Archive for June, 2011

It seems to be a general rule that every one of the historical sequence of visions I have been discussing in these entries is at its most dynamic during the final stage of its emergence — when it is not yet in a position of cultural dominance but serves as the chief center of opposition to things-as-they-are. That is when it draws the most fervent acolytes, entertains the most radical heresies, and generates the most breathtaking works of art and literature.

Since about 1976, for example, the holism vision has fulfilled that role, inspiring both environmentalists and computer hackers to defy the orthodoxies of the era of democracy-and-chaos. But holism is nearing the end of that phase and will soon lose its original purity and intensity as it moves into the mainstream and becomes the template for actual changes in the way our society operates.

The same pattern can be seen in the three inner experience-based visions that I reviewed in the previous entry. The spirit vision, for example, appears to have been at its peak of creative power during the Paleolithic, when it oversaw the birth of art and music and literature and everything else that makes us fully human. But by the Neolithic, the energy was moving elsewhere — first into the technological achievements associated with the domestication of plants and animals and then into the far-reaching social changes that accompanied the rise of civilization.

The primary focus would not swing back to inner experience until the era of profound philosophical and religious speculation that lasted from roughly 800 BC to 300 AD. The doings of the Hebrew prophets and the writing of the Old Testament largely fall within the peak period of that era, between about 550 and 300 BC. So do the rise of Zoroastrianism in Persia, of Buddhism in India, and of Confucianism and Taoism in China. All these philosophical and religious movements came about in reaction to the loss of faith in the old gods, and all attempted to rework the materials of the spirit vision in more credible terms.

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In my recent entries on creative imagination, I’ve been speaking of the chaos vision as if it was past history — but this is very far from the truth.

Chaos may have lost its transcendent edge back in the 70’s, but it’s still one of the dominant visions of our culture and will be for another generation yet to come. This means it is worth looking closely at what role the chaos vision currently plays in public affairs and how it might change under the influence of holism and multiculturalism during the next decade.

Before I can do that, however, I need to provide a clearer account of chaos than I’ve ever quite managed.

A friend who follows these entries recently remarked that he’s never understood why I chose to use the term “chaos” rather than a more obvious label like “consciousness.” I’ve been thinking it over, and my answer is that “chaos” most accurately describes the shifting and uncertain territory of myth space as experienced by rational-minded 19th and 20th century folk who thought they had put all that old, weird stuff behind them. Chaos is the native environment of Lewis Carroll, H.P. Lovecraft, and Monty Python.

“Consciousness,” on the other hand, is a word associated with the holism vision. It refers to a scientific theory of mind as an emergent property of the physical universe and takes little or no account of higher knowledge.

But the deeper question is why the modern Western world should have experienced higher knowledge as chaotic and disorienting — and to answer that I have to refer back to the three inner experience visions which preceded chaos

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Since doing the previous entry about the birth of new visions, I’ve been thinking a lot about the possible nature of the successor to the holism vision.

It’s not possible to figure out intellectually what form that vision will take, of course. A new vision is born when higher knowledge catches a glimpse of its own reflection in the mirror of ordinary knowledge, and there is no way to predict where the lightning will strike.

But my comparative timetables suggest that early intimations of holism’s successor ought to have begun popping up over the past two or three years, much as the first hints of creative imagination were appearing among Tolkien fans and proto-hippies on the eve of the 60’s counterculture.

That means it should be possible to identify signs of change, such as areas where holism is showing its limitations or aspects of science that hold an unrealized potential for being perceived as transcendent.

As I’ve noted previously, the greatest weakness of holism has always been its lingering elitism. The proto-holists of the early twentieth century were frequently appalled by the modern world of skyscrapers and factories and dreamed of getting back to a time when there was “less noise and more green.” And though holism eventually threw off its most blatant aristocratic biases, the utopian ideal at its core has remained decidedly low-tech and low-population.

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