Cosmos Café [7/16/19] - Seeing Through the World with Jeremy Johnson - or - Dwelling in the House of Gebser

Recorded 16 July 2019

Reading / Watching / Listening

Seed Questions

  • What kind of social media might truly ‘ware’ the whole in transparency and time-freedom in the 21st century?
  • Just-what-the-hell-is-art, and what-any-of-that-has-to-do-with-“integrality” ?!
  • Just how relevant is Gebser these days? Who is willing to read him, and why and why not?
  • Where and how is Gebser vulnerable to current (postmodern?) criticism?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

Agenda items


Jeremy is becoming (if he hasn’t already done so) one of the most effective translator/interpreters of Gebser and his work. This is an excellent interview for a wide variety of reasons, and it touches upon and opens up a wide variety of themes and issues we’ve been wrestling in previous CCafés. I’d certainly be up for a head-to-head on this one.


I agree, Ed. Maybe we can make this happen tomorrow? I have yet to get a heads up from anyone else. I am open to this possibility unless someone else has a plan.


As always, I have the time slot open. I’ve been vacillating between just showing up to see if anyone else does and maybe rephrasing and clarifying my actual question to Andrew over in the ILT thread (though Marco did a wonderful job of putting a lot of it much more eloquently than I could).

So, I’ll go with my Previous Plan A and show up. It could be just you and I, but there is certainly a lot in the podcast that provides impetus for collecting some necessary thoughts together, not only in regard to the past, as I mentioned, but also the future (I found it clever, for example, how Jeremy snuck Barfield in there).


Listening to the podcast now. (I tell you, headphones make office life tolerable in more ways than one! LOL)

I as usual won’t be able to physically make a meeting tomorrow during ‘EST’ daytime but I have my eye on this one; if you two make a vid I will definitely catch up.
Nothing but admiration here for Jeremy’s grasp and presentation. (And presentiation:wink:)


If you can think up some questions, TJ, or add some comments about Jeremy’s interview that would be great. Perhaps we can weave your responses into the Cafe? As we are studying The Axial Age, I expect there is some low hanging fruit.

Great! So, I can commit to that plan, too. I’m sure we have much to muse upon or mull over, as the mood strikes us. What are the themes that you want us to wrestle with, as we move into the dog days of summer? Curious about where you would like to start? I know you will start at the beginning and I will start somewhere in the muddle. I would like to complete some distinctions although I am not sure what that might be yet. I am also interested in Andrew’s dive into lit theory.


Working backward, I like some of the dust that @AndrewField81 is stirring up. There are almost too many directions that it all could take, to be sure, but the ethics/aesthetics, the just-what-the-hell-is-art, and what-any-of-that-has-to-do-with-“integrality” are certainly themes we can explore there. (I almost wrote “rabbit-holes” instead of “themes”, but decided against it as I think we need to keep these surfaced as much as possible. There’s no reason to obscure what is better suited for the light of day.)

Now, violating my own plan of action (so, what’s new?), if TJ had any questions-- even any he hasn’t thought through yet – that he might like us to consider, well that would be rather handy. There is – at least in my mind – any number of connections and overlaps with our Axial Age project, even if I am not particularly interested in taking anything, say, Axial-Age-specific out of context.

Still, it might not be unhelpful to simply collect, up front, the topic or themes that caught our attention and then prioritize them into topics to pursue in our discussion. That sounds a lot more formal than it’s meant, I can assure you. But getting oriented on what came across well; which topics/themes needed more attention; and what could have been added to enhance the exchange might not be a bad place to start.

The biggest plus to the interview – at least to my mind – was how well Jeremy makes Gebser accessible. Gebser can be intimidating, as we all know, but Jeremy has a knack for saying yes-he-is-but that I find very helpful especially when dealing with someone who either doesn’t know Gebser or who is just starting to engage him. I can’t begin to imagine how many people didn’t read the book because they got too intimidated too soon.

There is also the question of just how relevant Gebser is these days, given the fact that he (a) wrote his opus more than half-a-century ago, and (b) he refers to things in ways that are simply foreign to many current readers. It is clear that there are still people around who can read Gebser, but who is willing to, and why and why not?

One final point is where Gebser is vulnerable (if that is in fact the case) to current (postmodern?) criticism? I can imagine any number of scholars who might reject him quasi-out-of-hand, simply because he doesn’t have the requisite academic credentials (as if that mattered) or he’s not focused enough on his subject, or his method of “argumentation” is flawed (whereby I don’t think Gebser argues a case at all, rather he present(iate)s his case for those who may get it), … .

OK, first reactions/impressions and still too broad a base. Anything in there you’d like to hone in on?


Whole-hearted agreement.

Hehehe. I know of a few. One in particular was an internet history forum “colleague” years ago who was like “oo! structures of consciousness evolution! … euh? the spiritual??” and gave up without even just reading Vol I, Ch. 3 on the structure mutations as I had suggested. :upside_down_face:

I think there has been quite a bit of work in comparative civilization study and world history that fits what Gebser describes as “world-open” (among of course much which continues in the vein of dualistic antagonism, such as Western triumphalist vs West-bashing narratives). Gebser cites Toynbee; I wonder what he would have made of the “web/systems” view of JR and William H McNeill or the environmental/cultural “matrices” of Felipe Fernández-Armesto. A significant point of discussion - and debate - about the Axial Age is the extent to which it illustrates common threads in human existential concerns (and is therefore evidence that these concerns are human).

Space is a conception, but time is a word to indicate something inconceivable, a sound-symbol, and to use it as a notion, scientifically, is utterly to misconceive its nature. Even the word direction - which unfortunately cannot be replaced by another - is liable to mislead owing to its visual content. (p.122)

The idealist contemplates, the realist would subject, mechanize, render innocuous. … The most deeply significant example of this realism is in its treatment of the Time problem. The dread mystery of Time, life itself, must be spellbound and, by the magic of comprehensibility, neutralized.
All that has been said about time in “scientific” philosophy, psychology and physics - the supposed answer to a question that had better never have been asked, namely what is time? - touches, not at any point the secret itself, but only a spatially-formed representative phantom. (pp. 123-124)

What strikes me forcefully in my present reading and re-readings are connections. The above is from Volume I, but not from EPO, rather from Spengler (DotW)(!). (Maybe the harsher tone of that last bit gave it away…) But passages like this make it obvious that Gebser is part of a long conversation (that I do wish I knew enough German to follow :laughing:) with Jung and Nietzsche, Heidegger and Jaspers, Hegel and Spengler and Von Salis, &c, which remains ‘timely’ because the fault lines of the modern experiment, made visibly apparent in 1914, have in so many ways yet to “heal” - if that is even possible.

Long way around to a half-formed question: what kind of social media might truly ‘ware’ the whole in transparency and time-freedom in the 21st century?..


The Dark Ages may not have been so dark for the peasant class as it had been in the Roman period. It appears that some of the peasants were a lot better off.

This leads me to wildly speculate that we could be focusing our attention in our online communiques upon the virtues of the medieval guild, a widely shared cultural organization, that emerged after the Roman melt down.

Are we at the threshold of another wave of decentralization? IS this breakdown or breakthrough? We have been wrestling with these issues in our forums. Nation-states, as Anthony Giddens said, are too big to take care of the little stuff and too small to take care of the big stuff. We can only wonder, as the food fights in DC and across the EU continues to exhaust our limited resources, what was the medieval guild culture all about?

The Guild was a medieval association of craftsmen or merchants, often having considerable power.An association of people for mutual aid or the pursuit of a common goal.

We have mentioned how reading is becoming an almost monastic discipline. Recall how those monks and nuns worked with scripture and lectio divina. Fragile coalitions were maintained through the monasteries, held together by study and rituals, over vast cultural landscapes. Just look at those gorgeous manuscripts that these industrious monk/scholars lavished their collective attentions upon. They were great artists, while we, in our data collecting frenzy and our power point displays, are creating vast information dumps, losing, as Shakespeare once said, beauty and utility.

Perhaps our zoom conferences, in which the face and voice is heard, language and gesture appreciated, and drawings and sketches shared, could be a way of bringing back the slow mind’s power, as we co-create an oasis of stability and calm. If we can catch the rhythms of a small group, we can then create a more subtle awareness of what is happening between biotic and abiotic systems. If many of us are aware of a Second Order Culture, can a Third Order be that far away? Jeremy suggests this as he references Nora Bateson’s work on warm data. We are already doing this.

What is going viral these days is the most shallow kind of thinking. It has become, as the interviewer, Adam Robberts, says ‘pretty thin.’ Perhaps, if we turned off CNN and started focusing attention on our poetry readings and our deep dives into deeper thinking, we could make transparent the damage that has been done, re-direct attention, and start to unravel our weaved up folly. Perhaps, we are rehearsing what could become a new kind of town meeting? And we can put apple sauce on our noodles if we want to.



I should be able to attend. I listened to the podcast. I’m behind on all the posting and Cafes though. Will do my best to sound intelligent :slight_smile:


Well, if it is any consolation, knowing German does not resolve the enigma … in many cases, it merely deepens it.


I will be there with big ears a rambly mind and a quiet voice.

(also did some tidying up . . . should we give this an alternate title @johnnydavis54? Flesh it out to give it more “body” ? Seems like you and Ed were going to sleep on it and frame it after a little Aesthete’s beauty rest … looking forward to what emerges)


I will be intrigued with the call & response that emerges with two of my Best conversational friends. Let the Play begin!


We can work that out in the call. I am not sure.

And a quiet voice, Doug? And where does that quiet come from?

I am working with the theme of lucid lectio divina. Last night I worked with the 23rd Psalm. This gives me a direction. I know not if this be a trend or just a confabulation if not an outright heresy.

Perhaps we can start with a clean start?


Old skin slowly shed
Out-from-body experience
Leathery spray sprawld display (like a tapestry)
A quiet vocalization from
a new silence location

Anointed with new well-oiled skins
New transparent project/ions to ware
Out-of-body experiences
New science, morphic resonances, social quantum mechanics
Reimagining and Reinventing the Sacred

A lucid lectio
read; meditate; pray; con/template; embody
A high astral whine from the Divine (my favorite line :smile:)
a new skin from within


Good luck with the Café today, team! Kayla and the girls just got home from their road trip to see grandma (and grandpa and aunties and uncles and cousins, et al) in Minnesota, so I am going to spend the afternoon catching up with family, house, work, bills, etc.

Moreover, I still have some thinking to do about the Axial Age material you discussed a couple weeks ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am working on a thesis—which I will elaborate upon in that thread as soon as I can—that that “Axial Age” is not over; that the “turning” which it represents is incomplete; and finally that the evolution of consciousness we are (at our best) witnessing today is the completion of that primary irruption in contemporary modes of transparency and integration—hence a correlation with Gebser.

In Aurobindo’s terms, we are dealing with an involutionary descent (of consciousness/Spirit) meeting and merging with an evolutionary ascent (of matter). Other thinkers, teachers, and poets frame the concepts differently—but I would like to articulate how it is that we are dealing with a singular process, which is prior to—and transcends—the distinct stages and structures we may ascribe to it.

As conscious beings, using practical Imagination, we learn how to live, work, and play/create with Space, Time, and Energy for the benefit and delight of such beings.

Hopefully, @Jeremy will be able to join the crew as guest in a future Café if some good notions and lines of inquiry come out of this one. I look forward to (aynchronously, if not aperspectivally) tuning in to the recording!


Great talk this evening. Thanks for the time well spent.

John wanted to hear Psalm 23 in Hebrew. The guy reading this isn’t the one I was thinking of, but the reading by the guy I was thinking of only does a single verse at a time if you’re not a subscriber to the site. But, the guy in this recording is clear.

The recording begins with five words that are not part of the psalm. He says mizor kapf gimel, mizor l’david which is simply Hebrew for “Psalm 23, a psalm of David”. The actual text of the psalm begins with the word Adonai.



Looking forward to watching this talk. After listening to Jeremy’s conversation, I was interested in learning more about “integral theory” more broadly, as including Wilber but not limited to him. More specifically, I’d like to learn more about how Gebser defines “integral art,” or “integral literature,” or “integral poetry.” I’m asking for selfish reasons - I wonder if we could use integral theory to come to some understanding about Ashbery. Anyways, I’m guessing this was touched upon during the Cafe today, and I’m looking forward to watching. (If it wasn’t touched upon, I’d love to hear from all the various “Gebserites” and so on about how Gebser envisions or describes integral art - art in the broadest sense, as including the verbal arts as well.) Thanks!!

p.s. A question: when people use the term “integral theory,” are they referring explicitly to Wilber? To Gebser? Both? Neither?


Just to take up your last query, Andrew—I believe “Integral Theory” generally refers to Wilber’s AQAL model and its meta-offshoots. One doesn’t find the same term in Aurobindo, Gebser, Steiner, or the other big originators of what we might call “Integral Philosophy” more generally (such as Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin).

You might be interested in Jennifer Gidley’s essay, which we reviewed in an earlier Café, comparing and contrasting the philosophies of Wilber, Gebser, and Steiner.

(For pedagogical reasons, she leaves Aurobindo out of the essay we reviewed.)


Thanks, Ed. A very powerful sound. I quoted yesterday from 1 Samuel 30-31, 41-42, and II Samuel 23-24. The language of the King James is famous for it’s dignity. I wish that I could have dwelled upon more passages but I wanted to put forward a coherent narrative. I imagine that when we share our knowledge of the Bible we learn more about where our thinking comes from. There is much wrestling here within the Masculine Archetypes - King, Warrior, Lover, and Magician. David is one of my favorite heroes. He is a very compelling figure, complex and very weird. We see him grow up. One of the great Biblical portraits. The struggle between Saul and Jonathan over David is sublime. Thou son of the perverse, rebellious woman. Such powerful, enigmatic language.