Saturday, February 24, 2007


Here's some YouTube video of the frolicking rats at the Greenwich Village KFC:

Frolicking rat video

Why am I fascinated by this? Maybe it is the element of insurgent nature, the way that nature asserts itself, always ready to reclaim the city. And there it is on display, through the plate glass window. Not a zoo of captured and subdued exotica, but wily rodent mardi gras, in full view.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Evolution of consciousness bits

Some evolution of consciousness bits:

-- Silly me. I finished a fairly long project, Globalization, Romanticism and Owen Barfield, which, among other things, is a look at globalization in the context of Owen Barfield's work on the evolution of consciousness. And thinking oh what novelty, only to find out that over the past thirty years plus there has been quite a lot of work done on the evolution of consciousness -- Jean Gebser, Erich Neumann, Ken Wilber, William Irwin Thompson are some key names. From what I have read since then, I don't think Gebser, Neumann, Wilber or Thompson brought/bring the same perspective or feel for the topic that Barfield did.

-- William Irwin Thompson has sympathetic instructions on how to read Rudolf Steiner in his book Coming Into Being (St. Martin's Press, 1996). Literalism is a kind of death. Steiner repeatedly emphasized the difficulty of putting his experiences into images and words in order to communicate them. One must of course not make the mistake of then taking Thompson's translation of Steiner's evolution ideas too literally either. The main point I think is that Steiner's material must be approached not rigidly and literally but flexibly and with an open mind -- poetically, imaginatively.

-- I did a paper/article several months back on using Goethe's scientific approach (shaped via an exercise that Rudolf Steiner described) to investigate human artifacts (paper is Talking with history: Using Goethe's scientific approach with human artifacts). Mainly I was fascinated with all of the connections that come together in a simple artifact, and at so many levels -- physical, social, economic, historical, creative, which all taken together amounts to a spiritual experience.

And now I am reading Gary Lachman's book A Secret History of Consciousness (Lindisfarne Books, 2003), a very readable overview of work by different people (including Steiner, Barfield and Gebser). Lachman describes an experience that P. D. Ouspensky had:

During his experiments, he took a break on his sofa, smoking a cigarette. Flicking the ash, he looked with wonder at his ashtray. Suddenly he saw this humble object as the center of a vast radiating web of meanings and relations. In a rush of recognition, everything to do with the ashtray flooded his consciousness. Who had made it, its use the material from which it was made, the history of tobacco, the whole long development of humankind's ability to mold its environment. Fire, flame, and the match he had just struck: each seemed a hitherto unopened window on the world, through which he now looked with wonder and amazement. (p 44)

Silly me.

-- Jean Gebser, in his The Ever-Present Origin (Ohio University Press, 1985), breaks the evolution of consciousness into three broad periods: before perspective ("unperspectival"), perspective or "perspectival", and post-perspective or "aperspectival", a period we are entering now (and have been for a several decades). So the discovery of perspective in the period from the 13th to the 16th centuries, which also corresponds to the beginning of Scientific Revolution, and a general shift in the way that people, in Europe at least, viewed the world. The discovery of space, the space between things, the separation of things and in particular the viewer and the viewed were all part of this shift.

It was around this time that lace was first introduced; and here we see that even the fabric could no longer serve merely as a surface, but had to be broken open, as it were, to reveal the visibility of the background or substratum. (p 22)

The word "network", in the Oxford English Dictionary, has one of its earliest usages in connection to the making of lace. I am not sure what to make of that. Seeing networks required stepping-back from the world, abstracting it into nodes, "sectoring" it as Gebser might say. But I also think there is something new, perhaps "aperspectival" (not sure -- haven't gotten that far in the book!) in thinking about networks today. Perhaps the new thing happens when the network isn't see as just a map of nodes and links, but as a process of interactions.

-- Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko is a good read. I don't know that the basic good vs. evil thing holds up well when he tries to put it in the context of world history, and there is a certain endlessness to a struggle that seems to go nowhere. But I did like the basic thread that runs through it that those idle thoughts, the under-the-breath curses when cut-off or done wrong in the parking lot are actual, real curses that affect both the recipient and the world. A cautionary tale to promote right-thinking...