European Preview

The sky is growing bluer as my plane races eastward to greet the rising sun. Below me is the Gulf of Mexico, its sparkling surface now marred by slicks of oil that continue to gush from ruptured pipes along the seafloor. It won’t be long now before the orange glow rimming the horizon is pierced by sunlight, birthing a new day on this our wondrous but ailing planet.

My journey has begun: half spiritual pilgrimage, half worldly adventure, but as a whole something more mysterious than I can yet fathom is luring me to Europe. I await the revelations grace may bestow upon me this summer. I’ll be landing in Fort Lauderdale shortly, where I’ll stay for a few weeks to catch up with family and friends. I realize how much San Francisco has changed me only when I see myself through the eyes of those I left behind.

On June 19th, I fly to London. Upon landing, I immediately catch a train and head 3 hours southwest to the town of Totnes, where I begin a course at Schumacher College co-taught by Sean Kelly (a cultural historian and professor of mine from CIIS), Stephan Harding (ecologist and Gaia theorist), and Rupert Sheldrake (biologist known best for his theory of morphic resonance) called “Gaia theory and the Evolution of Consciousness.” After two weeks of study with these brilliant thinkers, I head to the airport a short distance away in Plymouth to catch a flight to Dublin. There, I’ll meet up with my friend Kelleigh, whose grace and joie de vivre will surely make this leg of the journey especially exciting. Theory will be put to practice in Ireland, as the Gaian ecology learned at Schumacher should give me a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the living landscape. After enjoying the culture (and Guinness!) of Dublin, we head south to the sacred ruins and protected valleys of Glendalough. I’ve recently been reading the story of St. Kevin, who was told by an angel to journey alone to the slopes of Glendalough, where after years of solitary prayer he learned to commune with otters in the lake and birds in the sky, beautifully exemplifying the intimacy with nature so characteristic of Celtic spirituality. The next leg of our Irish adventure takes us west toward Galway. From there, we’ll make our way down the coast by train or bus, stopping in pubs to meet locals and fellow travelers. Eventually, we’ll find ourselves on Dingle peninsula to hike the foothills and gaze across the Atlantic from the edge of seaside cliffs. On the 15th of July, we arrive in West Cork to farm with our WWOOF host, John Dolan, for about a week. Waking up before dawn to tend to the needs of the soil is something I crave, even if I’ll only get a small taste of what such a life in constant communion with the earth is like. From the Dolan farm, we head to Wexford county on the east coast of Ireland to camp and participate in a sustainability and survival skills workshop. That will bring our stay in the land of ire to an end, as we’ll hop on a ferry at the port and cross the sea to Wales. Once there, we’ll rent a car and drive to Brecon Beacon to hike and maybe even camp, then to the town of Hay-on-Wye, famous for its multitude of bookstores full of old classics. I’m on the lookout for some early printings of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, a book of poetic philosophy I’ll be drawing from for my dissertation. I imagine Kelleigh and I, bibliophiles that we are, will need to ship a box or two back to the States before we leave! Next, we head towards Glasonbury to soak in the ancient energies of Stonehenge, perhaps built by Druids, who perhaps had help from whatever is responsible for the regular appearance of crop circles in the area. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to arrive at the right time to investigate a new one. Then, the first day or two of August, we drive to London to drop the car off and head our separate ways, Kelleigh to Belgium and I to Dornach, Switzerland. I’m attending an English language conference at the Goetheanum (world headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society) on the future of spirituality. The controversial esotericist and Sophiologist Sergei Prokofieff is the only lecturer on the schedule whose name I recognize, but my advisor at CIIS, Robert McDermott (author of The New Essential Steiner), who is well-known among Anthroposophists, assures me I will not be disappointed with the rest of the line up. Prokofieff is an outspoken critic of Valentin Tomberg, whose spiritual classic Meditations on the Tarot: a Journey into Christian Hermeticism (transl. by Robert Powell) has profoundly influenced me. I’ll be interested to hear the angle Prokofieff takes, as I’ve not yet read any of his work.

From Dornach, I head to Italy to visit Florence and Rome for a week each. I have to thank my friend Fr. Thomas Matus for drawing up an extensive itinerary for me during this leg of my journey. He lived for some time at the monastery of St. Gregory the Great in Rome and so knows the city and the culture quite well. There are too many highlights to mention now. I’ll have plenty to recount afterwards, I’m sure.

Rome is the end of the line. My flight back to Miami leaves out of London on the 23rd of August, but I might try to change it to fly out of Rome to save myself a train ride back to the UK. I’ll spend a day or two in South Florida and then fly back to San Francisco to get ready to drive to Nevada for Burning Man on the 30th. It’s my first burn, but I’ll be camping with a bunch of regulars, so I’ll probably survive!

I’ve been dreaming of this summer since my senior year of high school. I actually almost sold my car and dropped out my freshman year of college to backpack through Europe. I was fed up with the assembly-line education and military-industrial funding funneling into UCF. In hindsight, I’m glad I decided against it. I’m in a much better position now then I probably would have been.

The plane is making its final descent. The sun has risen. My summer is just beginning.

Materialism and Imagination

Art is now the last safe harbor for the expression of spiritual longing in our increasingly materialistic civilization. The supposedly self-evident discoveries of scientific investigation into the nature of the physical universe have convinced most who know of them that everything which exists is a giant machine governed by measurable, generally deterministic laws. Even our age-old religious traditions have become materialistic, mistaking the letter of their books for the life and spirit of the world. The intelligent liberal, no less imbued with the religious impulse constituting the core of their being than any other human of lesser education, turns to art and self-expression instead of religious community to fulfill their basic biological need for transcendence. For a person of this form of consciousness, the only possible relationship with the spiritual world that remains possible comes through the power of imagination. But it would be a failure of imagination to resort to explaining such a power as an epiphenomenal side effect of skull-bound brain activity. The human spirit does not receive an already created world, but enacts one through participation in the angelic poetry (otherwise known as the Logos) undergirding the phenomenal reality of the evolving cosmos. If art be our only remaining way out of hell and into a renewed, now consciously-willed paradise on earth, then let us all begin sharing the wisdom lying dormant in our hearts. Let us bring forth a world of beauty and goodness, the only true world there ever was or will be but for our failure to imagine it.

Goal Statement for my PhD Studies at CIIS

As a result of the past two years of study toward a MA degree in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness, my mind has been so stretched—both inward into the depths of my own soul and outward into the endless expanse of the cosmos—that distilling a specific dissertation topic for my PhD research will be extremely difficult. I’d like it to be focused enough to make a serious contribution to future philosophical scholarship, but general enough to be accessible to a wider, non-academic audience. Accomplishing both of these goals will require paying close attention to detail, but also to transdisciplinary methods of research. I will also need to develop a language that is both philosophically nuanced and poetically evocative.

As for the topic itself, much of my thinking as of late has drawn my attention to the role of imagination in perception and reflection, and the potential for its intentional cultivation to open up as yet supersensible realms of experience. Philosophers and poets like Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield, G.W.F. Hegel, Immanuel Kant, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and J.W. von Goethe will no doubt play huge supporting roles as my research develops. Another major influence has been the Swiss-born philosopher Jonael Schickler, whose only published work, “Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner” was finished a few days before his untimely death at the age of 25 in a train accident in the UK. I have only just begun to read the text, but it is almost as if Schickler laid the groundwork for the same project I had been conceiving of pursuing, thereby allowing me to stand upon his shoulders to further develop the thesis.

The thesis, simply stated, is that the alienation of the modern self from both the spiritual and the natural world is a result of a dialectical process, or an evolution of consciousness, whose culminating moment is nothing short of the complete incarnation of the Word. One of the main issues I hope to clarify in my dissertation is how and why the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution occurred. The arguments in Charles Taylor’s monumental work, “A Secular Age,” will be of great service to me here, as he there brilliantly articulates why the disenchantment of the universe and the rejection of traditional religious authority are the result, not of the epistemological discoveries of science reflecting a supposedly indifferent and mechanical natural world, but rather of shifting moral attitudes concerning the autonomy and freedom of the self. As Rudolf Steiner similarly argues in many lectures, what is significant about modern science is not the picture it has painted of the natural world, but the self-development it has allowed to take place within the human soul. Fully incarnating into matter required of the human being that it find spirit not as something given by the outer world, but as something achieved by an inner will.

I will further attempt to argue that only by developing supersensory organs of perception (such as imagination and intuition) can humanity continue its evolutionary journey back to spiritual wholeness. The philosophers and poets mentioned above tapped into and re-enlivened the Wisdom and Beauty at the core of the Western tradition in a way that hasn’t been equaled before or since. I’m well aware of the tremendous influence the ideas of these geniuses have already had on our culture, but I think there is much that has gone underappreciated. I’m most interested in the relationship these thinkers attempted to articulate between mind and nature, a relationship that both held the human being in highest esteem as the pinnacle of natural evolution and at the same time recognized the beauty and worth of nature in its own right. It was the human imagination, they argued, that, when fully realized, not only allows us to appreciate the universe, but that literally creates the universe. This idea would not have been possible to articulate prior to Kant’s so-called “Copernican Revolution,” wherein the true constitutive power of the mind was first recognized. No longer could the human mind be understood as a mirror of nature; instead, the mind’s own categories and ideas determine in the first the way nature appears to us.

The post-Kantian philosophers were not satisfied with Kant’s formulation, however. They struggled to overcome the Cartesian legacy that Kant’s dualism between appearance and reality still upheld. Nature could only be understood as mechanism so far as Kant was concerned, the notion of a purposive, organismic universe being but a “regulative principle” of the understanding. In other words, because of the inherent limitations of the human mind (i.e., the categories of the understanding and sensory intuitions), Kant believed we were forever alienated from the natural world around us. We were free, autonomous selves, but we could never understand how this freedom was possible in an entirely mechanical universe of dead matter in motion. Schelling and Hegel were not satisfied with the limitations Kant placed on the mind. Schelling in particular looked to the imagination’s unconscious creative capacities for a way beyond the static and dualistic categories of the understanding. Coleridge further developed this approach, developing what we might call a science of the imagination. So far as he was concerned, imagination is the mediator between spirit and matter. Our positivistic and materialistic age has had a dramatic effect not just on how we think about nature, but on how we perceive it. Coleridge recognized this, and so sought not only philosophical articulation of a re-enchanted cosmology, but also to develop a method of poetic entrance into the hidden significance of all that appears before us. Matter seems at first to be merely surface, but for the Romantics, these surfaces are actually signs pointing beyond themselves to something spiritual.

To sum up, my research goal is primarily to try to flesh out and make relevant once again the Romantic conception of nature as a symbol of the divine. Only a renewed sense of imagination (which is perhaps quite literally a new organ of perception) will allow us to recognize material appearances as an expression of spiritual realities lying beneath. I not only want to explore the implications of this idea as it relates to the dualism between mind and nature, but also between mind and mind. I find great importance in what Steiner calls “moral imagination,” which is our ability to see below the surface of human persons to their true spiritual essence. Matter is spirit’s way of expressing itself, of creating worlds by way of imaginative participation in the becoming of nature. I hope to articulate and participate in this adventure during the course of my dissertation, thereby rediscovering the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Western tradition that so sorely needs a renewed sense of its earthly mission.

As well as developing my dissertation, I’d like to hone my teaching skills, as there is no other vocation I can currently conceive myself pursuing. Ideas are not a private affair, so far as I am concerned. They are like stars whose very existence depends upon the radiance and warmth they share with the beings around them. Teaching is a necessary part of study and learning, and I cannot wait to fully embody the role of professor, not only for the challenge it presents to my own intellectual and spiritual development, but for the time-honored lineage of cultural transmission it will allow me to participate in.

Self-consciousness and Philosophy

“You, all-powerful, are my all, at one with me before I can be at one with you.” –St. Augustine (Confessions).

Self-consciousness is that with which I must begin… but I will confess, I cannot yet be certain even of my own beginning. It remains a mystery to me, sometimes even a horror. I meet the uncanny reflection of myself alternately with anxious doubt, paralyzing fear, and rapturous ecstasy. Self-consciousness is thinking become aware of itself, a self that knows that it knows without necessarily being certain of what it knows. Descartes discovered the ‘cogito’ by doubting all knowledge, leaving only an empty knower behind. Kant articulated the transcendental unity of apperception to bring together knower and known, self and world, subject and object, but I have reason to believe his attempt remains stillborn as an abstract, ultimately self-contradictory system. Mind here finds its identity with itself, but from things, it becomes entirely alienated. Kant was perhaps able to awaken the spirit of freedom in the human soul, but he did so only by severing any relation between it and the apparent mechanism of Nature.

The challenge of post-Kantian philosophy, according to Hegel, is to “recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered…and set Reason itself in harmony with nature, not by having Reason renounce itself or become an insipid imitator of nature, but by Reason recasting itself into nature out of its own inner strength” (p. 258, German Idealist Philosophy).

The desire to think at first rises in my soul because of the inverse but complementary movement of an expanding universe. I intend as it extends. It is incomplete in itself, but in thinking, I will its wholeness. Light cannot travel fast enough through space to show me what is beyond the edge of time—the physical eyes cannot see to eternity. But an inner sight intuits the universe’s end without my having to sense it.

Thinking emerges because Being is not complete in itself—but wills also to become for itself. Substance is also Subject. Or, as Schelling put it, “Nature should be the Spirit made visible, Spirit the invisible Nature” (p. 166). I am able not only to intuit, but to participate in the creative movement of the universe toward wholeness because in my soul, matter finds its center, becoming the image of Spirit, the point of eternal stillness around which all else revolves. Thinking relates to being and ideas to reality only through acts of moral imagination.

Consciousness of Science, post at PZ Myers’ blog Pharyngula

Link to Pharyngula

…To believe self-consciousness can be accounted for in purely neurochemical terms is simply a category mistake. Empirical science presupposes self-consciousness, otherwise scientific reasoning would not be possible. Science cannot explain self-consciousness mechanistically without calling into question its own privileged epistemic status. Natural science attempting to explain consciousness in terms of brain mechanisms is much like trying to explain rainbows in terms of atmospheric water droplets. It reflects a lack of philosophical understanding of the phenomenon in question. The rainbow is not located in the sky, it emerges out of the relationship between light, certain kinds of eyes, and certain kinds of skies. I think consciousness is similar. It’s a mistake to try to locate it inside the skull. It is emergent, not just out of neurons, but out of space-time as a whole. If we deny the cosmic context of consciousness, i fail to see how we can avoid a dualism between the human mind and the rest of the natural universe. Contrary to a paper linked above about the challenges for any future science of consciousness, philosophers are growing increasingly aware of the hidden assumptions of dualist and materialist metaphysics that bias genuinely scientific research into its nature. Yes, consciousness is natural, but it is unlike any other natural phenomenon in that it is also noumenal. That is, consciousness can become an object to itself, as when we introspect or correlate mental states to fMRI readings, etc., but it also always remains the subject underlying these experiences. Consciousness is not just phenomenal, it is also transcendental (or noumenal). I think there are many limitations to Kant’s philosophical compromise between science and religion, or knowledge and morality, but whenever I participate in discussions on Pharyngula, I find myself having to repeat his arguments. This isn’t because I find his conclusions satisfying, but it is because I recognize that he defined the problems and laid out the territory. The problem with this message board (from my perspective) is that most of you are unwilling to give anything but a minor supporting role to philosophy as regards natural science. In other words, you’re all positivists. The video of Dawkins above is a great example of what happens when a scientist is blind to their philosophical assumptions, and forgetful of the cultural history of Western science. I might be interested in responding to any responses I get to this post, but I’m well aware it is an exercise in futility for both sides. I’ll just do what I usually do, which is recommend a few books (Bruno Latour’s “Science in Action” and Donna Haraway’s “Modest Witness”). They put science in it’s true cultural and historical context. If you’re especially brave (and patient enough to consider views that are probably radically different than your own), you might even read my paper on how re-situating science within culture is a necessary step before any solution to our social and ecological crises are possible:

Intimations of an Integral God: A lecture at CIIS

Slide 1: Prior to coming to CIIS, while studying philosophy as an undergraduate, I always had the sense of being somewhat smothered. As my studies continued, and my understanding matured, I realized why. I was being trained to think in the shadow of Immanuel Kant. [Show Crit. of Pure Reason- You’ve all read this, right?] For Kant, questions about God, and about God’s relationship to humanity and the cosmos, while certainly of the utmost importance, are nonetheless beyond the philosopher’s ability to know. But if my two years at PCC have taught me anything, it’s that such an artificial division between the human heart-mind and divine wisdom is unnecessary. I want to speak, as a philosopher, about the place of God and religion in the nascent social imaginary we call the Ecozoic era. Ecology has rightly become the rallying cry of our increasingly illumined planetary consciousness, but I don’t think this necessarily means that theology—or better, theosophy—can be retired. The word “theology” seems to imply some sort of over-masculinized attempt to intellectualize the divine. “Theosophy” suits my purposes better, suggesting patiently listening for, rather than logically hunting down the meaning of the divine. It does seem clear that traditional religion (Latin: religare), a bond to the dogmas of the past (i.e., fallen state of nature), may no longer serve our radically unprecedented situation. But in the “Ever Present Origin, Jean Gebser speaks of what he calls ‘praeligion’,” –the further flowering of religion out of its deficient mental mode of belief, so as to allow a “genuine irruption of the other side into this side, the presence of the beyond in the here and now, of death in life, of the transcendent in the immanent, of the divine in the human” (EPO, p. 529). Praeligion in this sense may make real what for religion remains abstract and ideal. I’d like to speak on behalf of this possibility.


Slide 2: I want to pause here for a moment to acknowledge some pressing questions: Whether it be called religion or praeligion, it’s really just another spin on the same old Judeo-Christian mythos, right? What is the use of reviving theology when it seems that our real problems are ecological? And isn’t our scientific understanding of the evolving cosmos enough to inspire us? I must admit that I am going to speak the language of a particular book, The Bible. But I also think it is a mistake to artificially separate the world’s major religious traditions. There really does seem to be a perennial wisdom informing the esoteric teachings of each, even if this wisdom reveals itself differently according to the needs of particular times and particular places. All human beings have spiritual aspirations, which means that an understanding of time and evolution are not enough to satisfy the infinite longing of our souls. I think psychic wholeness requires that we also have some sense of eternity and of involution. All the world’s spiritual traditions seem to me to be in agreement about this.


Slide 3: There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that theology, or theosophy, cannot continue to remain relevant if it neglects the significance of time and evolution—of earth. As Teilhard writes, “It used to appear that only two attitudes were possible for humanity: either loving heaven or loving earth. With a new view of space-time, a third road opens up: to make our way to heaven through the earth” (Christianity and Evolution). Natural science has learned quite a bit in the last few hundred years about the natural history of our planet. This is an “earth-clock” representing this history. If we imagine that the 4.6 billion years of our earth’s existence were condensed into an hour, the first prokaryotic cells would have emerged within less than 10 minutes! Life was no mistake; clearly, the earth was never a mere rock, but was potentially living from the very first moment it began folding upon itself in space-time. This, along with our knowledge of the common origin of all life, and of all of space-time!, is a testament to the interconnectedness and creativity assumed to be absent from nature by earlier scientific paradigms.


Slide 4: I don’t think the recognition of this already existing creativity makes talk of Alpha and Omega superfluous. In fact, I think it makes these theological concepts more relevant than ever, because modern science is suggesting that the universe is a cosmogenesis, that it had a beginning, and that it is developing irreversibly toward some end. The question is, what kind of end? Teilhard wrote often of how the unitary perspectives offered by 20th century physics and biology have provided a decisive new impetus to our sense of the universe. “The surge of modern pantheisms is a result of this,” he says. “But this impetus” he continues, “will only end by plunging us back into supermatter if it does not lead to Someone” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 190). Pantheism is undoubtedly a beautiful affirmation of the enchanted wholeness of the universe, but I, like Teilhard, find it difficult to breathe in a universe without any hint of divine transcendence.

When I look at Western history with an eye for the evolution of consciousness, I see a movement from pre-modern mythic Theism (universe created by an entirely transcendent divine Person), through modern Deism, to post-modern Pantheism/atheism (which I lump together because both understand the universe in an entirely immanent and impersonal way). I think the next step in this dialectic is toward an Integral Panentheism, where the universe is experienced as an ongoing process toward personalization, an anthropocosmogenesis. Teilhard articulates the subtle but important difference between pantheism and panentheism in the following way: “…if the reflective centers of the world are really ‘one with God,’ this state is not obtained by identification (God becoming all [as in pantheism]), but by the differentiating and communicating action of love (God all in all)” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 223). God is not just One, but also Many; not just transcendent, but living within the heart of each and every being.


Slide 5: I think this dialectic from theism, to atheism/pantheism, to panentheism shows us that, if history has any significance, it is that, as Owen Barfield says, “in the course of it, the relation between creature and Creator is being changed” (Saving the Appearances, p. 160). Perhaps the God of our planetary age is no longer a hidden eye in the sky, uninvolved in earthly life, but in the course of the evolution of consciousness, beginning to take up far more intimate residence within and among us upon the earth itself.  As Teilhard writes, “Religion… represents the long disclosure of God’s being through the collective experience of the whole of humanity” (Human Energy, p. 47).


Slide 6: I’d like to draw attention to three reasons why a panentheist God remains relevant even in our increasingly secular world. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that God, as an idea, has important social functions and so should not be dispensed with. I’m not making a prescriptive argument. I’m suggesting that human beings will inevitably remain religious creatures for these reasons: 1) to foster human community, 2) to provide intimacy with the cosmos, 3) to provide an evolutionary telos for consciousness.


Slide 7: Hegel seems to me to have been on to something in suggesting that divinity and humanity find their unity in the consciousness of community (part B, philosophy of religion). But the importance of God for community, and of community for God, was made apparent to me not at first by Hegel, but by the Jewish theologian Martin Buber. In the final lines of the afterward to his book “I and Thou,” Buber writes: “The existence of mutuality between God and [humanity] cannot be proved anymore than the existence of God. Anyone who dares nevertheless to speak of it bears witness and invokes the witness of those whom he addresses” (p. 182). Buber attempts in this book to articulate the twofold attitude human beings can take toward the world and each other: 1) “I-It” relation, wherein an aloof subject experiences the others as object, as a means to its ends; 2) “I-Thou/You” relation, wherein one relates to other persons as the presence of God, encountering others as a revelation of the eternal You, of the universal person in the unique.


Slide 8: Emmanuel Levinas, who was heavily influenced by Buber, finds God in the infinite responsibility that takes the ego hostage in any authentic face-to-face encounter with another. He writes: “The free [human being] is dedicated to [her] fellow; no one can save [herself] without others. The inside-out domain of the soul does not close from inside” (Humanism of the Other, p. 66). The soul is infinite, and so it seems it cannot find wholeness without relating to divinity, which for Levinas is the holiness of others. This notion of a soul unable to close from the inside also reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin’s question as to why “we are not more sensitive to the presence of something on the move at the heart of us that is greater than ourselves?” (The Human Phenomenon, p. 120).


Slide 9: An integral God would not only foster community, but would deepen the intimacy of our relationship to the cosmos. Teilhard’s love of matter goes a long way in this direction, but I think the German shoemaker turned mystic Jakob Boehme’s vision of the relationship between God and creation may have even more to say to us. The physicist Basarab Nicolescu distills the essence of Boehme’s cosmology of divine self-manifestation as “a threefold structure leading to a sevenfold self-organization of reality” (Science, Meaning, and Evolution, p. 90).


Slide 10: Boehme’s God is not Aristotle’s perfect unmoved mover, but dynamic and self-revelatory by nature. Boehme wrote many books attempting to describe his revelatory vision of a God who cannot but overflow into creation. God in-itself, traditionally “God the Father,” is the mysterious abyss or ground of pre-creation, and consists of the restless agitation of three principles—darkness, light, and fire (or sour, sweet, and bitter). The light wants to expand and radiate, to become manifest, but the dark wants to remain hidden and self-contained. As a result of this self-contradiction, God ignites into flames, burning in what Boehme calls a “wheel of anguish.” The friction of the three restless principles generates heat, which is the first of God’s manifest qualities but the 4th in the sevenfold self-organization of reality. This heat ignites a flash, transforming it into the force of love in search of itself, the 5th principle. Love finds itself through the reverberation of sound or tone, language or the Word, the 6th principle, which then becomes flesh, reaching fulfillment as body—God incarnate—completing the sevenfold series.


For Boehme, the cosmos is the body of God. He refers to stars as the “fountain veins of God.” It is as if he is saying that stars are a visible example of this sevenfold creator-creativity in action. But this series is active in every being.


Cosmogenesis is, for Boehme, the divine’s attempt to find wholeness, and the human being participates in this attempt, our faith (or our opening to the imaginal dimension of reality) acting as the food that nourishes God. Boehme’s cosmology places a heavy responsibility upon humanity, as the completion of the sevenfold cycle depends upon our active cooperation. With the failure to consciously participate, according to Nicolescu, “the entire universe of the creation would disappear into chaos” (p. 89).


Slide 11: Owen Barfield’s insightful ‘study in idolatry,’ the subtitle of his book about the evolution of consciousness called “Saving the Appearances,” provides another way to deepen the intimacy of the relationship between human beings and the universe. For Barfield, the entire history of the world consists in the changing relationship between consciousness and phenomena, between spirit and matter. Long ago, human beings participated unconsciously in a spiritually imbued cosmos; but in time, with the gift of speech, the ability to name phenomena, came also the awareness of self. Original participation with the cosmic process was canceled, and human beings began increasingly to perceive only their own collective representations/mythic images of the cosmos, which itself receded into the background. Following the scientific revolution, these collective representations became “false idols”—the universe conceived of as matter in motion without the need of being participated by any percipient. This further isolated human consciousness from a deterministic nature. As the 19th century approached its end, the universe began increasingly to seem like a collection of dead objects lacking all interiority.


Barfield points to the possibility of “final participation,” wherein we come to recognize that our consciousness actively participates in the holotropic movement of space-time itself. In other words, we realize that we stand in what Barfield calls a “directionally creator relation” to the cosmos—that each of us are co-participants in the divine imagination that continually brings forth the phenomenal world. Final participation, according to Barfield, requires the reversal of our normal direction of consciousness; original participation fired the heart from a source outside itself; images enlivened the heart. But for final participation, the heart must be fired from within by our own spark of divinity…it is for the heart to enliven the images (p. 172).


Slide 12: As Teilhard describes it so eloquently, lacking the metanoia required for final participation, “we are continually inclined to isolate ourselves from the things and events surrounding us as though we were looking at them from the outside… as spectators rather than elements of what is happening…We are not being tossed about and drawn along in the vital current merely by the material surface of our being. But like a subtle fluid, space-time, having drowned our bodies, penetrates our soul…until the soul soon no longer knows how to distinguish space-time from its own thoughts” (p. 153).


Slide 13: We see, then, that we are not mere spectators of an already created universe. The telos of consciousness evolution is towards the activation of our latent powers of imaginal cognition, so that we might participate with God in the ongoing revelation of the universe.


Boehme: “For thou needest not ask, Where is God? Hearken, thou blind human; thou livest in God, and God is in thee; and if thou livest holily, then therein thou thyself art God. For wheresoever thou lookest, there, is God” (Aurora, p. 172).

Jonael Schickler, Christology, and Rudolf Steiner

So the book arrived today: Schickler’s dissertation, “Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner.” The author’s argument is as optimistic and uplifting as his own fate is tragic. Just days after finishing the manuscript, Schickler was killed in the Potters Bar rail accident in 2002 near Hertfordshire in the UK. I first heard about his dissertation a few months ago from a friend who has been studying Rudolf Steiner for some years now, and its content, as well as the author’s untimely death, struck me as deeply significant to my own course of study. I remain humble in regards to my own philosophical abilities, but I nonetheless feel compelled to carry forward the work that Schickler left unfinished. I, like him, find in Steiner’s esotericism a re-ignited passion for Wisdom, for God, and for the Cosmos that has otherwise been all but extinguished by contemporary forms of materialist positivism. My own philosophical goals are to breathe life back into Western philosophy by overcoming the limitations of Kantian skepticism. This will require not just new ideas, but the cultivation of a trans-empirical organ of perception: the imagination. The beginnings of this work can be read in my essay “The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy,” posted a few days ago. I plan on posting regularly over the coming days and weeks as I make my way through Schickler’s text, offering my own reflections, but mainly trying to internalize his perspective so as to see the world as he did. Stay tuned!

Teilhard and Steiner: Cosmogenesis in Light of Anthroposophy

Teilhard and Steiner:
Cosmogenesis in light of Anthroposophy
Introduction: As Above, So Below 
  The human is a spiritual being of universal significance. If my reader lacks the courage required for such an affirmation, they need read no further, because though one may have ears to hear and eyes to see, without an open heart these sensory organs will remain deaf and blind to the wisdom I wish to share.
  I repeat, the human is a spiritual being of universal significance. History leaves record of a few special individuals who have realized the meaning of this essential truth, but their teachings have often been obscure and shrouded in secrecy. In what follows, I share my still limited understanding of the insights of two such illumined beings with you because I feel the time has come for the mysteries to be opened and made accessible to everyone. For both of these men, Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, human consciousness and the process of cosmic evolution are corresponding phenomena that cannot be understood in isolation.
  Knowledge of this correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is not new. On the contrary, it is perhaps the oldest secret doctrine at the core of all subsequent esoteric science, first appearing in the Emerald Tablet of the “thrice great” Hermes: “As it is above, so it is below; and as it is below, so it is above.”
  It is this doctrine of correspondence that makes possible a synthesis between natural and spiritual science, between cosmology and theosophy. For Steiner, this synthesis took the form of anthroposophy, “a path of knowledge guiding the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.”[1] Anthroposophy attempts to situate the human within the complex and evolving interpenetration of mineral, etheric, astral, and spiritual planes constituting our total being. It is a direct response to the one-dimensional worldview of scientific materialism, wherein the human spirit is reduced to an anomaly in an otherwise disjointed world of purposeless matter in motion.
  Modern science has no doubt made many astonishing discoveries about the universe during the course of the last several centuries. The enchanted medieval cosmos, with its crystalline heavenly spheres and static hierarchies, represented, in many respects, an oversimplified and immature picture of the universe. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo re-situated earth and humanity in a far vaster and more mysterious universe, shattering the spheres and calling into question the Great Chain of Being supposedly ascending from dust to divinity. It was not long before Newton, inspired by the Hermetic doctrine of a correspondence between heaven and earth, unified terrestrial and astrophysical law.
  It would be a mistake to believe that the heliocentric displacement of earth or the law of universal gravitation somehow contradict the deeper truth of humanity’s universal significance. Nor do the more recent discoveries of thermodynamics and biological evolution in any way remove the human phenomenon from the heart of the cosmos. On the contrary, 20th century cosmology has re-confirmed another ancient Hermetic principle, that ours is an infinite universe whose circumference is nowhere and so whose center is everywhere. As Teilhard allows us to see, space and time, matter and energy, can now be understood as interwoven threads of single a living matrix that is irreversibly growing toward increasing complexity and consciousness. “The human is not the static center of the world, as was thought for so long,” writes Teilhard, “but the axis and arrow of evolution—which is much more beautiful.”[2]
  Nonetheless, the old conception of the macrocosm, according to Steiner, has died away, and for good reason. Human beings used to be as children, passively receiving the lessons of cosmic wisdom from the primeval macrocosm. It was as if the light and music of the heavenly spheres thought for a still unconscious human soul.
  “The old macrocosm had to die,” says Steiner, so “that [humanity] might sever [itself] from it with full self-consciousness.”[3] Earth is not a mere speck of dust in the endless empty expanse of physical space, however, but—with the participation of human consciousness—“in its unity an embryo—the seed of a macrocosm newly rising into life.”[4]
  A similar image is found in the Emerald Tablet, wherein the One which made all things opens an economy between earth and sky, what is below and what is above, in order to transform, through a series of steps, the grossness of earthly matter into the subtler substance of fire. The story is archetypal and runs through all of Western esotericism: matter is a fallen form of Spirit, the One become many; but in so falling, Spirit, though perhaps perfect in its transcendence, betrays a lack of completeness. Spirit, already All, desired to take on earthly flesh—to become human—so as to love and to know itself in All.
  In what remains of this short essay, rather than explicitly arguing in favor of the re-unification of science and mysticism, I will assume that, actually, the two have never parted company. I do not believe there has ever been a scientific genius whose insights were derived solely from the measurement of matter in motion. If human consciousness was uninformed by the higher senses of imagination, inspiration, and intuition, the Scientific Revolution could never have taken place. Instead, in what follows, I aim only to remind my reader of the spiritual evolution they have always been participating in by exploring, with both Steiner and Teilhard as my guides, the newly emerging correspondence between consciousness and the cosmos that, with the help of the Cosmic Christ, is unfolding upon the earth. This exploration will involve both anamnesis and metamorphosis, requiring both a meditative plunge into the depths of cosmic memory and a faithful leap to the heights of divine imagination.
Earth Evolution and the Human Spirit
  “Long ago,” writes Teilhard, “the precursors of our chemists worked furiously to find the lapis philosophorum—the philosophers’ stone. Today our ambition has grown.”[5] It is no longer enough to turn lead into gold, though the symbolism underlying such a procedure is not at all off the mark. Earth may at first have seemed to be made only of metals and minerals, but this was but the outer shell of a germinating seed still in the process of elemental transmutation.
  Teilhard describes the juvenile earth as already lined by an inner spiritual potential for life, adding that
“in rhythm with the awakening forces of synthesis included in matter, its activities, dormant until then, were set in motion…[as] over the entire periphery of the newly formed globe, the tension of internal freedoms began to rise.”[6]
  The earth has from its beginnings been developing from the mineral realm into progressively more complex and more conscious kingdoms of nature: first into the watery etheric body of plants, then to the air-like astral body of animals, finally becoming a vessel for the “essential fire”[7] of the human spirit. This is of course a symbolic and alchemical way of representing the movement from lower to higher kingdoms, but it does not at all contradict Teilhard’s more detailed paleontological account of the tree of life. He painstakingly recounts the entire history of life on earth, from the first pre-living polymers, to simple cells, to metazoa, on to fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, primates, and finally, reflective human beings. I say “finally,” because for Teilhard, unlike many natural scientists, the evolution of “the ‘galaxy’ of living forms” on earth “outlines a vast ‘orthogenic’ movement of enfolding,”[8] meaning that its processes are directed toward a specific end. The current state of earth evolution is, in this sense, the culmination of an anthropocosmogenesis.
  Having reached this point, the earth’s work is, strictly speaking, finished. Its cosmic will has now converged and been hominized.[9] The time for humanity to consciously participate in the full flowering of the spiritual seed that is our planet has arrived. As Teilhard describes it, the earth now awaits the “advance of a circle of fire around the spark made by the first reflective consciousness.”[10] For Teilhard, as for Steiner, this requires not only realizing the human being is “inevitably the center of perspective,” but also “the center of construction of the universe.”[11] In our age of the spiritual soul,[12] the spiritual forces of the cosmos are no longer thinking for human consciousness. This spiritual umbilical cord has been severed. Rather, out of the active freedom of our spirit-seeing consciousness,[13] the universe that once produced humanity is now being remade within us.
  The changing relationship between the human microcosm and the macrocosm is a result of the evolution of consciousness. Most historians mistakenly believe that human beings have always experienced themselves and the world in the same way we do today. The mythical beings and magical forces that were so important to earlier ages are explained away as projections or fantasies of a more primitive intellect.[14] In truth, primordial humanity was still immersed in a dream-like consciousness directly inspired from above by contents of the spiritual world. As Steiner puts it, this earlier humanity experienced itself “as a drop out of the sea of cosmic spirituality, a drop that has separated itself off for the time of this earthly life, only to unite itself again when the earthly life is over.”[15] Today, humanity is passing through a temporary period of separation from the spiritual world as a result of an increasingly sense-bound materialistic outlook. We no longer recall what came before our birth, nor are we sure what awaits us after death. Instead of cosmic thoughts streaming in from above, the main contents of experience have become sense perceptions of the surfaces of objects. Ideas now require the effort of our own soul-activity; our task is to become increasingly conscious of our inner spirit, our ability to think freely independent of the outer world. “What came from the heights,” Steiner writes, “has to be found again in the depths.”[16]
  Steiner is careful to point out that what is most significant about the age of the spiritual, or consciousness soul (beginning around 1500 CE) is not the ideas developed by modern science concerning the natural world, but rather the effect these ideas have had on the evolution of humanity’s self-knowledge.[17] The spiritual macrocosm died away only to re-appear within the microcosm as the spiritualized material of the earth—which is to say, as human consciousness.
  Despite the alienation from outer nature and spirit that this death-rebirth process has temporarily required, it remains for consciousness a crucial and necessary initiation into a higher form of being and knowing. The process is akin to wandering in the desert in order to purify the soul in preparation for the realization of an otherwise unimaginable future mission. Steiner teaches that we must have confidence in the world and the courage to persists in our longing for spiritual truth if this mission is to become clearer to us.[18] The next step of cosmic evolution requires the free participation of our consciousness. In other words, the full flowering of the earth depends upon humanity’s becoming conscious of the cosmic will that has unconsciously struggled through billions of years of evolution to give birth to us.
  Teilhard describes this rebirth of the cosmos within consciousness as
“the entry of consciousness, forever, into a framework of new dimensions; and consequently, the birth of an entirely renewed universe, simply by the transformation of its most intimate stuff, without a change of line or fold.”[19]
  Consciousness, or what might also appropriately be called the human spirit, is for both Teilhard and Steiner an “inner Sun” that not only illumines our sensory experience of the world, but confers upon the universe itself a “form of unity it would never have had if it had not been thought.”[20] As Steiner puts it, “human beings do not just understand what nature has produced; they carry nature further.”[21] Our thinking is not simply an inner mental activity mirroring or representing some state of affairs in an outside world. Thinking is a higher dimensional folding of space-time upon itself, which is to say that consciousness is both unique and continuous with the ongoing development of the universe. I do not represent a world that remains outside myself when I think; rather, the world process comes to know itself in my thinking.
  “Therefore,” writes Steiner, “thinking must never be regarded as a merely subjective activity. Thinking is beyond subject and object.”[22] In thinking, I do more than receive impressions of a finished world—I actively participate in cosmogenesis. On earth, this means contributing to the emergence of an entirely new envelope surrounding the biosphere: the noosphere.
The Role of Christ in Noogenesis
  As Teilhard sees it, individual consciousnesses are being forced to converge upon themselves into an “almost solid mass of hominized substance”[23] due to the spherical shape of the earth. In whatever direction we head, we find not more land, but more people. This psychic compression has been going on at least since the Neolithic revolution, when agriculture increased our population and commerce lead to cities, some of which became especially wealthy and developed into empires hungry for the spoils of war. Noogenesis has not been a peaceful process, but even in the most violent of attempted conquests, the interpermeable nature of the psyche resulted in the endomorphosis of conquered and conqueror: both were left forever changed, becoming less defined by particular cultures and more by their humanity.[24]
  The assimilative function served by the wars of the past is little consolation for our contemporary predicament: it is no longer spears and arrows powered by the human hand, but atomic missiles fired from orbiting satellites that threaten our earthly wellbeing. The future destiny of all life on earth still rests in human hands—but hands that, with the push of a button, could eradicate forever billions of years of accumulated evolutionary innovation. The evils of war, perhaps for several centuries now, have ceased to serve noogenesis. Today, war (whether waged by one human society upon another, or by human industry upon the earth) represents a vestige of our less than human past. The pressure is increasing, the temperature continues to rise, and it is becoming more and more apparent that “brought to its thinking stage, life cannot continue without structurally needing to rise even higher.”[25]
  Both Steiner and Teilhard feel that only the cosmic love of the Christ impulse can safely carry humanity through this difficult transformation. Christ, for Teilhard, is a “universal Presence…, an expanding Center which is trying to find itself a sphere,” while earthly humanity represents “a sphere that is extending deeper and deeper, and needs a center.”[26] The coincidence is enough to convince Teilhard that our earthly mission has been seeded from above, that we are in no danger of suffocating as a result of increasing compression upon the earth. He recognizes that our violent and seemingly chaotic movement towards “a planetary Flux of co-reflection”[27] is supported from within by an incarnating divine axis.
  “What comes down to us from those heights,” writes Teilhard,
“is not merely air for our lungs; it is the radiance of a love. The World, therefore, is not simply a place in which a Life can breathe because its power to look into the future has been aroused; we can see its evolutive summit and so feel its absorbing magnetic attraction.”[28]
  Love, then, is the engine of evolution that is consummating the noosphere. As the universe becomes increasingly Christified as a result of earth’s noogenesis, the human psyche finds itself operating within a new charter, the details of which are a result of what Teilhard calls “the Divine Milieu.” As this milieu continues to manifest on earth, the difference between the universal and the personal will be broken down. The individual ego, while remaining unique, will begin to participate in the universal being of Christ.[29]
  “And so,” writes Teilhard,
“the possibility is disclosed for, opens out for, Humanity, not only of believing and hoping but (what is much more unexpected and much more valuable) of loving, co-extensively and co-originally with all the past, the present and the future of a Universe which is in process of concentration upon itself.”[30]
 According to Steiner, this process of concentration has hit a fever pitch during our age of the consciousness soul. As a result of telescopes giving us a better look at the stars, and the disenchanting effects of natural science generally, the inner human being “had to embrace the spirit of a sensory world—one that fills the spatial universe everywhere in the same way.”[31] Our expanded perception of outer space lead to a corresponding contracted perception of inner spirit. For many, the universe now seems to be a dead and empty place. As was discussed above, this period of alienation is necessary for the development of human freedom. The role of Christ, as Steiner sees it, is to provide a guarantee of this freedom, if only we “turn to Christ consciously in the spiritual frame of mind which [we] possessed subconsciously during the descent from supersensible spirit-existence to the use of intellect.”[32] This descent from our original participation in the music of the cosmic spheres to the dead way of thinking reigning at present can only be reversed by a movement of loving openness toward the world, an act of will which might also be termed “faith.” Noogenesis depends both on the strength of our collective bond and the courage of our individual will.
Christogenesis and Etheric Vision
  Teilhard and Steiner are Christ-centric thinkers, but in our increasingly interconnected planet, there are more spiritual paths available than ever before. They both feel there is something unique about the Christian spiritual impulse, that it serves the needs of our moment better than any other. Teilhard is quite aware, however, that imposing “a ready-made Divinity from outside” upon those of a non-Christian persuasion is no better than “preaching in the desert.”[33] Steiner is careful to point out that there is an experiential basis for Christian revelation, and that as more people begin to experience the Christ Event as “mystical fact,” our task will be to develop “an understanding for the possibility of entering the spirit world free of any religious denomination, going simply through the power of good will.”[34]
  In this section, I will attempt to articulate what makes Christianity unique and why it is that Teilhard and Steiner find it so important for the evolution of human consciousness on earth.
  Teilhard lists three attributes that any Divinity still capable of speaking to modern humanity must possess. This God must be: 1) vast and mysterious as the Cosmos, 2) immediate and all-embracing as Life, and 3) linked to our human efforts on the earth.[35]
  The first requirement is a result of Teilhard’s own experience as a scientist learning about the immensity and perplexity of the universe. As his knowledge of nature increased, his former faith began to seem childish. This tension between scientific facts and religious revelation allowed him, throughout his life, to share in the anxieties felt by so many non-believers. But like many Christian natural philosophers before him (like Aquinas and Hegel, to give two examples), he was able to bring together the Bible and the book of Nature. For Teilhard, there is “a secret message explanatory of the whole of Creation…allowing us to feel God in everything we do and in everything that is done to us”: the universe is Christ incarnate.[36] It is this secret that, when revealed within one’s heart (for it cannot be outwardly seen), demonstrates the conjunction of both humanity’s heavenly and earthly attractions. The vast Cosmos becomes the mysterious body of God.
  The second requirement stems from Teilhard’s plea for the priestly class to engage more fully with the world, rather than remaining merely “the people who bury you.”[37] He finds it imperative that the religious must not only study within religion in order to defend it, but apply their passionate religiosity to other fields, especially to science, where the disenchanting metaphysical assumptions of materialism are so often taken for granted. The natural world, studied religiously as the Body of Christ, may become, as William Law puts it, “a volume of holy instruction that leads us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[38] As Owen Barfield remarks in a similar spirit, “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the incarnation of the Word.”[39]
  Aside from fully engaging science, Christianity must overcome the contemporary sentiment that religion ought to remain a private matter. Morality can no longer be narrowly individualistic, but must emphasize our responsibility to “political duties, social duties, international duties, and cosmic duties.”[40] Many secular humanists believe that religion should not interfere with politics and government. Steiner would agree, but would also point out that a society awkwardly divided between public and private spheres is doomed to disintegrate. Instead, he recommends a more balanced threefold social order, composed of political, economic, and cultural spheres.[41] Spirituality (which includes an integral education) would guide the cultural sphere, while the political would assure the rights of individuals and the economic would assure that our collective needs and desires are met. Each sphere would mutually inform the others, but our core values would, for the most part, emerge from the cultural sphere.
  To meet the second requirement, Teilhard also calls for a renewed appreciation of the power of love, which duty-based ethics tend to downplay. There is no more powerful force than love in the lives of human beings, and a religion that does not embrace its transformative potential has no future.
  The third requirement is related to the second, but is aimed specifically at the potential otherworldly tendencies of Christianity, concerned more with the salvation of the soul than with the evolution of the earth. Earthly life cannot be understood as a mere passage to the next world. There is no more important doctrine in the Christian canon than that of the incarnation, the presence of the divine in this world.
  In order to feel at home on the earth, and to take responsibility for its flourishing, it is also important to remember that what is below is like what is above, that time is not other than eternity, and that matter is secret spirit. Earth and humanity may be in the midst of evolution, but Omega is already and always ever-present. Earth is the site of our holiest action, but in eternity and in Christ, the Great Work has already been accomplished.
  As Angelus Silesius writes,
“Friends, when you let your spirit rise above place and time, you can be in eternity every moment…The rose that your outer eye sees here has flowered like this in God through eternity…Sit in the center, and you will see everything at once, what happens both now and then, both here and in Heaven.”[42]
  Silesius refers not to you, but to the Christ in you, when he speaks of your spirit rising above place and time. The Christ in you is the presence of the end, the anticipation of Omega within your heart. Christ is love at work in the world. There is no higher wisdom in nature than that within the human heart, moved “like a wheel revolving uniformly by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”[43] To save the earth, we must find the Savior in our hearts.
  According to Steiner, the Mystery of Golgotha cannot be understood in a merely historical or materialistic way; comprehending its meaning requires spiritual insight into earthly evolution,[44] such that the Christ Event is recognized as “a cosmic deed…springing from Universal love, intelligible only by the love in Humanity.”[45] The second coming of Christ will not be the return of God in physical form. Instead, the continued evolution of the consciousness soul will gradually (over the course of the next 2,500 years) allow human beings to begin to perceive Christ’s presence in the etheric envelope of the earth. The consciousness soul must develop beyond sense-bound intellectuality into the heart-thinking of imagination before this will be possible.[46] Steiner points specifically to the decade between 1930 and 1940 as the time when signs of new faculties of soul would begin to manifest in certain individuals.[47]
  Teilhard is undoubtedly one of these individuals. In letters sent to friends from China written in 1939 just as Germany was invading France,
“he tells us that he gave himself to the writing of The Human Phenomenon as his part in the combat—war being sublimated into a work to form new eyes, to enable the world to see and to become more.”[48]
  Steiner likens etheric seeing to the capacity to read the Akashic record. This record is a form of cosmic memory working just beneath the surface of the world of the physical senses to shape and form its living features. Teilhard’s attempt to form new eyes so as to perceive the within of things is an example of the kind of heart-thinking that our age is being called to develop.
  Steiner’s vision of the Cosmic Christ emphasizes the importance of earthly evolution. Developing the imaginative perception required to experience Christ’s presence in the etheric is only possible while incarnated in a physical body upon the earth (and multiple reincarnations may be required for its full flowering). The humanity of earlier epochs in the evolution of consciousness was able to see into the etheric realm bordering the physical world of the senses, but this dream-like clairvoyance obscured the material reality of the earth. Our task in the current age of the consciousness soul, after coming to experience nature entirely emptied of spirit, is to develop imaginative perception in a fully awakened, individuated state. Only then will Christ’s presence on the earth become apparent to us.
  “We are approaching an age when people will feel they are surrounded not only by a physical, sensory world,” writes Steiner, “but also—according to their understanding—by a spiritual kingdom.”[49] This spiritual kingdom is what Teilhard referred to as the Divine Milieu, wherein he “saw the universe becoming amorized and personalized in the very dynamism of its own evolution.”[50]
  “We have within us mirror images of the great cosmos,” says Steiner, “and the members of our constitution–material, ether, astral, and I-being–are really realms of divine beings.”[51] The human being has come during the past 500 years to feel increasingly disoriented and alienated from the numinous dimension of the universe. We have great trouble recognizing our reflection in the stars above, and for most, the human constitution has been reduced to but one real member: the physical body.[52] But, if Steiner is correct, a seed has already been planted in our souls with the potential to restore our vision of the spiritual world bordering that of the physical senses. Teilhard’s vision of cosmogenesis unified by Christ’s love is an example of the kind of etheric perception that Steiner predicts will become more prevalent in the coming years.
  “Driven by the forces of love,” writes Teilhard, “the fragments of the world are seeking one another so the world may come to be.”[53] Without love, the world itself would long ago have fallen to pieces. The human being now stands precariously at a fork in the road: either we will continue to feel the inertial pull of materialism and degrade further into a dehumanized techno-industrial wonder world, or we will answer the cosmic call to birth within ourselves an etheric organ of perception capable of granting us conscious access to the spirits of form (including Christ) at work behind sensory appearances. Only with the heartfelt imagination required for such perception will we overcome our materialist trance. With perception of Christ in the etheric comes also a release from the anxiety associated with death, as it becomes apparent that the spirit alive within us is immortal. If cultural anthropologists like Ernest Becker[54] are right, and death anxiety is one of the major reasons for most violence and intolerance on our planet, then the moral imagination granting one immediate experience of the non-physical aspect of their own and other’s being cannot develop soon enough.
 Humanity is struggling to become the Spirit of the Earth, but as Teilhard says, this Spirit
“can only be born from a universal human love–a love that is armed with the force we still only lend to violence.”[55] We are beings of universal significance, but this status can no longer be taken for granted. It is now up to us to take the reigns of evolution and guide it toward Omega through the power of conscious amorization. I pray that humanity can face the future with an open heart; if the longing in my soul is not mistaken, a divine Face there awaits us.
Barfield, Owen.
Ø  The Rediscovery of Meaning. The Barfield Press: 1977.
Ø  Saving the Appearances. Wesleyan University Press: 1988.
Steiner, Rudolf.
Ø  Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts. Rudolf Steiner Press: 1973.
Ø  Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path. Anthroposophic Press: 1995.
Ø  Mystics After Modernism. Anthroposophic Press: 2000.
Ø  Outline of Esoteric Science. Anthroposophic Press: 1997.
Ø  The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric. Anthroposophic Press: 2003.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre.
Ø  The Human Phenomenon. Sussex Academic Press: 1999.
Ø  The Heart of Matter. Harcourt: 1978.

[1] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 13
[2] The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[3] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 169-170
[4] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 170
[5] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176-177
[6] The Human Phenomenon, p. 37
[7] As Teilhard describes the human element on p. 177
[8] The Human Phenomenon, p. 90
[9]  The Human Phenomenon, p. 7
[10] The Human Phenomenon, p. 123
[11] The Human Phenomenon, p. 3-4
[12] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 167
[13] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 168
[14] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 62
[15] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 56
[16] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 57
[17] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 69
[18] Mystics After Modernism, p. 88
[19] The Human Phenomenon, p. 152
[20] The Human Phenomenon, p. 176
[21] Mystics After Modernism, p. 58
[22] Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, p. 52
[23] The Human Phenomenon, p. 169
[24] The Human Phenomenon, p. 144
[25] The Human Phenomenon, p. 163
[26] The Heart of Matter, p. 90
[27] The Heart of Matter, p. 91
[28] The Heart of Matter, p. 92
[29] The Heart of Matter, p. 95
[30] The Heart of Matter, p. 99
[31] Mystics after Modernism, p. 116
[32] Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 73
[33] The Heart of Matter, p. 211
[34] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[35] The Heart of Matter, p. 212
[36] The Heart of Matter, p. 216
[37] The Heart of Matter, p. 217
[38] The Works of the Reverend William Law, p. 117
[39] Saving the Appearances, p. 164
[40] The Heart of Matter, p. 220
[41] See Towards Social Renewal: Rethinking the Basis of Society
[42] From Cherubinic Wanderer, quoted in Mystics After Modernism, p. 122
[43] Divine Comedy: Paradiso by Dante, Canto XXXIII:143-145
[44]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 224
[45]Anthroposophical Leading Thoughts, p. 149
[46] “Mere perception—perception without imagination—is the sword thrust between spirit and matter” –Owen Barfield (The Rediscovery of Meaning, p. 170)
[47] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 16
[48] The Human Phenomenon, p. xxiv
[49] The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 104
[50] The Heart of Matter, p. 83
[51]The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric, p. 142
[52] Though the I-being is necessarily implicit in any knowledge of the physical world, most do not recognize their own thinking as a spiritual activity.
[53]The Human Phenomenon, p. 188
[54] See The Denial of Death (1973)
[55]The Human Phenomenon, p. 266, note 15

The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy

The Role of Imagination in Speculative Philosophy
“[Imagination] is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And Reason in her most exalted mood.”
William Wordsworth, ‘The Prelude’
It should go without saying that there is more to reality than what at first meets the eye. There is always a deeper reason at work beneath the surface, discoverable even in a world overflowing with appearances. Somehow sensation is made intelligible, which is also to say that intelligence is made sensible. The nature of this synthesis was a mystery even to philosophical prophets like Hume and Kant, but both of them knew it had something to do with imagination. In book VI of The Republic, Plato ranks the imagination (eikasia) lowest on his scale of the soul’s faculties, complaining that it relates only to shadows and reflections—in short, to appearances. The intelligible realm is invisible, according to Plato, and thus accessible only to the more refined powers of understanding and reason[1] (or what Plato refers to as dianoia and noesis, respectively). Earlier in The Republic (book IV), Plato warns against the corrupting dangers of innovative poetry to the established order because of its power to quickly transform the values of entire societies.
Perhaps it was Plato’s longing for the stillness of eternity and the substance of ideas that made him suspicious of the poet’s dynamic and passionate imagination. The Idealism born in Germany more than two millennia later, however, beginning with Kant’s transcendental version and progressively developing through Fichte’s and Schelling’s systems to culminate in Hegel’s Absolute Idealism, though still Platonic to their core, can be read as having nonetheless entirely re-evaluated the role imagination plays in the generation and renovation of ideas, be they concerned with Truth, Goodness, or Beauty.
This essay will trace the philosophical development of the imagination in the philosophies of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. I will argue that philosophy, if it is to remain relevant to embodied minds such as ourselves, must transform experience of this world, instead of focusing on abstract ideals, by reawakening what Jakob Boehme called the “divine imagination.”[2] Hegel’s speculative system will be interpreted as having just such an aim, to produce “an actual experience of living in the light of the eternal day.”[3] The result of reawakening the divine imagination is that, as Wilber puts it, “the other world [of supersensible ideas becomes] this world rightly seen.”[4]
“I am now convinced,” wrote Hegel in 1797,
“that the highest act of Reason, the one through which it encompasses all Ideas, is an aesthetic act, and that truth and goodness only become sisters in beauty—the philosopher must possess just as much aesthetic power as the poet…Poetry gains thereby a higher dignity, she becomes at the end once more, what she was at the beginning—the teacher of mankind.”[5]
Hegel here articulates, early in his career, his desire for a philosophy that unites what Plato had divided. Reason reaches its zenith not in the contemplation of invisible ideas, but through the creative power of imagination, giving imaginal concreteness to ideas that would otherwise remain hidden in a “realm of shades.”[6] Imagination not only allows us to express the ideas of reason in our artistic works and ethical lives, but to perceive their expression in nature, which rightly approached becomes “a volume of holy instruction, [leading] us into all the mysteries and secrets of eternity.”[7] Before exploring the systems of Schelling and Hegel, however, we must pay respect to the genius of Kant, whose three critiques have forever changed the way human consciousness understands its relation to God and the Cosmos.
1. Kant
Walter Kaufmann credits Kant with authoring the first major philosophical book written in German.[8] In this book, the Critique of Pure Reason (published in 1781), Kant set himself the task of determining “how much we can hope to achieve by reason [i.e., the understanding], when all the material and assistance of experience are taken away.”[9] In other words, he hoped to determine what the understanding was capable of discovering about its own cognitive operations independent of what it receives from outside itself. He sought to establish the conditions for the possibility of all knowledge as the forms of intuition and categories that structure, a priori, all experience, whether of appearances within the soul or in external nature.
He lists three powers, or “…capacities of the soul…which cannot be any further derived from one common ground: the faculty of knowledge, the feeling of pleasure and pain, and the faculty of desire.”[10] These can be summarized as thinking, feeling, and willing, respectively.
These three powers of soul, along with the forms of intuition of space and time underlying all their content, constitute the whole of our phenomenal experience. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant lists three different faculties, but claims, as he does above, that “they are original sources…and cannot themselves be derived from any [others]”; they are sense, imagination, and apperception.[11] What is to be made of this apparent diversity in what Kant claims are the most basic of the soul’s powers? One possible answer is that there is a correspondence between the pairs of three, which will be explored below. Another possibility is that, while the soul can be divided abstractly into different faculties, in truth each is merely a moment within a more fundamental, unifying movement. Kant writes in the same critique that “there are two stems of human knowledge, namely, sensibility and understanding, which perhaps spring from a common, but to us unknown root.”[12] I propose that the imagination is this common root, and that it remains unknown only to the extent that we are unable to participate consciously in its activities. While still operating unconsciously, the imagination provides the understanding with a unified picture of the sensory world, without which its categories could never find their application. Consciously activated, imagination becomes not just the servant of the understanding, but Reason’s way of giving its otherwise unreachable ideas concrete expression. In other words, it is imagination that allows ideas like freedom, love, and beauty to be experienced concretely, thereby giving the human being the ability to actualize what would otherwise remain merely abstract logical possibility.
It’s now time to investigate how the imagination works to support knowing, feeling, and desiring. Kant. Because he stopped short of explicitly recognizing the central importance of imagination, Kant seems to artificially separate these three faculties. I hope to show, on the contrary, how they penetrate and work upon one another to form the human being and the universe into a living dynamic whole.
a. Knowledge, or Theoretical Reason: Truth
Kant’s transcendental analysis of theoretical knowledge functioned to reverse the psychological effects of the Copernican Revolution, which by removing the earth from the center of the universe had radically disturbed humanity’s sense of dignity and significance. The very possibility of cosmology, of coherently articulating the place of the human within the larger universe, had been made to seem untenable in light of this disorientation. Kant was able to reorient humanity, not by contradicting Copernicus’ empirical findings, but by discovering, through logic alone, that the subject does not conform to the structure of objects, but rather that objects must conform to the structure and activity of the subject. As he put it “…the order and regularity in appearances, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce.”[13] It was as if the centrality of the physical Sun was replaced by an invisible Sun, or noumenon, hidden within the human soul, whose light radiated out to give phenomenal form to all the natural bodies revolving around it.
This reversal rests upon a different conception of subjectivity than that expounded by Hume, for whom nothing could be known with any certainty, whether it be the nature of the subject or of the objects to which it relates. For Hume, the subject is a bundle of impressions, the ‘I’ or ego being just another impression with no special significance.
For Kant, the faculty of knowledge depends upon apperception, “the abiding and unchanging ‘I’ [forming] the correlate of all our representations in so far as it is to be at all possible that we should become conscious of them.”[14] This abiding ‘I’ allows diverse experiences to be unified by and judged according to concepts of the understanding, which themselves apply universally because they constitute the very possibility of our having any experience at all. In order for the understanding to judge the manifold of sensory experience according to its categories, however, it depends upon the synthetic function of the imagination to draw together sensory intuitions into a sensus communis, a coherent representation of the world no longer divided into the various modalities of the individual sense organs. The work of the imagination in drawing together the chaos of bare sensory experience happens unconsciously, which is why the world appears as always already ordered and coherent, and therefore amenable to conceptual analysis by the understanding.
Apperception, or self-consciousness, unifies our understanding of nature by the power of its own transcendental unity, according to Kant. But even here, the moral or practical function of imagination is necessary for the ‘I’ to know itself as so unified. Without moral imagination, the thinker, in its attempt to know itself can only divide itself, becoming a dead thought, which is precisely not-I, not the active thinker originally sought. Self-consciousness cannot establish itself without coming into relation with a thinker, an I, other than itself. In this sense, I do not belong only to myself.[15] To the extent that learning to speak a public language supports my thinking and self-conception, I am always already an inter-subject. Because my “I” is noumenal, it cannot be known through inward self-reflection alone—its light at first shines only outward. I can only imagine myself when reflected by the image of others. The other is always a constitutive element of my own identity, and it is here that knowing and willing, or the theoretical and practical attitudes coincide. My desire for self-identity is deeply related to my desire to recognize and be recognized by others. If apperception is always already intersubjective, then knowledge depends on the worlds we are able and willing to imagine in common. In short, knowing the True depends first upon participation in the Good.[16] Much like its synthetic function in individual perception to bind the various senses into one inward common sense, imagination’s moral function allows for the completion of the act of individual apperception by wedding self to others in a commonly imaged world.
Kant’s more Cartesian notion of transcendental apperception—of an I that finds itself by doubting the existence of other people and the world—leads only to skepticism and solipsism. The ego remains a mere abstraction for Kant because of his failure to recognize the insubstantiality of its knowledge when understood in isolation from others.
Pure theoretical Reason is thus not actually separable from practical Reason. Theoretical knowledge based on the a priori categories of the understanding already presupposes a moral relation to others, as I cannot conceive of my own ‘I’ but by way of an imaginatively generated sense of commonality.[17]
b. Desire, or Practical Reason: Goodness
Desire is defined by Kant as “a being’s faculty of becoming by means of its representations the cause of the actuality of the objects of these representations.”[18] Desire requires the work of the productive imagination, which conjures feeling-toned pictures within the soul of objects that are distant in time and space, thereby providing the will with a motivating lure. Desire (or will) and imagination are integral to Kant’s account of ethics as developed in the Critique of Practical Reason.
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe,” wrote Kant, “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”[19] According to Kaufmann, Kant’s entire philosophical project, more than anything else, was designed to reconcile science (i.e., natural order), and religion (i.e., moral law).[20] To do so, he was forced to divide our experience of sensory phenomena, of which scientific knowledge is possible, from supersensible noumena, of which nothing can be known except our practical experience of freedom. This division was necessary for Kant because the category of mechanical causality applying to nature contradicts the notion of free will. The possibility of freedom, therefore, cannot be proven theoretically, but it is nonetheless available to us through practical action. The will or desire is capable of being free, according to Kant, only so long as it aligns itself with principles of Reason over pleasures of the senses. If the will merely responds to feeling-toned pictures conjured by the imagination, it is acting out of self-interest instead of disinterested moral duty. However, without the imagination to tailor the universal idea of freedom to the specific situations in which it is summoned to serve, the moral agent can reason only abstractly. Furthermore, as was discussed above, the ipseity of the self is founded upon a pre-cognitive desire for (or love of) others, and so independent of the feelings arising by way of this relation the will remains entirely impotent.[21] Unconditional love, rather than disinterested duty, is the basis of morality.
Kant’s categorical imperative, because it remains at the level of abstract universal law, is ineffectual in the real world of interpersonal life, where every encounter presents complex and unique demands upon the individual conscience. Moral imagination is required to transform universal laws of Reason into particular acts of good will. Imagination allows ideas—in this case the ideal of freedom—to become reality. Without imagination’s creative capacity to reveal the universal in the unique by forming motivating representations for the will, freedom remains a mere abstract possibility incapable of embodied expression.
c. Feeling, or Judgment: Beauty
Kant says that, by way of feeling, “nothing in the object is signified,” because what is felt as regards pleasure or pain refers only to a state within the subject “as it is affected by the representation” of the object.[22] Nonetheless, Kant endeavors in the Critique of Judgment to articulate how it is that such subjective feelings also open us to the experience of the Beautiful, and by analogy, the Good. Kant struggles to articulate how an object, whether natural or artificial, can be judged Beautiful universally, rather than merely because of the feelings of pleasure associated with it by a particular subject. It is in trying to formulate this possibility of the universality of feeling that Kant comes closest to bridging the gaps between subject and object, intelligence and nature, sensible and supersensible that run throughout his system.[23]
Kant suggests that feeling serves as an intermediary between the faculties of knowledge and will. Properly critiqued, feeling allows for at least a reflective judgment of nature as purposeful, thereby opening a hypothetical economy between ideas of Reason and concepts of the understanding. The feeling of pleasure associated with the Beauty of certain natural forms, says Kant, is related to the imagination’s sense of their finality despite the understanding’s lacking any such concept. For Kant, the understanding cannot know nature as purposeful a priori, but it can nonetheless be judged purposeful through imagination’s power of generalization: particular experiences of finality (elicited by feelings of pleasure) can become applicable as rules for the judgment of nature in general.
Feelings by themselves are undoubtedly the sin qua non of human life; without them, though I may have some idea, I would have no sense of myself as a uniquely existing being. Nor would I have either an idea or sense of nature. I would become, as it were, a mind without a body. Such a disembodied mind would also be stripped of most of its desires, except, Kant would argue, the desire to realize the ideas of Reason, especially that of freedom. But what sort of freedom is it that leaves me senseless and without a relation to nature?
Feeling would seem to be contrary to freedom, in that feelings are determined from outside—they happen to me. Freedom, on the other hand, implies self-determination—I am responsible for what I do. It is perhaps here that Kant’s reasoning for the dualism between the sensory world, of which the understanding (with the aid of imagination) provides a priori knowledge, and the supersensible, of which conscience provides our only insight, becomes clearer. Freedom and the moral duty determining it is for Kant the most important ideal of human life—more important even than knowledge of nature, which can only be understood as mechanically determined unless one is willing to admit the testimony of feelings as regards its finality.[24] Kant was not so willing, and thus found it “necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”[25] Feelings represent all that prevents a human being from realizing the ideal of freedom by leading the will astray into the pleasures of the flesh. So far as Kant was concerned, it would seem that embodied human life was therefore depraved, destined to remain at war with itself and nature.
2. Kant’s Inconsistency
Perhaps Kant simply lacked the imagination[26] that Schelling and Hegel would later use to develop his system into a life affirming, non-dualistic philosophy. But it would be premature to give up on him just yet.
As was stated at the beginning of section c, Kant saw in the Beautiful a “symbol of the morally Good,”[27] because in recognizing a thing as Beautiful, it is implied that other persons, too, due to their common sense, judge it in like manner. Feelings are thus intelligible, providing more than merely subjective judgments of what is Beautiful.
“Hence,” writes Kant, the faculty of feeling,
“both on account of this inner possibility in the subject [to judge an object as Beautiful in common with others] and of the external possibility of a nature that agrees with it, finds itself to be referred to something which is neither nature nor freedom, but which yet is connected with the supersensible ground of the latter.”[28]
Kant goes on in the next sentence to suggest that, “in a way which though common is yet unknown,” the supersensible ground of freedom binds the theoretical faculty of knowledge to the practical faculty of desire. What would it mean to take seriously the insight provided by deep feelings shared with others in Goodness concerning the Beauty and finality of natural processes? Perhaps it would be possible to judge determinately of nature that it is purposeful, and in a fact an unconscious will, which, by growing toward ever-greater self-realization is finally beginning to awaken to itself in the reasonable animals we call human beings. Kant, though he lacked certainty, was nonetheless intrigued by the possibility of a similar a notion, that “…the history of the human race can be regarded as the realization of a hidden plan of nature.”[29]
Such judgment requires that we see nature with eyes aided by the mystical imagination, thereby being “enabled to understand the significance of the universe, to grasp its life and depth directly, as a felt experience.”[30]
Both Schelling and Hegel were influenced by Boehme’s mystical Christian theosophy: Hegel devoted a special section in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy to him, and Schelling remarked that Boehme’s imaginative account of the birth of God set the precedent for all scientific systems of modern philosophy.[31] Coleridge wrote of Boehme that reading his works “contributed to keep alive the heart in the head,” and to reminding him that
“…all the products of the mere reflective faculty partook of DEATH, and were as the rattling twigs and sprays in winter, into which the sap was yet to be propelled, from some root to which I had not penetrated…”[32]
It is now time to see how Schelling and Hegel, influenced as they were by Boehme and Christian mysticism generally, transformed the Kantian from a merely reflective system offering lifeless knowledge of appearances through the lens of static categories into a dynamic speculative system uniting intelligence and nature.
3. Speculation as Imagination in Schelling and Hegel
Schelling and Hegel have more in common than would make it necessary, for the purposes of this essay, to take too much time in distinguishing their philosophies. But in light of Hegel’s infamous description of Schelling’s philosophy of identity as the “night in which all cows are black,” it would at least be appropriate to say a few words about where they did differ, especially considering that it was precisely on the significance of difference in relation to the Absolute that they disagreed. For Schelling, the Absolute was described as resting in untroubled equality, in complete unity with itself. Hegel had a more complex image of the Absolute, as not only complete in-itself, a mere abstract universality, but as a dynamic living process of self-movement not content in-itself (as simple substance), but compelled to become for-itself (as subject).[33] Instead of the simple identity of difference, Hegel sought to articulate the higher identity of identity and difference. However, in an essay written six years prior to his criticism of Schelling in the Phenomenology (or at least the unworthy imitators of his system), Hegel defends Schelling’s approach by contrasting it with Fichte’s system. Fichte’s formulation of the identity of the Ego with itself by an act of will (“I am I,” or “A=A”) does not accomplish, according to Hegel, the absolute synthesis which it claims because it fails to do full justice to the movement of identity into its opposite, appearance and objectivity, or the manifoldness of nature. Fichte therefore established only the “subjective identity of subject and object.”[34] Schelling, in contrast, is credited with aspiring to a philosophy
“…that will recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered in Kant and Fichte’s systems, and set Reason itself in harmony with nature, not by having Reason renounce itself or become an insipid imitator of nature, but by Reason recasting itself into nature out of its own inner strength.”[35]
It seems likely that the disagreement, if there be one, between Schelling and Hegel is more the result of Hegel’s need to make a name for himself as a philosophical genius in his own right. Regardless of this controversy, the remainder of the essay will proceed under the assumption that both of these thinkers were struggling to articulate the same speculative insights, differing only in their individual modes of expression and not in their essential ideas.
Both Schelling and Hegel were steeped since childhood in the pansophic mysticism of the Pietist tradition, especially as it gained expression through the writing of the Boehmean theosophist F.C. Oetinger.[36] This influence was life long for both Schelling and Hegel, and their philosophical science can be read as an attempt to justify conceptually the imaginative insights generated through the unconscious upsurging of religious symbolism so characteristic of mystical experiences. Indeed, Hegel often equated speculative philosophy with mysticism.[37] “Though philosophy must not allow herself to be overawed by religion,” writes Hegel, “…she cannot afford to neglect its popular tales and allegories.”[38]
In the “System-Programme” quoted above, Hegel articulates his desire for a “mythology of Reason,” which would unite the common sense of all humanity with the highest truths of achieved by speculative philosophy. Common sense, or sensus communis, here takes on even higher significance than that given it by Kant. According to Magee, the notion of sensus communis was central to Oetinger’s theory of knowledge, opening every human being to an unmediated cognition of that which “lies beyond…the distinction between consciousness and the external world.”[39] For most people, this common sense goes unnoticed, but for those—whether through grace (as with Boehme[40]) or intentional imaginative recollection (as with Schelling and Hegel)—who bring to consciousness what is normally taken for granted, an “unmediated, synoptic vision” is revealed, “in which the mind momentarily sees existence through the eyes of God.”[41] It only after such an experience that the essential insight of speculative philosophy, that “the truth is the whole,” becomes clear. It no longer matters where one starts, whether with religious symbolism or systematic philosophy: all roads lead inevitably to Wisdom.
But what exactly is the role of imagination in speculative philosophy? If it is true, as Hegel maintains, that religious symbolism is an unconscious revelation of Spirit struggling to reach consciousness as the Idea of itself, then the role of the philosopher is to participate fully in the remembrance, or recollection, of this Wisdom. Imagination is here not creative, but re-creative, the power to resurrect and activate memories hidden in the depths of the human soul. Speculative philosophizing creates nothing new; the philosopher becomes a spectator recording the play of the Muse, whose songs recount the dialectical unfolding of Spirit through cosmic history. It is here that imagination again performs the magic of synthesis by uniting activity and passivity. Coleridge characterized this unity of the philosopher’s imagination as simultaneously knowing and feeling “that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them.”[42]
“We usually suppose,” writes Hegel,
“that the Absolute must lie far beyond; but it is precisely what is wholly present, what we, as thinkers, always carry with us and employ, even though we have no express consciousness of it.”[43]
Contrary to Plato’s denial of the Muse’s Wisdom, Hegel describes Mnemosyne (Memory) as the “absolute Muse” inspiring the poet, artist, and philosopher alike. It is through memory, brought to life by imagination, that the philosopher attains the “complete speech” of the Absolute.[44] Plato, perhaps due only to the pressures of his historical moment, sharply distinguished Reason from popular myth and poetry; but his doctrine of anemnesis is similar to Hegel’s speculative recollection.
Schelling placed great emphasis on the power of imagination to recollect, not just the hidden mysteries and potentialities of the soul, but the soul’s secret relationship to the actual world of nature. While Kant’s categories of the understanding were actively involved in the ordering of natural appearances, Schelling goes further by suggesting they actually create this order, thereby closing the gap between the phenomenal appearance of nature and its true reality. The soul entertains ideas that exist in the living forms of nature itself.[45] “The objective world [nature],” writes Schelling, “is only the original, still unconscious poetry of the Spirit.”[46]
The move from the notion of the soul as active in to the soul as creative of external order marks the difference between reflective (or Kantian) and speculative philosophy. The Latin root of each word provides an initial insight into this difference: reflectere means “to bend back or reverse,” implying that the subject cannot hope to reach beyond its own interiority, and so can gain knowledge only of itself; specere means “to spy out,” implying that the subject can reach beyond itself to see into the inner life of its objects.[47] Such a speculative seeing into nature is possible only if, as Hegel put it, “Reason is in the world: which means that Reason is its immanent principle, its most proper and inward nature.”[48] The imaginative seeing that reveals ideas at work in the cosmic process is Spirit coming to consciousness of itself by recognizing its mirror image in the living formation of matter. It is through an act of divine imagination that Spirit bodies forth into the manifold of nature, and it is through the embodied human imagination become divine that it recollects itself.
Both Schelling and Hegel described Reason as immanent and involved in the natural world, which is related to Boehme’s mystical insight into God’s desire for embodiment, or Geistleiblichkeit. The entire evolution of the cosmos is conceived as the movement of Spirit towards “progressively more adequate expression through corporeality.”[49] It was precisely the importance of this incarnational symbolism that lead Schelling to break with Fichte, for whom nature was the mere background of practical human pursuits.[50]
“The ultimate purpose,” writes Schelling,
“is that everything be brought to visible, material form; embodiment is…the endpoint of the way of God, who wants to reveal Himself as spatial and as temporal.”[51]
It is as if Spirit was compelled to create the universe out of its desire to see, to imagine, its own greatness and majesty. Hegel’s view on the matter is heretical, in that the God of much traditional theology is entirely transcendent and self-contained, and therefore created the universe “as an unnecessitated act of generosity.”[52] In contrast, Hegel detects in Spirit a need to become the living cosmos.
The truth of God, according to Hegel, “is the positing of His other, the living process, the world, which is his Son when it is comprehended in its divine form.”[53] The aim of philosophy, then, is that the human being should recognize itself as Spirit, and that Spirit should recollect, in everything in heaven and on earth, the glory of its own image.
4. Conclusion
One of the difficulties of penetrating Hegel’s philosophy is that its dialectical truth can only be grasped in motion, which is to say that it cannot be grasped, or understood, in the way the static Kantian categories may. Hegel’s is a dynamic logic, whose categories overcome and transform themselves as they spiral ever-nearer to the Absolute Idea. It is only by way of the “active imagination” that the human soul can, along with the magic of memory, participate in the dialectical self-development of the Idea. Imagination is usually associated with the production or reproduction of images, but it has a more fundamental power, what Magee describes as “a kind of ingenuity for giving form to something, sometimes to the truth.”[54]
Kant’s reflective philosophy turned Reason into an object of reflection offering merely regulative principles of judgment. Schelling and Hegel freed Reason from the chains of the understanding, which “sets out only to separate [and] can never develop,”[55] by seeing into the soul and feeling into nature through the synthetic power of imagination.
“The imagination,” writes Schelling,
“long ago discovered the symbolic language, which one has only to construe in order to discover that nature speaks to us the more intelligibly the less we think of her in a merely reflective way.”[56]
Without imagination, the human soul would fall to pieces, becoming but a sum of mechanical faculties, and its relationship to nature would seem merely accidental. Kant’s slavish devotion to the understanding and heartless conception of morality as disinterested duty blinded him to the imaginative power generated by feeling-imbued sight. The soul’s faculties of knowing, desiring, and feeling become whole by way of the power of imagination to both express and recognize Reason’s ideas. The human soul comes to know the Truth concerning things as they are only by loving them, by feeling their Beauty and desiring the Goodness of the essential unity underlying their apparent multeity.

[1] The important difference between the understanding and Reason will be explored below.
[2] ‘Of the True and False Light,’ par. 78 (printed at the end of Several Treatises, 1661).
[3] Night Thoughts, p. 199 by H.S. Harris (quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 87).
[4] Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, p. 509
[5] ‘The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism’ (1797).
[6] As Hegel referred to his own system of Logic, prior to its overflowing into Nature.
[7] William Law quoted in Imagination, p. 111 by Mary Warnock.
[8] Discovering the Mind, p. 85
[9] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 11. Kant’s method was primarily dialectic (primarily, though his notion of the unity of apperception may go further), but not noetic, in the sense in which Plato used the terms, because he was unable or unwilling to synthesize the antinomies of the merely reflective mind (such as that between a priori understanding and a posteriori experience). This limitation to Kant’s system will be discussed more below.
[10] Critique of Judgment, p. 10
[11] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 127
[12] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 61
[13] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 147
[14] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 146
[15] Or as Edgar Morin suggests, the self (autos) is arises only in community (oikos) (see On Complexity, 2008).
[16] In the Republic, Plato suggests that the Good is to the True in the intelligible realm what the Sun is to sight in the visible. One cannot see without the Sun, nor can one know the True without being Good. Truth and knowledge are like the Good, but not the Good itself, “…for the Good is yet more prized.” Plato writes: “What gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the Good” (book VI, 508e).
[17] I will return to the important notion of sensus communis in section c on feeling, where it has a slightly different, though not unrelated significance.
[18] Critique of Judgment, p. 10
[19] Critique of Practical Reason, p. 161
[20] Discovering the Mind, p. 86
[21] The work of Emmanuel Levinas has been especially influential to me on this point. (see Humanism of the Other, 2006).
[22] Critique of Judgment, p. 27
[23] Kant comes close, but philosophy would have to wait for Schelling and Hegel before the unity of sense and Reason could be realized.
[24] The finality of nature as a whole, and of particular natural systems, was judged reflectively by Kant in terms of “self-organization.” Each system, in this sense, was at least relatively autonomous, being both cause and effect of its own organization. A modicum of freedom here seeps into the constitution of nature, if only we are willing to feel it.
[25] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 29
[26] Indeed, Kaufmann provides evidence from Kant’s biography that he had an extreme insensitivity to art (Discovering the Mind, p. 149).
[27] Critique of Judgment, p. 149
[28] Critique of Judgment, p. 150
[29] From Kant’s essay “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” (1784)
[30] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 119
[31] Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams, p. 170
[32] Biographia Literaria, chapter IX (quoted in Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 111)
[33] The Hegel Reader, p. 53
[34] ‘The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s System of Philosophy’ (1801), printed in German Idealist Philosophy ed. by Rudiger Bubner, p. 288
[35] German Idealist Philosophy, p. 257-258
[36] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 2-3
[37] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 86
[38] From Hegel’s The Science of Logic (1812), quoted in Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams, p. 179
[39] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 67
[40] In 1600, Boehme had a spontaneous mystical experience while contemplating a gleam of light, of which he later wrote: “That gate was opened unto me, so that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a university; at which I did exceedingly admire, and I knew not how it happened to me; and thereupon I turned my heart to praise God for it.” (Boehme’s letter to Caspar Lindner, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 36
[41] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 67
[42] From Biographia Literaria II, p. 167, quoted in What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, p. 77
[43] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 85
[44] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, p. 87.
[45] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 66 and What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, p. 91
[46] Imagination by Mary Warnock, p. 66
[47] Hegel’s Absolute by Phillip Verene, p. 10
[48] From the Phenomenology of Spirit, quoted in Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abram, p. 178
[49] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 66
[51] From Samtliche Werke, vol. 8, p. 325, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 81
[52] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 189
[53] From the Philosophy of Nature, sec. 246, quoted in Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 190
[54] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition by Glenn Alexander Magee, p. 99
[55] Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature by F. W. J. Schelling, p. 35
[56] Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature by F. W. J. Schelling, p. 35

Our Planetary Moment: A Journey Through Cosmic Time

Setting the Stage

There were no eyes to see it happen, and even if there were, there was not yet any light for them to see, nor even any space in which to look. The universe was born out of an infinitely creative quantum womb poised somewhere (or is it nowhere?) between being and non-being. In an instant, since there was “not yet” any time for it to hesitate about its future, with a flash of warmth and light the cosmic embryo began to grow


Though there is undoubtedly an organic integrity to space-time, perhaps “grow” is here a bit of an understatement. The universe began with a BANG! From 10-33 cm3 —the smallest volume physicists can measure—the universe inflated to the size of a human being within 10-32 seconds. To put this in perspective, it has taken another 13 billion years for the universe to grow by the same order of magnitude that it did in this initial fraction of a fraction of a second.[1] Our cosmic seed seems to have been in quite a rush to get its evolutionary adventure underway, as if it already had some glorious end in mind.


That said, chance and accident have also undoubtedly left their mark on the history of our universe. It only takes a glance upward at the night sky to reveal the seemingly happenstance location of the formation of stars in space. To the untrained eye, we seem to be adrift in randomness. But we must look deeper: there is a certain “fine tuning” at work beneath the surface that continues to baffle the scientists who study it. The rate of the universe’s inflation had to be exactly right for stars to form, and under the pressure of gravity within these enormous sidereal masses, as Teilhard de Chardin describes it, unfolded a “harmonic series of simple bodies, spread over the notes of the atomic scale from hydrogen to uranium.”[2] The elemental music emanating from the core of these spheres made possible the formation of planets, and upon at least one, the emergence of life. The beauty and coherence of this process is evidence enough that our universe longs to express itself, and that some mysterious ordering principle is at work pulling it toward greater complexity and deeper feeling. As Brian Swimme puts it, quite simply, “The universe is about something.”[3]


Still, if there be any doubt about the meaning of the music of the spheres, we need only consider the ears for whom they now sing and the eyes whom, awestruck, now absorb and reflect upon their light. With the emergence of mind out of life and matter, the narrative arc of the universe becomes unmistakable. There is a story being told. It is no metaphor: the universe is struggling to be born again within human consciousness by learning all that it has done and loving all that remains yet to do.


Knowledge and love: these are the protagonists of our story. Each, the knowledge pursued by science and the love fostered by religion, have been essential in guiding the course of human history. It would be naïve and irresponsible, however, to fail to mention how often these same guides have been our fiercest adversaries. With every increase in knowledge comes an increase in power. Often, the latter overreaches the former, leading to the invention of technologies whose detrimental effects are only understood in retrospect. Similarly, the unifying impulse of love can be so strong that it blinds us to the evils committed in its name. It seems that what our species lacks is not knowledge or love, but knowledge of love. We don’t yet understand, and so have been unable to take responsibility for the full extent of our mission on earth.


In the essay to follow, I will delve into my own heart-mind in search of clues concerning the way forward. As Teilhard reminds us, it is upon increased personalization, “the internal deepening of consciousness on itself,” that the emergence of a planetary Weltanschauung “in which each of us cooperates and participates” depends.[4] To help me imagine the future, I will also need to recollect and unpack the Western tradition that informs my metaphysics and cosmology. But before reaching into the past or the future, let us come to grips with the present.


Facing the Challenge

For all of us alive today—the nearly 7 billion human beings currently populating the earth—the problems are obvious, but the way forward remains obscure. We are faced with an unprecedented evolutionary challenge. Never before has the universe been in a position to consciously choose the next chapter in its story. Nor have human beings ever been so anxious and uncertain about their collective future. Few remain who are not at least aware of the magnitude of the crisis. For most, it is a fact of daily life.


The WHO estimates that 2/3 of the world’s human population is malnourished or starving. In the time it takes to read this sentence, someone, probably on the Indian subcontinent, will have died of starvation.[5]


The world wars of the 20th century, estimated to have killed nearly 100 million people,[6] were apparently not enough to convert us to pacifism. Armed conflicts each killing more than a thousand people a year continue to embroil our species in India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Mexico, and Sudan. Smaller conflicts over beliefs and resources wage in twenty-nine countries across the world.[7]


Issues of poverty and wealth distribution, racism, sexism, and religious intolerance don’t even begin to round out the human extent of our planetary crisis. Sea level rise due to climate change threatens to redraw continental shores, creating tens of millions of refugees in the coming century. As if this were not bad enough, production of the very fossil fuels responsible for climate change has peaked, bringing the industrial economy we remain so dependent upon to the brink of collapse.[8] But this crisis has more than a human face. Not a single ecosystem on earth has been unaffected by our human presence.


In total, 17,291 known species are currently threatened with extinction. This number includes 20% of mammals, 25% of reptiles, 40% of fish, and 70% of plants. Scientists estimate that the background rate of extinction is approximately one per million species per year. At present, this rate has increased by a factor somewhere between 100 and 1,000.[9] Renowned biologist E. O. Wilson claimed in an interview with the BBC in 2009 that the rate could soar to upwards of 10,000 times the average rate by 2030.[10]


I could go on listing the social and ecological issues that our planet is confronting, but the only way to understand this crisis, so far as I can tell, is to interpret each separate issue as the symptom of a deeper sickness of soul. Humanity is experiencing the pains associated with every birthing process; but unlike the universe in its embryonic form, which had no time to hesitate, self-reflective human beings can become stuck. We can refuse to participate in this crucial evolutionary moment, whether due to fear or pessimism or ignorance. It is as though our greatest gift, self-conscious freedom, is simultaneously our tragic flaw. It gives us the ability to step back from the immediacy of sensory and emotive experiences as if to understand them from outside—in short, it allows us to doubt; but in doubting our experience of the world, we become alienated from it. The true cause of our crisis is this alienated consciousness.


Despite scientifically awakening to the full spatio-temporal extent of the universe, we seem to have forgotten that we are that very same universe. We are not outside it, not other than it. Or, perhaps it is not despite this awakening to the immensity of space and time, but because of it that we feel so alienated from nature.


Concerning the relatively recent discovery of the true dimensions of the cosmos, Teilhard writes,

“Leaving some dark prison, we are blinded by light; emerging abruptly onto a high tower, we are overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. We experience the dizziness, the disorientation—the whole psychology of modern uneasiness related to its abrupt confrontation with space-time.”[11]


Teilhard acknowledges the difficulty of coming to terms with this spatio-temporal awakening, but suggests our initiation into the universe’s true dimensionality remains dangerously incomplete if we do not also acknowledge its evolutionary trajectory. Modern scientific knowledge has re-situated the human in relation to the rest of the universe, which is a far vaster and more difficult to imagine place than it was prior to Copernicus.[12] But evolution is the thread that ties it all together, placing the human being, if no longer at the center of a static cosmos, at least at the creative edge of cosmogenesis.


So what is required of us now that we have woken up to this grand evolutionary process? I believe we must come to recognize that individual self-consciousness and the arbitrary freedom of choice that it wields is not an end, but merely a brief developmental moment in the ongoing noogenic process that is already transforming us in order to bring forth a new human for a new earth. Each of us is being called to become something more, a new kind of person at home with and in love with others and with the rest of the community of life on earth. We are searching for a new collective identity, but to find our true humanity, we must overcome the narrow-minded individualism so characteristic of our Western civilization.[13]


Before attempting to investigate, and if I’m lucky instigate the movement of consciousness beyond the isolated ego, I will take a brief detour to explore the role the West has played in world history. I will also unpack the ideas of a few major thinkers, especially as they are relevant to the evolution of modern Western consciousness.


Remembering the Past

The West, for better or worse, has according to Teilhard, “lead all peoples, from one end of the world to the other…to put the hopes and problems of the modern earth in the very terms in which [it] has succeeded in formulating them.”[14] Similarly, Sean Kelly credits the West with having played a “catalytic role” in the emergence of our still developing planetary era.[15] The European colonial conquests during the course of the past 500 years, violent as they were, have resulted in the economic and biocultural co-evolution of every race on earth. All people are now inextricably netted together in a “complex human fabric [that is weaving] itself around the planet.”[16]


This is not the place to speculate about what could have been had the West not been so bent on world dominance. Post-colonial critiques continue to expose the latent Eurocentrism of our modern geopolitical scene, compelling us to overcome ongoing injustices, but it is hard to deny the impact the Greco-Judeo-Christian impulse has had on our now planetary civilization. If we take a Hegelian view of history, it may be easier to understand how the evils of war and conquest have worked to bring forth higher forms of goodness than would otherwise have been possible. The “cunning of reason,” as Hegel famously refers to it, assures that Spirit’s universal goals are met despite the seeming chaos and contingency of particular world-historical personalities and events.[17] Hegel’s philosophy of history allows us to see how conflict is necessary for more ideal possibilities to manifest themselves on earth. Evolution could not occur, after all, unless strife and opposition were met along the way.


“War,” according to Heraclitus, “is the father of all things.”[18] But as Alexander the Great exclaimed on his deathbed, perhaps prematurely at the time, but no longer so today, “There are no more worlds to conquer!” There is now only one world. The evils of war have exhausted their dialectical magic, binding humanity inextricably into a single biocultural and economic whole. More war can now lead only to collective ruin.


A year before his death in 323 BCE, in an oath given before thousands of his Macedonian and Persian subjects not far from modern day Baghdad, Alexander is alleged to have said the following:

“Now that the wars are coming to an end, I wish you to prosper in peace. May all mortals from now on live like one people in concord and for mutual advancement. Consider the world as your country, with laws common to all and where the best will govern irrespective of tribe…On my part I should consider all equals, white or black, and wish you all to be not only subjects of the Commonwealth, but participants and partners. As much as this depends on me, I should try to bring about what I promised. The oath we made over tonight’s libations hold onto as a Contract of Love”.[19]


It seems that love works in mysterious ways to bring about the unity it seeks. It is as if during the course of the historical period, this hidden spiritual force has been driving individual human beings to sacrifice themselves for a future they could only dimly imagine. Alexander’s call for peace and participatory planetary governance still awaits realization, but it becomes more apparent every day that history’s hidden goal is precisely such a “Contract of Love.” But I am getting ahead of myself…before imagining this still nascent future, we must understand the core religious, scientific, and philosophical ideas that have shaped the Greco-Judeo-Christian impulse mentioned above.


In discussing the Biblical stories to follow, I aim only to draw out their archetypal meaning, leaving the question of their physical reality aside. As Carl Jung reminds us, “‘Physical’ is not the only criterion of truth: there are also psychic truths which can neither be explained nor proved nor contested in any physical way.”[20]


Though the exact date remains unknown, sometime around the 13th century BCE a prophet by the name of Moses lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea and settling temporarily at Mount Sinai. It is here that Yahweh revealed the Ten Commandments, which to this day represent the essence of moral law for many in the West. But there is an earlier revelation I want to draw attention to, that which first inspired Moses to lead his people out of slavery and toward the Promised Land.


While Moses was still a shepherd tending his flock near Mount Sinai, according to biblical legend, he came upon the angel of the Lord in a burning bush that somehow was not consumed by the flames. The voice of the Lord called to him, “Moses, Moses. Here am I!” Covering his face, “as he was afraid to look upon God,” Moses then received his divine mission to lead the Jews out of Egypt. He asked the Lord his name, to which the response was: “I am that I am.”[21] This cryptic statement is significant because Moses, at one time a member of the Egyptian royal family, was an initiate into the Egyptian mystery schools, whose secrets can be summed up with the phrase “know thyself.” This call to attain self-knowledge would later inspire Socrates and Plato, and indeed every genuine lover of wisdom since. Moses’ encounter with the “I am” represents the beginnings of a mutation in human consciousness from tribal to individual identity, but as I will explore below, it seems this mutation will remain incomplete until the esoteric meaning of Christ’s incarnation is understood. Moses was still too afraid to look upon the face of the Lord, which with the benefit of 3,000 years of consciousness evolution, we can safely say was his own. Nonetheless, his powerful experience allowed the Hebrews to come, according to Rick Tarnas, “to experience themselves as the Chosen People.” The revelation of the “I am” lead this particular community “to believe that they existed in a unique and direct relationship to the one creator of the world and director of history.”[22] This was an extremely novel perspective in comparison to the polytheistic religions of other tribes at the time.


The Hebrew notion of human history being fulfilled in a future era of universal peace and justice brought about by the coming of a messianic figure is described by Tarnas as the “divination of history.”[23] It set the stage for Jesus, who many centuries later fulfilled the prophecy of Moses by announcing that he was Christ, the Son of God. Throughout the Gospel of John, Christ refers to himself as the “I am” revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. But this time, it was not a chosen few who would have this mystery revealed to them, but the entirety of humanity. Much of the Western world’s subsequent history can be understood as the playing out of the “great code” embedded in the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.[24] Birth represents the original Garden of Eden, where all was idyllic and humans and nature remained undifferentiated. Death (and the torture that proceded it) represents the Fall, wherein the knowledge of good and evil fractures humanity’s original participation in the earthly paradise, making us aware of our nakedness and giving rise to the sense of homelessness and alienation that the consciousness of our age has come to know so well. The Resurrection represents the promised redemption of the world through the restoration of all that was lost as a result of the Fall, though with the added benefit of a consciousness not present with the original innocence. Not only would humanity return to paradise, it would know it was in paradise.


The Western imagination, whether consciously or not, seems to be playing out this code upon the stage of world history. Hegel’s entire philosophy of history is modeled after the great Trinitarian code of Christianity. Indeed, it may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that the very concept of history, implying as it does the narrative structure of beginning, middle, and climactic end, is a Judeo-Christian invention. Prior to this innovation, most cultures conceived of time as cyclical. The West is unique in its conception of time as providential.


Between the time of Christ and the birth of the modern era around 1500 CE, much of great significance occurred, including the fall of Rome and the rise of the Catholic Church. But for lack of space, I will focus for the remainder of this section on three modern thinkers whose ideas continue in subtle ways to shape our worldview: Copernicus, Descartes, and Kant.


The timely motions of the planets were a sign to ancient peoples that the universe was a divinely ordered whole and a likeness of eternity, but by the time of Copernicus, the geocentric Ptolemaic model used to predict their orbits was growing more and more cumbersome. Epicycle upon epicycle was required to “save the appearance” of the motion of the planets and the sun around the earth. Copernicus was asked by the papacy to clean up the mathematical mess so that more accurate calendars could be made. While researching possible solutions, Copernicus came upon ancient Greek manuscripts discussing the undeveloped hypothesis of a heliocentric solar system.[25] Working out the mathematical details, he came to realize that “the appearance of the moving sun and stars [was] deceptively created by the earth’s own movements.”[26] The long reigning medieval cosmology, classically depicting the universe as a series of perfect heavenly spheres encompassing the stationary earth, began to fall apart.


“The Copernican shift of perspective,” writes Tarnas,

“can be seen as a fundamental metaphor for the entire modern world view: the profound deconstruction of the naïve understanding, the critical recognition that the apparent condition of the objective world was unconsciously determined by the condition of the subject, the consequent liberation from the ancient and medieval cosmic womb, the radical displacement of the human being to a relative and peripheral position in a vast and impersonal universe, the ensuing disenchantment of the natural world.”[27]


This radically disorienting cosmology prefigured and perhaps required the ontological and epistemological developments that Descartes and Kant would later articulate. Descartes recognized, as Plato had millennia earlier, that sensory appearances were often deceptive. He needed a new method of arriving at certain knowledge that would allow the burgeoning sciences to continue to unveil the secrets of nature. He began by going into his own mind, doubting the very existence of the external world, including the existence of other people. He was left with only his own thinking activity, and realized that in this, in the very the act of doubting itself, he had found something which could not be called into question. The entire world may be an illusion, but in thinking of this possibility, I undoubtedly am. Or, as Descartes famously formulated it, “I think, therefore I am.” The discovery of the cogito lead Descartes to develop an ontology of two substances: a thinking substance, or soul, which is autonomous and has access to clear and distinct ideas; and an extended substance, or matter, which is mechanically determined according to mathematical laws.[28] Human consciousness was thus alienated from the natural world, and even from the physical body housing it.


Kant remained a thoroughly Cartesian philosopher, but his motivations were a bit different. Inspired by the success of Newton’s mechanistic picture of nature, Kant was nonetheless uneasy about the steady march of scientific understanding. If all material motion could be understood to behave according to deterministic mathematical laws, what kept these laws from applying to embodied human beings, as well? Kant saw very clearly that the freedom of the human soul could no longer be taken for granted.


In his most famous work, the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant convincingly argued that the mechanisms science thought it was discovering in the natural world were in fact a necessary result of the inherent structure of the human mind itself. Our relation to space and time, for example, is not a result of our empirical encounter with them in a pre-existing world. A quick phenomenological look at our experience reveals that we do not see space, only colored surfaces; nor do we see time, only movement. The mind, Kant realized, does not passively receive an already ordered world. Rather, forms of intuition like space and time, and categories of understanding like causality and substance, must be presupposed as necessary conditions for any human experience of the world to be possible. We know reality, in other words, only as it appears to us after being filtered through the mind’s pre-existing categories.


Kant referred to his epistemological re-orientation as a second Copernican revolution, as objects were now understood to revolve, so to speak, around the subject, their appearance always already shaped by the latter’s cognitive lenses. By limiting science to knowledge of appearances, Kant was able to protect traditional religious ideals like freedom, God, and immortality from being dispelled; though these could not be known with any certainty, either. He famously wrote in the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason that he found it “necessary to deny knowledge to make room for faith.”[29] But in so doing, he also further alienated human consciousness from nature, which became an unreachable “thing-in-itself.” As Tarnas describes it, Kant’s revolution was fundamentally ambiguous: “Man was again at the center of the universe, but this was now only his universe, not the universe.”[30]


Kant’s uneasy dualism between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds inspired a generation of philosophers in Germany, most notable among them Schelling and Hegel, to strive to find a way to re-unite the human mind with nature and the divine. As Kelly writes, “for the Idealists, instead of the machine [as in Newton’s science], the organism and life become the root metaphors for the cosmos as a whole.”[31] Kelly also points out that, in these thinkers, much emphasis was placed on the idea of development and evolution.[32] For them, “the overall drive of the cosmos is toward the production of increasing complexity of organization as the vehicle for the eventual emergence of self-reflexive consciousness.”[33] It is these more organic and evolutionary cosmological perspectives that may provide a way forward, as they reawaken us to our embeddedness in an ensouled and purposeful universe. Let us now turn our eyes to the future to see what that purpose might be.


Envisioning the Future

All this emphasis on purpose in general—in the universe and in history—cannot be separated from my personal consciousness. I must admit that I am unable to imagine a universe so absurd as to have no reason for being, just as I am unable to live my own life in the absence of spiritual ideals. I have tried to doubt the teleological picture of the universe, but there really are no viable alternatives that are coherent with and adequate to my actual experience.


  The universe is about something. The warmth and light with which it began its story manifest themselves as the love and wisdom at work through human history. The culmination of history, its end, can only be brought about when every human soul has come to know love. Then the world will be transformed from the inside out. Or perhaps it has already been transformed…perhaps, as Teilhard writes, “Omega already exists and is at work right here and now.”[34] In the face of all the earth’s current ills, I am unable to lose hope in the underlying logic of the historical process.




I must interrupt the linear flow of this essay to offer a stream of consciousness prose-poem written late one evening around Easter of 2010 as an attempt, not only to envision the future, but also to fully embrace the divinity of the present. There is a logic to the historical process, I do not doubt; but this logic is dressed in mythopoeic parable, seeming at first to be obscure. To understand the meaning of history, we must participate in the realization of its end. This requires a certain turning about of the mind—a metanoia. Poetic language is one way to instigate such a mental turning.


On this night, like any other, the gospel reveals its light, shouts the good news and becomes an open secret. It is simple in its complexity: We are Each and All the Many eyes of One God, and in dying, we live this Truth Eternally. The Gospel is now open, because Man, through history, has been brought to his utmost extremity, crucified and flayed bare beyond all conception.


History has ended.


The world and all of its hells are already over. Only heaven remains. This secret will be forever retold. The Gospel here and everywhere is the very mouth of God, the breathing presence of divinity that I know only through my communion with you.


Man’s inner most recesses have been exposed, his most ungodly horrors and humiliations have been spread before the witnesses of his trial, their eager eyes like entirely amoral eagles whose only wish was to feast on the delight of spirits adrift in the wind of their own wondrous and self-indulgent melodies.


How quickly the world gets lost without wisdom, how empty even the music of the spheres can seem to sound unless in each of the seven is discovered the common harmony, the most secret and the most well-known, the always and undying source of the ever renewing breath of eternity.


Only here, at the utmost edges of human life, does the infinite gain entrance and can the holy truly poor into the life of mortal souls.


What appears in me is merely the other end of you, the love who through evil became my own enemy. Evil is the inverse of love, the dismemberment of the One. But in being destroyed, the One can only be forever renewed.


The good news is now known by everyone. We can only love one another, because we are not other than one another.


Spirit is the undulating mystery that brews between our patient and modest human breaths, overflowing in the words we speak to share our souls.


What secrets can I keep from you, who know me as clearly as I see myself? There is nowhere to hide from the light of God. It reveals everything, it reveals all to everyone at once. And yet, there is something in the light that remains concealed. The true source of wisdom, the holiest of holies, is hidden within nature’s most laborious of labyrinths, to this day remaining a mystery even unto itself.


Know thyself, which means also, love thy enemy. In each of us is the All. The One is none other than you and I.


Knowledge truly is of good and evil, and unless in love we are able to remember the good expressed in our mortal nature, we die without having recognized the divinity of our every living, moving moment. There is no eternity but what is here and now… and in this unending surprise the world is created forever anew out of its own ashes. The good news is now an open secret.




It seems paradoxical to say that the “good news” that reveals the meaning of human history is an “open secret.” If it were open, why would it remain also a secret? Grasping this paradox, I believe, is crucial for humanity’s future on earth. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is reported to have offered a series of cryptic parables to a great multitude that crowded around him on the beach. At one point, his disciples asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”[35] Jesus answered that the multitude had not yet been granted knowledge of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. “Therefore,” he said, “I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”[36]


More paradoxes: seeing that sees not, hearing that hears not. What could this possibly mean? To grasp the subtle meaning of what has been said above, it must be placed in the context of the evolution of consciousness.


“Has history any real significance,” asks Owen Barfield, “unless, in the course of it, the relation between creature and Creator is being changed?”[37] The evolution of consciousness, for Barfield, is a continuous movement from immediate, or original participation in the meaningful rhythms of the natural world towards an increasingly alienated “null point,” wherein “a contraction of human consciousness from periphery to center” reduces all the wisdom of the cosmos to an isolated ego housed somewhere within the sinews of the human brain.[38] The human brain is the organic labyrinth nature has labored for eons to produce, the tabernacle meant to house something so much more holy than the “null point” now lost within it. But this is not the end of the movement, according to Barfield. It is, however, where nature’s labors, at least in the human, are at their end. From this point forward, it becomes our own responsibility to evolve into what Barfield calls final participation. While for original participation, the heart was enlivened from a source outside itself, namely, the still spiritually imbued natural world, final participation requires that the heart burn from within, irradiated by the light and warmth of Christ, the “I am” incarnate within each and every human being.


In an apocryphal text written sometime in the 2nd century, Jesus is reported to have said: “The kingdom of heaven is within you. Only he who knows himself can find it.”[39] The paradox of an “open secret” may now be understood. The evolution of consciousness has transformed human beings from unconscious participants in the course of natural events into conscious creators of history. The divine is no longer to be found outside ourselves. Divinity is hidden in the only place our eyes could not see, nor our ears hear. Having thus realized our own divinity, we must ask ourselves “whether we ought to shrink from the notion that we are to share the responsibility of maintaining an earth which it has already, it seems, been given into our hands to destroy.”[40]


The future of the earth and humanity depends upon our gaining the inner strength and imagination required to re-invent ourselves. The new story of the universe as a living, self-organizing system has made Copernicus all but obsolete, and the “null point” reached in the philosophies of Descartes and Kant continues to be challenged by a flurry of embodied ontologies and participatory epistemologies emerging to meet the needs of our time. Whether we like it or not, as Coleridge writes, “in our life alone does Nature live.”[41] Our presence has already forever changed the face of the planet, but I have more faith than all the world can contain that we will be born again and come to live in peace on earth. What else could human history be than the toilsome work of preparation required for our cosmic seed to finally flower and bear its fruit?





  1. Barfield, Owen. Saving the Appearances.
  2. Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin.
  3. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon.
  4. Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Pure Reason.
  5. Kelly, Sean. Coming Home.
  6. Primack and Abrams. The View from the Center of the Universe.
  7. Tarnas, Rick. Passion of the Western Mind.
  8. The Hegel Reader. Ed. by Stephen Houlgate.

[1] All measurements above taken from The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams.

[2] The Human Phenomenon by Teilhard de Chardin, p. 14

[3] ibid., p. xvi

[4] ibid., p. 184-185

[8] ; Even the US Military now admits to the severity of the problem, estimating that, by 2012, surplus oil production could entirely disappear.

[11] The Human Phenomenon, p. 158

[12] The Copernican revolution will be discussed in more detail below.

[13] Overcoming individualism doesn’t mean jettisoning values like universal human rights and equality. On the contrary, it means coming to experience our responsibility to other earthlings as strongly as we demand our own rights.

[14] The Human Phenomenon, p. 147

[15] Coming Home, p. xi

[16] ibid., vii

[17] The Hegel Reader, p. 413

[18] Jean Gebser suggests that this, like most of Heraclitus’ aphorisms, is an incomplete fragment whose polar correspondence has not survived the ages. He suggests Heraclitus must also have written that “Peace is the mother of all things.” (The Ever-Present Origin, p. 151)

[19] Recounted in fragments written by Ptolemy and Plutarch based on Alexander’s diary.

[20] Answer to Job, p. xi

[21] All quotes from chapter 3 of Exodus.

[22] The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 94

[23] Ibid.

[24] Coming Home, p. 35

[25] The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 249

[26] Ibid., p. 250

[27] Ibid., p. 416

[28] Descartes also wrote of God as the one true substance, but this is not the part of his ontology that has had great influence on the modern psyche.

[29] Critique of Pure Reason, p. 29

[30] The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 349

[31] Coming Home, p. 61

[32] This was almost 50 years before Darwin would later formulate his disenchanted mechanistic theory of evolution by natural selection, which, unfortunately, still commands the attention of the popular imagination.

[33] Coming Home, p. 63

[34] The Human Phenomenon, p. 209

[35] 13:10

[36] 13:13

[37] Saving the Appearances, p. 160

[38] ibid., p. 182

[39] Gospel of the Hebrews, ch. 38

[40] Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield, p. 160

[41] Ode to Dejection