Philosophy of Mythology and Revelation (h/t Schelling)

I meant to post this back in August when Levi Bryant finally started blogging again, but it somehow got stuck in my drafts (a veritable grave yard of unfinished thoughts and undead ideas). The philosophical spirit Bryant expresses in his writing is rather unique in its capacity to inspire me to resist. I am very grateful to him for this. So many of my posts on Footnotes2Plato have been provoked by the ideas he has shared on Larval Subjects. I’ll add another to that long list.

In his post on the trauma of speculative realism (etc.), Bryant draws on a passage from Foucault’s Archaeology of History to link the essential structure of myth to the synthetic activity of the subject, that is, to the “temporalizing activity of the subject capable of forming a totality for itself in how it links historicity and futurity in the formation of a present” (Bryant’s words). [Speaking of the present, those in the Bay Area should join us at CIIS tonight for a lecture on Foucault’s life and works by Jamie Socci.] He argues that all prior forms of consciousness (i.e., ideologies) were possessed by the drive to mythologize, that is, to long for a lost origin. Speculative realism (etc.), finally, has exorcised humanity (or some posthuman object formerly known as a human subject) of this possession, freeing ‘us’ to contemplate the fact that ‘we’ are already dead. The enlightened speculative realist no longer believes in ghost stories, not even the ghost story called human subjectivity.

There is much I agree with Bryant about. I align myself with the same “minor” tradition in the history of philosophy that he hints at. I also seek to undermine “the self-present mastery of the subject” and take every opportunity I can to remind myself and others that “we live in the orbit–-in the astronomical sense of the word–-of things that exceed us.”

For precisely these reasons, I am drawn to the work of Schelling (no doubt a heterodox thinker not easily categorized by Western philosophical norms). His early Naturphilosophie and later positive philosophy of mythology and revelation were a century ahead of their time as a forerunner of depth psychology.


“The crisis through which the world of the gods unfolds,” writes Schelling, “is not external to the poets. It takes place in the poets themselves, forms their poems” (Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology, 18).

Joshua Ramey and Daniel Whistler discuss the implications of Schelling’s philosophy of mythology in their essay “The Physics of Sense: Bruno, Schelling, Deleuze” (2014).

For Schelling, myth is not the way the human subject “reconciles itself with itself” or “achieves self-present mastery,” as Bryant puts it. Myth is precisely the opposite: it is another way of speaking of the subject’s inability to achieve complete self-mastery, of the cision at the generative root of subjectivity. Myth is the human imagination’s way of coming to terms with the soul’s creative becoming (i.e., with its lack of substantial being). Myth is soul-making. Humans do not invent myth; rather, argues Schelling, it is myth that invented (and continues to reinvent) humanity.

For Schelling, rejecting the mythopoiesis at the core of our becoming-soul in favor of some supposedly myth-free enlightened view of a meaningless existence (metaphysically speaking) is the route of infantile escapism. His philosophy of mythology urges us to stay with the eternally unfolding crisis and not to fear the infinite depths of its creative becoming. Myth is not a facade painted atop Nature, but Nature’s way of becoming human (and perhaps humanity’s way of becoming other than human).

Cosmic Pessimism: Response to a post by S.C. Hickman

The Visions of Eternity, by reason of narrowed perceptions,

Are become weak Visions of Time & Space, fix’d into furrows of death.

-William Blake

Read the engaging and wide-ranging post hereThe Cosmology of Nick Land: Bataille, Gnosticism, and Contemporary Physics

I have noticed my own tendency to waver between a less extreme version of the cosmic pessimism Hickman describes and a more tempered cosmic optimism akin to that of philosophers like Whitehead or the cosmologist Brian Swimme. My wavering largely corresponds to my mood (prediction: I will swing violently to the pessimistic side after watching the GOP debate tonight). In general, I agree with Hickman that nihilism is not something we can undo or escape from. I’ve argued it is a necessary stage in the development of our species (whether developing past this stage will leave us recognizably “human” or not, I don’t know). It is not a destination, it is an existential trial we must confront head on. The old ontologies and traditional theologies no longer capture our imaginations. We are in between stories at the moment. No doubt the very nature of story-telling and myth-making will itself require transformation if we recover. But that we might live without myth all together? I just don’t see that being possible. That said, there is a real chance that we will not make it through this nihilistic cultural phase to tell new stories. Myth is non-negotiable. It is an intrinsic part of the very biology of our social species. Life on the other hand…

I’ve written a few posts bringing Whitehead into conversation with Nietzsche that unpack my perspective a bit regarding nihilism as a pathological transitional phase.

converted PNM file

I posted the following on Hickman’s blog in response to his reading of the metaphysical implications of neuroscience:

I’ve no doubt neuroscience will continue to increase our medical and military power over consciousness, its pathologies and its potentials. The military power it affords will be doled out rather widely, while the medical power will be reserved for the few who can afford it. As for our *understanding* of consciousness, I’m not sure how much neuroscience can help. The dominant paradigm at the moment has already decided in advance that consciousness is produced inside the skull through some sort of molecular magic to be determined later, so of course it will continue to find evidence supporting that theory. There is always the possibility that the 4EA paradigm will win more converts, but so far these related approaches don’t seem as appealing to DARPA, so they will probably remain underfunded in the hands of mere philosophers and neurophenomenologists. Power is more appealing to the powerful than understanding, as I’m sure you’d agree. That said, I don’t believe philosophy should ever try to outdo the sciences; rather, I see its task as that of the critic of the abstractions of the specialized sciences (Whitehead). It’s not that neuroscience should drop everything and consult philosophy. I just think neuroscience would be better served not making thinly veiled metaphysical claims about the nature of consciousness when all it can actually provide are ever-more ingenious (and, in DARPA’s hands, ever-more insidious) instrumental interventions upon consciousness.

Love, Death, and the Sub-Creative Imagination in J. R. R. Tolkien

Yesterday I found myself reading The Silmarillion, an unfinished collection of Tolkien’s mythopoeic writings depicting the creation of Ëa and its passage through the first of the three ages of the world (The Lord of the Rings trilogy depicts events at the end of the third age). The stories, posthumously published by his son Christopher in 1977, are prefaced by a letter sent by Tolkien to the editor Milton Waldman in 1951 in the hopes that he would agree to publish The Lord of the Rings. “My dear Milton,” began Tolkien, 

You asked for a brief sketch of my stuff that is connected with my imaginary world. It is difficult to say anything without saying too much: the attempt to say a few words opens a floodgate of excitement, the egoist and artist at once desires to say how the stuff has grown, what it is like, and what (he thinks) he means or is trying to represent by it all. (xi)


Despite the brilliant summary provided in the letter, dear Milton decided that, due to the medley of mythic “stuff” woven into Tolkien’s trilogy, it was, after all, too long and “urgently wanted cutting.” LoTR was of course published several years later, in full, and has by now sold more than 150 million copies.

Despite my several year long research focus on the power of imagination, I’ve only very recently begun exploring Tolkien’s work. I completed my first reading of his trilogy just a few months ago with my partner Becca (check out her blog). Her graduate work also orbits around Imagination, with a particular focus on Tolkien’s relevance to the task of articulating an enchanted ecology. After a bit of effort, she has succeeded in awakening me to Tolkien’s genius and to the archetypal vitality of Middle-Earth (thanks, Becca!).

I’m fascinated both by the Art Tolkien sub-created, and by the creative process through which it was brought to term.

“In order of time, growth and composition,” wrote Tolkien to Waldman, “this stuff began with me.”

“This stuff”? Is this Tolkien’s choice of words, or is he echoing Waldman from a prior letter? Do I detect a soft hint of sarcasm in Tolkien’s tone as he responds to Waldman’s patronizing request for a résumé of his “make-believe” world? Judging from Waldman’s refusal to publish the trilogy, I get the sense that he lacked the historical sensitivity to recognize the significance of what had happened to Tolkien, as well as the imaginal organ required to participate in the world Tolkien had brought forth.

“This stuff began with me,” he wrote. “I do not remember a time when I was not building it…I have been at it since I could write” (xi). The imaginal flowering of Tolkien’s mythopoeic world was never something external to or separate from his real life identity. His very sense of himself was coëval with his sense of the story. His autobiography and his archeology of Middle-Earth were as one, at least in Imagination (though I challenge you to point out anything that isn’t). From Tolkien’s point of view, Art is not simply the vocation of a few artists. Art, or sub-creation, is a universal human calling. Unlike every other creature on Earth or above it, our purpose is not pre-determined by our species. To be human, as Pico della Mirandola taught us, is to lack any such purpose but that we create for ourselves. In a participatory universe like that envisioned by the organ of Imagination, the only purpose given us by our Creator is to become like him, to become a subcreator.

The subtending power of Imagination over human life and death is such that, lacking a positive desire for creation, we quickly sink into the darkness of world-negating nihilism. Cosmic meaning is never prescribed; we are called instead to participate in its making. It isn’t that the lack of a creative desire to participate in life dissolves the illusions of Imagination, leaving behind nothing but bare biological survival and pure physical reality. It’s that, for better or worse, there is no escape from Imagination: it encompasses the whole of both life and death, body and soul. To be sub-creators is our doom, whether we use our power to create beauty or to destroy it. 

Reality is never pure: it always comes mixed up with Images. Reality, it turns out, is not a finished unity, but a plurality of processes. Every supposedly simple and complete reality is just a self-created image, an idol. What happens is that an ongoing creality is mistaken for a completed reality. This mistake leads not only to nihilism, but to ressentiment of the world’s becoming (see William Connolly’s A World of Becoming, 2011). Ressentiment or re-enchantment: these are the two paths open to we earthly sub-creators. Both bring forth a certain shape of subjectivity: the former that of an embattled ego who has externalized blame upon an enemy in order to feel expiated for its own failure to faithfully participate; that latter that of an ego innocently open to the eucatastrophic surprises of a cosmic story still in the proces of being told.

The chief import of Tolkien’s Art, as I understand it, is that its example invites us to step into our own roles as cosmic artisans, just at that moment in world history when so much seems headed for disaster.

Tolkien’s Art is not what it at first appears. More artisanal than artistic, the products of Tolkien’s sub-creation “arose in [his] mind as ‘given’ things.” He continues: “…always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there,’ somewhere: not of ‘inventing'” (xii). Tolkien’s mode of creation is then just as easily characterized as a mode of discovery. This seeming contradiction is easier to grasp if we consider it alongside Tolkien’s belief that “myths are largely made of truth” (xv). The “wide-spread motives or elements” expressed in the world’s mythologies (known to Tolkien’s contemporary Carl Jung as “archetypes”) are such mythic truths. It is no surprise, then, that these archetypes were in some sense re-discovered by Tolkien in the course of his imaginal descent into Middle-Earth. We need not decide whether sub-creation is true creation, or simple discovery, since Imagination functions according to its own oscillatory logic allowing it to hover indeterminately between pairs of seeming opposites (creation/discovery, self/world, intellect/senses, spirt/matter, etc). It is from this unruly oscillation that all of Imagination’s mysterious power derives.

There is also a spiritual side to the strange logic underlying Tolkien’s sub-creative vocation. He says of all his “stuff” that it is “fundamentally concerned with the problem of the relation of Art (and Sub-creation) and Primary Reality” (xiii). Primary Reality is the world of daily life, of biological struggle, and, eventually, of death. The sub-creator, in bringing forth a Secondary Reality (made not of solid matter, but of story and myth), expresses a desire which not only has no ordinary biological function, but which indeed usually finds itself at strife with these functions (xiii). Despite its spiritual motives, the sub-creative desire “is at once wedded to a passionate love of the real primary world, and hence filled with the sense of mortality, and yet unsatisfied by it” (xiii). Death, even if imaginary, is no less real for all that. We human sub-creators have, again, two paths open to us upon encountering it.

The first option is to resent death as a curse, and so to “rebel against the laws of the Creator” by employing various devices meant to mechanically stave off the inevitable. This is a fallen form of creativity in service of the denial of death, which cannot but lead to the desire for ever more Power. For Tolkien, this desire for Power can lead only to an obsession with what Tolkien calls “the Machine.” The Machine necessarily possesses its master (and so inverts the master-slave relationship). It represents a form of black magic that is concerned only to make the will more quickly effective, a technological magic accomplished by external devices, rather than by the innate power of Imagination.

The second option is to accept death as a gift from God, to sub-create out of sheer love of this world without jealousy or possessiveness. This is easier if we follow Tolkien’s advice by looking at things “through Elvish minds” instead of our own. The object of Elvish magic “is Art, not Power, sub-creation, not domination and tyrannous re-forming of creation” (xii). Though “it is not the legendary mode of talking,” Tolkien assures us that his “elves” are really nothing more than “an apprehension of a part of human nature” (xvi). No doubt it is the higher part, though of course, the Elves were the first to fall.

There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall…at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.” (xv)

In the mythic mode of speaking, the Elves are said to be the Firstborn of Ilúvatar, humans their Followers. Taking the Elvish view on things gives we mere mortals the opportunity to raise our attention from the mud into which we have fallen to dwell again at least for a moment beneath the stars in the sky and to contemplate the heavenly mission their light was sent to earth to share with us.

“The doom of the Elves,” writes Tolkien,

is to be immortal, to love the beauty of the world, to bring it to full flower with their gifts of delicacy and perfection, to last while it lasts, never leaving it even when ‘slain,’ but returning–and yet, when the Followers come, to teach them, and make way for them, to ‘fade’ as the Followers grow and absorb the life from which both proceed. (xiv)

“The Doom (or Gift) of Men,” he continues,

is mortality, freedom from the circles of the world. Since the point of view of the whole cycle is the Elvish, mortality is not explained mythically: it is a mystery of God which no more is known than that ‘what God has purposed for Men is hidden’: a grief and an envy to the immortal Elves.

From the Elvish perspective, death is Ilúvatar’s Gift to humans. They envy us because our love for the world is, at least potentially, so much more beautiful than theirs. Why? Because we mortals have the choice to love one another, and to love the world, despite death. Eucatastrophe, it seems, is the highest of the Arts. Only by incarnating into the physical world and passing through the finitude of death could God’s Love become truly infinite. This is the Creator’s great secret, kept even from the angels until (if I might risk an allegorical translation) the Christ Event. Until that “turning point in time,” the Drama had remained incomplete…

“incomplete in each individual ‘god,’ and incomplete if all the knowledge of the pantheon were pooled…For the Creator had not revealed all.” (xiv)

Embracing death lovingly despite not being certain of its meaning requires a redemptive act of Imagination. As such it depends upon a sort of faith, since for Imagination believing is seeing. 

The same sort of imaginal faith is required to appreciate the moral of Tolkien’s cosmogony. I realize that here I risk another allegorical interpretation despite Tolkien’s “cordial dislike” of allegory. But even Tolkien admitted that “any attempt to explain the purport of myth or fairytale must use allegorical language,” and that “the more ‘life’ a story has the more readily will it be susceptible of allegorical interpretations” (xiii). Tolkien recounts the creation of the world through the musical call and response of Ilúvatar, the One, and his noetic offspring, the Ainur, or Holy Ones. Together, all the Ainur sang in accord with Ilúvatar’s theme:

…a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.

But then, Melkor, the Ainur with the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, began to

interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself. (16)

Not only Elves and Humans, but even Angels are subject to the mythic law of the Fall. Like all evil, Melkor’s fallenness stems from a good root. He only began to sing out of tune with the other Ainur after going off alone in an effort to fill in the emptiness of the Void where Ilúvatar’s song had not yet reached. His efforts made his heart grow hot with possessiveness. Alas, his will was lost to the lure of Ilúvatar’s music and he turned selfward, instead. Melkor’s rebellion caused heaven’s harmony to falter as many of the other Ainur began attuning with him. Soon, all about the throne of Ilúvatar “there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war upon one another in an endless wrath.” Ilúvatar contended with Melkor, not by negating his “loud and vain” improvisations, but by weaving even the most triumphant of Melkor’s notes into the deeply solemn and for that reason immeasurably beautiful pattern of His cosmic melody.

“Might are the Ainur,” said Ilúvatar,

and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar…And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. (17)

The moral, then? It seems simple enough: trust the creative process, even when its path seems dark, even when its products seem measly and powerless before the weight of the primary world. Embrace mortal sub-creation without ressentiment for the task. Realize that death only appears to the fallen ego as an enemy. To the redeemed Imagination, death is revealed as God’s greatest gift to Creation, a sacred secret entrusted not to gods but to humans, those made in His Image and after His likeness.

“The great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world,'” wrote Tolkien,

are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak–owing to the secret life in creation, and the part unknowable to all wisdom but One, that resides in the intrusions of the Children of God into the Drama. (xvii)

*All citations from second edition of The Silmarillion ed. by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

[Conclusion] The Relevance of Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism to Contemporary Scientific Cosmology

Conclusion: Towards a Physics of the World-Soul

“In my view the creation of the world is the first unconscious act of speculative thought; and the first task of a self-conscious philosophy is to explain how it has been done.” -Whitehead239

 “The religious insight is the grasp of this truth: That the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life, and the mastery of evil, are all bound together–not accidentally, but by reason of this truth: that the universe exhibits a creativity with infinite freedom, and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities; but that this creativity and these forms are together impotent to achieve actuality apart from the completed ideal harmony, which is God.” -Whitehead240

“This, then, in keeping with our likely account, is how we must say divine providence generated the actual world as a truly living thing, endowed with soul and intelligence.” -Plato241

Whitehead suggests that Newton’s Scholium and Plato’s Timaeus “are the two statements of cosmological theory which have had the chief influence on Western thought.”242 Although the Scholium provides “an immensely able statement of details” applicable to the deduction of truths within a specific domain of physical activity, its deductive prowess “conveys no hint of the limits of its own application.”243 Newton’s abstract conceptions of space, time, and matter as ready-made, and of eternal laws imposed by a transcendent designer, were undeniably useful, in that they provided the paradigmatic basis for two centuries of scientific progress. But the tremendous instrumental success of the Newtonian scheme had the practical effect of leading many to fall into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness by overgeneralizing its simplified abstractions as if they could explain the full complexity of concrete reality. “The Scholium betrays its abstractness,” writes Whitehead,

by affording no hint of that aspect of self-production, of generation, of φύσις, of natura naturans, which is so prominent in nature. For the Scholium, nature is merely, and completely, there, externally designed and obedient.244

As was discussed in the prior section, Whitehead’s generalization of evolutionary theory requires that both potentiality and actuality be ingredient in any concrete depiction of nature. Nature as already produced, as natura naturata, as simply there and entirely actualized, provides only half the picture. Unlike the static cosmos of Newton, who Whitehead believes would have been confused by the modern doctrine of evolution, Plato articulated a cosmological scheme involving the emergence of order out of an original chaos, an account which already implicitly suggests an evolutionary process.245 There are aspects of Plato’s Timaeus that may seem foolish today, but “what it lacks in superficial detail,” according to Whitehead, “it makes up for by its philosophic depth.”246 This depth has allowed Plato’s speculative cosmology to outlast Newton’s more arbitrary construction. The theory of cosmogenesis offered by the latter, involving “a wholly transcendent God creating out of nothing an accidental universe,” has been abandoned by contemporary physicists and process theologians alike as gratuitous.

Plato’s account of cosmogenesis, in contrast, avoids the Newtonian theory of creatio ex nihilo. Instead, the cosmos is said to emerge from the interplay of divine intelligence (νοῦς) and physical necessity (ἀνάγκη), such that the divine cannot violently command but must erotically persuade the cosmos to take shape out of chaos.247 The Greek word ἀνάγκη means not only “necessity,” but also connotes “need” or “urge”: apropos Whitehead’s creative retrieval of Plato’s scheme, this suggests that God, whose primordial conceptual pole is itself deficient in actuality, necessarily experiences a yearning after concrete fact.248 This yearning is productive of the consequent physical pole of God, which lovingly receives the freely actualized decisions of every finite occasion, no matter how discordant, into the harmony of its completed nature.249 “The action of God is its relation,” writes process theologian Catherine Keller,

–by feeling and so being felt, the divine invites the becoming of the other; by feeling the becoming of the other, the divine itself becomes…[affirming] an oscillation between divine attraction and divine reception, invitation and sabbath.250

Their are many other parallels to Whitehead’s cosmotheogony in Timaeus. The usual translation of one particularly relevant passage is as follows:

The god wanted everything to be good and nothing to be bad so far as was possible, and so he took over (παραλαμβάνω) all that was visible–not at rest but in discordant and disorderly motion–and brought it from a state of disorder to one of order…251

The phrase “took over” (παραλαμβάνω) is misleading if interpreted only actively and not also passively: in this case, as both taking over responsibility for forming, and at the same time receiving the givenness of chaos.252 This double sense of παραλαμβάνω mirrors Whitehead’s dipolar conception of divinity as both conceptually active in envisaging the abstractive hierarchy of eternal objects and physically passive in receiving the multiplicity of finite concrescent occasions into its everlasting concrescence. The divine, for both Whitehead and Plato, is not an all-powerful creator, but an all-preserving co-creator:

He does not create the world, 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.253

Although Plato attempts in Timaeus, and Whitehead in Process and Reality, to articulate the most rational account possible of the genesis of the universe, in the end they found it necessary, due to the obscurity of their topic, to speak mythically by telling a “likely story” (εικώς μύθος). The Greek word εικώς is sometimes translated as “probable,” meaning likely but not entirely certain (“it goes something like this…”). As with the translations above, this choice can be misleading. The translation of εικώς as “likely” conveys the superficial meaning of “probable,” but this rendering should not obscure the subtler meaning of “likeness,” closely associated with the Greek word for “icon” or “image” (εἰκών). In Plato’s cosmogenic myth, the universe is said to be the most beautiful image that it was possible for the divine to co-create. The beauty of a thing being a result of the noetic order and harmony it radiates, it follows that the divine had to find some way to imbue the cosmic image with intelligence. Because “νοῦς [intelligence] cannot be present in anything without soul [ψυχή],” the God made the universe as a living creature or animal (ζῷον), a being endowed with soul.254

It is at this point that a tension emerges in Plato’s story. Although not all-powerful, the Demiurge in Plato’s Timaeus is described as a maker, or artisan. It is strange that the Cosmic Animal, or World-Soul, is said to have been made by the Demiurge, since normally living creatures are not fabricated by an artisan, they are born. This raises questions about how Plato conceives of divinity. “To find the maker and father of this universe is hard enough,” writes Plato, “and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible.”255 There has been much commentary over the ages concerning the meaning of this double designation of the Platonic God as both “maker” and “father.” Plutarch’s interpretation is helpful, if not entirely elucidatory:

[In] the case of a maker, his work, when done, is separated from him, whereas the origination and force emanating from the parent is blended in the offspring…which is a…part of the procreator…[The] cosmos is not like products that have been molded and fitted together but has in it a large portion of vitality and divinity, which god sowed from himself in the matter and mixed with it.256

The Demiurge, then, is a maker, but a fatherly maker whose life force is wedded with that which has been brought to birth. Still, it seems awkward, to say the least, that the cosmos is said to have been born from a single male parent. Plato resolves this tension by introducing another cast member into his cosmogonic drama: the Receptacle (ὑποδοχή), or “wetnurse of all becoming.”257 Whereas the fatherly Demiurge is said to beget the beautiful form of the cosmos, the motherly Receptacle is said to bear it.258 Plato’s account of the Receptacle is meant to be an accessible image for a closely related, but far more obscure concept, that of the Khora (Χώρα). The Khora is described as the “third kind” mediating between the eternal being of the Ideas and the becoming of the cosmic image. “Its nature,” writes Plato,

is to be available for anything to make its impression upon, and it is modified, shaped and reshaped by the things that enter it…The things that enter and leave it are images of those things that always are [Ideas/ειδών], imprinted after their likeness in a marvelous way that is hard to describe…It is in fact appropriate to compare the receiving thing to a mother, the source to a father, and the nature [physis/φύσις] between them to their offspring.259

The Cosmic Animal or World-Soul, then, is the offspring of the khoric mother and eidetic father. While standard readings of Plato’s written corpus tend to fall into a two-world interpretation, where physical becoming is said to poorly imitate perfect metaphysical being, ambiguities in Plato’s account make it difficult to determine whether, in generating an ensouled cosmos, the separation between the eternal Ideas and the becoming of the physical cosmos is canceled.260 From Whitehead’s perspective, this ambiguity can be hermeneutically massaged to save Plato from the incoherence of dualism. After all, Plato himself explicitly disclaimed “the possibility of an adequate philosophical system” that might permit the “variousness of the Universe…to be fathomed by our intellects.”261 Whitehead’s reformed Platonism insists upon the worldly immanence of the divine, thereby erasing any ultimate separation between the Demiurge and the Receptacle. Instead, their supposed offspring, the World-Soul, is said to supply the universe’s harmonious tendencies through the dipolarity of its own nature. Conceiving of the World-Soul as an emanation issuing from a transcendent deity, as some Platonic interpreters have done, “obscures the ultimate question of the relation of reality as permanent with reality as fluent”; the coherence of Whitehead’s scheme requires, in contrast, that the Cosmic Animal be understood as a mediator, sharing in the natures of eternity and time alike.262 The Cosmic Animal is not a free creation of an acosmic divine architect, but a creature of Creativity.

Whitehead reads Timaeus as offering an account of a World-Soul

whose active grasp of ideas conditions impartially the whole process of the Universe…[and] on whom depends that degree of orderliness which the world exhibits.263

Without this active grasp by the living intelligence of the mediating World-Soul, the ideas would remain frozen and lifeless and would have no way of characterizing actuality or partaking in the creative process of cosmogenesis. Plato further describes the way the Cosmic Animal “contains within itself all the living things whose nature it is to share its kind.”264 As Whitehead puts it, the organic process of each actual occasion “repeats in microcosm what the universe is in macrocosm.”265 It is this correspondence between the World-Soul and the varying grades of finite souls, including humans, that affirms the co-creative role of every organism, no matter how seemingly insignificant: “all [play] their part in conditioning nature by the inherent persuasiveness of ideas.”266 An erotic ferment inwardly permeates every creature, persuading all ever onward toward novel intensities of harmonic experience. In this sense, Eros, the divine element in the world, functions less to preserve stability than to evoke intensity.267 For example, even stars, our sidereal ancestors, are not everlasting: only by way of their sacrificial death could the heavier elemental creatures required for biological life have been brought forth. Similarly, the upward trend of biological evolution towards more complex species depends upon a selective process whereby the inability of an individual organism to adapt its way of life to changing circumstances “[entails] the death penalty for impertinence.”268 The cosmic desire for the intensification of experience is more powerful than the private fear of death. “It is in this way,” writes Whitehead,

that the immediacy of sorrow and pain is transformed into an element of triumph. This is the notion of redemption through suffering which haunts the world.269

Whitehead calls the process of erotic evocation of intensities by the World-Soul, whereby egoistic aims are sublimated by their inclusion in a greater whole, a “Supreme Adventure.”270 He describes the Adventure as an inverted renovation of Plato’s Receptacle, a “medium of intercommunication” necessary for the unity of all things.271 While the Receptacle is “void,” “bare of all forms,” “and abstract from all individual occasions,” the Adventure includes “the living urge towards all possibilities…[realizable by] the [actual] occasions of the advancing world each claiming its due share of attention.”272 The divine dimension of the cosmos, the World-Soul, is the “Great Fact” explicatory of our Supreme Adventure. As discussed above, the divine nature is dipolar, including a primordial and a consequent aspect, or as Whitehead also describes them, an “initial Eros” and a “final Beauty.” Whitehead’s poetic genius reaches its highest pitch when he reflects upon this Great Fact in the concluding lines of Adventures of Ideas:

It is the immanence of the Great Fact including this initial Eros and this final Beauty which constitutes the zest of self-forgetful transcendence belonging to Civilization at its height. At the heart of the nature of things, there are always the dream of youth and the harvest of tragedy. The Adventure of the Universe starts with the dream and reaps tragic Beauty. This is the secret of the union of Zest with Peace:–That the suffering attains its end in a Harmony of Harmonies…In this way the World receives its persuasion towards such perfections as are possible for its diverse individual occasions.273

While the World-Soul’s primordial valuation of the multiplicity of eternal objects is unchanging “by reason of its final completeness,” its consequent feeling of the evolving multiplicity of actual occasions remains always incomplete.274 In this sense, although the community of finite organic occasions makes up the unity of the Cosmic Animal, the latter “is not a static organism”; rather, “[it] is an incompletion in process of production.”275 Process theologian Roland Faber has described Whitehead’s theology of becoming as an “eschatological ad-vent” wherein the divine is caught up in the always ongoing adventure of all that was, is, and will be.276 The ensouled universe is therefore best described not simply as Whole, or as One, but as an

open movement of wholeness that cannot be united by any rational account [because it] harbors the Eros of unpredictable novelty and incommensurable diversity.277

Whitehead’s emphasis on openness and diversity makes comparisons with neo-Platonist schemes of the emanation of the Cosmic Animal from the “One beyond being and non-being,” as Plotinus and Proclus often described it,278 rather troublesome. Nonetheless, physicist Simon Malin argues that Whitehead’s approach is in some ways complemented by such schemes, wherein a process of divine effulgence or “overflowing” leads to the ordered involution of a series of stages:

Thus the One produces Nous, Nous produces Soul, Soul produces nature, and nature produces the sensible world…In the case of the World Soul…it is the contemplation of the perfect intelligence and order of the Nous that gives rise, as a kind of unintentional overflow, to the order of nature.279

While some analogy can be drawn between the Nous and Whitehead’s conception of the primordial nature of God, in the emanationist scheme, the many actual occasions of the physical world are given no agency or co-creative role whatsoever, nor is God attributed with a consequent nature allowing it to become-with the many occasions of the world as our fellow-sufferer. Whitehead dismissed such overly rationalized schemes because they lack the experiential adequacy demanded by our religious intuitions of a God who feels and can be felt, and our aesthetic intuitions of a continually creative cosmos. “God is in the world, or nowhere,” writes Whitehead,

creating continually in us and around us. This creative principle is everywhere, in animate and so-called inanimate matter, in the ether, water, earth, human hearts…In so far as man partakes of this creative process does he partake of the divine, of God, and that participation is his immortality, reducing the question of whether his individuality survives death…to…irrelevancy. His true destiny as co-creator in the universe is his dignity and his grandeur.280

The rationality of Whitehead’s cosmological scheme remains provisional, experimental, imaginative, and always pluralistic. It is an “adventure of hope,” not a search for the certainty of a final systematic theory that would “explain away” mystery.281 For Whitehead, not only does philosophy begin in wonder, “at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.”282 Whiteheadian rationality is guided by a unwavering commitment to relationality, whereby “there is an essence to the universe which forbids relationships beyond itself.”283 To search for a “beyond” is to violate the rationality of relationality. Instead of anxiously running from the abyssal chaos at the root of all things in search of the secure Ground offered by traditional accounts of a One beyond being, or an omnipotent Creator, Whitehead celebrates the “within-beyond” of a groundless “creative drive undermining any static dichotomy between cosmos and chaos.”284 God, a creature of Creativity like each of us, suffers and enjoys the unpredictable adventures of a chaosmos in which “everything happens for the first time, but in a way that is eternal.”285


239 Whitehead, The Aims of Education, 164.

240 Whitehead, Religion in the Making, 106.

241 Plato, Timaeus, 30b-c.

242 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 93.

243 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 93.

244 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 93.

245 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 93, 95.

246 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 93.

247 John Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 91.

248 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 33.

249 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 349.

250 Keller, Face of the Deep, 198.

251 Plato, Timaeus, 30a.

252 Sallis, Chorology, 57.

253 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 346.

254 Sallis, Chorology, 57-58.

255 Plato, Timaeus, 28c.

256 Plutarch, Platonic Questions, II, 1; quoted in Sallis, Chorology, 52n7.

257 Plato, Timaeus, 49a.

258 Sallis, Chorology, 58n14.

259 Plato, Timaeus, 50c-d.

260 Sallis, Chorology, 69-70.

261 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Free Press, 1933/1961), 52. Whitehead is here referring to Plato’s discussion in his Seventh Letter written to Dion’s followers.

262 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 130.

263 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 147.

264 Plato, Timaeus, 31a.

265 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 215.

266 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 148.

267 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 105.

268 Stengers, Thinking With Whitehead, 112.

269 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 350.

270 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 294-295.

271 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 134.

272 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 295.

273 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 296.

274 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 345.

275 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 214-215.

276 Roland Faber, “De-ontologizing God: Levinas, Deleuze, and Whitehead,” in Process and Difference: Between Cosmological and Poststructuralist Postmodernisms, eds. Catherine Keller and Anne Daniell(Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), 222-223.

277 Roland Faber, “Surrationality and Chaosmos: For a More Deleuzian Whitehead,” in Secrets of Becoming: Negotiating Whitehead, Deleuze, and Butler (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), 158, 163.

278 Following Plato, Republic 509b and Parmenides 137cf.

279 Simon Malin, Nature Loves to Hide: Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality, a Western Perspective (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2012), 201-202.

280 Price, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, 297.

281 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 42; Adventures of Ideas, 174.

282 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 168.

283 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 4.

284 Faber, “Surrationality and Chaosmos,” 165.

285 Borges, “Happiness,” 441.

Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology

I’m in the middle of writing a long essay on Schelling and the resurgence of interest in his work of late, at least in the Anglophone world. I’ll be posting the essay in installments as I finish each section. For now, here is Jerry Day, from his book on Schelling’s influence on Eric Voegelin, describing Schelling’s philosophy of mythology, including also how it was interpreted by Coleridge.  Incidentally, I’ve just confirmed a speaking engagement at the PCC Forum with Paul Caringella, a Voegelin scholar, in October. I’m hoping to record and post it here.

At one point in Schelling’s Philosophy of Mythology, the work that Voegelin claims brought the “crash” to his History, one finds the following claim: “[I]t is not we who have placed mythology, but mythology has placed us in the perspective from which, at present, we shall consider it. The content of this conference is henceforth no longer mythology explained by us; it is mythology as it explains itself [die sich selbst erklärende Mythologie].” This comment occurs after a lengthy discussion of deficient approaches to the interpretation of myth. Schelling begins to argue that mythological experience and the symbols it engenders are self-interpretive. Genuine mythic symbols do not arise as reflective signs that a clever person has intentionally fashioned in order to construct an arbitrary “reality” of his or her own making. They arise from the human soul’s prereflective immersion in the divine substance of the cosmos. Accordingly, Schelling continues, mythical symbols are not properly interpreted as merely “allegorical.” Such interpretation mistakenly assumes that symbols are best understood with reference to other symbols, perhaps even within an essentially closed system of meaning. Considered linguistically, allegorical interpretation suggests that words interpret only other words—a point, we might add, that makes allegorical interpretation closely related to the structuralist account of language. Schelling argues, to the contrary, that the origin of symbols cannot be understood with reference only to other symbols. His particular understanding of the self-establishing character of symbols leads him to contend that they are best interpreted as “tautegorical.” It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge who was first led to formulate the specific term tautegorical after reading one of Schelling’s previous works, Die Gottheiten von Samothrake, which dealt in part with the proper interpretation of myth. Schelling commends Coleridge as “the first of his English compatriots to have understood and put to intelligent use German poetry, scholarship [Wissenschaft], and especially philosophy.” Schelling defends Coleridge against being “too severely criticized” by his fellow countrymen for his “unacknowledged borrowings [Entlehnungen] ” from Schelling himself. He states: “Because of this excellent term that I borrow from him, I voluntarily pardon him for all of the borrowings which he himself has made from my works, without mentioning my name.” But Schelling also notes that his use of the term tautegorical may be more radical than that which he finds in Coleridge. For Coleridge, according to Schelling, the term appears to be synonymous with “philosopheme,” which may still convey the sense that mythic symbols are signs for other phenomena (natural or euhemeristic), thus leaving open the possibility of allegorical interpretations. In his use of the term tautegorical, Schelling wishes to suggest a most intimate connection between mythic symbols and the experiences that give rise to them. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that mythic symbols are what they symbolize. They arise beyond conscious control and are, in some sense, identical to the experiences that have engendered them. For example, he contends that the “Prometheus” of Æschylus is “not a human thought.” It is one of the “primordial thoughts which pushes itself into existence.” This point suggests that not all words simply interpret other words; some break loose from linguistic conventions and effectively call attention, at least, to what remain essentially inarticulate experiences of natural order, or what Schelling calls “primordial thoughts” (Urgedanken). What is more, when such thoughts arise in human consciousness, they are said to create a meaningful historical divide before and after the symbol came into existence. For Schelling, this divide has an objective quality about it, giving the history of symbolization a discernible order. Consequently, his Philosophy of Mythology and Philosophy of Revelation undertake an extraordinarily complex effort to interpret this general history of order as it emerges in the specific order of human experience. Precisely with this historical aspect of symbolization in mind, he is able to claim that “mythology has placed us in the perspective from which, at present, we shall consider it.” Voegelin’s tacit agreement with Schelling’s “tautegorical” interpretation of myth is found in the third volume of Order and History, only a few pages before Schelling’s philosophy of myth is explicitly dismissed for its allegedly “gnostic inclination to intellectualize the unconscious.” Voegelin says that “the ‘truth’ of the myth will arise from the unconscious, stratified in depth into the collective unconscious of the people, the generic unconscious of mankind, and the deepest level where it is in communication with the primordial forces of the cosmos.” Mythic truth is self-authenticating, Voegelin argues, “because the forces which animate its imagery are at the same time its subject matter.” The truth of mythic symbols is therefore tautegorical.  “A myth can never be ‘untrue,’” he continues, “because it would not exist unless it had its experiential basis in the movements of the soul which it symbolizes.” Clearly, Voegelin and Schelling agree that mythic symbols arise from the soul’s unconscious depth and break forth into the conscious articulation of experiences. But they also agree that what holds true for mythic symbols is true of linguistic symbolization in general. Consider Schelling’s remarks on the formation of language. He contends that the development of language cannot be understood in a “piecemeal or atomistic” way. An atomistic account of the origin of language could easily lead one to believe that the soul is fundamentally in conscious control of the symbols it makes. This notion is declared to be patently false when Schelling reflects on how nascent symbols come into existence. Language must have developed as a whole, he argues, in an “organic” (organisch) way. It must have originated, like mythic symbols in particular, from the soul’s unconscious depth. “Since neither philosophical nor even generally human consciousness is possible without language,” Schelling maintains, “it is inconceivable that consciousness can be the ground of language; and so the more we penetrate its nature, the more we acquire the certitude that it transcends by its profundity any conscious creation.” This realization leads Schelling to discern an objective (objectiv) quality in language itself (Sprache selbst), a point that allows him to argue, in effect, that nascent symbols must be understood as selfgenerating and self-interpretive, when properly traced back to their engendering experiences. (from p. 71-74 of Voegelin, Schelling, and the Philosophy of Historical Existence).

I’m curious what those who reject myth outright in favor of a sort of Enlightenment rationalism (see an exchange I had with Levi Bryant a while back HERE and HERE) would say to this sort of perspective. Schelling seems to fully ground his philosophy of myth and language in the material conditions of cultural genesis (i.e., there is no consciousness without language).  But precisely for this reason he would never argue that myth can be overcome and replaced by scientific literalism. We simply cannot step out of the mythocosmic forces that have constituted our language and consciousness in order to explain it from outside, as though objectively. We give accounts of ourselves in narrative form, which are not allegorical, since there is no outside referent for the story to attempt to represent. The story is self-interpreting, and so we, as self-conscious creatures, are also self-interpreting.

Uncovering the Unconscious: Towards an Integral Psychology


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

Natural Science and Spiritual Science

My recent comments on Pharyngula

Excerpts from my comments:

I should have written “all-loving” instead of “all-powerful” twice. Just a typo, nothing esoteric. The “etc.” was a placeholder for all the other typical attributes (infinite, eternal…).

I wouldn’t say these attributions are necessarily incorrect, they are just inadequate descriptors. Cataphatic theology must be balanced by apophatic theology, where God is defined negatively (Not this, not this…). Language ultimately fails to fully describe even trivial matters, like our day to day emotional states. Trying to describe God is even more difficult, because (at least in some traditions) God is the “Word” or “Logos” itself, that which makes all the meaning and order of our language (and the universe itself) possible in the first place. So trying to describe God with language is like looking for the glasses you’re already wearing. God is that which makes meaning possible.

The intellect can approach God, but there is a threshold that seems to be reached, at which point rationality and empiricism are no longer useful, or even relevant. Luckily, we have other psychological functions besides the intellect (Carl Jung came up with 4: thinking/intellect, feeling, intuition, sensation). God and religion generally seem to have more to do with intuition and feeling than sensing and thinking. Not to say that the latter two are necessarily inept when it comes to approaching God… just look at thinkers like Hegel or artists (masters of sensation) like Raphael.

God is a unified transrational reality, and so is the cosmos (I don’t think creator and created are separate, though I’m more a panentheist than a pantheist–perhaps this difference can be explained in another post, or by a visit to wikipedia).

I offer it reluctantly, but if you want my cataphatic theology, my analysis of the nature of divinity, then I would leave out all-powerful, and keep only three others: all-knowing, all-loving, and all-present. This is a drastic over-simplification. But in trying to approach the nature of God intellectually, it seems the dynamism of this Trinity gets us closest. These three omnis are the thinking, feeling, and willing of God, respectively. Humans are the likeness of God (so the story goes), and also think, feel, and will. But our will is not all-present. It is present only “here” in my body and my soul (i.e., my motor activity and mental imagery). God’s will is present here, there, and everywhere. There is nothing that God doesn’t do. When it comes to thinking and feeling (or knowing and loving), humans are made in the image of God (…just play along), and so are capable of participating directly in the thoughts and the feelings of God. It is within our human potential to see and hear with the eyes and ears of God and to feel with the heart of God. “The eye with which God sees me is the same eye through which I see God.” -Meister Eckhart

This is all nonsense, of course. I have no idea how I know it. The origin and cause of my thinking and my feeling is unknown to me, unconscious. Some would say it is the brain floating in my skull that produces the “psyche” (i.e., the scientific object studied by psychologists and, if materialism is true, neurologists) but as a psyche, a thinking, feeling, willing “I” that is not sure where his thoughts come from or how they get there, I cannot be at all certain of the scientist’s theory of their origins. It is too abstract, too removed from human reality. Is it “true” nonetheless? Who is to say? We are all human. We are all uncertain of our own origins. At least in a nominal sense, unless we (not believe in but) perceive God in our heart-mind. Empirical science is discovering some amazing things about how the soul is embodied, but none of it proves the soul is bounded by the body. Paradigms in cognitive science like Enactivism (Varela, Thompson) and Ecological Psychology (J.J. Gibson) suggest that consciousnes/soul/psyche is just as extended as it is “internal.”

All of this is an attempt to get closer to answering “why”–if as you say “we don’t know that God’s there to even invest time trying”– I persist nonetheless taking theology seriously as a form of study, or better, play. Can one live truly, in accordance with goodness and beauty, without talk of God? Sure, but even atheists seem to spend a lot of time talking about God. I think for better or worse, whether we call it anthropology or theology, humans will be trying to think and talk about God.


Logos of a Living Earth: Towards a Gaian Praxecology

Logos of the Living Earth:

Towards a Gaian Praxecology

By Matthew Segall



The word “praxeology” has been employed with various meanings in 20th century French and Austrian discourse.[1] Praxecology is a distinct, though not entirely unrelated neologism invented for the purposes of this essay. A new word is not without a history, nor a text without context—praxecology is the mutated kin of its discursive ancestors whose semiotic relation cannot be denied. But my neologism is not just a sign; it is also a materially inscribed event emerging in my life and, having been read and understood, in the lives of each of you, my audience. Words have real effects in the world of material-semiotic cyborgs[2] like us.

Praxecology is the embodied practice of a living planetary systems theory, the enacting of a Gaian way of life. James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, developed in the 1960s while working for NASA to detect life on other planets, has played an important psycho-spiritual role in the environmental movement[3], but half a century later has not been fully realized as an eco-cultural revolt against modern techno-industrialism and the alienation, fetishization, and commodification of self, society, and nature that such a system requires. The results of this Enlightenment project of disembedded rationality are well known: loss of place, self-alienation, social injustice and ecological devastation chief among them.[4] A scientific theory of Earth as a self-regulating system is not enough in itself to overturn any of these aspects of our post-industrial malaise, but the knowledge of a living Earth is compelling enough, I believe, to inspire both the aesthetic skill and religious will of humanity into a renewed relationship with the Earth.

In this essay, I will try to lay down a path in walking toward a Gaian praxecology by offering a more integral, or at least nonmodern (Latour, 1993) narration of embodied practice concerning human-earth relations. As Latour argues in his critique of modern science, the only myth is that there could be science without myth (p. 93, ibid.). I will seek a planetary (and so seemingly universal) mythos, though careful attention will be paid to nature as place, or topos (commonplace).

As Donna Haraway has written,

“We turn to this topic [nature] to order our discourse, to compose our memory …[because] nature is the place to rebuild public culture…[and] is a topic of public discourse on which much turns, even the Earth” (p. 296, 1992).

The title, “Gaia,” has been criticized for its gender essentialism and mythic connotations.[5] I will try to convey why Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess, is among the most appropriate of names for the living Earth. Her theogonic origins in the poetry of Hesiod, Ovid, and others is an apt reminder that disentanglement of science from myth, or knowledge from narrative, while logically possible, is vacuous in practice.[6] Praxecology is not theory or praxis alone, but human understanding-as-participation in the meaningful cycles and evolutions of the Earth community. Science (logos) and story (mythos) are distinct, but in no way separate expressions of the underlying human yearning for knowledge born out of a recognition of our origins in a larger cosmogenic whole. “The Earth,” says cultural phenomenologist Jean Gebser, “is nothing but an event [self-enacted/autopoietic unfolding] which in materialization has become progressively slower” (p. 541, Gebser). Matter and mind, embodied action and theoretical discourse, are not isolated influences or opposed forces, but friendly poles in a holistic process of evolutionary autobiography. As Haraway puts it, “There is no way to rationality—to actually existing worlds—outside stories, not for our species, anyway” (p. 44, 1997).

The protagonists in my story include Haraway, who reminds us that modern technoscientific biology is not life itself, but a cultural discourse about life; Thomas Berry, who evokes an original relationship to the universe by reminding us that an ongoing cosmogenesis is the origin of our existence; Bruno Latour, who demystifies science in action by unveiling the networks of relationships supporting its facts; William Irwin Thompson, whose vision of a Gaian polity helps us re-imagine the world; Francisco Varela, whose enactive cognitive science shows how worlds are brought forth through autopoietic structural coupling; and Gaia, our common ground, producer of all bodies and muse of every mind.Others, too, will lend a helping hand along the way of this logos of the living Earth.

“Ecology,” according to Thomas Berry, “is functional cosmology” (p. 84, 1999). This suggests that an adequate understanding of the universe as a whole is not at all separate from knowing how to live sustainably within one’s particular community of life. The whole and the part are mutually implicated in any “functional cosmology.” Any truly universal knowledge should also be applicable and adaptable to life at home. Such a relational approach to cognition-as-living will guide us along our journey through various philosophical holzwege, or wood paths (German: wegen– “to make a way,” wagen– “to risk”), with the hope that we emerge at a clearing revealing new, perhaps unexpected, ways forward.

Neither representational, nor constructionist epistemologies will suffice for such thoughtful and heartfelt wanderings, as I am concerned here with concrete matters of life and death, not decontextualized ideas of transcendent truth or the moral resignation of unmoored relativism. This discourse concerning the Earth is an attempt to refigure the way words relate to worlds, in part because

“humans are not the ones who arbitrarily add the ‘symbolic dimension’ to pure material forces. These forces are as transcendent, active, agitated, spiritual, as we are” (p. 128, Latour, 1995).

The following pages will record the traces of my struggle to enact a story, not about Earth, but of, as, and for an Earth personified: Gaia.[7] The clearing I hope will be discovered at the end of my praxecological textual way-making is but the beginning of our long overdue transformation from disembedded techno-industrial consumers into symbiotic participants in a flourishing Gaian polity.[8]

“The urgent task of ecological culture,” says Rosemary Radford Ruether,

“is to convert human consciousness to the Earth, so that we can use our minds to understand the web of life and to live in that web of life as sustainers, rather than destroyers, of it” (p. 250, 1992).

It is my hope that my words may participate in the Great Work of weaving Western consciousness back into the tapestry of life from which it sprang by inspiring a renewed call to situated eco-action.[9]

Praxeology Becomes Praxecology

Praxeology is a word with a mixed history of discursive use. Murray N. Rothbard suggests that: “Praxeology rests on the fundamental axiom that individual human beings act, that is, on the primordial fact that individuals engage in conscious actions toward chosen goals” (p. 58, 1997). Arnold Kaufmann defines praxeology as “the science of human decision-making,” and models his approach after the Cartesian method of logical analysis (p. 12, 1968). Both Rothbard and Kaufmann seek universal, a priori laws of human action; but unlike Kaufmann (best known for his work in computer science), Rothbard criticizes the notion that conscious human beings can be treated like “stones or molecules whose course can be scientifically tracked in alleged constants or quantitative laws” (p. 74). I am in agreement with Rothbard’s (and before his, Ludwig von Mises’) rejection of a quantitative or positivistic account of human action, but because he fails to recognize the feelings, values, and purposes of all the species sharing this planet with humanity, his narrowly humanistic praxeology falls short of enacting the Gaian polity implied by a praxecology.

Kaufmann’s praxeology is even more problematic, as his account of the human nervous system by analogy to a “combinatorial machine [i.e., parallel computer]” (p. 224) neglects the autopoietic nature of living cognitive processes. As will be discussed at length in the following section, the nervous system is not a linear “chain of perception-analysis-decision-action” (p. 228, ibid.), but a recursive and operationally closed loop of sensorimotor coordination within endogenously specified environments of relevancy (see p. 12). Construing cognition as if analysis and decision-making took place as independent steps in a causal chain between perception and action neglects the physiological fact that thinking (i.e., analyzing and deciding) is always already an embodied and embedded sensorimotor activity. Kaufmann’s praxeology re-inscribes the Cartesian dualism responsible for the metaphysical confusions at the root of the ecological crisis. Praxecology is my attempt to re-embody the human being’s conscious analytic capacities by re-imagining the way mind and body, thought and action, knowing and being relate to one another.

Autopoietic Biology and Enactive Cognition

The particular discourse of biology is one that I, like Haraway, “value, want to participate in and make better…and believe to be culturally, politically, and epistemologically important” (p. 218, ibid.). The biology of the late Francisco Varela, more recently carried forward by Evan Thompson, strikes me as especially important because it arises out of an awareness of the “unbroken coincidence of our being, our doing, and our knowing” (p. 25, Maturana & Varela, 1988). In other words, deep inquiry into biology can reveal that our ontology, praxis, and epistemology are knotted together such that “…every act of knowing brings forth a world” (p. 26, ibid.).

Varela’s central conceptual contribution (along with Humberto Maturana) to the study of life is the theory of autopoiesis.[10] The theory is part of a larger move away from current orthodoxy in biology that understands organisms as “heteronomous units operating by a logic of correspondence”; instead, Varela offers a new biology that sees organisms as “autonomous units operating by a logic of coherence” (p. 50, ed. by William Irwin Thompson, 1987). The standard, gene-centric perspective of neo-Darwinist biology maintains that individual organisms are the puppets of their DNA, struggling to achieve fitness by way of natural selection into pre-given niches.[11] They are “other-determined” (heteronomous) because the forms of their bodies and behaviors are imposed extrasomatically by a supposedly objective world[12] and endosomatically by supposedly objective genetic algorithms. Evolutionary success is retroactively explained as the result of a correspondence between an organism’s body, instincts, and thoughts (all reducible to genetic coding) and the external world. Varela’s autopoietic view, in contrast, allows us to see organisms as autonomous and purposeful beings whose success is explained not by correct representation of a pre-given, objective reality, but by adequate structural coupling[13] with others allowing for the enaction of coherent and durable material-semiotic worlds.

Further, an autopoietic biology makes clear that self-production is at least logically (if not also temporally) prior to reproduction (p. 131, E. Thompson). The basis of living organization, therefore, is not the ability to genetically replicate, but to produce a membrane-bound, self-organizing identity distinguishing organism from environment. In this way, the ecopoiesis[14] of Gaia grants it living status, contrary to gene-centric neo-Darwinian criticisms.

Varela’s penchant for transdisciplinarity lead him to link his autopoietic biology to cognitive science, and his enactive theory of cognition to sociology. Varela has described enaction by borrowing the words of the poet Antonio Machado: “Wanderer the road is your footsteps, nothing else; you lay down a path in walking” (p. 63, 1987).

The scientific principles underlying this poetic insight have been highlighted by Evan Thompson, who offers five features central to the theory of enactive cognition (p. 13, 2007):

1.“…living beings are autonomous agents that actively generate and maintain themselves, and thereby also enact or bring forth their own cognitive domains.”

2.“…the nervous system is an autonomous dynamic system [that] actively generates and maintains its own coherent and meaningful patterns of activity according to its operation as a circular and reentrant network of interacting neurons.”

3.“…cognition is the exercise of skillful know-how in situated and embodied action.”

a.“Cognitive structures and processes emerge from recurrent sensorimotor patterns of perception and action.”

b.Sensorimotor coupling between organism and environment modulates, but does not determine, the formation of endogenous, dynamic patterns of neural activity, which in turn inform sensorimotor coupling.”

4.“…a cognitive being’s world is not a prespecified, external realm, represented internally by its brain, but a relational domain enacted or brought forth by that being’s autonomous agency and mode of coupling with the environment.”

5.“…experience is not an epiphenomenal side issue, but central to any understanding of the mind, and needs to be investigated in a careful phenomenological manner.”

One consequence of the enactive approach is that the Cartesian quest for epistemological certainty becomes but the expression of a particular “cognitive domain” (see # 1) made possible by the abstract languages of mathematics, precise measurements of machine technologies, and controlled laboratory environment. If the nervous system is operationally closed (see # 2), its function cannot be to modestly mirror an external, objective reality, even if the modest witnesses are highly trained scientists allied with powerful instruments that extend their sensory reach. The operational closure of the nervous system forestalls a representational account of its activity, as its role is maintaining coherence, rather than correspondence, between organism and environment. New techniques may open up previously hidden worlds, as when Galileo first turned a telescope to the sky and revealed the moons of Jupiter in 1610, or Hooke first recognized cells through a microscope in 1665, but one cannot speak of finally discovering the real as if it existed independently of our bodily and inter-bodily experience of its meaning.

As Haraway has suggested (p. 199, 1997), “…objectivity is less about realism than about intersubjectivity.” She yearns for us to come to see objectivity as a way of “forming ties across wide distances” (ibid.), instead of as the privileged and modest perspective of self-invisible European men who remain somehow unpolluted by their ambiguously situated bodies (p. 23-32, ibid.). If science can claim relative epistemological privilege, it is not the result of transcending culture, but of the ever-accelerating, ever-expanding mobility and combinability of the traces scientists and their cyborg surrogates have constructed within their networks. Outside of these special networks of labs, machines, shared languages, and centrally controlled policy initiatives, scientific facts have little relevance.[15]

Referring to technoscience, as opposed to just science, emphasizes the extent to which knowledge emerges out of skillful action in embodied situations (see #’s 3 and 4). Science has always been dependent upon technological sensorimotor extensions to deepen its understanding of that commonplace called by its peculiar culture “nature.” Artifacts and their articulations, including alphabetic technologies, shape the kinds of worlds scientists are capable of enacting. Even mathematics is a figurative language (p.11, ibid.), constructing analogies between otherwise unrelated domains of experience.[16]

Varela’s biology has implications not only for scientific epistemology, but also for society and human-earth relations. Echoing the sentiments of Haraway, Varela writes that:

“…biology is the source of most metaphors in current thinking…and expresses the possibility of a worldview beyond the split between us and it…what we do is what we know, and ours is but one of many possible worlds. [Enactive cognition] is…the laying down of a world, with no warfare between self and other” (p. 62, ed. by William Irwin Thompson, 1987).

It is our shared biological lineage that secures the basic structure of the worlds we can bring forth together via linguistic and empathic structural coupling. But culture is not bound by nature, or rather human nature is sufficiently malleable that diverse cultural expressions can emerge within isolated social groups. It is often only through inter-cultural confrontation and misunderstanding that members of one society come to recognize the unthought background of their enacted worlds. Varela is at pains to convey to us the message of his biology, that “…as human beings, we have only the world which we create with others” (p. 246, 1988). Unless I can encounter the differences between my (or my culture’s) cognitive domain and another’s with the willingness to make room for their meanings besides my own, I undermine the biological process of structural coupling that produces livable worlds. Meaning emerges out of difference (p. 167, Hornborg), and as W. I. Thompson suggests, “the recognition of differences [is] the consciousness of the unique that contributes to the understanding of the universal” (p. 167, 1985). Bringing forth worlds with others requires tapping into a universal substratum of empathic relation, not to erase difference, but to celebrate it.

Varela calls this willingness to forego self-certainty for the sake of enacting inclusive worlds with others love. Love, says Varela (and Maturana), “is the biological foundation of social phenomena: without love, without acceptance of others living beside us, there is no social process and, therefore, no humanness” (p. 264, 1988). Most scientists would dismiss such claims because they overshoot the objective scope of the scientific enterprise. But Varela’s biology is an attempt to break down the Cartesian divide between rationality and emotion, between what is and what ought to be. Biology is the study of life, but in the context of the recursive logic of enactivism, it becomes the self-study of our own living. Perhaps some physicists can study the mathematical regularities of measurable matter without too much personal investment, but to study the processes that birth and sustain our very being inevitably calls for profound personal and interpersonal involvement. And because of the identity between knowing and doing, the stories we tell about how life came to be and what it is doing here will determine what sorts of future worlds we bring forth together.

“Whatever we do in every domain, whether concrete (walking) or abstract (philosophical reflection), involves us totally in the body, for it takes place through our structural dynamics and through our structural interactions. Everything we do is a structural dance in the choreography of coexistence” (p. 248, ibid.).

Varela’s autopoietic biology is a critical response to the mechanistic trends of mainstream studies of living organization. He emphasizes the autonomy of individual organisms while also situating them within the eco-social environments that sustain them materially and semiotically. Varela also engages the philosophical implications of biology in a more penetrating way than most other scientists when he recognizes the dynamic unity of mind and body. Thought, perception, and action are knotted together in the process of living, and life is by its very nature a co-creative, world-making affair. Acknowledging this, a Gaian praxecology strives, not to disembed local cultures (whether scientific or indigenous) from their specific histories of structural coupling, but to expand their cognitive domains such that they begin to comport themselves appropriately in light of the knowledge of the whole Earth as a single living system—in mythopoeic fact, a person—that all beings, no matter our cultural or even biological differences, depend upon for survival. The task of our planetary age is to situate the parts in the whole (so human persons can relate to Gaia) while not forgetting that the whole is also to be found in each of the parts (humans are, first and foremost, earthlings). Personifying the Earth not only leads to renewed respect for our home planet, but reminds us of the encompassing and interconnected natural processes responsible for breathing life into individual human persons and all other earthlings. Personhood, it could be said, is granted only when beings are able to meet each other in loving social spaces.

Discursive Earth

Language is the primary instrument of human knowing, the tool of tools that opens up worlds of meaning more flexible (and reflexive) than the bio-semiotic endowments granted to most other organisms. But the virtue of human language is also its tragic flaw, as the creative power of words enable the imagination to almost entirely detach from the actuality of the body and the Earth. One result of such disengagement is what A. N. Whitehead has called the fallacy of “misplaced concreteness” (p. 51, 1925): abstract worlds of words and images restructure not only thought, but perception and action, such that the concrete lived experience of the uniqueness of individual persons, to take one example, becomes obscured by pre-conceived notions of culture, race, and class (etc.), leading to an objectification of others that short-circuits the process of linguistic and empathic structural coupling.

Varela suggests that human language evolved as a result of increased socialization and loving cooperation between our hominid ancestors (p. 220, 1988). The female shift from estral cycles to nonseasonal sexuality and the frontal coitus resulting from upright posture are mentioned as possible reasons for the development of such a complex and expressive behavior as speech[17] (p. 219, ibid.).

Evan Thompson points also to “…the evolution of a new stage of development, namely, childhood,” which provides developing human beings with an incredible plasticity, so much in fact that

“…individual subjectivity is from the outset intersubjectivity, a result of the communally handed down norms, conventions, symbolic artifacts, and cultural traditions in which the individual is always already embedded” (p. 409-411, 2007).

Writing may have arisen later (around the 4th millennium BCE) for economic reasons (p. 13, Jean, 1987), but the spoken word appears to have emerged originally as a result of the desire for increased interpersonal intimacy. This is, of course, a revisionist account of the origins of human language, focusing more on the evolution of consciousness than economic progress or the invention of technologies. W. I. Thompson offers evidence contrary to the standard technophilic and androcentric explanations, citing the work of prehistorian Alexander Marshack, who, like E. Thompson and Varela, argues language arose as a result of neoteny and increased social cohesion:

“If, at any point in the evolutionary process ‘language’ or proto-language was to be learned, it would not have been in the context of the hunt. It would have been learned young, before the individual was economically productive…in the context of the child’s widening, increasingly complex relational competence” (p. 91, W. I. Thompson, 1981).

A Gaian praxecology requires a novel way of relating to language as primarily communicative, rather than descriptive or representational. The meaning of our words comes not from a correspondence between them, our brains, and objects or events in the world, but from the consensual coordination of our lived bodies and their linguistic intentions.[18] Social coherence, rather than representational correspondence, produces meaningful intersubjective linguistic domains.

The communicative origins of language should make it clear that claims to establish a pure observer language free of cultural idiosyncrasy (and so capable of objective description of phenomena) are more political than scientific. Human beings speak with one another in order to share emotion and direct attention, and so any notion of descriptive or explanatory truth must include at least the potential for agreement between structurally coupled agents. If one group’s emically verified description contradicts another’s, there has not been a factual conflict but a failure to communicate. Such conflicts of description are especially insidious when political power is used to enforce “true” accounts of reality despite the resistance of marginalized social enactments of meaning.

The move away from representational accounts of language is the first step toward “…[placing] the human within the dynamics of the planet rather than [placing] the planet within the dynamics of the human” (p. 160, T. Berry, 1999). By recognizing language as a poetic product of the Earth’s own desire to know itself through autobiography, perhaps the psychological alienation and spiritual disenchantment so characteristic of our historical moment can be overcome.[19] According to Berry, “this awakening is our human participation in the dream of the Earth” (p. 165, ibid.). As I shared above, our language and the imaginative capacities it facilitates evolved because humans grew more capable of empathic structural coupling. As the cultural and symbolic systems that emerged became more complex, they began to reify differences between one another and, at least in the Western world, between humanity and nature. In effect, Western consciousness detached from the dream of the Earth and fell into its own nightmare of endless economic growth fueled by technological progress.[20]

A flourishing Gaian-polity will require rooting human imagination and language back in the body of the Earth and Cosmos, such that our evolutionary journey from protozoa to speaking primates becomes an expression of the planet’s own joie de vivre.

As Rick Tarnas has written:

“The human spirit does not merely prescribe nature’s phenomenal order; rather, the spirit of nature brings forth its own order through the human mind when that mind is employing its full complement of faculties–intellectual, volitional, emotional, sensory, imaginative, aesthetic, epiphanic…human language itself can be recognized as rooted in a deeper reality, as reflecting the universe’s unfolding meaning…Human thought does not and cannot mirror a ready-made objective truth in the world; rather, the world’s truth achieves its existence when it comes to birth in the human mind” (p. 435, 1991).

A participatory approach like Tarnas’ is exactly the kind of relationship between language, culture, and nature that praxecology seeks. Humanity, rather than the alienated dominator of Earth, can become Gaia’s most articulate storyteller and most potent dream weaver. Logos did not arrive in the universe in human form from beyond at some point in history, but has been a part of cosmogenesis since the beginning.[21]

Gaian Mythos

Humanity is unique, in the double sense of being both one with (Latin: unus) the Earth/Cosmos and undeniably alone. What it is that makes our species so special is a matter of contention. The risk one takes in defining the difference between human and nonhuman is that some group be marginalized by not being included in the favored category. History makes it quite apparent that societies become more willing to commit atrocities when they adopt antagonistic linguistic classifications (race, class, gender, species, etc.). But even to deny the difference is already to have marked the topic as a forbidden fruit. I cannot avoid this risk if I wish to tell my story (cross-cultural communication depends, at least etymologically, on munitions—on firing an opening shot). I can only provisionally offer that what makes us human is our being always already embedded participants in evolving worlds of meaning, and knowing so. Knowledge is what distinguishes humanity, but all knowing is situated within the promiscuous meanings and romantic-comedic-tragic narratives of embodied life among others, both human and non.

Our human capacity for knowledge also clues us into our ignorance, the fact that we lack, perhaps indefinitely, a complete understanding of how we came to be and how best to live. Nonetheless, as Wendell Berry has written, “…we have to act on the basis of what we know, [even if] what we know is incomplete” (p. 10, 2000). Our cultures must provide us with a flexible way to navigate the unmappable complexities of the terrain of life on this evolving planet. A renewed engagement with the mythopoeic dimensions of consciousness is one way to keep our balance while walking upon such uncertain ground.

Myth, according to W. I. Thompson, “is a state of being, analogous to music [and so] not simply a description, but a performance of the very reality it seeks to describe” (p. 6, 1996). Any knowledge we pretend to have regarding the world simultaneously participates in the bringing forth of exactly such a world. Even modern technosciences of life have deep mythological roots, and so to properly contextualize matters of fact I must invoke the poetic images of the ancient past (of at least our Western, alphabetic tradition).

Hesiod, Ovid, Homer and other Greek orators have given poetic, divinatory, or dramatic tribute to Gaia, the “mother of all [and] eldest of all beings” (Homeric hymn XXX). She is imagined to have emerged at the beginning of the world from the undifferentiated, lifeless mass of Chaos. Once her earthly foundation was in place, she birthed the sky, the mountains, and the sea, along with countless other beings, mortal and immortal. She was, for ancient humanity (on all continents, though by other names), personified as Grandmother, revered for her creative generativity and life-sustaining soils.[22]

For us, despite living thousands of years later in an age of “Reason,” it remains wise to remember with W. I. Thompson that a Gaian evolutionary theory and practice (a praxecology) “requires not simply training and data collection, but imagination” (p. 252, 1991).

Imagination, for Thompson, is what integrates perception and enacts coherent worlds of situated meaning:

“What brings forth a world is the human body as a field of metaphoric extension of the known into the unknown… [Imagination’s] ability to stabilize a world derives from…preverbal geometries of behavior we have come to cognize as the way things happen” (p. 253, ibid).

These preverbal geometries of behavior archetypally structure our unconscious experience of the Earth. In those “mythic times called the ‘Scientific Revolution’” (p. 1, Haraway, 1997), the Cartesian coordinate plane emerged to refigure the human body-mind, constructing a flattened background upon which the Western imagination could perform its world-making magic at relative distance from the local complexities and particular faces of Earth.

The re-imagining of the world I am after requires locating the supposedly universal scientific truths responsible for disenchanting the Earth and Cosmos. “[The scientific tribe], says Latour, “like earlier ones, projects its own special categories onto Nature; what is new is that it pretends it has not done so” (p. 102, 1993). This pretense to objectivity, ironically, is what allowed Lovelock to publish his first hypotheses (p. 568-570, Nature, 1965) concerning how best to detect extraterrestrial life (by searching for “order” and “non-equilibrium”). The ambiguous boundaries between life and non-life, much like those between human and nonhuman, are fraught with controversy.[23] Lovelock’s generalizations, however, seem to offer at least relatively universal characteristics applicable even to alien worlds. As far as Lovelock is concerned, life is a planetary affair[24], involving even the physiosphere in its metabolic processes of growth and evolution (through regulation of atmosphere and plate tectonics [Mann, 1991]).

Our living planet has produced not only complex eco-semiotic webs of organic community, but also a special primate who can know the difference between sign and thing (and who surfs the mystery in between with myth). This differential knowing raises the specter of minds separate from bodies, of a noosphere over and above the biosphere using it as a means for its own elevated ends. But we need not reproduce the Sacred Image of the Same by reifying the human difference; we can instead, through a self-critical and diffractive consciousness, bring forth histories of entangled meaning where reality and idea, science and story, nature and culture mutually constitute one another (Haraway, 1997). The cosmogenesis of Earth is as much mental, cultural, and transcendent as it is physical, natural, and immanent. There is no one true and ideal copy of the world that might be reproduced culturally or technologically. Reality is not a reflected image in the human mind, but co-emerges out of the interference patterns generated by the varied material-semiotic activities of countless earthlings, most of whom are not human (p. 299, Haraway, 1992). A Gaian praxecology attempts to make this radically inter-species realization explicit in both our ecological practices and our discourse.

Imagine a world where Lovelock’s scientific narratives about the “Ages of Gaia” are tied together in a distributed and layered way (p. 121, Haraway, 1997.) with the ancient myths and mysterious organic origins of so many other human and nonhuman natures-cultures. Gaian praxecology requires not hegemonic universalism or globalization, but a shared discourse of common origins always open to interpellation (p. 49-50, ibid.). Humanity does not yet share a sacred story of creation, but our global techno-industrial activities have already inextricably linked our biological destinies. The future of our species depends upon a more integral relation between economic theory and ecological practice, myth and science, and imagination and knowledge. A Gaian praxecology is at least an opening gesture toward a more appropriate relation between these dualisms.

Earth recognized and lived with as what Ian Hacking (p. 31-32, 1999) has called an “interactive kind,” a person, would bring our species even closer to what a Gaian praxecology implies. Reconnecting on a personal level with the Earth makes evident the real ways that our ideas are actualized in the bringing forth of worlds. For too long, Gaia has been conceived of as a dead rock mutely bearing oil drills and explosives, a mere standing reserve of resources fed into the human market, and only then made valuable. The result is that much of her body (including the parts of her that we are) has become toxic and infertile. The time has come to pay respect again to the Grandmother of all who eat and breathe beneath the sun. I call for a polyphonic Gaian mythos sung by humans and nonhumans alike, “…for things [quasi-objects] too have to be elevated to the dignity of narrative” (p. 90, Latour, 1993).


The spiritual import of a logos of the living Earth cannot be underestimated. Unless the human spirit can begin to feel at home again upon the planet of its birth, it will surely soon become the planet of its death.

“As physical resources become less available,” says Berry,

“psychic [or spiritual] energy must support the human project in a special manner. This situation brings us to a new reliance on powers within the universe and also to experience of the deeper self. The universe must be experienced as the Great Self. Each is fulfilled in the other: the Great Self is fulfilled in the individual self, and the individual self is fulfilled in the Great Self. Alienation is overcome as soon as we experience this surge of energy from the source that has brought the universe through the centuries. New fields of energy become available to support the human venture. These new energies find expression and support in celebration. For in the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration” (p. 170, 1999).

The ongoing celebration of the Cosmos and Earth community, indeed, provides us with a mythos worth performing and participating in. Indigenous peoples have ritually participated in Gaia’s seasonal rhythms for thousands of generations, recognizing the celebratory significance of all life’s activities. A similar re-sacralization of life goes hand in hand with a Gaian praxecology. Ritual is the concrete foundation of culture, the source of our most fundamental habits and dispositions. Renewing our connection with the “mother of all things” can bring an end to the fragmented Chaos of post-industrial civilization, giving us the inspiration to tell the meaningful stories of creation and regeneration going on around, between, and within us. It is through such scientifically informed, mythically imbued narratives and rituals that a Gaian praxecology can be brought forth. All of our cultural institutions must seek their guidance from the roles granted them by such numinous, celebratory stories such that they perform their world-making work for the glory of Gaia, rather than for the profit of a few corporations.

My story has now reached its end, but hopefully the holzwege I have laid down in walking has provided an opening for fellow terrestrial trekkers to follow in my footsteps. Our ultimate destination cannot be prematurely known, as the mythic landscapes we must travel are dense and full of mystery.

“The landscape of myth,” says W. I. Thompson,

“…is that shoreline where the island of knowing meets the unfathomable sea of our own being…When we come to [such] an edge we have to shift our mode of thought…from rational analysis to intuitive meditation” (p. 87, 1981).

We can only hope to understand the current planetary moment by wholeheartedly participating in the multibillion-year cosmic performance of powers that produced and continues to nourish us. Science and spirituality must mutually aid us in any joint venture to enact a Gaian praxecology, because only a more integral relation between intelligence and imagination will allow the human being to dream with the Earth once again.

[1] In the next section (see p. 6), I will unpack the implications and limitations of praxeology, explaining why praxecology provides a more appropriate plan of action for our historical moment.

[2] Cyborgs are “the offspring of…technoscientific wombs—imploded germinal entities, densely packed condensations of worlds, shocked into being from the force of the implosion of the natural and the artificial, nature and culture, subject and object, machine and organic body, money and lives, narrative and reality” (p. 14, Haraway, 1997).

[3] See Weston, A. ‘Forms of Gaian ethics,’ pgs. 217-230, Environmental Ethics 9. 1987. Lovelock himself sees his work as strictly scientific, but this has not stopped others from extending the implications of his theory into ethics and spirituality via critiques of anthropocentrism and materialism.

[4] “…the intensified misery of billions of men and women [and nonhuman species] seems organically rooted in the freedoms of transnational capitalism and technoscience” (p. 3, Haraway, 1997). Another result of techno-industrialism is mechanistic biology. I explore the metaphysical substructure of this disembedded perspective in my essay “On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics” (2009).

[5] Refers to class discussion (11/4/09). Also see Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype (1983), where he argues that natural selection could not have produced a self-regulating planetary organism. Dawkins’ definition of life in terms of genetic replication is too narrow for reasons discussed on page 9.

[6] “Even Hegel, for whom the Absolute is fully grasped as such only as Concept or Idea, recognized that art, religion and philosophy all share the same substance, that in fact it is only as reflection on (or refraction through) the myths and symbols of religion in particular that ‘absolute knowing’ can arise in the first place.” –Sean Kelly, Evolutionary Panentheism for the Planetary Era, 2009

[7] This is, essentially, a move away from representationalist epistemology to participatory epistemology, where knowledge “about” a system or process is understood to be an integral part of the same system or process. Personality is not the sole possession of our species, but a refined expression of the primordial personhood of the living Earth.

[8] For more on what a Gaian polity entails, see Gaia, A Way of Knowing: Political Implications of the New Biology, ed. by W.I. Thompson. Several principles are suggested, including the move away from one-sided ideologies to an “ecology of consciousness” (Bateson) and the supersession of nation-state territorialism through a recognition of the atmosphere as our global commons. See also section X (p. 67) of my essay On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics (2009).

[9] Eco-action is action in service of one’s earthly home and all the kin who live there (oikos– household, or family).

[10] The details of the technical definition of “autopoiesis” (self-production) need not concern us in this paper, but in short, a system is generally defined as autopoietic if it is composed of a network of dynamic chemical transformations that produces its own components and the membrane that spatially defines it as a system (p. 46, M. & V., 1988). The paradigmatic example of autopoiesis is the cell.

[11] See Dawkins 1989 and Dennett 1995

[12] Lovelock’s Gaia theory allows us to see that life does not adapt to fit the fixed parameters of a lifeless planet, but remakes its host into a complex, self-regulating living system.

[13] “We speak of structural coupling whenever there is a history of recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems” (p. 74, M. &V., 1988).

[14] “In one of his articles Lovelock uses the term ecopoiesis to describe Gaia (Lovelock, 1987). This term seems just right for conveying both the resemblance and difference between Gaia and the autopoietic cell. The resemblance is due to the ecosphere and the cell being autonomous systems, the difference to the scale and manner in which their autonomy takes form” (p. 122, E. Thompson).

[15] “…we might compare scientific facts to frozen fish: the cold chain that keeps them fresh must not be interrupted, however briefly” (p. 119, Latour, 1993).

[16] For example, Thomas Edison wove a chain of associations together to relate Joule’s and Ohm’s equations with economic principles. The result was the electric light bulb (p. 239-240, Latour, 1988).

[17] W. I. Thompson (p. 21-26, 1981) similarly links the evolution of language and sexuality, pointing to, among other things, Alfred Kinsey’s studies in the 1950s showing the intelligentsia (those who have mastered language), unlike the working classes, tended to revel in oral sexuality.

[18] See Maturana’s Biology of Language: The Epistemology of Reality (1978), where he points to structural coupling as the origin of language. This is in contrast to denotative or representational theories of language, where words stand for things independent of consensual coordination between human organisms.

[19] “The governing dream of the twentieth century appears as a kind of ultimate manifestation of that deep inner rage of Western society against its earthly condition as a vital member of the life community” (p. 165, ibid.).

[20] See section VIII of my essay On the Matter of Life: Towards an Integral Biology of Economics (2009) for a possible account of why Western consciousness became so detached from the ecopoiesis of the Earth.

[21] “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through [the Word] and without [the Word] was not anything made that hath been made” (John 1:1-1:4).

[22] See James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (3rd ed., 1915). Frazer points to the common origin of all modern religions in the ancient goddess worshipping traditions of the world. Especially significant in the context of my essay is his statement that “…imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid” (ch. 22).

[23] Autopoiesis has been suggested in an earlier section on Varela’s systems biology as a possible scientific definition of “life” that recognizes self-production and self-regulation (rather than genetic replication) as essential to living organization, thereby granting Gaia living status. The economic implications of the controversy over what counts as “life” are central to my essay On the Matter of Life (2009), where I argue, with the help of Whitehead and Varela, that all actual occasions are autopoietic organisms.

[24] While Lovelock was working with NASA to detect life on Mars, he had “a gentle discussion with Carl Sagan, who thought it might be possible that life existed in oases where local conditions would be more favorable. Long before Viking set course from Earth I felt intuitively that life could not exist on a planet sparsely; it could not hang on in a few oases, except at the beginning or at the end of its tenure. As Gaia theory developed, this intuition grew; now I view it as a fact” (p. 6, 1988).


Works Cited

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4) Hacking, Ian. The Social Construction of What? 1999. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.

5) Haraway, Donna J. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Science. 1997. Routledge: New York.

6) Haraway, Donna J. The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others. Printed in Cultural Studies. 1992. Eds. Grossberg, L., Nelson, C., Treichler, A. Routledge: New York.

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9)Jean, Georges. Writing: The Story of Alphabets and Scripts. 1992. Abrams: New York.

10) Kaufmann, Arnold. Transl. from French by Rex Audley. The Science of Decision-Making: An Intro to Praxeology. 1968. McGraw-Hill: New York.

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13) Mann, Charles. Lynn Margulis: Science’s Unruly Earth Mother. Science 19 April 1991. Pgs. 378-381

14) Maturana, Humberto and Varela, J. Francisco. The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. 1988. Shambala: Boston.

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20) Thompson, William Irwin (editor). Gaia: A Way of Knowing, Political Implications of the New Biology. 1987. Lindisfarne: New York.

21) Thompson, William Irwin (editor). Gaia 2: Emergence, The New Science of Becoming. 1991. Lindisfarne: New York.

22) Thompson, William Irwin. Pacific Shift. 1985. Sierra Club Books: San Francisco.

23) Thompson, William Irwin. The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light. 1981. St. Martin’s Press: New York.

24) Whitehead, Alfred North. Science and the Modern World. 1925. The Free Press: New York.