Rupert Sheldrake and Morphic Fields at Schumacher

My time at Schumacher is drawing to a close, and the whole experience has been quite formative for me. Preparing meals, washing dishes, and weeding the garden provided unexpected opportunities to reflect upon the value of simple work with others. This morning I spent about an hour in the kitchen chopping the stems off about 300 gooseberries with Delphine, an older woman whose exuberance seems to have grown with age. We discussed the life of Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), especially the powerful film about his life “Fierce Grace,” and tried to understand the relationship between psychedelic experience and spiritual awakening.

Later in the day, Rupert Sheldrake discussed his theory of morphic resonance. I was already convinced that the proper metaphor for understanding the universe was as an organism, rather than a machine, but hearing Rupert express the specific reasons why he arrived at such a view was fascinating nonetheless. He believes that cosmologists are mistaken in conceiving of nature as being governed by fixed laws that somehow exist beyond space and time. Instead, he posits a radically evolutionary picture of the universe, where supposedly constant laws are actually habits which have, over great spans of time, worked themselves into groove-like patterns. Mathematical formalisms, like Newton’s inverse square law or Einstein’s E=MC2, work because they are good approximations of these habits, which are stable enough for physicists to make reasonably accurate predictions about physical processes. A deeper look, however, reveals that supposed constants like the speed of light, or the melting point of various crystals, have changed over the years, sometimes drastically (Sheldrake gave the example of aspirin, whose melting point has risen 12 degrees celsius since the 19th century).

Sheldrake also discussed the historical significance of the Scientific Revolution which brought about the reigning mechanistic conception of the universe, arguing that many of the more organic Aristotelian ideas that Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton rejected should be reconsidered. Chief among them is the idea of formative causation, which Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields redresses in modern scientific language. Aristotle wrote of various levels of soul which work in nature, including the vegetative, sentient, and intellectual souls. Plants grow with the patterning influence of the vegetative soul, which is at work in all higher forms of life as well. It is the wholeness not reducible to the sum of its parts. Animals have the added influence of the sentient soul, which gives them emotion and a higher degree of purposive mobility. Human beings are distinguished from the rest of the animal kingdom by the intellectual soul, which provides for the ability to think abstactly and to ponder the meaning of existence.

For Aristotle, the soul was not in the body, but the body in the soul. This seemingly counter-intuitive way of thinking about the soul-body relation gets at the elusive nature of Sheldrake’s morphic fields. They are invisible spheres of influence that guide the formation of physical systems. From such a perspective, the genome would not be the cause of an organim’s morphology, but the visible molecular trace of the field’s higher dimensional activity. Sheldrake insists that morphic fields are still spatial phenomena, but speculates that they exist in dimensions not directly captured by our 3D sensory experience.

He also believes that morphic fields have a temporal dimension, a morphic resonance that establishes an influence on future members of the same species (be they atomic, chemical, or animal species). In this way, physical systems are related to a non-local memory bank, so that, for example, when the genome of one member of a species mutates, other members might be simultaneously effected through a kind of subtle resonance. The punctuated evolution of species begins to become more plausible in this context, as a purely Darwinian explanation (where mutation is an isolated event effecting only individuals) seems to require too much time to account for the speed at which entirely new kinds of organism emerge.

Mechanistic materialists will of course reject all of this as unnecessary, claiming that even if molecular biologists don’t understand everything yet, complete knowledge based on reductionistic analysis is just around the corner. Sheldrake says he has lost count of how many times his more holistic biology has been dismissed by such materialistic promissory notes, which amount to nothing more than an act of faith in what is ultimately a metaphysical view. Indeed, if direct observation is supposed to be the basis of science (rather than abstract speculation), then the sort of Aristotelian organicism that Sheldrake proposes seems far more coherent with our actual embodied experience than those views which suggest we are nothing but sophisticated robots.

When it comes to phenomena like consciousness, who is more metaphysical and other worldly: someone like Daniel Dennett, who posits that our immediately felt-sense of being conscious persons with rich inner lives and spiritual longings is but an illusion because, in reality, we are but computers made of many insentient mechanical components, or someone like Sheldrake, who suggests that we are among the more complex manifestations of a living universe whose behavior is orchestated by the nested relationships between sentient spheres of influence? It seems clear to me that the latter view–if only we can overcome the fallacy of misplaced concreteness that has produced the deadened industrial ideology preached in universities–is the more adequate to our actual day to day experience. One only needs to take a walk in the woods to remember that we live upon an animate earth and to feel themselves embedded within the psyche cosmu.

I commented to Sheldrake that perhaps the real tragedy was not that such enchanted views of the universe were dismissed out of hand by the intelligentsia of mainstream culture, but that such dismissmal prevented human beings from futher developing still latent capacities (such as clairvoyance and telepathy). He agreed, but suggested that in his experience, very few reductionistic scientists and philosophers actually carry their metaphysical views over into their personal lives. On the weekdays, while they are researching and writing papers, they say what they need to in order to maintain respectability within their institutions. Our industrial economic system requires that its intellectual leaders continue to re-enforce the reigning mechanistic worldview. But on the weekend, most of these same arch-mechanists become romantic nature lovers amazed by the mystery of existence.

The problem, then, seems to be integrating scientific knowledge and personal experience, so that the two can co-exist harmoniously within a single cosmology. Sheldrake’s new science of life is a step in the right direction. Part of the necessary transformation would seem to me to require re-thinking the current hierarchy of scientific disciplines, where physics currently ranks supreme. Perhaps biology ought to replace physics as the most fundamental science. Of course, Aristotle’s physics (in Greek “φύσις,” or physis, referring to the way plants grow), was already based on a conception of the universe as living. So perhaps we just need a more adequate understanding of the physical, not as dead particles in motion according to eternal laws, but as living tissue developing within a cosmic embryo.

Sheldrake still has one more lecture for us this evening, so I will probably have more to say…

Fragile Gaia: a gift for God?

“Truth, and beauty, and goodness, are but different faces of the same All.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve just returned from the lawn outside the postern here at Schumacher. Sean Kelly lead a discussion circle with several of us that was intended to be a space for us to reflect on how the knowledge we’d internalized thus far was effecting us, both intellectually and emotionally. It quickly became a very intense meditation on the fate of our civilization, the nature of the human, and the purpose of our existence on earth. The magnitude of our ecological crisis is hard to fathom, and the momentum behind the industrial way of life seems too strong to avoid our inevitable collision with catastrophe. In many ways, both human society and the entire earth community have already collided with tragedy.

Phillip, a Frenchman who has lived in London for 20 years pursuing various fairtrade business ventures, wondered aloud to the group if all our talk about the evolution of consciousness isn’t just a defense mechanism, an assuaging story that we’ve projected onto our collective history to feel as though our species hasn’t been a complete failure. What if, in truth, no such spiritual trajectory exists and we’re nothing but an especially industrious ape with more brains than we know what to do with? Personally, I’m certainly aware of this possibility, but the evidence for some sort of evolution of human consciousness seems objective enough. Of all the thinkers who have tried to present the case, perhaps Jean Gebser provides the most thorough. And anyways, from Gebser’s point of view, evolution is as much a movement away from origin or spirit as it is a movement towards it. In a sense, humanity’s relationship with the earth and larger universe had to get worse before it could get better. As Jesuit and cultural historian Walter Ong once remarked, human beings need alienation, as it is in our nature to experience the world as outsiders, and to work upon it artistically in order to bring something more familiar into view. Another Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin offered a possible explanation for this odd behavior: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.”

All this is to say that the evolution of consciousness isn’t simply about changing human perspectives on the cosmos, but about the cosmos itself evolving through the deepening of human awareness. We are participating in an astonishing event with cosmic extent and importance: through us, spirit is struggling to incarnate fully into matter. It’s been quite a violent process thus far, as war and ecological devastation testify. But who would expect any different?

Regardless of the human impact today, the entire earth, at least its physical aspect, will eventually be burned up by the increasingly unforgiving power of the sun. Gaia will no longer be able to regulate her temperature once a certain threshold has been crossed. All life will be forced into extinction, aside, perhaps, from a few thermophiles on the sea floor. But even they will be incinerated in several billion more years when the sun begins to swell and swallows the earth whole. Beauty seems inexplicably tied to fragility, and Gaia is no exception. Like all living beings, she, too, must die. But might all the earth’s suffering be worth it for spirit to have been given the gift of life by matter? Perhaps the entire universe has been created so God could experience dying.

Gaian Consciousness

For all ancient cultures, the earth was an all encompassing reality. Hesiod writes that the heavens themselves were birthed out of Gaia, “the steadfast base of all things,” providing her with a sacred canopy spotted with stars. But the moon landings made a reality what had already been true for much of the modern period: the earth was no longer experienced as being wrapped in the sheltering blanket of the sky, but was floating in space with the barren moon as its only nearby companion.


Sean argues that the only appropriate response to our ecological crisis is one that takes the planet as a whole into consideration, but I know he would agree that the planetary must become personal.

As the essayist and cultural critic Wendell Berry writes,

“The planetary versions–the heroic versions–of our problems have attracted great intelligence. But these problems, as they are caused and suffered in our lives, our households, and our communities, have attracted very little intelligence…The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of it’s millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others. Our understandable wish to preserve the planet must somehow be reduced to the scale of our competence–that is, that is, to the wish to preserve all of its humble households and neighborhoods. What can accomplish this reduction? I will say, without overweening hope but with certainty nonetheless, that only love can do it. Only love can bring intelligence out of the institutions and organizations, where it aggrandizes itself, into the presence of the work that must be done… Love is not, by its own desire, heroic. It is heroic only when compelled to be. It exists by its willingness to be anonymous, humble, and unrewarded. The older love becomes, the more clearly it understands its involvement in partiality, imperfection, suffering, and mortality. Even so, it longs for incarnation. It can live no longer by thinking.” -What are People For? (1990), p. 198-200

My short experience with the Schumacher community thus far has been a direct encounter with the sort of humble household intelligence that Berry wants to direct our attention toward. The planet is suffering because our species has become lost in abstraction, whether it be because of the influence of the general-purpose money of the global economy, or the fragmented growth of specialized scientific disciplines, or any number of the other alienating side-effects of industrial growth society. Ecology is, after all, the study of the home.

An integral component of our learning experience at Schumacher includes joining with the residents in various chores, like cooking, cleaning, and gardening. Participating in these responsibilities really fosters a sense of equality and partnership that would otherwise be missing.

The planetary element of the course is reflected in the diverse group of students who have come for the two week session. Every continent aside from Africa is represented. From Bangalore, India comes the poet and dancer Deepti, whose enthusiasm is almost overwhelming! She’ll often be the first to answer Stephan’s or Sean’s questions to the class. Then there is Tony from Galway, Ireland. He’s a psychologist who has worked with troubled teens for many years. He’s quite the story-teller. Just last night (Wednesday), he, myself, and several others walked ten minutes down the road to the oldest surviving pub in England called Cott. It was supposedly opened in 1320, but Dick, a Totnes resident, told us that there are at least two dozen pubs in England that make similar claims! Dick has children who attend a local Waldorf school, and he is quite familiar with Rudolf Steiner, which has made for interesting conversation. Elias, an architect from Mexico City, also joined us at the bar and shared a bit about his shamanically-inspired spirituality. He works his indigenous sensibilities into his designs, which are among the most eco-friendly (and beautiful!) in Mexico City.

I said every continent was represented, and that even includes Australia. David, who teaches biology and chemistry to aboriginal children, has shared a tremendous amount of wisdom with me about what that kind of intercultural exchange is like. He’s not got much patience for the notion that modern people should somehow return to an indigenous mindset; he witnesses ethical and environmental atrocities on a regular basis in the community he serves. An example is the disregard the natives seem to have for a protected species of turtle, which they catch out at sea in motor boats and drag back to shore, where they flip it over, throw it into a fire, and cook it alive in its own shell.

Another Floridian, Hal, is on sabbatical here. He teaches law at the University of West Florida and is working with Stephan to develop a future course on earth jurisprudence at Schumacher. We’ve spoken quite a bit about the Gulf oil spill and have some advice for Obama should he come looking for any. Hal’s convinced that only a sort of metanoia will allow human beings to include the rights of various members of the earth community into our legal system.

From Norway, there’s an charming woman named Cecil who is absolutely enthralled by the spiritual implications of quantum physics. I’m always a but uneasy with talk of consciousness creating material reality, especially when a very complex field of mathematical science is used (or misused) as support, but I attempted to describe Brian Swimme’s enchanted cosmology to her at lunch this afternoon, and she seemed to resonate quite deeply with it. She also gave me permission to marry her 21 year old daughter, but unfortunately Oslo is a bit far afield from my planned route through Europe.

I decided to give a talk to the group this evening on Jean Gebser and consciousness, which I should probably start preparing for!

More soon…

The Planetary Era

The title of the course I’m participating in at Schumacher College is “Gaia and the Evolution of Consciousness.” Biologist Stephan Harding and philosopher Sean Kelly are leading us through the scientific and cultural history relevant to these issues. Another biologist, Rupert Sheldrake, will join us for a few days next week to share his view of what a re-enchanted study of life might look like. We’re only two days into the course, but I wanted to develop some ideas and introduce you to the other students (see next post).

Earlier today (Tuesday, June 22nd), Sean lectured on the meaning and historical unfolding of the planetary era. When exactly the earth as a whole first became a concept human consciousness was capable of contemplating is difficult to discern. Perhaps a practical awareness of earth’s extent dawned with the age of exploration in the 16th century, when colonial war and commerce began to link Europe with Africa, Asia and the Americas. Copernicus’ heliocentric intimations in On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published just before his death in 1543, are more than symbolic of the changes in humanity’s self-conception, but it is quite clear that by the middle of the 20th century, both as a result of the global paroxysm of the world wars and the technological feat of landing men on the moon, the thought of all humanity living on a fragile blue sphere drifting through the depths of space was impossible to ignore. World War II ended when the power of the sun was unleashed over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the iconic earth rise photograph revealed the as yet unimaginable beauty of our home planet to human eyes. Sean echoed the panoptic thinker Edgar Morin by suggesting that this photo represented “earth viewed from earth,” both in the sense that it was only first developed and observed by anyone (aside from the astronauts who took it) after the film had been returned to earth, and in the deeper sense that the human organism was born and is made out of the substance of the planet itself, and so represents that part of the earth that is both willing and able to escape its own gravity to experience itself from the outside.

Welcome to London…

…where the wifi’s free and the weather’s not half as good as Miami. I’ve arrived! Well, sort of. I’m stuck waiting at Paddington Station for my 1pm train to Totnes. I didn’t get any sleep on the flight, but I did watch two decent movies: finally saw “2012,” which was entertaining, but I was over it the 8th time a plane was nearly swallowed by a giant plume of volcanic ash as the runway crumbled beneath it; then there was “The Lovely Bones,” the story of a 14 year old girl who was murdered and became stuck between heaven and earth trying to understand her death. It left me wondering just how thin the veil might be, especially when that most transcendent of emotions–love–stretches between this side and the other.

Time to find a restroom. Over and out.

Pushing back against Positivism

I felt like giving my two cents over at Pharyngula again. My response is copied below. I fear I repeat myself too much, but I just can’t help offering philosophical resistance whenever I come across scientism. Humanity has no future if meaning continues to be reduced to the measurable and culture to the technologically useful. Here is PZ Myers’ critique of a recent Guardian article by Mary Midgley about New Atheism: Bumblin’ Midgley babbles again. You’ll find a link to Midgley’s article there.

From the looks of it, Midgley’s article was probably chopped up by editors. That, or she tried to shrink wrap a complex, multi-tiered argument about the relationship between scientific materialism and traditional world-views into a few paragraphs. The philosopher Charles Taylor had the good sense to carefully unpack a version of this argument in no less than 900 pages (see “A Secular Age”).

I’ll assume no one has read Taylor’s book, so we’ll have to make due with Midgley’s spark notes. It is hard to dismiss her basic point without becoming a positivist by default. World-views that include some conception of the divine are not necessarily making factual claims. God is not a hypothesis meant to explain this or that natural phenomenon, at least not in traditional metaphysical approaches (Intelligent Design is a very recent school of thought that has more in common with materialism than, say, Aquinas’ philosophy of nature). Instead, God is posited as a necessary condition for the possibility of there being a universe that produces life and intelligence. In this sense, God is not a fact that might be tested for because the only evidence for God’s existence is existence itself. Positivists say this is nonsense, of course. But so long as human being’s are capable of thinking, metaphysics will be unavoidable. We aren’t satisfied with just thinking about external nature (a mode of thought science continues to perfect); we also think about thinking (the domain of philosophy), which necessarily supersedes natural scientific reasoning and inevitably leads one in a “spiritual” direction when pursued thoroughly. “Spiritual,” because upon sustained reflection concerning one’s own consciousness, it becomes apparent that the universe is not just a collection of measurable objects colliding with one another in extended space; the universe also has an inside (in the phenomenological, not geometric, sense) that is not accounted for by the known laws of physics.

The positivists are cringing again, I know. Philosophy supersedes natural science?! Yes, because no amount of empirical study of the brain will explain conscious activity or thinking, since these are the pre-conditions of any empirical study. Neurochemical processes are involved, I have no doubt, but it is a gross category error to assume there exists some description in terms of external material events alone that might account for mental experience.

But back to Midgley’s point… Human being’s don’t develop a world-view by adding up empirical facts to form the most likely picture of the universe. A fact is significant only given an imaginative background that supplies its metaphysical context. Without such a background, we could not even decide what counts as a fact in the first place. An observed correlation between a neurological structure and a specific conscious experience could be interpreted several ways depending on one’s cosmology. If you’re a mechanistic reductionist, this fact means the brain is somehow locally producing consciousness. If you have a more richly textured ontology, this fact means that the organized structure of the physical brain somehow taps into a deeper dimension of space-time (an ether of sorts), sapping or receiving consciousness from a non-local, non-physical source.

Parsimony!, screams the positivist. Yes, but the simplest explanation isn’t always the right one. This tired cliche about simplicity only works if reality is assumed from the beginning to be entirely material, and since the quantum revolution, its unclear what the term “matter” even means. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t as simple as Newton assumed (or our everyday experience assumes) it to be. And anyways, who is to say which explanation is simpler? I’ve yet to come across even the hint of an explanation for how neurochemistry might create consciousness in scientific literature.

We can say no to some myths, but myth, or story, is as much a part of scientific narrative (especially those of the evolutionary sort) as it is religious narrative. Scientific stories work, as technology testifies. But so do religious stories, as the continued and indeed growing role of spirituality in our society shows.

Christopher Alexander’s Science of Imagination

I’m six chapters into The Luminous Ground, and Christopher Alexander has already convinced me that living architecture has the potential to profoundly alter the way we relate to the universe. A building composed of what Alexander calls “living centers” literally opens a window to a deeper dimension of reality. We do not see these openings with our eyes, though certain geometric patterns and the proper play of light and color may evoke them. In truth, living centers require a form of supersensory perception: we feel them in our hearts, but they exist also in their own right as features of the world no less real than we are. This is why the feeling is one of sublime relationship–of a universal bond almost beyond description because it touches the very core of our own identity. These centers, like us, are “I-beings” which tunnel into space-time through forms of matter that are especially receptive to their spiritual light. Their source is a unified plenum of God-like substance that Alexander believes underlies the physical world at every point in space.

As a philosopher and aspiring poet, my role is to conceive new forms of language that transform the way we perceive the world. Alexander’s insights are best expressed by the silent majesty of the buildings themselves, by being actually present in, for example, Chartres cathedral (his favorite example of living architecture) so as to feel the light that pours out of every shape. But even Alexander cannot avoid trying to articulate his insights. It is the only way to share what he has perceived. And share he must, because the modern world has almost entirely lost touch with the living dimension of the universe.

Our senses have been dulled and our hearts made hard by the march of economic efficiency. Feelings are no longer taken seriously within our positivistic worldview where the only facts are what can be measured objectively (by math or money), and so human well-being is not factored into technology or building design. Modern people have become conditioned to view the universe as basically dead, made of empty homogenous space and inert matter governed by mechanical laws. This is the world we live in even before we have a chance to reflect upon it. Given such a cosmology, it is no surprise that we’ve made such progress transforming the once beautiful earth into an industrial hell. It is that much harder to convince ourselves otherwise now that most of us live in huge cities surrounded by dehumanizing machines. Those of us working to build (whether architecturally or philosophically) a new imaginal background for our civilization are met either with outright derision from those scientists whose cultural authority depends upon the mechanistic world-picture, or with patronizing smiles from post-modernists who believe such metaphysical pursuits are but the romantic vestige of a bygone era when humanity still believed it could participate in the truth of things themselves. It seems we’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy, unable to break free of the disenchanted world we’ve created for ourselves.

I believe there is hope, as more people are beginning to wake up to the possibility of another world. Alexander’s vision of a luminous ground underlying the physical world, breathing life into its various forms, is evidence that a new organ of perception is growing within the human heart. This supersensory organ perceives not the reflection of light off colored surfaces, but the emanation of love from transphysical beings. The spatiotemporal effect of these “I-beings”–for though they are transphysical, they are not separate from matter, but rather provide the formative forces necessary for its organized manifestation–is beauty.

File:Chartres - cathédrale - ND de la belle verrière.JPG

Rudolf Steiner predicted in the 1920s that more people would begin to acquire this sort of inner vision, or clairvoyance, in the coming century. He lectured extensively about the need for a science of the imagination, and Alexander’s pattern language derived from 30 years of architectural observation is exactly that (see my essay on Steiner and Teilhard de Chardin for another example). Steiner developed a more complex understanding of supersensory realities that includes four enveloping layers: physical, etheric, astral, and the spirit or ‘I’ from which everything else proceeds. Alexander seems to lump the latter three together into a single plenum of “God-stuff,” which isn’t entirely misleading since reality is best understood as a seamless whole. But Steiner’s fourfold description provides for a more richly textured ontology. According to Steiner, it takes a highly developed imagination to perceive the etheric realm, while the astral and spiritual dimensions require cultivating organs of inspiration and intuition, respectively. He suggests that a long process of consciousness evolution will be required for most of us to develop these abilities, but that the task of our age in particular is to cultivate the imaginal sense that will allow us to feel the life hidden just behind the sensory world. The easiest way to begin to perceive the etheric realm is to feel its activity within ourselves. It brings the physical body to life by organizing it such that the ‘I’ can penetrate into space-time.

Alexander describes this wonderfully:

“In a human body, which is at least in part a structure of matter alone, the experience of ‘I’ or ‘self’ arises. In spite of various sociological attempts at explanation, this everyday experience of our own selves is not yet understood in a satisfactory way by physics. But it would be relatively easy to understand if we postulate the plenum of I, universal and general, linked to matter, and if it were a fact that the matter in a body, once organized, is able to make direct connection with this I. We would then experience the bridge or tunnel to the I as our own self, not realizing that it is in fact merely one bridge, of a million similar bridges, between the matter in different beings and the I. That is to say, in such a conception of the I which one of us experiences as his own self is not a private and individual thing, as most of us imagine it to be, but a partial connection of our own physical matter (my body) to this very great, and single, plenum of I-stuff” (p. 149).

Recognizing that our most immediate sense of being who we are is not, as we tend to believe, an isolated chemical event within the skull, but an effect of our participation in the universal Self is the first step towards taking the love we feel for one another and for the beauty of the living world seriously. These are not just subjective feelings, but evidence of the very Ground of reality itself.

A comment to Hyper Tiling concerning anthropocentrism

You can find Fabio’s blog here:


You’ve succeeded in getting me interested in speculative realism and object-oriented philosophy. Kantian skepticism is perhaps the main obstacle I must overcome in my dissertation, which loosely described is an argument for a more richly textured ontology, such that any full accounting of reality must include its physical, etheric/vital, psychological/astral, and spiritual dimensions. My principle inspiration for this project is Rudolf Steiner, but the works of thinkers like Schelling, Hegel, Bergson, Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Jung, and Jean Gebser will also be close at hand while I am writing it.

I’m commenting here to ask if you might expand a bit on how speculative realism provides an alternative to anthropocentric modes of thought… Most of the guys I’ve listed above, especially Steiner and Teilhard, are self-proclaimed anthropocentrists of the Hermetic variety. In the Hermetic tradition, a deep symmetry is posited between the cosmos and the human (“as above, so below”). We could look at this issue from an epistemic (or Kantian) perspective and say that humans are limited by the structure of their mind and its sensory organs such that the only universe we can know has always already been humanized. We could also think about this in broadly ontological terms, situating the human organism within the 14 billion year evolutionary process that has lead up to this moment. From such a perspective, the structure of our mind and sensory organs is not separate from the universe, as if thought were somehow parachuted into being from the outside sometime in 1641 (when Descartes published his “Meditations”). From a Teilhardian or Whiteheadian perspective, human beings are the shape space-time takes when it comes to know itself. There could of course be alien intelligences whose morphology differs somewhat from our own, but if Teilhard’s biological inferences are correct, we would expect to find in their form the result of a similar process of cerebralization. For Hermeticists like Giordano Bruno, non-human intelligences would only be more evidence that the universe has some innate propensity, not only to come to life, but to hominize. Anthropocentrism is then not a naive epistemic oversight or moral self-congratulation; rather, is the acknowledgment that cosmic evolution produces conscious beings with eyes and faces (“opos”).

I haven’t read all your posts, and so I’ve got a very limited sense of your relation to these kinds of admittedly mystical ideas. I do, however, recall reading that the writings of early Christianity once interested you. I know it will be quite a challenge for me to bring the ideas of someone like Steiner to the level of respectability in mainstream philosophical discourse, but I remain convinced that the only way to adequately respond to the earth- and culture-destroying ethos of techno-industrial capitalism is by transforming consciousness so that it can once again recognize the play of spirit in the universe. We need to develop a cosmology that accounts for the empirical discoveries of the past several hundred years, but that also builds on the wisdom traditions that have informed and inspired our species for millennia.

Looking forward to reading more of your posts here.

Fabio responded, but told me I might have to wait for the publication of his article in the new open source journal of object-oriented philosophy called “Speculations” before my questions might find their answers. You can read his response here.

My second response:
Thanks for the feedback, Fabio. I await the publication of your article. After reading a bit more of Meillassoux, I can see why you suggest I won’t find much support there. I don’t think it makes sense to talk about objects independent of subjects, and as soon as we adopt a panexperientialist ontology the issue of how science has knowledge of pre-human arche-fossils is cleared up. Human subjectivity may have emerged late in the game, but there never was a time-space in the evolution of the universe without a relation between interior perspective and exterior event. I think a Whiteheadian ontology gets us out of the vulgar sort of anthropocentrism M. rightly wants to dispense with without leaving the cosmos “devoid of self-enjoyment,” as Whitehead puts it. Whitehead’s division of experience into the modes of “causal efficacy” and “presentational immediacy” goes a long way toward transcending Kantian transcendentalism by providing a new way of understanding the ground of sensibility which Kant argued was unknowable. This ground is unknowable for the understanding–that is, for our rational, waking consciousness. But as Whitehead suggests, what philosophy needs is not a critique of pure reason, but of pure feeling. It is through perception in the mode of causal efficacy that we literally touch the world’s objectivity as it arises in and as our own body, thereby reaching objects concretely without the mediation of the abstract categories of consciousness.

Public Philosophy (via Hyper tiling)

Here are some really well developed (and highly agreeable!) thoughts by a graduate student in the UK (researching the science v. religion culture war) about the place of philosophy in society and academia. I just discovered his blog and have a lot more reading to do. Give it a look.

On Wednesday, I attended the ‘Who is Afraid of Philosophy’ talk at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The talk was meant to be both a retrospective on the 12 days of occupation at Middlesex University, and a critical reflection regarding the rationale behind the administrative decision to shut the philosophy department (for a more journalistic and less opinionated take on the event than mine check out the New Statesman article here). The discussi … Read More

via Hyper tiling

The short story of a sophianic moonlight friend.

There is one who kneels me, who pulls me to the Sky beneath the Earth. Around her, my heart is heavy with the gravity of love.

Love, like a wound that needs forever to bleed in order to heal; a union of suffering and bliss that asks for no more than a brief kiss.

In that short time, the whole world unwinds in anticipation of the rise of the divine. Lips hear each other without gasping for air, and Wisdom passes purely between souls.

Quickly, the Word returns to where it was told, and all was one, all was old. For evidence of God, look the I of another in the eyes. You’ll see reflected the ancient story of the Moon, with light down shining from the Sun.

Discover the face of she who wears the life of the Earth as skin. With time, she weaves the wonders of the world into space, making matter through imaginative impress.

Remember the meaning of the future, the destined death of earth. What lives is hiding here today, but will be gone tomorrow. Know thyself, and love thy neighbor.

Cocoons look at first like coffins. But beneath the scab is a living ouroboric embryo, recreating itself from within. The Human and the Earth have been swallowed by the Sky. Now we must learn to tell the tail from the story.

Wisdom is never worried, because time always tells her when it’s up.

My response to ‘Why Did God Create Atheists?’ @ AlterNet

Why Did God Create Atheists? | Belief | AlterNet.

…and my comment posted as a response:

I believe Jesus answers some of these questions when he says that “the kingdom of heaven is within you,” but that many do not yet have the ears to hear or the eyes to see what this means. Of course God is not falsifiable, but nor is God a scientific hypothesis. God is the eternal “I am”–that within each of us which grants us identity and self-consciousness, not to mention the ability to love one another unconditionally (because after all, in the depths of our souls behind all our personal idiosyncrasies, where the light of the “I am” shines forth, we are all already one in God). Let’s all please get beyond silly literalism and acknowledge that it is human nature to be spiritual, in whatever form that spirituality might take (one can be atheist and still deeply spiritual). Fundamentalism is a very recent invention, mostly an unfortunate but inevitable reaction against the moral depravity of the modern, industrial world. Our species’ religious traditions are themselves full of wisdom, if only we have ears to hear it. It is only those with political motivations that distort these teachings to suit their own desire for power. It is misguided to blame religion for the world’s problems. We could just as easily blame science and technology for building nukes and fueling the industrial makeover of our planet that is responsible for climate change and mass extinction. Instead, let’s take a look at ourselves and start taking responsibility for the only earth we’ll ever have. Science tells us how, religion tells us why. It’s up to us to live peacefully in light of this knowledge.

“The Luminous Ground” by Christopher Alexander

Christopher Alexander is an architect, but in order to build living structures resonant with human feeling, he had also to become a cosmologist.

“A person who adheres to classical 19th- or 20th-century beliefs about matter,” writes Alexander,

“will not be able, fully, to accept the revisions in building practice that I have proposed, because the revisions will remain, for that person, too disturbingly inconsistent with that picture of the world…Unless our world-picture itself is changed and replaced by a new picture, more consistent with the felt reality of life in buildings and in our surroundings, the idea of life in buildings itself will not be enough to accomplish change” (p. 10).

In his book, The Luminous Ground, volume 4 of 4 in a series entitled The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe, Alexander attempts to re-imagine the mechanistic worldview informing the common sense of almost all modern, industrial people. He does so for the most practical of reasons: so that our civilization can once again generate architectural forms that human beings can relate to. The culprit, he believes, responsible for a century or two of unlivable architectural design is our inadequate (though admittedly fascinating and wonderful) scientific world-picture.

“In order to creat this effective scientific world-picture,” he writes,

“we had to use a device: the intellectual device of treating entities in nature as if they were inert, as if they were lumps of geometrical substance, without feeling, without life–in effect, merely mechanical elements in a larger machine” (p. 13).

This picture of the universe forces us into what A. N. Whitehead referred to as a bifurcated conception of nature. On the one hand, there is the world that physics models, full of the blind pushing and pulling of colorless, soundless, odorless and fundamentally meaningless bits of matter. On the other hand, as Alexander puts it, there is the world we actually experience. In this world, we taste, we feel, we love; in short, we are conscious beings who care about our existence. Like Whitehead, Alexander is convinced that no truly livable world, much less a method for constructing living buildings, will be possible until this bifurcation is overturned and the material and the personal are harmoniously united in a single cosmology.

“It is this ongoing rift between the mechanical-material picture of the world (which we accept as true) and our intuitions about self and spirit (which are intuitively clear but scientifically vague) that has destroyed our architecture. It is destroying us, too. It has destroyed our sense of self-worth…It has destroyed us and our architecture, ultimately, by forcing a collapse of meaning” (p. 18).

I am only just beginning to read Alexander’s architectural protest for a re-enchanted cosmology, but I’ve already detected strong correlations with Rudolf Steiner and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (both of whom he mentions in footnotes). Alexander’s experience after decades of building have taught him that matter and space-time are not neutral and inert, as the models of physics would lead us to believe, but in some sense alive–even conscious–and that their vitality depends upon the presence of certain organic patterns that human beings can recognize and recreate. Recognizing the reality of these patterns requires that we come to take our feelings seriously, instead of rejecting them as merely subjective projections onto an otherwise valueless objective world. By ignoring the testimony of feeling, science has blinded itself to an entire dimension of the universe. The results have been catastrophic, not only for architectural design, but for human consciousness itself.

I’ll have more to say in the next few weeks as I get deeper into Alexander’s text… (See Alexander’s Science of the Imagination)

Notes from chapters 1-5 on Schickler’s “Metaphyics as Christology”

The following are my notes on Jonael Schickler’s Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner. I figured I’d post them to give inquiring minds a taste of the ideas he develops in the text. Chapters 6, 7 and the conclusion will follow soon.

Metaphysics as Christology: An Odyssey of the Self from Kant and Hegel to Steiner



-Steiner’s esoteric metaphysics can overcome the opposition between Kantian transcendentalism and Hegelian dialecticism (p. xix)

  -Hegel’s logical dimension is ontologically underdetermined because he does not adequately respond to Kant’s claim that we are unable to know the ground of our sensory intuitions

-Steiner’s 4-fold division of the human being a successor to Aristotle’s physical body, vegetative soul, sensitive soul, and intellectual soul.

  -Steiner fulfills the post-Kantian desire to conceive of nature and spirit, or self and cosmos, as a unity (p. 1)

-The history of philosophy since Kant and up to Heidegger can be read as the successive incarnation of the modern self

  -it is an incarnation because the self begins its odyssey in Descartes as a thinking substance separated from extended matter, but gradually becomes more closely associated with the body

   -Kant articulates how thought is intimately interwoven with the body, but nonetheless remains ontologically skeptical (p. 2)

   -Hegel advances the process of incarnation by:

    1) giving the self a historical and social self-understanding

    2) by considering its development and evolution

    3) by laying out a logic of reality as an immanent self-critique of thought’s most basic categories

      -but no complete account of the physical body is offered

  -Nietzsche arrives at a conception of the self as an unknown or transcendental body that creates both spirit and sense as instruments of its will (p. 3)

  -for Steiner, the physical body is the outer form of an inner reality

  -twentieth century philosophy saw the death of self, especially through the work of Wittgenstein and Heidegger…subjectivity has become fragmented and displaced, lacks spiritual direction

  -despite much modern nihilism, the self is beginning to awaken to spiritual realities (see Grof, Sheldrake, Prokoffief) (p. 4)

-preview of Kant, Hegel, and Steiner (p. 4-7)

  -Hegel’s death-resurrection logic of thought must be applied to the empirical world

  -Steiner’s account of the self-world relation is embedded in an evolutionary conception of the cosmos and of man, wherein man’s fourfold constitution is ontologized and shown to be the necessary preconditions for any embodied experience of reality

-Plato’s discussion of the river Lethe that makes us forget our past incarnations (p. 12)



Chapter 1: Kant’s Faculties and the ‘I think’

-he conceives of human experience as a richly structured unity between the intelligible and the sensible (p. 13)

-imagination is in some way both a sensible and conceptual faculty, since it’s function is to unify these

-the ‘I think’ gives formal unity to consciousness and accompanies all representations (p. 14)

-faculties of cognition:

  –sensibility: provides two forms of intuition, pure (space and time) and empirical (the matter given by the senses). Space and time are immediately given and not the result of the spontaneous activity of intelligence (a priori, but not as concepts added to experience by the understanding). The only thing we can know about sensation a priori is that it will be received according to some intensity. A posteriori, we come to know its extensive qualities as they exist in space and time. This is all Kant can offer as regards sensibility because for him only the transcendental, and not the empirical conditions of experience have philosophical validity; we cannot ask what causes sensibility (p. 15).

  –understanding: provides intelligible conditions of experience and is the spontaneity of cognition. Experience takes the form of judgment, which involves the application of categories (and is propositional). Concepts are pure concepts of synthesis that the understanding contains in itself a priori. The ground of the categories is the transcendental ego, or ‘I think,’ without which no concept of objectivity would be possible because no unity could be conferred upon the sensory manifold so as to constitute an object.

  –imagination: is the cause, in general, of synthesis, which is according the Kant ‘the action of putting different representations together and comprehending their manifoldness in one cognition.’ It provides several forms of synthesis, including that which preserves the past in our perception of the present (p. 16-17).

  –reason: “the faculty of the unity of the rules of understanding under principles” (p. 18). Reason is exercised not on experience, but on the understanding. Kant distinguishes ‘descending’ or ‘logical’ use of reason, where inferences are drawn via syllogisms, from ‘ascending’ or ‘pure’ reason, which aims at discovering the unconditioned ground of the conditional. The ideas of reason provide this unconditioned, absolute ground: the self (psychology), the cosmos (empirical world), and God (theology). Kant says ideas of reason are regulative, serving as subjective ideals, but not constitutive, inhering in the real, objective world. This is so because Kant cannot find any experiential correspondence to these ideas. Reason’s function is just to give unity to our knowledge. Only individuals and particulars exist in reality, but the regulative role of reason allows us to unify them into a system of categories. Reason creates its ideas by reflecting on concepts of the understanding. (see Deleuze’s book “Kant’s Critical Philosophy”).

-Kant artificially separates understanding from imagination (p. 19), as categories of understanding are abstractions derived from a pre-discursive imaginal unity whose structure is discovered only via dialectic. The imagination, therefore, can only be researched phenomenologically, not discursively.

  -imagination provides schemata for concepts, which provide ‘the sensible conditions under which alone pure concepts of the understanding can be employed.’ The schema is the third moment which unifies through mediation the category and the appearance to which it applies.

    -schemata of pure concepts (triangle) and empirical concepts (dog)

    -schemata of some pure concepts: substance (the persistence of the real in time)’ causality (the succession of the manifold in so far as it is subject to a rule), and necessity (the existence of an object at all times).

    -pure concepts of the understanding have their significance only in relation to experience, because schemata are necessary conditions for the realization of categories (p. 20).

    -Kant considers 4 main kinds of synthesis of imagination: apprehension, reproduction, recognition, and schematization. Each involves both sensibility and understanding. Imagination is therefore “a blind function of the soul,” since its synthesizing processes are superconscious. Imagination provides unity immediately, whereas the understanding unifies through reflection (p. 21).

-the imagination (or image-process) reconstitutes a unity that has been sundered only by the insertion of the human organization into the world as a whole (p. 22).

  -categories of understanding are not the ultimate constitutive elements of experience, but abstractions from a much richer, pre-discursive horizon of being. Phenomenology must discover this horizon, and it must be unified with dialectic and its results (i.e., with rationalism).

-the unity of apperception presupposes a manifold within which it is in relation. The ‘I’ is a pure consciousness that always accompanies concepts, and cannot itself be called a concept (p. 23). Self-consciousness is the condition of all unity, but is not itself conditioned. The self is not a substance, for Kant, but a form of representation.

  -Or is it that the unity of apperception cannot be derived from the manifold, but that the ‘I think’ must be spontaneous? (p. 25).

  -with the ‘I think,’ subject and predicate are one: I am I is unlike “the dog had a tail,” since the dog has its predicates outside of itself as subject.

  -a subject that immediately and necessarily has itself for its object Schelling and Hegel call absolute.

  -“If our conception of ourselves as subjects is given through the spontaneous act of a thinking subject, our more detailed conceptions of ourselves as distinct individuals with a body, feelings, and personality…are given through other faculties, in particular sensibility and the imagination which unites it with the understanding” (p. 26).

    -“To truly understand the ‘I think,’ we need to know its relation to sensibility, and this means to understand the relation between mind (considered as the horizon of inner sense), body (as an object of outer sense), and world (everything given as an object of experience within the horizon of an ‘I think’), since all are instrumental in giving us the experience that the subject of thought–absolute though it must be in its logical form–generates” (p. 27).

-Kant, in his less critical moods, argued for the existence of the soul before and after death. The voice of conscience is the incarnated spirit, whose normal state is in the supersensible world and whose exceptional state is embodied on earth. “when the oil is separated from the body, it will not see the world as it appears, but as it is” (p. 28).

  -Kant identifies life with the animal element in humans, not the vegetative, revealing that his conception of the levels mediating between pure thought and the physical world is limited. (see Kant on ether in ‘Opus Postumum’ and on p. 32-33).



Chapter 2: From Kant to Hegel

-Kant restricts our knowledge claims to the sphere of the understanding, and so, at the empirical level, the structural unity of living organisms cannot be known, nor, at the theoretical level, can reason discover the true ground of the ‘I think’ or of the world (p. 35)

  -but organisms must nonetheless be conceived as something with intrinsic, not extrinsic (mechanical), finality because of its “indescribably wise organization”

-in the Critique of Pure Reason, the unity of the ‘I think’ is considered an intrinsic feature of self-consciousness (as a priori), and therefore is not dependent upon the idea of an end unfolding in time. But in the Critique of Judgment, the unity or finality of a living organism or of an idea of the imagination is fulfilled only through time. Such unity is a posteriori, a unity within multiplicity (because an organism must remain itself through change).

-Hegel attempts to show the relation between the unity of pure thought and that of an organism conceived in its immanence. He desired an understanding of how thought and the empirical world were related, something Kant deemed impossible.

-Hegel shows in the Phenomenology of Spirit how a complete logic of philosophical categories presupposes an evolution of consciousness through varies forms or shapes (p. 36). The limits of one form are overcome by its successor. 

-“The overall aim of the Phenomenology is thus to reveal each of the main forms of consciousness through which the self passes as it transforms substance (the world) into subject (itself), until the point is reached where all of reality is found to lie within it as its own self-externalization and so all dualism is overcome” (p. 37).

  -But Hegel does not ask how the sensible and intelligible are united in the thinking process; he is only concerned with the different ways thinking consciousness categorizes sensory content. He seeks the only logically coherent way in which the world can be conceived, but does not explain how this logic can be realized in the world of the senses.

  -“Hegel treats the sensory world as an obedient handmaiden of reason which is formed and disciplined time and again by thought, and then eventually discarded once it has played its role in the awakening of the self to knowledge of its true, spiritual nature” (p. 39).


Chapter 3: Hegel’s Logic and the Self

-if the Phenomenology leads us to the alter of initiation, the Logic is our participation in the mysteries themselves (p. 43)

   -the Logic unfolds like a living being, maintaining a unity throughout its multiple moments. Unlike in the Phenomenology, where the growth and development of the ‘I’ from sense certainty to absolute knowledge is described, the Logic traces the organic structure of the Idea itself. Instead of the forms of consciousness, the categories of thought are developed dialectically.

  -the Logic presupposes the form of consciousness arrived at by the end of the Phenomenology, which is only possible to experience given that, through history, humanity has developed through them.

-a culture’s metaphysics is the highest expression of its spiritual potential, ‘an educated people without metaphysics is like an otherwise richly decorated temple without its inner sanctuary’ (p. 44).

  -the seeds of metaphysics are not planted by the philosopher, but lie buried in ordinary language and the social institutions in which language lives (p. 45).

    -the philosophers role is to conceive these seeds as a living unity

-Kant’s conception of logic: 1) transcendental logic considers the a priori conditions of conceiving and experiencing objects, including the categories of understanding concretely actualized by sensory intuitions, 2) general logic deals with forms of valid reasoning and is concerned with the relations between and formal structures of judgments referring to objects. The ultimate ground of general logic cannot be known, as this would require knowing the true relation between self, world, and God. No premise of general logic can therefore be claimed as true unconditionally.

  -Hegel attempts to unite logic and metaphysics by overcoming the difference between transcendental and general logic. He does this by showing how the judgment develops into the syllogism, which then develops into the concept of the object (p. 46).

    -the concept begins as a universal, becoming particular when a judgment adds a predicate to it (‘tree’ –> ‘has green leaves’), and becoming the mediated unity of these as an individualized concept, which for Hegel is the object.

    -for Hegel, the syllogism is the form in which the rational is articulated.

-the most important questions of logic concern the relation between the subject and predicate of a sentence (p. 47).

  -what is implied by the fact that everything within my world is a predicate of my subject? And how can the subject be identical (“is”) with its predicate, or the ‘I’ with its world?

  -Hegel claims that subject and predicate are unified in the Absolute Idea (self-thinking thought).

-ontology asks, ‘what is real…what, if anything, has existence for its essence, and what follows from this for all other existing things?’ (p. 48)

  -logic asks, ‘what is the rational/thought, and how is its internal structure embedded in the structure of language?

    -unless substance/being can be made to converge with subject/thought, knowledge of the True is not possible. Hegel says “the real is the rational,” but Schickler doubts whether Hegel actually succeeded in bridging the gap. He suggests that Hegel identifies with Aristotle’s second attribute of eudamonia, theoria (contemplation of forms), but neglects phronimos (practical moral insight).

-from Steiner’s perspective, the unity of subject and substance must be achieved not only in the domain of thinking, but feeling and willing as well. The passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ here points the way, for here we encounter the possibility of an immanent synthesis of subject and object (or spirit, soul, and body).

-the Logic of Being: 1) the categories of being (quality, quantity, measure) have the surface character of immediacy and are interdependent, but this relationship is not immediately obvious, 2) Hegel begins his logic with being because it is the most immediate and indeterminate category that presupposes nothing (other than the initiation enacted in the Phenomenology), 3) measure is the synthesizing category, called by Hegel the ‘qualitative quantum.’ Every quality evident in the world is realized along side some specific quantity, and vice versa (p. 49, p. 61 note 15).

-the Logic of Essence: 1) the categories of essence (essence, appearance, actuality) are mediated by the categories of being, of which they are the underlying reflection, 2) these categories are dualistic, and so the understanding is at home in them (i.e., identity-difference, thing-property, form-matter as categories of essence; form-content, whole-part, force-expression as categories of appearance; inner-outer, necessity-possibility, cause-effect as categories of actuality), 3) the category of actuality is an attempt to conceive being as a unity of essence and appearance, as a substance which remains itself in its accidents, as an essence which shines forth in its appearance (p. 50).

-the Logic of the Concept: the categories of the Concept (concept, judgment, syllogism) are supposed to achieve a unity of immediacy (being) and mediacy (essence). Hegel’s aim is to show how a self-necessitating substance can and must be conceived as subject.

  -how is self-consciousness related to the concept? “The circular relation of the ‘I’ to itself is that in which the absolute nature of the self and the concept is revealed in immediate, empirical self-consciousness–revealed because self-consciousness is the existent, that is empirically perceptible pure concept, the absolute self-relation which in a distinguishing act of judgment makes itself into its object and alone consists in making itself into a circle” (p. 51).

  -“I = I” does not mean self-consciousness is a synthesis of two elements. It is the ground of all unity, not derivative of another unity, and so contains no differences within itself. The ‘I’ is the true thing-in-itself, an immediate circularity beginning where it ends and ending where it begins (p. 52).

    -the self is eternal and self-causing. “In the case of self-consciousness, we are dealing with an object perceived by a subject which is immediately identical with the object–thus with a sense of the empirical and empirical perception which transcends the subject-object opposition.”

-Subjective subject-object unity v. Objective subject-object unity

  -Hegel criticizes Fichte for only conceiving of the subjective unity of self-consciousness (‘I = I’), and failing to adequately account for the objective externality of the ‘not-I.’ Schickler says this requires conceiving of the unity of concept and percept (p. 54).

-the ‘I’ is beyond the subject-object opposition, and so:

1) the ‘not-I’ or empirical world encountered by the ‘I’ cannot be external to the ‘I’ (just as he finite cannot be external to the infinite).

2) the ‘I’ is immanent in the material world, which is itself self-conscious and infinite.

3) all subjects besides the ‘I’ must have a predicate distinct from themselves in order to possess content, but this separation can be overcome, as is already implied in the possibility of any judgment, where one thing is said to be another (“the rose is a flower”).

4) the difference between ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ is only apparent.

5) the ‘I’ is therefore the ground of all other identities and differences (spirit-matter, mind-body).

6) to know the real, the ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ must be reconciled. This reconciliation constitutes the Absolute.

7) the reconciliation of the self-world relation can be read as a philosophical interpretation of the notion of resurrection.

-in so far as the identity of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ remains unactualized, the Absolute Self remains transcendent–an evolutionary goal or future possibility (p. 55)

  -this means that, in the current age, the self is still rather impotent in relation to the sensory world of nature.

  -Hegel prematurely absolutizes man, or humanizes the Absolute.

-a major shortcoming of Kant’s system is that he does not account for how the 12 categories of the concept of the object are to be derived from the ‘I think,’ he simply postulates them. Hegel, on the other hand, attempts to derive his categories developmentally from a single source. The key of this development is the trinity universal, particular, individual, which are expressed in several forms (p. 56):

1) through consideration of the moments of concept, judgment, and syllogism, where the universal is shown to contain both particularity and individuality within itself.

    -“In a syllogism, the mediating term is no longer simply the copula “is,” but the subject or predicate of a judgment. In a judgment both subject and predicate must be taken as given. In the syllogism they determine one another’s places within a larger system” (p. 57).

2) through consideration of how the categories apply to logic itself

3) through consideration of how the categories apply to the self

4) through consideration of how they apply to Hegel’s system as a whole, where the Logic plays the part of universality, the philosophy of nature the part of particularity, and the philosophy of spirit that of individuality.

-Moses and the revelation of the ‘I am’ (p. 58)

  -the contradictory state of ‘I am not-I’ is the ordinary human condition, containing the unresolved oppositions between good and evil, truth and falsehood, knowledge and ignorance, etc.

-the ‘I’ is the only identity that is not a syllogism, because it requires no mediation to know itself as itself. It is by grace of the absolute identity of the ‘I’ implicit in each term of the syllogism that it can function as a structure of thought mediating identities and differences. Syllogistic logic is not the ground of, but has its ground in the self.

-every concept, as a universal, is also a particular, since it is one concept among others, and dependent on these others for its meaning within a larger system (p. 56).

-(p. 63 note 45): “The spatial correlate of the ‘I’ is the point, which is absolute (omnipresent and indivisible) and zero-dimensional. How the extended world is logically and physically related to this point cannot be considered here.”

-for Hegel, the Absolute Idea sublates the categories of subjectivity and objectivity (p. 59).

-the act of immediate apprehension of the unity of subject and object cannot be attained by reason or demonstrated by reasoning; what reason can demonstrate, given the self’s absoluteness, is the need for a reconciliation of self and non-self (p. 63 note 46)


Chapter 4: Logic and Ontology in the Logic of the Concept

-Hegel distinguishes between a ‘thing’ and an ‘object,’ the latter being a much more advanced category. A thing is in opposition to its properties, while an object (or at least the concept of the object) is constituted by the self-mediating logic of the syllogism, wherein subject and predicate/universal and particular are unified in the individual.

  -But, says Schickler, this unity is only in itself, not yet in and for itself (p. 65).

-Mechanism recapitulates Being; Chemism recapitulates Essence; teleologism recapitulates the Idea. Schickler argues that Hegel should not jump to teleology so quickly, since it implies self-conscious thought, and that “life” represents the true mediation of mechanism and chemism.

categories of mechanism (p. 66):

1) formal mechanism: basic thesis of mechanical objects as self-contained and independent units of matter acting on one another in purely external fashion (pressure and impact).

2) mechanism with affinity: formal mechanism collapses as a category precisely because every mechanical unit exists in relationship to others, and so is in some sense passively determined by others. In so far as mechanical objects are determined by mutual interaction, they have affinity with one another (objects under the influence of gravity have their centers of gravity both in themselves and in another).

3) absolute mechanism: all machines are part of a larger unified mechanism governed by laws transcending the activity of individual units.

  -these categories represent the subject in its greatest level of self-alienation; materialism and analytical philosophy conceive of reality in these mechanical terms.

properties of chemism (p. 67): chemicals exist completely in relation to something else, and so are explicitly independent (whereas mechanisms are explicitly independent).

1) chemicals interact to produce new substances

2) the product of the interaction of two chemicals is an implicit unity

3) subject and object are not properly united in the chemical subject, and so it does not fully overcome the externality of mechanism

-every relationship we have to another person can be described in the language of chemism… “Each person offers me a unique way of being myself, since how I present myself is determined in every case by who I am presenting myself to” (p. 68).

-chemical processes are not teleological because, though they achieve ends, the initial conditions leading to these ends can only be determined after the ends have been reached.

-Sheldrake and the memory of chemical elements (p. 78 note 19).

principles of teleology (p. 70): one might expect the synthesis of mechanism and chemism to lead to life, but Hegel saves this category for the final part of the Logic on the Idea because for him, a living organism has inner teleology as a result of their assimilating the outer world to themselves from within.

  -Schickler argues that Hegel’s attempted synthesis between mechanism and chemism is incomplete because ontologically underdetermined. It leaps from the mineral realm to a kind of telos present only in human projects, missing the categories of plant and animal life). A satisfactory conception of teleology would show that such causes are active even in the material world, this being a necessary constitutive possibility for man.

teleology in living organisms (p. 71):

-plants maintain an ends-directed unity of its parts throughout its development, which culminates in reproduction. Three moments:

  1) subjective end: reproductive purpose latent in the seed

  2) means: the matter (minerals, matter, sunlight, air…etc.) assimilated and formed by the plant in the realization of its organic structure

  3) realized end: the reproductive process in which a new member of the species (or a slightly modified member) is constituted

  -plants work by both outer and inner design: it is a subject which determines its own objectivity

  -modern biology attempts to explain living phenomena without giving an explanatory role to purposes (p. 72)

   -saying plants produce flowers for specific reasons is just shorthand for saying that certain biochemical events happen under certain conditions… “why they happen is answered historically, by reference to natural selection (once upon a time, matter combined in such and such a way).”

    -such an explanation brings us no closer to understanding how an object can have unity or identity, of how its parts can be the parts of a whole (or in the language of the Logic, how an object such as a plant can also be a subject). “An object’s being a subject is a basic feature of ordinary language and so is present whether we are considering living organisms or atomic theory.”

teleology in the animal kingdom

-animals have appetites, which is a subjective end in that it contains an intentional component. As Hegel puts it, “appetite is, so to speak, the conviction that the subjective is only a half-truth, no more adequate than the objective.”

  -an organism is a unity of subject and object and is both cause and effect of itself

-Hegel’s threefold logic of teleology (subjective end, means, realized end) fails to account for appetite because when the food is consumed (realized end), it cancels the appetite and returns the subject to the state it existed prior to the subjective end; no distinction is maintained between means and ends in this circular process. The means is only preserved in the implicit end of maintaining the body or reproduction that the sensation of hunger represents.

teleology in human activity (p. 73)

-presupposes self-conscious subject who can identify differences or remain itself in the objective realization of an end

-purpose fulfills the demand of the Logic for a mediation between concept and object

  -however, such purposes must presuppose matter as a given (something not actively brought forth by the subject), and lead to a regress of ends-means, where every end is merely the means for a further end. Only the end of freedom provides for a convergence of means and ends.

-human thought is able to realize its ends in the sensory world by way of imagination (p. 74)

-p. 75: “The teleology manifested in the living organism is a presupposition of that realized by thought…Whether a living body is in general a presupposition of thought and perception is another question. The argument of this book is that it is not.”

-the living organism can only have a real inner design (i.e., not an illusion fostered by very complex chemistry) if “there is a level of being in nature intrinsic to life which is able to assimilate and order the matter of living beings.” The etheric!

-vital agent stands to matter as concepts stand to percepts (the former orders the latter)

-one absolute subject (the self of thought, I=I) underlies all derivative subjects. “Another way of putting this is to say that the living organism as an agent of the realization of teleological ends in nature is a subject-object unity in itself for us, but not yet–given that it is not self-conscious and that the vital agent belongs to the sphere of the not-I–properly for it.”

  -the objects of human ends manifest a teleological unity of subject and object for us but not in themselves (a house is not self-regulating).

  -for both Kant and Aristotle, teleology only inheres in nature if humans are its end. Sublunar species exist, in some sense, for the human.

-in short, Hegel’s Logic is underdetermined because it’s development skips ontological levels, leaving out the etheric and astral realms existing in between chemism and teleology proper (as it exists in self-conscious humans).


Chapter 5: The Idea and the Loss of the Absolute in Hegel’s Logic

-the Idea is the absolute unity of the concept and objectivity (p. 83); Hegel: “In the Idea we have nothing to do with the individual, nor with figurative conceptions, nor with external things. And yet, again, everything actual, in so far as it is true, is the Idea, and has its truth by and in virtue of the Idea alone.”

  -Schickler argues these conclusions are incompatible: separating the Idea from individual things and external reality reflects an undigested dualism in Hegel between thought and being

   -what is the relationship between being and the Absolute Idea in the Logic, if indeed the Logic is the mind of God before the creation (p. 83-85)?

    -Hegel says being is immediate unity, the path between being and the Absolute Idea is the self-differentiation of God, and the Absolute Idea is it’s reunification, now fully mediated.

Life: the concept of life is the Idea in its immediacy, because although it represents a unity of subjectivity and objectivity, it is only in itself and not yet for itself (p. 86)

-organisms are not self-conscious, so something other than thought must constitute their subjectivity. Hegel makes use of concepts like vital agent, omnipresent soul, soul, drive, end/purpose, power to account for the organism’s subjectivity. Schickler says it is unclear whether these are just logical categories, elaborate metaphors, or ontological categories.

-whatever the identity or higher unity that sublates life (subjectivity) and matter (objectivity), it must transcend the life-death opposition.

  -this identity must be more ontologically fundamental than matter (matter is implicit in life, and not vice versa), even though for we living beings, subjectivity fails to overcome objectivity (the individual living organism cannot overcome the progressive encroachment of objectivity represented by aging and death) (p. 87).

-three moments of life: individual, life process, species

  1) the living individual: an individual organism is not simply a whole made of parts, but a whole, each of whose parts has the whole within it (p. 88)

    -subcategories of the living individual: sensibility, irritability, reproduction (theirs characterize the organism in its universality, particularity, and individuality, respectively)

     –sensibility: ‘the pure trembling within oneself of the animate.’ Sensibility is the immediate self-relation of the sensing animal. Without consciousness, a sensing animal experiences its fear without mediation; it is its fear.

     –irritability: ‘just as much a capacity for being stimulated by an other and the reaction of self-maintenance against it, as it is also, conversely, an active maintenance of self, in which it is at the mercy of an other.’

     –reproduction: the overcoming of the unity of immediate self-relation (sensation) and the encounter with opposition (irritability). It is the assimilating of the other to oneself, or reproducing oneself in the other. Hegel associates it with digestion (sexual reproduction is considered under the category of species). Sensibility and irritability are abstract moments, whereas reproduction is concrete.

  2) the life process: the battle against objectivity by the organism in order to sustain itself (p. 89)

   -the organism is an absolute contradiction in that it is a subject which remains itself in its objectivity (also because, despite its life, the organism eventually dies).

   -pain is the division which causes an organism to encounter itself in its other as the negative of itself; it is necessary to stimulate the desire to overreach and assimilate objectivity

   -Hegel says it is the concept which allows the living subject to interact with and assimilate itself to the non-living, betraying his one sided idealism (according to Schickler).

  3) the species: because a living individual cannot indefinitely maintain its identity in its other (or unite universality and particularity in its individuality), it manifests the need to exist as a species and to reproduce (p. 90).

   -Hegel says the living individual is caught in a ‘bad infinity,’ since it is most actual and truly itself as an individual, despite the fact that this individual will die and so is subservient to the species (which is itself a relative abstraction). A proper infinity would require of the living individual that it overcome its other, that it sublate matter (Schickler suggests the notion of a resurrected body offers such an infinity) (p. 101 note 30).

   -Hegel calls the individual’s self-identity abstract because it persists only through the species, but the species is universal only in itself, not for itself. The universal only becomes in and for itself in the process of cognition.

-Life, for Hegel, is supposed to be the first category of the Idea, the concept in its immediacy or objectivity, whereas cognition represents the Idea in its subjectivity (mediated or as judgment). The Absolute Idea is supposed to unify these (p. 90).

-Schickler’s criticism of Hegel’s conception of life in the Logic:

1) Hegel’s conception of life is incoherent both logically and ontologically.

   -sensibility is introduced too early, since plants are not sentient in any ordinary sense.

   -Hegel fails to find a proper identity underlying the difference between subjectivity (life) and objectivity (mechanism and chemism). Is life just the higher actuality of chemicals themselves (p. 91)? No, according to Schickler: to overcome the life-death contradiction, we need to conceive of an ontology proper to life itself.

2) Hegel’s conception of life is irreconcilably contradictory.

   -the soul, or subjective element of life, does not persist beyond the death of the individual living organism, despite the fact that it is supposed to be distinct from the objective element that it masters.

   -Hegel’s system requires a more substantial conception of the Absolute than one which presupposes nature.

   -In short, Hegel over-determines the category of life logically and under-determines it ontologically (p. 92).

3) Hegel’s claim that the living individual represents an absolute contradiction is a result of an unresolved dualism in his thought.

   -if sensibility can truly be dialectically overcome, it must be shown to be logically and ontologically derivative of a more fundamental realm (i.e., that of thought, within which it must be contained). For Steiner, the soul world of sensibility descends from the spirit world of thought (devachan) (p. 102 note 40).

-Hegel’s relation to Kant:

-Kant thought the sphere of life was unknowable because, a) all knowledge of appearances presupposes but cannot explain sensibility, and b) our knowledge of nature is constrained by the understanding, which analyzes nature without grasping its phenomena as unfolding, structurally unified wholes (p. 92).

-Kant saw imagination as the link between sensibility and understanding, but Hegel speaks of it only superficially (p. 102 note 41).

Cognition (p. 93):

-Hegel claims that the transition from life to cognition is given by the sublation of the living individual by the species, which becomes both in itself and for itself as self-consciousness. This ‘I’ then encounters the world as something other and seeks to cognize it in the search for the true and the good. The sublation of the species in the form of self-consciousness signals the appearance of spirit.

  -Hegel wants to claim that the Absolute is thought, and so denies that sensibility is intermediate between life and cognition. He needs to find a reason to deny that the sensory world has any as yet unmediated epistemological or ontological status. The result is that life gains no victory over death and the whole material world becomes alienated from thought (p. 94).

-from Kant’s perspective, a proper sublation of objectivity would require knowing the relationship between mind and body, understanding and sensibility (imagination?).

  -Hegel only achieves the thesis that thinking and being are one by renouncing the concept of the concrete individual as absolute unity of subject and object (Schickler: “this unity should have been conceived as a full ontological sublation of the sensory world as a whole–an end for which the concept of resurrection will be shown to be fitting in ch. 7”).

-Hegel conceives of the self in two contradictory ways: empirical/social and absolute/eternal

  a) empirical/social emerges historically from more primitive states of being prior to absolute knowing. It is mortal and conditioned.

  b) absolute self or I=I of the Logic is incapable of being generated and so transcends the finite, empirical individual (like Aristotle’s noesis noeseos). It is immortal and unconditioned.

   -Hegel fails to reconcile these two because his ontology is not robust enough (Steiner’s fourfold ontology may be) (p. 95).

   -Schickler claims that Hegel’s Logic suffers from the same circular ‘bad infinity’ as does his conception of life.

-cognition of the true broken down into analytical and synthetic versions:

  a) analytic takes its object as passively given and breaks it down into its elements, which are described in terms of universals. The empiricists are representative of this method.

  b) synthetic moves in the other direction, beginning with an active definition or very general truth and then drawing out its implications in the form of less general truths. The rationalists, especially Spinoza, exemplify this method.

-cognition of the good is broken down into two forms of eudaimonic life, phronimos and theoria. Hegel considers the latter to be the higher form, but unlike Aristotle, attempts to unify them. The concept of the good concerns the will and desires to unify what is with what ought to be–to realize the good in the world.

the Absolute Idea

-Schickler: “If the reader of Hegel’s Logic expected to arrive at the category of the Absolute Idea accompanied by hosts of singing angels, he would have been disappointed…It is no resurrected Christ, no blazing feast of light and love…but the ultimate self-affirmation of philosophy–of pure thought thinking itself” (p. 97).

  -according to Schickler, Hegel tries to unify man and God too early in the evolutionary process, leaving an unresolved tension between human finitude and the infinite I am I.

  -Schickler: “A truer reconciliation of man and God would be the demonstration that man’s will is able to unify itself with the will of nature in a ceaseless pure loving, in a genuine creative selflessness or world-affirming realization of the I am I. Only here would what is, the true, and what ought to be, the good, be unified.”

-concluding summation of argument (p. 97-99)


Chapter 6: Soul between Body and Spirit in Hegel

-Hegel’s Anthropology, a section in the Encyclopedia, is supposed to cover the entire sphere of human being between man’s animal and spiritual nature (p. 103).

  -it covers everything from psychology to cultural difference to clairvoyance.

  -for Hegel, the body is the predicate of the soul, and the soul is a microcosm.

   -like Aristotle, he considers the soul as the ideality (or form) of the body; he rejects Cartesian dualism by suggesting that the soul realizes itself in and through the body, that it saturates the body at every point with its characteristic qualities (p. 104).

    -He refers to the soul as “the universal immateriality of nature,” suggesting that souls do not exist as particular substances, each separate from the other.

-Schickler claims that Hegel’s philosophical anthropology and psychology are inferior to Aristotle’s in many ways.

three categories of the anthropology: the soul, for Hegel, emerges gradually from the dumb sleep of matter toward spirit.

  1) the natural soul: the universal soul is here still submerged in the rhythms of earth and cosmos

    -Hegel calls it the anima mundi, but says it attains actuality only in individual human souls (p. 105).

    -natural soul provides for the possibility of living in harmony with nature (he adds that lunacy is a victory of spirit over nature)

    -the freer an individual becomes, the less he is determined by his sympathy with nature, and so it would be a mistake to make the participation of the soul in the life of the universe as the highest goal of the science of spirit.

    -Hegel conceived of planetary motions mechanically and was not a believer in astrology (p. 106).

    -Hegel’s natural soul oversteps the ontological categorization of Aristotle’s vegetative soul by considering it the home of cultural differences, etc.

    -Schickler argues that Hegel did not fully draw out the consequences of occult phenomena. He suggests that, in this sense, Hegel’s Enlightenment self won out over his Romantic self (whereas Schelling was far more Romantic and open to an enchanted natural world).

    -Hegel discusses the “local spirits” of different cultures and the different temperaments of individuals, concluding that there is no ontological significance in such characteristics apart from how they allow one to be a vessel for the Idea’s path to self-knowledge in the sphere of the universal (p. 107).

     -Schickler argues that Hegel’s underestimation of the individual contradicts a rigorous dialectical approach to ontology. He fails to properly relate nature and culture.

    -more problems with Hegel’s conception of sensation (p. 108-109)

  2) the feeling soul: it is here that, due to progressive inwardizing of the soul, true unity appears (p. 109). Here the soul attains subjective consciousness of its totality.

    -Hegel: “What I feel, I am, and what I am, I feel.”

    -the feeling soul is the battleground halfway between sensibility and intellectuality: “The soul finds itself caught between the outer universality of the natural soul (of the soul absorbed in an immediate sympathy with nature and as sentient) and the inner universality of the life of thought (of soul which has overcome the immediacy of sensibility and awakened to self-consciousness).”

    -the feeling soul is divided against itself, in that it must contend with anger, trance, and insanity in pursuit of an objective perspective on the world.

    -three categories of feeling soul:

     a) feeling soul in its immediacy- magic relations of dreaming, mother-fetus, and individual to genius.

       -magic is a relation of inner to outer which dispenses with mediation (i.e., the mind can immediately influence other minds), including clairvoyance.

     b) self-feeling soul- the soul’s awareness of particular feelings; here lies insanity, between the subjectivity of feeling-life and the objectivity of thought

     c) habit- the first important victory of spirit over matter wherein the soul subdues the natural and feeling souls in order to actualize the life of the mind (p. 110).

     –clairvoyance: the intuitive knowledge of things already possessed in some form but forgotten; or of events located in regions of space-time different from those in which the physically embodied individual finds himself; or of one’s own mental and physical states; or of another’s mental and physical state. Hegel considers rational, waking consciousness and clairvoyance to be incompatible (in fact, he considers clairvoyance to be a state of illness) (p. 111).

      –animal magnetism: establishes attractive relations between organisms; can involve inducing trance or hypnotic sleep so as to separate feeling soul from mediated, intellectual consciousness; usually one individual acts on another whose will is weaker and less independent in order to induce the trance; consciousness in the magnetic state is not in the head, but in the stomach or the heart, there exercised as a general or common sense; the soul sinks into its inwardness and the organism’s internal fluidity is restored as it is in sleep (p. 112).

     -“how can a soul which is not subject to spatio-temporal restrictions interact with a body which is?” : Hegel makes no attempt even to ask this question properly, according to Schickler (p. 113).

      -Hegel does emphasize that the soul, and not the nervous system senses (because after all, the nervous system is itself an object of the senses).

      -Schickler: “The mind is not an idea of the body, as Spinoza argues. Rather, the body is if anything an idea of the mind, given that the former both falls within sentience, and is, insofar as the soul interpenetrates it, capable of interacting immediately, or magically, with other bodies.”

      -Hegel criticizes any attempt to know the soul through the concepts of the understanding, but also denies direct intuitive forms of knowing, because for him clairvoyance is a sickness of the soul that pulls man down from pure thinking into a lower state of madness. Schickler argues there is no reason, a priori, to deny the possibility of conscious clairvoyance, at at least a rational thought which exists along side an empiricism enriched by clairvoyance.

     –imagination: unifies concepts and percepts via schematism of the understanding, which allows the categories to be constitutive of spatio-temporal experience (p. 114)

      -Schickler: “a fully satisfactory schematism would have to be a transcendental ontology which showed how the self as absolute subject is related to the body whose physical organs are, as it were, the last link in a chain of processes–passing through levels of being intrinsic to life and sentience–which result in the experience of a world of perceptible objects.”

       -Hegel gives a rich phenomenological account of imagination in the anthropology, but draws no ontological conclusions.

     -madness: “I overcome madness when I know my individual place in life and do not confuse ideals with their realization” (p. 115). Insanity is a state of contradiction in the subject-object relation, in which the subject identifies with a non-actual condition. Schickler accuses Hegel of being insane based upon his own criteria (he incorrectly held to the belief that the absolute could be realized in pure thought alone) (p. 127 note 58). The rest of us, too, must concede our insanity and irrationality, “for if the rational is an actual, fully-mediated unity of subject and object, and if this unity is achieved not in thinking alone, but when the self and material world are reconciled through an ultimate act of love, then only Christ–the man-god who not only dared to say he was one with the creator God, but (if we accept the testimonies of history) also proved this unity by resurrecting a body–is properly rational” (p. 116). We need religious mystics, the madmen of history, to help restore us to sanity.

   3) the actual soul: “a mediated unity of the inner being of the soul and the outer being of the body” (p. 117).

    -the actual soul is expressed most clearly in the face, the hands, the erect posture, and the voice of the human body.

    -the actual soul inwardizes, creating an empty space filled by the ego, giving the soul consciousness and the capacity for knowledge

  -Hegel’s system leaves us with a three-tiered conception of nature (p.121):

   1) pre-conscious nature that has consciousness only in and for the knower (according to the categories of the Logic like mechanism, chemism, life), but in no way in and for itself.

    2) pre-conscious soul, including natural and feeling souls prior to individualization, that gives minimal form of immediate awareness of environment.

    3) self-consciousness and thought, beginning with sense-certainty and ending with absolute knowledge.

    -the contradiction of Hegel’s system between matter and spirit, or sensibility and intelligibility, is here apparent, as according to the dictates of speculative philosophy there must be an identity underlying all differences. Hegel does not closes the gap between the non-conscious and conscious levels of nature.

  -if consciousness can achieve clairvoyance, then anthropology would have been expanded to include nature, “which means that owing to its immediate cognitive accessibility, nature is in a deep sense human and that man is indeed a microcosm, not simply the hapless victim of irremovable illusion and error” (p. 122).

Chapter 7: From Kant and Hegel to Steiner