The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method:

This is a big blow to big science. Apparently, the scientific method, with all its supposed statistical objectivity, is not as good at proving facts as you think. Is this just some sort of confirmation bias inherent to the process of publishing research findings, or is there some deeper Sheldrakian effect which results from creating new morphic fields around experimental procedures, such that the decline in statistically relevant data as the experiment is repeated is a result of a natural movement toward informational entropy? In other words, maybe nature responds to the novelty producing perturbations of experimental conditions by seeking equilibrium.


Though it is not a matter of opinion but of fact that “nature” is predictable enough for a man-made device like my phone to send information across the world instantaneously at the tap of my finger on a glass screen with better resolution than my retina, knowing HOW and WHERE is not the same as knowing WHAT or WHY. Technology (which includes not just all instrumental, but all predictive and experimental science) is a kind of knowledge based upon the simplification of living complexity into a formal mechanism/algorithm, so that, at least to some degree, “nature” can be predicted and so controlled. Donna Haraway calls this technoscience, and I think it is the supreme authority of this highly industrialized and monetized form of knowledge production that has been called into question by the decline effect. Technoscience knows nothing of What “nature” is or “Why,” and so after a few hundred years of this form of science “for profit” the earth’s species and ecosystems have been pushed into a mass extinction and a new geological era has been initiated. Anyone who doubts the power of the “objectivity” of science need only consider what has taken place on the surface of this planet, and on other planets, in the past centuy alone.

When it comes to theoretical science, or what I’d call speculative philosophy, which deals with the What and the Why, we are in much more open waters. Metaphysics (in the specific sense, like in Whitehead’s Process and Reality or Bergson’s Creative Evolution, not in Barnes and Noble) is concerned with truth, technoscience is concerned with power.

The Copernican Revolution is a theoretical advancement that has had real technological application, but to say that there is no next step that completely re-orients the relation of the observer to the surrounding universe ignores what the relativistic and quantum revolutions have revealed to us about space-time and matter-energy. Its not that heliocentrism is “wrong,” nor even that geocentrism is “wrong.” Both are true enough when considered within the framework they were meant to describe. But what makes science so exciting for me is that our consciousness still hasn’t caught up with the 20th century revelations about the fundamentally non-mechanical nature of “nature.”

No, not the scientific method but the worship of technoscience (disinterested science co-opted by the profit motives of industry) is largely responsible for the ecological crisis. I was saying that the scientific method is obviously effective since it has allowed human civilization to almost entirely encompass the biosphere within a technosphere. And the other planets I was referring to were those upon which scientists have landed probes. Science is “objective” in some important sense, or these technologies would not be possible. I put “objective” in parantheses because the knowledge which has allowed us to do all this is more practical than theoretical. We are still struggling to adapt our practices to the theoretical knowledge that the universe is essentially a complex living whole and not a collection of mechanical parts.

As regards geocentrism, what say you about the omnicentric universe that observation and theory both suggest we live within? No, the earth is not the center of the solar system, but since space-time appears to be unbounded, it is meaningless to say any planet exists “on the periphery” of the universe. If the circumference is nowhere, the center is everywhere. This idea, in part, is what got Bruno burnt at the stake in 1600 (not his heliocentrism).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individuation as Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Activating the Imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Self continues:

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Concrescence of the Spiritual

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

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

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

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


(1) Gebser, Jean

The Ever-Present Origin  (transl. 1985)

(2) Jung, Carl

Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1989)

On the Nature of the Psyche (1969)

The Red Book (2009)

The Undiscovered Self (1990)

(3) Main, Roderick

Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal (1998)

(4) Wehr, Gerhard

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

[1] OTNOTP, p. 77

[2] ibid.

[3] EPO, p. 204

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

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

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

[7] EPO, p. 397

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

[9] public lecture 5/1/1919

[10] The Red Book, p. 229

[11] ibid., p. 230-231

[12] EPO, p. 1

[13] The Red Book., p. 243

[14] ibid., p. 197

[15] ibid., p. 231

[16] ibid., p. 201

[17] ibid.

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

[19] The Red Book, p. 232

[20] ibid., p. 231-232

[21] EPO, p. 204

[22] ibid., p. 232

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

[24] ibid., p. 232

[25] UDS, p. 133-134

[26] EPO, p. 425

[27] UDS, p. 138

[28] MDR, p. 179

[29] ibid.

[30] The Red Book, p. 333

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid., p. 334

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

[34] lecture 12/15/1911

[35] UDS, p. 140

[36] ibid., p. 141

[37] ibid., p. 142

[38] lecture 12/15/1911

[39] The Red Book, p. 334

[40] ibid.

[41] lecture 12/15/1911

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

[43] lecture 12/15/1911

[44] EPO, p. 542

[45] ibid., p. 396

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

[47] EPO, p. 542

[48] ibid., p. 541

Alchemy is an ancient science, so primordial that its practice assumes a unification between art, technology, and religion. Prior to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, these spheres were understood to be concerned with one and the same pursuit: the realization of the ends of spirit in earthly time. Distillation was never merely* a physiochemical process of purification, but a method for the instigation of psychospiritual transformation.

“Arthur John Hopkins [offers] a coherent picture of the alchemical procedures of the Egyptian alchemy in what he called ‘the standard method,’ a four step process aiming to impose, in a progressive way, on a chaotic matter of black colour, the so- called prima materia, the necessary water, air and fire to promote its evolution. A process which imitated the natural evolution process of the minerals they believed took place inside the mines, the “womb” of the Mother Earth…The abundant references to sulphur and sulphur-containing compounds in Graeco-Egyptian alchemy suggests that they were seen as particularly suitable for attracting pneuma: a concept adapted from Stoic philosophy, the vital spirit that pervades the entire universe and made possible the existence of life, associated indeed to fire and air. It is not surprising nor arbitrary the choice of sulphur-rich compounds as preferred pneumatic materials, we only need to recall the predominance of metal sulphides among the common metal ores, which were seen, according to extremely old metallurgical traditions, as mineral embryos, entities alive and maturing in the natural world” –Joaquín Pérez-Pariente summarizing A. J. Hopkins’ book Alchemy, child of Greek philosophy (1934).

The vital spirit spoken of above is the Logos of John’s Gospel. Without this active intelligence (which itself is neither mind nor matter), rocks could not have grown brains and earth could not have become fire. Earth evolution is an alchemical process: the metamorphosis of chaos into order, the entrance of the light into the dark. The Word speaks to the heart of the world, and out of its bones, tears, breath and eyes is born a God of flesh and blood, whose love is not of this world, but for it.

* Though, indeed, the whole point of the alchemical tradition is that matter is nothing less than the creative womb of spirit.


a sketch
Image via Wikipedia

The following is a short essay for a course on archetypal astrology that I took this semester with Richard Tarnas. For those unfamiliar with the general approach, this essay by Tarnas may be of service. Also see this introduction to planetary archetypes.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Archetypal Analysis 

Tonight I walked under the stars through the snow & stopped & looked at my far sparklers & heard the voice of the wind so slight & pure & deep as if it were the sound of the stars themselves revolving.

Wide World (Emerson’s personal journal), February 17, 1838

  “The truest state of mind, rested in, becomes false,” writes Emerson.

Thought is the manna which cannot be stored. It will be sour if kept, & tomorrow must be gathered anew. Perpetually must we East ourselves.[1]

Emerson was born the afternoon of May 25th, 1803, with a Uranus-Jupiter-Saturn conjunction (by midpoint) rising in the Eastern sky. His Sun is trined by Uranus and Jupiter, and squared by Pluto, with Pluto opposite his Saturn. Emerson took on earthly form destined to breathe new life into the religious traditions of Western civilization at a time when they had grown increasingly prosaic and spiritually stultifying. A Mars-Moon conjunction gave him the strength of soul required to champion individual freedom (Jupiter-Uranus trine Sun) over and against socially imposed dogmas. As one biographer put it,

Stronger than his sense of duty and the long tradition of the Emersons in the Church was his personal rebellion from the dying rituals of Christian worship.[2]

His life’s mission, often expressed in the most sublime turns of phrase, was to free the human soul from the strictures of mass society and from the Church by awakening each individual to the creative power and immortality of their soul.

In the short essay to follow, I’d like to focus an archetypal lens upon the dynamics at play in a few particular events, especially Emerson’s lecture on “The American Scholar” (August 31st, 1837) and his address to the graduating class at Cambridge Divinity School (July 15th, 1838). Before interpreting the transits on these especially significant days, I will first briefly unpack the major planetary aspects in Emerson’s natal chart.

A journal entry from Dec. 21, 1823 clearly reveals how the above-mentioned aspects, especially Saturn opposite Pluto, Sun trine Uranus-Jupiter, and Mars conjunct Moon, are personified in the then twenty-year-old Emerson[3]:

Who is he that shall control me? Why may not I act & speak & write & think with entire freedom? …Is Society my anointed King? Or is there any mightier community or any man or more than man, whose slave I am? I am solitary in the vast society of beings; I consort with no species; I indulge no sympathies. I see the world, human, brute & inanimate nature; I am in the midst of them, but not of them; I hear the song of the storm— the Winds & warring Elements sweep by me— but they mix not with my being. I see cities & nations & witness passions— the roar of their laughter— but I partake it not;— the yell of their grief— it touches no chord in me; their fellowships & fashions, lusts & virtues, the words & deeds they call glory & shame— I disclaim them all. I say to the Universe, Mighty one! thou art not my mother; Return to chaos, if thou wilt, I shall still exist. I live. If I owe my being, it is to a destiny greater than thine. Star by Star, world by world, system by system shall be crushed— but I shall live.

Jupiter may have functioned on this night to inflate Emerson, or perhaps it was on this evening that his daemon took a great leap toward the heights of the over-soul. The relationships between his Sun, Saturn, Pluto, and Uranus produces an archetypal complex that refracts to influence Emerson in a whole spectrum of ways. His lectures and essays always champion the deeper, universal will or vitality at the base of all reality (i.e., Pluto): “The individual is always dying. The Universal is life.”[4] Pluto opposite Saturn is reflected in Emerson’s distaste for “the masses,” and his Uranus trine Sun is reflected in his elevation of the distinctly individual:

Masses! the calamity is the masses… I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.[5]

His desire to divide and separate from the masses may, in moments of emotional exaggeration, even devolve into alienation:

An innavigable sea washes with silent waves between us and the things we aim at and converse with.[6]

A Mars-Moon conjunction in Leo sheds archetypal light upon the polar nature of his character: a quiet, solitary, receptive soul though he may have been, Emerson was also a powerful preacher, the emotionally penetrating force of his pronouncements befitting of a prophet. A true soul-warrior, Emerson’s confidence never waned:

The soul always believes in itself…it knows that the total world is my inheritance, & the life of all beings I am to take up into mine.[7]

This conjunction is sextiled by Uranus, which, also trining his Sun, liberates Emerson, spirit and soul, from

…every form of life & doctrine that ever existed…[so that he could] give [himself] alone, original, pure to the Lonely, Original, & Pure.[8]

Emerson’s Mars-Moon conjunction may be his most crucial aspect, since it gives him the strength of soul to respond to the impact of Saturn and Pluto on his Sun (Saturn being pulled in by its midpoint with Jupiter and Uranus). Death was not at all foreign to Emerson, who lost his father at 8 years old, and lived through the death of two brothers, his wife, and his son later in life. Sometimes, the sheer force of his soul was not enough to overcome the darker, destructive influences of Saturn and Pluto:

My external condition may to many seem comfortable, to some enviable but I think that few men ever suffered (in degree not in amount) more genuine misery than I have suffered.[9]

Saturn also seems to have generated self-doubt, something Emerson battled his entire life:

The main difficulty of life is to strike the balance betwixt contending claims. I am embarrassed by doubts in all my purposes, & in all my opinions… For me I fear I lose days in determining how hours should be spent.[10]

As he aged, however, his soul became confident enough to integrate the difficult lessons of Saturn and Pluto:

The love that is in me, the justice, the truth can never die & that is all of me that will not die. All the rest of me is so much death— my ignorance, my vice, my corporeal pleasure. But I am nothing else than a capacity for justice, truth, love, freedom, power. I can inhale, imbibe them forevermore. They shall be so much to me that I am nothing, they all. Then shall God be all in all. Herein is my Immortality.[11]

In late 1832, two years after the death of his wife Ellen and during the height of his Saturn return, Emerson decided to resign his ministry at the Second Church of Boston. He wrote in his journal around this time:

I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship the dead forms of our forefathers.

Upon leaving his post with the Church, Emerson sailed to Europe, where he visitedItaly,France, andEngland. While in theEngland, he met Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Carlyle, maintaining a correspondence with the latter for the rest of his life. Upon returning from Europe in 1833, Emerson began to lecture on natural history inBoston. Over the course of the next few years, he lectured widely on topics ranging from English literature to the philosophy of history.

On September 9th, 1836, Emerson published his first book entitled Nature. The stars were truly aligned on this day: Mercury was conjunct his natal Uranus and trined by a Jupiter-Venus conjunction transiting his natal Mars-Moon conjunction, the Sun was conjunct his Saturn, and Neptune trined his natal Sun. The expansiveness and beauty of the poetic vision (Jupiter-Venus) expressed in this text is checked only by the clarity of its ideas (Mercury) and discipline of its moral insight (Saturn). Emerson was careful to balance the spiritual heights of idealism (Neptune) with the practical realities of earthly life (Saturn):

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.[12]

As Geldard described Emerson’s first publication, it was “a self-reflective dialogue between the transcendent seer and the pragmatic Yankee.”[13]

On August 31st, 1837, Emerson delivered perhaps his 2nd best-known lecture before the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Cambridge entitled “The American Scholar.” His goal was to further many of the same themes discussed in Nature, and according to Geldard, the event marked the auspicious beginning of Emerson’s life as a public figure.[14] Oliver Wendell Holmes, present at the lecture that day, remarked that it wasAmerica’s “intellectual declaration of independence,” which is born out by the Sun-Uranus opposition in the sky at the time of the speech. Emerson spoke of several influences on the scholar’s mind, the first of which being nature:

  …nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part…Its laws are the laws of his own mind…And, in fine, the ancient precept, ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘study nature,’ become at last one maxim.[15]

The Sun-Uranus opposition (with both the Moon and Jupiter within orb of the Sun) is almost exactly aligned with Emerson’s natal Saturn-Pluto opposition, highlighting the archetypes at play in the above excerpt. The soul (Moon) is in generative tension with nature (Pluto), though the laws (Saturn) of each form a higher unity (Jupiter) as our true self (Sun).

Emerson goes on to mention the need for scholars to have confidence and self-trust, which is archetypally related to the near conjunction of the Sun with Jupiter and the Moon, also representing an expanded sense of self and a transparency to the unconscious psyche. The call to self-trust and independent scholarship is Emerson’s attempt to counter the mass-mindedness and herd mentality that he felt had overtaken American society; Uranus transiting his Pluto brought to greater awareness his need to liberate the masses from their disjointed existence:

The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.[16]

Neptune was opposite Emerson’s Moon, which may help account for his repeated insistence throughout the lecture on the ultimate unity of each human soul with the World Soul:

It is one light which beams out of a thousand stars. It is one soul which animates all men.[17]

He continues,

A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.[18]

In 1838, Emerson was invited to give an address to the graduating class atCambridgeDivinitySchool. Up to this point, Emerson had not publically attacked theUnitarianChurch, but his private journals were full of criticism:

They [Unitarians] think that God causes a miracle to make men…They do not & will not perceive that it is to distrust the deity of truth—its invincible beauty—to do God a high dishonor—so to depict him.[19]

On July 15th, 1838, with the Sun and Mercury conjunct in his midheaven, trining his Neptune, Emerson gave the address that perhaps defined the rest of his life as a spiritual figure. Although it took 12 years to sell the first five hundred copies of Emerson’s first book, Nature, the first three hundred copies of this address sold out immediately.[20]

In his address, Emerson sought to redirect attention away from the personality of Jesus, whom the Church had elevated to superhuman status, and instead direct it to the infinite spirit hiding within everyone. With Neptune opposite his natal Mars-Moon conjunction, Emerson went to war against the stodgy clergy ofBostonon behalf of the spiritual power of the soul:

Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. The injury to faith throttles the preacher; and the goodliest of institutions becomes an uncertain and inarticulate voice.[21]

A Jupiter-Uranus opposition is lined up with his natal Saturn-Pluto opposition, with the Moon trining Jupiter and Saturn, freeing Emerson to destroy the customs of his time and place in order to replace them with the higher laws of the soul:

I look for the new Teacher, that shall follow so far those shinning laws, that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy.[22]

Transiting Saturn was conjunct his natalNeptune, trining Uranus, and opposite the Moon, allowing him to see through illusions and fully incarnate the spiritual reality that he felt Jesus truly came to teach:

To aim to convert a man by miracles, is a profanation of the soul. A true conversion, a true Christ, is now, as always, to be made, by the reception of beautiful sentiments…they have not yet drunk so deeply of his sense, as to see that only by coming again to themselves, or to God in themselves, can they grow forevermore.[23]

Mars and Venus were conjunct his Mercury (which squares his Jupiter), giving a beautifully elevated, but sharp tone to his words. In the coming weeks and months, with the authority of the Church challenged, the clergy began to attack Emerson’s character. This seems not to have fazed him, as he did not respond to them formally and continued to rise in popularity as his lecture circuit picked up steam.

  On April 19th, 1882, Emerson went for a walk in the rain and caught pneumonia. On April 27th, with Neptune and Saturn conjunct in the sky opposite his natalNeptune, Emerson left his body.


(1) Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays and Lectures. Volume 15 of Library ofAmerica. The American studies collection. 1983.

(2) Geldard, Richard G. God in Concord. Larson Publications, NY. 1999.

(3) Tarnas, Rick. Cosmos and Psyche. Viking Adult; First Edition. 2006.

(4) Emerson’s complete works @ Univ.of Michigan. Accessed 12/5/11.

(5) All journal entries from The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Volume 1.HarvardUniversity Press. 1960

[1] Journal, May 13th, 1835

[2] God in Concord, p. 68

[3] An interested reader might also want to look at the transits on this night, with Jupiter in a grand cross with Mars, Pluto, and a Mercury-Neptune-Uranus conjunction, with the latter squaring Emerson’s Uranus-Jupiter-Saturn mindpoint.

[4] God in Concord, p. 88

[5] The Conduct of Life, VIII

[6] Experience, from Essays and Lectures, p. 473

[7] God in Concord, p. 115

[8] ibid.

[9] Journal, March 16, 1826

[10] Journal, Jan. 16, 1828

[11] Journal, October 24th, 1836

[12] Nature, from Essays and Lectures, p. 47

[13] God in Concord, p. 90

[14] ibid., p. 108

[15] Essays and Lectures, p. 56

[16] ibid., p. 54

[17] ibid., p. 67

[18] ibid., p. 71

[19] April 23rd, 1838

[20] God in Concord, p. 17

[21] Essays and Lectures, p. 83.

[22] ibid., p. 92

[23] ibid., p. 82

I finished the essay on the philosophy and anthropology of religion, called “Religion and the Modern World: Towards a Naturalistic Panentheism,” that I posted last week in rough draft form.

Here is the conclusion:

A naturalist panentheism builds its case for the existence and importance of God not upon logical or sensori-empirical proofs. Rather, the evidence for God, it can only be suggested, lies for the most part buried in the prediscursive silence of the human heart, which William James claims is “our deepest organ of communication with the nature of things” (TWB, p. 62).

This non-sensuous perception of the divine’s presence in and influence upon the world is the reason for religion. Human beings cannot help but overflow with the desire to worship the wisdom that has created and shaped the nature of all things. This worship, when ideally expressed, becomes the play of spirit with itself. A planetary awakening to the true, cross-cultural nature of the sacred would require nothing less than the widespread transfiguration of individual consciousness to a form historically experienced only by a few contemplatives and mystics. Given a clear vision of the divine-human-cosmic connection, our civilization may gain the reinvigorated spirit of adventure it so desperately needs.

“God is the fire within me,” writes Angelus Silesius,

“and I am the light in him. Do we not belong to each other intimately? I am as rich as God. There is no grain of dust that I do not have in common with him; dear people, believe me…God loves me above himself. If I love him above myself, I give him as much as he gives me…The bird is in the air, the stone lies on the land, the fish lives in the water, and my spirit is in God’s hand…If you are born of God, then God flowers in you, and his divinity is your sap and adornment” (CW, 1:11-80).

Materialistic anthropology reifies the non-discursive experiential origins of religion, back-grounding its true sources by drawing our attention away from the meaningful ambiguities constituting perceptual reality. It directs us instead to a simplistic definition: “a set of beliefs in the supernatural.” This definition of religion produces epistemic closure, a closure effecting how both contemporary religious and secular people think about their lives and the world. Theories and other verbalizable “beliefs” about reality overshadow and conceal the complex (but still common!) experience of incendence that comes along with being born and dying as a human being.

“Stop!,” continues Silesius,

“What are you chasing after? Heaven is within you. If you are looking for God anywhere else, you will always miss him” (ibid., 1:81-82).

The religious impulse is central to human life and provides the moral foundation for civilization. It is of our nature as human beings to be “spirits in God’s hand,” to be participants in the heavenly economy of love while alive on earth. The old concept of religion, wherein God is a thing to be believed in, must be re-conceived in light of the cosmotheandric revelation of today: God is a Self to be experienced, and heaven an earthly paradise.

From The Soul’s Code by James Hillman, p. 150-154:

The upshot of genetic studies leads in two (!) directions: a narrow path and a broad one. The narrow road heads toward simplistic, monogenic causes. It wants to pinpoint bits of tissue and correlate them with the vast complexity of psychic meanings. The folly of reducing mind to brain never seems to leave the Western scene. We can never give it up because it is so basic to our Western rationalist and positivist mind-set. The rationalist in the psyche wants to locate causes you can put your hands on and fix.

Machines provide the best models for meeting this desire. Take them apart, find their inner mechanisms, and then adjust their functioning by modifying their ratchets, enriching their fuel, greasing their connections. Henry Ford as father of American mental health. Result: Ritalin, Prozac, Zoloft, and dozens of other effective products for internal adjustments that we consume in abundance, millions of us, daily or twice daily. The simplistics of monogenic causes eventually leads to the control of behavior by drugs–that is, to drugged behavior.

Robert Plomin, on whose passionate, prolific, and perceptive writings this chapter has frequently relied, urgently warns against using genetics in a simplistic manner. He states: “Genetic effects on behavior are polygenic and probabilistic, not single gene and deterministic.” I gather from him a warning to psychiatry: Do not capsize your noble vessel under the weight of pharmaceutical, insurance company, and government gold, and do not set your compass toward Fantasy Island, where genetics will define “disease entities in psychiatry.” “We have learned little about the genetics of development [how genes act and interact over time] except to appreciate its complexity.” Therefore we can never arrive at that equation where one defective gene equals one clinical picture (except for true anomalies like Huntington’s chorea).

These warnings have little effect; simplistic thinking fulfills too many wishes. The heads of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are carved into the Mount Rushmore of the mind. The monster of mechanism appears in every century of modern Western history and must be watched for by each generation–especially ours, when to hold out for “something else” besides nature or nurture means believing in ghosts or magic.

Ever since French rationalism of the seventeenth (Marin Mersenne, Nicolas de Malebranche) and eighteenth (Etienne de Condillac, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie) centuries and right through to the positivism of the nineteenth (Antoine Destutt de Tracy, Auguste Comte) in which all mental events were reduced to biology, a piece of the collective Western mind had been yolked like a dumb ox to the heavy tumbrel of French mechanistic materialism. It is astounding how people with such subtle taste as the French and with such erotic sensibility can go on and on contributing so much rationalist rigor mortis to psychology. Every import that arrives from France must be inspected for this French disease, even though it carries the fashionable label of Lacanism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, or whatever.

Today rationalism is global, computer-compatible every-where. It is the international style of the mind’s architecture. We cannot pin it to a particular flag, unless to the banners of the multinational corporation that can spend big bucks turning psychiatry, and eventually psychological thinking, and therefore soul control, toward monogenetic monotheism. One gene for one disorder: Splice the gene, teach it tricks, combine it, and the disorder is gone, or at least you don’t know you have it. The narrow path leads back to the thirties and forties of psychiatric history, though in a more refined manner and with better press releases. From 1930 into the 1950s, correlating specific brain areas with large emotional and functional concepts provided the rationale for the violence of psychosurgery and the lobotomizing of many a troubled soul at odds with circumstance.

The narrow path is yet more retro, going back to the skill analysis of Franz Josef Gall (M.D., Vienna, 1795), who settled in Paris and was much appreciated by the French. From him came the “evidence” that skull bumps and declivities could be correlated with psychological faculties (a system later called phrenology). Much as they are today, the faculties were given big names, such as memory, judgment, emotionalism, musical and mathematical talent, criminality, and so on. Refinement in methods over the years does not necessarily lead to progress in theorizing: 1795 or 1995–material location, and then reduction of psyche to location, prompts the enterprise.

The contrary direction to narrowing nature to brain simplistics is expanding nurture to a far more embracing notion of environment. If environment means literally what’s around, it must also mean whatever is around. This because the unconscious psyche selects quite arbitrarily among the stuff encountered every day in the environment. Tiny and trivial bits of information may have huge subliminal psychic effects, as the days’ residues in dreams show. We do dream of the damnedest things! Much of each day is never noticed or recalled, but the psyche picks up the environmental flotsam and delivers it to the dream. The dream–a processing plant recycling the environment, finding soul values in junk. The dream–an artist, appropriating images from the environment for recollection in tranquility.

Because we walk about in fields of psychic realities that influences our lives, we have to broaden the notion of environment in terms of “deep ecology,” the hypothesis that the planet is a living, breathing, and self-regulating organism. Since anything around can nourish our souls by feeding imagination, there is soul stuff out there. So why not admit, as does deep ecology, that the environment itself is ensouled, animated, inextricably meshed with us and not fundamentally separate from us?

The ecological vision restores to environment also the classical idea of providentia–that the world provides for us, looks out for us, even looks after us. It wants us around, too. Predators, tornadoes, and blackflies in June are only pieces of the picture. Just think of all that’s delicious and sweet-smelling. Do birds sing but for each other? This breathable, edible, and pleasant planet, invisibly serviced and maintained, keeps us all by means of its life-support system. Such would be an idea of nurture that is truly nurturing.

“Environment,” then, would be imagined well beyond social and economic conditions, beyond the entire cultural setting, to include every item that takes care of us every day: our tires and coffee cups and door handles and the book you are holding in your hands. It becomes impossible to exclude this bit of environment as irrelevant in favor of that bit as significant, as if we could rank world phenomena in order of importance. Important for whom? Our understanding of importance itself has to change; instead of “important to me,” think of “important to other aspects of the environment.” Does this item nurture what else is around, not merely us who are around? Does it contribute to the intentions of the field of which we are only one short-lived part?

As notions of environment shift, we notice environment differently. It becomes more and more difficult to make a cut between psyche and world, subject and object, in here and out there. I can no longer be sure whether the psyche is in me or whether I am in the psyche as I am in my dreams, as I am in the moods of the landscapes and the city streets, as I am in “music heard so deeply/That it is not heard at all, but you are the music/While the music lasts” (T.S. Eliot). Where does the environment stop and I begin, and can I begin at all without being in some place, deeply involved in, nurtured by the nature of the world?

Religion and the Modern World: Towards a Naturalistic Panentheism

“Dear people, let the flower in the meadow show you how to please God and be beautiful at the same time. —The rose does not ask why. It blooms because it blooms. It pays no attention to itself nor does it wonder if anyone sees it.” –Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), Cherubinic Wanderer, 1:288-289


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

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

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

Religion in the News

The power of religious and cultural ideology, according to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is the single most important issue facing human civilization in the 21st century. During a recent debate in Toronto with author, Christopher Hitchens, Blair cautioned against the wholesale desire to rid the world of religious belief:

“The 20th century was a century scarred by visions that had precisely that imagining at their heart, [giving] us Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot. In this vision, obedience to the will of God was for the weak, it was the will of man that should dominate.”

Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, argued that the divide between religion and philosophy is foundational. For him, reason and faith, scientific skepticism and scriptural sanctification, are unambiguously opposed ideals. Not the will of God, but basic respect for human dignity ought to be the basis of morality:

“We don’t require divine permission to know right from wrong. We don’t need tablets administered to us ten at a time on pain of death to be able to have a moral argument. No, we have the reasoning and the moral persuasion of Socrates and our own abilities, we don’t need dictatorship to give us right from wrong.”

The crux of the disagreement between Blair and Hitchens seems clear: For Hitchens, our values can and should emerge on the horizontal plane of history out of basic human sympathy and autonomous reason, while for Blair, the nature of Goodness is revealed by a divine authority, inserted into time along the vertical axis of eternity. Hitchens rejects all notions of “celestial dictatorship,” while Blair rejects the hubris that lack of faith in a higher power implies. But, despite their differing emphases, the two men may still be carrying the same cross. It cannot be overlooked that Hitchens, in mentioning Plato’s teacher, Socrates, implicates himself in an idealist tradition of verticality. And Blair, a life-long politician, cannot deny the power of common sympathy and the importance of rational discourse on the horizontal plane.

Both men, it seems, are bound by the interpenetrating axes of time and eternity, the conscience of each of them called to bleed for something larger than their own skin in order to make sense of life. Each is compelled, by reason or revelation, to reach beyond mortality in their measurement of life’s ends. Hitchens, a materialist, argues that modern science has provided an awe-inspiring vision of an immense and mysterious cosmos, but that this awe is more terrifying than edifying. Not divine providence, but suicide by over-expansion is, in Hitchen’s eyes, the true fate of our universe. He does not shy away from suggesting that, without God, our carnal existence is ultimately meaningless but for brief encounters with “the important matter” of what he is willing to call “numinous,” “transcendent,” and “ecstatic.” He desires to clearly distinguish between belief in a “supernatural dictator”—an idea he finds morally and intellectually bankrupt—and the sense of the transcendent and numinous.

On this final point, Hitchens and Whitehead would be in agreement. Traditional notions of an all-powerful extra-cosmic Creator deity capable of entering into and re-directing the causal course of natural events upon a whim do not align with our scientific knowledge, nor for that matter with our moral intuitions of how a benevolent God should behave. An all-powerful deity that does not prevent the evils that are a daily fact of creaturely life cannot also be all-good.

Whitehead, like Blair, is an example of one for whom philosophy and religion are not at odds. As Blair put it, belief in God is for him “clear, insistent, and rational.” The challenge for philosophy is not necessarily to oppose the religious impulse, but to adequately articulate how God and the world are related.

The moral and intellectual arguments that Hitchens marshals against religious belief are not relevant to Whitehead’s philosophy of naturalistic panentheism. Hitchens’ brand of atheism, though it is perhaps a reasonable response to those strands of Abrahamic monotheism that conceive of God in the image of an imperial ruler, nonetheless remains an inadequate cosmological and psychological basis for civilized life. In the next section, I attempt to demonstrate why.

A New View of Religion

“Philosophy attains its chief importance,” according to Whitehead, “by fusing the two, namely, religion and science, into one rational scheme of thought” (p. 15). The revelations of modern science concerning the regularities of nature have made belief in miracles seem antiquated and superstitious, but the religious impulse itself seems to run deeper than the need for magic tricks offering proof of the divine.[1] As Hitchens admits, humanity’s sense of the numinous and transcendent—of “something beyond the material, or not quite consistent with it”—is what distinguishes us from other primates. We are not only the wise, but also the uncanny species. To be human is to participate in both time and eternity, to be embedded in history with an intuition of infinity, our birthright an experience of what Thomas Berry called incendence.

The vast majority of human beings feel compelled to respond to this feeling of incendence religiously, either as evidence of a personal deity (as in the Abrahamic and some Vedic traditions) or as evidence of an impersonal creative plenum or ground of being (as in Buddhism, Taoism, and many indigenous traditions). Whitehead’s dual conception of the ultimate in terms of God and Creativity, respectively, helps us understand these cultural differences, as will be explicated below. A naturalistic panentheism both acknowledges the nearly universal human proclivity to religiosity, and indeed the reality of the divine, while at the same time providing a cosmological picture that satisfies Hitchens’ demands for non-supernatural scientific adequacy.

There are three distinct but related questions that must be considered in order to unpack Whitehead’s speculative scheme: (1) “is there a divine reality (to which experiences of the numinous, transcendent, and ecstatic refer)?”, (2) “do our inherited cultural expressions of this reality pass basic ethical and epistemological tests of adequacy (that is, do these traditions align with our moral and intellectual intuitions)?”, and (3) “is relating and giving voice to the numinous basic to human nature, and therefore to civilized life?”

These three questions correspond to (1) the metaphysical/ontological, (2) the practical/theoretical, and (3) the anthropological relevance of the divine. Each question will be explored in turn.

(1) For many atheists like Hitchens, modern science and philosophy are interpreted to have all but eliminated the need for and evidence of a divine reality. The physical universe is understood to be meaningless and non-teleological, the seemingly “finely-tuned” constants underlying its mathematical regularities deemed entirely accidental. Whitehead, on the other hand, takes the same empirical evidence and interprets it through a more adequate metaphysical lens. Rather than relying upon the notion of randomness to account for the excessive order and harmony of the universe (which, it should be said, is the exact opposite of an explanation), Whitehead’s naturalistic panentheism overcomes the misplaced concreteness[2] that allows abstract entities like “randomness” and dead mechanical “forces” to pass for satisfying causal explanations of natural phenomena. Stepping out of Hitchen’s mechanistic cosmology of explosions, colliding surfaces, and entropy and into Whitehead’s living universe of interpenetrating wholes requires a cognitive and somatic gestalt shift in perception. Whitehead is not just providing a new set of ideas to account for the order of the external world; his metaphysics is an attempt to make perceptible a way of thinking with the cosmos so as to achieve co-presence with and as the Wisdom of an eternal and ever-lasting God. This God is not extra-cosmic, but directly participates in the unfolding of the universe by luring its creative longing toward certain ideals.

“[God] does not create the world,” writes Whitehead,

“he saves it: or, more accurately, he is the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty, and goodness” (PR, p. 346).

Unlike traditional theism, for which the trend toward order “[arises] from the imposed will of a transcendent God,” for Whitehead, these trends arise because “the existents in nature are sharing in the nature of [an] immanent God” (AI, p. 130). The existence of a divine reality is affirmed while avoiding attributing it with the supernatural power to create ex nihilo that has been criticized by many philosophers, including David Hume. Whitehead sought to “add another speaker to that masterpiece,” namely, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (PR, p. 343). Divine causation, rather than being an imposition from outside the natural world based on power alone, instead works within this world based on moral persuasion. It could be argued in summation that, for Whitehead, ours in an ordered and beautiful universe because God desires that it be so, and because all creatures, as participants in God’s nature, tend to grow toward these divine ideals.

Skeptical atheists like Hitchens interpret modern scientific cosmology, specifically Georges Lemaître’s inflationary theory and Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, to have proven beyond much doubt that our species, an interesting but peripheral and accidental twig on the billion year old tree of life, has mysteriously awoken to consciousness in a hapless universe moving inevitably toward heat death.

As Hitchens put it so eloquently, if also partially, during his debate with Blair:

“I come before you as a materialist. If we give up religion, we discover what actually we know already, whether we’re religious or not, which is that we are somewhat imperfectly evolved primates, on a very small planet in a very unimportant suburb of a solar system that is itself a negligible part of a very rapidly expanding and blowing apart cosmic phenomenon.”

Hitchens here emphasizes the absurdity of our purely empirico-physical understanding of the larger cosmos. Based only on sensory observation of primary qualities like mass and motion, and mathematical analysis of them in terms of measurable quantities, the universe reveals no apparent purpose. It is only the poetic indulgence of the human imagination that fools us into believing otherwise.

Whitehead laments the consequences of such a disenchanted perspective on the cosmos:

“The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves [turning] them into odes of self-congratulations on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material endlessly, meaninglessly” (SMW, p. 54).

In responding to Hitchens rather disheartening philosophical interpretation of scientific data concerning the larger cosmos, it would be instructive to recall Whitehead’s statement in the opening pages of Process and Reality that “the chief error in philosophy is overstatement” (p. 7). The mechanistic materialism that was born during the Scientific Revolution has proven immensely useful for technological endeavors, but in attempting to give an account of the universe entirely in terms of meaningless matter in motion, it commits what Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. This fallacy concerns the false attribution of concrete actuality to what remain abstract conceptual models.

The philosopher Jean Borella has located the cause of this false attribution in what he terms the “epistemic closure of the concept,” which Wolfgang Smith suggests “consists in the elimination from the concept of everything that proves recalcitrant to linguistic or formal expression” (SM, p. 50). Borella’s analysis is based upon the distinction he makes between language and thought, wherein thought is assigned primacy and language is defined by its supportive and communicative function. The “epistemic closure of the concept” is the very foundation of scientific materialism, because unlike the conceptual thought of the philosopher, for whom maintaining a certain “openness to being” is paramount, the scientist is after exact, formalizable definitions. While the philosopher’s aim is to use concepts in order to achieve a non-discursive contemplative vision of the truth, the scientific materialist “is constrained to reduce phenomena to ‘pure relations,’ that is to say, relations which are independent of the beings which enter into them” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, abstract mathematical formalisms describing the relations between actual occasions obscure the complex reality of those occasions, committing the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Borella explains:

“There is thus [in scientific materialism an identification of] the concept and its object, since the latter is likewise a concept, whereas in philosophical knowing the concept is only a means by which the object is known: essentially transitive, it remains thus ontologically open. The Galilean universe is therefore a universe of object-concepts which move in a conceived space-time” (ibid.).

Although Whitehead’s cosmology challenges many of the same assumptions of Aristotelian physics that Galileo was lead to criticize, he nonetheless recognized that mechanistic accounts of natural phenomena couldn’t be the whole story. The Galilean approach, though it provides for a great deal of prediction and control of non-living matter, does so at the expense of a comprehensive, qualitative account of the cosmos as a whole (which includes the more-than-physical phenomena of life and intelligence).

While for a materialist like Hitchens, cosmic inflation suggests only a dead universe whose random and fleeting order is destined to evaporate into nothing, for a panentheist like Whitehead, “…the expansion of the universe…is the first meaning of ‘organism’” (PR, p. 215). Like Plato before him, Whitehead recognizes in the macrocosmic processes something analogous to the growth and development of a living thing.

Similarly, while for Hitchens the doctrine of evolution implies that organic life is a directionless wandering motivated only by the desire to survive the blind selection of an uncaring external world, for Whitehead “the whole point of the modern doctrine is the evolution of the complex organisms from antecedent states of less complex organisms,” wherein the more complex organisms represented stages of “emergent value” (SMW, p. 107). In other words, if Darwin’s evolutionary theory is non-teleological, then it is an incomplete theory, since the history of the universe, both beyond and upon our planet, clearly displays a tendency toward greater states of organizational complexity. Of course, Darwin was only trying to account for the process of speciation among plants and animals on Earth, not for that among the microscopic organisms studied by particle physics (electrons, protons, atoms, etc.). But even among earthly bodies, if mere survival were the only game in town, matter would have been quite content to remain in the mineral state. Why trouble itself with the challenges of eating and procreation if life as a rock would have sufficed?

Whitehead’s evolutionary cosmology, besides avoiding the bifurcation of nature into organic v. inorganic, attributes the experience of “enjoyment” to all enduring forms of order that arise amidst the cosmic process. Organisms do not just stoically endure their existence by responding passively to the harsh givens of their environment; they feel compelled to take the speculative risks necessary to deepen their experience and enjoyment of existence.  Evolution is the story of the great successes of speculation of countless generations of diverse organisms to come before us upon this planet and within this universe. Every moment of our human experience as organized beings—as cosmotheandric organisms—inherits a relevant past billions of years in the making. Our human bodies are the accumulated achievements of the decisions of ancient bacteria. Within the nucleus of bacteria are the accumulated achievements of primordial hydrogen atoms who suffered a transmutation into heavier elements within the core of a prior generation of stars. Life seeks not just survival, but an increase in the intensity of its enjoyment, which is to say a refinement of the contrasts available within experience for conceptual valuation. In short, the more capable an organism is of perceiving and expressing truth, goodness, and beauty, the more evolved it is. The desire to move toward the end of heightened experience is described by Whitehead as an adventure of ideas. This desire, or Eros (divine lure), is the reason for evolution from simplicity to complexity. Deeper beauty, purer truth, and greater goodness are the ends of Eros.

The metaphysical background of modern scientific cosmology, as brought to the surface and articulated by Hitchens, is an overstatement based on a narrow range of facts. His conclusions about human nature and the fate of the universe, though rightfully rid of supernaturalism, represent an inadequate appraisal of the full spectrum of evidence available to human experience. Purpose is not simply a human contrivance, but can be seen and felt at work throughout the universe. The excessive harmony and upward trend toward complexity evident in our universe testify to the presence of an immanent divine lure. The epistemic closure of scientific materialism occludes one’s view of the presence of these trends, such that the clear, formal definitions of an abstract system come to replace our immediate perception of a value-rich world.

(2) The notion of a persuasive God working from within the world to bring about the most beauty and goodness that is possible is not entirely without precedent in humanity’s cultural expressions of divinity, but for the vast majority of those practicing within the Abrahamic traditions, the idea probably sounds foreign. Hitchens major criticisms of religion center around the ethical and epistemological inadequacies of orthodox theology, wherein an all-powerful and all-knowing God designs and creates the world from nothing, a world that then somehow falls from grace into sin. In this scenario, according to Hitchens, it seems that God “makes us objects in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.”

From Whitehead’s perspective, such a cruel picture is clearly an inadequate basis upon which to worship the divine, whose nature, even for orthodox believers, is also supposedly all-loving and all-good. That humanity has, for the most part, poorly depicted the nature of God in its popular cultural expressions is no argument against the reality of the divine. This shortfall demands of us not the abolition of religion, but a more philosophically coherent response to the sense of incendence that makes our species uniquely religious.

“Religion,” says Whitehead,

“is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone” (PR, p. 16).

The role of philosophy, which finds the numinous and transcendent “among the data of experience,” is to weave the particular religious impulses that result from such experiences into some general scheme of thought. Philosophy, without developing a close relationship with religion, would become psychologically ineffectual; and religion, without calling upon philosophy, would sink into emotional tedium. Some “supreme fusion” between the situatedness of particular emotions and the universality of ideas must be effected.

As Whitehead put it,

“The two sides of the [human] organism require a reconciliation in which emotional experiences illustrate a conceptual justification, and conceptual experiences find an emotional illustration” (PR, p. 16).

Through an ideal interplay between the emotions of religion and the concepts of philosophy, Whitehead sought to widen humanity’s moral outlook, so that the interests of individuals might begin to align with the general good (PR, p. 15). Not a culturally exclusive set of doctrines and dogmas violently clung to, but a universal respect for the goodness of life: this is the essence and end of the religious impulse for Whitehead.

As was shown in answering question (1), Whitehead’s God is not all-powerful in the traditional sense, nor is God entirely transcendent. The evils of the world-process are suffered as much by God as by finite creatures, since God is in effect the soul of the universe. God is understood to be the original creature of Creativity, its “primordial, non-temporal accident” (PR, p. 7). Creativity is “the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact” (PR, p. 21), and also “that ultimate notion of the highest generality at the base of actuality” (PR, p. 31). The true omnipotence of God is expressed, not as the ability to alter events from an unaffected state beyond the universe, but as the ability to remember and incorporate for all eternity the character of each and every actual occasion as it arose from and receded into the flux of the creative process. God perpetually unifies the ongoing cosmic process by providing the initial aims and perceiving the final results of the concrescence of all finite creatures, including the universe itself. God is the assurance of permanence amidst the unstable dynamism at the root of reality.

Process is considered ultimate for Whitehead (PR, p. 7), seemingly making it more eminently real than at least God’s primordial nature. But God is complex, relating to the world through more than one face. The consequent nature of God must also be considered, wherein due to interpenetration with time and process, the divine transacts with the actual world to shape and be shaped by its enduring characteristics of order. “Both are in the grip of the ultimate metaphysical ground, the creative advance into novelty,” says Whitehead. “Either of them, God and the World, is the instrument of novelty for the other” (PR, p. 349).

Some non-Western traditions, like Buddhism and Taoism, express the ultimate nature of reality in terms of an impersonal creative principle. Whitehead points out that, by relativizing God’s power in respect to Creativity, his cosmology may seem to have more in common with Indic and Chinese conceptions of the ultimate (PR, p. 7). Creativity, however, can never exist by itself, but only as embodied or exemplified by some actual entity (following Whitehead’s categorical scheme, wherein only res verae are real); God and the World are those actual entities by which creativity is instantiated and made actual (PR, p. 29). Finite creatures never experience Creativity in the absence of its having been characterized by God and worldly actualities (RWS, p. 283). This is not to say that non-theistic religious traditions like Buddhism are incorrect in their assessment of ultimate reality, but that what makes experiences of Śūnyatā, or Emptiness, distinctively religious (because numinous and transcendent) is that “Creativity as prehensively experienced is always characterized by divine attributes” (RWS, p. 284). Even within many Buddhist traditions, Emptiness is characterized as wise and compassionate, which lends support to the notion of God’s participation in all our experience of reality.

If Blair is right, and the sociopolitical power of religion is the most important issue of the coming century, then inter-religious dialogue ought to be our civilization’s most pressing concern. No civilization, according to Whitehead, can continue its adventure in rationality absent a vigorous expression of the human sense of sacredness (MT, p. 120). Without some widespread cultural consensus regarding its nature, the sacred is bound to “retire into a recessive factor in experience” (ibid.). The consequences of such an apparent lack of universal orientation towards the sacred are evidenced by our global society’s increasing dependence upon the marketplace to determine its values. Money and property have overshadowed wisdom and compassion as the measures of individual and communal well-being. The inevitable result of failing to come to general cosmological consensus regarding our species’ spiritual aspirations will be the continued forfeiture of ultimate metaphysical authority to the shallow, entirely relative trends of the consumer economy. Widespread balkanization and the eventual triumph of barbarism seem like the most probable outcomes of this trajectory. Philosophical[3] dialogue across cultures concerning religion is not a mere academic curiosity, but will be the source of the vitality of any continuing civilization humanity may hope to bring forth.

(3) As with all attempts to philosophically assess the ultimate nature of reality, and to determine how civilization ought to orient itself around this reality, a naturalistic panentheism must finally articulate its theory of human nature, or anthropology. Are the transcendent, the numinous, and the ecstatic basic to human experience? Even Hitchens agrees that they are, but still disagrees with Whitehead about how this fundamental feature of human nature is to be interpreted and culturally expressed in religious forms.

For Whitehead, our experience of moral ideals—our conscience—“is the experience of the deity of the universe” (MT, p. 103). The very fact that we can disagree about ethical situations is evidence that some standard of judgment, some intuitive sense of what is just, exists to arbitrate our claims. Disagreements are opportunities to see the world from a wider and more complex perspective, to be more inclusive of differing expressions of the ultimately and incomprehensibly real.[4]

“When the Western world accepted Christianity,” writes Whitehead, “Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers” (PR, p. 342). Whitehead goes on to criticize the “idolatry” of what became the Holy Roman Empire, namely its projection of the structure and function of Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rule onto the court of heaven. All the Abrahamic forms of religion that have come to dominate Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East have been infused with tragedy, according to Whitehead, because their willingness to obey tyrannical rule produced histories full of divisiveness and bloodshed (ibid.). “The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar” (ibid.).

Christianity’s Galilean origins also suggest another, humbler possibility, however. Historically realized in the person of Jesus Christ is the great potential hidden in every human heart: the ability “to slowly and in quietness operate by love,” finding enjoyment not in some future reward, but in “the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world” (PR, p. 343). Jesus presents us with a God whose nature is not that of the kings of Earth, ruthless and brusque, but that of a more heavenly patience, able to suffer even death and to wait millennia for the mass of humanity to awaken to his message.

Whether or not human nature is inherently Christ-like, or that of “imperfectly evolved primates,” as Hitchens claims, makes all the difference in the world. In the former case, we are capable of self-transcending love. In the latter, we are limited by our own selfish instinctual desire for pleasure, helping others only in cases where it does not harm ourselves. The contrast between the animal/cosmic and the angelic/spiritual aspect of our nature need not be drawn so starkly, however. As has been shown above, a continuity can be said to exist between God, humanity, and the universe.

“There is a kind of perichoresis, ‘dwelling within one another,’” writes Panikkar, “of these three dimensions of reality: the Divine, the Human, and the Cosmic—the I, the you, and the It” (MFH, p. 214).

Holding in mind Whitehead’s doctrine of divine participation in the becoming of the world, it could be said that within the human being, the cosmos is giving birth to a new God. God, like the cosmos and the human being, is “an incompletion in process of production” (PR, p. 215). The birth, death, and resurrection of Christ could be said to be taking place through the historical awakening of the human spirit to itself and to the divine milieu within which it is embedded. But two thousand years after the presence of the kingdom of heaven was announced as at hand, we are still struggling to develop the ears to hear and eyes to see it.

Poets are perhaps those most immediately aware of the incarnational process unfolding deep within the human soul. Their heightened intuition raises to consciousness the subtler, more obscure dimensions of experience, perhaps approaching the creative skill of divinity in their finest moments of imaginative reverie. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake beautifully expresses the false assumptions of orthodox theology and contrasts them with the true implications of the Word’s becoming flesh:

“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True.

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.”

Blake’s intuition concerning the experiential delight that energy takes in its activity contradicts both materialist interpretations of modern physics, for which energy is the blind ability to do work, and ascetic interpretations of orthodox monotheism, for which instinctual energies are sinful, leading us astray from God. Like Whitehead, his imaginative vision of the human soul’s relationship to the larger cosmos overcomes the bifurcation between the spiritual and the material that runs through so much of Greek philosophy and Middle Eastern theology alike.

The human being, from the panentheist perspective here expressed, is not a peripheral feature of cosmogenesis. Because of the complexity of our organization, we are perhaps unique among earthlings in our ability to attain full consciousness of eternity, and thus also of time. This makes each of our moment-by-moment decisions of special importance to God, for whom complete actuality “must also be understood as a multiplicity of actual components in process of creation” (PR, p. 350). God’s consequent nature is “God in his function of the kingdom of heaven” (ibid.), biding together all living things into a unified cosmos. The excess of creative freedom and degree of appetition achieved by the organization of the human organism means we have a deeper intuition of the primordial nature, and a larger impact upon the consequent nature of God than any other finite creatures (at least on Earth). Human consciousness can potentially come to know God’s ends, and it can rejoice in their continual accomplishment. Not only that, but when we express love and kindness, it allows God’s moral relation to and concrete reality within the world to become that much stronger, just as our expressions of fear and greediness pushes God that much further into irrelevance.

Whitehead’s understanding of human nature is such that both God and the cosmos are of the essence, as a thorough anthropological study inevitably leads to uncovering, challenging, and revising our theological and cosmological pre-suppositions. His is a prime example of a cosmotheandric metaphysics.

Panikkar’s cosmotheandric principle suggests that no account of reality can be complete unless it recognizes the interdependence of the universe, the divine, and the human. Christianity in particular has continued relevance in our age not as pure theology, but as anthropology. This is not because, as in Feuerbach’s philosophy, God is conceived merely as a human projection or ideal. Rather, Christianity is the natural culmination of anthropology, a lotus still sprouting from the murky soil of human civilization. And humanity is similarly the product of a cosmic longing for what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called personalization. To continue the Teilhardian terminology: Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis, and anthropogenesis is Christogenesis.[5]


A naturalist panentheism does not build its case for the existence and importance of God upon logical or sensori-empirical proofs. Rather, the evidence for God, it can only be suggested, lies for the most part buried in the prediscursive silence of the human heart, which William James proclaimed is “our deepest organ of communication with the nature of things” (TWB, p. 62).

This non-sensuous perception of the divine’s presence in and influence upon the world is the reason for religion. Human beings cannot help but overflow with the desire to worship the Wisdom that has created and shaped the nature of all things. This worship, when ideally expressed, becomes the play of spirit with itself. A planetary awakening to the true, cross-cultural nature of the sacred would require nothing less than the widespread transfiguration of individual consciousness to a form historically experienced only by a few contemplatives and mystics. Given a clear vision of the divine-human-cosmic connection, our civilization may gain the reinvigorated spirit of adventure it so desperately needs.

“God is the fire within me,” writes Angelus Silesius,

“and I am the light in him. Do we not belong to each other intimately? I am as rich as God. There is no grain of dust that I do not have in common with him; dear people, believe me…God loves me above himself. If I love him above myself, I give him as much as he gives me…The bird is in the air, the stone lies on the land, the fish lives in the water, and my spirit is in God’s hand…If you are born of God, then God flowers in you, and his divinity is your sap and adornment” (CW, 1:11-80).

Materialistic anthropology reifies the non-discursive experiential origins of religion, back-grounding its true sources by drawing our attention away from the meaningful ambiguities constituting perceptual reality. It directs us instead to a simplistic definition: “a set of beliefs in the supernatural.” This definition of religion produces epistemic closure, a closure effecting how both contemporary religious and secular people think about their lives and the world. Theories and other verbalizable “beliefs” about reality overshadow and conceal the complex (but still common!) experience of incendence that comes along with being born and dying as a human being.

“Stop!,” continues Silesius,

“What are you chasing after? Heaven is within you. If you are looking for God anywhere else, you will always miss him” (ibid., 1:81-82).

The religious impulse is central to human life and provides the moral foundation for civilization. It is of our nature as human beings to be “spirits in God’s hand,” to be participants in the heavenly economy of love while alive on Earth. The old concept of religion, wherein God is a thing to be believed in, must be re-conceived in light of the cosmotheandric revelation of today: God is a Self to be experienced, and heaven an earthly paradise.

Works Cited

(1) Griffin, David Ray

Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism (2001)

(2) Panikkar, Raimon

Myth, Faith and Hermeneutics (1979)

(3) James, William

The Will to Believe (1956)

(4) Smith, Wolfgang

Science and Myth: What we are Never Told (2010)

(5) Silesius, Angelus

The Cherubinic Wanderer, Vol. 1

(6) Whitehead, Alfred North

Adventures of Ideas (1933)

Modes of Thought (1938)

Process and Reality (1929)

Science and the Modern World (1925)

(7) William James

The Will to Believe (1956)

(8)  Munk Debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair in Toronto, Canada on Nov. 26th, 2010 (transcript)

[1] Matthew 16:4 – “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah.” Matthew 12:40 – “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

[2] This fallacy is explored more thorough on p. 10

[3] “Philosophy is love of the divine Sophia, that is to say, the self-revelation of the Principle itself; it is the desire for the knowledge by which the Absolute knows itself” (Jean Borella, quoted in SM, p. 50).

[4] Reality is “incomprehensible” not because it is irrational, but because reality is ultimately process, forever outrunning its own completion in order to reach toward novelty.

[5] Paul writes in Galatians 6:14 that the world itself was crucified upon the cross, implying that Christ’s Resurrection is also the creation of a new cosmos.


Once it has begun to swallow the overwhelmingly wondrous fact of existence–that there is anything at all!–philosophy can perhaps catch its breath and ask the most fundamental question: what is there? From this comes the only slightly more specific questions: What is a thing? What is an idea? Isabelle Stengers and Donna Haraway spoke on Thursday night at Claremont Graduate University on behalf of certain risky abstractions pertaining to the reality of things and ideas, and of how they merge and diverge in the natures-cultures that constitute human sociopolitical life.

For Stengers, there are basically two approaches open to the questioning post-Kantian philosopher. The first is to ask, “What do I know?”, the second, “What can I know?” The former is speculative thinking, leaping across the gap in the circuit of perception between matter and mind by seeing into the web of relationships within which one is embedded. The latter, the critical approach, separates the knower from its object, directing attention almost exclusively to one’s own subjective activities. When the philosopher asks, “What can I know?”, she means to turn attention to the enduring conditions of subjective experience which shape and make possible any perception or understanding of the ongoing phenomena corresponding to the extra-subjective world. What the world is in itself, the realist’s question, begins to seem like a grandiose search for God’s view of the cosmos. Hubris, says Hume. Impossible, says Kant. Whitehead says not just that we can ask the first question, but that we must! Life is innately risky, because it is primarily a speculative affair.  As human creatures endowed with symbolic intelligence, we become with the spatiotemporal world of physical events and participate in the realm of eternal ideas. Like the plant-clothed entangled banks described in the final pages of Darwin’s Origin, the networks constituting the ecology of classrooms, books, images, and ideas (the philosopher’s habitat) are discernible, intelligible even, but these are definitely not actually separable one from the other, or explainable one in terms of the other. There is no dualism between mind and matter, or between discourse and nature, such that one might reduce to the other. For Whitehead, as for Stengers, propositions infect experience at all levels, from the electronic and protonic subjective forms of subatomic particles to the visual and auditory subjective forms of intelligent animals. Nature thinks about itself, whether it be the thought of hydrogen expressing the self-love that is gravity to give birth to stars or the thought of Einstein riding upon a beam of light, giving the power of the sun to earthly hands.

Abstractions, for Whitehead and Stengers, are lures for feeling. Each form of abstract description allows a different world to take shape before our imagination. We have no choice but to have speculative trust in our descriptions and the images they suggest, because we have no other basis for continuing the adventure of rationality. Contradictions and antinomies, which are oft met along the road of rational discourse, must be transformed into constructive contrasts. This transformation is the work of common sense, that most spontaneous and marvelous judge of truth, beauty, and goodness, and the light of our humanity. Not theory, but common sense, ought to be the final arbiter of our judgments. This is the Jamesian pragmatism and precursive trust that Whitehead and Stengers are committed to.

The Golden Rule of Whiteheadian philosophy of organism, according to Stengers, is that one ought never to offer abstractions that erase situatedness. Perhaps it is this very situatedness, the sense of being embedded in ecologies of meaningful matter, that generates the philosopher’s original sense of astonishment at the fact of being. Philosophy need not outgrow wonder in order to reveal the deeper nature of things. Its revelation in fact preserves wonder, opening our common sense to the adventure of a world in the making.


A response from 9macrina9:

my rough transcription of some of what Blair and Hitchens had to say (not necessarily in order):

Tony Blair: “Fanaticism is not confined to the sphere of religious life… My belief in Jesus Christ is not about oppression and servitude, but about finding the best way to express the human spirit… Faith is not about certainty, it is in part a reflection of my awareness of my own ignorance. Though life’s processes can be explained by science, the meaning and purpose of life cannot be. In that space lies not certainty in the scientific sense, but a belief that is clear and insistent and I’d even say rational, that there is a higher power than human power, and that higher power causes us to lead better lives, lives in accordance with a will higher than our own, not as if we were imprisoned by that higher will, but on the contrary so we can discipline and use our own will so as to represent the best of our humanity.”

Christopher Hitchens: “Religion is a real danger to the survival civilization… I come before you as a materialist. If we give up religion, we  discover what we already know whether we are religious or not: we are somewhat imperfectly evolved primates on a very small planet in a very unimportant suburb of a solar system that is itself a negligible part of a very large, exploding cosmic phenomenon… The sense that there is something beyond the material, or not entirely consistent with it, is a very important matter. What you could call the numinous, transcendent, or ecstatic. I wouldn’t trust anyone in this hall who didn’t know what I mean…

Are you willing, for the sake of certain elements of the numinous, to say that you give your allegiance to a divine supernatural supervisor? Are you willing to admit that human beings can be the interpreter of this divine figure?”

I am not willing to give allegiance to, or even to believe in the existence of, a supernatural power capable of interrupting the causal course of the universe at a whim. I do think there is a God, but this God does not exist apart from the universe and so cannot reach in and alter its behavior from without. God works from within by persuasion, not from without by force. God is a living creature, just like human beings, though we are a microcosm. As for human beings being the interpreters of God, I think God exists in our heart and our breath, and so we are not so much God’s interpreters as God’s voices. God has no voice but ours.

I’m going to listen to Isabelle Stengers and Donna Haraway speak at Claremont Graduate University tomorrow! For more information, I’ve posted a link to a new collaborative blog called “The New Knowledge Ecology” that I’m contributing to: