The Birth of a Vision

on January 10, 2012

As I’ve been tracing out the history of the chaos vision, I’ve come to a number of conclusions which affect my understanding of the development of the visions in general. Most strikingly, I’ve started realizing that the interactions among visions — which I’ve compared in the past to a Rube Goldberg device because of their seemingly chaotic nature — actually function with the precision and regularity of clockwork.

This comes as a surprise to me — but it probably shouldn’t. Rube Goldberg devices, after all, achieve the illusion of an effortless cascade of random impacts only through an exacting adjustment of angles and timing.

It does mean, however, that instead of viewing each individual vision as being bound from the start upon its own relatively fixed course, I’m going to have to reconceive of the entire system of visions as a single, elaborate piece of machinery whose evolution is subject to constant modification through the ongoing interactions of its parts.

That’s a challenge — so perhaps the best way to start is by pausing, taking stock, and devoting the next several entries to chronicling the various relationships that each vision experiences in the course of its lifetime.

The Birth of a Vision

There are profound mysteries surrounding the birth of any new vision, but there are also a couple of things I can state with certainty. One is that each new vision appears as its predecessor of the same type is undergoing its major countercultural realignment. The other is that the core values of the new vision are shaped by that realignment and reflect both its unfulfilled promises and its inevitable disappointments.

The mysteries arise, however, because the process of realignment is very much like those “neuronal avalanches” in the brain that I have mentioned here from time to time. It involves a breakdown of all normal constraints, the alchemical dissolution of the identity of the older vision in the sea of limitless possibility, and its recreation in a new form.

We currently stand at just such a moment, with the holism vision being melted down and reforged in the fires of horizontalism. Such transitions are both exhilarating and terrifying, because they plunge the entire culture into the well of higher creativity and confront it with the infinite.

And when that extended moment of rapture ends, as it always must, it leaves behind two relics, glowing red-hot like an iron just out of the fire. One is the original vision — significantly altered but still falling short of the transcendent hopes and dreams that were evoked at the peak of the process.

And the other consists of all those ineffable glimpses of something better and truer that refuse to be shoehorned into the reformulated vision. It is these bits and pieces that will soon coalesce into the vision’s own successor.

The Coalescing

Whenever a new vision is born out of its predecessor, the other two visions that fall between them in the sequence also play a part. One is the vision which immediately follows the predecessor and is the source of its reorientation. The birth of chaos in the early 1700’s for example, was provoked by the realignment of the reason vision towards scientific materialism. The birth of creative imagination in the 1960’s and early 70’s was provoked by the realignment of chaos towards holism.

I’ve generally believed, though without much proof, that the vision which instigates the birth of the new vision must also play a formative role in its early development. In the course of working on the previous entry, however, I realized that the chaos vision was largely indifferent to scientific materialism all through the 1700’s and 1800’s. It wasn’t until scientific materialism itself became more chaotic in the early 20th century that chaos had anything to learn from it.

That same kind of non-relationship has more recently held true for creative imagination and holism.

When the creative imagination vision was taking shape between 1969 and 1976, holism was the vision of the moment. This was the second phase of the counterculture, the era of Woodstock and “got to get ourselves back to the garden,” of the Whole Earth Catalog and Earth Shoes. It was a time when holism — chiefly in the form of ecology — seemed capable of solving all problems and working miracles.

The coalescing of creative imagination clearly benefited from that sense of possibility, as well as from the holistic insistence on seeing the universe as a place of pattern and relationship rather than as a giant machine. But holism retained a strong materialistic streak and was incapable of regarding mind as something that might transcend the physical universe. It regarded matter as all that existed and consciousness as an emergent property of matter, and it was not prepared to go any further.

Creative imagination, in contrast, looks beyond the material universe. It insists that there is another level of reality which underlies the physical appearances of things and is the ultimate source of the patterns and emergent properties of holism. And it asserts that even though this underlying reality cannot be experienced directly, revealed to prophets, deduced rationally, or grasped intuitively, it can be glimpsed in our wildest imaginings and in the creative fruits of those imaginings.

Very little of this could have been stated directly in the 1970’s, but it was implicit from the first. A fantasy novel titled Earth Magic, which Alexei and I published in 1973, presented patterns worked into the land as a source of magical power — but Alexei also felt compelled to add the implication that those patterns had been deliberately “made” by or for some higher power. And when a couple of years later we tried to write a science fiction novel in which the stuff of creative imagination was derived from holism alone, we were unable to complete it.

By 1976, in any case, there was another impediment — which was that chaos had started settling down into the cozy confines of its new identify and taking on greater respectability and social acceptance. A dominant partnership of democracy and chaos was constructed around 1976-78 to assume the leadership of society — and holism, at least at first, tagged happily along.

During these years, when Jimmy Carter was installing solar panels on the White House roof, holism began looking to the democracy vision as a source of social relevance. It became less concerned with visionary possibility than with finding practical ways to save the world. And at exactly that point, the creative imagination vision broke away from the diminishing ferment of chaos-touched-by-holism and began to take on a distinct identity of its own.

The First Mentor

The creative imagination vision may have had only a passing relationship with holism, but by the late 70’s it was already deeply involved with horizontalism. The most visible manifestation of the horizontalism vision at that time was multiculturalism — and it was in the context of popular interest in the shamanism of tribal cultures and the occult and martial arts traditions of the Far East that creative imagination found its initial validation.

That validation worked to the advantage of both visions. If you believe that non-Western cultures have access to areas of knowledge we have lost, you are more likely to take seriously their claims of higher knowledge. And if you believe that all mythic traditions incorporate scattered fragments of true reality, you will be more inclined to respect the value and integrity of other cultures.

The mutually supportive relationship between creative imagination and horizontalism is precisely equivalent to the association between chaos and democracy in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Creative imagination has reached the point where chaos was in the 1840’s — and it seems for the moment to have moved past its initial, highly mystical phase and into one where it is largely subordinate to the political direction set by horizontalism.

The horizontalism vision is presently coming into its own. The reorientation of holism towards horizontalism is the energy source for the new counterculture, whose greatest ambition is to wrest holism’s dream of saving the world away from the dying clutches of top-down democracy and reinvigorate it with the bold new ideals of direct democracy.

But if you look closely around the edges, you can also find hints of creative imagination. One of these appears in a slogan dear to the Occupiers that has taken on two not-quite identical forms. One variant, “a better world is possible,” speaks to the ecological dreams of 40 years ago. But the other, “another world is possible,” is more magical, more mythic, and more openly transcendent.

Perhaps the strongest manifestation of the intersection of horizontalism and creative imagination, however, is that which underlies the dedication of the Pirate Parties and much of Anonymous. These present-day Thoreaus believe without reservation in the right to access and make use of all fruits of human creativity — precisely because they do not see such things as of human origin, but as sacred gifts which must not be impounded for the benefit of a few.

The beliefs are so far only implicit, but they will be defined more clearly as the counterculture progresses. I suspect, in fact, that this current series of entries concerning higher knowledge, which I began at the start of October, may be part of just such a process of bringing the more heretical implications of creative imagination into the open

We’re still a few years off, however, from the point at which it will be fully obvious what is happening. So to get a better sense of what happens next in the life-cycle of a vision, it will be most useful to examine the flowering of holism during the counterculture of the 1910’s and early 20’s.


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.

A simple list of all the visions can be found here.

Read the Previous Entry: Democratic Chaos
Read the Next Entry: Multiculturalism vs. the Hacker Ethic

One Response to “The Birth of a Vision”

  1. Gus Linton says:

    Another variant for Occupy: “Another world is inevitable– but what will that world look like?”

    A tee-shirt for the Pirate Party: “If you want to protect your intellectual property, keep it to yourself.”

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