As I said over in the Globes thread, since you made your comments here in our last online conversation, I thought this would be the better place to post this. I beg your indulgence right at the onset, for this is, unfortunately, l-o-n-g.
The question that has been haunting me ever since your comment has been, "What is gained if the Magical structure is shorter and (since we’re dealing with a relatively “closed” timeframe) the Mythical longer? I’m not sure if I am really understanding the import and impact of the statement. And since I haven’t yet found a convincing answer for myself, I’m going to return that ball over the net to you, but I’m going to explain why I’m not (perhaps yet) convinced:
If we calculate backwards, just for the fun of it, we’re in the 21st century, just barely. If we take the Renaissance as the approximate date of the agreed appearance of the deficient mental; i.e., the rational, structure of consciousness, we have about a *500-year * (or 600 … I don’t think the century makes much of a difference) span. I also think we would agree that we can “date” the arising of the Mental structure with the Greeks and their philosophizing around 500 BCE, that is a *2,000-year * timeframe. When the Mythical structure became prominent is the issue, and I don’t really see it happening before the so-called “agrarian” revolution, to which I would include the mastery of animal husbandry, at least in the sense of true herdsmen, alongside sedentary “farming”. The “higher” cultures of Sumer and Egypt coming most certainly later, though they are without a doubt more recognizable. If I understand you correctly, you would like to move this date back considerably (?), thereby shortening the Magical structure significantly.
If we calculate forwards, we have the difficulty of determining when humans (and we’re talking only about humans at the moment) appeared. This is, as we all know, a matter of serious and, sometimes fascinating, debate. The genus homo refers to those ancestors of ours who may be considered “human” in the widest sense of the word. There’s no way of knowing when our simian forebears became enough like us to be characterized as ancestors, but it was probably about 2-3 million years ago. Prior to this we have our australopithecus ancestors (who showed up about 4 million years ago) and the first real “tool-making” apes, homo habilis makes its appearance about 2.8 million years ago. There is general agreement that homo erectus, who is definitely considered a direct ancestor, appeared around 2.5 million years ago. And, homo sapiens, our own cohort, could have been around for the last 200,000-300,000 years. We are talking about immense timeframes here.
One very relevant question, in terms of Gebser’s model, of course, is, When does the Archaic structure begin? For the sake of convenience and argument, I would postulate it is whenever humans definitely become human (in a direct lineage sense, of course, and not without a bit of tongue-in-cheek). Raymond Tallis in volume 1 of his what-makes-a-human trilogy, The Hand: A philosophical inquiry into Human Being argues that “agency” in a real, human sense is a direct result of finger-thumb opposability and the effects this has on our mentation. (And, BTW, I can’t recommend this book enough, for here Tallis, the medical doctor, brings his sound anatomical knowledge to bear upon his philosophical speculations. For him, and I tend to agree, “using tools” is one thing (e.g., using a twig to “fish” for termites) and “making tools” (e.g. trimming a twig for fishing that I then take with me to fish for termites somewhere else) is another. I think he has a point. Our australopithecian ancestors were using tools, but it probably homo habilus who really started “making” them, and it could be there that our simian family tree forked. If he’s on to something really worth thinking about, we could say, at least in Gebserian terms, that this perhaps marks the appearance of Archaic consciousness. That was somewhere around 2.8 million years ago. The next two species identified anthropologically are homo erectus (as early as perhaps 2.5 million years ago) and then our own homo sapiens perhaps around 300,000 years ago.
Now, jumping ahead drastically, Feuerstein in his Structures of Consciousness postulates that Magical consciousness was superseded by the Mythical around the time of the cave paintings discovered in Southern France (that is, about 40,000 years or so ago). Feuerstein points out that it is clear from the archaeological finds that the Cro-Magnons had evolved a symbolic universe that was religious and shamanistic. Part of this appears to have been a keen interest in calendric reckoning, and with it we may presume the existence of a fairly complex mythology (Feuerstein, p. 75; and I will return to this point further below), both points making this, I believe, a reasonable anchor date, or at least a sound point of reference.
For the moment, however, we have a huge expanse of time (from -2,800,000 to -40,000, or roughly ) that has to be "divided up between Archaic and Magical consciousness structures. For Feuerstein, then, we’re looking at a timeframe of about 38,000 years for the Mythical structure of consciousness. Even if we take the appearance of homo sapiens as a rough marker for the rise of the Magical structure, which I don’t think is unreasonable, then we have a list that looks something like this:
-2,800,000 – -300,000 = 2,500,000 years: Archaic consciousness structure
-300,000 – -40,000 = 260,000 years: Magical consciousness structure
-40,000 – -500 = 39,500 years Mythical consciousness structure
-500 – 2017 = 2,500 years Mental consciousness structure
This listing is only of the structures as identified by Gebser, for we should remember that the last 500+ years (ca. 1500 – 2017) represents the deficient mode of the Mental, the Rational consciousness structure. I’m not sure we really know where to start thinking about efficiency and deficiency in the previous structures. What I see here in general terms is that the Archaic structure lasts for millions of years, the Magical for hundreds of thousands of years, the Mythical for tens of thousands of years and the mental for thousands. If a strict pattern of compression of time structures were in effect, then we’ve only got hundreds of years left for the Integral, if we even make it that far. If Young and his process model have anything to say, the Mental may be a “turn” phase and truly unknown possibilities lie before our species (if it even remains the species that it is that far into the future).
My point is, however, I would think that the Magical structure was in effect, if you will, longer than we may think, and I personally suspect that the date for the appearance of homo sapiens may be found to shift back even further in the past. Recent archaeological finds have raised questions about a lot of dating that we thought was pretty sound. But let me go back to the phrase “fairly complex mythology” which I mentioned earlier in conjunction with Feuerstein’s thoughts on Magical/Mythical consciousness.
The key element at play here, to my mind, at least is the appearance of “writing”, and I am using this term in the absolutely loosest way possible. To me, the cave paintings which are the most poignant indication of a shift in mentation to what had gone before, are a kind of writing; that is, a transdimensional representation of reality. I realize that we have evidence of worked stone and bone prior to that, for the most part statuettes and figurines which are three-dimensional representations of three-dimensional reality. The difference in painting is that the artist is now representing a three-dimensional reality in a two-dimensional manner. The field of depiction is the flat surface, the plane, and all of it is used. I think this is a hugely significant shift. Later, in the Mythical structure (the pictures have been abstracted one degree to pictographs (e.g., hieroglyphs) and ideographs (e.g., cuniform writing or Chinese characters) which are arranged linearly, either left-to-right, right-to-left, or top-to-bottom. There is no “set rule” on which direction is the “right” one. That shift comes, as McLuhan points out, with alphabetic writing, which is for him the mind-changer par excellence. Both he, in The Gutenberg Galaxy and his scholarly mentor, Howard Innis (in Empire and Communications and The Bias of Communication) have focused a lot of energy on this particular point. It would probably be worthwhile to take a closer look at how their ideas map out in comparison to Gebser’s structures, for example, but that is also a much larger project than I envision undertaking at the moment. Be that as it may, once we are into alphabetic writing we are into a point-by-point (which could be understood as one-dimensional) representation. And one of the serious issues that we are dealing with today is the fact that even that mode of expression is being further abstracted into virtual communication which is, in some senses, everywhere and nowhere at the same time. But, that’s just a thought; I haven’t thought it through yet, and anyway, I digress.
To get back on topic – the Magical structure of consciousness – I think it is important to keep in mind the five features which Gebser identifies as describing it (EPO, p. 48): (1) its egolessness, (2) its spacelessness and timelessness, (3) its pointlike-unitary world, (4) its interweaving with nature, and (5) its magical reaction to the world. The examples Gebser uses are also from our hunter-gatherer past, and in the earlier phases of that existence, it would seem to me that myths are rather undeveloped. This is not to say that there weren’t stories. I think those long-nights around the campfire, when they weren’t teaching their young to communally dream or the like, entailed the telling of tales, but I don’t think they had the intensity or significance that they later had.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the film The Gods Must Be Crazy. I am fully aware that this is at best indicative, but the attitudes and behaviors for the bush-people in this film are much more reminiscent of Gebser’s five elements than they are of a developed mythological structure. When “the evil thing” (a Coke bottle, had been thrown out as litter from a plane flying overhead and was found by one of the family group, and whose very nature (transparent, harder than anything they had ever seen, singular in nature and, hence, could not be easily shared … something they had never had before suddenly was “needed” by every one of them) had to be eliminated, one of the bushmen (the leading character of that group in the film) “decides” to throw it off the end of the world, and the next day, with the good wishes of all the family group, sets off to do just that (which provides the plot for the rest of the film). This has always struck me as very Magical, in Gebser’s sense: he has no idea where the end of the world is (spacelessness), he can simply walk until he finds it (timelessness); it is “evil” for it is anything but natural and disturbs the unity of the clan. Along the way, he encounters others, who do not understand him when he speaks, so they are, in a sense, dumb, but they are referred to, from his point of view, as “gods”, for the gods may generally always provide for them, but, as the title says, can be crazy as well. There is none of the sacredness of myth that we find, say, in the Sumerian or Egyptian cultures, which are definitely mythical. Even when you read their tales that have been collected, you see that there are typical figures in their mythology (mother, father, trickster), but they are not particularly well-developed characters, for they have no need to be.
I realize that here again we are faced with the impossible task of pinpointing the shift from magical to mythical, but the feeling I get from this type of situation is that the magical may have been a longer period, extending much farther into the past than we may suspect.