Cosmos Café [2023-03-23] -- WI Thompson’s 'Imaginary Landscape' 4

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”.

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

  • 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

Proposed Agenda

  1. Welcomes and greetings

  2. Lab section and feedback

  3. Deeper engagement of the reading for this session

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



Lyrics for Into the Mystery by Need to Breathe

It’s hard to see it
And still believe it
You have always lived deep inside my heart
I need to know you
Would swim the unknown seas
And follow me (follow me, follow me) into the mystery

From my shallow grave, I’ve prayed to find
The strength to crawl, the strength to climb
Up to the surface, untie my hands
Sorrow had a purpose but it’s time to stand

'Cause I just wanna be loved by you
I cannot resist the need to hear you say it
Whatever you do, I will be there
Son, I will follow you anywhere
Into the mystery (ah, ah)

Love is not a cage, love is not a path
Love’s a steady hand waitin’ for the storm to pass
You loved me then when you needed me
Will you still when it’s not so easy?

'Cause I just wanna be loved by you
I cannot resist the need to hear you say it
Whatever you do, I will be there
Son, I will follow you anywhere

We are sons and daughters
We are flesh and dust
We are pulled from the wreckage
We are not alone
We are lovers broken
We are vicarious dreams
We are tumblin’ in space, out of control
Into the mystery (ah)
Into the mystery (ah)

I just wanna be loved by you
I cannot resist the need to hear you say it
Whatever you do, I will be there
Son, I will follow you
Into the mystery (ah)
Into the mystery (ah)

1 Like

As @achronon has suggested, we may want to consider some of points brought up in the podcast about “Synthetic Relationships” (linked to in another thread), in connection with William Irwin Thompson’s discussion of Artificial Intelligence in the chapter we’re reading for this session. This topic has certainly been on my mind recently!

And here is another podcast on the same topic, for those interested, which I also listened to recently, and may provide additional helpful context. The host, Robert Harrison, is probably more of the mindset of the other folks here on Infinite Conversations—however, he is in conversation with a former Stanford student who is now working in the tech industry with these “large language models.”

Incidentally, I tried to ask ChatGPT some questions about Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science and it could only give me information about a totally different book, which, despite repeated corrections, it kept insisting was Imaginary Landscape. Here is the ToC for the book it seemed to know about, in case anyone can identify the correct title for me:

Part I: The Mythic Ground

  • Chapter 1: Introduction: The Mythic Ground
  • Chapter 2: The Ancient Quarrel Between Mythos and Logos
  • Chapter 3: The Dreaming of the Earth
  • Chapter 4: The Primordial Mind and the Matrix of Culture
  • Chapter 5: The Psychomythic Foundations of Culture
  • Chapter 6: The Archetypal Structure of the Psyche
  • Chapter 7: The Sacred Narrative and the Symbolic World

Part II: The Modern Break

  • Chapter 8: The Modern Sensibility
  • Chapter 9: The Age of Analysis
  • Chapter 10: The Cosmic Disconnect
  • Chapter 11: The Reductive Mind
  • Chapter 12: The New Physics and the Structure of Mind
  • Chapter 13: The Dissociative Mind

Part III: The Integral Vision

  • Chapter 14: The Emergence of Integral Consciousness
  • Chapter 15: The Transcendent and the Immanent
  • Chapter 16: The Integral Cosmos
  • Chapter 17: The Integral Community
  • Chapter 18: The Integral Polis
  • Chapter 19: The Integral Self

Conclusion: The Mythic and the Scientific Bibliography

None of my searches (DuckDuckGo, Google, Bing) are bringing it up.


Hmmm … fascinating, although this would not be the first time that more than one book had the same title.

After John mentioned the Avanessian & Hennig book Metanoia, I looked on for it: that keyword resulted in more than a dozen titles of “Metanoia” with various subtitles, but not the one John had referenced. (I ended up looking on, and found a copy that was listed by a Amazon-marketplace provider in France, of all places. After ordering it, a few days later I looked again and the A&H book was available directly both the German and American Amazons. Did the Amazon algorithm “learn” from my repeated searches? I doubt it, but my “faith” in AI was certainly reinforced by the episode, and since my own Amazon searches are now contaminated by the previous unsuccessful ones and can’t be precisely replicated.)

As I see it, you can’t know what corpora any of the LLMs are drawing upon (they all have their “own”, do they not?), and that is the primary issue I have with it. Just because something was “published” (the word has been seriously hollowed out) somewhere doesn’t mean it was worth publishing or reading, or being taken as the basis for a bot model. (One of the first “laws” of computing that I learned 40 years ago in Silicon Valley was GIGO: garbage in, garbage out … and I haven’t seen anything to convince me that this “law” has been transcended in any way in the meantime.)

What is more, your own chat with the 'bot has – I would guess – been added to its own corpus. That is, the algorithm is being “told” that what it is saying is worthwhile not vacuous, though I’m not sure the algorithm is “smart” enough to know the difference anyway. After all, a pattern is a pattern is a pattern.

What does “better” and “smarter” mean in such a context?

And another question just popped into my brainpan: how do LLMs deal with copyrighted material? Can they use it anyway they damn well please? Are they paying royalties? Does anybody care?


When I click the link, I get taken to the relevant page, but I can neither play the podcast on the site, play it in a separate window (as offered), nor download it (I get a 404 error). Anyone else having this problem?


Well, that really gest to the economic heart of the matter, because basically, the LLM will have trained on the sum total of all creative humanity’s cognitive labor, only in order to be able to replace our contributing roles, without any compensation whatsoever. Rather, Big Tech and their VC investors will make billions, eventually trillions of dollars, while the most of the rest of us continue scraping by.

It amounts to the biggest cognitive land grab in history—intellectual theft on an unprecedented scale, even more so than when Big Tech stole everybody’s personal data in order to sell us all off to advertisers.

Regarding that Entitled Opinions episode, I’m suddenly having the same issue with playback—not only on the web page but in my Podcasts app as well. I have contacted the producer there to let them know. Hopefully the audio will be back up soon.


In light of the morals that Big Tech and VC have shown thus far, it would seem that the approach Messrs. Harris and Raskin are envisioning is rather tepid.

OK, it appears to be a technical glitch on the offering end. Yes, let’s hope they can get it sorted in short order. I’d like to listen in while I still have some time to do so. Thanks for the feedback.


“A rose is a rose is a rose./Loveliness extreme.”

" Now listen! I’m no fool! I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying is a…is a…is a…Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years." Gertrude Stein

" Let us try a speculative excavation from this formula that spins on itself. What does it tell us about the poetic function of language? Has a circle been drawn here, immanent to language, in which the first rose is identical to the fourth? Does this rose in truth return to its starting point?" Quoted from Metanoia by A & H, p. 61

And yesterday I had an experience you would probably all recognize. I had downloaded a new app and noticed afterwards that a function in one of my players no longer worked. I got a cryptic message that was written in two grammatically correct sentences but which made no sense to me. I took my computer to consult with the expert that has been pre-paid with a memebership fee. When I showed the expert,( a polite, distracted, young man), the cryptic message and asked its meaning he responded with a shrug," I have no idea."

With a smurk on his face he informed me that I would need to put my computer in the shop for an unspecified time, for an unspecified operation, something that might have to do with the driver.

" No, thanks," I replied with a smile," After talking to you I no longer feel like such an idiot."

At home, a few days later, I wanted the computer to behave and function correctly, and armed with the sour experience at the service center I proceeded to explore on my own. After a few minutes of using abductive reasoning ( an uneducated guess) I pushed some buttons, clicked some boxes with mysterious messages, and lo and behold, my computer works. I discovered~created the pattern that is a pattern…is a pattern…is a pattern…

And so, out of curiosity, after listening to the podcast, and the charming young men, lost in the noise produced by ChatPGT, I logged into it, created an account, but when it sent me a message demanding I surrender my phone number, I got a funny feeling, a deja vu. I’ve been here before. I exited the ChatGPT, still curious, but more self-aware. Do I really need to communicate with this Bot and add to the already distracted people who have their social intelligence skewed the way these two young men are?

So, I turned my meta- attention away from the invitation to another collasal disappointment, and found a good book from my large, personal, library to console me.


This impasse reminds me of this famous scene which I saw when I was in high school. It resonated with a new generation. The director, Stanley Kubrick, shared a rare visionary insight into the future matrix of a young audience that has now become old and gray as the leading character, (played by K. Dullea), who will later become in the final scene an old man in a bed staring with outstretched hand at the mysterious black object. It seems the two podcasters, so startled by ChatGPT, are implicated in the making of this current malaise, both of them having made it good in Silicon Valley. One of them, I recall, confessed to inventing the scroll, a feature of the internet, which has seriously erroded our cognitve functioning. Most people live much of their lives in a perpetual scroll. But can we put all of that aside, and deactive Chat GPT, as Dullea does so easily with Hal, or shall our development get arrested once again as we get caught up in ChatGPT’s Sheharazade-like spin? Is it already too late? It appears that the tech sector is crumbling, too, along with the banking system and our fragile on line communal spaces. We are such stuff as code is made of and our little lives are rounded by a meta-code…but where does the meta-code come from?


as “Thompson” 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…
“the space of the screen?” & “the Street - Waters”


A mother with a crying baby asked her ChatBOT, " How do I stop my baby from crying?"

The ChatBOT responded, " Use a condom."

Alpaca can be trained in five hours on your home computer. You no longer have to worry about writing assignments or generating plot and character or finding an editor or a graphic designer. You have generative AI. And you might get some novel ideas for how to soothe a crying baby.

What happens to the interiors of humanity when this practice goes viral? Will we require a social imagination any longer? What kind of cognition evolves through the use of ChatBot? What would use of this technology reverse into? Enhance? Retrieve? Obsolesce?

I watched my dreams last night. I was shown by a group of cosmic visitors a circular shape with a tiny hole in the center. Through the hole in the center I heard voices with different tonalities come through. I was fascinated by the surprising word combinations, which created innovative thought~feels in my dreambody and a cognitive delight. I saw a bit of text was printed out in capital letters.


Is that to be read as start time or star time? A bit of lexical ambiguity. I’m not sure. I like that kind of ambiguity. I would probably need more information. The information comes from/through my own sensory/memory system. My center in the center of the circle.

And when StarTime…
Where does Star Time come from?
How old is Star Time?
And when serve Star Time…how do you know that you serve Star Time?

It seems to me I already have an interior combinotorics system of great flexibility and that I have hardly leaned how to use much less develop in tandem with others. I don’t imagine Metaverse or ChatBots can improve on what nature has already provided me. Can I discover~create a relationship to my own resources through this new tech. Maybe? But I am not going to enter the shadow of this machine anytime soon. Caution is encouraged.

Computers are a tool produced by humans. A group of human beings make this tech and provides it to society. And our tools are not seperate from us anymore than a piano is seperate from the pianist but the piano is not sentient. The piano player is. I am open to believe that this is true. There is no design without a designer. Debating the ontological status of this machine seems a waste of time. As we increase our knowledge we also have to refine our character or we will create more havoc.

" How can it be the case that one of the people in the world can be me?"-Thomas Nagel


To My Cafe’ Friends,

I have been serving on Jury Duty since Wednesday last week,
& be there tomorrow & on Monday ( a Civil Case about uncivil
family relations).
“My Attention Muscle is Exhausted” with the ACT of Sorting 'Wheat from Chaff " :yawning_face: :triumph:

So here are some felt sense impressions that landed in my landscape
from reading Chapter #4 by sections.

pg.90 a conversation with a question as to where the identity of
of the living system is to be located in the emerging planetary
bioplasm of this posthuman culture?

pg.91 Death itself ,that, this vision of life in containers is not open enough
for evolution?

pg.94 the immune system is a linguistic domain that is in communication with itself, ( a metaphor used to connect the dots it seems to me)?

pg107-112 what is he pointing to with terms like autopoiesis , thought
styles- thought collectives & the loss of the notion of Representation?


How do we/u relate to the sentence " The “enactive” cognitive science
of Varla expresses an immanental world of “codependent origination”?
And what are your responses to “What Plants Are Saying About Us”?



Thanks for the update, Michael—and for carrying out your civic duty.

I’ve had an extremely busy couple weeks but have cleared my deck and am looking forward to some purely, delightfully, human conversation…

I think it’s interesting that Thompson was writing about AI and the immune system via AIDS in 1989, and here we are 30+ years later playing variations on the same theme via the newly realized AI capabilities and the long-lingering effects of COVID.

Perhaps we’ll also go into some of Ed’s seed questions this time—they are all germane. Though, while I wish we were 30 years closer to the metanoia Thompson envisioned, something makes me feel that it’s further off than ever. I hope that is not just some infection of personal pessimism sneaking into my psyche.

And serving StarTime… I can feel something of what that might mean, here in the dark wee hours, as the world around me sleeps. And after a long night of communing with electrons, serving the computer body, I am going to go back to bed now and sleep for a while, perchance to dream…


Recordings now available

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Thank U Everyone for the Many Musical Tones & Riffs
Shared! about this reading…

A Passion for Jazz


Another Impression/s of the last Cafe’ after coming across:

" Energy is divided into two distinct components: a tangential energy which links the element with all others of the same order (that is to say, of the same complexity and the same centricity) as itself in the universe; and a radial energy which draws it towards ever greater complexity and centricity—in other words forwards.”


*“Emergence” – Artist Unknown

“Media determine our situation,”… After all, as Kittler continued in his opening statement almost thirty years ago, our situation, “in spite or because” of media, “deserves a description.”
Friedrich Kittler infamously wrote in his Introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.
Action at a Distance John Durham Peters, Florian Sprenger, and Christina Vagt In Search of Media