By confronting one’s conscious certainties with one’s subconscious visions one gets to reconcile them in a unified consciousness that is boosted at a higher level. This supplement of consciousness is then integrated within the scope of one’s conscious certainties. Mastering such a process fixes it in the mind and the resulting automatism engages an unstoppable quest for ever higher levels of consciousness. This is the path of the man of knowledge1 that opens one’s vision to what is emerging in the present as the substance of the future.
Divination means seeing what the future has in store. The word is most often associated with the ancient tribal practice of predicting the future by the animist men of knowledge. Their approach of reality followed three complementary paths:
- first their conscious minds observed the movements of celestial bodies and the rhythms of nature on earth. Out of these observations they tried to detect recurring trends and how these impacted life on earth. Over the long haul such a practice led to the discovery of a series of deep patterns that were associated and explained the different phenomena relating to life on earth.
- secondly by entering altered states of consciousness they confronted their conscious approach to the visions emerging from their subconscious minds. To reach such altered states of consciousness most animist men of knowledge ingested entheogenic plants or mushrooms. Other techniques, procuring the same kinds of altered states, were gradually refined in parallel to enthrogens such as drumming, dancing, fasting, meditation, sex, and so on.
keep their sanity the men of knowledge needed to confront their
conscious certainties and their subconscient visions which resulted in
a reconciliation of the two that finally led to the integration of
their reconciled visions within the scope of their conscious minds.
I'll come back on this mechanism further down in "Confrontation, reconciliation, integration".
This process of knowledge formation was transmitted orally from one generation of men of knowledge to the next through a secret process of apprenticeship and the knowledge base gained through such an apprenticeship was eventually incrementally increased further with the apprentice's own discoveries during his own lifetime. This means that the knowledge the apprentice acquired totalled the knowledge formation of hundreds or thousands of generations of men of knowledge.
With the emergence of power societies religions and philosophies rejected this animist practice for fear that it would generate beliefs that would oppose their creed which could then possibly have threatened to destabilize the social order imposed by the men of power whom they served.
At the height of philosophic rationalism this practice, of confronting the conscious with the subconscious, has been associated with the generation of beliefs and actions that were thought to be contrary to the scientific method and by the early days of Late-Modernity, because entheogens were rapidly spreading for recreational use, the best known among them have been declared illegal substances.
Whatever this historical context the fact of the matter is that the human mind operates in two dimensions, – the subconscious – the conscious, and both of these two dimensions participate in generating the individual’s consciousness. Scientific researchers of the “brain-mind-consciousness-wisdom” complex recognize that the subconscious is as real as the conscious operation of the mind. But science does nevertheless not recognize their complementarity. And when researchers realize a scientific breakthrough by consulting their subconscious mind through a state of altered consciousness they most generally simply hide the fact for fear of unleashing the opprobrium of the scientific community and society at large. The irrationally raging arguments expressed by deniers, of the possibility that Francis Crick attained his vision of the molecular structure of DNA as a three-dimensional double helix through the use of LSD, illustrates the lingering controversiality of this subject.
Science views itself as being an objective reading of reality. And one of the main reasons it views itself as being objective is that it relies on the conscious mind of its researchers to test the repeatability of an hypothesis. It views the subconscious as a series of subjective impressions that are non-reliable as an approach to test the repeatability of an hypothesis and as such it declares that the subconscious has no scientific merit. But this is merely an ideological a priori that was never confirmed by the scientific method itself. The scientific method asks for the repeatability of an hypothesis. It should not stay in the way of testing the repeatability of an observation by the subconscious of one individual or of many individuals and it also should not stay in the way of testing the repeatability of an observation in a given state of altered consciousness by one individual or by many individuals.
Nothing stays in the way of testing and using what is unconsciously stored in the mind except ideology and more particularly the ideologies of power and of rationalism. The result of such a closed-mindedness is unfortunately a profound handicap to the thinking mind and in the end science is the real loser. By ignoring the potentialities of the subconscious and by relying exclusively on the working of the conscious mind science is indeed greatly limiting the scope of its inquiry which can only be viewed as a self-inflicted handicap to itself.
This has to be contrasted with the open-mindedness of the animist men of knowledge who extracted meaning from both their conscious and subconscious minds which they reconciled and so gained a supplement of consciousness that was immediately integrated in their conscious minds. Over tens of thousands of years such a mechanism generated a holistic system of knowledge, called animism, that looks at local phenomena from a holistic perspective. As observers of Late-Modernity the least we can say is that animism appears to have been astonishingly prescient of life’s very limited bandwith of survivability and this suddenly illuminates the wisdom of many of its practices.
The confrontation of local phenomena to a macroscopic perspective imposed the necessity to reconcile the certainties attained through observation of the local microcosm with the more systemic realities that were detected in the holistic system. In such a scheme of thinking the microcosm is considered to emerge out of the context of the macrocosm and as such any local observation has to fit in the systemic reality of the whole in order to be considered as valid. And any observation that does not fit with the vision of the whole has thus to be adapted and reconciled with the reality of the holistic system. Animism considered indeed that sooner or later the productions of local actions, that do not fit with the working of the holistic system, would be cleansed by the whole with all the consequences that this implies for the individuals, their societies and even for the species itself.
Out of consideration for future generations, and even more importantly out of concern for the future long term reproduction of the species, the animist men of knowledge considered that the local had to be fitting in the whole and so it became common knowledge that before implementing anything new it had to the tested thoroughly to see it is fitting or not in the whole. Black Elk1 summarized such a principle as the obligation of the tribe to take in consideration the impact of present actions upon the next 7 generations. Such a precautionary principle was perceived by traditional animist cultures as being a necessity in the management of human affairs. Unfortunately along the evolutionary path of power societies and more particularly along Modernity humanity forgot about the wisdom contained in such a far reaching vision and by the time of Late-Modernity the consequences of this shortsightedness are suddenly starting to impose themselves in the minds of most:
- human induced changes in climate and weather patterns – threaten business as usual in agricultural production – threaten the investments realized along the coastlines that will be submerged by elevating sea levels – threaten human health due to the absorption of very fine particulates and also the emergence of new pathogens and their eventual epidemic spreading – threaten to eradicate life on earth; a 6th mass extinction has indeed already set in that threatens the principle of life on earth and so on and on...
- we suddenly discover that the peaking of energy and other resources, or the probable collapse of the financial system, or any other side-effect of Modernity could lay to waste the whole of our hyper-complex societal systems within a matters of a few years which would unmistakably be followed by a rapid population decrease
- later on I’ll evoke the whole set of consequences that our past short-sightedness will eventually impose on life on earth. But it is the convergence of all these crises that appears most frightening.
In “Book 2. Volume 2. About Consciousness. 2.2.1. The primitive instinct. Discovering ourselves in a mirror” I mentioned that “the man of knowledge emerged as the group’s answer to satisfy the desire to maximize individual pleasure while minimizing individual pain”. Knowledge is indeed about the maximization of pleasure and the minimization of suffering for the individuals while simultaneously maximizing the chances of our species to perpetuate itself. If we concur with this assessment, one of the strongest guiding principle of biological evolution, we eventually come to the realization that the knowledge formation by a species must necessarily be organized at the societal level2.
The task of societies should thus be to generate the highest caliber knowledge about how we, as a species, fit into the whole universe. In practice such a knowledge is a societal affair that must necessarily distinguish between the pragmatic knowledge for the species to best fit inside the sub-system it lives in and the absolute knowledge of the whole universe that relates to the working of its own being as well as the working of its particles. Such a distinction has necessarily to rely on the collaboration of both the mind’s conscious as well as subconscious in order to enhance our level of awareness and in order to maximize our consciousness about:
- the relative knowledge the individuals have to master in order to be able to produce the best life conditions for themselves within the sub-set they live in
- the absolute knowledge the men of knowledge have to master in order to be able to guide their societies on a path of sustainability within the realm of the systemic reality of the whole universe
- the distinction between relative and absolute knowledge indicates a hierarchy. Relative knowledge helps the individuals to survive and eventually to thrive while absolute knowledge helps the species to survive and eventually to thrive. It is then the natural role of societies, as the 2nd polarity of species, to manage the best possible interrelation with the 1st polarity, the individuals, in order to substantiate these two forms at their highest qualitative level and in their most efficient interrelations 3.
Situating ourselves within our global context starts with observation, and the application of the scientific method to our observation, while confronting these observations with our subconscious visions. This confrontation will indeed force the integration of our conscious observation with our subconscious visions resulting in higher levels of conscious knowledge. And this, in turn, will help us gaining a better insight into the risks, pitfalls, and other difficulties that arise out of any deviation from the working of the systemic reality of the whole. Our subconscious visions are basically facilitating our ability to situate our local behaviors within an ever expanding realm of bigger and bigger sets till we reach the finite whole of U and this opens our vision to how our local beliefs, actions, and behaviors interact with the systemic reality of the whole. This is when we attain absolute wisdom or “sapience” in George Mobus’ lexicon4.
Sapience in George Mobus lexicon equals my definition of absolute knowledge. But we seem to part roads in our vision of how this substantiates. In Mobus’ vision sapience or absolute knowledge resides in the individual’s biology while in my personal vision it is a societal reality. “The superior sapients were the wisest men and women in the Late Pleistocene tribes. They were the ones who had the proclivity to think about the long-term, and think about the larger scale of the world, particularly about the surrounding tribes and their ‘personalities’. Strong or superior sapience appears to be rare in our species today. 5” As I stated Mobus and I seem to part roads but are we really? This quote suggests that instead of parting roads we each focus on a different aspect of a same reality. Consciousness, wisdom, or sapience is both a quality emerging out of a given development of our biology (brain) and out of given development of our society (knowledge formation and distribution). Mobus focuses on the brain, which without any doubt, is the necessary biological foundation on which the societal will eventually grow. I personally focus on the societal formation and distribution of knowledge which is the ultimate outcome that interests us here.
In my vision of societal knowledge formation and distribution the task at hand, for the men of knowledge, starts by comprehending how information is unconsciously produced inside the self of each individual. We know that such information is stored. But we don’t know for certain where it is stored. Is it stored inside the bodies of the individuals or outside of their bodies? The future will perhaps tell. Stored information is then being retrieved as the needs of brain or mind arise. Such a retrieval is being operated from the following sources:
- inheritance through the living experience of the individual: the brain registers our experiences, the causes and effects of these experiences, and stores these informations within the context of the brain or the nervous system. A small part of it is directly accessible to the conscious mind but the bulk of it is not. We know that it is nevertheless accessible to the brain for guiding our automatisms.
- inheritance from our biological memory: science
helped the conscious mind to become aware that life, as we know it, is
founded in DNA, RNA, and proteins which carry information that is
transmitted from one generation to the next. We are not readily conscious about this biological information transmission mechanism
but through learning about the discoveries of science in this
particular field we can eventually integrate this dimension into our
conscious mind and thinking.
Apart from this biological transmission of information from one generation to the next a fundamental question arises. Could the memory of our human biology also possibly be relating to information about the larger biological evolutionary path of the principle of life itself. In other words could the science of bioinformatics6 be expanding the realm of biological information – from decoding the biological character of the individuals – to the evolutionary path of the principle of life itself. If bioinformatics were given the chance to complete its mission, we would eventually gain knowings relating to the biological evolutionary path of the principle of life as it is stored in our biology. And these knowings would unmistakably drastically enhance our conscious thinking about life and how it fits into the larger context of the universe7. But we are still many years away from that day and our societies could well be wiped out by the systemic reality of our universe before bioinformatics completes its mission. But what I have in mind here is that, outside of our awareness, our biological memory guides a vast quantity of automatisms within the working of our ‘selves’… We know for a fact that our conscious mind has nearly no access to our biological memory. But what about our subconscious? Could it be that we are unconsciously driven, in part at least, by our biological memory? In “Book 2, Volume 5. About the Arts” I posit just that. In short I posit that every individual is under the influence of his biological memory that guides him to select these paths that are in accordance with the patterns that have been imprinted in the storage of his memory by the near infinity of successful biological mutations8 that life experienced along its 4 billion years of existence on earth. Not knowing about them our ancestors could not have named such successful patterns but being under their spell they named the feeling that spell impressed on them as being“beauty”.
- inheritance stored in the universal background: In 1950 Einstein wrote the following words to Robert S. Marcus, a man who had lost his young son to polio, "A
human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ —a part
limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and
feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical
delusion of his consciousness” 9.
This idea of the universal background has given rise to a number of hypothesis. Chief among these theories is Panpsychism but its attribution of mind to all things individualizes these things, at the image of Modernity, making them the subjects of experience whose emergence is then given as the result of an accidental convergence at the atomic level. How does this square with being part of the whole? Matter of fact it does not square at all! A more attractive approach is the animist vision of panpsychism that makes the universe itself the ultimate subject of experience. In such a holistic vision the universe as a whole is the ontological ultimate. It is prior to its parts and it is conscious and so the minds of its parts are grounded in the consciousness of the whole itself. A slew of derivatives of this theory have been proposed by scientists: Rupert Sheldrake’s “Morphogenetic Fields” 10 and David Bohm’s “implicate order” 11 come immediately to mind.
These three sources of the subconscious, as given here above, are supplying the brain and the mind with information. The brief description I gave of these sources suggest that the conscious aspect of our minds contains only a very small fraction of all the information that is stored in them12 and made accessible to our brains and minds. We know that the conscious mind contains some of the information that is necessary for the individual to ensure its daily survival. Most anything other than that is not directly available to the conscious mind. Such a recognition is essential. It is indeed what will determine our attitude towards knowledge acquisition and the importance of accessing the subconscious. The subconscious mind contains the bulk of the information supplied to the mind so the rejection, on ideological ground, of the subconscious is thus naturally going to greatly handicap our formation of knowledge.
In my personal approach to knowledge I view the conscious and the subconscious as being complementary. The conscious is the result of nature’s strategy to give us the essential and necessary information to build the knowledge required to survive in daily life which is being complemented by some automatisms powered by the subconscious. But the subconscious mostly relates to broader considerations having direct implications for the life of the species itself like – trying to find strategies and answers to quieten the anxiety, experienced by the individuals, resulting from the existential questions that assail us, – and trying to enhance societal cohesion so that societies can fulfill their primary task of ensuring the perpetuation of the species.
Tribal societies did a very decent job at quietening individual anxiety and as a result they succeeded to maximize the cohesion of the groups. And this is ultimately why they have perpetuated over such a long span of time. Power societies never attained this kind of success that tribes experienced. Empires had to exert raw violence in order to guarantee their reproduction and perpetuation over the generations. Modernity later tried to reason that violence by transforming it, in a religious kind of belief, in abstractions like the reason at work within capital and the reign of machines. First the reason at work within capital was elevated to the truth that procures material richness and later philosophic rationality was elevated to the truth that procures functional knowings about reality that can be used by capital to generate ever more profits.
But the fact of the matter is that Modernity, as our shared belief in these abstraction, has forced us in a one way street leading ultimately to the very demise of our human societies and perhaps even of human life. We are a few seconds only from extinction on the geological clock so I think that the time has come to let go of the ideologies that have imprisoned our minds. Before the clock calls the extinction of our species we must reconcile our conscious mind with its subconscious counterpart in order to let us rediscover what the ancients, as well as animals and plants, knew all along; that there is no escaping the fact that we are very small particles of the whole and that as such we have to find solace and happiness within the constrains set by the whole. This is something akin to life’s ultimate knowledge that, sized with hubris, humanity unfortunately discarded along the power phase of its societally driven path.
One could argue that, if humanity is effectively engaged in a “one way street leading to the very demise of the human species”, there is no point to think any further. The collapse of societies inevitably leads to the death of the individuals so why even bother to write about it ? Well... the only reason that we are alive is sufficient reason I think. We know for a fact that life is the most precious gift of the universe to its particles and so we experience this gift as being the summit of beauty. And because beauty procures happiness we cling desperately to the principle of life. Yes a happy life equates with beauty. And this is how we, small particles, suddenly re-discover that knowledge, not knowings, is the ultimate gift of life.
In Late-Modernity the absence of a worldview, or the narrative of a holistic knowledge to share with others and society at large, leaves us all like knowledge orphans. The understanding of the groups’ absolute need for a worldview is the reason why I feel so utterly compelled to write-think and paint. The essence of painting is indeed to illustrate the knowledge that is the foundation of the worldview. Without such knowledge painters are at a loss and run errant; no surprise here that confusion ensues. By confronting thinking and painting (conscious-subconscious) I hope to rediscover the kind of ultimate knowledge about life that gives access to the bliss of its absolute beauty. If the real thing happens to be out of my reach at the least I hope to gain an impression of it. This idea quietens my mind.
In the end it is life’s beauty that ultimately drives the man of knowledge’s search for ever more knowledge which forms the substance of worldviews. Beauty is about the form while knowledge is about the substance of what life is all about. As Tolstoy wrote13 form, or beauty, is the tactical principle that catches our attention and yes our attention must be caught in order to satisfy the strategy of life which is to share knowledge among the particles of the group in order to strengthen its cohesion which is the ultimate guarantor of the perpetuation of the species. Tolstoy’s thinking was about art but it also applies more broadly to life.
1 The men of knowledge were known throughout history to be individuals who were delegated the task of forming the knowledge of their societies. Their knowledge was meant to be synthesized into a holistic narrative to be shared with their fellow citizens. They also answered any of their questions (health, future,...) with pragmatic advise. These men of knowledge were:
- the shaman in tribal societies
- the priests in the empires of the TriContinentalArea & Europe
- the scholars or mandarins in imperial China
2 In “Black Elk Speaks as told through John G. Neihard”. University of Nebraska University. The precutionary principle that I allude to, as expressed by Black Elk, can be found in the words off numerous other thinkers. Here follow some of those:
- from an Iroquois Maxim dating circa 1700-1800: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”. Citation from “INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES. Traditional Knowledge & Education
- the necessity to measure the impact of present actions upon the next 7 generations has been documented in the movie " For the next 7 generations" which tells the story of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers from all around the world...
- see how this topic was approached by Chinese scholars in “Book 2. Volume 4. ‘Governance and societal evolution. 4.5.3. Conservation – change’ “.
3 For the distinction between absolute and relative knowledge see Book 2. Volume 1. Conclusions 1 and Conclusions 2 as well as Volume 2. 2.9. Lessons about the process of consciousness
4 “Sapience” in George Mobus’ presentation on the need for increased consciousness in order to save humanity from its hubris.
5 Citation from “The Evolution of Sapience” by George Mobus
6 Bioinformatics is the computer treatment of biological “big data” which is expected to deliver a better vision on patterns in the gigantic mass of data that are invisible to the human eye. It should thus be considered as a visualization methodology that gives access to reasoning abstractions at a deeper level than what is directly accessible to the human mind.
7 How does life fit in the universe? Science and rationality view life, on its own, as if it was the accidental result of a molecular process that assembles atoms of matter. In a set theory vision of reality life is viewed more like if it was one particular application that runs on the operating system of the universe. But what then could the function of life in the universe be? Could it be that life is what ultimately substantiates the universe? In such a case life would be what gives its directionality to the universe. Note that this hypothesis is no less sensical than the scientific hypothesis that makes atomic materialism the driver of all there is.
It is not my intention here to defend this idea of life’s directionality of the universe. I just mention this iconoclastic idea to give a sense of the sheer relativity of the scientific certainty about the atomistic materialism that founds its approach.
8 See “Book 2, Volume 5. About the Arts”. I posit that the near infinity of successful biological mutations, that led to life as we know it today, left an imprint of patterns in the information stored in our biology. Such patterns reflect beauty for the only reason that they represent the successful evolutionary moves that materialized in us being here today. On the other hand the unsuccessful evolutionary moves shape patterns reflecting ugliness. Because these patterns are ordering the storage of the information they naturally imprint their significance in our subconscious once information is retrieved and put to us. I know that this is not a scientific observation but more like a powerful intuition. Now the fact is that most scientific breakthroughs started with such kinds of intuitions...
9 See Nancy Rosenbaum’s search for this original quote.
10 Rupert Sheldrake is an innovating British biochemist and cell biologist who is also a severe critic of traditional science and rationalism. He was considered one of the brightest biochemists in the seventies but quit his cell differentiation research saying that biochemistry could not solve the problem of why things have the basic shape they do. His ideas are not accepted as mainstream science and they often provoke high pitched debates. I personally find that Sheldrake’s approach is a mind opener.
11 The concept of “implicate order” was proposed in the eighties by the theoretical physicist David Bohm. “The notion of implicate and explicate orders emphasizes the primacy of structure and process over individual objects. The latter are seen as mere approximations of an underlying process. In this approach, quantum particles and other objects are understood to have only a limited degree of stability and autonomy. Bohm believes that the weirdness of the behavior of quantum particles is caused by unobserved forces, maintaining that space and time might actually be derived from an even deeper level of objective reality. In the words of F. David Peat, Bohm considers that what we take for reality are "surface phenomena, explicate forms that have temporarily unfolded out of an underlying implicate order". That is, the implicate order is the ground from which reality emerges.” citation from Wikiwand.
12 The materialist approach gives the brain and the nervous system as the location where this storage of information takes place. But this is not something that ever has been demonstrated. There is indeed the possibility that some of the subconscious information used by our minds is being retrieved from outside of the body. Rupert Sheldrake’s “Morphogenetic Fields” and David Bohm’s “implicate order” both imply just that.
13 Leo Tolstoy “What is art?”. Translation and introduction by Aylmer Maude. Published by NEW YORK FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY. 1904. Free pdf at the Internet Archives.
Intelligence in Nature (2014) - Jeremy Narby, Ph.D.
Jeremy's speech at the 13th Annual International Bioethics Forum, "3.8 Billion Years of Wisdom: Exploring the Genius of Nature", held by the BTC Institute in Madison, WI on May 1-2, 2014.
Jeremy Narby - The Future of Biology
LSD - Problem Child and Wonder Drug. International Symposium on the Occasion of the 100th Birthday
of Albert Hofmann. Sunday, 15 January 2006 in Basel
The Cosmic Serpent. Jeremy Narby. Free 123 pages pdf.
Presentation in Wikipedia:
"The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge is a 1998 non-fiction book by Jeremy Narby. Narby performed two years of field work in the Pichis Valley of the Peruvian Amazon researching the ecology of the Ashaninka, an indigenous people in Peru.
Investigating the connections between shamanism and molecular biology, Narby hypothesizes that shamans may be able to access information at the molecular level through the ingestion of entheogens, specifically ayahuasca. Biophysicist Jacques Dubochet criticized Narby for not testing his hypothesis with enough depth. Narby and three molecular biologists the revisited the Peruvian Amazon to try to test the hypothesis at a deeper level, and their work is featured in the documentary film, Night of the Liana." and in Narby's 2006 follow-up book "Intelligence in nature".