Cosmos Café: Integrating Science, Art, and Time [6/5/18]

Rovelli implies that there is no one time that we can point to as a standard. Time, he says, is our emotional response to losing things. Which reminds me of this celebrated poem. Bishop’s gay lover committed suicide but how does she convey this? That loss is one experience among many events happening in a cascade of complex responses. Her reticence may come also from her reluctance to self disclose as this was back in the fifties when such a relationship caused scandal. This is a dilemma that the poet tries to capture and the philosophical physicist contemplates. There may not be one time but there is one art!

One Art

By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like ( Write it!) like disaster.


I watched / listened to both presentations, and I’m behind on the physics, for sure. (I appreciate upping the difficulty level for this remedial student!) But one thing that strikes me about both talks (a patterns I’ve noticed elsewhere) is that the scientists seem to be trying really, really hard to bring the ‘consciousness’ (or ‘transcendental,’ or ‘observer’) factor into their equations, and this seems to require mindboggling complexity and paradox (angels dancing on a quark, it sounds like to me) all just to say that something to the effect that consciousness must be somehow be involved in physical processes—either as a background condition, an evolutionary telos, or an enabling condition for determining a possible reality.

No doubt, there is something indisputable about the predictive power of modern physics. There is beauty in proof. There is undeniable value in the capacity for actualization. The fact that we humans can fly and land an airplane, communicate with Mars, or observe objects in vast as well as atomic scales is miraculous, and represents the power and truth of physical theory combined with engineering and everything else it takes (social & political mobilization, imagination & creativity, etc.) to create predictable events through technology.

However, it just seems to me it would be a whole hell of a lot easier, less confusing and mentally tortured, to admit that, in fact, consciousness is primary and absolutely must be part of any physical equation, implicitly at the very least. It’s like, we love Descartes ’ coordinate mapping system, but miss this essence of his most fundamental (infamous) equation: Thinking = Being.

I would say, for the axiom of my system of reality: There is C.

Now let there be Light, and little c, and everything else which may be constant or measurable in the Cosmos. Now let us describe things in terms of each other, which I think is Covelli’s basic point regarding time. Time is a transcendental fiction. There are only events, which we triangulate to measure things to a common standard. As for the big T: he has no need for that hypothesis anymore.

And yet, we experience time. What is the nature of this experience? As far as I can tell, physics has very little to say about the actual experience of time. (Heidegger, by contrast, say what you will about him, has a lot of interesting things to say about what it means to be in time.) So but Covelli says, I guess we have to talk to the psychologists! (But it would be better, of course, if the neuroscience would catch up, so we can try to find the basis of time inside our neurons.) At the beginning of his lecture he concedes that philosophers have their own conception of time, as poets have theirs; etc. Does that mean we get our Time back now, after it has been reduced to nothing?

As far as I can tell, the only real way to study anything is phenomenologically: What is it that actually appears, and what can you say about that? This puts us in a hermeneutic circle, since what we say affects what appears. Using language, then—which certainly comprises the building blocks of any world that includes conscious being—we resolve our reality. But, which appears to whom? There must be consciousness or some form of primary perception for any phenomena whatsoever. So then, there would be as many ‘times’ as there are modes of perception. Which is actually where we started from. (Wasn’t the point of physics to establish an objective reality out of the confusion of subjectivity?) Loop quantum gravity indeed!

Ink painting by Gao Xingjian

I was reminded while prepping for this talk of Zen master Dogen’s famous discourse on Rivers and Mountains, and that old Zen nugget:

“Thirty years ago, before studying Zen, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. When I had more intimate knowledge, I came to see mountains not as mountains and rivers not as rivers. But now that I have attained the substance, I again see mountains just as mountains, and rivers just as rivers.”

As it happens, the most recent Weird Studies podcast episode is on Dogen, so he’s been on my mind. (How does that happen, in time?) The suggestion here is perhaps even more radical than it appears contemporary physics would allow. What if reality is precisely as it appears to be?


St Augustine said he knew what Time was until he tried to talk about it. Bergson said Time was duration, a continuation of what no longer exits into what does exist, between the before and the now and the now and the after, an undivided flow where the universe continually decides how it will appear and how it will evolve. This sense of becoming has more of a process feel that I dont get in Heidegger. I never got the idea of Being, so cold and abstract. I do like that Rovelli quoted Proust. I think he is trying to bridge the Humanities and Science and this is a good direction to go in. It is getting wierd. I did enjoy our maps of time. It seems they demonstrate how idiosyncratic time can be. I imagine this is what Gebser was getting at, how subjective unfolding of time is not like clock time at all.


I would agree, @madrush, although There is C seems to be a logical statement, that is, Assume there is C and then see what follows. Somewhere between philosophy and logic. Science has a harder time with this, however. Remember, science used to have such a statement, in the very early days of the « modern » era, the time of Newton and Leibniz, but it got thrown out, not so much because of Descartes but more because of Bacon. And C has been absent for the past 350 years. Furthermore, modern science, if it accepts « C », does so at the pinnacle of the pyramid of science - physics is at the bottom, along with mathematics, then there is chemistry, then biology, above that ecology, and then there is C. You want to put it back in at the bottom. I know you are pointing out that both Unwin and Rovelli are hinting at such a thing (and Penrose along with them), but there are no tools, no formalisms, no methods to do that. And science needs those things, or it is stalled. I know @johnnydavis54 will say, « ah, but there are models, and tools, and things », but those don’t connect up to the mainstream formalisms and methods, which work by collective consensus. Science will likely get there, but it has to do so in its own quirky, roundabout way, and there are no shortcuts. Rovelli, and Unwin, are trying to find formslisms and theory that connects the dots, but it ain’t easy or someone would have already done it.

Then we throw out all of modern physics, from the atom on down? We can « see » none of those things. I don ‘t think you are really arguing to throw out explanations, and it seems to me that explanations always involve hidden things. However, if your argument is that the arguments are too complex to be realistic, I think even they (the scientists) would agree with you. It looks like epicycles again (i.e. circular orbits on circular orbits on circular orbits used to explain what turned out to be elliptical orbits) - too much complexity is a bad sign.

Rovelli is careful to state that the idea that time is a psychological construct is his own idea. I must admit this is the one aspect of his thinking that I don’t follow and don’t understand. How can time be a construct of memory if memories unfold in time! I wish I did understand this point.

Anyway, my two cents.


Eventually, Geoffrey, the scientist will have to go within as actors and writers and poets do to find the patterns that connect. The view from nowhere is no longer tenable. We, and the Cosmos, interface.

This would usher in a qualitative science practiced by Goethe and a handful of others. It does no good to exclude science from this “observing observers” phenomenon. We are not going to get to an Ecological Civilization without a Perciever. This is infinitely more complex than theoretical physics.

A perceptual system is front, center, inside, outside, up and down. Then we can move. That is what our brains do, move our bodies in space. Without the capacity to register the effects of a perceptual space there is no way we can orient ourselves in any world, physical, imaginal, sleeping or waking or lucid. The Body Electric is not reducible to the scientistism(s) that we are straight jacketed by.

And then there is the question of culture, which you have brought up before. Science, like the arts, is not value free as the following quote from Isabel Stengers point out. Scientists are cultural workers.

." In order for the scientist’s work to be possible, to gain importance and to achieve consideration, an innovative scientist has to form alliances with the state or industrial powers, so as to get them to decide that they indeed need the kinds of results he is working to obtain. He has to achieve academic recognition, he has to succeed in mobilizing the world, which includes getting the resources needed, and finally, he has to produce a public representation of this field; to have it accepted as scientific." Isabel Stengers

So I believe there is plenty of room for theories and models interacting in ways we cant yet predict. And where have theories come from without good modelers? Such as Anaximander and Copernicus and Galileo? They were aware of, and were using their senses in highly creative ways. They were doing semiotics, studying signs, and the triadic nature of signing in a Peirciean sense, rather than the stale dyadic Saussurian signifier signified split.

As Peirce said, we are sign systems, within sign systems, another possible Cafe topic. One that might include the ecological dimensions that Bateson tried to model. I hope we can flesh this out.


I came across this interesting talk by Richard Tarnas that resonates with many of the themes that emerged in our Cafe today. What is the Modern Self and how did we get here and where are we going? He refers to Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. This book is another mountain I have yet to climb that I would like to invite us to study after we do Sri Aurobindo. A deep dive!


Good find @johnnydavis54. Like the connection/bridge/filling in the gaps from the Taylor quote into Jung’s territory; gives a nice visual of where the collective unconscious “originated.” Taylor does not mention Jung in A Secular Age.

This one is a deep dive for sure…I made it through the first 300 pages before I gave up. He starts it off by simply asking “what does it mean to live in a secular age?” then goes on a 900 page meandering through the course of relevant history. He writes like I think: starts with one main idea in mind, paddles through twists and turns, is easily distracted by other thoughts spotted in the passing scenery, then eventually gets back on course with a deeper understanding of the main idea, but loses others (or at least my) attention along the way. Many similarities to the depth of Sloterdijk but without language games, for better or for worse. His book Social Imaginaries is an expanded version of a chapter in A Secular Age and might be a wade into his writing before any such deep dive. (I would though try again if was a group effort :wink: )


This connects to my posting about Morris Berman’s 1981 book called The Reenchantment of the World, which laid out a similar argument. Tarnas talk is a good summary of these ideas, though.

He does seem to be saying that God’s role in the evolution of world views was to be a kind of cosmic vacuum cleaner that sucked away all the magical elements of pre-Christian world views and cleared the stage for the modern “disenchanted” world view.

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I read The Sources of Self number of years ago with a similar response but the force of the book was felt for years afterwards. I find him much easier than SLoterjdiik.

I have yet to read Cosmos and Psyche which is Tarnas most resent big book. I did read his first one and he has some interesting lectures on line. He has an easy style.

There is always of course Whitehead and though some find him really hard I like his style a lot. He has some smaller books that are digestible.

What book, after Aurobindo, could help in creating an Ecological Civiliaztion?


(Mind you…I have probably forgotten half of the point of this book, but) Cosmos and Psyche digs deep into (or circumnavigates, quite literally,) the Cosmos. Tarnas gives an in depth analysis of astrological cycles and maps these onto certain eras in history (the axial age, French Revolution, 1960’s). As @jfmartel and Phil Ford noted in the Stalker episodes in their Weird Studies, there was some sort of zone that was opened up/awakened during that time, the 60’s, something that was felt then and can be felt now as more than just a cultural revolution…it was some sort of massive fissure in the fabric of ____ (time? space?) that we enter into and know/feel as foreign; it is not the realm of which we typically reside. Tarnas, though perhaps 95% of the population would not give the subject the light of day, supplies a stellar effort into how the Cosmos has an astrological (astronomical?) effect on the individual and collective psyche.

Tarnas does not reference spiral dynamics or Wilber throughout the book but creates a sort of “theory of everything” (in a non-Wilberian sense) that valiantly takes into account the typically forgotten depths of the movement of the cosmos, focusing on Jung, especially synchronicitous events, and the cycles of Astrology (of which I could understand from his book, but which is something that has trouble applying to my daily doings). Wondering if @Amanda has heard of/read this one. I feel strange having read a book that you haven’t @johnnydavis54! Cosmos and Psyche would definitely have us “rethinking time,” that’s for sure! :sun_with_face::first_quarter_moon_with_face::hourglass:


Tarnas’ The Passion of the Western Mind is an insightful look (albeit it from a different perspective) at what Gebser terms the Mental (and Rational) structure(s) of consciousness. For me, it serves a similar function as does Peterson’s Maps of Meaning in regard to the Mythical structure. Texts such as these help loosen up the density of Gebser’s presentation, I find.

His “lecture” which @johnnydavis54 posted is a follow-on to this book, at least at the level of particulars. (That is, the clip itself is from his “Psyche and Cosmos II transit practicum course” … and he’s at the level of “transits” which are somewhat esoteric even for lots of “mainstream” astrologers. It’s one of those levels of detail that even the quasi-involved layperson has difficulty keeping track of. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.)

Now, I wouldn’t go so far to say that he’s proposing any kind of “theory of everything”, rather he is pointing to the interconnectedness of everything, especially in one particular area of our “being in the world” that was once a very central factor but which has fallen into forgottenness and neglect, perhaps unjustifiably so. Cosmos and Psyche is a sober and rigorous look at the connections between astrological statement and historical fact. Another “big picture” book in this regard which is worth the time wading through is de Santillana & Dechand’s Hamlet’s Mill which places humans’ dealing with astronomical/astrological phenomena at the center of myth creation.

You do remind us of an important point, though @Douggins, namely there was more going on – or perhaps to put it in more Tarnas-like terms, coming down – in the 60s than most, let us say, more materialistic-oriented thinkers would like us to believe. Even back in the late 80s/early 90s there was a whole lot of talk about the coming Aquarian Age, which fell into the New Age black hole. There was some good work being done – such as Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy and Harman’s Global Mind Change – that got shuffled offstage in the New-Age chaos.

Yet, his chalkboard map of the evolution of self (if that’s the proper term) was, I think, a very helpful explanation of how the notion of “who we are” has changed in very significant and revealing ways over the past millennium or so. We often forget just how young the very notion of “self” even is. When thought about in Gebser’s terms, his map helps explain why magic and myth are making such a comeback. I think he wants to intimate that we are coming back around at perhaps a higher octave of permeability (which would resonate with some kind of coming integrality), but I’m not sure that’s exactly what is happening with large majorities of people (fundamentalists of all colors spring immediately to mind). In that case, it could very well be a simple looping-back-around.


How odd, Ed, that is a book I have not read that I meant to get around to. I also have not read all of Proust or gotten through Finnegan’s Wake and I dont like astrology. I have huge gaps in my bibliography! There are so many books to read and you better do it ASAP, because , like money in the bank, you cant take it with you. In other realms, I have discovered to my great disappointment, that I am totally dyslexic.

I think, to paraphrase Whitehead, that we are a footnote to the sixties. I once had a friend, who was well versed in Marxist philosophy and Foucault ask me. " What is the Post-modern?"

I shrugged my shoulder and replied. " We are the Post-modern."

Those who lived through the post-modern did not at the time know that is what was happening. It was only after the French Invasion that the term became popular. I imagine that our review yesterday is just the " tip of the iceberg."

I recall the Paris protests and the Stonewall riots happened in '68. Those events were riding upon waves of discontent with Vietnam, the Cold War and other social injustices. My teen years happened then. In many ways, after the crack down initiated by Reagan and Thatcher, which shut down many liberating initiates, we hunkered down. And we have continued to hunker down. In many ways, each decade has become even more disappointing. The AIDS epidemic shut much of it down. The heat, as one hooker said, from the street is gone.

I have a vague hope that with the pressures we are confronting, that the aging boomers and the agile millennials, could reawaken to those weird, pagan, nature mystic rhythms of the 60’s and break out of the Neo-Liberal consensus trance states transmitted by the flat screened culture.

I have my doubts that this will happen and yet I sense that there are underground public events ( like our Cafe) that are perhaps connected to a 4th dimension, a non-Euclidean social topology, just beneath us, that wants to happen. that could break up our habitual patterns. As Arran Gare says, Western Culture has become Nihilism, Inc.

Is there something we can do to re-enter a reconstructive phase that breaks up the Nihilistic wave? We need to repair the rifts that the deconstructive post-modernists have created by deconstructing the humanities. I have the hope that we can start that reconstruction phase by honoring the Post-modern attempt to preserve pluralism. Now that we have pulled up the weeds can we start planting some seeds? I think Peterson is partially right and partially wrong. So I need to do a better job of getting clear about those indeterminate zones, where angels fear to tread.

I expect that by reviewing these Integral thinkers we could rekindle a new wave. We have lots to win if we can make even a minor gesture in that direction. I’m open to that possibility.


And I was off to college in the fall of '67. The old saying is partially true: if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there. I spent four years rebelling and hoping but ended up joining the Army to avoid the draft. I managed that way to avoid Vietnam, but ending up at the end of the so-called Free World in the intelligence community revealed our true self. America had already then become what it hated. Reagan only took off the mask in public, but he’s been quasi-canonized to compensate. That’s what happens when enough don’t like what they see.

That you become what you hate is an old Kabbalistic aphorism that I learned only later. Confirmation of insight is always in retrospect. William Irwin Thompson used that aphroism as a chapter title in his Self and Society, writing about the American response to 9/11. That was simply the next loop of the spiral that had begun so long ago.

Agreed. But he fell prey to the same malady. He’s gone down the rabbit hole of hate, and while he could clean up his act if he took his own advice, I doubt he’ll do that. Who the hell takes their own advice? The value-added by the post-modernists was small, but it was significant. Like their prose, however, there is a whole lot of verbiage that has to be hewn away to get to the nut-like core. (Tarnas did this quite well, and I’m fairly sure it’s all we really need to take away from the phase.) But like it’s (in Peterson’s mind) apparent counterpole, neoliberalism, it’s going to die a much slower death than is good for any of us.

Some physicists talk of 26 dimensions, if you assume strings, not quarks. Others will tell you there are 11. While slogging my way through the Mereon Matrix (which I haven’t finished yet … I’m still sane, aren’t I? – or at least it appears as-if I am) Kaufmann noted that regardless of how many dimensions there may (ultimately) be, projecting them into 3-5 yields the optimal results: it’s there that we appear to get the biggest bang for the buck. This is (at least) part of Tenen’s point as well. So, I’m guessing this is the area we would do best to focus on for the moment. In other words, there may be (many) more dimensions, but we can deal with things best as if there were only the few we can handle. Yes, Rovelli showed us that the variable time in the grand scheme of things is meaningless, but our experience tells us otherwise. So we act as if there is a shared present. We engage reality as if it only had a manageable number of dimensions. So we should think and act as if even our CCafés are making a difference in the world.

Why? Because as-if’s constitute a reality, just like our experience of a shared present, which is every bit as real as it needs to be, because it keeps us focused and together. It’s not specifically what we do in our CCafés that makes the difference, it is how we do it, and it’s the fact that we continue to do it. The CCafés have a feel to them, and it is this feeling that, I believe, is most important to maintain, for it is feelings that attract and repel more strongly than a concept, a notion, idea, method, approach, or technique (and we have a wide variety of all of these to be sure). Feelings generate sympathy, and sympathy is a strong attractor. But feelings are neither fast nor focused nor forgeable. They have to be grown.

We’ve already started planting.


I agree he won’t change his tune as many Neo-Libs love his anti-post-modern diatribe and will pay him big bucks to keep it going. Now I’m no fan of Derrida but I would never call him Evil with a capital E. He sort of misses the point. Derrida was an Algerian Jew.

The first wave of Post-modernists came out of the trauma of the Holocaust and ended up at the New School or ended up in Paris left bank, trying to purge themselves of the Nazi mythic hysteria and tried to locate the sources of Totalitarianism and tear them up by the roots. It was Hannah Arendt who said the roots were not in Germany but in the American Slavery loving South where the Nazi ideology was born. I agree as most of my southern relatives talked just like Hitler. They were in some ways very conservative enclaves.

But when the post-structuralism impulse came in the 80’s to USA it happened with the backdrop Andy Warhol and shiny suburban surfaces that made a joke out of everything and that was the movement went very sour. Anything goes. Debunking meta-narratives became the meta-narrative and made them powerless to fight against the Scientism and Neo-Liberal trickle down economics. I dont sense that Peterson understands this at all. Trickle down economics is an unnecessary evil. He seems to assume Capitalism is the same thing as Democracy. Corporate take overs of public assets ( especially by foreign actors) is the great danger to democracy, not Marxist theory.

Now I have problems with Marxism, too, but not because it critiques Capitalism but because it ignores Nature. It is not just about who owns the means of production but is about how that impacts Nature. So Marxism needs to be updated, not discarded, so that an Ecological Civilization can emerge. And the Soviet Union practiced something more like bureaucratic Capitalism that utterly failed, and looks like what we are becoming. That is why Putin gets along fine with Neo-Liberalism. He owns much of the real estate of Upper East Side of Manhattan.

So we need cool heads and warm hearts to make a viable Ecological movement to happen and Jordan Peterson I fear has neither.


I’ve been summoned!
Yes, I’m familiar with Mr. Tarnas. Cosmos and Psyche is one of the two most influential books I’ve ever read. Although I wouldn’t call his writing or speaking styles very accessible…
His website ( Essays | Richard Tarnas) has two essays I recommend often:
TWo Suitors, which is the intro to Cosmos and Psyche and then the Epilogue to The Passion of the Western Mind — which he purposely wrote before Cosmos in an attempt to get himself some credibility before plunging into the less acceptable Astro-text. He and Stanislav Grof spent time at Esalen in the 70s doing experiments with halucinogens and psychedelics in conjunction with studying astrological transits. So he knew where his work was headed…

Other sources of interest for y’all might be the Archai Journal (online), everything going on at California Institute for Integral Studies’ Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program (Tarnas is faculty there), work several folks are doing with Archetypal Cosmology (which aims to blend psychology, astrology, biology, math, mythology) including Keiron LeGrice…

… and then a lecture Rick has done several times about heroic communities. Clearly this community here is an example of that :slight_smile:


Excellent suggestions, Amanda. I am very inspired by CIS. I follow Matt Segall and many of the scholars coming out of that noble institution. I am curious about your observation about heroic communities.

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@ccafe: This has actually nothing to do directly with this thread, it is only because we talked about next week’s topic during our last session.

Having just checked my RL calendar, I see that I’m not going to be able to make our get-together on 12 June. My brother and sister-in-law from back home will be here for a short visit, and even though I love all ya guys to death, family comes first. As far as I can see there is nothing preventing me from showing up again on the 19th.

Point is: y’all can do whatever tickles your fancies.


Some inspirational sounds (some of) you may or may not remember, ahead of our Life Divine gathering tonight—

—via an older buddy who was or wasn’t there (I didn’t ask).


Hey Amanda, want to join us for an upcoming Café to talk about Cosmos and Psyche? Maybe we could read an essay you’d recommend, plus watch that video posted above, and you could help us begin to work with Tarnas’ ideas?


Totally! Everything on my life is on hold until after the local burning man regional event, but after July 17 I’d love to do that.

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