Cosmos Café [2023-02-09] -- WI Thompson’s 'Imaginary Landscape' 1

In your time zone: 2023-02-09T19:00:00Z

ZOOM video conference: Launch Meeting - Zoom



In his The Time It Takes Falling Bodies To Light (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1981), Thompson introduced the notion of Wissenskunst which he defines there as “the play of knowledge in a world of serious data-processors” (p. 4). This German word literally means “the art of knowing”] in contrast to the German word for “science”, namely *Wissenschaft [lit. “knowing-ship”]. In other words, any structured, ordered, focused, way of exploring some field of study is a “science”. Consequently, the word Wissenschaft avoids the pejorative overtones of the word “science” in English, and his notion of Wissenskunst prefigures in many ways current alternative approaches to subjects such as philosophy, anthropology, cultural studies, that is, the humanities generally.

His subsequent book, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science – the focus of this series of Cafés – is an attempt on his part to concreticize this idea in practice, in the real world, if you will. Although originally written a generation ago, his call for a fundamental change in “the presentation of data and communication of ideas” (p. xx), that is a metanoia or fundamental restructuring of world narrative appears as relevant today as it was then, perhaps even more so.

Imaginary Landscape is a journey of recovery. In true Gebserian fashion [1, 2] (even though he never references Gebser), Thompson encourages us to revisit the emotional and epistemological power of myth in the transition of knowledge. It is, I think, incorrect to characterized mythology as the “science of the Ancients”, for as we saw above, the very word “science” has misleading connotations. Granted, “science” is about the search of knowledge, but it’s approach, method, and, above all, self-imposed reductionistic restraints severely limits the both this search and the sharing of its findings.

Leading by example, Thompson first shows us how we have lost this connection by revealing the inherent power of story in the Rapunzel fairy tale (Chapter 1, “Cosmology Lost”). In the next chapter (“Cosmology Regained”), he employs Lovelock & Margulis’s “Gaia hypotheis” as an example of recapturing precisely that metaphorical power in reestablishing a solid foundation for a non-reductionist understanding of scientific investigation. Chapter 3, then, expands this approach to encompass a variety of intellectual and cognitive domains, such as philosophy, cognitive science, of course, cultural studies, weaving a net of interrelationships which enhances greatly their epistemological value and contributions. Chapter 4 then brings these threads together into Thompson’s own understanding of the history of cultural consciousness, illustrating not so much an evolutionary path as much as making clear the intensive unfoldment at work in human development. True to his “knowledge-artistic” vision, he completes the volume with a cycle of eight poems for his four wayfaring friends.

[1] Gebser, Jean (1986) The Ever-present Origin, Authorized translation by Noel Barstad with Algis Mikunas, Athens, OH, Ohio University Press (originally published 1949/1952).

[2] Cf. the Gebser channel on InfiniteConversations.

Reading / Watching / Listening

Thompson, William Irwin (1989) Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, New York, St. Martin’s Press.

Related Podcasts:

Proposed Reading Schedule

  • Feb 09: Acknowledgements, Prologue
  • Feb 23: Chapter 1
  • Mar 09: Chapter 2
  • Mar 23: Chapter 3
  • Apr 06: Chapter 4
  • Apr 20: Epilogue

Seed Questions

  • Thompson states that this text is an attempt for him to concreticize his own notion of Wissenskunst. Based only on what has been said about this before and your own reflections, what is your understanding of the idea?

  • Thompson also informs us that he’s enlisting the aid of four other wayfarers: Ralph Abraham, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, and Francisco Varela. Are you familiar with any or all of them? If so, how might you suspect they will contribute to his project?

  • Already in 1989, Thompson was acutely aware of how the so-called “hard” sciences were suppressing and diminishing the value of the humanities in academia. In your own estimation, where do we find ourselves today in this ongoing struggle? Is his hoped-for metanoia (p. xx) (still) taking place?

  • On p. xviii, he writes: “Part of our process of endarkment is to pose problems that are projections of an inappropriate geometry.” What do you think that statement actually means?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics


Cosmos Café [2023-01-26] – Deja Vu all over again … or another spin of the wheel?

Other works of related interest

  • Brophy, Thomas G. (2002) The Origin Map: Discovery of a Prehistoric, Megalithic, Astrophysical Map and Sculpture of the Universe, New York, Writer’s Club Press.

  • de Santillana, Giorgio & Hertha von Dechend (1983) Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time, 2nd paperback edition, Boston, MA, David R. Godine (originally published 1969).

  • Martineau, John (2001) A Little Book of Coincidence in the Solar System, New York, Bloomsbury.

  • White, Gordon (2016) Star.Ships: A Prehistory of the Spirits, London, Scarlet Imprint.

  • Witzel, E.J. Michael (2012) Origins of the World’s Mythologies, New York, Oxford University Press.

Proposed Agenda

  1. Welcomes and greetings

  2. Organizational: short chat about how we want to run the individual sessions

  3. Possible “lab sections”: suggestions on how to best incorporate these

  4. Engagement of the reading for this get-together

  5. Wrap-up and hand-off to next session


It’s true that he doesn’t mention Gebser in this text but he has been guided by Gebser in other books and in his talks. I don’t know if Gebser was widely known at that time. I knew who Gebser was through Feuerstein’s Structure of Consciousness which appeared in '87. I had also read Wilber’s praise of Gebser but I didn’t actually read him until the early 90s. You can sense that Thompson is resonating with Gebserian vibration even if he doens’t reference him directly. Gebser was in his aura. I recall an over the top attack by Thompson on Wilber for his misapporiation of Gebser. At the time, I could make little sense of that controversy. Maybe , after much experience working with with integral ideas, I can make better sense of Thompson’s annoyance. He was very polemical with a sharp wit and like Wilber he was an outsider. How does an independent scholar make it without instiutional support? That was what his grand experiement was about. Soon enough , it s all blood under the bridge.

Yes, I know all of them really well. So, here we are again,at the edge of history, with the tools that we have been given. Where do we start digging? Maybe we can find an image for this page? Michael, can you help us with that?


I too know these people (except Ralph A.) and deeply admire them. Margulis still gets some nasty (some are purely misogynous)remarks from hard sci folks. I just came across a realtively recent example in Nick Lane’s book, he’s a very respected bio-chemist (I really like his books) who ought to know better than to diss one (female) scientist while letting the serious foibles of others (male) get a pass: take the Crick and Watson theft of a radio-graph from Rosalind Franklin’s files, then not mentioning it or her in their conclusion derived from it, which got all the prizes and praise. And till does.
More later…





Attention & Energy #2


Thanks, Michael!

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Found this reading :
Zajonc, Arthur (2009) Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry: When Knowing Becomes Love , Lindisfarne Books, Great Barrington, MA.

I attune to the Image & Text in a concrete way as a Relational aspect with “Attention”…


Love this Title!!!


Really appreciate you letting us know this new talk is available…because I for one, cannot sign up on their website for notifications…some tech or access I don’t have or or whatever…
I’m listening now…

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This seems to be a possible notion within
the Weird Studies Podcast about Art being Useless?


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Personal update: I’m glad to report that my copy of Imaginary Landscape came in, and I’m eagerly digging in. I have also gotten quite a way through The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, which strikes me as an impressive feat of scholarship. Why I’ve never really read W.I.T. before, I don’t know… but I am making up for it eagerly.

I love Thompson’s invocation of the “intellectual ensemble” and “mind jazz” in the IL Prologue—the appreciation of his relationships with James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Ralph Abraham, and Francisco Varela in particular, but also the wider networks including Gregory Bateson and others. I can see how this book is a good fit for the kind of music we trying to create in the Café.

In other news, a copy Avanessian and Hennig’s Metanoia: A Speculative Ontology of Language, Thinking, and the Brain also came in, and while it strikes me as a bit heady, I could probably get past that because of how singularly the book focuses on the role of poetics in language and thought. There is a sense of elegance to the writing in this book, which opens up my curiosity—and I think the question of what’s really happening when we say that a book “changes our lives” is pretty fascinating.

If we might carry over some of Wolfgang Smith’s work on “Platonic Physics” (from the previous thread) when we speak on Thursday, I would also be quite interested in exploring the question of “being” that he raise, namely, what kind of entities “have being” and which ones really don’t. Of course, “the question of being” in Western thought) goes all the way back to Parmenides, and was revived in the 20th century by Heidegger… but in an age of “deep fakes” and chat bots that can answer factual questions with impressive breadth and write better prose than most humans, the question takes on renewed urgency.

That’s it from me for now…


Definitions of brooding

  1. adjective

deeply or seriously thoughtful

“Byron lives on not only in his poetry, but also in his creation of the ‘Byronic hero’ - the persona of a brooding melancholy young man”

synonyms: broody, contemplative, meditative, musing, pensive, pondering, reflective, ruminative


exhibiting or characterized by careful thought

  1. noun

persistent morbid meditation on a problem

synonyms: pensiveness

see more

type of:

a feeling of thoughtful sadness

  1. noun

sitting on eggs so as to hatch them by the warmth of the body

synonyms: incubation

see more

type of:
birth, birthing, giving birth, parturition

the process of giving birth

A Felt Sense of engaging the Material -“sitting on eggs so as to hatch them by the warmth of the body” & a song to go with… from album
Keep It Simple …


Here’s a brief comment. I would recommend that the last chapter be read first. I’ve almost finished it and much admire the use of Peirce, Deacon, and other theorists but this is not an introductory text it is for a scholarly few. I confess what I like most are the illustrations on the cover and inside the book. These cartoons are witty and speak louder than the text. I would not recommend this book for the Cafe. Contemporary poetics is more difficult than physics. Comparitively speaking, the kind of poetics that is in vogue now is different from what Thompson was doing.

Thompson was a maestro of the geo-politics of his time and wrote about that until his passing a few years ago. A cultural historian and a practicing poet he wrote elegantly and against the grain. There was also a different kind of atomosphere in the 80s and he was outside of the academy whereas the authors of Metanoia are definintely professionals ensconced within the Ivory Tower focused on brain~mind~linguistic loopings. Transformation occurs, they claim, when writing deconstructs us and then re-constructs us in ways we can’t predict. Each reader re-constructs after such a deconstructivve phase in a unique way. I am finding that out as I read Proust with an expert group. Transformation can be very startling when it happens. I thought our reading of Milton and Gebser were also tranformational. You have to allow the text to tear you apart. Then and only then can you put yourself back together but you are not the same afterwards. After playing God and Satan through Milton’s strange verse structure our psyches are stressed. We submit to polarization to get to an invisible third that is holding these tensions and can bring an immense release into a second order or even third order. Its a ten hour reading and places great demands upon us. This intensity doesn’t happen very often. With instant dopamine hits from tweets society the chances of these kinds of transformations happening are unlikely. Delayed gratification is not easy to deal with anymore.

I make a great effort to read outside of my comfort zone but I don’t expect anyone else to engage in this pursuit. Ontology is a nice place to visit but I don’t want to live there. Thomspon was very good at finding the goldilocks zone. He also used McLuhan a lot.

Wolfgang, on the other hand, is a different kind of outsider who works in secret within the Ivory Tower. He graduated from Cornel with three degrees by the age of 18. I just ordered two more of his books. I would say that he thinks ameboas, bacteria, participate within Being. But what causes bacteria or humans is not horizonal but vertical and that is why we our culture is in such a malaise.Reducing complex oraganiztions like us to bottoms up emergentism he feels is not just inadequate but false. We are not random nor are we brought forth by chance. Quantum physics is a bad joke. Relativity and Einstien were wrong. Plato was right. Wolfgant would agree with Bernardo that materialism is balooney. I would recommend Wolfgang for a Cafe.

How do we make a triangle?You make an angle and then a second angle. But you don’t have to make a third angle. It just appears. It was already there. This is vertical causation and its present everywhere. It’s instantaeous. This is the rough magic that Wolfgang reveres and that neo-Darwinists he claims can’t explain away.


Thank, John, as always. I’ll have more to say on Thursday…

For now, let me just offer some theme music, perhaps, for our upcoming Café:

The sound of metanoia? A vertical ontology? I’ll be dreaming with this falling body tonight…


“In Mozrt’s aria, the Queen of the Night, is not simply resounding with the cry of the prehistoric matriarchy against the cruelties of the civilized patriarchy, she is giving voice to all life and the life of the prokaryotic cell against the new order of the eukaryotic cell. Such is the power of myth and such is the imaginative power of art.”-p.25

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Recordings from today’s talk now available:

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Thanks U Marco for getting this on the Thread!


The above suggests the possible ubiquity of conscious awareness among most or all beings…
and at the very least a spectrum of “self-awareness”. Enlarging our vision re: consciousness is part of planetization, yes?
I love the music, thank you.