Introduction (continued. 2)
Confrontation, reconciliation, integration
The subconscious is accessible through altered states of consciousness and humanity, along the path of its societal evolution, has developed a certain number of techniques to reach such altered states in order to gain a deeper understanding of the working of reality and the place humans assume in it.
The first technique that comes to mind is the shamanic practice by the men of knowledge of ingesting psychoactive plants or mushrooms. Late-Modernity assimilated such practices with societally dangerous acts that it declared illegal. But this act to suppress freedom of inquiry boomeranged on the vanity of its initiators; many other methods are indeed available and regularly used to reach the same kinds of altered states of consciousness including meditation, fasting, self inflicting pain, fear, trauma, dreaming, sex, drumming, dancing, painting, and so on and on.
As I have stated multiple times, in Book 1 and Book 2, I became a thinking painter by sheer necessity. I was confronted with what can only be described as “the utter confusion that is overwhelming the artworld in Late-Modernity” and so my personal research naturally started as an inquiry into “what is art”1. The act of painting, to me personally, is the expression of ideas and feelings that are contained in my subconscious mind which could also be translated into ”painting is the unconscious expression of ideas and feelings that are contained in the subconscious mind”. This stands in stark contrast with thinking which to me is the expression of ideas and feelings contained in the conscious mind which then could be translated into the more general principle of “thinking is the conscious expression of ideas and feelings that are contained in the conscious mind”.
Over the years painting and thinking have thus naturally driven my mind on a path of confrontation. As we all know conscious certainties and subconscious visions do not naturally tend to agree with each other. But after making a real effort at understanding both at a deeper level you always find a way to reconcile them at a level of understanding that is far superior than the addition of meaning that is contained in each taken on its own. While at first thought this may appear a slippery slope I can assure you that there is nothing mysterious is such a reconciliation. It simply means that the subconscious mind is questioning your conscious certainties while the conscious mind is questioning your subconscious visions. And this questioning adds clarity to both subconscious visions and conscious certainties.
This process implies that the perception of reality, resulting from the reconciliation of the conscious and the subconscious, is constantly being challenged further down by ever newer conscious certainties and newer subconscious visions. This kind of mental process is exhausting for beginners and it also often appears frightening because the mind not only experiences extreme difficulties adapting to uncertainty it also uses extreme quantities of energy in its handling of the contradictions that are inherent to the confrontation of its conscious and subconscious perception’s.
That’s why the practice was always taught to newcomers by seasoned wisemen who accompanied them along the tortuous path of their long apprenticeship. Reconciling the conscious and the subconscious is thus a real challenge and not all candidates succeed to overcome it. But once you master the process it becomes as natural as your conscious perception was initially; that means as it was before you encountered your subconscious. And this process then drags you navigating always deeper, – into your visions to verify the validity of your certainties, – and into your certainties to make sense of your visions. A process like this enlightens the mind and, allowed for time, it forces it into lucidity2.
The literature about psychoactive substances refers to past shamanic rituals that used the entheogenic power of plants to “generate the divine within” or “generate super consciousness” which also can be translated into “generate universal consciousness” or “seeing the Tao in action” or my preferred expression “seeing with the eyes of the universe”. Historically entheogens were used in a ritualized context under the guidance of trained“men of knowledge” who ensured a smooth reconciliation of the conscious and the subconscious in the minds of the practitioners. In other words entheogens were an integral part of the institutional process of societal knowledge formation.
The New-Age revival of this practice took place most often outside of such ritualized contexts and in the absence of experienced “men of knowledge” guiding the practitioner. New-Age experimenters were thus left at the risk of problematic reconciliations of their conscious and their subconscious which for some ended up in deep psychological complications.
This then became the rationale the men of power sized upon to ban entheogenic substances all together. But the danger of psychological complications was only a pretext. The real reason of the men of power was that this process produces what they think are dangerous ideas that could end up contesting the privileges that their monopoly on power procures to themselves.
Whatever was the concern of the men of power the recourse to entheogens, that was in fashion for new age practitioners, appears nevertheless to have been nothing more than a pleasant recreational pastime for spoiled kids. Most of them were definitely not much interested in reaching mental lucidity and this explains why the men of power so easily succeeded to keep a firm lid on Western societies. This does not mean that entheogens were not having a real impact. For a minority of individuals they have indeed been awakeners opening up their capacity at knowledge formation and increasing their consciousness to the working of reality.
So it is understandable that the 'men of power' saw these ideas, coming out of the new age movance, as a direct threat to the continued exercise of their power. To counter these ideas they embraced them and by embracing them they changed the context in which these ideas applied and by changing their context they changed the ultimate meaning these ideas were serving. This took place in a gradual fashion and so the originators of these ideas never even noticed that the finality of their ideas was morphing from opposition to collaboration with the system of power. I’ll come back in more depth on this dramatic turn of events in “1.4.4. Postmodernism” and “1.4.5. Neoliberalism”.
Having said that I’m not at all interested in ideology. What is paramount to me is, not to enter an altered state of consciousness but, how one can manage to reconcile the conscious and the subconscious in one’s own mind. Such a reconciliation is a source of rapid acceleration in the increase of our knowledge3. We should indeed never forget that the target of such a reconciliation is to integrate the higher knowledge gained in this process into the memory of one’s conscious mind which is synonymous with an increase in consciousness that, in earlier times, was also called an illumination. Absent such an integration in the conscious mind the whole exercise appears like a pure futility. It would be like entering a trance and having your mind blown away by an illumination and then waking up having forgotten about what you saw. What I mean to say here is that the supplement of knowledge procured by the reconciliation has to be firmly integrated inside the conscious mind so that it can be retrieved in the future. Missing such a reconciliation means that the whole exercise was a failure.
The ingestion of psychoactive substances is one way to reconcile the conscious and the subconscious in the mind. But because the trip is so profoundly world-changing and because such substances are literally shattering the certainties of those who absorb them many tend to end up dropping out of the normality of their societies. To avoid such dramatic pitfalls other methods have been explored and refined over time that procure the same kind of ‘confrontation-reconciliation-integration’ without having to undergo the steep societal price.
The integration in the conscious mind of the product of the reconciliation of the conscious and the subconscious is a process that forces the mind into lucidity. This process affects us so profoundly that, once we have mastered it, it becomes an automatism that can’t be interrupted any longer. Could the kind of lucidity I’m alluding to here procure the “sapience” that Georges Mobus calls for?4 “Could lucidity (a word which etymologically speaking, is related to the word “light”) be the missing evolutionary ingredient that our species has been dreaming about?”5
My personal experience definitely convinces me that the integration in the conscious mind, of the product of the reconciliation of the conscious and the subconscious, procures a far superior vision of reality than anything the conscious mind, left on its own, gives access to. Such a reconciliation gives you to see the multiple dimensions of reality. It projects us outside of our physical centrality and forces us to entertain how reality is perceived when it is approached from a different angle by other entities or how reality appears from within other dimensions; I mean other cultural or physical dimensions. These dimensions can be seen expanding in three directions. The direction of the small or micro, the direction of the large or macro, and the direction of pure abstraction. I’ll limit myself here to some examples of dimensions in the direction of the macro or in the direction of the whole universe.
Try to imagine seeing reality through the eyes of a crow or an ant; or as a Westerner seeing reality through the eyes of a Chinese. As world-changing as such visions would appear in our mind they nonetheless remain limited within the dimension represented by life on mother earth. But can you start to imagine how your certainties melt away when seeing through the eyes of mother earth herself? You suddenly feel the pain that man inflicts in her flesh. You feel how sick she is and you feel that her immune system is rebelling and setting in place strategies to eliminate the harm we human bacteria are inflicting to its body. Further dimensions would make us feel even smaller and rather totally insignificant. Now try to imagine seeing through the eyes of the whole universe itself...
Seeing the multiple dimensions of reality and then seeing through their eyes breaks apart the idea, or the possibility, that we are central to the universe or to life. Catching the consciousness of the universe and seeing through its eyes furthermore impose that we – recognize the absoluteness of its systemic reality, – recognize our immersion in its reality.
That’s when the knowledge sinks into our minds that we just can’t go against the grain of its systemic reality and that there would be a serious price for trying to challenge its order or even more simply to ignore it. That’s the reason why all societies impose a precaucionary principle in the adoption of the new. But this precautionary principle was unfortunately abandoned by High-Modernity with all the consequences that are now becoming apparent.
This idea of our dependance on the whole, or our universe, shows that our thoughts and actions are forcibly constrained. But this does not signify that we have no free-will at all. It simply means that our free-will is limited to the choices that are available to us within the confines of our living context. Free-will is indeed context dependant and the context itself is a reality that is given by its inclusion in larger and larger sets with the whole as the final set including all the other. So the absolute knowledge, or true consciousness, is the recognition that we have to find solace, contentment, and happiness within the constrains set by the whole... Even more important this kind of absolute knowledge I refer to makes us recognize that our limited free-will comes with responsibilities towards our context and all its parts. Knowing furthermore that our context is one limited set within a string of sets ending with the whole universe we come to understand that we have responsibilities towards the whole of the universe.
The multiple dimensions of reality that I allude to here is akin to visualizing reality in“set theory”6 mode.
Over time such a process of ‘confrontation, reconciliation-integration’ instills higher levels of complexity into one’s conscious certainties which means that one starts to see the working of reality in its multiple dimensions. This in turn drives one’s own conscious certainties and subconscious visions ever further apart from the unidimensional certainties that are being widely shared societally.
The observer of my paintings or the reader of my thinking shall have no difficulty to detect the process of complexification I allude to here. This complexification also explains why the animist man of knowledge, or shaman, while being revered by his fellow tribesmen was also feared by them. And this in turn explains why the man of knowledge felt the need to socialize with his peers from neighboring tribes, at a distance from his fellow tribesmen, during “shamanic retreats” in “places of power” that are also sometimes called “the underworld”7.
The distance between the man of knowledge and his fellow-tribesmen, that I allude to here, was a necessity to ensure his mental sanity. This fact does not come to us through documents or archeology; it is made accessible to us by introspection and by inductive reasoning. It was such a kind of observation that drove Laoze to state in the “Tao Te Ching” that knowledge is the field of activity of the man of knowledge while insisting that this field should not be opened to the citizens for fear of instilling disquiet in their minds with the possible consequences of weakening the societal cohesion of society.
This Taoist view might come as a shock in Late-Modernity. But we have to remember that the societal context in which Laoze’s thinking operated was the early phase of the Chinese empire or its “TianXia” stage of development that it inherited from the transition between tribes and empires with the master-shaman as symbol of the cultural unity of the people within an expanding territory8. Laoze was favoring the tribal mode of governance particular to small tribal societal groups and did not seem to be impressed by the models of power governance that were taking shape in his days. This idea, that small groups have numerous societal advantages, gained scientific traction with the studies of Robin Dunbar, – non-power decision making, – knowledge formation and distribution by a specialized man of knowledge, – the tribesman’s “self” identifies with the group and not with his own individuality, in other words the notion of the individual was unknown and the group, the tribe, represented the individual’s own identity which is something very difficult to grasp for a modern mind.
The tribal and taoist view that knowledge better be left in the hands of a specialized individual is a notion that does not square well with the hyper-individualism imposed by Late-Modernity that recognizes total liberty of knowledge to anyone wanting to venture the effort to acquire it. Naturally when you posit such a societal principle everyone starts to think that her/his own beliefs are all the truth there is and the traditional respect for the knowledge of professionals in their field vanishes... This is how knowledge transformed into a vulgar commodity to be served on the level playing field of the market for ideas where the men of knowledge are obliged to compete for eyeballs with all kinds of charlatans... Such a wilderness bore an inevitable very costly societal price. As Laoze had intuited some 2,500 years ago the liberty of knowledge would result in atomized societies and we only start to understand what is the real price of societal atomization:
As should be obvious by now to anyone left with a sane mind this question of the societal access to knowledge is not a trivial question. Inertia momentarily still pushes our economies forward and so we continue to get access to the goods that are necessary for our survival. But all this can change in the blink of an eye and once societies collapse we will be in consumption inertia till nothing remains to be scavenged. Then it is most probable that the surviving individuals will be forced by necessity to regroup locally in small bands in order – to find refuge and protection from marauding bands, – to produce the food and the other goods necessary to ensure their survival.
By that time population levels will have fallen dramatically and in the maelstrom the knowledge accumulated during Modernity will by and large have vanished. That’s when the question of knowledge formation will arise again and the urgency to answer that question will leave no place at all for further futile debates about democracy and human rights. By that time human rights will have vanished from our memory. There will only remain obligations to square our ways of doing and thinking with the systemic reality of the principle of life.
Looking at this from another perspective we see without any doubt that knowledge is not a quantity that is fostered by biology. Our biology needs certainly to have evolved our brains and bodies to such a point that they are equipped for abstract thinking. That’s a fact. But in the end knowledge is the outcome of an eventual societal arrangement that makes it possible for big brains and solid bodies to answer the call for maximizing pleasure while minimizing pain.
As I have illustrated in “Book 2. Volume 5. About the arts” such a call has been answered successfully by humanity at the time of the societal transition from small bands to tribes and as a result humanity got tens of thousands of years of non-power and egalitarian societies. But the agricultural revolution eventually broke that arrangement and imposed a new form of societal management centered on the imposition by a minority of its power. The fact of the matter is that, in less than 250 generations since its very early days, the principle of power and the civilizations it unleashed succeeded to bring humanity on the brink of its own extinction. We should seriously ponder that fact; it contains indeed a profound lesson that our species better urgently learn about in order to understand what is befalling on us in Late-Modernity.
Seen the present context of sheer fragility of our extremely complex and fragile societal systems I think that humanity will once again be presented soon with the obligation, or is it the necessity, to find a new societal arrangement. And after a new societal arrangement is made, in all logic, we’ll have a new chance to answer the call for knowledge formation in order to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain. How will the knowledge to answer such a call materialize? It’s again a matter that will be decided by the context in which the survivors will find themselves and within that context one factor will dominate. The necessity to survive in extremely difficult conditions in the absence of any adequate knowledge passed down during Modernity from the past generations. This suggests that those people living in the most remote areas without contact with Modernity shall have the best shot at adapting to the cleansing operated by the immune system of mother earth.
In all probability for those who will survive, this great cleansing of the works of power and Modernity, knowledge formation will once again become the core preoccupation and so the consideration of how best to realize this will certainly dominate the coming thinking. The question at hand will be how to minimize the impact of subtracting hands from the production of goods while allowing for the formation and sharing of knowledge. This is the same question that small bands, at the time of the societal transition from bands to tribes, had to answer.
From the common response by tribal societies that was adopted all around the world we can safely induce that this question was indeed shared, by all bands of homo-sapients that were the initiators of knowledge formation. The question was identical for all bands and the only valid answer possible was to minimize the loss of hands participating in the manual work necessary for producing or harvesting the goods to ensure the survival of the group while maximizing the chances of forming valid knowledge to minimize the individuals’ pain and maximize their pleasure. The context was similar and the question was identical. This explains how the answer in the end of the process was identical everywhere.
In line of what we know about the practice of animism by tribal societies inductive reasoning makes it indeed obvious that, in the context of small bands of individuals, the impact of the loss of hands on the production of goods is minimized by delegating the production of knowledge to a single individual who, I suspect, would also have been the least able in term of manual labor.
Words being still in their infancy the sharing by the men of knowledge of the results of their inquiries was then realized through what Modernity later called the arts – visual signs to share meaning, – sounds to share common feelings among all, – dance to induce trances to “illuminate” the minds to the meaning of the visual signs.
Is it so far fetched to imagine that in the coming maelstrom following societal collapse the same kind of strategies will be rediscovered once again?
1 See “From Modernity to After-Modernity”. Book 2. Theoretical Considerations. Volume 5. About Art”.
2 Lucidity or, – clarity of the mind, – clear thinking, – clear-mindedness, – clear sightedness, – clear-headedness. Lucidity is often associated with a person who has a gift of clairvoyance and has some psychic abilities. I use the word to describe an enlightened mind that “sees” how things are unfolding into the future and has thus the ability to correct her path going forward by making it compatible with the systemic complexity of the principle of life.
3 Knowedge is undertood here in the same way as mentioned already in note 1. In other words the rapid acceleration in the increase of our knowledge that is fostered by the reconciliation of conscious and subconscious mind corresponds to the holistic knowledge that increases our consciousness about the working of reality. As I mentioned in note 1 this kind of knowledge is different from the knowings of science which address limited areas of reality that are directly related to the operationality of rationalism and science which, in the last instance, are nothing more than useful methods for capital to possibly generate ever more profits...
4 “Sapience” is a concept that was popularized in the blog “Question Everything” by George Mobus (Associate Professor Emeritus, Computing Science and Computer Engineering & Systems, Institute of Technology, University of Washington, Tacoma).
5 A citation from “Lucid-Dreaming Quantum Physics” (excerpt from Paul Levy’s upcoming book, “The Quantum Revelation”).
6 What interests me in set theory is its elementary aspect also sometimes referred to as “naive set theory”. “The most widely studied systems of axiomatic set theory imply that all sets form a cumulative hierarchy ...based on how deeply their members, members of members, etc. are nested. ...and set theory features binary operations on sets”. Citation from Wikiwand. These binary operations on sets are generally denoted as – Union, – Intersection, – Set Difference, – Symmetric Difference, – Cartesian Product, – Power Sets. All this is best synthesized in what is called a “Ven Diagram” which shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets. The Ven diagram of the Universe allows us to visualize the structure of how and where we fit in the cumulative hierarchy that is given by U (the absolute or the whole and ultimate final set). In other words set theory helps us to situate ourselves in the structure of the Universe and it also gives us the distance required to comprehend its absoluteness. U contains indeed far more meaning than the sum of meanings given by all its parts. This, in turn, has huge implications for knowledge formation. U is the originator of the absolue meaning for the existence of its parts which in turn implies that the context is what allows emergence to eventually take place and not the inter-play between elementary particles per se. The atoms or particles only manifest the energetic and chemical interactions after these interactions have been unleashed among them by the specific assemblage of a given context. Take away their context and the emerging function of atoms and particles vanishes (quantum effect). So, in my eyes, atomism, as an approach to understand how the world operates, is not a valid proposition. The context is what substantiates the emerging effect of the parts and the ultimate context is the universe... that contains the potential residing in all its sub-sets. In this sense life is one of the applications installed on the operating system of the universe and it emerges eventually in those of its sub-sets whose context contains all the ingredients for it to emerge.
7 See “From Modernity to After-Modernity. Book 2. Theoretical Considerations. Volume 1. About knowledge formation”.
8 See “From Modernity to After-Modernity. Book 2. Theoretical Considerations. Volume 4. Governance and societal evolution” and more particularly“188.8.131.52. The tribal societal context” where I lay out the origin and the development of the Chinese TianXia mode of governance: the respect of the master-shaman or flame-sovereign by ever more shaman rallies tribes over an ever increasing territory to his own tribes’ cultural form of animism. The empire pursues the same kind of cultural expansion but what changed was that the symbol of cultural unity represented by the flame-sovereign or master-shaman gradually morphed into power over the citizens with its manifestation in increasing signs of social and economic inequality. This starts to be visible in the archaeological digging of sites dating some 5000 years BP.