Archive for December, 2009

Alexei suggested it would be useful to have some kind of simple crib sheet to help follow all the different visions and their changes through time. I’ve got mixed feelings about that — whenever I make things too schematic, all the juice seems to leak out — but I’ll admit that even I’ve had to resort to counting on my fingers at times to keep track of where I’m at.

(“Let’s see, if it’s 1850, then chaos must be emergent. Or do I mean holism? No, way too early for holism. Definitely chaos.”)

At any rate, I’ve done up a basic timeline, starting with the reason-based counterculture in the early 1700’s. It has links to the entries in which I’ve discussed each period, so it can serve as a kind of index to the series, as well.

There are a lot of blank areas in the chart, particularly before 1915, that I haven’t written about because they’re not relevant to the story I’ve been trying to tell, which is mainly that of chaos and holism. I may get back to those areas at some point — but at the moment, just figure they’re there for the sake of completeness.

The timeline is here. I’ll keep updating it as I go, and I’ll also link to it at the bottom of entries from now on.

Update: Alexei said the timeline was nice but what he really had in mind was a list of all the visions in order and their periods of emergence and dominance. That gets into a lot more territory I haven’t covered yet — but for what it’s worth, a preliminary listing is here.


A listing of all my posts on the cycle of visions can be found here.

A general overview of the areas of interest covered at this blog can be found here.

A chronological listing of all entries at this blog, with brief descriptions, can be found here.

It keeps nagging at me that even though I’ve spent the last three months writing about the chaos vision, I haven’t yet managed to define it in the way I’ve defined democracy in terms of freedom and equality or holism in terms of systems and emergent properties.

There are valid reasons for that. Inner experience visions are a lot harder to pin down than scientifically or socially based visions — and if you persist in trying to put labels on them, their essence is likely to slip through your fingers. As the hipsters knew, you either dig or you don’t.

But even so, I’m going to have problems discussing the changes that the chaos vision went through after 1968 if I don’t begin by laying out some of its key aspects and the circumstances under which they emerged.

I’ve described previously how the first hints of each new vision arise out of the disillusionment that inevitably sets in as its predecessor becomes culturally dominant. Chaos in the 1960’s, democracy in the 1910’s, and science in the 1840’s all had their weak spots, and it was the same with reason in the 1730’s. There were no great social crises during that period — just the opposite, in fact — but it was that very lack of excitement which sowed the initial seeds of discontent.

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I’ve been struck lately by the extent to which I personify the visions, describing them as though each one has its own agenda which it consciously tries to advance. Personification was considered a major no-no by my high school English teachers, but in this case I don’t think I’m wrong. The visions do display a consistent identity and sense of purpose which extends across diverse cultures and many human lifetimes.

I’ve even seriously wondered whether the visions might be the real agents of human history and we mortals only their mouthpieces — whether every choice we make and every opinion we express is just one vision or another manifesting itself through us. But although there’s an element of truth to that, it’s far from the whole story.

hooprollingFor one thing, the visions are not some sort of clockwork mechanism that got wound up at the beginning of history and have been running through a predetermined series of changes ever since. They’re far more like a toy hoop that can take any path but only keeps rolling as long as a human operator is there to maintain its momentum and guide it round the obstacles.

This factor of outside intervention has two main aspects, both of which originate outside the visions themselves. One is the ever-changing material conditions of human life, which constantly offer unforeseen challenges and novel opportunities. The other has to do with the demands made by certain moral imperatives that transcend the specifics of any one vision, although they are woven into all of them.

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In looking back over the previous entry, I noticed one glaring omission. I’ve been discussing the proto-history of holism as though it was spurred on primarily by its own internal imperatives, but this was far from the case. At every stage of its development, holism was subject to the impact of other visions — and the most crucial early influence was that of the science-and-democracy partnership at the time when it first formed in the 1930’s.

It troubles me when I overlook something that big, but I really shouldn’t be surprised. The longer I work with the visions, the deeper I go — and in this current series of entries I’ve been trying to pin down a number of things that I never considered before, such as the delicate mechanisms by which each new vision emerges from its predecessor.

One thing that’s been striking me as I work is how much the dance of the visions resembles a cross between a chambered nautilus and a Rube Goldberg device. From a distance, each vision seems to unfold smoothly and gracefully, forming an elegant addition to the series. But up close, the process is far more of a six-dimensional trapeze act, in which the senior visions hurl the new arrival from one unsteady perch to another even as they themselves are jigging back and forth into new configurations.

It’s a wonder that it ever comes out even — but somehow it always does.

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