Vitalism in Philosophy: “The stars are the fountain veins of God.” -Böhme

Levi Bryant is pulling his hair out about vitalist philosophy (a title he gives to the work of Bergson, Whitehead, and Deleuze, among others). I read all three as materialists, though of course it is a rather strange sort of materialism replete with God-making machines, physical feelings, and alchemical metallurgy. Nonetheless, their philosophical work, especially Whitehead’s, couldn’t be more consonant with 20th century physical science.

No doubt, Whitehead has his more enchanted moments, as well. For example, in a discussion in Process and Reality about the enduring relevance of some themes in Plato’s Timaeus following the discovery of evolutionary theory, Whitehead writes approvingly of the ancient Greek conception of “animating principles” in nature, astrological and elemental forces that form the physical order of our cosmic epoch in the wake of their ongoing creative encounter with aboriginal chaos (95-96). Whitehead’s cosmology is indeed, as Anderson Weeks, writes, an “attenuated Renaissance ‘animism'” (Process Approaches to Consciousness, 165).

As for vitalism, I think it is worthless as a biological or embryogenic theory. There is no need to add an extra bit of magic to matter in order to bring it to life. Matter is already magical. Life is just a more sophisticated spell.

If there is to be any use for vitalism, it must become a full-fledged cosmology, a theory of the Cosmic Organism. As Jakob Böhme the theosophist saw, we must come to see, that “the powers of the stars are the fountain veins in the natural body of God in this world” (The Aurora, 2:28).

Stars Above Haleakala, Haleakala National Park, Maui, HI

Jonah Dempcy offered a critical response to Bryant’s mechanistic cosmology, building on an excerpt from the cultural historian Richard Tarnas‘ book Cosmos and Psyche (41):

“Above all, we must awaken to and overcome the great hidden anthropocentric projection that has virtually defined the modern mind: the pervasive projection of soullessness onto the cosmos by the modern self’s own will to power” – Tarnas

Dempcy goes on (and I largely agree with his analysis here):

Human narcissism and nihilism go hand in hand. The nihilistic existential worldview of an indifferent, cold universe devoid of meaning (except for what ostensibly human meanings we project onto it) is hand-in-hand with narcissism. It is certainly an appropriate phase when one is 19 or 20 years old. Everyone needs to “pass through” nihilism and become post-nihilistic — to remain pre-nihilistic is to remain stuck in the Imaginary bliss of oceanic merging, fantasies of dual relations with the (m)other and so on. Yet to remain stuck in nihilism is stunted at a developmental phase which could do nothing better than outgrow it self.

And here is Tarnas again, writing a few lines after Dempcy’s excerpt:

Contrary to the coolly detached self-image of modern reason, subjective needs and wishes have unconsciously pervaded the disenchanted vision and reinforced its assumptions. A world of purposeless objects and random processes has served as a highly effective basis and justification for human self-aggrandizement and exploitation of a world seen as undeserving of moral concern. The disenchanted cosmos is the shadow of the modern mind in all its brilliance, power, and inflation.

I’d like to follow up on Jonah’s (and Tarnas’) point that the modern tribe’s disenchantment of the cosmos is the real anthropocentric conceit–not ancient people’s animalization of it–by adding another point about the mechanistic image of the cosmos. The west has believed the earth to be a giant machine with externally related and so blindly colliding parts for several centuries. This idea, this root image, has been tremendously successful (in economic terms). Even if Gaia didn’t start out a machine, she has been all but entirely transformed into one after a century-and-a-half of techno-industrial capitalism. Even if it wasn’t true before, mechanomorphism (as ideology) has made itself true (as biospheric force) through its sheer economic might.

I’d want to offer a different root image from the machine. An organic image, of course. More specifically, I’d offer the root, itself: the universe is an inverted tree. 

Böhme writes (Mysterium Pansophicum, 1:1-4):

The unground is an eternal nothing, but makes an eternal beginning as a craving. For the nothing is a craving after something. But as there is nothing that can give anything, accordingly the craving itself is the giving of it, which yet also is a nothing, or merely a desirous seeking. And that is the eternal origin of Magic, which makes within itself where there is nothing; which makes something out of nothing, and that in itself only, though this craving is also a nothing, that is, merely a will. It has nothing, and there is nothing that can give it anything; neither has it any place where it can find or repose itself…We recognize…the eternal Will-spirit as God, and the moving life of the craving as Nature. For there is nothing prior, and either is without beginning, and each is a cause of the other, and an eternal bond. Thus the Will-spirit is an eternal knowing of the unground, and the life of the craving an eternal body of the will.

*Transl. of Böhme by Basarab Nicolescu in Science, Meaning, & Evolution (1991).

Jacob Sherman on Joshua Ramey’s “The Hermetic Deleuze” (2012)

Read it HERE.

Jake writes:

I suspect that Ramey seeks to divine a new shape for philosophy in the hermetic tradition rather than, say, in Hadot’s ancient philosophical schools, because of the degree of creativity that hermeticism not only thematizes but also unleashes. Goethe’s Faust is at his most hermetic when he translates the opening verse of John’s gospel, “In the beginning was the deed.” The logos  of the hermeticist is not mimetic, but active and creative. As Tomberg puts it in the first letter of his Meditations on the Tarot, “Hermeticism is – and is only –  a stimulant, a ‘ferment’ or an ‘enzyme’ in the organism of the spiritual life of humanity.” By refusing the paradigm of representation, hermeticism also refuses to draw a distinction in kind between epistemology and ontology. This, in turn, opens the way for an account of how our multidimensional acts of knowing might be treated as real, objective, artisanal interactions (and ordeals) with the world and with that which hermeticists have variously held to exist in and of itself beyond (but not however in opposition to) the publically observable order of physical objects. Where Foucault’s spirituality and Hadot’s spiritual exercises recognize the way in which the world makes us capable of its truth, the hermetic philosopher also recognizes the way in which she stands in a directionally-creator relationship to the world. Truth emerges in the midst of this reciprocal exchange.


Deleuze’s Platonism and Cosmic Artisanry

Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently picked up Joshua Ramey’s The Hermetic Deleuze again after having had to temporarily shelve it back in August due to other research obligations. Having all but completed my comprehensive exam on Whitehead, I’m turning now to focus on a paper on Deleuze for a process philosophy seminar. Having tried (admittedly not very hard) and failed to read and understand Deleuze’s books for myself in the past, I’d hoped Ramey’s treatment of Deleuze’s ideas in the context of religious esotericism and spiritual aesthetics might provided me with at least some sense of orientation as I begin reading Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? in preparation for my paper. On the menu earlier today were chapters 4 called “Overturning Platonism” and 5 called “Becoming Cosmic.” These two chapters on Plato and what Deleuze calls the “cosmic artisan” excited me greatly.

As for ch. 4, trying to “overturn” Plato requires no more than continuing to “turn over” Plato–as in continuing to turn over the pages of his dialogues to be reminded that, as Whitman would say, he contains multitudes. Or as Emerson put it:

“the acutest searcher, the lovingest disciple could never tell what Platonism was; indeed admirable texts can be quoted on both sides of every great question, from him” (journal entry, Oct. 1845).

Deleuze destroys the two world theory of perfect ideas poorly copied by sensory images, but he feels the erotic lure of Plato’s alternative conception of difference in itself. Where Aristotle reduces difference to the comparison of similars, Plato’s path forces him into the spiritual ordeal of thinking the dark and difficult idea of difference in itself. Individuals are not constituted by their substantial forms, or by their special determinations of a genus, as in Aristotle; nor is knowledge of individuals constituted by generalizations from a series. Rather, Plato’s is an ontology of singularity, where knowing an individual means intuiting its uniquely authentic line of descent, rather than representing or identifying or abstracting its general form. In other words, as Ramey puts it, “Knowledge is not a matter of generalization but of participation.” He continues:

“The claim to participation is not simply the claim to be identified as a member of a class or token of a type. It is a claim to have passed a test or to have a basis for one’s claim. The difference between the just and the unjust, pretenders to justice and authentic stewards of justice, is not a difference between any two, but an internal and constitutive difference. It is the difference an ‘immediate fact’ of participation makes. Unlike the Aristotelean development of form in matter, the participation of becoming in being is not the development of a material substrate. It is the selection of an icon from within a prodigious field of idols, false images” (THD, 118).

The difference is initiatory. That is, it has to do with undertaking the descent into the underworld and returning to tell the tale. Philosophy without initiation quickly becomes stale. Without stories to tell of planes beyond the horizon of sensory experience, a philosopher’s concepts can take on no flavor, nor acquire any personality. Once the journey into the darkness of pure difference has been undertaken, in the difficult idea one has partaken are discovered signs of its ingression into the light of appearances. The world becomes a problematic network of occult icons whose enigmas can only be known intuitively by the mental magic of talismanic thinking. Ideas are traced into appearances as signs, moments of discontinuity in physical time-space out of which the oddity of self-reference emerges. These recursive oddities fold themselves into the physical plane and erupt as problematic forces requiring of the flesh-hewn mind not new representations of a supposedly extra-bodily world, but self-transformation, metanoia. Deleuze’s Plato creates concepts not only iconically, but ironically, in that he never claims to represent an idea as true, but only to participate in an idea as “a way of problematizing, a manner of posing questions” (THD, 121). Deleuze pushes his Platonism as far away from any two world caricature as possible by positing, according to Ramey,

“the genesis of mind in direct encounters with imperceptible forces of perception, moments when the subtle and elusive patterns of difference and repetition animating life force the mind to interpret and even to create” (THD, 125).

This sounds like the Plato of Timaeus describing the genesis of the World-Soul from the mixture of the movement of the Same (the fixed stars) with the Different (the moving planets).

In ch. 5, Ramey discusses the role of “conceptual personae” in Deleuze’s thought. He describes these evocatively, so I’ll just quote him at length. Conceptual Personae are:

“internal dramas, replays of historical and archetypal potentials whose repetition enables forces to play a role in concepts…[They] introduce an idiosyncratic, impersonal element into thought, and that somehow this ‘cosmic’ element is the true subject of enunciation, the enigmatic voice of the real…[They] do not emerge through calculated deliberation; they befall the thinker in ordeals of becoming…[In] philosophy it is not the ‘I’ who speaks…Philosophy itself is…a mode of mediumship, and thought is…a séance where the mind channels mercurial avatars and confronts its atavisms” (THD, 166-167).

These personae think in me. “I” would seem to be merely one of their thoughts. I’m reminded of James Hillman’s polytheistic psychology. But somehow, this swarm keeps warm together, enduring at least for a time as some form of concrete and limited social value amidst an environment of more or less differing values. Plato called it a soul, each unique in its virtues. Even if the “I” is no more than an interesting habit it would seem a habit of enormous historical consequence.

“The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal” (2012) by Joshua Ramey

I’ve just been made aware of this very new book on Deleuze and the Hermetic tradition. As the commenter who brought it to my attention already guessed, it couldn’t be more relevant to my current project. Hermeticism has long been an interest of mine; I’ve even described myself as a Christian Hermeticist in the past. The combination isn’t a new one but has its roots (aside from possible Christian influences on the original authors of the ~2nd century Corpus Hermeticum) in the Renaissance, beginning perhaps with Marsilio Ficino. Though I’ve tried, I can’t seem to shake the Christ archetype out of my psyche. To be honest, I’m often embarrassed by this, since much of what passes for Christianity these days (and for that matter, much of history) I find detestable. The hermetic side of the combo comes from my need for a worldly or cosmic religion, and a sense of the magic of nature. As for  Deleuze, I’ve never read him directly. Several friends and colleagues have shared their impressions of his thought with me, and he certainly comes up a lot in Iain Hamilton Grant’s work on Schelling and Isabelle Stengers’ work on Whitehead. I will be reading his text Bergsonism in a course on process thought this fall, and most likely, I’ll read Ramey’s hermetic interpretation even sooner. Here is an excerpt from the introduction of The Hermetic Deleuze:

In the face of contemporary ambivalence over the validity and significance of esoteric, let alone “occult,” apprehensions of nature and mind, the political risk of this reading should be immediately apparent. Reading Deleuze as hermetic in any sense may force a departure from received presuppositions—modern, secular, or merely academic—about what rightfully counts as thought. I take that risk in part because I am convinced that the marginalization of hermetic traditions, and the suspicion and contempt in which they are still held by much of contemporary thought, constitutes a symptomatic repression of the complexity of both the history of modern philosophy and the stakes of contemporary culture, which is, from the internet to the cinema, completely obsessed with magic and with the occult. However, I can of course only speak for my own convictions that this spiritual material can and must be addressed, at least here, through the modest step of taking Deleuze’s spiritual debts to the hermetic tradition seriously. I do this by arguing for three interlinked claims: that Deleuze’s systematic thought is not fully comprehensible without situating it within the hermetic tradition; that Deleuze’s writings make a subtle yet distinctive contribution to contemporary hermetic knowledge and practice; and that the experimental stakes of modern and contemporary philosophy, as Deleuze conceived them, call for a revision and extension of the perennial hermetic project: the proliferation, differentiation, and nonidentical repetition of cosmic processes of regeneration and renewal. What is at stake for Deleuze in thought—and at stake in this book—is ultimately a political issue. Indicating the contours of a renewed spirituality of thought and a new vision of the mutual intercalation of material and spiritual forces is part of an attempt to fulfill the task of philosophy in late capitalism, a task Deleuze himself characterized as the renewal of “belief in the world.” My particular extension of this task, by pushing Deleuze further in the direction of his own hermeticism, is motivated by the conviction that to challenge the all-pervasive magic of that confluence of desire and power Isabelle Stengers once described as the great “capitalist sorcery,” requires an exceedingly sober attempt to countenance the aspects of social and natural reality thus far confined to the gnomic dictates of inchoate spiritual gurus on the one hand, and to the black arts of the industrial-entertainment complex on the other. Thinking more stridently through the spiritual dimensions of Deleuze’s work may enable us to forge new alternatives to the sinister perversions of belief in capital times, as well as to usher in a more concrete and complex sense of how to engender new relations between knowledge, power, and the spiritual forces of desire.

Click here for a PDF of the entire introduction.

[Update]: I just read this review on Amazon by someone named Robert Richards (I don’t think it is Robert J. Richards, author of The Romantic Conception of Life, but maybe? Another Update:: I found out who Bobby Richards is):

I read philosophy to shock vasanas. In India, vasanas are conditioned habits of mind, conditioned frames of reference and dispositions. For 20 years Deleuze has been my favorite explosive. To qualify, he’s been my favorite explosive imported from Europe. Tibetan explosives like Dzogchen and Tantra, or South American explosives like shamanic practices have also been effective. I have problematized my life as one of self-experimentation: one in which the spiritual, affective, imaginal, vital, physical and cognitive modes are all explored, re-imagined and re-invented.

Eight years ago I naively approached two of the heavyweights in the Deleuzian academic industry. I asked them what Deleuze thought about radical spiritual, or radical transmutational practices. Their reception to my question could not have been colder. I realized that I had encountered a self-annointed hierarchy of post-hierarchical post-whatevers, ones who had territorialized their Deleuze for their own hyper-chic secularizations. Annoyed, but not deterred, I continued to use Deleuze as private dynamite.

When I first read Joshua Ramey’s brilliant critique of Peter Hallward’s misfire of a book (Out of This World: Deleuze…), I sensed and knew that here was someone on the same track that I was on. Ramey felt like a brilliant shaft of sunlight cutting into the labyrinthian coal mines of Deleuzian secondary scholarship. Googling more about Ramey, I learned that he was working on a book. Hermetic Deleuze is the book.

This book contains the latent Deleuze I’ve been sensing within his philosophy, but did not have the rigor or imagination to incarnate. If you’re one of those rare spirits that feels the call to a new, untried and unprecedented way of becoming a New Man or New Woman, then this is mandatory reading. This is the Deleuze for the esoteric spiritual quest, for realizing Nietzsche’s highest and most brilliant visions, the Deleuze for Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary futures, for Sloterdijk’s yearnings, Gebser’s Integral, de Chardin’s Omega, Wilber’s Third Tier, and becoming-Kosmos. This book gives me hard evidence that superlative intelligence and spirituality are not only finding each other, but that they deliciously enjoy copulating.

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The Politics of Renaissance Hermeticism, and the Magic of Science

I’ve been reading Frances Yates’ Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964). Part of her project is to dispel the myth that Bruno was burnt at the stake primarily for his heliocentrism and generally scientific and materialist attitude. This was certainly one of the Roman Inquisitions many accusations, but the real reasons the Church lit his public pyre were political.

…the legend that Bruno was prosecuted as a philosophical thinker, was burned for his daring views on innumerable worlds or on the movement of the earth, can no longer stand…little attention was paid to philosophical or scientific questions in the interrogation…[instead, stress was laid] on Bruno’s religious mission. (p. 355)

His religious mission was to attend to the creation of the City of the Sun on Earth, which involved practicing the Hermetic arts of magic, astrology, and what after Jung we might call active imagination. This mission also had a political dimension, leading Bruno to ally with the likes of Henry of Navarro, who was to become King Henry IV of France. Bruno saw the potential for a universal reform of the Catholic religion in France, which was fresh off King Henry’s victory against the Spanish-backed Catholic League. Many heretical thinkers in 16th century Europe with more liberal views on religion were hoping Henry would bring peace to a continent ravaged by wars of intolerance. The Catholic Church, of course, had no interest in ceding its power to such a movement. The counter-Reformation was in full force.

Yates also tells the story of Tommaso Campanella, another Hermetic Magus who followed in Bruno’s footsteps by seeking to create the City of the Sun. Campanella lead a rebellion of Dominican monks against Catholic reformers in 1599.

But what did Bruno and Campanella’s religious mission have to do with new scientific ways of thinking and with the Copernican heliocentric theory? Campanella “praises Ptolemaeus and [admires] Copernicus, although Aristarchus and Philolaus were before him (in teaching heliocentricity)” (transl. Yates, p. 372). Both geocentric and heliocentric systems are upheld as worthy of study. Bruno’s primary reasons for holding to the heliocentric perspective were not mathematical or scientific (Ptolemy’s system was still more accurate than Copernicus’ at this point), but magico-symbolic and politico-religious. The return of the heliocentric theory was read by Bruno as an omen, a sign in the sky sent from God, prophesying the coming Golden Age when Europe would be ruled by Philosopher-Magi skilled in calling the winds of justice down to earth from the heavens.

What interests me in Yates’ historical account is the way Bruno was both modern and non-modern in his Hermetic religion: modern in that he affirmed the infinite reality of the universe; non-modern in that an infinite cosmos is the necessary counter-postulate to an infinitely real God. Modern in that he saw the moral necessity of religious freedom, but non-modern in that he felt the universe (or earth-heaven continuum) must be inter-woven throughout with astral spirits and permeated by an anima mundi (or world soul). All the beings in the universe are magically linked through the soul of the world to one another, and also to the One God, who is beyond being. The One beyond being, infinite in itself, is necessarily in relation to the beings of Being. This relation takes place through a series of revelations, beginning with the heavens. God’s infinite Speech/Word is “stepped-down” into the songs of the spiraling stars and dancing planets, which Plato identified with the Cosmic Intelligence of the World Soul. This revelation of the One through and to the many continues through every individual creature of earth, which in its individuality contains in hologrammatic form the entirety of the cosmos. As an earlier Hermetic thinker, Nicholas of Cusa, had intuited, the universe, as a reflection of God, “is a sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.”

Yates ends her study on Renaissance magic by asking why it was that the scientific revolution of the 17th century began when it did. She speculates that the Renaissance Hermeticist’s new attitude concerning the place of the human being in the natural world re-directed the will, such that penetrating the secrets of the universe and coming to have mastery over nature no longer seemed so far fetched.

Behind the emergence of modern science there was a new direction of the will towards the world, its marvels, and mysterious workings, a new longing and determination to understand those workings and to operate with them. (Yates, p. 448)

Compare this attitude with that of the 3rd century Church father Tertulian, who argued that those interested in the workings of nature:

persist in applying their studies to a vain purpose, since they indulge their curiosity on natural objects, which they ought rather [direct] to their Creator and Governor.

There is a vast difference between the mechanism and mathematics of thinkers like Mersenne and Descartes and the animism and magic of thinkers like Bruno, Campanella, and Robert Fludd. But the transition between the two is not as clear cut as it would seem from our modern perspective. Like Bruno, many of the supposed fathers of the scientific revolution were deeply interested in occult knowledge. On Nov. 10th, 1619, while still a young man striving to discover a new foundation for knowledge, Descartes had a series of dreams and visions that he believed came from a higher source (Yates, p. 452). He began searching for the elusive Rosicrucian order (a Hermetic society) in Germany in the hope that they might help interpret his visions of a universal science of nature. He finally gave up in 1623 and returned to Paris, though some speculate that he actually did make contact with the secret society and had been initiated into the brotherhood. Kepler was also a rather transitional figure, having studied the Corpus Hermeticum quite closely alongside his astronomical research. Then there is the importance of alchemy to Isaac Newton, which is increasingly well-known: see especially Phillip Fanning’s recent book Isaac Newton and the Transmutation of Alchemy: An Alternative View of the Scientific Revolution (2009).

Yates points out that the early mechanists attempt to distance themselves from the magicians left them with a rather embarrassing problem: if nature was all mechanics, where did the knowing mind of the scientist fit in? The problem was especially pronounced and given its clearest formulation in Descartes infamous dualism between the res cogitans and the res extensa. “This bad start of the problem of knowledge,” writes Yates, “has never been quite made up” (p. 454).

Yates goes on:

[The mechanists] may have discarded notions on mind and matter which, however strangely formulated, may be in essence less remote than their own conceptions from some of the thought of today. (p. 455)

Writing in the early 60s, she was well-aware of the paradigm shift continuing to unfold as a result of the quantum revolution:

It may be illuminating to view the scientific revolution as in two phases, the first phase consisting of an animistic universe operated by magic, the second phase of a mathematical universe operated by mechanics. An enquiry into both phases, and their interactions, may be a more fruitful line of historical approach to the problems raised by the science of today than the line which concentrates only on the seventeenth-century triumph. Is not all science a gnosis, an insight into the nature of the All, which proceeds by successive revelations? (p. 452)

Might there be room in contemporary science for the return of the anima mundi?

Hermeticism and the Anthropic Principle of Evolution

In The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), Karl Popper famously (or infamously, as far as Hegelians are concerned) attacked Hegel for his bewitching apriorism and supposed distain for empirical science, going so far as to blame his Platonically inspired “mystery method” for the rise of fascism in Germany. Walter Kaufmann offered an appropriate response back in 1959, pointing out that Popper’s poorly researched, largely ad hominem attack on Hegel’s supposed motivations is strikingly similar to the approach of many totalitarian “scholars.”

Hegel’s is undoubtedly a philosophy that takes mystical insight and religious revelation seriously, and for that reason will always remain vulnerable to the critique of those of a more positivistic bent. I’ve attempted to unpack the place of natural science in Hegel’s system before, and I’d like to revisit some of the same themes again in what follows. As my dissertation topic continues to gestate, I find myself growing increasingly curious about what our contemporary Anglo-American understanding of Darwinian evolution might still stand to learn from the Naturphilosophie of thinkers like Goethe, Schelling, and Hegel. Following Glenn Magee (see Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, 2001), I believe a strong case can be made that these three thinkers carried forward what has traditionally been known as Hermeticism. The 16th century alchemist Paracelsus offers the Hermetic cosmological perspective quite succinctly (as summarized by R. Steiner): “If we survey nature we simply see separate letters and the word they form is the human being.” In other words, as Hegel makes explicit in his philosophy of nature, the universe in its essence must be such that human consciousness is a necessary stage of its self-development. Cosmogenesis is anthropogenesis. Here is the great bardic philosopher and psychedelic Hermeticist Terence McKenna making the same point:

As McKenna suggests, at the present moment in earth history, the human adventure has indeed taken center stage. As Hegel argued, the human spirit has always been at the center of cosmogenesis: the Anthropos was always enfolded, implicit in the sheer externality of space, which is the minimal form of nature as necessitated by the self-disclosure of the Idea as worked out in Hegel’s Logic. Space, for Hegel, is the contraction of the Idea, the Idea become paradoxically other to itself while still remaining self-identical. Nature is not the result or product of this contraction, but the contraction itself (meaning the Idea is fully immanent in and as nature, not its transcendent cause existing apart from or outside of it). The contraction of the Idea to make room for nature is drawn straight from the Cabalist notion of “tzimtzum” first articulated by Isaac Luria in the 16th century. The notion is an attempt to account for an infinite God’s act of creation, where the finite space and time of creation remains fully internal to and yet paradoxically apart from that which created it. Tzimtzum makes room for an independent world to develop without at first possessing any direct knowledge of its own divine ground. In the end, though, nature is nothing other than God incarnate, and in the self-conscious human, it comes to recognize this.

To recap, nature, in its logical rather than temporal unfolding, begins in the sheer externality of space. Space itself always already implies time, which implies motion, which implies matter, gravitation, light, electromagnetism, chemistry, geology, plant life, animal life, etc., culminating in the self-conscious human spirit. All this sounds very anthropocentric, but the point is not to enshrine the empirical species, Homo sapiens, as the crowning glory of all the universe. Rather, the Anthropos here in question is an archetypal ideal, rather than an empirical creature. Giordano Bruno, another 16th century Hermeticist, was burnt at the stake by the Church for, among other things, claiming that the universe was almost certainly full of other earths populated by intelligent species like ourselves. That cosmogenesis is essentially anthropogenesis is not to say the whole process leads inevitably to our particular species, but that the in built logic of the universe necessitates an evolutionary movement toward self-consciousness of some kind. The specific vehicle it achieves this self-consciousness through, whether in the familiar sort known to us as the Homo genus or an as yet undiscovered alien genus, remains a contingent matter. Homo sapiens are one example of an anthropic principle governing the development of the universe. To the extent that we realize ourselves as an incarnation of this principle, we participate in the Idea–the Divine–which grounds the whole process.

All this stands in stark contrast to the Darwinian conception of evolution as an undirected, entirely contingent process of transformation. To call Darwin’s conception of nature evolution is already to overshoot the picture he sought to paint, since to “evolve” means to unfold, as though the later stages of nature were already enfolded in the prior (much as Hermetic thinkers like Goethe, Schelling, and Hegel suggest). Transformism, as his theory was first named, is also inappropriate, since there must at least be something that is transformed, if not also something to do the transforming, some agent underlying the process. Otherwise there is only the substitution of one form for another with no substantial connection between the forms. If we say, as Darwin did, that Life is that which is transformed, we are left with an irresolvable dualism between the mechanics of the material and the organics of the living. Darwin humbly suggested that the original Lifeform must have been created by God out of otherwise lifeless matter, since his theory could only account for subsequent speciation given this one miracle. The systematic philosopher cannot settle for dualisms or miracles, of course. Hegel would certainly agree that life reflects a different moment in the logical unfolding of the universe than does matter, that organism cannot be understood according to the same laws that govern mechanism; but he would see both organism and mechanism as equally necessary moments in the self-disclosure of the Idea as nature.

Much research remains ahead of me, and while I haven’t at all given up my desire to unpack the role of imagination in speculative philosophy, I am most excited now by the prospect of delving into the Hermetic and esoteric influences on the evolutionary thinking of early 19th century German philosophy. Tentative title: “The Imagination of Evolution in Hermeticism: Towards a Cosmotheandric Re-Visioning of Philosophy.”

The Poetics of Copernican Cosmology

Heliocentric universe, Harmonia Macrocosmica
Image via Wikipedia

In his cosmographic study of the Copernican Revolution,The Poetic Structure of the World (1987), Fernand Hallyn entirely re-envisions the foundations of modern science. Instead of reading Copernicus’ break with the geocentric scheme as a rejection of the enchanted cosmos of the ancient world, Hallyn makes clear that Copernicus himself believed he was only making ancient Platonic and Hermetic doctrines more plausible.

Copernicus writes:

“At rest…in the middle of everything is the sun. For in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. The Thrice Greatest [Hermes Trismegistus] labels it a visible god, and Sophocles’ Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it” (p. 22, On the Revolutions, 1978).

Quentin Meillassoux, in After Finitude, credits Copernicus with decentering earthly humanity in the universe; however, according to Hallyn, Copernicus also re-enacted the Platonic notion of astronomy as as divine science. In effect, through a rent in the imaginal fabric of the medieval sense of the sky, Copernicus caught a ray of light from a new heaven (or perhaps, in a gleam, saw heaven in a new way): he perceived the solution to the problem of the planets in the heliocentric theory; he stole fire from Zeus and elevated humanity to the status of the gods.

“It is highly unlikely,” he writes, “that anyone lacking the requisite knowledge of the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies can become and be called godlike”  (p. 7, On the Revolutions).

Ptolemy, a more empirical and Aristotelean astronomer, humbly denied that the human mind could finally perceive the secret meaning of the planetary movements, since this secret was safely tucked away in the mind of an unmoved transcendent God existing above the vault of heaven. As far as Ptolemy was concerned,  hypotheses were all the human mind could hope for: we can but “save the appearance” by offering clumsy descriptions of the universe as if it were a mechanical gear-works originally rigged up by a now absent divine Architect. Perception of the inner truth of things was deemed forever beyond the capacity of the finite human being.

Copernicus’ intellect caught fire in his contemplation of the stars. His was the Hermeticist‘s method: to know through identity, to learn the song and dance of eternity’s moving image by becoming one with the everlasting Soul animating the whole. Half a century later, Kepler was able to simplify Copernicus’ geometry by allowing for elliptical orbits. He was also able to clarify the theological implications of heliocentrism by pointing out that a decentered earth is actually the perfect place for a contemplative creature such as ourselves to observe and come to understand the order of the universe.

Kepler writes:

“If the earth, our home, did not measure the annual orbit of the other planets –changing from place to place and station to station– human reason would never have arrived at knowledge of the precise intervals of the planets and other things that depend on those intervals; it would never have instituted astronomy” (p. 366, Selected Works, vol. 6, 1938).

In other words, Kepler analogizes the relationship between creature and Creator to that between an earth’s eye view of the solar system and a sun’s eye view. From the sun’s perspective, only a God with a priori knowledge of the spheres could understand their design, whereas on earth, a being capable of “the labor of reason” (p. 66, ibid.) could uncover their design in the course of time (a posteriori) as a result of the comparison of their relative motions. Man is like God, except man’s knowledge becomes in time, a moving image of God’s timeless wisdom.

[A variation on Whitehead’s theological scheme here occurs to me, wherein God’s primordial nature is equated with this timeless wisdom, while God’s consequent nature is equated with humanity’s gradual awakening to the divine meaning of the universe of appearances from within the limits of that very same universe. This is a Hermetic spin on Whitehead’s panentheistic cosmology, wherein God’s origin is the unconscious innocence of Nature and God’s end is the conscious responsibility of Man.]

The Copernican Revolution, according to Hallyn, was a victory for speculative organicism, for the idea that symmetry and systematicity are behind the appearances of nature, rather than the mechanical motion of separately and haphazardly arranged parts, as in Ptolemy’s model. But by the time of Newton, a conceptually degraded Copernicanism had provided the necessary conceptual foundation for the complete replacement of qualitatively differentiated, concrete space with the abstract, homogenous space of Euclidian geometry. As the Scientific Revolution marched onward, the enchanted and participatory cosmos of the Renaissance was forgotten in favor of an increasingly “objectified” universe devoid of “subjective” meaning.

It seems to me that another jolt of promethean imagination is necessary to complete the noösphere’s phase transition from the current, epicyclic materialistic paradigm –where subject and object remain sundered– into a more integrated vision of the cosmos as a living whole.