In your time zone: 2023-03-23T18:00:00Z
ZOOM video conference: Launch Meeting - Zoom
In this book, Thompson sets out to exemplify his Wissenkunst by focusing on what he sees as evidence for an impending change of mind, a metanoia, or more holistic and imaginal way of apperceiving and giving expression to the world, with the help of four “friends” (Abraham, Lovelock, Margulis, and Varela) who, in his estimation, are already examples of where we are heading evolutionarily. In chapter 1, he illustrated, through his creative and insightful reading of the Rapunzel fairy tale, how we have lost our primary cosmological bearings. In chapter 2, he showed how the work of Lovelock and Margulis, primarily, provides us with a much-needed reorientation in our developmental quest.
Here, in chapter 3, he undertakes the task of uncovering the deep interrelatedness of what we have tended to view separately as the intellectual and cognitive domains and how we might reintegrate them in a meaningful way. In section 1 of this chapter he points out how a similar shift of mind occurred around the time of the Renaissance when we shifted from a medieval to a modern conception of reality. The limitations of the two examples he examines (AIDS and AI) have clearly transmuted into the current chaos created by Covid and ChatGPT, and he maintains that our current malaise is a direct result of trying to deperately hold onto the mindsets which brought about the previous metanoia. For Thompson these have outlived their usefulness and must now be replaced by more appropriate (more imaginative) alternatives.
Section 2 tries to show what these alternatives may look like, what shapes they may take. The metaphysical framework of the establishment, however, is not going to yield its dominance willingly. If nothing else, there is a lot of money, prestige, and power involved. The cognitive rebels, like Varela, Winnograd, Kaufman, and others had to fight hard to stay on the radar. There was the initial shift toward, what Thompson calls a “para-academic culture”, exemplified by institutions such as Esalen, Lindesfarne, Naropa, or the Santa Fe Institute (but even these have had difficulty maintaining their influence from without). Though strides were being made, and continue to have been made since then, there is still a long way to go.
Finally, in the final section of the chapter, Thompson offers another glimpse of where these developments may be taking humanity. He makes it quite clear in this section that he is not thinking about the development or establishment of merely another “school of thought”, but rather that the situation with which we are confronted is one in which we could skip postmodernism and participate in the unfolding of a truly “planetary culture”. This is, as he points out, no mean feat; it is a demanding, sometimes brutal slog through massive resistance to not just new ideas but a new mode of mind. Like Gebser, he wonders if we’ll make the leap or end up in a new Dark Ages. The choice may not be any one of ours individually, but he reminds us we’re not alone in this either.
Reading / Watching / Listening
Thompson, William Irwin (1989) Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, New York, St. Martin’s Press; Chapter 3 “Intellectual Domains and Cognitive Domains”.
- Feb 09: Acknowledgements, Prologue
- Feb 23: Chapter 1
- Mar 09: Chapter 2
- Mar 23: Chapter 3 ←
- Apr 06: Chapter 4
- Apr 20: Epilogue
Although the specifics of Thompson’s vision of the future (he was writing in 1989) have not specifically come to pass, how well do you think he succeed in envisioning the trajectory of changes that he felt were necessary to move closer to the metanoia of which he speaks?
What is your own experience with the “para-academic culture” of which Thompson writes? How has it affected your own approaches to understanding the world in which you find yourself? How viable do you consider it to be today? What suggestions might you have for increasing its viability?
What do you think of Thompson’s characterization of life as “precisely a dialogue between chaos and order”? Is this an idea that can be picked up on to perhaps help effect the change Thompson is seeking and we all apparently are as well? If not this, what other notions does he bring forth that may help us move forward?
We’ve had to suffer through any number of “-zations” and “post-/de-isms” since Thompson wrote his text, and he himself preferred instead to speak of “a shift from a postindustrial to a planetary culture” (p. 123). Do think it matters what we call it, or is this one of those cases where the choice of label strongly determines how we may feel about and act upon it? What is your own preferred way of characterizing what you believe Thompson is describing?
Context, Backstory, and Related topics
In reference to Thompson’s description of MIT as church (p. 119): Jocelyn Godwin’s “Priests, Professors & Gurus” from Gnosis magazine, 1986.
Here’s a recent article on AI that relates very well to the points that Thompson is asking us to think about:
The following piece challenges the current AI model even more (with cameos from Maturana and Varela, along with Thompson’s son Evan, of course):
Cosmos Café [2023-01-26] – Deja Vu all over again … or another spin of the wheel?
Cosmos Café [2023-02-09] – WI Thompson’s ‘Imaginary Landscape’ 1
Cosmos Café [2023-02-23] – WI Thompson’s ‘Imaginary Landscape’ 2
Cosmos Café [2023-03-09] – WI Thompson’s ‘Imaginary Landscape’ 3
Welcomes and greetings
Lab section and feedback
Deeper engagement of the reading for this session
Wrap-up and hand-off to next session