The key characteristic of the Mental structure of consciousness and its rational type of reasoning, is that it is based in dualistic categories. According to Gebser, the earlier forms of consciousness did not have this dualistic nature. The Magic structure entailed a one-dimensional, spaceless and timeless unity. The Magic consciousness made no distinctions between subject and object, or wholes and parts, and could not reason in temporal or spatial categories. Gebser called the Magic structure “univalent” The Mythical structure Gebser called “ambivalent” which refers to its expression of two-dimensional polarity. This is not the same as dualistic thinking, but it prepares the way for the dualistic structure of the Mental consciousness. The Mythical mind was able to make the distinction between whole and parts, and therefore lost the identity of wholeness, and reality became “polarized” into “this world” and “an external world” (the mythic realm of the gods. The mythic realm was the polar complement of life, like one cosmic play being played out on two different stages. The sun rose in this life-world, because a god was driving his chariot across the skies in another one. Wisdom depended upon divination — the ability to see how our worldy events were implicated by events in the godly realm. With the Mythical structure, there is a crisp a-symmetry between the two polar realms — the godly realm implicates the worldly realm, but not the other way around. Man could study the godly realm by observing the movement of the stars and planets, but she could never move the stars or the planets herself. Yet, by the time the Odyssey was written, exceptions were being made for men of great skill, bravery, perspicacity and talent.
Contrast this with the dualistic categories that underlay all of the Mental structure of consciousness. Gebser writes
What is fundamental here is the … emergence of directed or discursive thought. Whereas mythical thinking, to the extent that it could be called “thinking” was a shaping or designing of images in the imagination which took place within the confines of the polar cycle, discursive through is fundamentally different. It is no longer polar-related, enclosed in and reflecting polarity from which it gains its energy, but rather directed toward objects and duality, creating and directing this duality, and drawing its energy from the individual [i.e. individuated] ego.
This process is an extraordinary event which is literally earth-shaking; it bursts man’s protective psychic circle and congruity with the psychi-naturalistic-cosmic-temporal world of polarity and enclosure. The ring is broken, and man steps out of the two-dimensional surface into space, which he will attempt to master by his thinking. This is an unprecedented event, an event that fundamentally alters the world. (EPO p. 75)
Nagarjuna identified the same fundamentally dualistic nature of thought. Nargarjuna’s analytics traces all dualistic conceptions back to the essential pair “form and emptiness”– and Buddhist scholastics demonstrate over and over again that all other conceptual dualisms are derived from them. The AQAL matrix expands this to four domains — interior-exterior, single-plural– and by extension, subject-object, whole-part– but Nargajuna’s tetralemma argues that the second pair (whole-part) is reducible to subject-object, respectively, and subject-object reducible to emptiness-form. The quadrants appear to be deep, primoridal structures of reality, because all out conceptional apparatus are merely complexification of these basic dualistic categories, are derived from multiple upon multiple iterations of them, and therefore, can be traced back to them.
This is good news, because it means that if there was a time in human history before consciousness was essentially dualistic, then it is plausable that there will be a time after — when our consciousness is not constrained to dualistic thinking.
Gebser was able to describe three phases in the transition from Mythic to Mental consciousness, associated with three types of reasoning — oceanic, perspectival, and paradoxical thinking. He qualified these three stages as “latent”, “efficient” and “defficient” stages of the Mental structure. The latent stage of oceanic thinking still maintained much of the parabolic-like narrative of the mythic structure. Thinking had not yet stratified into discrete conceptual abstractions and reified dualistic constructs. Parabolic thinking exists today in systems like the 5-Element system in traditional Chinese medicine, which descend from Hua-yen schools of Buddhism. In this system the 5-Elements — wood, water, fire, metal, earth– continuously exchange energy to maintain healthy equilibrium. Although westerners tend to emphasize the dualistic interactions between water and fire, for example, this kind of thinking is an anathema to traditional Daoist understanding. Eventually, oceanic thinking gave way to the efficient form of Mental consciousness – what we would classify as modern, rational thinking. And although Gebser doesn’t say so, my research suggests that the newly emerging, post-rational, non-dualistic Integral structure harkens back to this early form of oceanic thinking and then steers a new course from there. In other words, like evolution has shown us so many times, the new forms do not usually descend from the most recent forms, but build something different by recycling earlier forms and going forward from there. For example, we did not descend from the fabulous fishes of the pre-Cambrian explosion, but from the lowly worms that survived the great Cambrian extinctions!
The efficient stage of the Mental structure corresponds to the great neo-Kantian advances of modernity. The ability to make distinctions, to disambiguate phenomenon through abstraction, to disentangle experience into conceptualized constructs, and to enact objects into being through experiment and injunction– are all consequences of the dissection of reality into dualistic categories.
The evolution of the Mental structure is re-presented in the development of cognitive complexity in individuals. Primary stages of disambiguating self from other, then self from objects– concrete operations– then objects from abstraction– formal operations– are steps that reiterate the evolutionary progression from oceanic to perspectival thinking. [Note: for now I am suggesting that we see only the 3-phases of the Mental structure recapitulated in the developmental process, not the earlier structures. I am suggesting this because as we shall read in JB, the earlier structures are associated with other parts of the brain, that are responsible for mostly subconscious or unconscious events, which are not part of what developmental research. ] Today we have the AQAL map which pretty much overs the perspectival terrain and how all the lines, levels and streams are encapsulated by the 4 domains, a matrix derived from a pair of dualistic categories (interior-exterior, and single-plural).
It is not surprising, therefore, to see in her work on Susanne-Cook-Greuter describes ego-development as successive stages in navigating fundamental dualities as they emerge from level to level. She and her cohort, Beema Sharmer, summarized the relationship between ego, development and polarity in this article.
The efficient stage of the Mental structure, and its perspectival reasoning, gives ground to the late, defficient stage, with the advent of post-modernism and its paradoxical reasoning. We see this today in the way that we are able to hold paradoxical statements as partial truths in need of integration, or in the way we are able to deal with contradiction between opposites in all aspects of our life. The truth is, the mediated world is becoming more and more polarized by these opposites, as we witness the end game of the Mental structure. But if this is the endgame, then what is going to follow the demise of the Mental structure? Is it possible to get a glimpse of something entirely new?
What are we seeing in the developmental literature that might give us a clue? We know that cognitive development can be described as a dialectical movement through levels driven by polarity dynamics. Based on Michael Baseeches’ research, we can differentiate the actual type of reasoning that is engaged that moves from early stage dialectical reasoning to what he called “late stage dialectics.” We know that cognitive development happens through the processes of differentiation, complexification, and integration to higher levels of inclusion and understanding.
We also know that at the end of this developmental process, something radical happens — that the constructs of language and concepts of thought themselves, that the polarities and process of moving through them, become transparent to the individual who develops to the point of being “construct aware” and begins to disambiguate what is ontologically real, from what is added by the cognitive faculty of mind. This is a curious phase in development, when the individual peers over the cliff of nihilism, and must take responsibility for the role that language, and by extension, consciousness has played in creating her reality. Susanne Cook-Greuter herself embodies the threatening, disturbing experience that accompanies the end game of the rational mind in her interview with Jeff Salzman for Boulder Integral:
… because now what can you stand on? … but now you say there is nothing that I can do. There is really nothing to hold on to. So now what?!
In the next moment, Susanne embodies the self in transition, surfing the edge of the view that is wanting to arise, from deep within and through source — what she calls the “evolutionary spirit” — without yet being able to explicitly name what is arising:
ah… there’s something else. Something totally else. … Before it was differentiation, integration, … in a very regular pattern, more and more complex, and higher levels of perspective… And now it is something totally different.
Last fall I had the opportunity to take a 3-day advanced workshop with Susanne Cook-Greuter. At the end of the workshop she likes to summarize ego development with a simple demonstration. She takes a piece of construction paper and folds it in half, and cuts out a heart. She hold up the heart in one hand, and the paper with the heart-hole in the other and asks “what do you see?” The answer of course, is a heart and it’s “opposite”– the hole ; but then she puts the heart back into the whole to suggest that what is lost is the apperception of “original ground.” This, I suggest is what Gebser is pointing to as “ever-present origin” that is dissected and separated by dualistic-based reasoning. This amanesis, or forgetting, is what drives dialectical reasoning and the dialectical processes of development of rational mind in a regular pattern to higher and higher levels of complexification and therefore greater demands on integration.
So I asked Susanne… what if people were born into a world where that initital “cut” never happened? Then what? Then what would consciousness and reasoning and meaning-making look like? So she throws a new piece of construction paper at me and says “Show me!”. So I take the paper and start to fold it like origami, and then unfold it into new forms.
The idea here that I want to communicate is that I truly believe that there is a new way of thinking in which that cut into dualistic categories, dualistic feelings, does not have to be made, and therefore, we do not lose the presence of the primordial ground of being. We begin to see our existential condition as it is, fully and completely submersed as that primordial ground. Gebser touched on this by noting Heidegger’s attempt to describe a kind of reversal of figure and ground, but I am taking it one step further. I am suggesting a consciousness where the major categories of thought are no longer dualistic pairs, but generative orders in a process field which is the ever-present ground of being. And to this end, dedicate the Magellan Courses.
With these considerations in mind, I hope you will see just how radically fresh and new the following passages are, not dialectical in nature at all, but resilient to dissection of antithetical parts from originary source, steeped in wholeness that is always already present in each moment.
From Jason Brown Process and the Authentic Life p. 237
Authenticity is bound up with coherence and a unity of feeling and purpose. We can say that coherence is anterior to and dependent on unity, but not identical to it. Coherence is related to synchronic timing or phase coupling. Individuals are not unified by an assembly or concretion of parts, but in the relation of the parts to the deeper ground from which they coherently arise. The whole is not in the parts, nor the parts in the whole. Rather, the whole is antecedent to the parts, which are not individuals until they objectify.
On this view, unity is not external to the things unified. But if the unity is strictly internal, how do separate things come into union? The difficulty is in the question, which arises from the notion of separate things, and the idea of an external unifying relation. Instead, the unity exists prior to the things unified, the things arising through qualitative transitions.
In the relation of whole to part, the partaking of the whole is the source of its unity, while the recognition that all particulars issue from the same core overcomes the appearance of their separateness. … Authenticity is the measure of this relation.
From Christopher Alexander: The Luminous Ground (The Nature of Order) p 66, 69
At root, these assertions lead, in my mind, to one conclusion: that the “I-like presence in the universe” is real, is somehow a real thing, and plays a real role in the scheme of things, and in the structure of matter, in the way the universe behaves. I have myself concluded this: There must be some relation between the ultimate nature of a living center, and the nature of this “I.”
… [For] in this case, when I see the waterfall and feel related to it, I experience the relationship as more fundamental, not merely “I feel identified with this waterfall,” but something more like “There is some kind of an identity between my self, and the waterfall. My I is really in the waterfall. My self and the waterfall are not merely similar, but it feels as if they are the same, as if both are parts of one thing.”