Open Topic – Pt. 1, Ch. 1 – Fundamental Considerations

Continuing the discussion from Discussing the first part of the reading~

I’m creating this topic as a place to put miscellaneous thoughts, reflections, questions, illuminations, impressions, confusions, quotations, references, resources, trivia, or any other seemingly random yet suggestive content relating to EPO Part 1 Chapter 1.

Perhaps one of these ‘open’ topics will be appropriate for each chapter or major section, as a place to collect social notes from our individual reading that might not seem to justify a topic of their own…but which might yet spawn their own threads if allowed the freedom to collide and combine with other marginalia—in other words, no pressure. If it feels potentially interesting or relevant, even if it isn’t a fully formed observation, feel free to post it here.

If a thread emerges that deserves its own topic, use the “reply as linked topic” function to continue the discussion in a dedicated thread.

Being somewhat familiar with the terrain that lies ahead (though the topography is ever upheaving in new, or latent, features previously unseen – another topic, I suppose), I read this chapter mindful of its inceptive role. In other words, given the enormity of what is to come, what does Gebser serve as the appetizer? Here are a few things that stood out to me…

“Scarcely five hundred years ago, during the Renaissance, an unmistakable reorganization of our consciousness occurred: the discovery of perspective which opened up the three-dimensionality of space.” (2)

After what seem like introductory remarks, this struck me as the first real bite; it is the pivotal discovery of our modern epoch, enough to substantiate referring to our world, the one preceding, and the one dawning on its terms: unperspectival, perspectival, and aperspectival, respectively.

The picture I always come back to here is something out of a sci-fi movie, a close-up a single individual, and as the camera zooms out, they appear smaller and smaller and smaller…the opening of space reveals a vast, yawning gulf, an empty abyss. From their vantage point, the threat is that they will become a nothing, the further that camera recedes to infinity (or however many light-years large the universe is said to be these days). And there are two alternatives, two ways of dealing with the inevitability of spatial expansion. Counter this threat by inflating the self, or abnegate the “illusion” of selfhood, dissolve ones separateness (whats the latest survey on how many cells in your body are actually “you”?)

“Viewed in this manner the unperspectival world is collective, the perspectival individualistic.” (3)

I’m looking forward to the many observations we’ll make of these “ideologies…now pressing towards their limits” in our world today, but I’ll just go ahead and point out the obvious: that our (american) media is dominated these days by a hyper-inflated individualist and a socialist.

“This new spiritual reality is without question our only security that the threat of material destruction can be averted.” (5)

That really stood out to me, and I’m heartened by our endeavors here to make it “effectual and real”. (seriously, I’ve read, and listened to every word, and am appreciating everyone’s contributions)

Finally, I can’t help but reach beyond this chapter, as Gebser here is describing the supercession of one structure (the Mental, Spaniards) over another (the Magical-Mythical, Mexicans). This relates to our efforts, and our time, in a way I don’t fully understand, but nonetheless gives me hope:

“When the Mexicans in their deficient mythical-magical structure encountered the mentally-oriented Spaniards, the magic-mythical power failed in the face of mental strength; clan consciousness failed in the face of the individualized ego-consciousness. If an integral man were to encounter a deficient mental-man, would not deficient material power fail in the face of integral strength?” (273)

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thank you for bringing this up. What this meant for me (the superseding of the Spaniards due to a higher level of consciousness) is that these things happen simply as a matter of that increased consciousness, and nothing could have prevented it. What this does for me is it takes the personal OUT of the events of history in a way that I can reframe and integrate them. In other words, I am NOT the actions of my ancestors, and YET. their actions (and the consequences of those actions) live through me, both the beneficial part AND the part that needs compassion and healing. We cannot move forward until we can reach a zero point in regard to blame (which will be incredibly challenging) and then consciously move forward with a new understanding of reciprocity in relationship.
This must happen both on an individual level (where we relinquish our grievances from the past with WHOMEVER we still hold them) and on a collective level, much in the same way. complex, and slow going work of the spirit for certain.

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Hi Jeremy and all,

This is an interesting point, the idea that deficient mental power will fold in the face of realized integral humanity. It will, of course, but I don’t think its going to happen in the kind of face-off that went on with the Mexicans and the Spanish, or any sort of confrontation. I think its happening more in the way of people simply walking away. The Mayan empire is said to have fallen simply by desertion. The incessant temple building of the elite and the burning out of the agricultural system created a condition in which common people just packed up and left. In a like way I think more and more people simply listen to the rhetoric of the dominant class and realize, intuitively, that there is nothing there for them. This is why the corporatocracy seeks to control all the media. They think that to win the argument they have to be the only one talking. They know an awakening consciousness sees through their excuses for pillage and exploitation and they can’t win out in any open confrontation. So thy avoid it and flood the cultural environment with more and more loud and extravagant propaganda. This is their extinction burst. They’re frantic. They want to start huge wars, reduce the population, kill the internet. In the end consciousness will win. This isn’t Rome where the elite could sequester all knowledge and kill off all the “heretics,” in order to reign in consciousness. It’s too late for that now. We will not talk them down in some ultimate confrontation. The old power elite and the deficient consciousness it represents will simply be left alone shouting into an empty room.

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Eric, great thoughts here to @JeremyS’s excellent post on the initial reading.

I was stuck by this commentary on the Aztecs and Spanish Conquistadors myself and spoke about it with @natalie today.

In some ways, I can see how this kind of statement Gebser made would be critiqued heavily today as an excuse for elevating a superior, even in a relative sense, Western consciousness (social justice critics would have a semi-relevant point in how easily this kind of statement can be misused by wrong thinking), but I don’t think that’s what Gebser meant, either. Nor do we know how much information he had access to concerning the Spanish conquest of Central America.

It hits home for me in some ways because I am, myself, a mestizo, a child of this meeting of worlds between two peoples and their dominant structures of consciousness. I think there is much to be learned here in this collision, and its offspring. Perhaps I can save that for a fleshed out post.

To respond to your thoughts on this passage, like Jeremy Strawn, it struck me as powerful as well. I imagined what it would take for the deficient “mental” consciousness of our time to be hit by something as powerful, as world-diffusing, as the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.

I know that their collapse was systemic; the Aztecs appeared to be in the height of their power, but they had also made many political enemies.

Like the Aztecs at their zenith, the powers of capitalism and world-devouring technologies in our pre-planetary civilization are at their height and glory. Look at our cities and the development of megacities and the domination and festishizing of technologies with our own electronic priestcraft in Silicon Valley.

I agree with you that it is indeed the integral that will overrun our civilization – but in what form?

Will we simply walk away, as some of us early adopters are doing with innovative sustainable technologies and revolutions in understanding systems of power and cooperation (gift economies, cooperativism, crypto-currencies and decentralization as Hardt and Negri talk about)?

I think there is that factor, though gaining cultural momentum, but it is exceedingly rare.

Another factor, the true face of the integral in our time, doesn’t come bearing a new flag or nation state or polity engaging in the integral – though this is happening with the experimental diffusions of power and cooperation we see happening – it is the world itself. The systemics of our crisis are so immense as to be overwhelming and many of us are refusing to recognize these signs of collapse rather than attempt to articulate them. Climate change, ecological crisis and economic inequality are probably our “conquerers,” though even putting it that way removes us from the subtle form of vanquishment that is the integral; like a Taoist conquerer, we have allowed ourselves to be conquered within by the integrality of things – by resisting that, we buckle against the Way.

(Echoes of our first book club reading, The Dispossessed, and Le Guin’s love of Taoism are certainly inspiring this post).


@AriAnnona, yes, it really can’t be about blaming but responsibility and awareness of power – which I do think is a manifestation of the integral consciousness (i.e. Gebser’s point about the ‘awakening of the left’ and revolutionaries as a form of time irruption).

As I mentioned in my other post, this hits home for me as a mestizo whose ancestry is both the Conquistador and the pre-Columbian, indigenous Mexican. I feel we none of us are on one side or the other. We are all in that mesocosm. Middle-beings. Interbeings. We should go forward in this way.


No history is an easy narrative, and I think, had he the opportunity to read more recent scholarship on the Aztec Empire, Gebser might have seen them as much more “mental” than the impressions he gleaned from his limited scholarship on the subject with the books he had available to him at the time. Much of the beliefs of how the Aztecs behaved under the threat of the Spanish–thinking they were gods, being unable to comprehend horses, even the entire “Guns Germs and Steel” hypothesis–has been deconstructed by anthropologists. The way they learned about and then combated the Spanish was very rational, thorough and scientific–and had it not been for the political divisions on the peninsula at the time, they may have been successful. Their religious beliefs did inform their behaviors, of course, but then again, so too was it for the Spanish.

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thank you for your response Jeremy~

I think what I take from this is that Gebser’s observance of consciousness is that (much like Jung said) a lesser consciousness will always be subsumed by a greater one. In a relationship, in a meeting of culture’s, in a singular experience. I understand the anti- racial and/or anti-colonialist sentiments and thought regarding Gebser’s work, but at the same time, you can’t put the genii back in the bottle. Those who are at the edge of expanding consciousness are there for whatever reason they are there. I don’t think they choose that.

In addition, Gebser was in absolute destitute poverty when he left (what is now) Poland for Italy, then France, and ultimately Spain. He was Jewish, and was very aware of the Spanish civil war and racial tensions arising after the turn of the century.

I don’t think his work is personal, but transpersonal. Coming from someone who was also oppressed, this is incredibly important.

Being in the liminal (the in-between) is absolutely crucial for moving forward.

I also don’t mean to downplay radical injustices either. much of my work is about healing what remains in the collective field through mass annihilations and genocides.

It is slow going work for certain.

But one thing I do know, one thing I learned from Dr. Vernice Solimar who taught Integral Psychology at JFKU. When you fight against that with which you disagree, all you do is add more angst to the field of consciousness. That, for me, from Vernice in response to Julia Butterfly Hill and the outrage around the cutting of her beautiful tree.

thanks again~ x

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I think this was exactly Gebser’s point actually. He expressed that one culture remained in the magical state of consciousness while the other was primarily mythical, and the more expanded state of the mythical necessarily subsumed the other.
it’s not that one state is superior or one is lesser (and Gebser expresses this very clearly), it’s that human beings are fundamentally Darwinian, and we do DO these things to one another.
For me, the biggest part of living in an Integral Consciousness is recognizing that not everyone is in the same state as me, and consciously choosing to NOT exploit people just because I have knowledge that they don’t (or we as a culture perhaps?) (the old knowledge is power idea?).

I have to agree that the stages are not quite so cut and dry as they might appear to be for some in Gebser’s writings. The mental came about as soon as we understood an “other”. Language reveals that that happened fairly early on. That is the birth of consciousness in the sense that Jung and others (Neuman?) described as the “masculinization of consciousness”. The movement out of an ourobouric unity consciousness into a plurality.
But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Hi Natalie

I have to argue in favor of Gebser’s notion of the Spanish mythic/rational mind defeating the magic/mythic mindset of the Mexicans. Certainly, I agree that the people’s of the Americas were capable of rational thought but it was not their primary mode of interpreting the course of events in the world. Their primary structure was magic/mythic and this was their undoing when it came to the Spanish who were not participating in their cultural field. The grandeur and psychic imagery of the Aztecs did not have the same effect it would have on local enemies. Their magic did not work on the Spaniards. The same thing happened with Pizarro in his defeat of the Inca. Hernando de Soto, Pizarro’s lieutenant, rode right up to the Inca king Atahuallpa so that his horse’s breath stirred the fringe on the king’s headpiece. When the battle began, less than two hundred Spaniards, only about a third on horseback, slaughtered some eight thousand Inca warriors. There is no possible way, swords or not, that less than 200 guys are going to completely annihilate an army of that size unless they have completely psychologically dominated them. It is noted that many of the Inca did not bring their weapons because they could not conceive of how a rag tag group of foreigners could take on the great Inca. When the Spanish charged them their worldview was shattered. It was reported that the Inca did not really fight but allowed themselves to be cut down, one supposes frozen in the moment of witnessing the inconceivable happening right before their eyes. The battle went on for hours so they certainly had time to bring in more weapons but they didn’t because it wasn’t about weapons. This is what Gebser is talking about. The problem with anthropology, in my reading, is that it too often projects its own mental/rational worldview onto the subjects of its study. They want to be “good scientists” so of course they have to find a rational explanation for everything. And this is exactly Gebser’s point–there isn’t.

The anthropological deconstruction of this account isn’t so much about being “mental-rational”, but about looking at all of the evidence for what occurred during these events, not just Western and European histories and accounts. Part of this is actually listening to Native Mexicans about their accounts and histories as well as archaeological evidence, and creating a more integrated theory of what occurred from there. That being said, much of what you used as examples can be challenged when we integrate these other sources of information.

Not to turn this into an endless debate but the issue with Gebser’s work is that events in history, especially when it comes to vastly different cultures in confrontation, is that the psychological element is crucial. What’s happened in our age is that native peoples have resented the “history by the victors” and have set about challenging those accounts. This is a good thing and certainly, as you rightly point out, this changes the story substantially. The issue that happens is that in order to successfully argue with the victor’s history in our age the challengers have had to adopt, by necessity, a mental/rational stance in taking on the issues at hand. (There simply isn’t any other way to pose an argument in the mainstream) From a Gebserian position there is much more to this history in terms of the magic and mythic elements in the original situation. In terms of the example I gave with the Inca the account is from a native source, Atahuallpa’s nephew.
This difference in psychology is what allowed Caesar an advantage in taking on the northern tribes and what allowed the British Empire to devastate African tribal forces with much smaller armies. The Africans way of war was highly ritualized which simply was incompatible with the organized slaughter of the British. Once the Zulus figured out what the British were doing they were able to employ similar methods and create a great empire that challenged the British themselves. But this required them to put mental “quantitative” reasoning above, magic/mythic “qualitative” traditions.

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to beat you over the head with this stuff, it’s just that the subtleties of this subject are highly fascinating to me and I tend feel uncomfortable with leaving any point unsaid. I’ll stop now.

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I have to agree with this Eric. The superseding of one culture by another has happened throughout history by ALL cultures (not just European ones). The point that Gebser is making isn’t about anthropological groups as much as it is about states of consciousness. The same argument is found among feminists. That Patriarchy was some kind of takeover and sublimation/subjugation of women (the matriarchy) blah blah blah.
It was a transformation of Matriarchal ideas and practices, but NOT for the reasons that feminists imagine. In fact, it was an attempt to develop practices that symbolically replaced very brutal literal ritualized practices.
The problem is that distinguishing between literal and symbolic is very very hard, especially when it comes to language.
The Vedas have an entire component of “intentional language”… language written using eroticized language that doesn’t refer to sexuality between human beings at all.
This covert construct within language exists in many primary languages as well.
Consciousness isn’t about ethnic groups or genders in Gebser’s context, and if you bring that into the conversation, you will miss what Gebser is alluding to. This doesn’t mean that Ethnic and Gender issues AREN’T important to consider from an anthropological or a social perspective, just that they have little relevance to Gebser’s ideas. (Gebser attempts to go beyond these ideas, and as a human being forced into exile in pre-Nazi-Germany, this is incredibly important to understand). He is NOT speaking from the perspective of the oppressor, but the oppressed…
The problem for “oppressed” ethnic groups and for women is exactly the same… We have to develop what Neuman called the “masculinization of consciousness” (has nothing to do with gender or the masculine per se) before we can even begin to approach an understanding of the aperspectival consciousness.
These are complex and sophisticated ideas born from the developing psychology of the time, and cannot be understood without taking that into consideration~