What is the immense cost of getting such detailed knowledge of ourselves as a mode of universal expression?
In the story I heard of the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, in the quest to “eliminate, eliminate, eliminate” the variables, a group of pigeons, who had made their home near the instruments used to discover CMBR, were massacred so that the birth of time could break into human consciousness. As Penzias said, “that seemed like the only way out of our dilemma.”
Our revelations then, in this instance but in many others as well, are dependent on the death of the self-organizing systems and lifeforms we seek to know more about.
Is it really so doubtful that other modes of the universe (chimpanzees) spend time thinking of the origin of the universe, flaring forth, etc. too? On the one hand, in the same way Georges Lemaitre used the principle of a kind of cosmic uniformitarianism to extrapolate the primeval atom from the red shift, perhaps our symbols have a kind of trajectory as well, that stem from the original structure and primordial activity of the universe that conditions and is present in each universal form and its activities or stories, so that the CMBR and the picture generated from it might simply be the modern version of the starry dome and firmament, both intuiting the fiery sphere around us that generated the consciousness it took to mythospeculate on this same origin.
In this same way, why would we assume that the impulse does not continue further back, past the introduction of the homo sapiens, and beyond one single species, to include all modes of universal expression. That is, religion, science, or other modes of consciousness that assume cosmic numinosity, emerge from the same originating power that conditions habits like a chimpanzee grooming another. Perhaps these are simply more present-based non-human rituals that connect individuals to the cosmos– they may not have the specific words for “flaring forth,” or “big bang,” but they are intuitively aware of the cosmic matrix in which its cosmogenic power is expressed each time they fling their shit at a person watching them in a zoo, symbolizing the fury of the wild being imprisoned in an anthropocentric abstraction, who knows.
In a similar way, bonobos I have heard have inordinate amounts of sex. Is this a sign of a stunted degree of conscious self-awareness since it is “doubtful” they are thinking about the great flaring forth, or perhaps they have more fully embraced the hieros gamos and are enacting the sacred ritual in ways that reconnect them to and celebrate the deepest parts of a life-affirming nature over and over (and over and over and over and over and…).
In “Rogue Primate,” for instance, John Livingston suggests animals might participate in several modes of consciousness, and talks of a group self, a group self-awareness, and a group self-consciousness that is transcendent and participatory beyond the individual:
“If the individual has a consciousness of its self-interest, as it most certainly does, and if that consciousness is extended to include the group, as it appears to be, then surely it is a very short (perhaps inevitable) step to individual awareness of self-as multispecies community, with that awareness shared in common by all participants.” (113)
Thus, animals too may participate in traditions, and seasonal rituals that reconnect them to a whole, so it is “likely that all three forms of consciousness are present in all wild beings at all times, and that a particular mode may be called upon for temporary emphasis according to the exigency, opportunity, or requirement of the moment or the season.” (114)
He goes on to postulate a fourth level of consciousness of self, of the superorganism, and the intricacies of Gaia in its cosmic dimensions (for instance the earth’s wobble), aligning the immediacy of a primal imperative with the “consciousness of biospheric self that subsumes and holds them in an emotionally charged experience and event…a gift.” A form of natural attraction at the most intimate level where, as Swimme and Tucker suggest, such “bonding is at the heart of matter”? (9)
My point in writing this is to suggest that the modern, scientific cosmological insight we now seem to have is dependent on an industrial paradigm for the instruments it requires—insights that come at the cost of life—and insights that we seemingly need for the sake of addressing the violence of this type of mode of thought and its outward expression; however, these are insights that might also be present in other modes of the universe already.
If it is the case that, as Swimme and Berry state, “the human has taken over such extensive control of the life systems of the Earth that the future will be dependent on human decision to an extent never dreamed of in previous times,” (4) and that we must intend to move to an ecozoic era, where intact bioregions are to be the basis for more integral multi-species communities, then perhaps even the language of the “new story” or new cosmology is similarly unsustainable, based as it is on unsustainable industrial systems for their proofs, and we will have to innovate ecozoic language not yet even conceived of, seamlessly rooted in the principles that generate new sustainable habits of self-organizing dynamics able to stand the test of time. That is, using the cosmic uniformitarian principle, we can anticipate a cosmic origin story that does not depend on industrial violence. On this note, a bioregional quiz might facilitate a move to new values:
Finally, symbolic consciousness, as a new evolutionary force, will need to address “the ache of disorder.” The imaginative capacity to re-enliven perception, and with it the world we constitute, can address the various pneumapathologies, or spiritual maladies, while operationalizing (making “functionally effective”) the ability to construct complex systems and align with the wider intelligence in ways that incarnate in various modes of consciousness and behavior while destabilizing obsolete ones, e.g. the “religion of consumerism.”
When you think about moments that significantly changed your world and worldview, what do you remember? For me, it is always moments when I am impacted physically, emotionally, cognitively, spiritually at once; new insights that knock me back as I stare into nothingness trying to follow, imagine, and feel the implications….These moments together suggest to me any cultural form seeking to transform consciousness will need to be experiential.
Wurdinger and Carlson’s book “Teaching for Experiential Learning” suggests five approaches for experiential learning that are especially helpful: active learning, problem-based or inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, service-learning, and place-based learning, which can each perhaps be enfolded into expeditionary learning, where unmediated experiences with nature can prompt students to “remember” life without electricity.
David Ulansey’s book, The Origin’s of the Mithraic Mysteries, one of the best astrological books out there in my opinion, offers one example, where rituals are performed that celebrate a newly discovered cosmic “god” who appears as adherents realize that the movements of each celestial body is subject to a “higher power,” the precession of the equinoxes due to Earth’s wobble, (re)discovered by Hipparchus, at the heart of the Mithraic tradition. Here, language mythologizes a natural phenomenon to provide an experience of divinity for those engaged in this initiation.
To me this signals what is meant by “genius.” In a sense, genius is forged in the concentration of creativity, but it is also something more. In “The Prehistory of the Mind,” Stephen Mithen suggests that the human mind developed isolated modules of intelligence (general, social, linguistic, ecological, technical…), but only through meta-representation could they combine these intelligences so an explosion of creativity could emerge. Thus art, science, humor, religion were products of cognitive fluidity, where, after language delivered meta-representational, cognitively fluid ideas that became accessible to the wider social consciousness, artifacts and images with symbolic meanings could be manufactured and used to communicate meaning, where thinking about animals (ecology) and thinking about people (social) could be combined into thinking about people as animals or animals as people (totemism and anthropomorphism). This, supposedly, led to the genius of people using bones (ecology) as tools (technical) to make clothing, creating little Venus sculptures, etc. and the wider mental flexibility needed for cognitive breakthroughs and genius that exploded in the Upper Paleolithic period.
I bring this up because in the city, we are prevented from developing and integrating ecological intelligence, and therefore, may not be capable of genius anymore. I have heard that there is literally no city that is sustainable (nor can there be), because cities inherently require the importation of resources, and thus the imposition of abstractions onto the living world around it to coerce (violently at times) resources toward city centers. Further, with upwards of 70% or more people moving to cities, the majority of humans may be “insulated” from genius and thus, as Swimme and Tucker suggest, “in a kind of exile.” (24)
To change our perception requires changing our subjectivities, necessitating a kind of adaptive mechanism or initiatory event to do so. Finding new ways to ecozoically educate can provide this experience by reactivating the “deep habits of mind,” and encoding wisdom processes in the language used to foster new forms of cosmic and spiritual sensitivity. To know we are “star stuff” is then not enough…we must be inducted into knowing, feeling, and experiencing the reality that we are the star-making process itself, and in doing so, seek out that which structures our seeking, accessing the powers of the generative matrix and invite others to experiment in recombining intelligences to organize occasions where this creative potential can be honed and actualized.
This can be conceived of and implemented through the power of language, a “lexicosmos” or “lexicosmion” where new worlds can emerge out of ideas or writings, even if what is written is just a step by step process scribbled on a notepad.
Understanding activism at the quantum level, with the idea of collapsing possibilities through conscious observation, to my mind, means not simply getting everyone to agree on a predetermined idea, but rather honing the skills it will take to facilitate communication in order to birth the idea we/they can agree upon in the first place, and maintaining attention toward it. Not an easy task or process!
I am more than a little concerned about the idea of industrial consciousness as a liberating perspective– my first question, for who? Certainly not for those with a more “primal participatory consciousness,” who experience the “miracles” as dependent on the destruction of their lands, communities, lifeways, etc. They may have no need for such liberation.
That is, while the industrial consciousness may be a “paroxysm of a shielding process,” what is it shielding people from? Thus a second question…liberation from what? Likely, a traumatic wound that again, may not be found in these primal communities, but is specific to hierarchical, alienated societies that are dependent on hyper-domestication, territory, state violence, empire, etc. to maintain their ways of life — as agrarian civilizations tend to be. So then, does more control liberate? Or does it instead liberate us from justice, autonomy, and direct experience?
Acknowledging “we” represents a specific, privileged minority, and the unequal access to the benefits of industrialism and the price paid for these comforts is critical. I suppose my concern is, in assuming a teleological approach to human development, and the equating of modern desires with the universe’s desires (genocide for the sake of material wealth as cosmic emergence), one is more able to justify traumas as “necessary” for liberation, when the original wound is far deeper than these worldviews acknowledge and can even address, and in fact would not be necessary without an much earlier disruption that is merely transformed…the liberatory perspective becoming then a vestige from an omnipresent, always reproduced trauma. Perhaps history is not an evolution, but a devolution, moving towards ever increasing levels of fragmentation, separation, violence, and the loss of consciousness of unity altogether until life is extinguished altogether. Certainly this is a pessimistic view, but a simple optimistic view can be equally absurd — and indeed can naturalize those elements that should not be accepted — I find this to be an often under-addressed point, and can motivate actions like missionization that have serious shadow sides that are left unintegrated.
Basically, I wonder if there might be a fallacy of the middle ground here, where to assume the defense of industrial consciousness can exist “between” two poles might be problematic, if one of those poles is built on a fallacious premise; namely, that we try to justify the western “project” when it might be a failed experiment that should be terminated. For the record, I don’t necessarily believe this, but if it comes to light that the cultural achievements we benefit from are NECESSARILY reliant on slavery, murder, ecocide, etc. to exist, I question if we will be able to give up those conveniences for the sake of the communion of subjects, or if we will cling to them and remain in denial that they are inherently destructive, going down with the ship.
This speaks mostly to personality change I think: will this new story only affirm our willingness to see the best and ignore the rest, or will it seriously throw our values into disorder so that a substantial phase change can take place.
As W H Auden writes in The Age of Anxiety: A Boroque Eclogue,
“We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.”
When we talk about “disenchantment appearing as liberation from an oppressively enchanted matrix” and the need to not scapegoat and simplify such an act, I don’t mean to simplify reality any more than E = MC^2 is a simplification of the universe perhaps (while indicating nuance I would think), a generalization that holds in different cases.
So, I wonder whether enfolded in the “liberation tendency” is systematic oppression — where we create feel-good systems that do not actually address (and in fact stem from and reproduce) the root of the oppression but enact a deformation of consciousness contributing to suffering, and trying to overcome the resultant suffering through a will to power will again create new, more intense forms of suffering. Thus disenchantment and enchantment (at least in their urban, civilized forms), fundamentally share similar characteristics that oppress and drive the need for liberation in an emancipatory treadmill of sorts.
The question “who knows how far this project would go” is important here: likely, an egocentric consciousness would go as far as possible, primarily because it assumes separation, and tends to privilege one’s self over others, doing everything possible to maintain this privilege at the expense of others. Yet if this separation is the fundamental premise upon which it bases any conclusion or behavior, it will derail into a “reality” completely out of touch with the creative dynamics of a (more) true reality. I do not think this characterizes the consciousness of all being on earth, nor even all humans– rather a specific group of humans in a particular tradition. My point is that in this “intense dynamic of instinctual preservation, perseverance and temporary collaboration,” perhaps it is the case that, unlike “westerners”, or those seeking to generate abstractions with the intention of using them to egocentrically control the world around them to self-liberate (and thus causing other forms of oppression for others), might it be that this project is wholly unnecessary, because others have already found preservation in collaboration, in direct experience, and allowing a biological coding to suffice, rather than seeking to liberate themselves from this biological coding as the technophile transhumanists seek?
I don’t disagree we won’t seek to preserve ourselves and use any resource to do so. What I am suggesting is that we may have mistaken industrial consciousness as a “new resource” that is in fact a modern form of a much earlier resource that may have been found to be jeopardizing our survival, and it is time to dispense with the whole tradition, instead finding other (not necessarily new) tools to remake our lives accordingly.
I am all for nuance and am more than happy to nuance my condemnation of all things industrial (despite the paradox that industrialism characterizes and conditions my life which I consider to be lovely, if contributing to the destruction of the biosphere), and wholeheartedly support any claim to “look further than industrial consciousness and see what is the deeper, more pernicious seed which has grown into what it is.” But in pointing to ideas, to abstractions, to symbols that structure consciousness, that drive us towards ideological systems that oppress us, that structure our “need” to create new ideological systems to liberate ourselves from these past ones, I am merely suggesting it is the ideological systems in the first place that might be problematic, that the “message is in the medium,” and that the “form [of industrial consciousness] excludes the content [of participatory consciousness],” by mediating and then alienating us from direct experience. However, I am of the persuasion that these ideological systems are expressions of material economic arrangements that need these ideological systems to regulate, normalize, naturalize, and enforce such conditions.
Both capitalcene and axial ages, and then also in early paleolithic extinction events are interesting points in which to locate the source of the pernicious seed. My impression is that the death of Socrates highlights a serious problem, where a cultural critic was put to death — indeed, perhaps the reason an axial turn was necessary, to think about, critique, and offer new possibilities for how to conceive of authority, right livelihood, and imagine more utopian social arrangements.
On the quaternary megafaunal extinction events, there is much debate on this point, and I’m not sure it is yet a foregone conclusion humans alone were responsible for these extinctions, since the majority came during the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene (where climate change was also a main cause hypothesized). That all said, I have also heard it argued that the overkilling of animals also accompanied an increased complexity in hunting technologies, for instance in the simple atlatl, which all of a sudden increased the velocity, range, and effectiveness of weapons which, combined with early humans increased ability to move into different environments and the preference for targeting the biggest animals first for convenience/efficiency, such extinction events could be more a matter of evolving technology as the culprit rather than a worldview, though likely they would have affected one another. As technology continues to intensify and complexify, this tendency is only made more deadly.
So, perhaps as agriculture (delayed return, requiring division of labor, specialization, class society, violence, oppression, “over”complexification…) becomes a defining institution in human society, and necessitates an ideological justification to continue the enrichment of certain classes at the expense of others, we can see that liberation may not be so liberatory at all: rather, whereas priest-kings may no longer be the dominant class anymore, it may simply be that the ideological and material forces of society have simply adapted to preserve the hierarchy, and now the techno-managers are the new dominant class. Yes, ideas have changed, but the material forces that prompt them remain. Are we then trapped in a recursive oppression that even our “liberatory” ideologies end up being overridden by, maintaining the power systems they were intended to undermine, which remain untouched, or exacerbated for all practical purposes?
Yet even if we realize, “whoops, we were wrong to do something,” that is an insight that might only have been gained by taking that action, and indeed new realities can be gleaned from these mistakes. One has only to think of alchemy, and the attempt to turn lead into gold– so many attempts resulted in failure, though each failure eliminated a possibility. Moreover, it led to new spiritual insights, and new scientific fields. No doubt the new story might contribute in these ways too, even if the field it was born out of is found to be based on an unfounded premise.
For a while I have considered civilization, defined by a culture of cities, to be inherently unsustainable, requiring the importation of resources to increase its complexity: “The existence of any structured thing requires energy…any physical system closed off from new energy will inevitably decay. So for an atom, an animal, a city, an ecosystem, or a civilization to continue with its order intact requires an influx of energy in a form capable of sustaining the system.” (Berry and Swimme, 52)
This has meant the complete transformation of the earth, the extinction of species, and the unequal distribution of resources – undermining the very energy flow required to maintain that complexity and so, the prospect of collapse, just as with a star, seems inevitable. For this reason, when people purport to promote an ecological civilization, I see this as a paradox: if a city cannot be sustainable (for reasons I have gone into elsewhere), how will a civilization become ecological? It is a conundrum I think based to some degree on the hope to continue something that simply cannot, as well as perhaps a lack of imagination of the magnitude of transformation that will take place. Could an original solar hydrogen atom know it would eventually be changed into oxygen, ejected back into the cosmos, to be breathed by humans today?
There are two things that have made me feel better about this prospect of collapse; on the one hand, extinctions are followed by an explosion of speciation, where new forms of creativity move into formerly occupied niches, and other the other, while it is the case that stars do collapse, the nucleosynthetic processes they self-organize create novel elements that, after being dispersed outward in the collapse and subsequent violence, explore new spaces until they are able to gravitate back together in new forms and accrete more diverse elements in novel, complex modes. So, there is a degree of sacrifice for the sake of creativity I think I had not come to terms with yet, that generated resistance.
In the same way humans pattern our lives around stars, and have “imagined ways of not only organizing their personal lives but even patterning civilizations around the beauty and order found there” (Swimme and Tucker 28), I too have come to wonder how to pattern my life around this idea, meditating on the question, “what is the universe attempting to do through me I would consider effortless.” I came up with loving others, conceptual design, and I find myself challenging the premises of those I disagree with in non-ordinary ways. In a way, these seem correlated to the principles of communion, autopoeisis, and differentiation, or energy, dreams, and resistance. In that regard working to undermine an unsustainable hegemonic logic through praxis, while seeking out pathways to regeneration seems to be something I would happily and freely work toward. However, to do justice to the heroic task where work may not come easily enough, I ask another question:
What would you like the universe to do through you that you could consider effortless (and more, what skills would it take to have that capacity and where does one learn this)?
If we are the new chemical elements and creativity (human neutrinos!) that will be dispersed in the wake of cosmic collapse, we will be faced with the reality that while industrial consciousness may have been necessary to live in the industrial world, that world is collapsing, so that we will need a new consciousness, and a new world, directly perceiving the cosmic origin and expressing it again in our lives. I do not think industrial civilization has given us the tools to survive this, so for me at least, I am thinking through how to align my capacity with my desire, and the tools, values, stories, life processes, and reinhabitory praxis around which post-civilizational community can constellate around after, and learning how to provide this. The future as free expression rather than determined formula is helpful to remember in this regard, as is meditating on the idea of right intention to embody cosmic intelligence.