Posts Tagged ‘creative materiality’

I’ve spent most of the last year wrestling with one specific question: how the cycle of visions began and what keeps it going. I sometimes wonder whether I’ve become too narrowly obsessed with this one issue, but I don’t see any way past it. My goal is to present a coherent theory of human history, not just an eccentric set of speculations, and for that I need a plausible mechanism.

In the previous entry, I hit on something I think is very important — that the birth of the spirit vision came about when the first true shamans found themselves completely alienated from their larger society. To rectify that, and to prove they weren’t crazy, they needed a model of reality that would verify their perceptions and make it possible to communicate them to others.

My initial assumption was that this extreme degree of alienation must have been a one-time-only event, because each new vision since then has emerged from a predecessor of the same type. But as I thought about it, I realized that the same situation arises whenever the romantic aspect of the outsider vision has been marginalized and demoralized to the point where it no longer serves as a vehicle for higher possibility. That leaves its adherents as isolated and unable to explain themselves as any shaman of 250,000 years ago.

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I have never had a satisfactory explanation for how the cycle of visions might have gotten started or for what makes it repeat in such a regular manner. This lack of a plausible mechanism prevented me from writing about the visions for many years, until I finally decided to just jump in and say what I know and leave the larger questions for later. But in recent months, I think I’ve finally started to catch sight of an answer.

Part of that answer has to do with the complex web of associations and mutual influences among the visions that keeps the system in motion. The underlying dynamic however, appears to involve the constant tension between higher knowledge and ordinary knowledge.

Those two forms of knowledge are typically in disagreement about the nature of reality, but occasionally we manage to identify some aspect of our everyday experience with our mystical sense of being participants in a larger and more meaningful universe. The most powerful of these intimations have the potential of developing into a vision that is shared by an entire culture.

When a new vision appears, its ready access to higher knowledge enables it to become a vehicle for creativity and inspiration, capable of sending people out to build machines, found empires, or upgrade their moral standards. But over time, every vision starts to identify with what it has already brought into being and lose sight of higher possibility. It grows narrow and defensive, becomes a vehicle for power politics and elite control, and dooms itself to failure and replacement.

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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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