Human consciousness

This page is largely based on the work of Jean Gebser, if you want to read about this more yourself you can consider reading and On top of that manages to offer an understandable summary.

The proposal of Jean Gebser is different from the currently dominant mental consciousness structure, in the sense that the duality of thesis and anti-thesis is no longer present in the proposed integral consciousness structure. This duality unfortunately is embedded into typical language, saying for example non-temporal implies that we are first considering the temporal, and then looking at its anti-thesis. It is precisely this kind of definition that cannot be used, because it would define the integral consciousness structure in terms of the mental consciousness structure. All the words that are prefixed with "A" refer to "Alpha privative", which is Latin for "the absence of".

Jean Gebser used quite a bit of non-standard terminology, so let's (try to) introduce that first:

  • Awaring: Forming integral awareness by continuously perceiving truth from space and time.
  • Diaphany: Perceiving in all possible ways (i.e. integral) simultaneously, viewing as a whole.
  • Eteology: The study of how multiple dimensions of consciousness integrate into integral consciousness.
  • Latency: Things that are possible in the future (or past) but are currently not revealing themselves to consciousness.
  • Origin: The underlying source of human consciousness, the fundamental things that help form new types of consciousness when an existing form is becoming deficient.
  • Synairesis: To view from all perspectives, thus making the perception aperspective.
  • Systasis: To view all temporal aspects, making the the perception atemporal.
  • Transparency: Things that have revealed themselves to consciousness.
  • Verition: Perceiving the truth of the world and of people.

Jean Gebser identified 4 forms of consciousness that are currently dominant, or have been in the past. These are:

  • Archaic structure
  • Magical stucture
  • Mythical stucture
  • Mental structure

On top of that he proposed a new form of conscious:

  • Integral structure

The consciousness structures change from high latency and no transparency, to low latency and high transparency.

Archaic structure consciousness is barely a form of consciousness, humans were essentially unaware of their own existence. There are no writings from this time, so it is hard to assess what it was like exactly.

Magical structure consciousness is characterized by:

  • Lack of human ego
  • Time and space is not considered important
  • A sort of unitary experience, things just are
  • Strongly interwoven with nature
  • The world is perceived as magical

Magical structure consciousness causes groups of people to be very strongly connected, there is barely any notion of I, as the ego does not yet exist. The people would have a dreamlike awareness that they are something, but did not fully understand their place in the world. Gebser refers to this form as one-dimensional, because there is only awareness of "spirit".

Fall of man
Painting of the fall of man, a mythological story from the book of Genesis, indicating the seperation of humans and nature.

Mythical structure consciousness is characterized by:

  • Initial forms of human ego
  • Larger social structures
  • Formation of religions, including concerns about afterlife
  • People start to separate from nature

Mythical structure consciousness sees the birth of imagination, to complement the emotions that were the primary driver in the magical structure consciousness. Between 40000 BC and 10000 BC this was the kind of human you would most likely encounter. A lot of mythical stories were created, including those that talk of the separation of humans and nature. Gebser refers to this form as two-dimensional, because there is awareness of "spirit" and "soul".

Mental structure consciousness is characterized by:

  • Simplifying the understanding of world by using mind to abstract
  • Humans discover causal relations
  • Spatial awareness and space as an explicit concept is born
  • Birth of philosophy, to replace myth making
  • Religions simplify by going towards a single god

The transition into mental structure consciousness happened between 10000 BC and 500 BC, although it continued to mature until the Renaissance period. Humans became very I-focused, as ego takes on its familiar form. The full awareness of space lay the seeds for the global world we know today. Gebser refers to this form as three-dimensional, because there is awareness of "spirit", "soul" and "space".

Gebser proposes the Integral structure consciousness, which would be characterized by:

  • Replacing the current concept of time with a qualitative awareness of time (similar to how space is experienced in the mental structure)
  • Arationality, something that cannot be reasoned about (in the familiar way of the mental structure), one of the implications is no longer splitting things in two parts by forming thesis and anti-thesis.
  • Aperspectivity, perceiving independent from personal subjective perspective
  • Diaphaneity, seeing something as a whole, and not just the parts

This form of consciousness is hard to explain, this quote containing an example might give you some idea:

Let us start with intensity and use the analogy of love. Love is the energy (yet it has only recently been referred to as such) or the driving force behind true spirituality and spiritual growth. We learn early as mystics and students of the other arts, that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. This is, in fact, one of the two great commandments given us by the Christ and the theme of Love is one that was very strongly developed by the great apostle, Saint Paul, as well. However, it is easy to love those who are our neighbors (even though at times they are exasperating) because they are so much like us. We recognize ourselves in them and so we love them. The affinity of interests, locale, or any other of myriad possibilities makes loving those who are like us a joy. We fulfill our spirituality by adhering to this commandment; it is a yoke that we gladly bear. Nevertheless, this love is a three-dimensional love at best. We love those who fit neatly into our perspectives of being and life. We choose who they are and when and how often we extend that love to them. An integral love, a fourth dimensional love, though, would go beyond that. The Christ also informed us of what that love is when he admonished us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is this love that is intense for it is required without asking our opinion (our point of view, our perspective) of it. This is the love of Judas. This is a demanding love that not many are willing to offer. -

In this case the example is of love that is aperspective, that is in a way universal and independent from the perspective of the giver.

Two important concepts are introduced into this way of thinking:

  • Synairesis
  • Systasis

Synairesis is about looking at things from all perspectives, such that the the understanding becomes aperspective. To be more specific:

Synairesis comes from synaireo, meaning "to synthesize, collect," notably in the sense of "everything being seized or grasped on all sides, particularly by the mind or spirit."  - Menge-Güthling, Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch(Berlin: Langenscheidt, 281910), p. 542.

Whereas synthesis is a logical-causal conclusion, a mental (trinitary) unification of thesis and antithesis (and falls apart because it becomes itself a thesis as a result of the dividing, perspectival perception), synairesis is an integral act of completion "encompassing all sides" and perceiving aperspectivally. - Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 312, Note 5.

Synairesis requires the knower to know themselves, without self-awareness it is impossible to know what perspective bias is introduces, thus it would be impossible to perceive aperspectively.

Systasis is like having a system that was formed using Synairesis. This system has temporal dependencies and is a bit like a puzzle. Systasis is figuring out how to put to put all the pieces together, it is about qualitative structure that is atemporal. To be more specific:

[Systasis'] acategorical element is the integrating dimension by which the three- dimensional spatial world, which is always a world of parts, is integrated into a whole in such a way that it can be stated. This already implies that it is not an ordering schema paralleling that of system. We must especially avoid the error of considering systasis -- which is both process and effect -- as that which is effected, for if we do we reduce it to a causal system. We must be aware that systasis has an effective character within every system. Systasis is not a mental concept, nor is it a mythical image (say) in the sense of Heraclitus' panta rei ("all things are in flux"), nor is it a magic postulation of the interconnection of everything to and with everything else. And finally, it is not integral, but integrating. - Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 310

Philosphy was born as part of the mental structure, in the integral structure it will be replaced with eteology. Eteology's short description is being-in-truth, the search for the origin or the cause of something. This short sentence does not give proper understanding, hopefully this will:

We are speaking advisedly of "forms of statement" here and not of forms of representation. Only our concept of "time" is a representational form, bound -- like all forms of representation -- to space. The search for a new form of representation would give rise to the error of establishing a new philosopheme at the very moment that philosophy of an individual stamp is over. What is necessary today to turn the tide of our situation are not new philosophemes like the phenomenological, ontological, or existential, but eteologemes.
Eteology must replace philosophy just as philosophy once replaced the myths. In the eteologemes, the eteon or being-in-truth comes to veracity or statement of truth, and the "wares" or guards verity and conveys the "verition" which arises from the a-waring and imparting of truth. Eteology, then, is neither a mere ontology, that is, theory of being, nor is it a theory of existence. The dualistic question of being versus non-being which is commensurate only with the mental structure is superseded by eteology, together with the secularized question as to being, whose content -- or more exactly whose vacuity -- is nothing more than existence.
Every eteologeme is a "verition," and as such is valid only when it allows origin to become transparent in the present. To do this it must be formulated in such a way as to be free of ego, and this means not just free of subject but also free of object; only then does it sustain the verity of the whole. This has nothing to do with representation; only in philosophical thought can the world be represented; for the integral perception of truth, the world is pure statement, and thus "verition." - 
Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 309.

Gebser refers to the Integral structure form of consciousness as four-dimensional, because there is awareness of "subject", "object", "space" and "time". This awareness, which is also called verition, or being-in-truth, causes perceptions to be free from the influences of any of these four aspects. In a way it is a form of pure knowing, but I find it difficult to describe it in simple terms.

I should stress this subject matter is complex, because trying to grasping a new mode of consciousness without having that mode of consciousness as an experience base is non-trivial. I already found it difficult to read, but I have some personal experience with diaphaneity and aperspectivity, even before I had ever read about Gebsers work. I will try to improve and simplify this page as my own understanding of this complex subject matter develops.