Open Topic – Pt. 1, Ch. 3 – The Four Mutations Of Consciousness

Continuing the discussion from Open Topic – Pt. 1, Ch. 2 – The Three European Worlds:

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Did Gebser have very, very faint intimations of the Internet?

On page 51, in the context of discussing the enduring presence of the magic structure in the modern world, he writes (in reference to the example of the Pygmy hunting rituals he’s just been unpacking):

We have limited ourselves deliberately and consciously to this one minor example, although a more powerful instance will be taken up later. We did not unleash those powers held in check; today’s psychic chaos is sufficiently widespread to discourage its further activation. Moreover, it would be a fruitless and thankless task for us to open up the multitude of magic manifestations, which correspond to the multitude, indeed the infinitude of nature-related manifestations. This jungle of interconnections and amalgamations, this infinite world could not be captured in books—even in rows of books—anyway, but, if at all, perhaps only in a huge card-file.

A huge card-file?

And notice how cautious he is before the magic world even in his writing about it. He’s reluctant to “activate” its powers.

Isn’t the Internet—the infinite “card-file”—the “jungle of interconnections and amalgamations”—exactly what he’s describing here in terms of psychic chaos and the infinitude of manifestations?


I also thought Gebser here was intuiting the idea of the Internet. But I interpreted it slightly different. I took it to imply that we should not let ourselves get pulled down the rabbit hole by “opening up the multitude of manifestations”. And in a way Gebser was “grateful” that this huge card file did not exist during his time, thus making this opening of Pandora’s box less likely to happen. However, there is a thread in Gebser’s work about the latent efficient principles of each structure sticking with us so they can be interpreted correctly once our consciousness has caught up. Perhaps the Internet represents the physical manifestation of Integral thinking. And only when we have sufficiently reached a level of Integral Consciousness will it be safe for us to open that never-ending card file of webpages, take what serves us, and mutate yet again.

I was captured by this passage also, but did not draw the conclusion that the internet is the relevant analogue of our times. Rather my intuition suggested that the computational paradigm itself, and it’s capacity for simulation and representation fit the description.
The fruitless and thankless task he alludes to resonates with my own feelings of inadequacy and even ineptitude in the face of what I believe to be a necessary task - that is whole planetary system simulation, in order to assess potential trajectories and inflection points for the planetary civilisation. I can see why, in his era, he would feel reluctant to explore this area, as without our computational prowess it would be impossible to achieve.

In the discussion of magic man’s relationship to the planet a few sentences stood out for me:

p.59. Here we should also emphasise to what extent magic man’s authority is effective in the struggle with earth and nature. Even today it is still effective, but, as consciousness has developed, it is now vestigal and expresses itself predominantly in a negative form.

p.60. All these negative phenomena with which present day “mass psychology” is concerned are rooted in the reactivated predisposition to magic in contemporary man.

… a return to the collective brings about a loss of consciousness and also the elimination of the responsible ego … only where the magic structure in the individual still works through impulse and instinct does it realise its eminent, life-dispensing value in our day and age.

… the [… ] ear is the magic organ.

I am reminded of the recently re-popularised discourse of collectivism/communism that many ‘alternative’ thinking people are espousing. Within myself I have had a life long struggle with the polarity between wanting to join in, and feeling repelled by the ideology as it manifests in practice. These lines are helping me clarify the intuitive unease I have felt in a way not previously accessible to my mind.

In contemporary thinking we see the polarity between extreme egoism, and a reactionary commons based collectivism, neither of which are a desirable state for human consciousness, however, we have not yet truly begun to envision and explore “the new” (even though there are schools/communities of practice which believe themselves to be doing so). Perhaps this is because we are not yet constantly mindful enough of those structures of consciousness which determine our view of what we perceive to see beyond them.

Ever since the radio was made widely available, the magical organ of the ear has been filled with information designed to shape consciousness. The effects of this sub-conscious mental programming on mass populations could not have been foreseen at the time Gebser was writing, and things have intensified with the advent of TV and internet connected PCs.


While taking a research and statistics course as part of a degree, we did an exercise about how we gathered references, etc. for doing research. While a lot of my younger colleagues were talking about software programs and online resources, I had to recall that index cards and heavy wooden drawers of cards in libraries were how things were done. The card file comprised all the fragments of whatever you thought might be relevant for the project you were working. Boxes and boxes of cards, carefully indexed and cross-referenced by some of us, one’s own treasure trove of latent mentation.

I don’t know if Gebser intuited the internet, but given his clear techno-scepticism – as he notes in the Preface,

"This span of time [till the event he describes as the 'global catastrophe'] is determined by an increase in technological feasibility inversely proportional to man's sense of responsibility." (EPO, xxxvii)
-- I'm fairly sure he'd be cautious here as well. This same sense is brought out as well, in my mind, in a couple of poignant lines from TS Eliot's *Choruses from the Rock,* however:
Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
There are, to be sure, efficient and deficient manifestations of all consciousness structures.

Just a note on the notion of Origin

This was started in the Preface and brought up again in this chapter (p 39), so I just wanted to make a couple of remarks on the German text to provide a bit of background to our discussions.

The German title of The Ever-present Origin is, as I’m sure you all know, Ursprung and Gegenwart. The first term is most often translated as “origin”, the second as “now” or “the present”. So far so good.

Ursprung” is interesting insofar as it is made up of two parts, the prefix “ur-” and the noun “Sprung” “Ur-” carries the meaning of antiquity, of primoridiality, of initiality. The German word for the Big Bang, for example, is Urknall (lit. “the primordial bang”). “Sprung” is the noun derived from the verb springen, which can mean “to spring”, “to leap”, but also “to crack” as when you pour hot water into a glass vessel not meant to withstand the heat. He brings up this idea again in Ch. 3, p. 39, in the third full paragraph, but interestingly enough, this has only been summarily translated from the German. Other notions associated with “Sprung” are, according to Gebser (Gesamtausgabe (GA), 2, p. 75) “jerkishness” or “excursiveness” (Sprunghaftigkeit), and suddeness and abruptness or precipitiousness (Plötzlichkeit); that is, there is an implicit discontinuity contained herein. He goes on to say that words like “beginning” or “start” are too time-bound (zeitgebunden) to convey the notion properly. It is this discontinuity that also plays an important role in his choosing of the word “mutation” to describe the shifts from one consciousness structure to another.

And though I’m risking making this too long (again), I would like to raise another small issue that might be of interest to you. One of Gebser’s most fascinating and insightful shorter texts, produced along the way to EPO, is called Der grammatische Spiegel (lit. The Grammatical Mirror), in which he outlines changes in current language usage that reflect the shift in consciousness he perceives coming. A theme brought up in this text and which finds strong, recurring emphasis in EPO, is the notion of the dominance of pure relationship (Herrschaft der reinen Beziehungen). It’s not the thing in and of themselves that are important, it is the relationships between them that gives them new, intensified meaning. He sees an example of this in a new use of “and” that is “not used anymore solely as an enumerating or possibly summarizing word, rather as one that establishes a relationship” (GA, 1, p. 160; my translation).

I believe it is this “und” which we must read in the German title, and which the translators have acknowledged in their translation of the title. Ursprung und Gegenwart is literally “Origin and the Present”, but Gebser could have chosen a similar formulation in German, yet he didn’t. The two notions are set together as equals, so to speak, in a sense of this-as-well-as-that, a pure relationship which he then spends 500+ pages elucidating.


These are ancient questions really Plato was working this out in his time ( Phaedrus?) and we are working it out too. Most of technology is slanted towards marketing to the wandering mind and as this might shift towards what Gebser prophesies as the Aperspectival. Gebser doesn’t enact this in any significant way, that’s why we are scratching our heads and wondering what he means. We are the one’s who will have to make this possibility, of the higher octave, happen. Perhaps it has happened already.

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And before this on page 44 (of the electronic version) in the context of the archaic structure, perhaps the ultimate fate of such an endeavor that is the “web.”

“Later times, perhaps because of their increasing dimensionality, show the progressive fragmentation of basic knowledge into a growing aggregate of disparate material. Increasingly deficient attitudes seek refuge in syncretisms (religions based on random collections of “esoteric” teachings and “mystical” truths), or encyclopedic compendia (as, in the first instance, in post-Christian Roman times, and in the second, since the Enlightenment). 31 Presentiate wisdom becomes accumulated knowledge; when summarized and compiled, it yields a new sum, but no new wisdom. Wisdom is reduced from a quality of being to a quantity of possession.”

This kind of blows my mind.


Hey Spacious,

You bring up some interesting points. Thanks for giving me a jumping off point here. This whole business of the efficient expression of the magic structure, or for that matter the archaic, is really something quite vital to our society. We have so degraded our relationship to Nature and our own emotional embodied life that it has become alien terrain for most people. It is the most distant from our present culture where it is only expressed in a childish and deficient way. It’s thought to be irrational and stupid but in reality our emotional reactions are valid ways of interpreting events if we know how to use it. “…only where the magic structure in the individual still works through impulse and instinct does it realize its eminent, life-dispensing value in our day and age.” This is really important because if you are not aware of how this structure operates within you then it can be used as a way for the control system to manipulate you. The most obvious use of this magic manipulation, as you point out, is in sound tracks in film and TV where our emotions are elicited to strengthen reactions so that feelings can be attached to scenarios that suit the status-quo. This will then create unconscious reactions to the control narrative provided by the corporate news. Many people have been emotionally programmed in this way. The magic and mythic structures are both used in sophisticated thought control constantly. Becoming aware of how these structures operate within us can return a person to their own authentic feelings and thoughts. The efficient use of the magic allows you to “sense” all kinds of subtle conditions. Our bodies are sense instruments that can alert you to hidden dangers, deception, or truth and altruism. People try to mentally figure these things out which is a deficient mode. If you drop down into the body the truth of other’s intentions can be readily sensed. Instinct knows things our minds can not know because our minds can not read fields.

You are very right about radio and TV but I have to say that I think Gebser was well aware of their effects with regard to manipulation. Remember he was writing during the rise of fascism. Brave New World_was first published in 1932 and I’m sure Gebser, as was many great thinkers of that time, was well aware of the issues involved. Aldous Huxley published a commentary on his work in 1958, in which he said this:

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not be free–to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel, and act, as the representatives of the national state, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel, and act.”

This is what’s at stake. In this age of consciousness intensification the power factions that actually run our society are doing everything they can to push us into that regressive collectivism you speak of. The individual stuck in the egoism that has come with the individuating consciousness is pained by this alienated state and is therefore drawn to the mindless collective simply to relieve the “alone in the crowd” feeling. The answer, of course, is the integral, where we become a community of unique individuals. This is what we are now exploring. Together in mutual support but not in uniform, not tribal.


Eric, this is an important point that deserves repeating. It’s why I’m constructing this whole project (intending to, anyway—it’s just beginning to be realized) as a co-operative, not a private company or marketing agency or school of thought or teaching that tries to create an identity around its brand, some kind of “buy in” via magical identification.

Of course, there is a lot of magic in art and philosophy, in Gebser’s own writing, in aesthetics and language. Part of the attraction of a project like this, for me, is to explore the potency of this magic dimension with others. But it won’t work if all we do is create another postmodern tribe, another marketing segment, and find ourselves becoming comfortable in some form of group identification.

Yet cooperation, empathy, communication, commitment, mutual aid (as in the anarchist term; see our reading of The Dispossessed)—these should all remain perfectly available to individuals who strive to think originally…critically…creatively. Even more so. However, such “communities of unique individuals” are obviously rare and I would think require a lot of learning, practice, and time.


@achronon – I’ve wondered about the translation of the title.

“The Ever-Present Origin” places the focus on origin as a single, static-seeming thing. But what matters is not really origin’s ever-presence, but rather its relationship to now, the present—as present—novel and emergent, not merely another instance of an eternal given.

I suppose “Origin and The Present” wouldn’t have a made a clunkier title?

Oh yeah, mega-clunky that title. And what’s nice about the word Ursprung is that it carries in in that dynamic of leaping, springing, moving, a kind of catch-me-if-you-can feeling. Of course you picked up on a significant feature here, I believe, in emphasizing it relationship to now, not things, but the relations among things makes for intensification.


Here is a great quote from Gebser that really sums up the deficient mental/rational.

“What takes place here is typical of all “thought processes” that result in extreme abstraction: they denature and invert the genuine interdependencies.” p. 96

To be “interdependent” and yet not unconscious, not a mass man or woman. That is the goal of the integral. It’s weird how we ended up in this situation where the scientific mind champions our separation from Nature as rational beings and yet they constantly use this inverted logic to explain all human and animal behavior with reductionism, placing the first cause for every behavior deep in the heart of nature. The rational is presented as a break from instinct but it is never explained how we can think outside our nature. This is the false objective view of science that does not recognize the “observer effect” from its own physics. When we really start to integrate the observer effect and the efficient mythological, we will really be moving ahead with the new culture. When we don’t understand this we end up “a kind of inferior plaything of the psyche,” that is “a kind of shadow boxing before a mirror whose reflection occurs against the blind surface.” p.97

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Eric and Marco,

Below is another quote from page 95-96 that struck me relevant to your points about the rarity of creative, unique, “open-minded” individuals working together in mutual aid, empathy, and kosmic harmony.

It seems as though Gebser, in his day, saw the courageous, critical, creative, and open-minded thinker as a rare phenomenon, too.

“This is not to pass a judgement, but rather to point out a fact, a fact of perhaps even greater import inasmuch as we do not view the efficient form of the rational structure–the mind or the “mental”–in any sense negatively, and have expressly emphasized its extraordinary qualities and illuminative capabilities. These positive qualities of the mind able to convey illuminative insight into the world are still effectual today, although it would seem that they are distinctly diminished in strength in proportion to the effectivity of the rational. Only the very few summon the courage to speak their own mind and not the rationally circumscribed and mass-produced attitude or viewpoint, against philosophical authorities or popular opinion. It is easy to speak one’s own mind only after the particular opinion has become common currency; beforehand it is a distinctly thankless undertaking, unless of course what must be said is plainly visible to the open mind and can be hinted at or suggested. Regrettably, open minds have seemingly become rare in our age of perspectivistic tunnel vision.”


Mankind’s connection to Nature must not be forgotten here. In the mental structure it has been forgotten, ignored, when in fact our connection to the earth and sky is embedded in our very DNA, we are so closely one with nature that we don’t even see it. Imagine archaic man huddled in his cave. There is no darker darkness than the night-time, especially at the new moon combined with an overcast sky. Have you ever experienced that kind of darkness? You can’t see your hand in front of your face. You can hear the shuffle and growl of animals though and you can smell death and feel the sudden pounce of a predator. Archaic man lived in a timeless world, almost impossible for us to imagine… but try to imagine, you are steeped in this darkness and it has not yet sunk in to your feeble consciousness that (and I’m gonna invoke Orphan Annie here…) “The sun will come up tomorrow!” Hard for us to imagine that there was ever a time when man did not know that the sun would come up tomorrow, but it did not yet occur to him. He lived in timeless NOW. Until… and here I think of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the apes wake up to the monolith… an individual makes the discovery of cyclical events… crosses the threshold into the magic structure… and begins to adore the SUN who saves him from the dreaded darkness, every single morning. But the Sun dies too, every night, where does He go? (Every “thing” was not a “what”, but a WHO to magic and mythic man.) Sun must battle the darkness and the beasts there, he is victorious, he arises in glory again to march across the sky in splendor. He makes the snow melt and the grass grow. We cannot live without SUN — SOL — SOUL. Our very life, our very being. It all is nothing without SOL.

Modern man has forgotten the Night Sky too. Until the industrial revolution, the night sky was a spectacle of stars, a river of light we call the Milky Way, a spinning rotating orderliness and comforting regularity of rising and setting star-defined shapes in the darkness, leading and following. And there was a dubious being that changed her shape every night. And there were wandering stars that defied the orderly march of the Lion and the Bull and the Scorpion even as they traveled along the Lion and Bull’s pathway, sometimes going forward, sometimes back again on their path, what are they searching for? Can you, modern mental man, remember that Sky, have you even ever seen the Milky Way? Today, people can live their entire lives and never see a truly dark sky unmarred by light pollution, never see the River of Light or the bright arrows of meteors or the enigmatic appearance of comets, or — and this was the most terrifying to ancient man — the murder of Sun by a dark devouring circle.

When man discovered his mouth (myth) the special ones who knew the stories in the sky began to tell those stories. And they were more than stories — they were science, because they knew the timing of the solstices and equinoxes, they knew that SOL was going to die each day, and die each year, but He was also going to be born again each day, and resurrect at the end of the year to begin a new year, a Spring of warmth returning, new growth, life will go on. They even knew the precession of the equinoxes that take us through the Age of the Bull (Apis, Hathor) to the Age of the Ram (Moses) to the Age of the Fishes (Jesus), to our New Age, the Age of Aquarius (Integral Man??) — and beyond that to the Age of the Goat-Man (what on Earth will we be like then??).

So all our myths and stories are rooted in SUN — SOL — SKY — STAR — LIGHT — DARKNESS. All Christians are pagans, only they don’t know it. All religion is earth-and-sky religion. All psychology is earth-and-sky archetypes. All mythology is earth-and-sky science.


It is an (almost) impossible thing to really get / feel the mindset of peoples who lived in the pre- & unperspectival worlds. One novel comes to mind perhaps - Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. I just pulled it off the shelf for a re-read. After an amazing 200 pages of traditional village life told from a tribal African’s perspective, a white, British, Colonial officer appears to view the suicide hanging of the storyteller, and the very last paragraph of this book reads thus:

“The Commissioner went away, taking three or four of the soldiers with him. In the many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa he had learnt a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting down a dead man from the tree. Such attention would give the natives a poor opinion of him. In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he thought about that book. Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after some thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.”

In the example above, the mental, rational approach, blindly, and almost happily obliterates other humanities - other consciousness structures - ways of being, that are present in us now (even that Commissioner).

Are there other novels (they would have to be really good) that do a good job giving the modern reader a sense of that experience of living/feeling/being that ancient peoples would have lived in?

Finally, on this subject of accessing and hearing pre-mental states, this talk by Graham Hancock, passionately alerts us to the limits of materialist science, while ignoring (not taking seriously) current and past descriptions of shamanic experience (which also sheds light). You can see the short talk at The War on Consciousness TEDxTalks Graham Hancock (The talk TED tried to hide/ban) 2013 - YouTube

Thanks Marco. This passage also stood out… I took it a slightly different way, but also want to make a reference to Hillary Clinton referencing the Internet as a: “Nervous System for the Planet” when she was Secretary of State…

In so doing promoting an unconscious extension. Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet, was interviewed by CCTV’s Yang Rui in China (2010) and the big argument they had was if uneducated Chinese citizens would completely lose their minds if they were introduced to the Internet before having rational thought (state promoted of course) :wink: Vint said: do it. Yang said: dude, that’s a bad idea… these people are underpowered intellectually as a whole. And there are 1.5 billion of them. I don’t want to die. But without saying dude.

I think the Chinese example might be a great way to see what Gebser was saying in modern times.

I, personally, had a different experience reading this section… it was painful because I became hyper aware of my own ‘magical’ associations and systems with a new relationship to their existence in my psychic/vital(physical)/emotional inter-relationship… like ringing in my ear that was soundless but vibrated in discomfort. I could sense the influence in my system as a slight distortion and veil of lucidity.

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That’s an interesting way of phrasing it, Kim. I’m curious what’s “behind the veil” of lucidity.