Archive for July, 2012

It’s been just over three years since I started using this blog to lay out a theory of human history as controlled by an evolving sequence of visions of the underlying nature of reality.

My original intention was to present the basic elements of this theory in a simple manner and then work my way forward from prehistoric times, showing how the successive visions have been manifested in historical events, philosophy, and art. However, I soon found myself caught up in something very different — a prolonged attempt to refine the theory itself.

Since then, I’ve been wrestling with fundamental questions involving the dynamic behind the rise of new visions and the decline and fall of old ones. Over the last year, I’ve finally answered most of those questions to my own satisfaction — but in the process, this blog itself has become a sorry tangle, a veritable bird’s next of overlapping themes and repeated self-corrections.

So what I mean to do is start afresh — at least to a degree. I’m not going to rehash arguments I’ve already made or attempt to prove that the sequence of visions exists and works the way I say it does. That’s what the last three years have been about. Instead, I plan to sketch out the broad picture and then trace the sequence of visions through history, pretty much as I meant to do in the first place.

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I’ve gotten awfully deep in the weeds the past few months as I’ve tried to pin down the exact mechanisms underlying the cycle of visions. But I’m coming back round to where I started last fall — with Robert Heinlein and the chaos vision — and the end finally appears to be in sight.

This extended side-quest began when I realized there had been two very different approaches to the chaos vision in 1940’s SF. For writers like Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov who were still attached to scientific materialism, chaos might appear as either a tolerable anomaly or an apocalyptic threat to order and sanity. But for someone like Henry Kuttner or Fredric Brown, the wacky workings of the subconscious mind were an essential means of navigating the fluidity and uncertainty of a holistic universe.

That surprised me, because I’d previously thought of the visions as unitary paradigms that might evolve over time but but were self-consistent at any given moment. Now I needed to figure out how a single vision could present two such very different faces simultaneously — and I found my answer in the associations that each vision forms with those immediately senior and junior to it.

I’d been aware of those associations for a long time, but I’d regarded them as merely alliances of convenience, like the current affiliation between the internet-based holists of Anonymous and the radical horizontalists of Occupy Wall Street. I hadn’t believed these alliances could affect the visions in any deep and permanent way — but I found myself forced to conclude that they did.

That conclusion, in turn, brought forth answers to questions that had baffled me for years: What keeps the cycle of visions in motion? Why does every vision eventually wear out and lose its original transcendence? And what enables mature visions to enter into socially powerful partnerships even though their native transcendence has been exhausted?

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Over the past few entries, I’ve been trying to pin down the exact sequence of events that took the holism vision from being a hot new thing in the late 1910’s and early 20’s, to becoming culturally marginalized in the middle 30’s, and then into a fruitful association with the new-born horizontalism vision by the end of the decade.

The first step in that sequence was when the democracy vision emerged from the counterculture of the 1910’s in the perfect Goldilocks position — neither too old and tired nor too new and untested — to be accepted as the consensus vision of the era.

The second step came when democracy entered into a partnership with a pared-down version of scientific materialism, depending on the older vision to reinforce its bottom-up view of society while not getting in the way of its agenda of human triumphalism.

The third step took place around 1934, when the chaos vision was hauled into the orbit of the emerging scientific-materialism-and-democracy partnership, at the cost of its long-time relationship with holism.

And the fourth occurred in 1936-39, when holism responded to its growing isolation by forming a new association with horizontalism.

When I first discussed this series of events, I compared it to a Rube Goldberg machine, with visions randomly bouncing off each other — but I’m finally starting to understand that it was both orderly and inevitable.

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