Archive for December, 2010

As each vision matures, it takes on a broader philosophical dimension that enables it to challenge the underlying assumptions of earlier visions. The holism vision is currently undergoing just such a development, as demonstrated by the recent flurry of doubts being raised about the concept of the autonomous individual.

For the past several centuries, we in the West have been living in an intellectual climate where the isolated individual was perceived as the fundamental unit of existence on every level of reality. It began with the image of atoms zooming through the void that was the basis of the science vision. It continued with the self-sufficient citizen of the democracy vision, equal to but independent of every other self-sufficient citizen. And it climaxed with the chaos vision, in which individual consciousness becomes the sole determination of value and meaning.

But now we have reached a turning-point where the concept of absolute individuality and freedom that was formerly a path to liberation from hidebound tradition has become toxic and destructive. We are in desperate need of an alternative — and holism, with its central message that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts, is ready to provide it.

That message was already present when the holism vision was coming together in the 1920’s and 30’s, but mainly as a grounds for arguing against scientific reductionism. The notion that we personally might also be part of something larger began to take hold only in the psychedelic 1960’s, when a musician like John Lennon might sing “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”

But what was still no more than an acid-fueled insight forty years ago has since become solid science — and that science in turn is actively generating new philosophical insights.

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A study that came out this week adds tantalizing new details to the story of how modern humans reached eastern Asia, and I’ve found it particularly intriguing in light of the non-orthodox scenario of human expansion that I’ve been developing in recent entries.

It appears that the sequencing of DNA extracted from a finger-bone found in a cave in Siberia has demonstrated the existence of a previously unknown species of archaic humans. Researchers have dubbed them the Denisovans, after the cave where the bone was discovered, and describe them as the Far Eastern cousins of the Neanderthals, with whom they shared a common ancestor 400,000 years ago.

This study has a number of fascinating implications. For one thing, it overturns the old Eurocentric assumption that eastern Asia was inhabited solely by the relatively primitive and small-brained Homo erectus until the arrival of modern humans.

But the really extraordinary conclusion it reaches is that the first modern humans to arrive in Southeast Asia must have interbred with Denisovans in the same way that modern humans in the Middle East interbred with Neanderthals. The researchers determined that about 5% of the DNA of present-day Melanesians — who inhabit New Guinea and the smaller islands nearby — is of Denisovan origin.

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When I described Julian Assange a few entries back as the living embodiment of the holism vision, I meant it quite literally. It was not intended as a metaphor. That really is how these things appear to work.

We humans may believe we invent the visions — but it might be equally true to say the visions invent us. At every step, they push us to become more fully human, or even larger than human. And they operate as if they have a life and identity of their own, going well beyond anything consciously intended by their makers.

In the course of writing these entries, I’ve repeatedly found myself saying things like “the holism vision did such-and-such” and wondered if I was just using lazy shorthand for “the adherents of the holism vision.” But it doesn’t feel like shorthand. It feels like a truthful description.

If the visions really do possess a kind of autonomous existence, however, that raises the question of how they organize, maintain, and perpetuate themselves.

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In the last two entries of this series, I’ve offered some speculations on the development of the spirit and cosmic order visions during the last ice age. But there is an additional element that needs to be taken into account, and that is the influence of the mysterious entities I have previously described as “shadow visions.”

Like the ordinary visions, the shadow visions appear to come in three forms — scientific, social, and inner experience — and each one is regularly associated with ordinary visions of the same type. But they are clearly distinct from the ordinary visions, with their own premises and their own timetable of development.

In addition, where the ordinary visions are relatively simple and rational — with just a touch of mysticism — the shadow visions are far deeper and more primal. They lack the clear-cut intellectual, philosophical, and moral structures of the ordinary visions but are given instead to propagating a riotous profusion of imaginary beings and realms.

The shadow visions are clearly associated with the dark side of our nature. They can be wild and irrational and may display such negative traits as obsession — particularly sexual obsession — and paranoia. But they also provoke the highest flights of the imagination and are frequently the source of liberating new forms of thought and action.

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If the last ice age did coincide with the earliest and most traumatic “romantic break” — when faith in the transformative-and-kinship partnership was shattered and the dance of the visions truly began — then the period between 70,000 and 10,000 years ago must have witnessed the active development of not only the spirit vision but also a number of other alternatives.

In particular, the successor to the transformative vision — cosmic order — would have been undergoing a burst of intense speculation.

We are all familiar with the cosmic order vision from its final stages, when a conviction that society should reflect the mathematical elegance of the heavens gave rise to the great civilizations of Egypt and Sumeria, India and China, Central America and Peru.

But the earliest intimations of that vision, which must go back almost to the dawn of modern humanity, involved no such grand ambitions. At the very start, there were only a few lonely science geeks who had begun tracking the movements of the sun and moon and were awe-struck by their regularity.

Certain aspects of those observations appear to have been incorporated into the older visions even before cosmic order itself was fully defined. In the transformative vision, the Moon was seen as female because its monthly phases so closely matched the cycle of women’s menstruation. And when the transformative-and-kinship partnership was established, the pairing of Sun and Moon became a central expression of the fundamental male-female duality.

The spirit vision would have been even more closely attuned to the first suggestions of cosmic order. Shamans are often described in archaic societies as traveling to the Moon in trance or as drawing their spiritual energy from the skies.

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The current WikiLeaks hysteria has gotten me looking back at the very first post I did about the “dance of the visions” in September of last year. There I wrote:

When a new vision first emerges from the ruins of its predecessor, it remains for a time on the borders of society, inspiring artists and philosophers but having relatively little impact upon daily life. Only when it has matured sufficiently in both theoretical and practical terms does it step forward to claim a leading role in the culture.

When that happens, everything changes. In a relatively brief but hectic interlude of cascading breakdowns and transformations, the entire society is shaken apart and remade in new terms.

First, the emergent vision challenges the claim to authority of the senior vision in the dominant partnership. That vision is already nearing the end of its useful life and showing increasing signs of rigidity and inability to cope with crisis, so it doesn’t take much to delegitimize it.

I’ve been counting down to lift-off since I did that entry — and I’d say we’ve finally arrived at the “everything changes” point and are about to embark on the “cascading breakdowns and transformations.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There can be no doubt that at this moment Julian Assange is the living embodiment of the holism vision in its computer-and-internet aspect. The various Pirate Parties have his back. Anonymous vows to avenge him. And no less an authority than John Perry Barlow has tweeted, “The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops.”

There can similarly be no doubt that the democracy vision is already in a state of accelerated collapse. Corporations sneer at its feeble attempts to put limits on their greed. Tea Partiers seriously propose undoing the great democratic achievements of the last 150 years. And even earnest liberals wring their hands and bemoan the breakdown of the social contract.

The utter panic of the world’s nations over the WikiLeaks info-dumps is a measure of their desperation and a sign that the era of democracy-and-chaos is drawing to an end.

But if what I wrote in the more placid times of a year ago is to be taken seriously, this is only the starting-point.

It should get interesting.


A listing of all my posts on the emerging counterculture 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.