Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The ecology of consciousness



Seth entombing Osiris

Though the New Year's resolution holds - a moratorium on book buying - the post person on their very efficient tricycles and trailers (would that UK post persons were so blessed) keeps up the flow of 2014 orders (that probably accelerated as a result of the forthcoming moratorium)!

Today arrived 'The Philosophy of Emptiness' (Gay Watson) and 'Waking, Dreaming, Being: self and consciousness on neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy' (Evan Thompson). This illustrates one of the challenges of the modern age - the ability to buy books at any time of day or night, from anywhere and, thus, the possibility that one bought them when not wholly sober! This is not to say that both are not excellent texts (and they certainly look like it) but only to note that my ability to digest philosophy is limited (and slow).

This I discovered (and periodically need to rediscover) when I went to university to study philosophy and theology. This was a mistake! This was not because one's raw intelligence could not make something of it (eventually), nor that the underlying questions were not of the utmost, indeed existential, importance but because I realised (slowly and painfully) that my brain works in image and story, that I am most persistently drawn to painting and poem, literature and history, though undoubtedly seen through a spiritual lens. (Also, I will admit that the way philosophy is taught is fundamentally awry with the assumption that knowing and being are sundered when, in truth, any true realisation requires a change of being. This is a construction of philosophy intelligible to all in the 'East' and was to all in the 'West' before the onset of Yeats' 'three provincial centuries').

So if I manage both books in 2015, it will be an event not least because I realise I must tackle a 'really big' (and probably unclassifiable) book in Jean Gebser's 'The Ever Present Origin' on the evolution of consciousness. I know beforehand I am going to cheat and read Georg Feurstein's 'Structures of Consciousness: The Genius of Jean Gebser: An Introduction and Critique' (that I, also, await, having purchased it at great expense, it being out of print) hoping that having done so, I maintain an appetite for the main course!

Oddly the final pitch for Gebser has come from reading Willian Irwin Thompson's 'Coming into Being: Artefacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness'. (W.I. Thompson being ironically E. Thompson's father). A more polyvalent text would be difficult to imagine. It is an erudite, insightful and creative examination of key artefacts (such as prehistoric sculptures) and texts (such as the Tao Te Ching and the Iliad) within the context of revealing what they might have to show about the state of consciousness of their shapers - both the individual maker (where knowable) and the ecology of mind in which their intelligibility is set. And, critically, how that ecology passes (arguably) through 'phase shifts'.

Thompson is an heir to Gebser and sees these unfolding shifts as both an opportunity to deepen the potentials of what it means to be human and perilous in that they are not necessary - evolution though luring one on, does not define or control. We may at any moment abort, regress, go off the rails. God, in A.N. Whitehead's terms, may be the 'lure of love' but a luring is an invitation to adventure and one with implied risk. God is not a puppet master and in love there is no inevitability and in human beings, God has invested the responsibility of being 'caretakers of the cosmos': a responsibility we may irresponsibly decline! Or so this tradition or set of traditions has it.

I have never quite known what to make of this except to sense there is something important here; and, if there was one moment in Thompson's book that made this clear to me, it was a discussion of Isis and Osiris. Here Thompson remarks that the unfolding dynamic of the story rests with Osiris as Lord of the Underworld. He rests in death. Thompson makes (as he often does) a virtually 'off the cuff' parallel comparison with the life of Jesus. Here the underworld is entered, transformed and Jesus returns with a promise (forestalled or at time when time is ripe) of a resurrected, renewed life. The stories share an archetypal pattern yet it is a pattern that moves on, develops, deepens. The spirit plunges yet deeper into matter transfiguring. A phase shift has occurred in the ecology of conscious possibility or so it might be seen.

Seeing what this might mean (if anything) seems like an intriguing invitation.

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