prologue to the book in progress:
Philosophy in the Multiverse: Science and Culture in a Hyperspatial World
Personal Prologue: Why Philosophy? Why this book? (below)
Creative Coherence: From Political Physics to Psychic Politics in Hypermodernity
New Age or Post-Everything: Aliens, AI, and Alternative Anthropology
Signs and Scapegoats: AIDS, Aether, and Alternative Science
Purity and Presence: The Viral Vectors of Science and The Social
Dimensional Dilemmas: Time Travel, Karma, and the New Media Mythology
The Problem of Power: Legitimate Authority and the Politics of Star Trek (posted)
The Alchemy of Art: Music, Media, and Medicine in the Age of Biotechnology
Gravity of the Situation: The Ends of Science; Fact and Fiction (posted)
It Could have Been Otherwise: Ethics and Meaning in the Age of the Virtual (posted)
Sacrifice and Repetition: From Cycle and Spiral to Fractal Pastiche (posted)
Lost in Time and Blinded by the Light: The Tragedy of Countercultural Spirituality
Tantra and Tension: Sex, Power and Praxis in the New Age
“Philosophy can exclude nothing”.-Alfred North Whitehead
“The object of knowledge is not to repeat in conceptual form something which already exists, but rather to create a completely new sphere, which when combined with the world given to our senses constitutes complete reality. Thus man’s highest activity, his spiritual creativeness, is an organic part of the universal world-process. The world-process should not be considered a complete, enclosed totality without this activity. Man is not a passive onlooker in relation to evolution, merely repeating in mental pictures cosmic events taking place without his participation; he is the active co-creator of the world-process, and cognition is the most perfect link in the organism of the universe.”-Rudolf Steiner
“…when philosophers criticize each other it is on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs and that melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons. It never takes place on the same plane. To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it. But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.” -D&G’s WIP pg.28
‘To be understood is to prostitute oneself’
I love books. When I was young and insecure—with a mind scrambling for powerful ideas amongst a world of conflicting opinions and their emotional consequences—books seemed a singular sign that some thoughts could transcend the tumult and achieve, if not an authoritative force and security, than at least a more stable texture of experience. In reading, part of me could rise above the vicissitudes of life and achieve some semblance of immortality, at play with great minds beyond the bounds of time and the limitations of lesser minds.
So naturally I wanted to write one and achieve the greater sense of immortality that authorship seemed to grant. Though, as often happens with restless minds, I never quite worked out a convincing reason to do such an indulgent thing. For within that anxiety lay a sense that my personal desire for transcendence was still a vain and premature substitute for a movement within that higher reality itself.
A professor in college was adamant that I should write for my audience, which, for a youth wrestling with a muse it did not understand, was hardly possible even if I had a real audience, and definitely not desirable. Immersed in James Joyce (whom my professor found to be misguided in his lack of concern for his readers), I thought only of following the inspiration of the moment, and cared not to pander to the tastes of would-be readers—even if they were only my confused classmates, forced to read my psychedelic scribbles. Yet the nature of that inspiration was a mystery even to me without some kind of reflection. So despite my desire for a higher purpose for writing than mere subjective personal expression and its inevitable ties to objective communication and shared meaning, I seldom wrote unless called forth out of the magic of dialog and relationship. Even then, the nature and purpose of my thinking, beyond communication, remained a mystery.
Thus followed years of annoying my friends with long-winded emails, since within dialog, the spirits of relationship could be my guide—just as in reading, where the cacophony of possible voices becomes the intimate dance of two selves within a shared context, however separated in time and space. Gradually, as the need for specific conversation partners faded, so did the desire for adding to the seemingly more substantial and lasting medium of books, especially as the volume of books, good and bad, keeps expanding beyond anything conforming to my romantic notions about the printed word.
Nonetheless, I have continued to read, and to write, often to people when I feel they have not understood something or someone. But sometimes I write not to communicate an understanding, or exchange ideas, but to create them, or form a new understanding of them. This book is a collection of those examples of my writing which were written for no one, but which hopefully maintain some kind of coherence and accessibility. They were written and revised over many years and serve as applications of my evolving philosophical interests to themes arising in the popular media and the culture of the time. The result, I admit, is a rather strange and often rapidly shifting and digressive juxtaposition of subjects. But I hope, for some, an occasionally interesting one.
If not, that is okay too. For I came to realize that it is not writing in itself that is important. It is not the explicit communication of ideas that I long sensed as a greater reality, but the “event” of creative thinking itself, or any event in so much as it is a creative extension of larger themes and events taking place through us, and, in some sense, by us, at levels hidden from our everyday focus.
The conviction grew that what was important in life could never be reduced to any one measure of value or any set criteria of judgment at all. But whatever the value or criteria, beyond any possibility of judgment, there is the call for all beings to learn, to better understand, and to increasingly fulfill some value. Inherent in this relaxing of absolute judgment comes the recognition that nothing is without value, but also the important qualification that the object of learning is to make the most out of anything, to make more value, or a greater difference. For while there may be no absolute standard from which to judge the great from the small, every difference comes with its own standard, and the difference between a creative leap and a bare repetition of the same is not difficult to “judge”.
Even so, to the extent that judgment implies finality or absolute authority, it loses its grounding in the creative nature of truth. No process is ever complete, so even the most unproductive, sedentary, or regressive process may become, in retrospect or reevaluation, an important resting place or consolidation point, from which new value may spring.
Still, for some, this seeming lack of absolute foundations may sometimes make the downward spiral towards relativism and nihilism difficult to avoid. However, a sustained will to understand the values we pursue, delivers a higher plane of truth that connects any value to others, and paints a rich picture of mutual implication that, if pursued with sincerity, dissolves any desire for the poverty and self-importance of some isolatable truth.
And it is pursuing that understanding—beyond any measurable effect on the visible world—that actually makes the biggest difference in that higher reality, of which everything we know is but an expression and symbol—a quaint portion of an infinite process of experimentation and discovery that makes final judgment made from any limited context a rather short-sighted gesture.
But how can one understand anything without judgment? How can one pursue any value without negating others? To anticipate the ideas explored in this book, I will say: the answer depends on what you mean by judgment and negation. We certainly don’t want to get caught up in contradictions, in trying to “negate the negative”, which, as later essays discuss, always traps us in a vicious cycle. But is not contradiction inevitable, perhaps even essential to the movement of any process, indeed to the very concept of movement itself, as the famous paradoxes of thought have shown?
Well, yes and no. Again, it depends on what you mean. Meaning itself depends on a kind of coherence that cannot be tied to any single reference. The consistency of meaning required for meaning to even begin, demands a coherence that is always already in motion, and in fact is a motion or movement itself. A fundamentally relational logic is required that moves with its metaphors.
While metaphors have always been a good way to signify abstract realities or ideas, if one doesn’t ignore the vehicle, the “carrier wave”, the oppositions and contrasts repressed or negated by any affirmation—the medium and its message—one develops a feeling for the possibility of a greater journey. The passion for absolute truth and a justification of our lives becomes the will to evolve the vehicle and instruments of life to a level where it may carry a more harmonious tune. The passion for unity, for me, has become a call to listen to difference and find the universal in each possibility.
As that call grew, the mystery of inspiration and the struggle for meaning dissolved into the realization that meaning was inevitable. We all are producing meaning whether we are aware of it or not. How much? For and according to whom? Those are difficult questions.
Suffice it to say, this meaning isn’t just personal, or the mere aggregate of effects we all have on the historical process—which is often discussed in modern philosophy as a “dialectic”, a working through of contradictions, and which in recent times is often reduced to little more than a passage through to some ideal, whether material or spiritual. On the contrary, we are part of a grand experiment in value fulfillment where even our most intimate and seemingly isolated experience is already a full embodiment of, and answer to, some quality or question of potentially universal significance.
But how much do we partake in that embodiment? That of course depends on who “we” are. For most of us on this planet, our world appears in pieces: meaning is dispersed among symbols that seldom connect. We attempt to cover the gaps or associate what we sense must be connected. And in our spiritual moments, we might honor the mystery and symbolize a feeling of unity that transcends understanding. Yet our bodies or vitality fail us before whatever it was we were struggling to realize reaches any kind of fulfillment.
We do sense something carries on, and whether we are convinced this is merely our effects on the world or some subtler spiritual process, something in us knows that somewhere, somehow, our values will find fulfillment. It should be clear, however, that what we sense is actually a narrative thread that only has continuity on a level that far exceeds the personal value and provincial meaning we ascribe to it.
If one can begin to sense the universal, one may see more clearly the threads of development crisscrossing through our life and world—stopping short here, reemerging there in some other form, giving an impression that cannot help but compel a desire to follow those lines, or give them a coherent field through which to manifest fully to our awareness. But as one follows the spirit of any value long enough, one sees how deeply it is tied up with so many others—how much the fulfillment of any one ultimately depends on the fulfillment of all.
If we learn to truly cohere the scattered fragments of value we usually build our world around, and find the larger arcs within which our short lives only stumble through here and there, we can begin to glimpse these larger themes. We may even hear the deathless murmurs that haunt the stunted staccato rhythms of our musings with the hopes of a pattern that can match those of the inroads to the infinite.
To bring these scattered cross-purposed lines of life into phase with the heart of the cosmos, we need a coherent culture. What this means will be explored throughout the essays of this book. Here I will just reassure you that it does not mean simply a monolithic culture. Quite the contrary. Coherence is not merely a question of internal order, for every system has a complex relationship with others, and with the fundamentally relational nature of all things, embedded in mutual co-determination.
While traditional cultures may have organized their small portions of the cosmic narrative to resonate with a certain amount of coherence as a microcosm of its greater world, “civilization” has been the sign of a larger arc riding on the smaller cultural arcs as they have come and gone. That larger spirit has, in its own peaks and troughs, its dead ends and false starts, been striving to be more than a quaint expression of some niche detail of a greater cosmos, whose main currents we are but tributaries.
Our civilization has been forging an instrument to penetrate further into the nerve center of the cosmic web of relations, to take a greater part in its trajectory. And while technology might be the most obvious manifestation of this development, the technological achievements can also lead to a further entrenchment of humanity in ignorance, or worse. To avoid this fate, the cultures of humanity must not only make their form-languages more in tune with the rhythms of the natural world as ancient cultures tended to be through their intuitive, fluid, and creative coherence, but also ground civilization in an understanding of the cosmos that transcends the idiosyncratic systems and languages of culture and allows for a more universal knowledge.
This book hopes to be a contribution to this kind of civilization—where through a dialog of diverse metaphors and knowledge traditions, we can better understand the principles of a universal syntax, which could make, not a universal language that erases cultural difference or reduces them to any archetype, but a general knowledge of a shared medium whose processes structure all form.
This book is just a gesture in that direction—a seemingly singular gesture that I hope hints at the infinity of contexts riding on and sliding by, forming and frequenting the forces of our amazing world. As our restless hearts find rest in the infinite, the mind finds its purpose as a partner in the dance of selves growing out of endless improvisations upon the themes of existence.
So it is that I write, as I live, to further perspectives that will live on after me, not through a dialectic of history, not through any expectation of effect from these ephemeral projections into the media-sphere, but through the beings that live through me and of which my life is just a small portion, a working out of conditions that will be used in developments that cannot be measured in the terms of this world. For the world—all worlds—are still a kind of conversation. Yet their purpose is not so much to communicate or define a world, as it is the joy of creative play with them, with worlds and words; with the beings we are, have been, and will be; with the variegated delight of relationship.
While personal conversation can only take a relation so far, it can be a helpful place to begin. So while these essays will leave the personal voice behind and attempt to leave my biased emotions behind (however much this may fail), I wanted to let you know here, just what you were getting into. Still, throughout this book, however implicitly, I do want to speak to you as a friend: as a fellow inmate in the asylum of Earth as we plan its liberation, as a partner in the dance of theory and practice, and, if nothing else, as a lover of wisdom, even if you find none here. For while I may not be writing for you, I certainly don’t want to waste your time repeating arguments with friends from my youth, which Yeats once suggested was the source of the writer’s musings.
I will advance arguments of a sort, but only to suggest the value of a certain way of seeing things, and as a means to an end that has no end or final way of being understood (I hope). For as I speak to you, I also speak to the other that exists as an alien to us all, to the unknown calling us beyond the cycles of reaction. May these traces carry through a being, may they connect old friends, may they be more than me—the ironically vain dream within all inspiration, but to which all sincere work is an offering, an offering that carries a real hope of a wider circle of embrace, (which only to the explicitly vain means a wide audience).
The more advanced kind of influence, just like the more deeply intimate of relationships, transcends the personal and interpersonal. The evolution of any relationship, influence, or affect eventually forms a pattern of connection that defies formal measures of force or causal influence. I can only hope this book achieves a “measure” of that immeasurable influence—God knows it won’t achieve many “actual” readers. But that is okay. For I know now why I write, why I think, why I am. My mind is no longer restless. Yet it does not announce from on high to the masses, nor from any fixed abode. It moves within the context and conversation of philosophy, by which Pythagoras—the first to call himself a philosopher—meant a love of wisdom.
Yet who in our times dares call themselves by such a name? Have we indeed fallen into the dark age when men spurn wisdom as predicted in tradition? Or has the context of traditional wisdom so changed that anyone posturing its tenets be taken as a charlatan? Who can blame us for developing a skeptical stance or an ironic smile when the label of wisdom—or love for that matter—is invoked. Love we may speak of in all seriousness, but its gravity comes more from its emotional weight, seldom from devotion to a principle—the very thing we have lost faith in.
Of course the principles of scientific inquiry still secure devotion in those willing to stretch its character into a value sphere quite alien to its professed intent. Most of us end up supplementing the valueless data of an increasingly muddled scientific cosmology with some metaphorical abduction of traditional symbols and meaning, however disguised as new and revelatory. In any case, meaningful engagement is nearly impossible, as the individual is left to merely choose what combination of floating signifiers they will fashion into an identity.
The result is less a coherent subjectivity resonating in a world of meaning, than an ideological covering over an abyss of incoherent systems and principles that prevent us from feeling the connection and truth a powerful metaphor should bring. The depth we do feel is no longer the spiritual relevance of religious metaphor, but the black hole of 20th century cosmology, now superseded by a host of competing interpretations of singularity that merely mirror our uneasy view of the void. Thus we are forced to either take science literally and become cogs in its lifeless machinery, or risk facing the monumental task of bearing the weight of its metaphors, feeling through the incoherence to a distant harmony.
But is this not always the choice between the passions and true love? In one case we are fastened to our object of compulsion, and in the other we become that object, we enter into its nature, and by doing so, we free subject and object from their slavish reflection, setting us on our mutual way towards greater coherence—opening lover and beloved up to the greater cosmic activity.
Loving wisdom in our age, however, can feel like an unhealthy relationship. It can become difficult to fully resonate with a beloved so mired in uncertainty. Is it any wonder people embrace simpler paths, taking up devotion to principles no longer in phase with our own times? What principle can guide us in a world of such wonderfully heterogeneous yet basically incoherent connectivity? It seems like any principle that can free us from the weight of our compulsions—yet lend us a soulful gravity that is less a weight or fall than the current of our chosen path—gets lost in the frivolous and solemn ventures of a soul unmoored from meaning.
Not that there is any shortage of meanings around; we are awash in information offered as meaning commodities. But wisdom is scorned and love considered merely personal precisely because we recognize the traps of a life dictated by a single tradition, by a principle that doesn’t acknowledge the already wide span of worlds active in the field of Earth at this time. And despite all attempts at universality and integrality, the coherence just isn’t there. And we have come to respect difference, and are rightly in no hurry to totalize the field of diversity into another grand metanarrative, no matter how inclusive. We have won a kind of individual freedom that seems to be one of the primary achievements and more or less successful products of civilization.
Yet in our liberation from the collective dogma we seem to have merely landed ourselves squarely back in the inescapable problems of interdependence. The virtues of a life lived on one’s own terms have been revealed as a primordial responsibility for the making of a world.
And so the timeless questions arise again, with the same old metaphors of reciprocal relation reemerging in the contemporary study of complex systems as that which has inspired many versions of the so-called “golden rule”—dating back to another important era, what Karl Jaspers called the axial age, when we first seemed to glimpse the problems of a rational, individual consciousness.
Far from revealing an argument for a perennial tradition of stock answers to universal questions, it should be seen by now that we have been set adrift for a reason, that we are struggling to formulate a way of achieving harmony without succumbing to a fixed ideology or a final solution.
So what “way” could there be beyond the dangers of fanatical devotion that nonetheless can inspire a civilization to believe in truth once again? What principle can guarantee smooth sailing within any context we may find ourselves without sacrificing critical reflection? And even if such a purpose is found, is pragmatic utility left as our highest end? What is it all for? Relationships seemingly end. Great achievements are forgotten. And in the realm of knowledge, how relative and provisional it all seems at first glance.
If we follow these questions far enough to reach the realm where such problems start to converge on their mutual conditions, we may see answers that differ from our age’s paltry offerings in the way of purpose, bound as they all are to fleeting material developments. Yet no matter what the answer, no matter what the age or culture, human beings find reasons for acts of devotion and sacrifice to a process and project that transcends their own life and pleasure— one that often defies their ability to rationalize to themselves or anyone else.
While countless cultures and people have labored on, for the good of the Gods, for their family, nation or planet, or the evolution of consciousness, (their own or some broader cosmic drama), the impulse to understand, formalize, or express a more universal understanding, and a greater purpose to and enjoyment of life and society, has evolved from a primordial sense of responsibility for others and the future, into a humanistic faith in the great potential of our species, which persists despite and partly because of our awareness of the possibilities for messing it all up.
People everywhere seem to sense they are part of some process of development that outlasts their death, no matter what the terms they use to justify the meaning of their life. Whether this development is actually reflected in the process of civilization is another question, but the impulse to make human civilization some kind of materialization of whatever deeper process of learning is happening on some at least tacitly felt transcendent realm or cause, emerges as an explicit and conscious purpose in those more concerned with the conditions that determine humanity.
While individual cultures have come and gone, the seeds of their cultural fruits have been sown into a patchy wilderness of planetary civilization. Now more than ever we must see the forest through the trees and fashion a garden of theory that can nourish us for generations to come.
While “theory” and philosophy have, for the average Westerner, come to mean idle speculation, attempts at freeing ourselves from the tyranny of theory have only gotten us a terribly unconscious civilization, beholden to theories it doesn’t acknowledge or examine. The scientist has succeeded in convincing most of the world that the only theory needed is the heuristic algorithms of expert technicians, or perhaps a master equation that will secure us all to its law of truth.
Sure, there are many alternative and countercultural visions, but how can any of these alternatives become a new dominant world view? And in this age of inescapable global connectivity, is not more required than another alternative, another iteration of difference for Capital to turn into a lifestyle commodity? Have we not learned a deeper game—one that transcends the form of its gesture and embraces an occult economy of cultural value and its different potential paths of evolution?
Without an understanding of deeper principles that go beyond specific formalization, any new idea just gets lost in the noise of information overload—another fetish to be tried and tossed aside like any other cultural product in consumer society. And if all cultures have their day and there is no greater plan past the circle of life and death, who can forgive a general public for living for the moment’s fleeting pleasures?
Even if we are motivated to change things, the sheer scope of the disaster of our society, and the even more frightening response of our leaders to it, is such that it gives most forms of protest and activism an ecstatic “dionysian” quality so characteristic of our age’s separation of its vitality from its “apollonian” structure building. Our problems are just too complicated for most people to come to terms with in any vital affirmative way, leaving no one but the “apollonian” intellectual to ponder and dream on structures he cannot change.
So on we fight with each other, struggling for recognition and identity, sometimes sincerely working for justice, or for one cause or another. Yet few people take the time to understand the connections between one cause and another, between their values and all the others. For that we need more than just the rules and codes of supposedly “expert” knowledge. For that we need more than “knowledge” in any sense that is limited by its specific and contingent forms. We need wisdom and to approach such a thing we need a love of it; we need philosophy. We need a love of wisdom that can create new worlds.
Yet the etymology of the word suggests something different than what people today think of when they speak of love or wisdom. In our times, love seems somewhat restricted to what the Greeks called eros, the restless desire of a subject for an object, rather than philein, which suggests a harmonious friendship. Harmonious love is not easy to come by in our times.
Philosophy too has had its share of conflict. But its willingness to be a friend of wisdom, to not claim to possess it, or the final form of it, but rather to travel down the path alongside it, learning from it and helping it emerge anew as each of its constitutive problems are revealed, makes philosophy something different than the wisdom traditions that preceded it, and the dogmatic sciences that are attempting to replace it.
Science, of course, has its place, and the spirit of friendly rivalry that science holds up as an ideal owes much to philosophy’s early concern with the problems of diverse interests that animated ancient Greek cities, and the necessities of judging the relative value of competing claims (which also nourished early experiments in democracy). But the passage from innate love and wisdom to the problems and trials of struggles for power, has often made both love and wisdom easy prey to the seeming necessity of an exclusive logic of judgment, and its destructive effect on love and wisdom both.
Despite the frequent subjection to judgment and the repression that it entails, arriving along with the dominance of judgment that difference and rivalry seems to make necessary, comes the inspiration for an alternative strategy to tame the chaos. The true lover of wisdom finds something stifling and artificial in judgment. Calling beyond or through each seemingly necessary sacrifice, is a path of evaluation which all true friends are familiar with(1). Rather than judgment and exclusion, we play and test our perspectives and the connections we make between them to find the right arrangement and proportion, more than any final rule.
In philosophy, more so than in traditional wisdom, it is concepts, not just symbols, that are the medium of wisdom’s inscription(2). With concepts it is possible to find a path for all, where none are left behind because all are transformed and connected to other concepts and paths in all directions, not just to the one or the exclusively true from which we might judge. There is no need to submit to a monolithic resonance because harmony is always just a dance of thought away, and harmony need not submit anyone to anything but the dance of difference. In this way, the world becomes more Divine the more we understand it and each other. The more we find the right modulations of the medium that allow all beings involved in the dance to constructively interfere, the more we can then find the music in the patterns and a creative order in the chaos.
The love of wisdom must be a truly spiritual love, or as Rumi might have characterized it, a love without an object. That isn’t to say a love that rejects the object, that turns its back upon the relationships that so desperately need healing, but a love that finds with its beloved a sympathetic resonance, which transforms love’s annihilating gravity into an open field of play, pulling all values towards fulfillment. We then easily surrender attachment to our knowledge forms and find the connections between perspectives.
A true love of wisdom does not speculate about any object of knowledge, just as a true lover doesn’t wonder at his beloved’s nature. Love unites him with her, and through love they create a home in which to grow. For philosophy, that home is language, Heidegger’s “house of being”, and through philosophy, through the philosophical transformation of “thinking”, that house can become a true home; language and culture can become a place where beings grow into a higher harmony. But to do so, they must not be built of mere speculations guided by precarious hypotheses, but of concepts created from a sense in tune with the needs of culture.
A philosopher is not the judge separating the true from the false, but the cultural physician, guiding us towards the truth of a more illuminating arrangement than the confused knot of relations we call error(3). The true physician does not cut this knot of struggling adaptations as some meaningless anomaly, but untangles the confusion—building better conditions for the true, good, and beautiful.
Any improvement must illuminate the truth of previous errors and the adaptive value of every illness, if it is not to become in time a different error or illness. Even the shakiest of structures may concentrate and conjugate the flows of life, may work as a truth for a time. But if one does not understand the conditions of every truth and error—does not realize that every truth can become an error in different conditions—the structure will lose its way in the wilderness of abstractions.
On the other hand, since all learning is built on error, if there is a continual attention to the ground of error in which any structure grows, even the most precarious adaptation may produce a seed of knowledge from which sprouts a healthy culture sensitive to a changing environment it learns to cultivate.
To do so one must find the right context for each seed to grow beyond itself. To make a garden of civilization, we must embed life into the structures towards which it longingly reaches, by learning life’s own formal language—by connecting and transforming flows and forms through the process and experience of living and the building and changing of context.
If our cultural forms do not grow into the field of knowledge, they become mere life forms, or lifestyles, doomed to follow the cycle of growth and decay, as all metaphors and cultures have done so far. Yet nothing is ever really lost, and the path of knowledge could be seen to be a way of reassembling the pieces of life that have been scattered to the wind. In this sense organized knowledge need not be about ossifying the complex dynamic of life into the rigid structure of an abstract system. Nor need our knowledge be merely a chaotic mirroring of the disjointed mechanisms and processes, which the uninspired mind carves out of nature’s surface features along the joints inherent in his predisposition.
We may instead, build knowledge to achieve life’s fulfillment in the immortality of a creative coherence—allowing that long lost memory and meaning to find new life and consistency in the continuity of greater context. In the debate between life and mind, their integration depends on mind helping life embed coherently within the rhythms of the cosmos at large, matching the Earth’s rhythms to a path of greater cosmic destiny.
Ideal knowledge structures should not just integrate disparate forms so much as critically reform and recontextualize to reveal a deeper universality. And they certainly should not presume to create any final universal system. Wisdom sees the universal in every form and weaves its symbols into paths of further development to be embodied by the communities, which in our time so desperately need a living fabric of knowledge that we can ideally all, at least at some level, draw from and contribute to.
As to whether or to what extent this book represents any therapeutic value to our culture, or more to the point here, is worth anyone’s time, I can only say that I did my best. I have spent decades studying culture, seeing what was out there and thinking long and hard about what might still need saying, despite the bloated marketplace of a culture obsessed with having an opinion and wanting it recognized.
Recognized or not, I could not do otherwise than ponder the questions addressed in this text. The intent of the thought signified herein is to be not a speculative opinion, but a cluster of paths through the wilderness of our contemporary confusion, whether people engage with them or not. To say that philosophy is a struggle against opinion(4), and that one is not only attempting to do philosophy—already a vain activity in the current era—but to overcome opinion altogether, one risks going beyond mere misunderstanding into demonized heresy.
More likely one will be dismissed as claiming knowledge(5) in a factual sense that is normally reserved for institutional scientists, who distance themselves from any perceived hubris by citing consensus—a mere provisional and collective, but tested opinion; yet opinion nonetheless. And this is precisely the point in rising above opinion: not to claim another’s interpretation is mere opinion, while yours is fact, but to transform the whole structure of judging subjective opinions on an already assumed object of consensus, into one of creating better paths of connection between subjects and objects, and in so doing, create new subjects and objects—a new world, to the extent that world has any value.
All pretenses to creative and individual thought aside, these essays do emerge from the thoughts of our culture taking place all around and within me, across the ages of countless authors I have read and many more that I have not—phantom traces of boundless conversations that have never been written down or even said out loud in the world I seem to wake up in every day. To sense the immensity of ideas and yet circle around the cliches and tropes of the times may be the struggle of every creative act, but as this process grows deeper into the mystery, the difficulties only grow, and it is easy to see why the ascetic chooses to turn from the world of action into a direct union with higher consciousness, and forgoes the endless and ultimately inadequate task of translation and worldly contextualization.
But this discord between worlds is not a necessity of life. It is up to people of every age to evolve the form-language of their culture to meet the demands of the time. Technological innovation has in recent times, so outpaced the creative mind’s ability to meaningfully contextualize these changes, that creativity has become merely a romantic reaction to a total “enframing” by technology. The creative mind has few options, given the complete impracticality of understanding enough of modern science and technology to creatively determine it. It therefore retreats into a search for novel experiences or unique expressions that may be richly textured enough to splash some color on the walls of an increasingly mechanized world. The individual in our times, no matter what their bent of character, cannot help but feel deep down that their life, in some crucial aspect, is not their own.
And so we assert our character ever more forcefully—maybe in the process fighting for others’ right to do so as well, but in the end, feeling all the more dissatisfied with the chaos of personalized reactions to niche aspects of an immense problem that escapes comprehension. Most of us concede the impossibility and rest content identifying with a subjectivity that has lost any grounding coherence, and which finds its most meaningful symbols in the various creative media it considers mere fantasy or fiction—displaced projections from contemporary confusions that may intuit the greater cosmic drama behind the dull daydream of our conditioned reality, but in the end are considered merely idle entertainment.
Surveying our artistic media, one cannot help but see that there is something old and tired looming over the 21st century imagination. There is much energy being expended as each new medium offers new life to our dying symbols, but it all somehow misses the mark—as if we are too weary or defeated to make our art do more than comment on a reality we have left for science to create for us. But while this kind of tired desperation haunts Western cultural production, within a view that sees “civilization” not as a decadent phase of culture, but as a discontinuous groping towards a more universal and sustainable structure, this arc of Western civilization takes on a more quaint color of a struggling youth. Our weariness is more of a frustration with the limits of our body (of knowledge). We sense we are capable of great things, that we are just getting started on some greater path, yet the body we are used to isn’t working the same way, and it is changing in ways we haven’t yet understood or adjusted to.
There is nothing more sad than an old man trying to act young, but it isn’t because he should accept his ineptitude; it is, like all tragedy, a confusion in the boundaries of archetypal principles, a mismeasure of the ratio of complementary forces, of the Gods on whose proportional relationship man’s destiny depends. Man keeps chasing the pleasure of Dionysus, keeps trying to play on the structures he was born into, long after they have lost their vitality.
He needs to grow up—needs to unite the structure building dreams of Apollonian creativity and individuation, with the collective dance of Dionysian vitality. That is, he must learn to build and tune his instrument if he truly wants to learn to play a different song, and especially if he wants to play a sustainable one. For technological science seems to have replaced any truly creative system building. It is a mechanical prosthesis to a struggling social body that could, through a more philosophical science and integrated society, guide nature and meaning into the higher dimensions of experience.
Instead we are harvesting nature to shore up our corpse, struggling to extract pleasure from a life lived for our increasingly boring concepts, symbols, and images. Though we have not lost our love for dreaming, our zest for building new forms, that zest is disconnected from its roots in Dionysus, from the earth, from any sense of the realities of time and challenges of death. We have, much like late Classical culture, turned the transformative, destructive power of Dionysian ecstasy into the mere pleasure of civilization. We have, like the Romans did by destroying the Dionysian cults, muted the revolutionary ecstasy of the counterculture by diverting it into the mere pleasure of spectacle. Oswald Spengler was right to see the West as in decline, for we are certainly past our prime, though still chasing pleasure and building structures to shore up our failing vitality.
Civilization could collapse, or more likely, turn nightmarishly dystopian, but there are other forces at work, and longer cycles of development than what we can surmise from recorded history. We are only dying if we cling to our culture and our cultural selves. The greater spirit growing through our civilization is still a struggling adolescent. Science—in the broad sense of organized knowledge—is still discovering its medium and its destiny as caretaker of the forms of the spirit’s song.
Western culture, which has always been possessed with this spirit of civilization, must learn to stop straining to suck the last life out of our structures, and start putting our creative minds to the building of a society more sensitive to the worlds our structures repress, (and through inversion express). Then the dialectic of culture and counterculture, Apollo and Dionysus, the arts and sciences, and every other antagonism can give way to an innovation that displaces any single dialectic of history, (which Nietzsche considered a process of reactionary negativity), with a cooperative and reciprocal symbiosis.
Rudolf Steiner, explaining a spiritual metaphor no doubt influenced by his reading of Nietzsche’s aesthetic ideal of a formal conjugation between Dionysian and Apollonian powers, spoke of two types of spiritual beings, related to the vowels and consonants of language, fusing their activities in the highest art:
“From the consonant element extracted from the human being, the form arises, which we must shape sculpturally. From the vowel element extracted from the human being arises the musical, the song element, which we must sing. Man, as he stands before us, on earth, is really the result of two cosmic arts. From one direction derives a cosmic art of sculpturing, from the other comes a musical and song-like cosmic art. Two types of spiritual beings fuse their activities. One brings forth and shapes the instrument, the other plays on the instrument. ”
This essential symbiosis is different from a mere peaceful balance of opposites that has been one of the main themes of the commercialized counterculture, known pejoratively as the “New Age”. Behind the cliche lies a greater potential, where the ideal is not some romantic return to a simple balance or equilibrium, since this is always a precarious and somewhat contradictory state for life, and one certainly out of tune with the frequent emphasis of the New Age on self–determination. The true productive principle of the Romantic era, beneath all the reactions of countercultural processes, is the maintenance of productive differences, of creative tension and polarity(6), and a cooperation of opposites guided by Divine creativity and knowledge into more sustainable circuits of power.
This is what New Age thinking often trivializes into a progressive evolutionism, but which it sometimes rightly renders in its metaphors as a possible greater destiny of civilization as Divine instrument, a language evolving to be a fitter vehicle for a greater being. In the visionary thinking of Rudolf Steiner, this destiny is not guaranteed, nor are we anywhere close to some positive consummation. But as many great minds have inuitied, working towards this ideal is indeed the highest art. Steiner continues:
“No wonder that in ancient times, when people were still aware of such things, the greatest artist was called Orpheus. He actually possessed such mastery over the soul element that not only was he able to use the already formed human body as an instrument, but with his tones he could even mold unformed matter into forms that corresponded to the tones.”(7)
The great artist at the mythical origins of Western culture, Orpheus was also the prototype for Pythagoras, our great seeder of Western science and philosophy.(8) In this book we will attempt to explore the paths that the West has taken in its drive to transform matter, to evolve the material vehicle. In so doing, we will also consider Western culture’s emergence from Eastern wisdom, and from beings and realms previously relegated to myth, but which and whom are beginning to take on new light, as our knowledge penetrates increasingly into what we usually dismiss as imagination. While the challenges imposed on us by our already alienating technological society will only become more challenging with these new realms to consider, it is precisely by considering these seemingly alien dimensions of our experience that we can begin to meaningfully frame our world in terms we choose, and thereby level the playing field with that which always transcends our view.
In conclusion, I hope this book will shed some light on what we all know deep down to be true. Despite surface doubts, we all live our lives because we know there are reasons to do so. What confuses us is the freedom we have developed to help shape those reasons. This freedom opens up a space where we must confront the fact that nothing lasts, memory is fleeting, and learning is provisional and context-bound. But we sense there is something in us, that is all of us, that is gaining something valuable and universal. We sense a being in us that puts everything to use—where no act is a waste, and all gestures feed into a greater meaningful activity of lasting applicability.
What becomes clear through a true love of wisdom is that while no form may last forever, there are threads of continuity that run through everything that only appear discrete and disparate in our attempts to contain and master an infinite field.
While the mind of man has dreamt of tempering this field as he tempers musical instruments, there are prices to pay as there are in music when we commit to one system of tuning. The answer is not to give up our desire for knowledge and benevolent power as so many have done when this truth of incommensurability is realized, since there will always be those who have no problem creating a closed system to contain us all. Nor should we rest content with a utilitarian pluralism that has no deeper vision of metaphysical unity. Instead we must imbue our civilization with a learning that goes deeper than that which depends on whatever language or forms we may use, a learning that illuminates those very forms with the light of a deeper experience.
This book won’t contain any argument for some reliably privileged mystic sense as much as it will be an exploration of how a deeper meditative approach to our knowledge traditions and cultural forms is creating the best hope for our future. This deeper inner experience doesn’t guarantee wisdom, but wisdom cannot manifest without it. Philosophy is not dead, but rather its powers have been dispersed into so many directions, which, as we stand today, are poised to converge in a “new age”. What type of new age depends on the proportions of the elements of this convergence and the wisdom we bring to them. There may be dark days ahead, but with conflict comes opportunity to rise from the rut of well-worn earthly rhythms and enter a deeper cosmic game.
(1) “Oh friends, there is no friend!” Aristotle supposedly said on his deathbed, and though some think he may have meant something more like “He who has many friends, has no friend”(Hsu 2019), like Derrida(1994), I find the former, paradoxical interpretation more interesting. For the true friend is he who overcomes the discrete binary judgment of friend/enemy, and becomes capable of a higher kind of evaluation (Nietzsche’s transvaluation affirmed in his addition: “Oh foes, there are no foes!”). As Carol K. Anthony(1988) often put forth in her interpretation of the I Ching: “one must never decide for or against people”.
(2) at least according to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1991)
(3) “cultural physician” was a metaphor of Nietzsche
(4) for the general development of this claim see Deleuze and Guattari (1991). But here is an excellent related passage from Deleuze: “These days, information technology, communications, and advertising are taking over the words “concept” and “creative,” and these “conceptualists” constitute an arrogant breed that reveals the activity of selling to be capitalism’s supreme thought, the cogito of the marketplace.Philosophy feels small and lonely confronting such forces, but the only way it’s going to die is by choking with laughter.
Philosophy’s no more communicative than it’s contemplative or reflective: it is by nature creative or even revolutionary, because it’s always creating new concepts. The only constraint is that these should have a necessity, as well as an unfamiliarity, and they have both to the extent they’re a response to real problems.
Concepts are what stops thought being a mere opinion, a view, an exchange of views, gossip. Any concept is bound to be a paradox.” Deleuze: Negotiations (1995), p. 136
(5)Hammer, Olav (2001)
(6) for the connections between Romanticism and the New Age, see Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (1998). For Romanticism and Steiner see Barfield (2012), and Romanticism and science, see Cunnigham and Jardine (1990)
(7) Steiner, Rudolf (1983)
(8) Bamford, Christopher (1994)