Back to teach at Schumacher College in April 2019: “The Evolution of Consciousness and the Cosmological Imagination”

I’ll be teaching another short course at Schumacher College in the UK the week of April 22nd-26th, 2019.

Here’s a link if you’re interested in registering:

https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/courses/short-courses/re-enchanting-the-cosmos

Here’s what I’ll be teaching on:

“The Evolution of Consciousness and the Cosmological Imagination”

This week-long course will trace the evolution of consciousness in the West from ancient Greece through to the present. The goal is twofold: to understand the historical process whereby humanity severed itself from a meaningful universe and to re-ignite the cosmological imagination allowing us to reconnect to the soul of the world. The course begins by exploring Plato’s cosmology and theory of participation and moves on to consider the Scientific Revolution and the Romantic reaction to it. It concludes with a study of several contemporary efforts to re-enchant the cosmos by grounding human consciousness back in the more-than-human creative process responsible for generating it. In addition to Plato, the course draws upon the archetypal astronomy of Johannes Kepler, the Naturphilosophie of Goethe and Schelling, the nature poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth, the esoteric philosophy of Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield, the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, and the contemporary participatory theory of Jorge Ferrer.

 

*featured image above by Jakob Boehme

45th Annual International Jean Gebser Society Conference: Architects of the Integral World @ CIIS Oct. 16-18th, 2015

45th Annual International Jean Gebser Society Conference: Architects of the Integral World

IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE PHILOSOPHY, COSMOLOGY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS PROGRAM, PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION DEPARTMENT, CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF INTEGRAL STUDIES
SAN FRANCISCO, CA ~ OCTOBER 16th–18th, 2015

gebser1

CALL FOR PAPERS
In the winter of 1932, from a grammatical detail in the poetry of Rilke, Jean Gebser intuited an entire shift in the structure of western consciousness. Diaphanous, liberated from time, and free from the constraints of perspective, Gebser’s integral vision came to him in a “lightning-like flash of inspiration”. As he unfolded this seed, he later remarked that it bore “extensive similarities to the world-design of Sri Aurobindo”, whose work he was originally unaware of. Alongside Gebser and Aurobindo, thinkers such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (theology and palaeontology), Alfred North Whitehead (philosophy), and David Bohm (cosmology) would independently confirm the significance of Gebser’s integral vision. Such instances speak to the relevance of an integral reality beyond mere intellectual theory. Spanning the sciences and humanities, this conference seeks to explore the work of leading and neglected figures in the emergence of integral philosophy, past and present. By charting the “morphic resonances” that appear to exist among the works of diverse evolutionary and holarchical theorists, we aim to further Gebser’s commitment to a genuinely interdisciplinary methodology, and the rendering transparent of the integral world.

Orienting questions
How has Gebser’s intimation of an emerging integral structure of consciousness directly influenced or been independently confirmed by the work of congenial thinkers?

In what ways can his account of integral consciousness be further fleshed out by the work of those who follow in his wake?

In what ways does Gebser’s overarching account of the evolution of consciousness illumine and enhance the contributions of these thinkers?

How have Gebser’s ideas been anticipated by currents within eastern and western philosophy of mind?

How do precepts and practices from the world’s esoteric lineages, ancient or modern, contribute to the realization of integral consciousness?

In what ways might Gebser’s work be legitimately criticized, refined, or revised?

To what extent has Gebser’s work been appropriated or misread, constructively or otherwise, by integral theorists?

The Gebser Society invites presenters to engage the conference theme, or topics pertaining directly to the work of Jean Gebser, from a multiplicity of disciplines and approaches. Please send a 300-word proposal describing your presentation, and a 150-word biographical statement, to:

Dr Aaron Cheak, President, International Jean Gebser Society, ac@rubedo.press

PROPOSAL ABSTRACTS DUE 30 JUNE 2015.

CIIS tomorrow (May 1): Ursula King speaking on Cosmotheanthropic Philosophy in Teilhard de Chardin and Raimon Panikkar

[update: video now available]

The Teilhard scholar Ursula King will speak tomorrow, May 1st, at 4pm at the California Institute of Integral Studies (1453 Mission St) about the evolutionary spirituality of Teilhard de Chardin and Raimon Panikkar. It’s free and open to the public. Join us!

kingPierre-Teilhard-de-ChardinRaimundo Panikkar world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie

See the flyer linked below for more information.

Ursula King Flyer

Margulis and the Psychedelic Eucharist

Here is Prof. Corey Anton lecturing on the recently deceased Lynn Margulis’ bio-philosophy.

Towards the end of her book (co-authored with Dorian Sagan) What Is Life?, Margulis offers an  analysis of the role of psilocybin in the evolution of mammalian consciousness.

She brings up the usage of psychedelic fungi in ancient mystery cults just after sharing Socrates’ warnings about the drug-like effects of writing. I’ve written about the relationship between psychedelic (al)chemistry and Plato’s/Socrates’ views on language as a pharmakon recently. I draw on Richard Doyle’s thesis in Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere that psychedelics have functioned as “rhetorical adjuncts” in the history of human evolution, carrying natural selection and sexual attraction beyond themselves into religion, and from religion on into scientific discovery and artistic creation. Altered states of consciousness have always been at the generative core of human civilization. Art, religion, and science are novel modes of production never before seen in the history of earth. Humans are doing something new now. Which doesn’t mean we aren’t still things. We are things with powers unheard of in the world until now. We are the thing that thinks things (science) and things thinking (art), and that can, under special circumstances, think itself thinging. Almost always, we remain unable to think ourselves thinging, unable to catch the “I” in the act of  “am-ing.” We simply act without knowing how or why, making up our reason for acting afterwards depending on the moods and emotions that happens to be coursing through us when the need (social/legal or moral/psychological) for a justification of some past action arises. Much institutional religion (in its modern forms, Christian televangelism and the civil religion of 24-hour cable news) seems to function sociologically by providing us with hope and solace despite the existential shame and guilt we feel as a result of knowing we don’t know how or why we act the way we do. We are each of us liars since the first words that came out of our mouths. “I am”? But who am I? The special circumstances that allow the “I am” to experientially concresce (that is, allow the substantial self to emerge and dissolve fluidly–to flow through and across its own and others boundaries freely) are cultivated by carrying ourselves into philosophical modes of mind. Philosophy is a way of life and a way of writing. Increasingly, due to the invisible divine hand of the market, it has been reduced to a way of writing without life, publishing for pay. And often we don’t even get to own our own writing! Philosophers are lucky enough even to finds jobs at all in these waning days of capital.

Yes, we are still things. But we are not just heads of cattle, not just anything. Nothing is just anything. A cow, a blade of grass, a clump of soil, a star in heaven–each is radically different and yet still rhyzomatically the same. Nobody knows what a thing is, how it works, or why it works that way. “No-one knows what a body can do” (Deleuze‘s Spinozist formula).

Margulis quites Maurice Blanchot on page 189 of What is Life?:

Yes, happily language is a thing. It is a written thing, a bit of bark, a sliver of rock, a fragment of clay in which the reality of the earth continues to exist.

research papers for graduate courses on Ernst Cassirer and Jean Gebser, and Christianity and Ecology

I’m enrolled in two courses this semester here at CIIS. The first is taught by Prof. Eric Weiss; the second by Prof. Jacob Sherman. We’re well into the second week of November already, so its time to start fleshing out my term papers.

Weiss’ course is on the evolutionary schemes of the 20th century cultural philosophers Ernst Cassirer and Jean Gebser. Alfred North Whitehead has also been a near constant companion in our class discussion. Cassirer is famous for articulating the notion of symbolic forms, which could be defined as the various shapes of consciousness that have held sway over human society during the long course of its development, from early magico-mythic to late techno-scientific forms. Cassirer distinguishes mythic, artistic, linguistic, historical, religious, and scientific symbolic forms, among others. Each has its own characteristic way of interacting with the world and of making meaning of it. Cassirer does not suppose that we pass through each form, leaving the prior forms behind as we ascend to more scientific–that is, truer–modes of apprehending reality. Rather, he is quite aware of the extent to which even science remains a cultural activity, embedded in and dependent upon the symbolic webs of meaning that have accumulated and complexified since human beings first began to dance in ritual celebration beneath the stars.

Gebser, whose only translated work The Ever-Present Origin is perhaps the most profound text I’ve yet to read, lays out a scheme not unlike Cassirer’s. His picture of the evolution of human beings distinguishes 4 mutations connecting 5 structures of consciousness: the archaic, the magic, the mythic, the mental, and the integral. What is different about Gebser is the unabashedly spiritual and cosmological scope of his project. While Cassirer only claims to be speaking about the evolution of human culture, Gebser is explicit about the ontological reach of consciousness into the very structure of space-time itself. In other words, like any good Kantian, Cassirer limits himself to speaking about human access to reality, while Gebser explodes the cognitive limits of transcendentalism in order to bring forth an entirely new way of knowing, namely, integral-aperspectival consciousness. Integral consciousness is “aperspectival” in that it is not limited to the partial perspective of spatially-oriented mental consciousness, a consciousness unable to perceive the whole because of its deficient apprehension of concrete time as mere abstract succession. Gebser refers to this deficiency as the false spatialization of time, which turns what is in fact a spiritual intensity into a material extensity (i.e., lived time becomes clock-time). This is where Whitehead comes in. Gebser mentions his process philosophy as a possible inception of the new integral structure. In his critiques of Humean and Kantian accounts of experience, Whitehead unpacks his doctrine of causal efficacy. Experience in the mode of causal efficacy has been entirely overshadowed by modern philosophy’s obsession with another, more abstract and alienated mode of experience: presentational immediacy.

In my essay for this course, I want to explore the possibility that presentational immediacy, a mode of experience Whitehead suggests is only available to especially complex organisms, is in fact a capacity that developed quite late even in human beings. I think the deficient form of mental-rational consciousness currently reigning (though it is increasingly fragmented and in an obvious state of decay) only became possible as presentational immediacy took on an increasingly dominant role in human experience. Gebser’s other structures (archaic, magic, and mythic) can be characterized by their instinctuality and lack of reflective capacity, and by the absence of a distinction between “appearance” and “reality” so characteristic of the mental structure. I will attempt, in this essay, to unpack the changing relationship between presentational immediacy, causal efficacy, and the hybrid mode of experience, symbolic reference, as human beings move through each of the structures articulated by Gebser and Cassirer. In the course of this analysis, I hope to both integrate Gebser’s account of the evolution of consciousness with Whitehead’s cosmology, and further draw out the differences between Cassirer’s Kantianism and Gebser and Whitehead’s participatory realism.

Sherman’s course is focused both on why the ecological crisis emerged out of the Christian cultural matrix and on how this same matrix may enable Western humanity to respond to it. We’ve been reading quite widely in the field of religion and ecology. My favorites thus far are Thomas Berry’s New Story, Matthew Fox’s creation spirituality, Wendell Berry‘s and Norman Wirzba’s agrarian Christianity, and Leo Boff’s liberation theology. I’ve also read Robert N. Bellah‘s new book Religion in Human Evolution to help me write a paper for this course, as I think the ecological crisis forces us to ask a larger question concerning not just the role of Christianity, but religion more generally. A religious response to the ecological crisis requires that we first unpack the relationship between science and religion, and between mythic and secular reality. I think ecology, on its own, has much to teach us all, Christian or not. But the combination of Christianity and ecology changes everything, since in the Christian context we are dealing with a Creation and not simply a haphazardly existing cosmos. Ecology is the study of our home; unless our home is hallowed, how can we live in it peacefully and joyously? In my paper, I hope to use Bellah’s thesis regarding the role of play in human evolution to critique modern industrial society’s anxiety driven obsession with work. The role of religion in our ecologically troubled time is to re-imagine not only what’s worth living for, but what’s worth working for. What we need now is a renewed sense of how to play with seriousness. What ought we to be doing with our time here on earth together? Industrial civilization has its answer. Christianity has another. The two are not compatible in the least. My task in the essay for this class will be to articulate what a consciousness of Creation brings to ecology and to respond to the challenges presented by scientific cosmology to “Creationism.” In short, I think authentic science (i.e., the gentle empiricism of Goethe, or the naturphilosophie of Schelling) is fully compatible with cosmotheandric accounts of the creative universe. When scientists like Hawking and Dawkins say that science has made it all but impossible (or at the very least unnecessary) to believe in a Creator, I think they are expressing the industrial values of late capitalism more so than that of science, in its pure, disinterested form. Industrial capitalism has a vested interest in maintaining a cosmological picture in which owners hire workers to remake an otherwise dead and purposeless world in their own image. If the world is God’s Creation, “private property” becomes a pragmatic shorthand at best, blasphemous at worst.

Rudolf Steiner on the Evolution of Consciousness and the Alphabet

Here are the first few paragraphs of a lecture by Steiner (given in Dornach, 18th December 1921) on the relationship between alphabetic technologies and the evolution of Greek and Roman consciousness:

For some time we have been occupied with gaining a more accurate knowledge of Man’s relation to the universe, and today we would like to supplement our past studies. If we consider how Man lives in the present period of his evolution — taking this period so widely that it encompasses not only what is historical but also in part the pre-historical — we must conclude that speech is a preeminent characteristic at this moment of the cosmic evolution of mankind. It is speech that elevates Man above the other kingdoms of nature.

In the lectures last week, I mentioned that in the course of mankind’s evolution, language, speech as a whole, has also undergone a development. I alluded to how, in very ancient times, speech was something that Man formed out of himself as his most primal ability; how, with the help of his organs of speech he was able to manifest the divine spiritual forces living within him. I also referred to how, in the transition from the Greek culture to the Roman-Latin culture, that is to say in the fourth Post-Atlantean period, the single sounds in language lose their names and, as in contemporary usage, merely have value as sounds. In Greek culture we still have a name for the first letter of the alphabet but in Latin it is just ‘A’. In passing from the Greek to the Latin culture something living in speech, something eminently concrete changes into abstraction. It might be said: as long as Man called the first letter of the alphabet ‘Alpha’, he experienced a certain amount of inspiration in it, but the moment he called it just ‘A’, the letters conformed to outer convention, to the prosaic aspects of life, replacing inspiration and inner experience. This constituted the actual transition from everything belonging to Greece to what is Roman-Latin — men of culture became estranged from the spiritual world of poetry and entered into the prose of life.

The people of Rome were a sober, prosaic race, a race of jurists, who brought prose and jurisprudence into the culture of later years. What lived in the people of Greece developed within mankind more or less like a cultural dream which men approach through their own revelations when they have inner experiences and wish to give expression to them. It might be said that all poetry has in it something which makes it appear to Europeans as a daughter of Greece, whereas all jurisprudence, all outer compartmentalization, all the prose of life, suggest descent from the Roman-Latin people.

I have previously called your attention to how a real understanding of the Alpha — Aleph in Hebrew — leads us to recognize in it the desire to express Man in a symbol. If one seeks the nearest modern words to convey the meaning of Alpha, these would be: ‘The one who experiences his own breathing’. In this name we have a direct reference to the Old Testament words: ‘And God formed Man … and breathed into nostrils the breath of life’. What at that time was done with the breath, to make Man a Man of Earth, the being who had his Manhood imprinted on him by becoming the experiencer, the feeler of his own breathing, by receiving into himself consciousness of his breathing, is meant to be expressed in the first letter of the alphabet.

And the name ‘Beta’ considered with an open mind, turning here to the Hebrew equivalent, represents something of the nature of a wrapping, a covering, a house. Thus, if we were to put our experience on uttering ‘Alpha, Beta,’ into modern language we could say: ‘Man in his house’. And we could go through the whole alphabet in this way, giving expression to a concept, a meaning, a truth about Man simply by saying the names of the letters of the alphabet one after another. A comprehensive sentence would be uttered giving expression to the Mystery of Man. This sentence would begin by our being shown Man in his building, in his temple. The following parts of the sentence would go on to express how Man conducts himself in his temple and how he relates to the cosmos. In short, what would be expressed by speaking the names of the alphabet consecutively, would not be the abstraction we have today when we say ABC, without any accompanying thoughts, but it would be the expression of the Mystery of Man and of how his roots are in the universe.

When today, in various societies ‘the lost archetypal word’ is talked about, there is no recognition that it is actually contained in the sentence that comprises the names of the alphabet. Thus we can look back on a time in the evolution of humanity when Man, in repeating his alphabet, did not express what was related to external events, external needs, but what the divine spiritual mystery of his being brought to expression through his larynx and his speech organs.

It might be said that what belongs to the alphabet was applied later to external objects, and forgotten was all that can be revealed to Man through his speech about the mystery of his soul and spirit. Man’s original word of truth, his word of wisdom, was lost. Speech was poured out over the matter-of-factness of life. In speaking today, Man is no longer conscious that the original primordial sentence has been forgotten; the sentence through which the divine revealed its own being to him. He is no longer aware that the single words, the single sentences uttered today, represent the mere shreds of that primordial sentence.

The poet, by avoiding the prose element in speech, and going back to the inner experience, the inner feeling, the inner formation of speech, attempts to return to its inspired archetypal element. One could perhaps say that every true poem, the humblest as well as the greatest, is an attempt to return to the word that has been lost, to retrace the steps from a life arranged in accordance with utility to times when cosmic being still revealed itself in the inner organism of speech.

Today we distinguish the consonant from the vowel element in speech. I have spoken of how it would appear to Man if he were to dive beneath the threshold of his consciousness. In ordinary consciousness memories are reflected upwards or, in other words, thoughts are reflections of what is experienced between birth and death. Normally we do not penetrate Man’s actual being beyond this recollection, this thought left behind in memory. From another point of view I have indicated how, beneath the threshold of consciousness, there lives what may be called a universal tragedy of mankind. This can also be described in the following way: When Man wakes up in the morning and his ego and astral body dive down into his etheric body and his physical body, he does not perceive these bodies from within outwards, what he perceives is something quite different.

Read the rest.