Jean Gebser and the Philosophy of Consciousness
Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Jean Gebser and the Philosophy of Consciousness
Fernando J. Villalovs
The philosopher Jean Gebser presents an architectonic that places consciousness within a process of dialectical unfolding. A structure is a moment in the evolution of consciousness, in which the capacities of consciousness of annulment or cancelation, preservation or retention, sublation or transcendence, ground it in a self-generating process of development toward increasingly more complex and inclusive unity.
This holistic teleology is the process of transmogrification from one structure to the next, which needs the activity of unraveling via the negation, opposition, and destruction of otherness to sustain its becoming. But in its annihilation of opposition, consciousness envelopes otherness by integrating it within its present structure, and thus rises to a higher one wherein the dialectic breathes life to future existence, and to the possibility of higher structures.
With the antithesis of the other, subjectivity is a dialectical process of unfolding, what the Presocratic philosopher Heraclitus designates in the few fragments he left behind, as the underlying unity in the process of change. Consciousness evolves out of contraries, on the unity in diversity and difference in unity, hence in the tension of opposites essential to the one. The Gnostics highlight this ontology of unitary process with the epigram "As above so below," while Heraclitus' dictum "Everything flows" (panta hrei) lays bare that process is at the center of reality.
In his work The Ever-present Origin, Gebser describes the architectonic of the structures of consciousness within a process of mutation, wherein each strata dynamically integrates the previous form while activating latent properties for eventual transmutation. Gebser's system of metaphysics builds on what the philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, establishes in his Science of the Dialectic based on the Logic of process.
With Heraclitus' influence before him, Hegel drew and revolutionized from the former's conception of change, that strife is underneath the articulation of nature, and that the unity of the one by the many is in the movement of process. "Form and content, particulars and universals, are indivisibly united in a process that not only describes human cognition and patterns of rational thought, but the process of nature and experience itself."
Hegel's concept of Geist, the process of becoming of Spirit, is based on an understanding of the ontology of the dialectic, Aufhebung, which is sublation or the dialectical process continuously annulled, preserved, and transmogrified. What Gebser's architectonic of consciousness offers in light of Hegel's Logic are descriptive coordinates to show the particularities of the mutations of consciousness in its process dialectics, which give form to the emergent content of consciousness within its evolutionary path.
Gebser's system also raises an integral metaphysics whose conception of the unfolding of Spirit resonates with the notion of transcendence in the complex of self-understanding. Like Aristotle, Hegel and Gebser place the ultimate aim of the Logic of process on Spirit dialectically transmuting into completeness within an integrated whole.
In this project, I articulate Gebser's metaphysics of consciousness by showing its architectonic: the archaic structure, through its magic, mythic, and mental structures, to the eventual manifestation of Spirit's zenith, the integral structure of consciousness.
The Archaic Structure
The archaic structure is the most primitive and instinctual form of consciousness. Gebser says that it is zero-dimensional because it is an absence of differentiation, bereft of subject-object polarity (or duality), that is, it manifests the universe and the individual as one, without a schism between nature and soul. Hence, the archaic structure is a pre-consciousness: "[T]he early period is that period when the soul is still dormant, and its sleep or dormancy may have well been so deep that even though it may have existed (perhaps in a spiritual pre-form), it had not yet attained consciousness."
By the epithet "primitive," Gebser designates a genesis of being that is occluded to our modern intellect, a past lost to us like the child's psychogenic feeling to the mother's womb. That hidden past is a deposit of longing for a wishful return to the eternal union with the mater natura, which represents the center of universal unity or non-dualism. The primordial ground of time is said by many mystics to be open to religious or spiritual encounter via the experience of the erasure of differences. Mystic perception of the individual's participation in the process of a larger project, the oceanic feeling of completeness within gnosis (the illumination) of apperception of the anima mundi as whole and not part, is the dream-like encounter with the archaic grounds of Being.
The consciousness of archaic humanity is paradoxically describable in terms of the peak experience. Transcendent experiences color human phenomenology with the sublime, via a vision of the chain-of-being, which elicits undifferentiated paucity of the flow of reality. It is no surprise that the descendants of archaic humanity eulogized primitive men as "true" and "holy men," whose dormant consciousness was the first step in the spectacle of nous (νοῦς), the mind's dialectic toward absolute self-understanding via the Logic of Spirit: annulment or suspension, preservation or retention, transcendence or transmutation.
The purely symbolic flood of subjective totality of the archaic man is the condition of possibility found in dreams, the primordial grounds of the forgotten language of Being, of the individual within the whole. Hermes Trismegistus calls gnosis (ύπνωση) in his Corpus Hermeticum the beatific vision of the world, while Plato articulates in his Phaedo knowledge of the eidos (εἶδος) as the apprehension of the forms, wisdom derived from the essences of transcendent reality super-imposed on the concreteness of immanent experience, what Gebser defines as the diaphanous, the light of the ever-present origin of Being, which is the creative act of the process dialectic of Spirit.
I talk elsewhere of another map that attempts to clarify the archaic world, which is found in the originary language of Heidegger's philosophy of Being, insofar as it precedes philosophy in its condition of enabling. Like the philosopher Jon Mills explains, Heidegger's phenomenology is a disclosedness or unconcealment via the Greek conception of truth as aletheia (•λZθεια), each structure of consciousness is a disclosedness of what is latent within the trajectory of consciousness:
"Disclosedness or unconcealment, truth may only be disclosed from its hiddenness in a clearing that opens a space for unconcealment. Equally, as each space reveals the potentiality for truth to be made known, there is also conversely a closing in that truth may only be revealed in the wake of concealment. Such movement of uncovering in the presence of covering underlies the dialectical participation in the nature of truth. As each new form of truth appears, others become surpassed yet preserved within subjective experience. This favors a process account of truth as emergent dialectical teleological expression: truth sublates its previous moments in the process of what it becomes."
Without the coordinates of space-time, however, the flood of phenomenological chaos of the archaic world is an unconscious hell of entropic dissolution. Archaic consciousness is the unconscious gnosis of totality, of diversity and difference without unity, the undifferentiated Being that is not yet elevated to conscious apprehension. Whereas in its integrated form, it is the unity in diversity and difference in unity, which is the completion of Geist's self-understanding within the integral structure of consciousness, wherein it reaches the paradisiacal state of conscious completeness with origin.
Archaic man's structure of consciousness marks the first plane of the painstakingly slow process of dialectical transmogrification toward integral consciousness. The dialectic of Spirit begins to pull the strings of consciousness by placing archaic man in contact with the antithesis of nature, which demands the introjection of chaos within him as to spark the potential of the imagination and open the possibility of the perspectival inner world within the magic structure:
"The archaic structure, which there is very little evidence of, can be thought of as a totally non-differentiated state where humans and nature are in a fused identity. Gebser states that this structure of consciousness was identical to biblical paradise and original wholeness [...] this paradisiacal state was not a conscious heaven, but rather an unconscious hell. Gebser ties this structure to the early hominid, and to the unconscious, deep-sleep state."
The Magic Structure
The arrival of the magic structure represents the transition from a zero-dimensional consciousness to one-dimensional unity because it focuses on a single "point," which can stand in for other "points." The divorce of the man of the magic structure from the identity of the archaic man with the whole, elicits consciousness to step toward a process of individuation, chiefly by the individual's experimentation with reality in its sleep-like outlines, and from the individual's arising need to possess the world.
The desire to possess the world releases magic man from the whole, yet still within a one-dimensional consciousness of sleep-like experience, the man of the magic structure recognizes reality by its details, fragments which stand in for the total. The magic man still cannot synthesize his subjectivity as a unity of interrelated points; at this structure of consciousness the system of magic association superimposes isolated objects, events, and deeds to stand in for the unity of the cosmos:
"In this stage of early development, the identity with archaic consciousness began to wane. Men and women began to separate themselves from the grip of nature, and saw themselves instead, juxtaposed against an organic backdrop. There was an instinctual banding together during this period of pre-history. The people of this period began to form close knit communities that would mate, hunt, and protect one another from the ravages of nature. This period is best known for its cave paintings. In part, these paintings tell a great deal about the consciousness during that time. One famous painting shows a buffalo-hunting scene, where the arrows are all pointing intently towards a fleeing buffalo. According to Gebser, this scene represents magical unity, for in fact, the hunters, buffalo, and arrows, are all part of a unified field, which has the dimly lit consciousness spread out over the world into a group ego."
The one-dimensional pointillism of the magic man is a volitional exchange of one point for another, as the world meaningfully presents to him in accidental fashion. In the world of magic consciousness objects are meaningfully interrelated but dispersed by the ego's lack of phenomenological centrality. Consciousness is resting outside of man, awaiting for its assimilation via confrontation with the volatile forces of an awakening universe. The reply of the magic man to nature's adversity is to face it, with the aim of finding his independence by exorcising, and guiding the entropic exteriority of the universe toward him. The result of this dialectic is the introjection of the volitional aspect of the soul by turning into self-object the conscious will of the magic man, and it marks his passage to a mythical two-dimension polarity:
"Witchcraft and sorcery, totem and taboo, are the natural means by which he seeks to free himself from the transcendent power of nature, by which his soul strives to materialize within him and to become increasingly conscious of itself [...] Here, in these attempts to free himself from the grip and spell of nature, with which in the beginning he was still fused in unity, magic man begins the struggle for power which has not ceased since; here man becomes the maker."
The Mythic Structure
The archaic man is within a zero-dimensional wholeness; the magic man in a one-dimensional union with nature; and the mythic man is in the process of sublation toward a two-dimensional polarity.
Magic humanity frees itself from its original wholeness in nature by a struggle with, and an awareness of, the exoteric other, the alienus (the foreign, the uncharted territory of Natura). The magic human integrates otherness within him in the mythical structure, which awakens the dialectic of man-nature by his polar awareness of the inner world of the human soul, and the world outside him.
Gebser distinguishes the mythic structure from the magic stratum insofar as the former is an expression of the imagination, and not of magic humanity's identification with emotion. The stress on emotion in the magic structure is the vital awareness of man to nature which manifests in emotional forms. Impulse and instinct dominate magic man's action within nature's demand for aleatory reactions of sympathy and antipathy. One-dimensional magic structure of pre-perspectival nature is an expression of the absence of differentiation; it is without space and time. Emotion and instinct are the poles of magic consciousness in a dialectic with the antithesis of the exoteric Other.
On the other hand, mythic man is embedded within an unperspectival two-dimensional structure, wherein imaginary consciousness arises from the perspectivity of myth in its relation to the human soul and the sky:
"Once human beings extracted themselves more fully from nature, and consciousness began to dwell in the individual, a huge shift came about in the way they operated in the world. The emphasis for them changed from being in the world to having a world. This period is best known for the birth of the Myth. These cosmogonical stories tell of mankind's origins, ancestors, parents, as well as, eternal parent figures that came in the form of Gods and Goddesses."
Even though the mythical structure of consciousness has not yet developed awareness of space, it is at the threshold of the discovery of time in mythic human's awakening apprehension of nature's periodicity. Mythic man is caught in the dialectic of magic timelessness qua the imaginary force of the mythic cosmos, which opens the possibility for perspectivity and the arrival of the mental structure of consciousness:
"The farther myth stands removed from consciousness, the greater its degree of timelessness [...] By contrast, the closer its proximity to consciousness, the greater its emphasis on time [...] The great cosmogonical images in the early myths are the soul’s recollection of the world’s origination. In later myths, the soul recalls the genesis of earth and man, reflecting the powers of light and darkness in the images of the gods. Slowly the timeless becomes temporal; there is a gradual transition from remote timelessness to tangible periodicity. With the advent of this new world-view, mankind is so effectively removed from the grip of nature that for the first time they were able to see it, study it, and in a certain sense, measure it, utilizing it to their advantage. This period is synonymous with the birth of agriculture in Egypt, the rise of the calendric system in the Mayan civilization, and the birth of contemplative religions around the world."
The Mental Structure
The philosopher Immanuel Kant aptly describes humanity's ascension to the mental structure with his insight that the categories of consciousness are embedded within mind, because space and time are not mind-independent features of the world "out there." What dawns from the mental structure is the temporally limited apprehension of reality, wherein the mind orders humanity's vision of reality.
Humankind transitions to a mental structure of consciousness at the advent of the Renaissance, when the discovery of perspective in painting becomes the factor that elicits apprehension of the three-dimensionality of space. Perspectivity characterizes the attitude of modernity; it is the birth of the Ego ("the I") as the receptacle of narcissistic and materialistic attitudes. As I explain elsewhere, the philosopher René Descartes locates consciousness within the mind, by asserting that the one indubitable truth is that the mind's capacity to think validates the concreteness of existence, cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am.
Perspectivity raises the conception of time to maturity, insofar as the mythic apprehension of time was cyclic within the meticulous observance of nature's patterns of periodicity. Humanity at the mythic threshold possesses an elemental understanding of maps, and a flourishing mastery of agriculture, but the mental structure marks a microscopic direction to analysis, from the aggregate to the particular: the polarity of days and nights; the calendars that describe the cycles of nature; to ratios of the minutiae of time—hours, minutes, and seconds.
Observation, measurement, and testing are the conjectural models that arise from "the I," and highlight mental humanity's identity of duality. There is a fixed schism between man and nature due to the centrality of consciousness in the mind's capacity of perspectivity, which subjugates the cosmos within the mind's control by means of the Logos (reason); it becomes the "opening" for a robust science which allows the secrets of nature to be colonized by man:
"This division of time, this quantifiable measuring of moments, brought with it a host of other methods of measuring, namely the sciences of the world. Once time was instituted and mastered, mankind proceeded to measure and label the world until everything and everyone in it was segregated. This severing of original archaic wholeness, one-dimensional magical unity, and even two-dimensional mythic polarity, gave rise to three-dimensional mental duality. This duality effectively took polar compliments and rendered them as diametric opposites. So the cycle of day/night gave way to the dialectic adage, 'different as night and day.' Time was also sequestered and spatialized into a past, a present, and a future [...] the three familiar dimensions of every day life."
To clarify the transition from mythic to mental humanity, the letter written by Petrarch in 1336 to Francesco Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro, shows the strife between a mythical and rational world, through its depiction of Petrarch's ascent of Mount Ventoux. Petrarch's letter is revolutionary because it manifests a consciousness of space that alters European man's vision of what lies within him and of what lies outward in his surrounding universe.
Petrarch's letter is a description that simulates the Confessions of Augustine on the belief that he had transgressed the spiritual dimension of Augustinian Christianity. Petrarch's encounter with the vista from atop the mountain, its overwhelming while bewildering impression of concreteness, signals the movement of consciousness from a space asleep in soul toward an awakened space of landscapes whose reality is a harbringer of poetry within and outside the mind:
"Yesterday I climbed the highest mountain of our region [...] motivated solely by the wish to experience its renowned height. For many years this has been in my soul and, as you well know, I have roamed this region since my childhood. The mountain, visible from far and wide, was nearly always present before me; my desire gradually increased until it became so intense that I resolved to yield to it [...] While still climbing, I urged myself forward by the thought that what I experienced today will surely benefit myself as well as many others who desire the blessed life."
The summit unsettles Petrarch: "Shaken by the unaccustomed wind and the wide, freely shifting vistas, I was immediately awe-struck. I look: the clouds lay beneath my feet. [. . .] I look toward Italy, whither turned my soul even more than my gaze, and sigh at the sight of the Italian sky which appeared more to my spirit than to my eyes, and I was overcome by an inexpressible longing to return home"; he recognizes the suffering that the thought of his homeland elicits in him, which turns him to the space within his soul, "Suddenly a new thought seized me, transporting me from space into time. I said to myself: it has been ten years since you left Bologna. [. . .] Then I turn westward; in vain my eye searches for the ridge of the Pyrenees, boundary between France and Spain. [...] To my right I see the mountains of Lyon, to the left the Mediterranean surf washes against Marseille before it breaks on Aigues Mortes. Though the distance was considerable, we could see clearly; the Rhône itself lay beneath our gaze"; at the helplessness of his predicament, he turns to his copy of the Confessions, and in a moment of Synchronizitä (meaningful coincidence), he is struck by a phrase that stirs his soul even further: "God and my companion are witnesses [...] that my glance fell upon the passage: 'And men went forth to behold the high mountains and the mighty surge of the sea, and the broad stretches of the rivers and the inexhaustible ocean, and the paths of the stars, and so doing, lose themselves in wonderment.'"
The integration of the spatial features of Mount Ventoux's vista within Petrarch's mind, leads him to transpose his attention onto the poetic desires of his soul:
"I admit I was overcome with wonderment [...] I begged my brother who also desired to read the passage not to disturb me, and closed the book. I was irritated for having turned my thoughts to mundane matters at such a moment, for even the Pagan philosophers should have long since taught me that there is nothing more wondrous than the soul, and that compared to its greatness nothing is great [...] My gaze, fully satisfied by contemplating the mountain, my eyes turned inward; and then we fell silent."
Petrarch ends his letter with a recognition of the effect the ascent had on his soul: "So much perspiration and effort just to bring the body a little closer to heaven; the soul, when approaching God, must be similarly terrified."
What Petrarch's ascent of Mount Ventoux shows is the introjection of space into mental human's soul, which in turn signals a paradoxical projection of space out of it—what is within is outside mind. The ancient world of the contemplation of the soul collapses with mentality's exertion on space, which leads to the materialism of mental man's dominion of nature. The content of the letter symbolizes the extension of the image of man onto the world, which Petrarch professes "of benefit to himself and many others," as it highlights the advent of realism and individualism, through the rationalization of nature within mental perspectivity.
Gebser suggests that the understanding of space attains perfection with the painter Leonardo's perspectival means and techniques. His Trattato delia Pittura is the first scientific description of perspective, insofar as it discusses light as the visible reality of our eyes and not as a symbol of the divine spirit. The discovery of the material laws of reality dispels the obscurities about perspective, which in the mythic human was the affair of the soul. Now, with the reasoning power of the mind, Leonardo the artist becomes a scientist who discovers the technical maps of perspective as a phenomenon structured by laws.
The technological epoch begins with the insistence of the mental human toward space. Parallel to the spatial objectification in painting, Copernicus develops an understanding of heliocentric space which effectively nullifies the dogma of the geocentric cosmos; Columbus transcends the limits of the Oceanos to see the real magnitude of earth's space; Vesalius shatters the limits of Galen's doctrines of anatomy, and opens up the space of the human body for discovery; Harvey envelopes Hippocrates' humoral vision of medicine with his revelation of the circulatory system; Galileo's telescope expands the optic of astronomy by penetrating space outside of earth, which sets the stage for mental humanity to conquer air and the depths of the ocean.
The landmark discoveries of the sixteenth century evidence reason's desire for conquest, which occurs via the demolition of the ancient cavern in the literal and the metaphorical. Fresco paintings transmute into paintings on canvas; lace becomes more than a fabric used for surfaces, through the influence of microcosmic exploration; incursions into the wild heart of the spatial world turns unity into segments, sectors, and fragments, which elicit the colonial attitude of division.
The mental structure of consciousness is a paradigm of schisms and splits in every aspect of the arising emancipation of the human soul—in religion, politics, and technology. Perspectivity since the 1500s is the paradoxical strength and weakness of the mentation of the soul, insofar as the obsession with the objectification of the exoteric into a visual apprehension of totality—the homunculus who observes from within the mind—elicits the reductionism and structuralism of consciousness on the capacities of the mind of haptification and rationalization. Gebser thinks that these matrices of the transfiguration of consciousness produces the hypertrophy of "the I" because it emboldens mental man into a war against the world outside him.
The power of perspective creates the dyad of the observer-observed inasmuch as the maps of meaning of space locate "the I" in the expansion of the world—"the I" is more than ever a locus for investigation. Whereas unperspectival consciousness is a cosmos of dimensionless images, perspective consciousness synthesizes images into objects of three dimensions, which separates "the I" from Other because otherness becomes the foreign, independent reality outside the self—it is no longer an uncharted territory, but a strange space with a menacing agency of its own, whose rules need discovering. The emancipation of space from "the I" transmogrifies unity into a fragmented cosmos of objects of "material" reality, which rigidifies the ego and raises the paradox of the disintegration of "the I" within a space of expansion—"the I" is objectified in the encapsulation of an expanding material universe.
The mental structure of consciousness is an expansion of humanity's horizons, yet Gebser argues that it came with the price of narrowing the species' vision of the cosmos. Perspective demands a vision of clarity which sectorizes the view of material space due to its increasing profundity and enveloping field of apprehension. The hypertrophy of "the I" leads to the most pressing stigmas of contemporary times: intolerance and fanaticism because of the fragmentation of the interests of "the I," which only sees vanishing points of linear perspectivity; lest otherness swallows "the I" within its entropy, "the I" defends his worldview until the bitter end. The alienation of "the I" is one of the regressive pulses (a tendency toward disintegration, the Thanatos, or the death drive) in the mental structure, which Gebser examines in the next section of his analysis:
"The European of today, either as an individual or as a member of the collective, can perceive only his own sector. This is true of all spheres, the religious as well as the political, the social as well as the scientific. The rise of Protestantism fragmented religion; the ascendancy of national states divided the Christian Occident into separate individual states; the rise of political parties divided the people (or the former Christian community) into political interest groups. In the sciences, this process of segmentation led to the contemporary state of narrow specialization and the 'great achievements' of the man with tunnel vision [...] As for a simple onward progression and continuity (which has almost taken on the character of a flight), they lead only to further sectors of particularization and, ultimately, to atomization. After that, what remains, like what was left in the crater of Hiroshima, is only an amorphous dust; and it is probable that at least one part of humanity will follow this path, at least in 'spirit,' i.e., psychologically."
Mental Temporality and Regression
Mythical temporicity contrasts with the conception of time in mental man, because nature does not have an awareness of the mind's understanding of past, present, and future in the mythic stratum; rather, nature is a polar dynamic of "coming and going" which operates like a process of differentiation without the distinction of causality. On the other hand, the mind of the rational human has directionality inasmuch as the ego is centered in the present. Time is a flat line of backward and forward, past and future, within the mental structure of consciousness: "[W]e might say that [mental] time differs from [mythical] temporicity because of its directedness."
In the flat line of mental time "the Now" becomes a spatialized ground in between the past and the future; it is the middle space that separates backward and forward, wherein time seizes to be solely an orientation within a fragmentation of "parts" due to mental perspectivity. Nowness divides time and quantifies it, transmutes it into a measurable ground, which forces time to forego its primordial characteristic of intensity—of process within the larger scope of the unus mundus.
Gebser says time is more than the instrumentality or accidence of Chronos, something which perspectival man begins to conceive of as he despairs in the other insidious consequences of the spatial three-dimensional conception of time (1-2); yet the rising anxiety of modernity also symbolizes the beginnings of a possible transition toward an aperspectival consciousness of time (3). However, Gebser warns that contemporary humanity is at a juncture: consciousness can regress into the dysfunctional aspect of the magic or mythical strati and incur the annihilation of the species, or it can ascend to the paradisiacal gnosis of the integral structure of consciousness (4):
(1) "[T]he one-sided emphasis on space, which has its extreme expression in materialism and naturalism, gives rise to an ever-greater unconscious feeling of guilt about time, the neglected component of our manifest world. As we approach the decline of the perspectival age, it is our anxiety about time that stands out as the dominant characteristic alongside our ever more absurd obsession with space. It manifests itself in various ways, such as in our addiction to time. Everyone is out to 'gain time,' although the time gained is usually the wrong kind: time that is transformed into a visible multiplication of spatially fragmented 'activity,' or time that one has 'to kill.' Our time anxiety shows up in our haptification of time [...] and is expressed in our attempt to arrest time and hold onto it through its materialization. Many are convinced that 'time is money,' although again this is almost invariably falsified time, a time that can be turned into money, but not time valid in its own right. A further expression of man's current helplessness in the face of time is his compulsion to 'fill' time; he regards it as something empty and spatial like a bucket or container, devoid of any qualitative character. But time is in itself fulfilled and not something that has to be 'filled up' or 'filled out.' Finally, our contemporary anxiety about time is manifest in our flight from it: in our haste and rush, and by our constant reiteration, 'I have no time.' It is only too evident that we have space but no time; time has us because we are not yet aware of its entire reality. Contemporary man looks for time, albeit mostly in the wrong place, despite, or indeed because of his lack of time: and this is precisely his tragedy, that he spatializes time and seeks to locate it 'somewhere.' This spatial attachment—in its extreme form a spatial fixation—prevents him from finding an escape from spatial captivity."
(2) "In everyday life, few are aware that the motorization, mechanization, and technologization impose quantitative conditions on man that lead to an immeasurable loss of freedom. Machines, film, press, radio [today we can add to these the electronic time sinks of TV, video-games, and the Internet] lead not only to mediocrity and a dependency relationship, but also to an increasing de-individuation and atomization of the individual. The extent of these dangers is exemplified by present-day sports. What was once play has become a frenzy of record-setting. The attendant devotion of the individual—sub-merging himself in the mass of spectators—to a worthless phenomenon is a symptom of the contemporary transitional era. The addiction to speed [and, nowadays, doping] reveals the deep anxiety in the face of time; each new record is a further step toward the 'killing of time' (and thus of life). The preoccupation with records is a clear sign of the predominant role of time. Even the mass psyche is enslaved by time; it attempts to surpass and free itself from time in a negative way without realizing that each new record brings us closer to the death of time instead of leading to freedom from it. The addiction to overcoming time negatively is everywhere evident [...] Precisely these exertions, fleeing into quantification, are a temporal flight born of the time-anxiety which dominates our daily lives."
(3) "[T]he following picture emerges: there is on the one hand anxiety about time and one's powerlessness against it, and on the other, a 'delight' resulting from the conquest of space and the attendant expansion of power; there is also the isolation of the individual or group or cultural sphere as well as the collectivization of the same individuals in interest groups. This tension between anxiety and delight, isolation and collectivization is the ultimate result of an epoch which has outlived itself. Nevertheless, this epoch could serve as a guarantee that we reach a new 'target,' if we could utilize it much as the arrow uses an over-taut bow string. Yet like the arrow, our epoch must detach itself from the extremes that make possible the tension behind its flight toward the target. Like the arrow on the string, our epoch must find the point where the target is already latently present: the equilibrium between anxiety and delight, isolation and collectivization. Only then can it liberate itself from deficient unperspectivity and perspectivity, and achieve what we shall call, also because of its liberating character, the aperspectival world."
(4) We must again approach here [...] a phenomenon that is truly terrifying so long as we remain unenlightened about it. We refer to the incursion of deficient magic phenomena into our world—the regression noticeable everywhere of our rational attitude to one of deficient magic. It is not as if the mythical attitude alone is over-activated today, although the imagistic aspect of the cinema or the inflation of psychic imagery made conscious are clear testimony of a process of unbridled and uncontrolled regression to the deficient mythical structure. Far stronger than this is the regression to the deficient magic structure. The relation of both the magic and the mental structures toward something outside of themselves—that of the magic to nature and of the mental to the world—results in a stronger affinity between them than between either and the mythical [...] Let this one example suffice to show the basic point: wherever we encounter a predominance of insistent requests (and fanaticism is a request blindly elevated to a demand which not only petitions but compels); wherever we find a prevalence of the idea of unification in whatever form—a doctrine of unity, the establishment of an association, a huge organization, a one-party state and the like; wherever we encounter a stress on the concept of obedience, as in an overemphasis on the military, or of belonging and belongings, as in the property claims of capitalistic trusts or family patriarchies; and in general wherever we meet up with overweening emotionalism as in mass assemblies, propaganda, slogans, and the like, we may conclude that we are dealing mainly with essentially deficient manifestations of magic [...] Wherever we encounter an immoderate emphasis on the imagistic, the ambivalent, the psychic—on unbridled phantasy, imagination, or power of fancy—we may conclude the presence of a deficient mythical attitude that threatens the whole or integrality. And, too, wherever we are caught up in the labyrinthine network of mere concepts, or meet up with a one-sided emphasis on willful or voluntaristic manifestations or attempts at spasmodic synthesis (trinitary, tripartite, dialectical), isolation, or mass-phenomena, we may assuredly conclude the presence of a deficient mental, that is, extreme rationalistic source."
Spasmodic Synthesis and the Present Crisis
The final regressive impulse of the mental structure of consciousness is that it treats as opposites or antitheses of a duality what the mythic structure apprehends as the indivisible polarity of poles. Duality is the mind's capacity to split and tear apart polarity, which is a deficient capacity of mind inasmuch as it is an unstable form of unity. While mythic consciousness is a totality of the complementarity of points, duality in mental humanity unstably unites opposites within a third aspect by means of a temporary union, a tertium that separates from the originary synthesis at birth. Gebser suggests that the separation of the tertium at its conception raises another pair of opposites/antitheses which do not represent a new unity; it is a quantity dependent on its opposite/antithesis that creates yet another momentarily unifying tertium, ad infinitum.
The process of spasmodic synthesis underscores the quantification of the unification/synthesis via a third element that takes place from moment to moment. The tertium frees itself and becomes procreator and carrier of contraries that engender a new unification/synthesis. Gebser calls the spasmodic synthetic process of the present mind the speculative trinity, which fails to integrate its place within the multidimensional process dialectics of the unifying complexity of the cosmos, inasmuch as it reduces its role to a fragmented quantity of linear cause and effect.
The regressive pulses of the mental structure are markers of a present crisis, which represent the threshold of the mental structure in the direction of the integral structure, or toward the deficient versions of the magic and the mythical strati within mental humanity. Gebser suggests that the crisis brought upon by rationalism is not only a crisis of morals, economics, ideologies, politics, or religion, but a crisis of the world and mankind that occurs during pivotal junctures—junctures of decisive finality for life on earth and for the humanity subjected to them. The autonomous forces of the process of transformation on earth is heading toward an event of "global catastrophe," says Gebser, which means that the short span of time between the present and the decisive moment of transcendence or disintegration, is an opportunity to address how the increase in technological feasibility is inversely proportional to man's sense of responsibility:
"[U]nless a new factor were to emerge which would effectively overcome this menacing correlation [...] [that is] if we should not or cannot successfully survive this crisis by our own insight and assure the continuity of our earth and mankind in the short or the long run by a transformation (or a mutation) then the crisis will outlive us [...] Either we will be disintegrated and dispersed, or we must resolve and effect integrality."
Gebser posits that epochs of confusion and uncertainty have within them the slumbering seeds of clarity and certainty which push toward realization. Confusion reaches its apex at junctures, and allow for the necessary breakthrough: it is a process found in the individual's everyday life, wherein he encounters the possibility of integration or disintegration. The individual's lack of fulfillment in his work, his isolation in the masses, his powerlessness in the anonymity of modern society, the nausea that is found in bureaucracy and other forms of idle repetitiveness, are all reflections of the general malaise:
"Anxiety is always the first sign that a mutation is coming to the end of its expressive and effective possibilities, causing new powers to accumulate which, because they are thwarted, create a 'narrows' or constriction. At the culmination point of anxiety these powers liberate themselves, and this liberation is always synonymous with a new mutation. In this sense, anxiety is the great birth-giver [...] It is no accident that the anxiety orgies of the Renaissance, the dances of death and the doomsday extravagances come to an end precisely when perspective became an effective force through the efforts of Leonardo da Vinci."
A dead end or a lack of recourse indicates that a process reaches its greatest quantitative extent, which poses the danger of losing its tension and to incur its subsequent annihilation. This means for Gebser that only a leap in the form of a qualitative mutation can bring about a solution. Humanity is at such a moment today, not only with respect to the mental structure predominating in us, but also with respect to all the previous structures that make up the integral constitution of humanity:
"[O]nce, when the mythical structure began to pale, Greek man was faced with a proliferating chaos similar to ours today. The chaos then affected the mythical world which had burst apart, and the threat was a destruction of the psyche. With the aid of directed thinking the Greeks were able to master this chaos. Our chaos today pervades our material-spatial world [...] The ideas of Plato gave a fixed form to the thought contents of the soul without which the Greeks would never have been able to extricate themselves from soul and myth. This fixation which made the spatial world possible was itself fixed by Leonardo’s perspective. Without it European man would have been lost in space just as the Greeks would have been lost in the soul without the set, idealized points."
Gebser warns that the spatial world threatens to come apart because mental man has unleashed forces that are beyond his power, and that the new capability that is being formed in him is pushing it to maturity by the negative powers and forces tearing earth. For example, the Greeks developed sense-directedness of thought which allowed them to survive the inner world of awakening consciousness (the soul), and it came as the emergent quality of the ruptured mythical circle: senseful awarding arose from the bursting spatial world. The senseful awarding Gebser speaks of is a new form of perception which might sustain mental humanity against annihilation in the consciously realized external world of matter, insofar as the splintered spatial world of rational conceptualization assures mental man of the possibility of a space-free aperspectival world.
Gebser uses the example of the Mexican clans, who in their deficient mythical-magic structure, encountered the mentally-oriented Spaniards. Mental strength rose above the magic-mythical power, as clan consciousness failed in the face of the individualized ego-consciousness. Hence, integral man would overcome the deficient mental man via his integral strength, such that the individual ego-consciousness would falter in the Itself-consciousness of integral humanity. The mental-rational within the pull of the spiritual; fragmentation within the envelopment of integrality.
Just as there was an efficient and deficient phase in the magic (spell casting and sorcery), there is an efficient and deficient phase in the mental structure of consciousness (1-3):
(1) "It is the efficient phase which gives this perspectival world its distinctive stamp, which even today is, or at least could be, valid. The European perspectival-rational world represents, in this sense, only the deficient and most likely ultimate phase of the exclusive validity of the mental-rational structure."
(2) "The efficient phase of a consciousness structure is primarily qualitative, its subsequent deficient phase predominantly quantitative. The two phases are well characterized by the German word pair Maß (measure, moderation) and Masse (mass, accumulation, bulk, multitude). Thus 'spell casting' still retains the character of moderation, while witchcraft or sorcery is immoderate and unmeasured."
(3) "Leonardo’s development of perspective with its emphatic spatialization of man's image of the world marks the beginning of the deficient phase of the mental structure [...] Whereas the Greek world of the classic period is a world of measure and moderation par excellence, the late European world and particularly its derivative cultures, the American and the Russian, are worlds of immoderation."
The mutations of consciousness appear when the prevailing consciousness structure proves to be no longer adequate for mastering the world, says Gebser. He locates the last historically accessible mutation at around 500 B.C., which was the threshold of the mythical in the direction of the mental structure. The psychistic, deficient mythical conception of that time presented a threat, and the sudden onset of the mental structure brought about a decisive transformation. Now, the rationalistic, deficient mental structure presents an equal threat, and the breakthrough into the integral structure of consciousness will also bring about a new and decisive mutation:
"When spatial consciousness was finally consolidated around 1480-1500 A. D. it was from that time onward liberated for new tasks. Waking, diurnal consciousness had been secured; man had come to an awareness of space; thinking had become feasible. After this achievement modern European man believed that he too, like mythical man once before, had accomplished all that could be accomplished and was content to remain in his state of achievement. But in this case, as before, a decline sets in because of this self-satisfaction, and, beginning with the Renaissance, mental consciousness increases in deficiency and deteriorates into rationalism. This marks the inception of quantification in the newly secured mental consciousness structure, a process we already noted in connection with the deficient epoch of the mythical structure. At the same time, however, the new mutation begins its course which becomes gradually but increasingly visible over the following centuries. This mutation will enter the general awareness at the moment when the deficient attitude reaches its maximum of rational chaos—a moment that we are approaching with finality during the present decades, as should be apparent to everyone."
At the threshold of the deficient phase of mental humanity is wherein the human species finds itself alone, without a connection to the cosmos and its brethren. But therein lies the possibility of the emergent quality of the concretion of time, that can pull humanity in the direction of the integral structure of consciousness:
"Here we can discern the tragic aspect of the deficient mental structure: Reason, reversing itself metabolistically to an exaggerated rationalism, becomes a kind of inferior plaything of the psyche, neither noticing nor even suspecting the connection [...] This negative link to the psyche, usurping the place of the genuine mental relation, destroys the very thing achieved by the authentic relation: the ability to gain insight into the psyche. [For in] every extreme rationalization there is not just a violation of the psyche by the ratio, that is, a negatively magic element, but also the graver danger, graver because of its avenging and incalculable nature: the violation of the ratio by the psyche, where both become deficient. The authentic relation to the psyche, the mental, is perverted into its opposite, to the disadvantage of the ego that has become blind through isolation. In such an instance, man has become isolated and his basic ties have been cut; the moderating, measuring bond of [the efficient mental consciousness] is severed."
The Integral Structure
The bursting of a new quality of time into humanity's consciousness is the revolutionary event of the present period in history, because it presents mankind with a "new theme and a new task, and its realization." Gebser says that the irruption of time arrives through every individual, and that it attests to a new reality of the world, which is a new intensity within a freer awareness. The new kind of apprehension of the world supplants the confusion characteristic of the present crisis, inasmuch as time becomes "the Present"; it renders transparent the simultaneous aspects of the timelessness of magic, the temporicity of myth, and the temporality of mind. By "the Present," Gebser means the undivided presence of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and not "the Moment" as a fragmented event severed from the totality of time. Within a consciously realized actualization of time, "the Present" becomes the presentitation which encompasses origin as an ineradicable present:
"The concretion of time is one of the preconditions for the integral structure; only the concrete can be integrated, never the merely abstract. By integration we mean a fully completed and realized wholeness—the bringing about of an integrum, i.e., the re-establishment of the inviolate and pristine state of origin by incorporating the wealth of all subsequent achievement."
In the emerging structure of consciousness, magic timelessness, mythical temporicity, and mental-conceptual temporality, gains an integral efficacy, and consciousness accordingly envelopes these aspects within a concretion of original pre-temporality, which opens for humanity a preconscious timelessness:
"As such, time-freedom is not only the quintessence of time [...] but also the conscious quintessence of all previous temporal forms. Their becoming conscious—in itself a process of concretion—is also a liberation from all of these time forms; everything becomes the present, concrete, and thus integrable. But this implies that preconscious origin becomes conscious present; that each and every time-form basic to the one-, two-, and three-dimensional world is integrated and thereby superseded."
The aperspectival is a world that integrates the pre-perspectival, the unperspectival, and the perspectival, and it mutates from them through the essential properties of the magic, mythic, and mental, which liberates it from the exclusive strength of the previous strati. Gebser argues that the aim of his work was not to show how the future will turn out exactly since the present quality of time is at an end, what follows is pure speculation. Time-freedom supplants the temporality of mental consciousness, so a temporal projection of what is to comes with its integral mutation is an illusion. The same applies with attempts at utilizing imagery to "see" the possibilities of the integral stratum, or with reducing it via the faculty of conceptualization:
"[T]he qualities of time which are today pressing toward awareness cannot be expressed in mere categorical systems. And so long as they remain inexpressible they cannot effectively enter our awareness. We are compelled, in other words, to find a new form of statement. This not inconsiderable task is further complicated because we must avoid attributing to the new form of statement characteristics which could appear to be 'new' but would be in fact merely borrowings from consciousness attitudes already achieved [...] And this must be emphasized: The age of systematic philosophy [...] is over. What is necessary today to turn the tide of our situation are not new philosophemes like the phenomenological, ontological, or existential, but eteologemes. Eteology must replace philosophy just as philosophy once replaced the myths [...] Every eteologeme is a 'verition,' and as such is valid only when it allows origin to become transparent in the present."
The kind of truth eteologeme elicits is not an image of the world, Weltbild (a view), because conjuring an image of the emerging consciousness is tantamount to the creation of a myth. Let us recall that Gebser suggests that imagery has a predominantly mythical nature, so integral humanity cannot be reduced to image. On the other hand, eteologeme is not a conception of the world, Weltvorstellung (an idea), for the conception of the cosmos of the integral structure would be nothing else than another rationalistic construction, a mentation. Insofar as the faculty of conceptualization has an essentially rational and abstract nature, the reduction of the integral structure to abstract form is the same as reducing integral man to a philosophical construction.
Gebser focuses on a new reality which functions integrally, in which intensity and action, the effective and the effect, co-exist. The integral stratum is one wherein origin blossoms forth anew, and one in which the present is all-encompassing and entire. It is the unus mundus integrated by consciousness, the Geist in completeness. Gebser describes integral reality as the world's transparency, a perceiving of the world as truth; it is a mutual perceiving and imparting of truth of the world and of man, wherein all of that trasluces (durchscheint, shines or shows through) both.
The integral structure of consciousness is radically new in every aspect: (1) it surpasses perceptual consciousness, (2) it is the Itself, (3) it is the awakening of a latent part within consciousness which emerges from the process dialectic with the part already manifest, and (4) aperspectival so it resists description via the mentation of image or abstraction:
(1) "[I]t should be emphasized that perception is not a super-sensory process. Concepts such as intuition and the like are definitely out of place when characterizing it. It is an integral event and, if you will, an integral state of the 'Itself.'"
(2) "[T]he Itself is on the one hand the central or 'deepest' core, the intensity 'in' us that is time-free and corresponds with the pre-spatial, pre-temporal presence of origin. It is, on the other hand, this identity of origin itself which pervades and suffuses everything and, if we are able to mutate from the spatio-temporal limitations of the purely ego-centered consciousness, becomes transparent ev