In his seminal book The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser describes the major shifts in consciousness in history. He identified these shifts by looking at the art works, artifacts, aural and written works, philosophy, socio-cultural norms, religious and spiritual beliefs of the major epochs that he associated with what he called “structures” of consciousness. The early dawn of man arose with the Magic structure, which gave way to the Mythic structure, after which appeared the Rational structure– which persists today. Those of you familiar with Integral theory and spiral dynamics, should not confuse Gebser’s use of these terms with developmental levels! Gebser thought of the structures of consciousness as truly evolutionary structures — not developmental levels, and he wrote painstakingly detailed warnings to the reader to disambiguate the two. Like all evolutionary forms, Gebser’s structures of consciousness represent completely new leaps in evolution, wherein the new structure emerges and the old disappears, the exact same way that Neanderthal and Co-Magnon — our common ancestors — no longer live co-temporaneously with Homo-sapiens. The Rational structure has been around a long time, and today we see that it develops through developmental stages. Every single stage that Integral Theory and spiral dynamics identifies today is part of the Rational structure of consciousness. How can we be sure? Because Gebser predicted that the new consciousness would entail something completely different. Here are some key elements:
- the Integral structure would require new types of language
- a new kind of process-based reasoning would arise
- this process-thinking would account for the perception of space and time (space and time would no longer be “a priori or external features of the universe, rather they would be seen to arise within a generative process of thinking, similar to Bohm’s notion of “thought as a system.”
- that our understanding of the nature of being and how this relates to the human existential condition would give us deep insight into the nature of time
- this insight into the nature of time would be experienced as the “ever-presencing” or origin or alternately, the “co-presencing” of all matter and being
- there would be a de-objectification of phenomena
- and an accompanying of the de-locatlization of the subject
- that dualistic opposites on which all rational thinking is based would be resolved in a view of a unified dynamic field
- this would entail a new conceptualization of wholes and parts and
- a new gestalt of figure and ground.
Obviously, we are still a long way away from thinking and reasoning and speaking in these ways. But I believe that many of us are already functioning from this place that is different than where humans have been before. I don’t think this is an intellectual thing. I think that being able to create a meta-language for it requires a great intellectual capacity, however, the evolutionary impulse is already moving into the new. We feel this in the way we cannot accept all the models and frameworks and ideas that surround us today — even though we have more access to more ideas than ever before, we somehow feel that they lack the ability to language what we can feel about the future, about our future. We see this in the hyper-complexification of engineering and technologies that despite the enormous efforts behind them, not only fail to produce solutions, but seem to intensify the conflict, and exacerbate the problems. We feel this in the disconnect between our hearts and the ready-made world constructed by our society, in the youthful, powerful energies that course through our individual and collective bodies and the petty, contracted containers we are expected to fit them in. We experience the “pulse of freedom” from the gap between what is our deepest truth, and the sour, cynical factoids we are supposed to believe.
The psychologist-philosopher Eugene Gendlin has a process theory that explains why this is so. Through decades of research into the method he calls Focussing – Gendlin has shown that what is our deepest truth, somehow precedes our intellectual knowing of it, and instead resides in our deepest, core sense of being. He called this core sense of being our felt-sense. He describes this felt-sense as being more precise, more real than our constructed versions of it — our speech and actions are only approximations of this deepest felt-sense. And this, according to Gendlin, is what drives us to be creative, to make and re-make our lives, our art, our narratives, toward closer and closer alignment with this felt-sense. To close the gap between what is actually the case, and what is felt to be more real, in a very deep sense. Gendlin uses the metaphor of the poet trying to make a poem that re-create what is in his heart-mind, trying to articulate a deep felt-sense. He notes that the poet keeps going back to this felt sense, to appraise the words, he uses the felt sense to evaluate whether the word he has chosen is the “right” word. In other words, the felt-sense is somehow more precise than the saying of it, since the felt-sense is utilized to evaluate the words, not the other way around. The Rational mind would have it the other way around — the rational mind would require the statement to reject the felt-sense, to repress or mutilate it in lieu of getting the construct to fit formal logic, or to come up with a quick and efficient result, or to follow the iron hand of technological impulse.
Consider a poet, stuck in the midst of writing a poem. The poem is unfinished. How to go on? The already written lines want something more, but what? The poet rereads the written lines. The poem goes on, there, where the lines end. The poet senses what that edge there needs (wants, demands, projects, implies…). But there are no words for that. It is ah, uh, …. . The poet’s hand rotates in the air, The gesture says that.
Many good lines offer themselves; they try to say, but do not say– that. The Blank still hangs there, still implying something more precise. Or worse, the proposed line makes the …. shrivel and nearly disappear. Quick, get that line out of the way. The poet rereads the written lines and ah… there it is again. Rather than that line, the poet prefers to stay stuck.
The . . . . seems to lack words, but no. It knows the language, since it understands and rejects– the lines that came. So it is not preverbal. Rather it knows what must be said, and know that these lines don’t say that.
~ Eugene Gendlin How Philosophy Cannot Appeal to Experience in Language Beyond Postmodernism , p. 17
In our Rational world, what is outside or exterior to our core being, tends to govern or limit our choices. We are encouraged to make decisions, to choose the correct word, image, speech, action, narrative, from someplace outside — from society, school, peers, textbooks, teachers and gurus of all sorts — rather than to stick with our felt-sense and work through our own uniquely situated center of Being. The new consciousness, re-claims the power of one’s core truth to affirm the real and to authenticate the truth. (There are of course pre-trans issues with this, that I will discuss later.)
We come full circle when we see that Gendlin’s felt sense — the sense that inside each of us is a kind of beacon, or as the Dzogchen say, an authenticator — when we see this as the same as Geber’s ever-present origin. This felt-sense of the authentically real inside us individually, is the co-presence of us as individuals with the “cosmic envelope” (as Bhaskar likes to say) of origin, spirit, or source.
So, we don’t have to worry about that process, which is evolving through us. We are here to do the work of designing language, and actions that more adequately reflect what is still hidden deep in our truth. We sense that we share one same truth, but we should not be surprised when this one arising view takes on a multiplicity of forms in our models, language, discourse, and other artifacts and structures that will emerge from the new view. This is the process of the a-perspectival world of felt-sense, spewing forth into new perspectival elements. When this happens — when an few individuals articulate this new view in words, paintings, poems, artifacts, meta-models… then an entire generation of people, whose core being has already been leaning heavily in a direction with no name, suddenly re-cognize themselves in these works. There is the “ahha!” moment. The feeling that these truths have always already been here, just waiting for someone to articulate them. This is the onto-logical moment of discovery. The terms comes from two words “onto” meaning being, and “logical” meaning thinking. This moment is when the gap between what our thinking tells us and what our core being tells us, is closed.
It is my hope that you sill find the authors in the Magellan Courses to be just these individuals you have been waiting for, to breathe life into your felt-sense of an epochal paradigmatic shift that we have been born to birth. Here are just two of the hundreds and hundreds of excerpts that to me, express the Integral view. From Christopher Alexander’s Nature of Order IV The Luminous Ground p. 5-8
That Exists in Me, and Before Me, and after Me
Effectively, what all this amounts to is that in the process of making things through living process, gradually I approach more and more closely knowledge of what is truly in my own heart.
Early in my life as an architect, at first I was confused or deceived by the teaching I received from architectural instructors. I thought that these things which are important — and perhaps the things which I aspired to make– were “other,” outside myself, governed by a canon of expertise which lay outside me, but to which I gave due.
Gradually, the older i got, I recognized that little of that had value, and that the thing which did have true value was only that thing which lay in my own heart. Then I learned to value only that which truly activates what is in my heart. I came to value those experiences which activate my heart as it really is. I sought, more and more, only those experiences which have the capacity, the depth, to activate the feeling that is my real feeling, in my true childish heart. And I learned, slowly, to make things which are of that nature.
This was a strange process, like coming home. As a young man I started with all my fancy ideas, the ideas and wonderful concepts of late boyhood, early manhood, my student years, the ideas i wondered at, open-mouthed, things which seemed so great to me. Then, from my teachers I learned things even more fantastic– I learned sophisticated taste, cleverness, profundity, seriousness. I tried to make, with my hands, things of that level of accomplishment. That took me to middle age.
Then gradually, I began to recognize that in the midst of cleverness, which I never truly understood, anyway, the one thing I could trust was a small voice, a tiny soft-and-hard vulnerable feeling, recognizable, which was something I actually knew. Slowly, that knowledge grew in me. it was the stiff which I was actually certain of– not because it aped what others had taught me, but because I knew it to be true of itself, in me.
Usually the things which embodied this knowledge were very small things, things so small that in ordinary discourse they might have seemed insignificant, like the fact that i felt comfortable when my back sank into a pillow arranged in a certain way, and the fact that a cup of tea was more comforting, when I lay thus, with my back in that pillow, staring at the sky.
Then in my later years I gradually began to recognize that this realistic voice, breaking through– and which by now, I had identified in many concrete ways, even to the point of writing this stuff down so others could recognize it also, for themselves, in their way, in their own hearts== was my own voice, the voice that had always been in me, since childhood, but which as a young man I had pushed away and which now, again, I began to recognize as the only true value.
But this knowing of myself, and what was in my own true heart, was not only childish. Because at the same time that I recognized it in small things– like cups of tea, leaves blowing off an autumn tree, a pebble underfoot– I also began to recognize it in very great things, in works made by artists centuries away from us in time, thousand of miles away in space.
In some thing which one of them had made, suddenly this childish heart, this me, came rushing back. I could feel this, for example in the mud wall at the back of the sand garden of Ryoan-ji. I could feel it in an ancient fragment of textile. I could feel it in the worm stone of a church, laid fourteen hundred years before. Somehow, I began to realize that the greatest masters of their craft were those who somehow managed to release, in me, that childish heart which is my true voice, and with which I am completely comfortable and completely free.
Knowing this changed my perspective. What at first seemed like a return to a childhood or a simple increase of the personal, gradually took on a different character. I began to realize that what I come in touch with when I go closer and closer to myself is not just “me.” It is something vast, existing outside myself and inside myself, as if it were a contact with the eternal, something everlasting existing before me, in me, and around me. I recognized, too, that my most lucid moments occur when I am swept up in this void, and fully conscious of it, as if it were a blinding light.
This is what I have felt on the beach on the north shore of Point Reyes near San Francisco, when the sea comes crashing in with enormous force when the water and wind are too loud for me to hear my voice, the waves too strong for me to think of swimming, the force of the water and the wind, the white foam of the waves, the blackish green moving water, the huge, loud grinding swells, the beach sand that goes on forever, the seaweeds strewn on the beach that have been hurled by a force greater than they are– as I am, also, when i walk among them.
Yet even though I am next to nothing in the presence of all this force, I am free there. In such a place, at such a moment, I am crushed to understand my own smallness, and then understand the immensity of what exists. but this immensity of what exists– and my connection to it– is not only something in my heart. It is a vastness which is outside me and beyond me and inside me.
Actions and objects increase or decrease my connection to this vastness, which is in me, and which is also real. A concrete corridor without windows and with an endless line of doors is less likely to awaken it in me than a small apple tree in bloom. The brick on my front doorstpe may awaken it, if it is ordinary, soft, like life in its cosntruction.
It is at once enormous in extent and infinitely intimate and personal.
Changes in Our Idea of Matter
It is the living structure of buildings which awakens a connection with this personal feeling. The more that it appears in a building, the more it awakens this feeling in us. Indeed, we may say, truly, that a building has life in it to the extent that it awakens this connection to the personal. Or, in other language, we may say that a building has life in it, to the extent it awakens the connection to the eternal vastness which existed before me, and around me, and after me.
I believe that this is true, not just a nice way of talking. As I try to explain it quietly, for all its grandeur, and try to make the artist’s experience real, I hope that you, with me, will also catch in it a glimpse of a modified picture of the universe. For, in my view, there is a core of fact here– a personal nature in what seems impersonal– that both underpins the nature of architecture in its ultimate meaning, and will also, one day, force a revision in our idea of the universe.
I believe it is in the nature of matter, that it is soaked through with self or “I.” The essence of the argument which I am putting before you throughout book 4 is that the tings we call “the self,” which lies at the core of our experience, is a real thing, existing in all matter, beyond ourselves, and that in the end we must understand it, in order to make living structure in buildings. But it is also my argument that this is the nature of matter. It is not only necessary to understand it when we wish to make living structure in buildings. It is also necessary if we wish to grasp our place in the universe, our relationship to nature.
That argument– that difficult intellectual path– is the path which lies before us in this book.
Christopher Alexander is the artist on a new path where the dichotomous aspect of matter and self, subject and object, before and after — where the vast, infinite and universal is disclosed in the small, particular, concrete. Jason Brown is investigating the same path, through the logic of process philosophy and the mind of an empirical scientist. If at times the scientist in us must forgive Alexander’s romance with beauty, there will be times when the romantic in us will need to work past Jason Brown eminently scientific and philosophical genius. Neither of these two authors are well known or well read. They have been ostracized from within their own disciplines, and have not yet connected with an appropriate audience. They are both working at the edge of the duality that binds the rational mind into subject-object, whole-part, figure-ground categories, and limits our ability to awaken toward Being(in-becoming). For this, Brown has written brilliant theory fully based in empirical research, on how those boundaries are both salient feature of our experience, but also, flexible aspects of experience.
In the Preface to The Self-Embodying Mind, Brown explains the challenges:
Every step forward, in life and in thought, is a return to a beginning that it empties that much more the plan by which the journey is directed. The journey that began this work was with the recondite lire of aphasia. This early work led to a psychology of language, perception, action and feeling based on the principle of microgenesis. … Now this psychology, a single thought exposed at progressively deeper levels, is extended to the problems of time awareness, consciousness and the nature of the self. It is astonishing, is it not, that an aphasic error, a slip of the tongue, can be a peephole on some of the ultimate mysteries of life?
Over the last few years I have had the occasion to present portions of this work at various conferences and to different audiences, and have found, to my dismay, that the theory is often difficult for many to grasp. This is partly because it is built on a complexity of clinical detail unfamiliar to brain researchers, partly because it is out of sync with much of cognitive science and neuropsychology, and partly because it seems to conflict, in some respects, with the concept of mind and brain that is generated by common sense. Yet I am convinced that if an effort is made to follow the argument, all of its difficultues can be overcome and the ideas will readily fall into place. The reader, however, has work to do.
To begin with, the clinical observations that provide the basis for this theory need to be consulted at each step of the way for the reader to appreciate its range and coherence. Without a knowledge of the clinical material, this work may appear to be unduly speculative and lacking a proper scientific foundation. …
Furthermore, there has to be a sensitivity to the complexity of the task at hand and, one hopes, an impatience with simplistic models that provide easy solutions to what, for me, have been problems beyond human comprehension. … Information about the brain and behavior has accumulated at an astonishing pace while theory connecting mind and brain is impoverished in exact proportion to the extent to which the data have proliferated.
[On the other hand] I am very much aware that when explanation falters, metaphor intercedes. New theories require new concepts and the fact is we do not yet have a vocabulary adequate for as precise a treatment as I would desire. Conversely, the vocabulary that we do have is an obstacke the theory has to overcome. …
Most of all, a search for a new theory is hindered by the constraints of our habits of thought. These habits are the result of intrinsic limitations in our perspective because of the design of the mind/brain, but they become frozen as a received doctrine through the weight of historical influence. As a result, new theories tend to be new twists on older theories from which it is difficult to break away. This is why the pressure of habitual thinking must be resisted at every turn.
Like the objects it describes, a theory has a life. It is not an attempt to gather up and explain the date from outside, but an expansion from within, like growth. A theory arrived at this way, through the developmental track — the dynamic– of the object, is closer to nature than one pieced together by logic. The starting point does not have to be the theoretical core of the enterprise but it has to be the goal toward which the theory is striving. If this is the goal, the theory eventually will get there. Everything in the world, I believe is part of the same object so no matter where one begins, the universal can always be discovered.
Brown’s work helps ground Alexander’s insights in rigorous, process terms. Although his method is deliberate and scientifically rigorous, in his Canon Process and the Authentic Life he moves more and more toward the kind of generative insight that pulses throughout all of Alexander’s more meandering style. In Process and Authenticity (p 77-80), he writes
The appearance of a subject announces a world, but the appearance of the world is necessary to individuate the subject. The objectivity of a world “outside” the mind, and the objects within the mind, result from a process of adaptation in which subjectivity is coerced by sensation to an increasing multiplicity of forms. The partition of original wholeness leaves its mark, in a life-long tension of autonomy with community, independence with need, individuation with immersion. In the moral domain, the conflict of egoism and responsibility traces to this primal separation, what Shelling called the “original divorce.” The initial separation into subject and object is the ground of further oppositions, yet the whole is not found, not in their later synthesis, which is a coming-together of parts, but in uncovering the oppositions to disclose a more profound unity.
Initially, the world is a global object, a gestalt that expands to a primitive space about the body. Gradually like a plant that flowers, the objective pole comes to be filled with objects. The subjective pole also partitions. in the first step, an object grows like a bud, drawing the subjective outward. The division of primordial subject into a subjective and objective portion replicates the pattern of mitosis in a single cell, as an iterated fission or parcellation gives from within a proliferation of object-forms. As the object separates, a subject appears. … Over time, a self arises within the subject as the inner world articulates. Kant wrote that as soon as the child says “I”, a new world appears. This is the inner world of the forming self-concept, that of beliefs, choices, and intentions. The progression from a subjectivity (with no object other than itself) to a subject (with an object), the a self (with inner objects as well), owes to a recurrent individuation of the subjective pole. This is the source of all objects, and as the inner world individuates, as too do the objects of the objective pole.
The world is the outer half of the subject. Through the inner half the subject exists, through the outer half the subject is able to survive, not merely because the world is a source of nourishment. If the world should disappear, even for a second, as happens in cases of brain damage, the self would vanish with it. The continuity of self requires a repeatable world, as the continuity of the world requires a repeatable self. In dream, the object world disappears, as does the self of waking experience. The “ego” of the dream is fluid like its objects, changeable and passively malleable to the image content. The self must continuously create an object world for its own survival, just as the existence of the self or any mode of subjectivity is conditioned on the existence of an objective world. The world is an endpoint of the will that, for us, passes through the self and objectifies like the crust of a lucid dream. Novalis wrote, “we are close to asking when we dream that we are dreaming.”
“Gradually like a plant that flowers, the self is filled with objects”… writes Jason Brown. The world arises, as self, wholly filled with objects — a natural order, as Alexander would so eloquently write about the nature of order and the principle of unfolding.