite in this way. It is not easy, I suspect, to remain fully present to others in such a way during one’s own death.

I should remind you that I am playing here, that I have indeed stepped outside the strictures of scripture and am making this up as I go along, so to speak. Am I just feeling that these nice ideas should be true, or am I willing that they be so out of the power of my own imagination? I think I do feel and will that they are so. But I think this. My thinking is not separate from my feelings and my will. This is the mystery of the Trinity: three persons/functions, one God/Self. I do not think the intellect could know anything at all without volition (will) and judgment (feeling) involved in the act as well.

Does the reality of a soul, or of a soul not confined to the body but extended into the world, mean that “God did it?” No, as I said above, I don’t think the idea of God does any epistemic work when dealing with natural phenomena (the soul is “natural” in that it is part of the manifest world, part of the actual phenomena constituting our psychological experience as people). All that it means is that “matter” is not the ultimate explanatory principle.

I was raised with a foot in both Judaism and Christianity, and became an atheist around 11 or 12 when I first read Stephen Hawking’sA Brief History of Time.” I believed until about 17 that “science would win,” as Hawking has since suggested. I saw Western religious institutions as dogmatic and oppressive, and their scriptures (which I’d yet to read much of) as deluded and in flat contradiction to the facts of science (or the claims of scientists, a distinction I wasn’t yet able to make). But then I took a psychology class in 11th grade and read the ideas of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Alan Watts, among others. I realized that something intrinsic to human nature inextricably lures us toward the sacred and would continue to do so despite the success of the scientific method. I begin to study philosophy more closely in college, and realized soon after that the “facts” of scientific materialism didn’t necessarily hold up after sustained reflection on the history of science (Kuhn). I came to see also that there existed a rich diversity of thriving philosophical attitudes concerning the ultimate nature of things–in short, I came to recognize that materialism was not the only conclusion to which one could be lead based upon the last 400 years of natural science.

“God” is an idea I play with, an idea I admit I cannot know fully, or even know how I know what little I may know about it. But everything I experience points me toward this “strange attractor” called God (or Hegel’s Absolute, or Plato’s idea of the Good, or Teilhard’s Omega).

When I first watched the following clip from an interview with Jung, I was intrigued by the expression on his face after being asked if he believed in God… “difficult to answer…” Something like the feeling he must be experiencing behind that smirking face guides my intuitions about the divine:

Seeing With Teilhard: Evolution and the Within of Things

Preface

“Like the meridians as they approach the poles, science, philosophy and religion are bound to converge as they draw nearer to the whole.” –Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, p. 30

“To see and to make others see” (p. 31)—such is the mission of Teilhard’s masterwork, The Human Phenomenon. But what is it he wishes for us to see? Condensed to its essence, it is the “whole which unfolds,” (p.35). The whole he speaks of is the cosmos, whose unfolding is the process of evolution. Catching sight of this cosmogenesis, for Teilhard, requires facing not only its myriad surfaces—its material aspect, but also its unified interior—its spiritual aspect.

What kind of seeing is it, though, that reveals not only the surfaces of things, but also their within?

This question forms the axis around which the current essay will revolve. Entangled with this question is a further one: does evolution, as we see it, have a purpose, “an absolute direction of growth” (Writings in Time of War, p. 32); or, as is commonly held by most intellectuals, is it merely the meaningless playing out of chance and necessity? These dual uncertainties—how the within is to be seen and whether evolution has an aim—are intimately related. We cannot comprehend the latter until we have gazed into the heart of the former. We must “focus our eyes correctly” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 33) so that the haze separating each reveals a harmony concealed beneath.

“The whole of life lies in that verb,” says Teilhard of seeing (ibid., p. 31). His answers to the questions posed above are careful and deliberate, as he tries his utmost to avoid only seeing half the problem: evolution is “a consciousness gradually waking by way of countless fumblings,” (The Vision of the Past, p. 181). Teilhard admits, with the materialists, that chance has undoubtedly played a role in the unfolding of the cosmos. But this cannot be all, for “the world does not hold together ‘from below’ but from ‘above,’” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 113). The process of waking up is a movement from lesser to fuller being, from isolation to closer union (The Human Phenomenon, p. 31). “Union,” says Teilhard, “increases only through an increase in consciousness, that is to say in vision,” (ibid.). The trend of evolution is a growth toward awareness and richer sight, “trying everything so as to find everything” (ibid., p. 110). The end of this groping process is an embracing of each by All, and All by each.

For Teilhard, “the most telling and profound way of describing the history of the universe would undoubtedly be to trace the evolution of love” (Human Energy, p. 33), defined as “the affinity of being with being” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 264). This is, of course, a mystic’s view of cosmic evolution, a story of the e-motion of spirit from initial fragmentation into ultimate communion. The typical positivist story, in contrast, concerns itself only with locomotion, with the collision of particles and their exchange of physical forces. The universe as studied by this kind of science is viewed as a machine, having everything to do with the determinisms of matter and nothing whatever to do with the spontaneities of thinking and feeling. The latter two qualities, usually only associated with human consciousness (or at most the consciousness of animals), have been deemed by materialist science “queer exceptions,” “aberrant functions,” and “an epiphenomenon” (ibid., p. 55).

From Teilhard’s point of view, there can be no single and coherent explanation of the totality of the cosmos if human consciousness is considered “an erratic object in a disjointed world” (ibid., p. 34). “Man, in nature, is a genuine fact falling within the scope of the requirements and methods of science” (ibid.). This, for Teilhard, is the reason why the within of things, and all that it entails, must become visible to science. Nature becomes conscious in the knowing scientist, in the one who sees. The within can no longer be ignored once the scientist has reflected upon being human, on “the object of a direct intuition and the substance of all knowledge” (ibid., p. 55).

But science, since Immanuel Kant’s critique of the organ of knowing, has become the measurement of phenomena, of the movement of matter as it appears to the mind through the senses (or their extensions). Knowledge of things themselves has been deemed impossible, as the knowing subject is experienced as an alien presence in the world, having access to reality only by way of the outward facing senses. For this reason, the scientific establishment has primarily focused only on the external, empirical aspect of nature. What goes on within things, the place where value and meaning grow, has been deemed too intangible to admit into science. Though Teilhard calls his attempt to “make others see” a purely scientific project, his phenomenology nonetheless reaches beyond mere appearances to the within of things themselves. By attempting to place human consciousness “within the framework of phenomenon and appearance” (ibid., p. 31), Teilhard is turning the mirror upon the act of knowing itself. In this way, he hopes to “break through and go beyond appearances” (Letters from a Traveler, p. 70) to the very source of our seeing.

Teilhard’s is a science of science, an attempt to see how it is that sight is possible at all. We must explore exactly how this way of seeing differs from the empiricism of the typical scientist.

Part 1: Science and Seeing

To fully appreciate the established meaning of empiricism for the scientific enterprise, we must briefly review the history of thought since the 17th century. Although not himself an empiricist, probably the most influential figure of this era was Rene Descartes. His dualism between the thinking and extended substances, or between mind and matter, was crucial for the further development of science and technology. Viewing matter, even organic forms, as essentially mechanical allowed science to measure, and thereby master, most of the external world. Unfortunately, hewing such an ontological rift between the mind and the body (and its senses), when taken to its logical conclusions, lead David Hume to argue that much of what we assume we immediately observe through our senses is actually a latter construction of perception.

The world itself, according to Hume’s skeptical brand of empiricism, shows us mere patches of sensation that come to have meaning only after perception has ordered them. But even then, because our inner world is only composed of a selfless bundle of perceptions derived from barren sense data, we can never be sure that any of our beliefs about the world are true. The value of our beliefs and actions rests purely on custom. Based on sensory experience alone, Hume could find no reason to believe in the reality of a necessary connection between any two events taken in isolation. Both the ontological status of causality and the theoretical validity of induction were thereby called into serious doubt. This left science, and the pursuit of knowledge generally, in a rather tight spot. The only option was positivism, wherein “the task of science is explained to be merely the formulation of observed identities of pattern persistent and recurrent in each stream of experience,” (Adventures of Ideas, p. 125). A science that only reveals persistent patterns of experience can still lead to technological innovation, but it fails to satisfy the human desire to understand what the patterns mean. In other words, positivism doesn’t hinder progress in the practical realm of engineering; but by assuming a gap exists between knowledge and the thing known, it makes a deep intuitive and participatory understanding of reality impossible. Kant recognized the enormity of this problem, and his ingenious solution was to examine the mind itself, the instrument of knowledge, in order to discover the inviolable principles that ground the findings of science on something more than mere assumption. Kant argued that reality necessarily appears to us already ordered by certain a priori forms of intuition, such as space and time. Causality is similarly a necessary principle structuring our judgment. Without these structuring principles, knowledge of the world would be impossible, as the world itself is unknowable. It is here that Kant agrees with Hume. Where he differs is in his assessment of the knowing subject, which he views as more than a mere bundle of perceptions, but as a transcendental unity out of which the whole phenomenal world is projected.

Though each of these philosophers is quite different, a common strand of thought runs through each of them: the ultimate separation of mind from matter. For Descartes, thought and the body were entirely distinct; in Hume, a similar dualism arose as the uncertain relation between the diversity of sensory impressions and the apparent unity of perception; for Kant, it became the gap between phenomenal experience and reality itself. The trend in this series of thinkers is toward greater isolation from the cosmos as a result of further retreat into solipsism. Although Teilhard no doubt inherits his general understanding of the scope of science from these philosophers, his own approach is quite unique.

As Thomas King says,

“In placing man [in the framework of phenomenon and appearance] Teilhard does not mean the flat veneer of colors that strike the retinas. Rather he wants to show the meaning that haloes man when he is placed in the context of a vast cosmic movement,” (Teilhard’s Mysticism of Knowing, p. 46).

Teilhard sees more than the bare sensory impressions of Hume. His vision of the cosmos is one where every body (whether atomic, molecular, cellular, etc.) has an “internal propensity to unite,” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 264). The meaning of our perceptions is in the movement of things themselves, as “the subject is unquestionably no longer the human monad, but the world,” (Toward the Future, p. 50). In other words, instead of cutting the mind off from reality, Teilhard nearly identifies the two by showing that one can come to know the world only “by being co-extensive with it,” or by “becoming to some degree one body with it,” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 61, 100).

Though he goes to great lengths to assure the reader in The Human Phenomenon that the theory he lays out therein is not a work of metaphysics, a case can be made that Teilhard is turning the typical scientific approach on its head. In stead of bare and meaningless sensory impressions (patches of color, shapes, etc.) being the most primitive form of experience from which all our knowledge is derived, he recognizes within the human being a “Cosmic Sense,” or feeling of deep connection between what is interior and personal, and what is exterior and supposedly impersonal. The human being is “the universe…become conscious of itself” (Human Energy, p. 102). A kind of non-sensuous perception is produced by the whole history of the universe coiling up or folding in upon itself within each individual. But this is not “a solitary introspection in which things are only looked upon as being shut in upon themselves in their ‘immanent’ workings” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 53). Rather, every granule is constituted “by that which is commonly called the ‘beyond it’ rather than by its center,” (Let me Explain, p. 185). In other words, the immanence of the feeling of the within is part of a perpetual movement, or transience, which takes the granule in question beyond itself “to become part of a growing common movement of life,” (King, p. 26).

Teilhard might be said to be correcting a “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (as A.N. Whitehead called it) in the thinking of Descartes, Hume, and Kant. Instead of seeing the world only as it appears through the highly conceptualized, abstraction-prone mind of the philosopher, he returns to the concreteness of experience itself, “to the deepest recesses of the blackness within” (ibid., p. 92). He discovers there that “It is through that which is most incommunicably personal in us that we make contact with the universal” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 97-98).

This is not to say that we ought to discount the sensory knowledge offered us by traditional science—quite the contrary. Teilhard recognizes the important role played by the without, as until one has “[proceeded] out of himself into the immensity and dangers of the universe, onto the ‘sacred circumference,’” one cannot really feel the awakening within of the Cosmic Sense. Though it is difficult if not impossible to visualize, one can begin to feel through the process of going out of oneself to find one’s true center by imagining a circle of infinite circumference. Because its circumferal edge would appear nearly straight, an interesting paradox takes shape: the interior and exterior of such a circle would be, for all intents and purposes, identical. In this way, it is possible to begin to see how the mind, or the within of things, is co-extensive with the without. Knowledge isn’t so much of the world as it is with the world. The assumption that true knowledge is a pure and objective model of reality lead Descartes et al. to abstract the act of knowing (the mind) out of the network of relationships constituting it (nature). Teilhard, in contrast, sees how “Object and subject marry and mutually transform each other in the act of knowledge” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 32). Teilhard’s is a participatory epistemology, while the typical scientific approach is to remain as distant from the thing known as possible.

This admittedly mystical way of relating mind to matter by bridging the gap between the within and the without only became possible once the theory of evolution had been articulated. Only in a universe in process—a cosmogenesis—can one can begin to see how subject and object “hold together and are complementary” (ibid., p. 63). Teilhard proposes that “all energy is psychic in nature,” though he adds that this energy has two distinct components: tangential, or mechanical energy; and radial, or spiritual energy. Rather than conflict, these two energies combine to give rise to Teilhard’s explicitly teleological evolutionary cosmology. But before exploring his adaptation of the evolutionary paradigm, its origins must briefly be recounted.

Part 2: Transformism: Darwin and Lamarck

Although Darwin is usually credited with having discovered the theory of evolution, he rarely if ever used the word. In fact, “evolution” never appears in The Origin of Species (until the 6th edition) or in The Descent of Man (Gilson, p. 49). Evolution, from the Latin evolvere, means “the un-rolling of the in-rolled, the de-velopment of the en-veloped,” (Gilson, p. 50). Until at least the mid 19th century, evolution was usually discussed by naturalists only in reference to what is today called ontogenesis, or the development of an individual from a preformed seed or egg (Gilson, p.51). The main problem was how to account for the development of individual living beings without violating the theological truth that God’s act of creation took place only once. This early doctrine of evolution held that every developing organism was merely the “unrolling of something already given” (Gilson, p. 50). The notion that species themselves changed in any way over time was not considered.

The theory of evolution familiar to most 21st century students of biology, while being prefigured in the speculative writing of Descartes, Comte de Buffon, and Kant did not gain widespread acceptance until Lamarck and Darwin gave it a more secure theoretical and empirical basis. Better termed “transformism,” the general theory “affirms that animal or vegetable species have changed in the course of time, no matter how these changes are explained” (Gilson, p. 41). Only the proposed mechanism underlying this change separates Darwin and Lamarck, who are otherwise in complete agreement against fixism/creationism.

Lamarck developed his theory in a time when scientists were not concerned that presenting their work in a philosophical manner would in any way discredit them in the eyes of their audience (Gilson, p. 42). Darwin, in contrast, avoided the expansive reasoning characterizing such works, and instead focused only on what could be derived from specific facts. Nonetheless, Lamarck must be credited with having first made the idea of transformism plausible.

In the review of chapter 6 given in the table of contents of his main work, Zoological Philosophy, Lamarck writes:

“…since all living bodies are productions of nature, she must herself have organized the simplest of such bodies, endowed them directly with life, and with the faculties peculiar to living bodies. [And] by means of these direct generations formed at the beginning both of the animal and vegetable scales, nature has ultimately conferred existence on all other living bodies in turn.”

Lamarck, having recognized that species are not fixed essences, but constantly (even if slower than we can directly observe) changing, attempted to explain the reason for the changes in terms of a variation in the surrounding environment. Here, he and Darwin are in agreement. However, Lamarck

“…does not mean that the environment acts directly on the organism, but that it forces the organism to modify itself in order to adapt to the new surroundings” (Gilson, p. 44).

Darwin’s theory of natural selection, in contrast, appeals only to a pre-given environment to explain the changes seen in organisms. The only quality Darwin saw as intrinsic to organisms themselves was the desire to survive and reproduce. Unlike Lamarck, who thought an organism adapted by making “more frequent use of some of its parts which it previously used less, thus greatly [developing] and [enlarging] them” (Zoological Philosophy, p. 235), Darwin attributed little if any evolutionary autonomy to organisms. A change in the form of a species was the result, for Darwin, of a series of random variations selected for by a completely externally imposed and mechanical process.

Lamarck’s attempt to explain evolution by way of acquired characteristics, which are learned within the single lifetime of an individual due to its needs and then passed on to offspring, is without doubt a teleological view of life. It is similar to Aristotle’s understanding of organisms, which

“…working from within by their substantial form, progressively shape their matter according to the type of perfected being which they tend to become” (Gilson, p. 46-47).

Lamarck’s is a view which, while dispensing with the idea of each species having being created ready-made by a transcendent God, instead “has caused the finality of God’s thought to descend into the interior of nature” (Gilson, p. 48-49).

We see here an affinity between the thought of Lamarck and Teilhard, as each sees evolution as a progression motivated by some inner drive toward perfection. Darwin’s theory of natural selection left little room for progress or for an efficacious within helping guide the development of the without, though the mechanism of natural selection he discovered was in no way denied by Teilhard.

The issue is quite simple:

“Rare are those mechanists who admit that there may be teleology in nature, but exceedingly rare—if they have ever existed—are those finalists who deny mechanism and its natural function in natural beings” (Gilson, p. 105).

As was discussed at the end of the last section, Teilhard recognizes two forms of energy at work in nature: tangential and radial. Mechanists, like Darwin, admit only one form of energy, the tangential variety, which of itself knows no direction (other than that given it by the 2nd law of thermodynamics) and desires only to return to equilibrium. It can be explained entirely in terms of efficient causation, without any recourse to finalism. Or at least that is what mechanists suppose, even while, in biology, the adaptationist paradigm attempts to give reasons for the particular traits observed in organisms based on a kind of teleological reasoning.

“Thus it is that, contrary to what we most often imagine, the substance of finalist reasoning is exactly the same as that of mechanist reasoning,” (Gilson, p. 107).

Mechanists, to understand how organisms have adapted purely by way of natural selection, must make use of their own conscious ability to think teleologically. They thereby fall into the trap Teilhard wants to spring them from by separating the human mind from the rest of the natural world.

The biggest problem for Neo-Darwinists is accounting for the presence of consciousness in nature. If evolution can be explained purely in mechanical terms, not only is there no role for consciousness to play, but there is no way to account for how it could have arisen in the first place! This is why Teilhard says, given consciousness is present in human beings, “therefore, half-seen in this one flash of light, it has a cosmic extension, and as such is surrounded by an aura of indefinite spatial and temporal extensions” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 56). If we do not assume that the within of things has such cosmic extension, we are left wondering how a trait such as consciousness (which only deserves the name if it is, in varying degrees, capable of spontaneity) could have been selected for in a biosphere determined entirely by mechanical law. One can of course always resort to saying that consciousness and free will do not exist even in human beings, but such a suggestion is patently absurd unless one has fallen into the most egregious kind of “misplaced concreteness,” putting the abstractions of one’s logic prior to the directly experienced reality of life.

Indeed, what “would the mechanical energies themselves be without some within to feed them?” (ibid., p. 149). Teilhard is at a loss to understand, even from a purely scientific perspective, how the trajectory of evolution, whether cosmic or biological, could progress without accepting some kind of “fundamental impetus” driving it forward from within (ibid.). But again, Teilhard does not deny Darwin’s mechanisms; he merely finds that they alone are incapable of explaining the plain facts.

Teilhard explains:

“In various quarters I shall be accused of showing too Lamarckian a bent in the explanations which follow, of giving an exaggerated influence to the within in the organic arrangement of bodies. But be pleased to remember that, in the ‘morphogenetic’ action of instinct as here understood, an essential part is left to the Darwinian play of external forces and to chance. It is only really through strokes of chance that life proceeds, but strokes of chance which are recognized and grasped—that is to say, psychically selected. Properly understood the ‘anti-chance’ of the Neo-Lemarckian is not the mere negation of Darwinian chance. On the contrary it appears as its utilization. There is a functional complementariness between the two factors; we could call it ‘symbiosis’” (ibid.).

As was discussed at the outset, Teilhard’s evolutionary cosmology is explicitly teleological. He sees that the within of things acts as the impetus driving matter toward greater forms of complexity, which in turn deepens the within and leads to a snowballing of progressively more complexity and consciousness. The impetus from within toward complexity is “driven by the forces of love,” such that “the fragments of the world seek each other, [joined] by what is deepest in themselves” (ibid., p.265). The only remaining question to ask is where this urge toward union is leading. Teilhard, by extrapolating upon what he has seen in the past, foresees a future where the “object of love” is made clear by “… [assuming] a face and a heart, and so to speak [personifying] itself” (ibid., p. 267). What exactly can be said, short of an explicitly theological revelation, about the nature of such an Omega Point?

Part 3: Synchronicity and The Omega Point

As we have seen, consciousness is the very center of Teilhard’s cosmology. “It is impossible to deny,” he says, “that deep within ourselves, an ‘interior’ appears at the heart of beings, as it were seen through a rent” (ibid., p. 56). It was not until the 20th century that our species began to gain the level of self-reflection necessary to truly begin a study of the psyche. The development of depth psychology, beginning with Freud and brought to new heights by Jung, opened up a hitherto unknown world for thought to explore: its own within. In order to better see what Teilhard means by the Omega Point, that “absolutely original center in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way” (ibid., p. 261), we will try to relate his thought to that of Jung’s, specifically concerning the collective unconscious and synchronicity.

Teilhard writes of the many “fibers” of instinct “coming up from far below,” each with its own “story to tell of the whole course of evolution” (ibid., p. 180). He sees the human being as having “the essence and the totality of a universe deposited within,” and calls this within the “the inner face of the world” (ibid., p. 95). This “inner face of the world,” we believe, is akin to Jung’s collective unconscious, which could be described as that reservoir of instincts, archetypes, and experiences built up over the entire past evolution of life (and indeed, pre-life ). Teilhard argues that the fibers of this living past also extend into the future, “stretching beyond and above us” (ibid., p. 179) to the goal and summit of the evolutionary journey. Evolution, as Teilhard sees it, is realizing its potential in humanity through greater personalization, not just of the individual, but of the collective. In The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man, Jung writes that “in some way or other we are part of a single, all-embracing psyche, a single ‘greatest man’” (p. 175). We see here the similarity of these two men’s intuitions. But the connections run deeper.

Traditional science, as we discussed above, has not troubled itself with the within of things, as it considered this dimension of reality to be a rare and improbable exception to the natural rule. Teilhard, in contrast, sees consciousness and nature as so interrelated that he wonders if biologists really discovered evolution by studying the outside world, “or quite simply and unconsciously…recognized and expressed themselves in it?” (The Vision of the Past, p. 69). The typical scientist studies nature by way of analysis, which we might identify with the conscious ego’s attempt to colonize the unconscious. Teilhard praises the method, calling it a “marvelous instrument…to which we owe all our advances,” but points out how in “breaking down synthesis after synthesis… [it leaves] us confronted with a pile of dismantled machinery and evanescent particles” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 258). “Modern man,” says Teilhard, “is obsessed by the need to depersonalize all that he most admires” (ibid.). He does this because of the discovery of the “sidereal world, so vast that it seems to do away with all proportion between our own being and the dimensions of the cosmos around us” (ibid.). But rather than feel oneself an isolated ego, trapped in “a prison from which we must try to escape” (ibid.), Teilhard invites us “to discover the universal hidden beneath the exceptional” (ibid., p. 56). By this he means that human consciousness, rather than a fluke, is actually the leading edge of a billion year process rushing toward its final consummation. This is a view of humanity as “the key of the universe” (Christianity and Evolution, p. 105).

It is here that the connection between the Omega Point and synchronicity becomes apparent, as Teilhard appears to be pointing to some kind of acausal coincidence of the within and the without, the human psyche and the cosmos. But before exploring this connection, we must see that when Teilhard refers to “something greater than ourselves moving forward within us and in our midst” (Activation of Energy, p. 392), he is speaking of what Jung would call the archetype of the Self, guiding us from within toward the full realization of our cosmic personhood. The entire groping process of evolution, from simpler to more complex granulations, is guided by the same archetypal energy, as each granule represents a further achievement of wholeness secured by the Self. Of all the archetypes Jung discusses, the Self seems unique in that it emerges not only from the accumulation of past experiences, but appears also to pull the psyche forward into the future, “all the time urging us to overcome unconsciousness” (Aziz, p. 21). Jung writes that the Self “cannot be distinguished empirically from a God-image” (On Synchronicity, pg. 531), which, for Teilhard, is experienced as the image of Christ, the “principle of universal vitality… [directing and superanimating] the general ascent of consciousness” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 294).

We may return now to the question of the connection between Teilhard’s Omega Point and Jung’s principle of synchronicity.

Teilhard asks:

“..what happens when chance directs [our] steps to a point of vantage (a cross-roads, or intersecting valleys) from which, not only in [our] vision, but things themselves radiate?” (ibid., p. 32).

Teilhard is here trying to show us the significance of the current moment of evolution, as human beings begin to become conscious of evolution’s trajectory. This process of waking up—of coming to see—represents the moment when the within and the without cross paths to produce a point of infinite radiance. Once we have come to see the “inner face of the world” by feeling the “presence of the Absolute (the Self),” the synchronistic Omega Point is upon us.

“In that event the subjective viewpoint coincides with the way things are distributed objectively, and perception reaches its apogee. The landscape lights up and yields its secrets. [We] see.” (ibid.).

Jung himself could not have defined synchronicity better himself. But trying to describe what the Omega Point might actually look and feel like is difficult. Luckily, Jung provides us with a wonderful picture of this sense:

“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, ch.8).

This Omega Point represents, for Teilhard, “the momentary summit of an anthropogenesis which is itself the crown of a cosmogenesis” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 34). As we have seen throughout, the human being, rather than an anomaly, represents the pinnacle and purpose of evolution itself. This realization is a radical shift away from the “science of man as marginal to the universe” (The Vision of the Past, p. 162), where “the scientist himself stands apart from the objects of science” (Human Energy, p. 20). Instead, the scientific gropings of humanity are seen to link up directly as part of a single evolutionary continuum with the gropings of life itself. “Thus man is not seen as alien to the universe; he is seen as integral to it” (King, p. 48).

Teilhard believes that science and religion are “two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same complete act of knowledge—the only one which can embrace the past and the future of evolution so as to contemplate, measure and fulfill them” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 285). Teilhard’s mysticism is scientific, and his science is mystical. Only with such a union of reason and heart is a full appreciation of our cosmos possible, as “the same life animates both” (ibid., p. 284).

“In short,” says Teilhard:

“as soon as science outgrows the analytic investigations which constitute its lower and preliminary stages, and passes on to synthesis—synthesis which naturally culminates in the realization of some superior state of humanity—it is at once led to foresee and place its stakes on the future and on the all” (ibid.).

Works Cited

• Aziz, Robert. C.G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity. New York: State University of New York Press. 1990.
• Gilson, Etienne. Transl. by John Lyon. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 1984.
• Jung, C. G.
o Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vintage. 1989.
o The Spiritual Problem of Modern Man. C.W. Vol. 10.
o On Synchronicity. C.W. Vol. 8.
• King, Thomas. Teilhard’s Mysticism of Knowing. New York: The Seabury Press. 1981.
• Lamarck, J.B. Transl. by Hugh Elliot. Zoological Philosophy. New York: Bill Huth Publishing. 2006.
• Teilhard de Chardin.
o Activation of Energy. London: Collins.1978.
o Christianity and Evolution. New York: Harvest. 1974.
o Human Energy. London: Collins. 1969.
o The [Human] Phenomenon. New York: Harper Perennial. 1975.
o Let Me Explain. New York: Harper and Row. 1966
o Letters from a Traveler. New York: Harper. 1962.
o Man’s Place in Nature. New York: Harper and Row. 1956.
o Toward the Future. New York: Harcourt. 1975.
o The Vision of the Past. New York: Harper and Row. 1966.
o Writings in Time of War. London: Collins. 1968.
• Whitehead, Alfred North. Adventures of Ideas. New York: The Free Press. 1967.

On the Nature of Spirit: Masculinity, Femininity, and Human Identity

The philosopher Gregory Bateson has written that the “false reification of the self is basic to the planetary ecological crisis in which we find ourselves.” The rise of Western civilization, whether intentionally or not, has fostered the development of a false identity. Many have come to experience themselves as an abstraction, a disembodied ego whose only contact with the outside world is mediated by frozen, lifeless ideas. This situation, we believe, is the result of a hypermasculinized psyche. In such a psychological climate, feminine proclivities toward relationship and regeneration (rebirth through death), embodiment and compassion are repressed and become atrophied. In their stead, a pathologically individualist, anthropocentric, and life-denying ethos has been adopted, bringing both civilization and the biosphere to the brink of collapse.

This modern crisis, though more painfully obvious to anyone currently living in late industrial society, has deeper roots. Our aim in this essay is not to solve the problem, but to shed light on the direction a solution might take.

The entire history of human religious, philosophical and scientific pursuits, from at least the time of Socrates up to and including most of the 20th century, could be summed up as a quest to know and elevate the rational, unaffected, and pure ideals of spirit above the fragile, erotic, and fleshly nature of life. Put more simply, history is the story of the increasing domination of the feminine by the masculine.

This story is not complete, though. It neglects indigenous and pre-historical humanity, whose aims were not to transcend and control terrestrial life, but to celebrate by participating in its endless seasons of regeneration. But in the West, with the influence of Greek and Hebraic thought, the discovery of the rational intellect/immortal soul has usurped any prior pact with the Great Mother, leading to the rejection of the capricious and frightening unconsciousness of nature in favor of the supposedly ordered and controllable consciousness of culture. This mutation in psychological orientation has today spread across almost the entire planet, evidence of it now radiating out even beyond the edge of the solar system.

This desire for knowledge and spiritual immortality need not be at the expense of life, but in historical fact it has indeed turned out to be. Why this imbalance exists is not clear, but it may stem from an even more primordial source than mentioned above. Perhaps it dates back many thousands of years before the Axial Age to the transition into the Neolithic.

As Erich Neumann reminds us, “[it is] impossible…to understand the early history of mankind from the patriarchal standpoint,” (p. 135). The nascent struggles of the ego toward separation from the uroboric womb arose while humanity was still a matriarchal, goddess worshiping people (Neumann, p. 46-47). The transition from absorption in nature to knowledge of self can be seen playing itself out in Genesis. Adam’s shocking confrontation with his sin represented by the fruit offered he by Eve transformed him from a child into a Man. Before he disobeyed YHWH, he had no conscience, no sense of conflicting with his naked presence in the maternal world. Adam invented history and became

“…the second creator of the world, who alone has given to the world its objective existence—without which, unheard, unseen, silently eating, giving birth, dying, heads nodding through hundreds of millions of years, it would have gone on in the profoundest night of non-being down to its unknown end,” (Jung, p. 49).

It might be hoped for Eve’s sake that history is already reaching its terminus. Only now that her story has been remembered is it possible to begin to heal the split between the World Parents. Unfortunately, thousands of years of Man’s dominion over nature have lead to the above-mentioned impending collapse of climate stability and ecological diversity, potentially forcibly retarding the growth of human civilization and all life on earth. Any attempt to make peace between the ego and unconscious will be partially overshadowed by this violent confrontation with a chaotic planet. There may still be an opportunity to avoid the worst of this violence, but as with most psychological mutations, full inner transformation cannot come to pass unaccompanied by a corresponding shift in the outer world.

Complete disaster may not be required to reverse the Fall severing the human species from the planet and the mind from nature. Peering into the depths of the uneasy relationship between civilization and Gaia helps to reveal the subtle archetypal tensions between masculinity and femininity lying beneath. Recognizing the conflict may allow the psyche to begin the process of arbitration necessary to avoid continued fragmentation and complete catastrophe. The modern self has been forged by a fear of the feminine, compelling it to seek total control over everything and to repress and ignore anything it cannot. Until this fear is overcome, ego and unconscious will remain fundamentally at odds.

It is important to fully appreciate the degree to which the spiritual and scientific tendencies introduced above (desire to transcend impurities of body, etc.) are not simply human. This obscures the fact that they are primarily the obsession of an elite class of scholarly men. Man’s pursuit of pure, disembodied knowledge seems to have changed his relationship with women and the natural world. The current ecological crisis appears to be the result of a repressed psychosexual conflict within and between men and women, and simultaneously a spiritual sickness, an unsteady confrontation of unnecessarily opposed evolutionary ideals.

Human beings are both wounded animals and fledgling angels. Without healing ourselves, it will not be possible for Gaia to nurse herself back to health, nor will it be possible for our species to gain its wings and fulfill its cosmic role. It is important, however, not to view health as a return to a prior state of comfort. The apparently conflicting aims of masculine and feminine energy are the catalysts urging the evolution of the human psyche, and by proxy the mind of Gaia, toward greater glories. As with all crises, this noogenesis is filled with both peril and potential. Retreat into some past state of harmony is impossible, having already gained a conscious knowledge of the future. What has happened cannot be undone—the only option is to move forward.

But before such an evolution is possible, the wound that has been inflicted must be healed through an understanding of its cause.

In her book, Cognition and Eros: A Critique of the Kantian Paradigm, Robin May Schott summarizes the provocative opening lines of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil:

“Supposing that truth is a woman, philosophers have been bumbling and inept in their courtship of truth. If they seek to court truth in a more convincing manner, the opposition they draw between pure truth and sensuous existence, between reason and desire, and between masculinity and femininity, must be transformed” (p. 41-42).

Nietzsche goes on to criticize the “most grievous, protracted, and dangerous” error of philosophy, which he believes is the “invention,” by Plato, of “pure spirit and transcendental goodness” (The Nietzsche Reader, p. 312). Nietzsche puts forth this criticism of Plato for his denial of perspectivity, which Nietzsche sees as “that fundamental condition of all life” (ibid.). Each of us is situated, not only in particular a body, but also in a particular time and place. The ideas we have about the world are very often “foreground evaluations, temporary perspectives, viewed from out of a corner perhaps, or up from underneath, a perspective from below…” (ibid., p. 313).

This lack of appreciation for perspectivity led Plato to assume that the relations between men and women holding sway in Athens during his lifetime were universal, going so far as to describe, in Timaeus, the creation of woman as a secondary accident arising because a few members of the original “superior race” of men, after having their souls implanted in their bodies, became cowardly and unrighteous. As a result, their impure bodies having gotten the best of them, they became female (Schott, p. 5).

This kind of blatant sexual prejudice comes out not only through the denigration of women, but in distaste for the body. Plato, in the Symposium, has Diotima tell Socrates that philosophical love is pure, “unsullied, unalloyed, and freed from the mortal taint that haunts the frailer…flesh and blood” (p. 211e).

Schott makes clearer the tie between women and the body in Greek thought:

“…women represented the pollution associated with the body and sexuality because of their role in giving birth to life, which brings with it the threat of death” (p. 43).

This connection between the body, women, and reproduction has played a crucial role in the psychological and spiritual motives underlying man’s denial of mortality and desire to transcend the natural context of his conscious existence. The conscious ego is in the precarious situation of knowing both the potential of immortality and the actuality of death, which becomes inevitable the moment it is born from the womb of a woman as a body. The body itself, for the un-integrated ego, is experienced more as a tomb than as a vessel of life.

We cannot simply demonize this desire to rebel against the natural way, however. As Jung reminds us: “It is just man’s turning away from instinct—his opposing himself to instinct—that creates consciousness,” (p. 72-73). There is a value to consciousness, and the culture that comes with it, which cannot be denied. Our task is more complex than simply washing away the emotional sedimentation acquired through thousands of years of patriarchal domination of the psyche. Questioning some of the philosophical assumptions we have inherited is of vital importance, but our goal is to make room for both culture and nature, not merely to return to an instinctual and unconscious absorption in the natural course of events. To do so would only reverse the imbalance of our current situation.

The problem is not whether to embrace a wholly feminine or masculine psychic make-up, but to marry the two such that each enlivens and stimulates the best in the other. Our species has thus far failed to balance the dynamic relationship between these archetypes: early pre-historical goddess worshipping societies practiced human sacrifice, thereby overemphasizing our debt to the earth (Radical Ecology, p. 127), while our modern scientific worldview, shaped at an archetypal level by the patriarchal assumptions of monotheistic religion and Greek philosophy, has lead to isolation from and objectification of the planet and even our own bodies. Scientific materialism gives us the impression that we are not of this universe, but are some kind of freak statistical anomaly, strangers in a strange land.

Where did this imbalance come from, and how did it ever become so extreme? Perhaps a short exploration of the origins of consciousness will help us gain our bearings.

The rise of the conscious ego can be traced back to the discovery (by men or by women, we cannot say) of the link between sex and birth. Prior to this realization, “it is not the man who is father to the child,” but rather, “the miracle of procreation springs from God,” who was seen as closely related to the numinous quality of the wind, or of ancestral spirits (Neumann, p. 134). Even earlier to this association between the numinous and pregnancy, the fertility of the Great Mother was seen as fully her own. Indeed, contrary to the later patriarchal creation myths, such as are found in the Timeaus and Genesis, from an archetypal perspective:

“The feminine has priority, while masculine creativity only appears afterwards as a secondary phenomenon… The prime datum is the earth, the basic maternal substance. Visible creation proceeds from her womb, and it is only then that the sexes are divided into two, only then does the masculine form come into being,” (Bachofen, p. 356).

The origination of the masculine out of the feminine is true not only on an archetypal level, but is evidenced even in biology, both phylogenically and ontogenically. Nearly 2 billion years prior to the morphological differentiation that arose with the invention of sexual reproduction in animals, prokaryotic bacteria freely exchanged genetic material between membranes, functioning as a single planetary organism enclosed in an oceanic womb (Margulis, p. 85-98). The uroboric quality of this situation is symbolic of the self-creativity that pre-patriarchal peoples associated with the feminine power of the Great Mother. Similarly, while developing in the womb, the mammalian zygote begins as female, and absent the genetic and hormonal agents associated with the Y chromosome, will not go through the metamorphosis required to become male (Fausto-Sterling, p. 80).

The primacy of the feminine, both in an archetypal and biological sense, is significant for any attempt to harmonize it with the masculine. There is a sense in which it is the feminine that possesses eternal life, while the masculine is temporally bound, fated to continually rise and fall. Here we see the ambiguous character of the archetypes, the two being shifting reflections of one another, rather than static and essentially opposed. The male philosopher’s desire to transcend the finitude of bodily life could be understood as a form of worship of the feminine quality of regeneration, or rebirth through death.

There are plenty of other examples of opposites coinciding. When the link between sex and birth was recognized, the still weak ego also realized that the orgasm associated with intercourse, though intensely pleasurable, was simultaneously a kind of death. This was not a bodily death, but merely the death of the conscious mind, which cannot maintain its independence in the midst of such primal sexual urges. As the ego gained more and more sway over the psychic processes of men, these urges, and the female body that was associated with them, came to be seen as somehow unclean and lacking full humanity. The development of patriarchal society and the hypermasculinized psyche we have inherited from it arose, we believe, as the conscious ego, in order to secure its autonomy from the unconscious desires of the body, began a process of differentiation—one which unfortunately went too far into complete disassociation, as transpersonal symbols were projected onto concrete persons through secondary personalization.

As has been said already, we must be careful not to flip this imbalanced situation into its equally imbalanced reversal, whereby we forgo consciousness and return to a complete identification with all things “natural.” Neumann reminds us “the supersession of the stage of the Great Mother…by a new mythological stage is not a fortuitous historical occurrence, but a necessary psychological one” (p. 82). The rising of consciousness out of the unconscious is not an accident, but an evolutionary moment of cosmic significance.

As Paula Gunn Allen has said,

“Our planet is in crisis…[but] for the most part, we do not recognize that the reason for her state is that she is entering upon a great initiation—she is becoming someone else…giving birth to her new consciousness of herself and her relationship to the other vast intelligences, other holy beings in her universe,” (Ecology, p. 328-329).

Human civilization, as a manifestation of Gaia, is the earth become conscious of itself. But this consciousness has gone too far, leading to its near total disassociation from nature and the unconscious. As was pointed out above, it has been a mainstay in the Western philosophical tradition for more than two millennia to conceive of the mind as independent of the body. Knowledge has been understood as objective, free of the vagueness of emotion and the situatedness of the body. These ideas arose along side the denigration of women, whose minds were seen as incapable of the nobler, intellectual pursuits of men. It seems that the energy associated with the masculine archetype seized the psyches of men, compelling them to reject all things mutable, sensual, and fleshly, and instead to strive for the eternal, abstract, and transcendental. This drive to understand and become divine by rising above the natural course of earthly events has produced modern science and technology, and liberated consciousness from the habits and reflexes of instinctual behavior, but so too has it laid waste to countless ecosystems and destroyed all other ways of knowing which stood in its path. The reason for this hubris, says Jung, is a “loss of roots.”

“[The] development [of consciousness thus far] has made it emancipated enough to forget its dependence on the unconscious psyche. It is not a little proud of this emancipation, but it overlooks the fact that although it has apparently got rid of the unconscious it has become the victim of its own verbal concepts…One can be—and is—just as dependent on words as on the unconscious. Man’s advance toward the Logos was a great achievement, but he must pay for it with a loss of instinct and loss of reality to the degree that he remains in primitive dependence on mere words…” (The Earth Has a Soul, p. 72).

Philosophy, broken down etymologically, reveals that its origins were love and worship of Sophia, the divine wisdom of the feminine. By the time of Plato, things had already begun to change, but we can still see the influence of the feminine in his choice of the female Diotima to teach Socrates the essence of Eros. Plato was conflicted about what the role of the feminine should be in his ideal society, but his rejection of poetry gives us a clue as to the deeper conflict at work. Walter Ong, in Orality and Literacy, points out that Plato’s work marks the transition from oral to literate culture, and all that this shift entails (p. 27).

Writing, originally a privilege only granted to highly education men, was the ladder upon which the conscious mind climbed out of the unconscious cave of dimly lit shadows and unrestrained instincts. But it soon changed, in a classic example of enantiodromia, from an empowering gift to a destructive vice. Before writing was mastered, speech held sway over experience, and so words were more like events than static images. Ong makes this clear with an example by pointing out “the Hebrew term dabar means ‘word’ and ‘event’” (p. 32). This means that words for oral cultures are not simply “a countersign of thought,” but “a mode of action” (ibid.). Such humans lacked the ability to abstract enough to engage truly private ideas, and so any notion of an invisible soul existing separate from the visible body would have seemed absurd. Further, the creative power of the spoken word was not just in human beings, but was the inspiration with whose help everything in nature moved and was made. But when man became more skilled in the art of writing, the dynamic dance of the vocal word became a frozen visual image, codified into conceptual abstractions, mere letters on a page cut off from their former living presence as the voice of nature herself. A few lines from Walt Whitman’s “A Song of the Rolling Earth” express this perfectly:

“A song of the rolling earth, and of words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the
ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you…
Air, soil, water, fire—those are the words,
I myself a word with them—my qualities interpenetrate with
theirs…
The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough,
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal’d
either,
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print,
They are imbued through all things conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation, I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not of what avail am I to you?”

The literate mind deemed the unconscious whimpers of the earth to be entirely under the spell of the pleasure principle. The immanent gods and goddesses of Homeric Greece, whose presence was felt in the wind upon one’s cheek, the waves rocking one’s ship out at sea, and the clouds blocking the sun from one’s eyes, were trapped and bled to death upon the pages of Plato’s scrolls, only half reborn as eternal forms forever removed from the earthly world of embodied experience. Plato was compelled to inscribe and confine these natural powers to the private, mental world of his pages because their full sensual reality seemed to him diluted by base desires of carnal attraction wrapped up in the finite and illusory thrills of time. But as Neumann says, this depreciation of the truthfulness of unconscious feelings is merely “proof of a depreciating tendency and corresponds to a conscious defense mechanism,” (p. 285). Our impulses and instincts, says Neumann, are far more adapted to reality than the still young, fantasy-obsessed ego (ibid.). When the conscious mind becomes entirely severed from its instincts, the result, says Jung, is “exaggerated self-esteem or an inferiority complex,” (p. 73). This leads to an imbalanced situation ripe for psychic injury, and indeed, our modern civilization is proof of its disastrous results.

“For it is the body, the feelings, the instincts, which connect us with the soil,” says Jung (ibid.). Having lost this connection, we have become vagrants on the earth, aware of the potential for peace but not knowing where to turn to actualize it.

We might, taking Nietzsche’s advice, “become friends of the immediate things” once more (quoted in Jung, p. 86).

As Jung remarks,

“…the immediate things are this earth, this life. For quite long enough…we…have been taught that this life is not the real thing, that it is provisional, and that we only live for heaven. Our morality is based upon the negation of the flesh, and so our unconscious often tries to convince us of the importance of living here and now,” (ibid.).

The Sufi mystics have a concept that opens the door to a form of spirituality that, rather than deny the sensory world, finds the divine within our immediate experience of it. The term, in Arabic, is “ta’wil,” which David Ulansey has said is “based upon the idea that the physical world is a manifestation of the divine” (p. 1). Rather than abstract the eternal forms of objects from their actual, living embodiment, the Sufi’s recognize, with a special mode of perception, the subtle way in which eternity expresses itself within time.

We must come again to find spirit in nature, to love the body, and to cherish our planet: rising out of its depths at birth, sharing our Eros-inspired energy with the world, and then allowing our forms to pass away again to be reborn anew. Such is the way of Gaia. But how are we to respect this natural cycle even while retaining the intricacies of interior experience and public expression offered us by consciousness? How to return to the vibratory eroticism sustained by oral culture without first burning the volumes of paper insights cherished by even the greenest among us?

As we have repeated throughout, what we seek is a sacred marriage of the masculine and feminine, a reconciliation of the conscious and unconscious forces that need not pull in opposite directions. It seems that truth, if she is still open to being courted, will not respond solely to the written word and the pure essences they reveal to our disembodied minds. We must balance this objectivity with an appreciation for our natural instincts and the emotions they evoke. Without such balance, the beauty of the planet is wasted: its magical matter turned into mere bricks in the economic empires built in praise of a phantom, of salvation through total technological control of life and living. The only result of such relentless attempts to cleanse nature of the natural is disassociation and death. It must be admitted that without the aid of our pens, the importance of truth, of the Logos, would never have struck us. But we cannot allow our admiration for the light to blind us to the soil that feeds us and keeps us whole.

As William Irwin Thompson says,

“To effect reconciliation with her, man must not seek to rape the feminine and keep it down under him. If he seeks to continue his domination of nature through genetic engineering and the repression of the spiritual, he will ensure that the only release from his delusions can come from destruction,” (p. 251).

Instead, man and woman, conscious light and unconscious depth, cultural order and natural creativity can become dance partners, recognizing their sacred union as Shiva and Shakti swirling around the Axis Mundi toward ultimate enlightenment. Like all opposites, the psychic polarization of masculine and feminine is but a shifting appearance. Beneath the outward opposition is an inward coincidence.

As Whitman says (and we concur):

“I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall
be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who
remains jagged and broken.”

Works Cited

• Bachofen, Johann Jakob. Das Mutterrecht. Basel. 1948.
• Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. New York: Harper. 1988.
• Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Men and Women. New York: Basic Books. 1985.
• Jung, C. G. Answer to Job. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1958.
• Jung, C. G. Ed. By Meredith Sabini. The Earth Has a Soul: The Nature Writing of C. G. Jung. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. 2002.
• Margulis, Lynn. Sagan, Dorian. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1986.
• Merchant, Carolyn (editor). Key Concepts in Critical Theory: Ecology. New York: Humanity Books. 1994.
• Merchant, Carolyn. Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World. New York: Routledge. 2005.
• Neumann, Erich. The Origins and History of Consciousness. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1954.
• Nietzsche, Friedrich. Edited by Keith Ansell Pearson and Duncan Large. The Nietzsche Reader. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. 2006.
• Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge. 1982.
• Schott, Robin May. Cognition and Eros: A Critique of the Kantian Paradigm. Boston: Beacon Press. 1988.
• Thompson, William Irwin. The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 1981.
• Ulansey, David. The Theophanic Significance of Mary Magdalene. Senior Thesis, Religion Department, Princeton University.
• Whitman, Walt. Edited by Karen Karbiener. Leaves of Grass: First and “Death Bed” Editions. New York: Barnes and Noble. 2004.

The Essence of Religion

Preface
It has been suggested that all modern philosophy begins with doubt (JC, p. 80). When one philosophizes, they agree to take nothing for granted, and even to question themselves backward into a corner if need be. Cornering oneself in such a way becomes the goal of philosophical inquiry, as once trapped by one’s own thoughts, the answer is deemed found, as the dialectic of doubt has seemingly lead one in reverse to the very base and background of all being (i.e., that which cannot be doubted). One merely needs to turn around and take note of the boundary, as here it must be that all being begins. But such a method-so perfectly calibrated to avoid all missteps and mistakes, so expertly designed to provide unquestionably objective knowledge of the world-can tell us nothing at all of the subtleties of life. Doubt leads us down a path that can end only with an indifferent truth: a truth of abstraction and rational argument divorced from the concrete and personal truth of bodily life. With doubt as our guide, the life of the body, the most tangible form of human existence, begins to resemble, in Hegel’s words, “a hole in being” (PP, p. 249). Explaining away the individual human life in such a way leaves one with a dead and dissected slab of meat, its life sucked out and absorbed by the universal truths discovered by way of methodical doubt. All its mystery has been swept up into the philosopher’s ink well and then neatly ordered and explained in writing upon the page for all to see and understand.
The method of this essay, in contrast, will not be philosophic; which is to say, it will not begin and end with doubt. Our topic is the essence of religion, that last remaining mode of expression where the simple mystery of individual existence finds its primordial importance even amidst the cluttered minds of modern men and women. We must ask the reader to suspend their doubting tendencies and to leave the religious question open so as not to approach it merely academically. Only then can it become a “genuine living option,” in James’ words (TET, p. 349).
This essay will be written in the manner of a gesture, rather than a discursive argument. Its meaning is intended to be taken “just so,” as though it were cueing something already obvious to the reader that has merely been forgotten. One can of course disagree with it, but know that in so doing one has turned down only an invitation, not a rational argument. The author is standing on the far edge of a precipice. The abyss between he and the reader is deep and darkness prevents them both from even guessing at the distance to the bottom. The author writes, not in an attempt to prove why leaping across makes sense, but to “flail his arms” so as to convince the reader to follow him across without knowing exactly why, as the reason only becomes clear after the invitation has been accepted and the leap has been taken.
Defining Religion
What is religion? As it is a question of essence, we can be sure it will not reveal itself easily. If we begin with etymology we discover that the word derives from the Latin, religare, “to bind.” This leads us only to a new question: What is it in religion that is bound together? After some thought, we may venture that religion binds what is human with what is divine. But by what method could such a connection be forged? It is the opinion of this humble author that such a connection becomes possible only as the result of an unmediated mystical experience. The essence of religion, then, may be described as “that” which is apprehended in a first-hand experience of the sacred.[1]
We may be tempted at this point to conclude that an unmediated mystical state of union with the divine provides an answer to the more functional question, Why do we need religion?, as though such an experience lead to an easier, more enjoyable and fulfilled life. However, posing such a question pulls the veil back over what we have just revealed to be essential to religion. As Keiji Nishitani has said, asking about the utility of religion “…obscures the way to its own answer from the very start. It blocks our becoming a question to ourselves” (E, p. 341). This becoming a question to ourselves is the crucial step toward experiencing the sacred. The person who first asks What for? does not realize that any answer already assumes the answer to For who? has been provided. The primary question for the religious person is always “Why do I exist?” The answer is never final or unambiguous because it is not the question itself that is of most import. Rather, it is the act of asking it-and asking it passionately-that brings us to the religious experience, to union with God, our truest identity.
Such a definition of religion strikes traditional theist as blasphemous because it does not respect the ultimate separation between creator and creation. For the atheist, it is merely more self-suggested nonsense created by the imagination to give meaning to a world that cares not the least about human beings. To the scientist, all such claims of unity with the sacred are first met with skepticism and finally dismissed when the burden of empirical proof appears lacking. The philosopher, the champion of logic and rationality, recoils at the assertions of mystics because they appear to him to be emotional pleas appealing only to the passions while often mocking the intellect. The politician sees in such mysticism a cowardly retreat from the reality of evil and an impractical distain for the day-to-day lives of average people. Lost in all this criticism of religious experience is the actual individual, the one who is born and who dies-the one who can never be quite sure of their own whence or whither. Our exposition will focus on this individual and on his/her solitary confrontation with and assimilation of the unknown and unconscious, with his/her experience of the sacred. We will, along the way, answer the critics (the theologian, the atheist, the scientist, the philosopher, the politician) using what might best be termed depth psychology. Our perspective will be one centered on the psyche, the whole human-body, mind and soul. We do so at the behest of Carl Jung, who reminds us that, “…all immediate experience, all that I experience, is psychic” (MMSS, p. 190-191). Our goal is to describe, as clearly as possible, what it means to be an individual asking the most central of religious questions: Who am I?
The Psyche
To begin, let us first clear up the ontology of experience as it relates to the term “psyche.” One may at first feel justified assuming that experience is what a psyche has, as though the psyche were the subjective self and experience were the objective world it encountered. This confusion is to be avoided. Such a dualism between mind and matter succeeds only in providing us with a conceptual distinction between appearance and reality. When it is of crucial importance that we understand the difference between what we think and what we know, as when we design and build skyscrapers or rocket ships, then distinguishing between my own mind and the matter at hand is quite an intelligent device. But when our task is to bring to light the nature of the psyche, we must remember that it “…does not trouble itself about our categories of reality, and it would therefore be the better part of wisdom for us to say: everything that acts is actual” (MMSS, p. 73). Viewing the human being as a psychic being amounts to no more than the admission that everything we experience, whether it arises out of mental or physical activity, is actual-it can and does matter for the individual. We could also put it as Kierkegaard has: “Immediate sensation and cognition cannot deceive” (PF, p. 82). To be clear, we must admit that many an illusion may appear to the psyche, but such illusions are “real” and cannot deceive because their immediate occurrence has a direct effect on the meaning of one’s personal life.
When seen as a psyche, the human being appears to suffer from an irreconcilably divided nature. On the one hand, we exist as finite beings born to a specific family in a specific place at a specific time. As a result we suffer all the characteristic flaws of carnal reality, ignorance and death chief among them. Most of us remain stuck in this kind of worldly existence and never take seriously intimations of anything more. On the other hand, those of us who don’t ignore such intimations and who are drawn toward a deeper understanding of our own identity may gain an inkling of the soul that remains unborn in eternity as an infinite being with direct access to a truth that transcends all finite categories. If we agree that nature can make no mistakes (if it did, who would be the judge?), how could we be anything but perfectly spontaneous and wonderful manifestations of the eternal becomingness of creation? How could a separation between creature and creation ever arise?
Wait a minute… one may say. I agree about my limits, but I have never been privy to eternity or transcendence, or to the becomingness of creation, and I’ve yet to see proof of any soul, what on earth are you talking about? Herein lays the essential difficulty of referring to any “mystical experience” to begin with. It seems to follow that there are some who have seen the light and some who have not. We might then assume that the experience must be wedged inside time between when one has not yet experienced it and when one has already experienced it. The apparent requirement that something eternal occur also within time gives rise to a paradox, and we draw our ego nearer to its own limit as we attempt to approach an understanding of it. “This,” Kierkegaard says, “is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think” (PF, p. 37).
The Coincidence of Opposites
The one who claims never to have experienced eternity is caught in a profane world of passionless thoughts about thoughts, of self-reflection ad infinitum. The events of each passing moment become yet another chance to reinterpret some provisional understanding of what it means (or doesn’t mean) to be alive, though even calling it “meaning” seems to cheapen the word by leaving it always vulnerable to reinterpretation or negation. It is of no surprise then that this kind of person would report having had no knowledge of anything but his or her own every day life. But to concede that such a person’s entire being lacked some understanding of the mystical, of the presence of the infinite, would be to overvalue what the ego has reported and ignore what the unconscious has left unsaid. Because a human being is composed of both conscious and unconscious elements, we cannot always believe what consciousness appears to say, as it only represents the surface of the total substance of the psyche. Hegel, for instance, wants to see the individual as a “hole in being” because he acknowledges only the conscious half of the psyche, as any good philosopher is forced to do.[2] Only an individual with an empty hole for a mind could accurately gather up the objective truths of the universal without distorting them with his/her particularity. Our psychic perspective, however, sees the individual not as a hole, but “a hollow,[3] a fold, which has been made and which can be unmade” (PP, p. 250). Just as all light, to be noticed, must cast a shadow, all consciousness must exist in contradiction. The plain and ordinary life of the one who claims ignorance of the divine is no denial of the sacred at all, but a clear example of its necessity. A person may be conscious only of their finite ordinariness, but they understand themselves as such only in relation to the germ of heaven ruminating in them unconsciously (in the fold, so to speak).
This coincidentia oppositorum is a trick of the intellect, useful only “…if we are willing to contradict ourselves…” (MMSS, p.189). When we come upon something that eludes our conceptual grasp, we must resort to dividing it into its antithetical halves in order to make any sense of it at all. In the end, though, “the conflict of the material and the spiritual aspects of life only shows that the psyche is an incomprehensible something” (MMSS, p. 189). But rather then allow ourselves to merge with this unknown, this “incomprehensible something,” we cultivate the willingness to contradict ourselves, to be “a relation that [refuses to, or is unable to] relate itself to itself” (SUD, p. 13). We increase the crease of the fold in our being in an attempt to transcend ourselves objectively, from the outside in. This is the impetus that begins the process of becoming an individual. As human beings we are given the cultural task of self-definition, though we never succeed in achieving it once and for all. As Dante has said, “The desire for perfection [to be fully oneself] is that desire which always makes every pleasure appear incomplete, for there is no joy or pleasure so great in this life that it can quench the thirst in our soul” (GD, p. 45). We are told in the face of all life’s possibilities, not to mention the inevitability of our own death, that we must solve a problem that cannot be solved (this forces the experience of paradox upon us, whether we’re ready for it or not). We must become a free individual even while it is plainly obvious that our existence is wholly contingent on what is other than ourselves (our historical situation, future possibilities, etc.). “This style of man,” says Alan Watts, “must therefore see himself as the ghastly and tragic accident of sensitive and intelligent tissue caught up in the cosmic toils like a mouse in a cotton gin” (BT, p. 6).
And what do you propose we ought to do about it? As individuals, it appears at first as though we were trapped in a perilous situation. But before we resign ourselves to tragedy, let us attempt to ponder a solution by answering the critics.
The Critics
To the theologian, we respond that God cannot be made fully conscious, i.e. there can be no rational proofs of God’s existence. To think of God as another kind of being that might be understood as we understand a car or a house is to forget that God is not a single entity in space-time, but Being itself. Any attempt to describe God remains hopelessly flawed, as Being seems forever to jump ahead of the understanding, not because of its own motion,[4] but due to the understanding’s standing within the becomingness of time. If we assume for a moment that the theologian is Christian, we ask why the religion of Jesus became a religion about Jesus. That is, why must the story of Christ refer only to the single historical incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth and not to everyman whose paradoxical experience may lead them to the same transformation and rebirth? Why must the example of Jesus be worshipped rather than followed? I am not suggesting that the literal Biblical story be reenacted by moderns; just that such doctrinal restrictions leave Christians without an experiential connection to God because the savior appears to be a separate being with no significant relation to them. The market effect of this brand of Christianity has been to raise a society of moral lemmings in need of the educational support of an elite class of priests. In the case of reformed Christianity, church services have been reduced to “the centuries-old echo” of the “chatter among men about this thing” (PF, p. 71) the savior. Christianity has lost an essential component by not doctrinally offering an experiential connection with God before death. “Perhaps a particular philosopher had doubted for all just as Christ suffered for all, and is one now only supposed to believe it and not doubt for oneself?” (JC, p. 154).
To the atheist, we can say only that one need not deny something that does not exist. If it does not exist, why even bring it up? Nietzsche declared, “God is dead” (E, p. 67), but this in no way implies God’s non-existence. On the contrary, the psychic fact of God’s death has had an untold effect on the spiritual life of modern humanity. As we have already shown, anything that acts is actual. It matters not how we decide to divide experience into illusion and reality, as such distinctions occur after the pre-conceptual psychic facts have already had their influence on us. If the atheist must declare that he/she does not believe, the faithful can only respond by asking: What is it that you do not believe in? For the faithful themselves, mere words such as “God” or “Spirit” do not contain the mysteriousness of their own commitment. One has faith, not in an idea or a word, but in a non-idea, in an unknown. Surely then, to disbelieve, one must either, a) set up a straw man in place of true religion, thereby rejecting only an idol, or, b) be unable to let go of their own supposed knowledge of the truth.[5] It seems then that the faithful do not know what they believe and the unfaithful do not know what they disbelieve, the only difference between them being that the faithful admit their ignorance while the unfaithful wallow in pride.
To the scientist, we first applaud their open-mindedness. We next direct them to the intimate study of any one of a number of non-dual contemplative traditions, whether it be Vedanta Hinduism, Taoism, Sufism, Zen Buddhism, or even Christianity.[6] Each tradition provides a unique path or method of dialogue with the eternal that is designed to convince the seeker that they are the unity they are searching for. Each path amounts to an experiment; if the scientist consents to follow the way, they may experience something remarkable.
This remarkable encounter with the infinite may require that the scientist reevaluate their philosophical assumptions. This leads us to the philosopher, whose criticism it seems we must accept. Bertrand Russell put it thus: “I believe that, when the mystics contrast ‘reality’ with ‘appearance,’ the word ‘reality’ has not a logical, but an emotional, significance: it means what is, in some sense, important” (RS). We agree that it is important, but we find it of greater importance to explore exactly why the scientist’s philosophical assumptions may lead to a biased interpretation of said mystical experience. If it were true that the distinction between the sacred and the profane is an “emotional” one, then the scientist’s observational techniques would negate a priori the results of any contemplative experiment. The scientific method demands reason and reservation; it cannot run roughshod over the facts because it wishes to express an agreeable sentiment. But reason itself does not require that we employ a specific metaphysical interpretation to our direct experience. The scientist may remain lucid even while allowing their own subjectivity to become an aspect of utmost importance to their investigation. Much like the training required for traditional experimental scientific work, the mental training required before a scientist of experience were capable of such psychic gymnastics would be extensive. Indeed, we might even be forced to suppose that only those who are already naturally inclined to seek out so profound an understanding of themselves could fill such roles adequately. This is a complete makeover of our historical image of the scientist, that given him by Sir Francis Bacon as he who conquers and subjugates nature to his own will. Bacon’s science is the science of masculinity; it is sterile, penetrating, efficient, and manipulative.[7] The science we are attempting to articulate above is a feminine science; it is vital, expressive, and can observe without interference. Instead of accepting as evidence only what is sensed externally, it is open to what is intuited inwardly. The philosopher’s claim that emotion is essential to the mystical experience does not necessarily prevent scientific observation. On the contrary, as long as the scientist acknowledges their own subjectivity while retaining the discriminative abilities of their intellect, value can become a verifiable aspect of existence and a science of revelation becomes possible. This new science, though, is not a science whose truths are easily communicable. The study of higher states of consciousness is open only to individual scientists and its results may have little relevance for others who haven’t yet done the necessary experiments.
It is for exactly this reason that the politician is suspicious of the value mystics attribute to their “higher, holier purposes.” It is not because such values are too emotional, but because they are irrelevant to the lives of most people. The mystic contemplates God, delving into the unconscious realms of the psyche in search of the archetypal structures that hold the key to immortality and authentic existence, while millions of average people starve or are killed because of public inaction and negligence. Action, it would seem, is what matters for the politician. He demands real world results, changes that are seen and that have a verifiable effect on the lives of average citizens. More than anything else, though, the politician, the man of the world, demands that we confront and destroy evil. He says of the mystics that they ignore all the terrible and unjust aspects of the world, that they pretend everything reduces to unity and love when it takes only eyes to see that it does not. The mystic can only respond by questioning the politician’s understanding of evil. While the politician relates to evil heroically as though it were an outside force with its own autonomous will and motives, the mystic sees it as a psychic manifestation of everything the self cannot accept about its own nature. It is true, the mystic will agree, that evil may appear to be unrelated to good, but this is because those who define themselves as good do so only because they have repressed their evil side. This repressed evil is projected by the unconscious onto anyone who opposes the will of what has consciously been deemed good. This psychic mechanism of repression and projection is the individual’s only recourse after they have identified themselves with goodness. The good is not good unless it battles evil; it must have an enemy. “Therefore,” says St. Paul, “I discover the principle that in my willing to do the good, the evil is with me” (Romans, 7:21). This coincidence of opposites is the only universal law of the understanding. In all our thought, whether abstract or concrete, it is never transgressed.
The Court of God
Even God has a dark side, but Christian theologians often point to the historical incarnation of Christ as God’s way of absolving evil and redeeming His[8] creation from darkness and sin. God is therefore said to remain pure, as only His Son is given the task of doing battle with the devil. We might think of God as the judge presiding over Jesus as the defendant arguing against Satan as prosecutor. We are the one on trial, the individual facing the judgment of God. This situation creates in us a feeling of intense self-reflection. After deeper contemplation, we may become aware that this is a trial as much about the nature of God as it is about our own. God has set up the courtroom and allowed the forces of good and evil their equal say. He would only do so because He has not yet decided upon the matter for Himself. As likenesses created in the image of God, our fate is also His fate. God is preparing only His own judgment-and is not this ability to judge oneself from God’s perspective what our own consciousness really amounts to? We speak candidly of our normal, everyday selves as “conscious,” but could it be that in so doing we are giving our profane selves too much credit? Self-reflection may be a better term for the action of the secular self, as it suggests something more akin to self-manipulation or self-control. As self-reflective beings, we observe parts of ourselves (such as our memories or knowledge) and employ them to solve specific problems. We function in the world as a self-reflecting ego by being aware of one thing at a time, by making compromises and weighing disparate options. Through all this, though, we never become aware of our own unconscious. Only a fully aware and conscious being can understand itself completely. But it does not look back upon a part of itself in order to change it so that it might function more efficiently. It looks back only to behold itself as itself, with no thought of utility or effecting change. It does so because what it sees is the perfection of imperfection. It recognizes all at once that existence is beautiful beyond comprehension precisely because it often seems so ugly. Do not be fooled by these apparent contradictions; the religious state of mind becomes sheer nonsense when the logical methods of philosophy are applied to it. An unmediated mystical state cannot occur until the knot of the concept-bound mind, obsessed with language and pulled tight by doubt, has been released into the pure and immediate openness of faith.
Who am I?
We might say, then, that the mystical experience occurs when God beholds itself as “I,” the formerly separate, sinful individual. This mystical state of consciousness is human-remembering-divinity or a rebinding of the finite with the infinite. “It is precisely a failure to remember,” says Ananda Coomaraswamy, “that drags down from the heights of the soul that which has walked with God and had some vision of the truths, but cannot retain it” (EIC, p. 77).
The suffering individual may now be cast in a new light. Rather than a helpless cog thrown into an uncaring world alongside other beings utterly alien to ourselves, we become God in disguise playing at being a part of His own created world. In all our seeming anguish, we are never anything but our own victims. The “I” who suffers is an illusion brought about by a God that wishes to forget Himself. For what else could an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of love possibly want to do but suffer the exact fate of those He has created? The infinite implies all that is finite, as to be truly infinite means also to exist finitely, even if it is just for a time.
What, then, is the solution to the dilemma of the suffering individual? It is precisely to ask that most fundamental of religious questions: “Who am I?” I have asked the question repeatedly, one may say, and it has not yet brought me to God, only deeper into confusion and sin. We are reminded at this point that “the question is asked by one who in his ignorance does not even know what provided the occasion for his asking in this way” (PF, p. 9). The question may be re-posited, then, as: How are we to arrive at the dissolution of the dilemma of the suffering individual? In other words, how are we to come to realize that the occasion of the question itself created the problem? As William Blake has said, “The fool who persists in his folly will become wise” (MHH). Precisely by attempting the impossibility of coming to ourselves, of waking up once and for all, we realize that we “…cannot by any means do it [but] that IS it. That is the mighty self-abandonment that gives birth to the stars” (BT, 229). “That” is what the mystics know through unknowing, that “thou art that.”

Works Cited

1) Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. New York: Oxford University Press. 1975.
2) Cahn, Steven M. Ten Essential Texts in the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
3) Chaudhuri, Haridas. Evolution of Integral Consciousness. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest. 1977.
4) Harding, Sandra. Whose Science? Whose knowledge?: Thinking From Woman’s Lives. New York: Cornell University Press. 1991.
5) Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. The Sickness Unto Death. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1983.
6) Kierkegaard, Soren. Trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. Philosophical Fragments and Johannes Climacus. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1985.
7) Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Trans. Smith, Colin. Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge. 1962.
8) Roheim, Geza. Gates of the Dream. New York: International University Press. 1953.
9) Russell, Bertrand. Religion and Science. New York: Oxford University Press. 1961.
10) Solomon, Robert C. Existentialism. 2nd Edition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
11) Watts, Alan. Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship. New York: The World Publishing Co. 1967.
[1] The sacred is the holy. The holy is that which is whole, rather than fractured or partial.
[2] (At least any good modern philosopher). To have knowledge of absolutes, one must first absolutize knowledge. Such an absolution amounts to declaring everything to be conscious.
[3] Hollow is not synonymous with hole in this context because it refers to the middle space between something surrounding, rather than the purer emptiness suggested by Hegel’s “hole in being.” A hollow has an inside and an outside, while a hole implies only vacancy.
[4] Being is eternal and infinite. As eternity, it has no time within which to move. As infinity, it has no space through which to travel. Therefore, it is motionless.
[5] The atheist typically asserts that there is no truth, failing to notice their own contradiction.
[6] The list could go on indefinitely, the only qualification being that the tradition is non-dual. That is, the final and supreme truth for the tradition must be both all encompassing and completely ineffable. This assures that they lead to no specific finite dogmas, but remain fixed on the infinite and unknowable.
[7] Bacon: “For you have but to hound nature in her wanderings, and you will be able when you like to lead and drive her afterwards to the same place again. Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into those holes and corners when the inquisition of truth is his whole object” (WSWK, p. 43).
[8] The masculine personal pronoun used in this context is not at all necessary and might be better replaced with the androgynous “Thou.” However, the grammatical context makes this awkward, and so for aesthetic reasons I refer to God as “He.” Using “It” would further confuse the reader, turning God into an object when the author intends for Him to be confronted as a subject, or rather the subject.