Cosmos Café: Discussing “The Evolution of Consciousness as a Planetary Imperative: An Integration of Integral Views" [4/3]

Margaret Thatcher, when she starved the coal minors union, boldly declared that “society doesn’t exist.” Thatcher and Reagan were the grand architects of Globalization, not to be confused with Planeterization. Like Humpty Dumpty, the Iron Lady, could decide that words meant whatever she wanted them to mean.


I just got Wings of Desire from Netflix. I will watch it tonight. Ganz is a wonderful actor.

(Just getting in from work. I’m sure I missed another great talk here today… (sigh))

Thanks, John, for posting the Ingold lecture. I’ll have to finish it later, but I recognize his concern to re-think anthropology (switching from “study of” Others to “study with”) from passages in Being Alive. I wonder if his ‘meshwork’ approach (turning hitherto objects into verbs) is as tough a sell to his peers as the justification of “big” (or even “world”) history is to some in that field. Forays into wider perspectives seem to remain firmly in the margins of what is considered legitimate (measurable) knowledge; perhaps the power of the rational mindset - or the comforting feelings of control it offers - should not be underestimated.

Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Vol. 1, 1986 (pp. 1-2):

"Societies are not unitary. They are not social systems (closed or open); they are not totalities. We can never find a single bounded society in geographical or social space. Because there is no system, no totality, there cannot be ‘sub-systems,’ ‘dimensions,’ or ‘levels’ of such a totality. Because there is no whole, social relations cannot be reduced ‘ultimately,’ ‘in the last instance,’ to some systemic property of it - like the ‘mode of material production,’ or the ‘cultural’ or ‘normative system,’ or the ‘form of military organization.’ Because there is no bounded totality, it is not helpful to divide social change or conflict into ‘endogenous’ or ‘exogenous’ varieties. Because there is no social system, there is no ‘evolutionary’ process within it. Because humanity is not divided into a series of bounded totalities, ‘diffusion’ of social organization does not occur between them. Because there is no totality, individuals are not constrained in their behavior by ‘social structure as a whole,’ and so it is not helpful to make a distinction between ‘social action’ and ‘social structure.’
“I overstated my point in the preceding paragraph for the sake of effect. I will not dispense altogether with these ways of looking at societies. Yet most sociological orthodoxies - such as systems theory, Marxism, structuralism, structural functionalism, normative functionalism, multidimensional theory, evolutionism, diffusionism, and action theory - mar their insights by conceiving of ‘society’ as an unproblematic, unitary totality.”

I include the second paragraph because Mann’s work is most often noted for the nihilist implications of the first, as you can imagine (and Peter Burke states that Mrs. Thatcher was indeed echoing that (mis)understanding (History and Social Theory, 2nd ed., 2005, (p. 174)). But Mann’s deconstruction is really meant to serve re-constructive purposes (re: Hampson) - ‘society’ is a convenience word for (1) “overlapping networks of social interaction” and (2) “organizations [which are] institutional means of attaining human goals”. Though he concentrates primarily on relationships of power, his is a quite fluid picture of how they ‘work’. He too, in his way, has changed objects into verbs.

“…The way out is through…” (LOL)

Damn good question. Free from what? Free to what?
In the magical, we live our stories.
In the mythical, we live for our stories.
In the mental, we choose our stories.
In the ‘integral’, …? do we become free from our stories? Are there “stories”?


That’s what we pondered today. Do we need another hero? Yes, we do! The antidote to a bad grand narrative is a lot of little narratives, such as you hear at Happy Hour or the barber shop. I imagine all of those little narratives add up to something quite unpredictable, as unpredictable as tonight’s dream. I posted the Ingold interview because of your mention of his mesh-works. I have yet to read him but I have liked some of his talks. We worked on the Gidley paper today and are going to continue to work with her next cafe. I look forward to your response.


The video discussion was like a book I couldn’t put down, so it’s way past bedtime and I’ll pay for it in the morning for sure. I’ll just throw these out there for now.

  • This is why Gebser avoided the word evolution like the plague! We use it to denote both the ‘Darwinian’ mechanism of natural selection that feeds the development of biological life and the interplay of environments and human imagination that feeds the formation of cultural expression. You guys did a great job showing how each, while certainly connected, cannot be simply explained in terms of the other.
  • Gidley describes herself (p. 41) as perhaps a “postformal romantic philosopher” or identifies herself with what she feels to be useful in that approach (as Ed pointed out an emphasis on deep understanding over taking a polemical stand - as is too often done these days without a deep understanding). What she is not doing is making any claims to have solved the problems of integral theory or arguing for a mindless “kum ba yah” homogenization of ‘humanity’. (Spengler would agree with you, John, that “humanity” is an abstraction - decisions are not made on that ‘level’.) Gidley’s idea of “planetary consciousness” is a needed awareness of the legacy of the modern age - the world has shrunk and problem ‘spill-over’ can neither be avoided nor ignored.
  • I am glad that you will continue the discussion “behind my back”! (LOL) I told Doug in an earlier e-mail that even just the three appendices (space, time, and language) would be worth a look. I am sorry to have to participate in such an indirect way, but such is life. (This gorilla has to ‘hunt’ or the teenager offspring may eat him should the fridge ever be empty!)
  • Feel better, Ed.
  • Good to ‘see’ your screen, Mark! It’s been a while since the HyperNormalisation thread. How is the book coming?
  • Yes, Marco, culture-building is the key alright. IMHO…

OK, good night, the Mrs is staring daggers… :fearful:


To be free from something is to be free to do something else, including other stories that would have otherwise never been told.


Thanks for your sober reflections, TJ, for we need some cold water splashed over the head after such a heated discussion. I do appreciate that Spengler agrees with me ( I am chagrined that I have never read him) and that Gidley is a romantic. I am especially drawn to the German idealists these days ( except for Kant- oooh yuk). Gidley gives me permission to read Steiner again. I never quite understood him in my younger days, when I first picked him up, but more recently read Gary Lachman’s biography and now find him extremely compatible. Steiner was a man of the theater, he loved gesture and color and rhythm. Some of it looks dated, and perhaps a bit corny, but for his day he was way ahead of everyone. And I have been practicing some of his imagination exercises, which are simple, but very effective at re-organizing the inner realms, which we are, due to our addiction to flat screens, dangerously disconnected from. So much of our boredom and restlessness comes from the search for something " out there" which is not" out there." Our satisfaction arises as inner and outer boundaries are crossed and re-crossed, and we return to where we started from and know the place for the first time. Oh yeah I have been here before! It is an embodied knowing that we yearn for, which we wont get by colonizing outer space. We are in serious need of a major re-education. Poets and children are very aware of these kinds of boundary crossings. I also enjoyed the disciplined flow of our exchange, and though sometimes turbulent, and full of exaggerations, we came back to center and a basic respect kept the egos in check. Our conversation though often serious is also playful.


You are aware that all of those postmodernists, those deconstructionists, the Drs. Frankenstein who created a monster they had no chance of controlling, who drove me to livid distraction (so I simply ignored them, then missed their late “'fessing up” and coming back around to the hard issues that needed to be discussed), were all Kantians. (I’m finding the reference to Benedikter (2005) she provided an informative, if somewhat provocative, read.)

What you may not know is that – and at least one anthroposophist told me this as well – that Steiner considered himself Goethe’s reincarnation. That’s one of the reasons he named his center in Switzerland the Goetheanum. As far as I know, he wrote his dissertation on Goethe as well.

During my teaching days my first time in Germany, I had passing acquaintance with anthroposophy and Waldorf Schools. We’d occasionally get a Waldorf student whose parents wanted their child accompanied in its journey back into the traditional school system. (We were a Reformpädagogik institution, hence a suitable half-way house for such transitions.) I never gave him much thought, though, as I had too much else on my plate at the time (teaching full-time, wrapping up a master’s degree program on the side, as well as pursuing an additional teaching certificate from another institution). In my early days in aerospace defense after our move to Silicon Valley, I came into my cubicle one day and found a copy of Steiner’s Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment lying on my desk. I never did find out who left it there. That book sent me down the rabbit hole of Western esoterism from which I have never completely emerged again, even if I do act halfway normal most … well, at least, some … of the time. Oddly enough, my “recreational” reading of late has been his Theosophy of the Rosicrucian. It’s one of those texts that I particularly enjoy, because of its extraordinary differentness, but if you’ve got, let us say, a physicalist bias, well, it’ll make your hair stand on end.

And that’s what gives me pause for thought at the moment. I was a bit surprised (though that’s really too strong a word) that Hampson in his genealogy paper zipped through neoplatonism and hermiticism as if they were the most normal topics in the world. Gidley’s footnote on the Newton Project almost came across as a plea for acceptance of a fact that has been known as long as there has been anyone who gave a hoot about Newton. But it is a very uncomfortable fact nonetheless: he was an alchemist who happened to discover a few things useful for the godless. I vaguely remember an article in The Smithsonian back in 1984 which talked about the three million words he wrote: 1m on science, 1m on alchemy, and 1m of biblical exegesis which is purportedly some of the most poignant ever written. He believed, of course, that the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) was a(n alchemical) handbook for penetrating the secrets of nature. Too bad he never met Tenen.

But that’s what’s got me thinking: have things changed in the academy that much that these exceedingly “unscientific” notionalities, structures, and processes are going to receive serious attention? We know from our dabbling in Kelly, et al. that Myers was more than willing to go where the materialists fear to tread. It is intimated there, but anyone who has read much of James knows as well that he was much more open to the non-physical than was good for his own career. When I think of the grip scientism has on public scientific discourse (the censuring of TED talks by Targ and Sheldrake, for example), I have to wonder if there is (a) something truly afoot behind the scenes or (b) we are merely witnessing the academic suicide of promising up-and-coming scholars. Have things changed that much in the academy that there is going to be renewed acceptance of the excommunicated?

I wonder.


There is a tiny Steiner bookshop, tucked into a quiet street, next to a Waldorf School, which I have just found. It is very close to where I live but I never paid attention to it until very recently. I am dazzled by the output of Steiner ( he was prolific) and those who have been loyal to his work, Owen Barfield, Henri Bortoft and Arthur Zanoc are brilliant, too. Quietly, behind the scenes, these dedicated scholars, rolled up their sleeves and got to work and we are reaping the benefits. Recently CIS, that bastion of sanity, in San Francisco, a hot bed of intelligent inquiry with a strong activist slant, are passing on the torch. Whatever Integral might become, has already started happening, and I hope we can catch some of their drift. As Marco said, there is a tradition, and it has been underground so long but I sense many of us who have worked in relative isolation are starting to renew our commitment to this next wave. The results from much creative research is readily available and I trust we will use all of our knowledge and use it well. It has never been so necessary to master so much material and this may be immense hubris that we can even come close but Steiner was a late bloomer, too, did not find the conditions for his blooming until the last decade of his life, but when the conditions emerged he was mercurial, a burst of radiant energy. I can feel it when I browse in the charming Steiner bookshop, all of these colorful books have a distinctive aura. It is a noble tradition, that keeps on giving, and I like that Gidley is making direct comparisons, that open up a tremendous field of cross-fertilizing disciplines.


You are quite right, Steiner has been working behind the scenes in very direct ways, but unnoticed, for a long time. I suppose it is only natural that a new generation of scholars – many of whom have been forged in the CIIS-smithy – are starting to tenderly – archaeologically – uncover the sediment of obscurity and are allowing – or at least providing the opportunity for – him to shine forth on his own.

Still, I don’t imagine huge leaps forward for a while yet. Anyone who still has issues with consciousness as anything other than an epiphenomenon or as a strictly brain-based phenomenon will have a difficult time dealing with a lot of what Steiner has to say and offer. Like Gidley pointed out in one of her footnotes: Steiner was (a) prolific (and that’s putting it mildly, as you have also reiterated … the German version of his complete works is 340 volumes), (b) is unindexed and without tables-of-content, and (c) is unedited (read: unstructured) overall (though some of that is being done as part of producing the complete works, but they still have a long way to go), leaving him still rather inaccessible in many regards. Slowly but surely, I suppose.

I was wondering, though, is there anything that you have read from Steiner that you found particularly enlightening or insightful or thought-provoking or whatever? I have a couple of his “standard” texts (like his Knowledge and Rosicrucian texts, I referenced in another post or his Theosophy and Outline of an Epistemology (the latter two in German)), but if you had a suggestion, I’d be up for taking a look at it. I’m always on the outlook for recreational reading, y’know.


Just as an aside … FYI:

I know most of you young whipper-snappers (except for Mark who most likely outranks me agewise by a couple of months) have few problems reading long texts online, but I thought I’d at least let you know that I’m PDFing the Benedikter article, “Postmodern Spirituality”, that Gidley references in her paper. I started reading it online, find it worthwhile and am interested in reading it all (maybe taking some marginal notes along the way). It will be 75 or so pages long in the end.

I’ll post it when I’m finished (it needs some editing as well – misspellings, typos, etc.) which I hope will not be in the too distant future.


Thank you Ed! I did skim the 5-parter after you mentioned him in the Cafe.

Placing this quote from Part 2 in my Elder Files:

Question: Well, observing, for example, how we treat our elder people… We treat them like if they were nothing. We treat them if they were trash. Fundamentalists, in my opinion, are right to say that we are wrong with that.

RB. Of course, they are right in this. But they are not right because they are fundamentalists. Ageing is one of the greatest – and most profound - mysteries ever. In a men who is aging, there is, in the deepest silence of the most profound sphere of the will of his most individual daimon or genius, a conjunction of Eros and Pathos. It is a sort of unio mystica of Eros and Pathos, of inspiration and imagination. The suffering, Pathos, in ageing is winning the overhand; but Eros is not retiring absolutely from the scene, but he slips slowly into Pathos, with his whole power of caressing and touching, retiring into the reign of Pathos. Eros and Pathos merge, when you grow old. Slowly and silently; and out of that surfaces the dignity of the aging men. That are concepts we need to understand the inner processes of ageing better. But unfortunately, we have thrown over board these concepts – which already the Greeks gave us to think more precisely, to observe with greater activity and humility, what really occurs in kósmos through the passion of mankind.

I had not examined the connection between fundamentalism/the questioner’s declaration that fundamentalists are identifying treatment of our elders as a reason for their rage (and the nationalistic waves we see forming for that matter) with the elder project. Love RB’s response.

Pages 171-176 of John Martin Haase’s thesis below are a nice sort of summary of Benedikter:

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Here it is, as promised:

Benedikter_2005_Postmodern spirituality.pdf (921.8 KB)

And thanks for the cross-reference. I found it interesting that the review was part of a ThD dissertation. From what I’ve skimmed elsewhere (looking for info on Benedikter), he’s not a man short on strong views of things. And I don’t know if there is more than one Roland Benedikter, but the one I keep stumbling across is very active politically where I would not necessarily have expected it, but I haven’t had time to take a closer look at what I was looking at.


I am a bit confused, too, at this Janus Benedikter. Seems to be the same guy :smile: but don’t want to assume…

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I acknowledge his influence but admit I dont quite understand him I imagine he was a really dynamic public speaker, he packed in audiences, and held them spellbound. As a young person I read Christianity as Mystical Fact and was blown away by it without understanding any of it. But as I have gotten older and had lots of direct experience I can view Steiner differently. He was in many ways a yogi. He provided the Idealists with what they were missing, an actual program, for the western mind. What I am reading now is Nature’s Open Secret an early work and an introduction to Goethe’s scientific writings. Arthur Zanoc has written a good book on Steiner’s exercises for developing the imagination which I have been using. I have just started Fred Amrine’s Goethe and Steiner. I enjoyed this talk by a lovely elder who tells some good stories about Steiner.


This is a very sensible assessment of post-modernism and why it has been such a disappointing dud. I lived next to the NYU campus, where much of the postmodern was produced, back in the 80’s . I listened for hours to drunk frat boys quote Foucault and Derrida. I loathed it. Now that there has been a clearing, which happened after 9/11, we can see what a mess they made. I wonder were they operating out of the decadent mental structure or the deficient Integral or a little of both? I resist labeling and dismissing people but I find that period wasted a lot of talent. The deconstructing French professors were an arrogant lot, they wore their turtle neck sweaters too tight. I do enjoy reading Deleuze, however, he was just a quick witted guy. I think Benedikter’s diagnosis is correct and look forward to reading the entire piece. Thanks for sharing this, Ed, and this deepens our conversation considerably.


Would that be Meditation As Contemplative Inquiry by any chance? If not, what is the title, I’d like to look into that myself. I could use somone/something grabbing me under the arms (as the Germans say), at the moment.

I think one of the things that makes Steiner “difficult” (and I use that word casually, not assessively) is that his scope is so grand. I just got to the lectures on the evolution of human consciousness in his Theosophy of the Rosicrucian and what he is describing is cosmological evolution in which humans play a role similar to the one they have in Young’s model, but, again, on a far grander scale. Of course, if one is not willing to at least entertain the idea that there might possibly be more in the heavens and on earth than are dreamt of in one’s own philosophies, then he hasn’t got a chance of being even tolerated. One of the key notions that I learned in my own hermeneutic training is suspension of disbelief, and this is particularly crucial when reading someone like Steiner. Interestingly enough, at the time he was most active publicly – turn of the 20th century, before (just as an example) the behaviorists drove consciousness into exile – one could openly speak of such matters without suffering the scorn of one’s neighbors. Let’s face it, Steiner’s public lectures were not only well attended, he made a deep impression on some very sophisticated thinkers, many of whom you’ve already mentioned here, but there are many more that one wouldn’t immediately suspect as well (Zajonc being one of them … I read his Catching the Light and never suspected his anthroposophic ties).

What is more, what an absolutely charming interview. Karla is a grandmother I would have liked to have had around as a kid. Nothing against the ones I had – loved them dearly – but they had very different interests, that’ for sure.


I agree, and those sophisticated thinkers, are still with us, working perhaps in the shadows, but I sense that they and we can drop the expectation that the academe will create a movement on our behalf. Most of humanity is not disenchanted and could care less what Derrida thought. I think the postmodern was a small contingent of critics in literature departments who kept the tempest in the teapot going for a decade but they finally pooped out and have it appears gone back to business as usual. And the huddled masses, yearning to be free, who chopped wood and carried water, while the professors sank into their self-generated aporias, continued to chop wood and carry water.

Having recently read Gary Lachman’s bio on Steiner, I get the impression that he caused quite a stir. The split between him and the theosophists was a public feud. Large crowds came to hear him. Annie Besant couldnt shut him up so he broke with her and created his own movement. He was a tremendous overachiever and probably died at the age of 64, from exhaustion. The number of fields that he touched is astonishing. And a hundred years after his death, Waldorf schools are popular and in my neighborhood, there is a center, where workshops are conducted on all kinds of topics and people are still reading him. Like me. Like you. Like Gidley. We are not alone. A hundred years from now will anyone be reading Derrida?

I have yet to read Theosophy of the Rosicrucian but am drawn to that title as I recently saw a book by Frances Yates on the Rosicrucians in a used bookstore for $ 2. What a bargain. Intuitive book buyers who scan the basements of good used bookstores for a good deal, it is they who are are working to make this world a better place, not those who teach at Harvard Business School. Alternate ways of knowing happen at the periphery not at the center and we need to pay attention to that shifting periphery, which Steiner was so good at. The first title you mentioned by Zanoc is a basic manual for applying Steiner’s Imaginal Yoga. I find that without a practice most yoga makes little sense. And that is especially true of what happens in Academia, where fast talking left brain abstraction makers continue to drive a bus that is running out of gas. We need those slow deep rhythms to coordinate Mind-nature. People who make stuff with their hands, who touch the world with their minds. Many of the Romantics knew this.

As a gay person, raised in the deep south, witnessing a lot of stuff no one should witness, when you have no evidence to support you but a deep feel you must explore the deep feel and trust that you will find the way. Ignore anyone who tells you to face reality. Reality is in many ways, up for grabs. And with all of that pseudo science and disenchantment that the academics promote, what do we want to have happen?

I would say train the imagination, act upon what you know to be true, and act ‘as if’ it is true. I have found this a strategy that works with the magical mind quite well and activates those unpredictable emergences that our planet is so famous for. Our planet’s atmosphere has a habit of stabilizing ambiguities and that is where life emerges from. If we fuck with that we are in big trouble as the science of the Modern era has demonstrated. If stabilizing ambiguities in the atmosphere is so important, can our social and cultural worlds be that different from the air that we breathe?



Yates does an excellent job of showing what was bubbling in the cauldron of 16th century Europe. The Gallileos, Keplers, and Newtons that are paraded before us in school are more like the Western heroes of our youth (the TV versions of Wyatt Earp, etc), namely fake cardboard cutouts of the real personalities behind the names. Yates helps put all of that into a much more realistic, reasonable perspective without too easily latched upon demytholigization that the (post-)Enlightenment wanted to impose.

Truth be told, Steiner’s version of the notion is much broader and deeper than what you normally find in RC circles for it doesn’t rely on any particular (modern RC) school of thought. The symbol of the Rose Cross itself is a very powerful one, and one that permeates many – maybe most – esoteric and mystical organizations still functioning today. It was perhaps the most central symbol in the whole occult revival in late 19th-century French-speaking world (irregular Masonry, Martinism, the magicians) which spilled over into the Anglo-speaking world (Golden Dawn in the UK, Pike’s version of Masonry in the US) which presented a rollicking flip-side to what Freud was doing to his academic colleagues.

This is probably something to keep very present in mind when we get to Aurobindo later this year. I don’t think it has to be his particular discipline, and maybe some of the other potential participants may have their own preferences that might be worth reflecting upon in one of the side threads that are sure to arise from the sheer volume of input that will be forthcoming.

Succinctly and poignantly stated. That ambiguity stabilizing you speak of doesn’t come out of nowhere, though it is nowhere the physicalists are inclined to go. Of course, as I learned a long time ago, there are lots of things that are true whether I believe them or not. And the important truths don’t depend on my, or anyone else’s believing, to begin with.


:rewind: :sunglasses: “His first thought is that it is a law created by higher powers than himself and his race and he says with the ancient poet that he knows not whence these laws sprang, but only that they are and endure and cannot with impunity be violated.” Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, p. 152