I did this two-hour radio interview on The Styxxoplix Show in Ft. Wayne, IN, in which we discussed my book The Dynamics of Transformation: Tracing an Emerging World View. It was a fascinating conversation ranging from Aristotle’s four causes and Jean Gebser’s five stages of consciousness to the qualitative nature of time, the exponential acceleration of technology, and the novel world view that seems currently to be emerging.
Tag Archives: Terence McKenna
The suggestion that our culture is undergoing the collective transition to a fundamentally new mode of thought is one that has been unpalatable to the principal modern sensibility, but which irrepressibly continues to crop up, eliciting from those with minds sufficiently unencumbered by conventional assumptions the suspicion that such an emergence is possible, and perhaps even inevitable. Since at least Hegel at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in the work of some of the most revered thinkers since then, the presentiment that a large segment of human culture is on the cusp of a transformation as fundamental as the revolution that birthed modernity has proven to be extremely persistent. The “new age” movement that began in the nineteen sixties, achieved widespread attention in the seventies, and has since undergone a trivializing reaction, in many cases for good reason, is perhaps the most prominent expression of some of the kinds of insights presented here, particularly the idea that culture is currently experiencing the emergence of a new world view.
However, the new age movement was ultimately a failure in its implied goal—to bring about a new era of human history—though I would argue that it was a necessary step for the widespread publication of the kinds of ideas that had, until then, been the province of deeply rigorous and careful theorists like Hegel and James, Bergson and Gebser, Jung and Whitehead. The great commercial success of the new age movement was also its downfall as a philosophy to be taken seriously, as complex and profound ideas were often appropriated by the lowest common denominator and flattened to fit into a modern mentality, neutered by poor aesthetic taste, simplistic, self-centered spirituality, and overly credulous commerce in tacky paraphernalia. All of these elements that many of us find so worthy of ridicule have served to diminish some of the most significant ideas of the last few centuries to caricatures in collective understanding, often buried behind atrocious pastel book covers, embedded in absurdly grandiose and imprecise language, and inextricably mixed with preposterous and unprovable assertions.
While the present book is most emphatically not party to the new age movement as it is generally conceived, as Whitehead so presciently declared in 1925’s Science and the Modern World: “Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.” There are numerous thinkers and writers who may have been sympathetic to the initial impulse to birth a “new age” during that movement’s earliest and most hopeful days, but who never acquiesced to that overly compromised designation. These thinkers have been quietly and consistently working to find some middle ground, to build a bridge between modernity and the emerging mode that many have intuited, and of which the new age movement is merely the most facile and publicly digestible approximation.
In particular, scholars such as David Bohm, James Hillman, Charles Taylor, Stanislav Grof, Rupert Sheldrake, Terence McKenna, and Richard Tarnas, among many others, who have all done their work primarily in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, have taken up the task of carrying forward the epochal philosophical endeavor initiated by Hegel, James, Jung, Bergson, Whitehead, Gebser, and all the rest. They have endeavored to produce novel concepts, forms of language, and institutions through which the emerging mode of thought can be viably articulated and propagated into collective awareness. Therefore, despite the apparently radical nature of some of the ideas expressed in the present work in relation to the main streams of academia, the project of this book is actually a rather conservative one: to synthesize and consolidate the concepts and rhetorical strategies developed by these numerous precursors, and hopefully in the process to assist in differentiating these ideas from the problematic subcultures with which they have sometimes been associated. In short, the kind of thought expressed here seems ripe for an entrance from the liminal margins into the central spheres of cultural discourse, which it has, in fact, already begun to enjoy in the work of those thinkers mentioned above, and that of many others.
[This post is an excerpt from The Dynamics of Transformation: Tracing an Emerging World View.]
My dialogue with Matthew Hutson, the author of The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane, over the last few days has been stimulating and thought provoking. As I’ve been thinking about our conversation, I’ve been refining my rejoinder to his purely materialist, reductionist perspective. Here’s one way to summarize my view:
Even assuming that all particle interactions are random and that evolution is the product of this chance natural selection (about which I remain agnostic), the mechanistic materialist perspective is not necessarily incompatible with teleology, as there seems to be an implicit asymmetry in the nature of being that causes those chance interactions to add up to a larger process which tends towards increasing novelty, order, and consciousness. It’s as if we have lived all our lives on a slight slope, but we assume that slope to be completely flat because we have never known any other inclination. Our whole physics, our whole science is designed assuming that we are working on a flat plane when the truth seems to be that the deep cosmic structure is tilted ever so slightly in the temporal dimension towards the emergence of consciousness. Therefore, we may never be able empirically to show that there is this tendency until we have adjusted our whole mode of thought to take this deeply concealed factor into account. We need not necessarily change our physics because they work within their domain of applicability, like Newtonian physics works between the very large and the very small, though this metaphysical shift might open up new areas of physical research. But we must also consider the possibility that our physics are perfectly constructed to hide a miniscule slant in the nature of reality (this is, of course, only a metaphor for a higher order phenomenon that exceeds the scope of spatiality), which over very long periods of time produces directionality in the entire process. Even our most advanced physics, quantum theory and relativity, do not take into account that time is apparently a fractal dimension (as Jean Gebser and Terence McKenna suggest in different inflections—more about this another time), which we are moving through like a ball rolling down a barely discernible incline. If we could perceive the fullness of the temporal fourth dimension mathematically described by relativity as we see the three spatial dimensions, perhaps we would understand that time has a qualitative topology, but one that tends towards novelty just as gravity tends to draw massive objects together.
Thus, the choice is not between materialist reductionism and theistic intelligent design. In fact, the choice is not even between purely materialist reductionism and a subtle teleology almost imperceptibly guiding the evolutionary process. Rather, it seems to me that there is no choice because both perspectives are true within their domains of validity. Looked at atomistically, I would argue that evolution is most likely a purely random physical process. But looked at as an emergent whole, it is an undeniably teleological process. Thus, the paradox can be resolved, as is so often the case, by pushing through to a deeper level of meaning where the seemingly incommensurable perspectives can be reconciled. The material facts require the teleological narrative to give them meaning and direction, while the teleological narrative requires the material facts to give it the medium of concrete actuality in which the final cause must be expressed.
I’ve employed this quote from John Stuart Mill’s Coleridge essay in several conversations I’ve had here lately, but it bears repeating:
All students of man and society who possess that first requisite for so difficult a study, a due sense of its difficulties, are aware that the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.
If everyone who asserted one view in opposition to another (science vs. religion, reductionism vs. teleology, etc.) could recognize that all modes of thought have partial validity (though perhaps not equal validity), we could get on with discussing the really interesting questions, like what would it mean to experience the fourth, temporal dimension as fully as we experience the three spatial dimensions, and is such a thing even possible? Why do we have complete freedom of movement in the three spatial dimensions, but we are seemingly locked into a linear movement through time, which is mathematically describable as a fourth spatial dimension? In my opinion, we have the three spatial dimensions pretty well sussed out, so the frontier of human understanding ripe for discovery is time, and specifically approaches that interpret temporality as qualitative rather than quantitative, from Jungian synchronicity and Bergsonian duration to Tarnasian archetypal cosmology. But that’s a subject for another day.