THE PRIMORDIAL LEAP AND THE PRESENT: THE EVER-PRESENT ORIGIN - AN OVERVIEW
OF THE WORK OF JEAN GEBSER
by Ed Mahood, jr.
The German author Jean Paul Ricther once wrote, "What has puzzled us
before seem less mysterious, and the crooked paths look straighter as we
approach the end." This seems a fitting motto for our investigations
into one of the least understood areas of human knowledge: consciousness.
There has been a great wave of interest in this area in recent years, but
it is clear that as much as has been accomplished all the more there is
yet to do.
Before anything else, we need to come terms with the word itself, not in
any final sense, but as a first approach to the matter. What is consciousness?
Is it our emotions, our intelligence? Is is equivalent to the term 'mind'
or 'spirit' or 'gnosis'? Does it have anything in common with these terms?
Is it a separate and distinct phenomenon or is it embedded in nature and
experience (whatever these may be)? When we discover what it is, will we
really recognize it? The choice of starting point will seriously impact
where we arrive in the end.
Our purpose here is to become acquainted with Jean Gebser's seminal work,
The Ever- Present Origin . To this end, it would be helpful at
the onset to gain a little background on Gebser's life and work, which,
in turn, should help us overcome the intellectual inertia present is such
a task. This brief paper, then, is comprised of several parts: first, a
quick biographical sketch of the author; second, a summary introduction
to the work, focusing on Gebser's approach, third a closer look at each
of the structures in exemplary detail; fourth the introduction of two key
notions for understanding Gebser's work, systasis and synairesis; then,
finally, a brief summary.
Jean Gebser was born August 20, 1905 in the Prussian town of Poznan (which
is now a part of Poland). His lineage dates back through an old Franconian
family that had been domiciled in Thuringa since 1236. His uncle was the
German Chancellor von Bethmann- Hollweg and on his mother's side he was
a descendent of Luther's friend Melanchthon. He came into this world at
an auspicious time to be sure. Five years earlier, Freud had published his
groundbreaking work, The Interpretation of Dreams, that was to form
the foundations of psychoanalysis and change the course of the study of
psychology. In the very year of his birth, Albert Einstein published his
special theory of relativity that was to have a significant impact on Gebser's
thinking as well as on the world of science as a whole. Max Planck, the
great German physicist was promulgating his quantum theory; and Edmund Husserl,
a then unknown Austrian philosopher, published his Logical Investigations
which were to become the foundation of one of the most influential schools
of philosophic thought in the 20th century, namely phenomenology. This was
also a time of a great occult revival as well, for the primary rosicrucian
organizations that are still operating in the United States, for example,
were incorporated around this time as well.
Gebser's father was a lawyer of some renown; his mother a whimsical, self-seeking
beauty many years younger than her husband. He grew up, then, in an educated
and cultured environment. Difficulties between his parents drove him inward
and he instinctively turned toward literature as his medium of discovery;
this was especially true after his father's death in 1922. Being forced
to interrupt his studies upon his father's death, he spent two years in
an apprenticeship in a bank, a task that he disliked severely. A year after
beginning this training, however, he and a friend started at literary magazine
called the Fischzug, where his first poems were published. In Berlin
at the time, and at least a part-time student, he listened to many of the
renowned faculty teaching at the university there. Among these was the Catholic
philosopher Romano Guardini whose depth of knowledge and spirituality left
an indelible impression upon Gebser. During this time he also discovered
the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke which had a tremendous impact on his thinking.
It was during his Berlin years, however, that he first confronted suicidal
despair and the realization that he must venture out into the world in order
to find himself. The appearance of the first Brown Shirts in Munich provided
him with the reason he needed to leave Germany.
The first stop on his journey was Florence, where he worked for a while
in a second-hand bookstore. It was here that he came to the realization
that all the books he read had never taught him how to live, hence he began
a more active quest toward fulfillment. He tried Germany again, but bade
it a final farewell in the Spring of 1931, first going to Paris and then
on to Southern France. It was here that he changed his German first name
"Hans" to the French "Jean." Following the footsteps
of Rilke, Gebser moved to Spain. He managed to learn the language and obtain
a position in the Ministry of Education, in fact, and made friends with
many prominent Spaniards, among them Federico Garcia Lorca. Gebser also
published a volume of translations of some of these newer Spanish poets.
It was in Spain that Gebser first conceived of the ideas that would later
take form in his works, Decline and Participation and, of course,
The Ever-Present Origin. Shortly before his home in Madrid was bombed
in 1936, he managed to flee from Spain. Gebser settled in Paris and made
the acquaintances of many of the notable French artists and intelligentsia
of the day, including Pablo Picasso. He was involved in writing and literature
for the most part, translating Hölderlin's poetry into Spanish and
some of his Spanish friends' political essays into German; he also produced
some of his more minor works. Two hours before the Germans sealed off the
borders to France, Gebser again managed to flee, this time to Switzerland,
where he would reside from then on. These years were the most productive
for Gebser, although life still was not easy for him. He supported himself
by freelance writing for the most part, but it was in Basel that he befriended
Carl Gustav Jung, at whose institute he also taught for many years. In 1949/1950,
his efforts culminated in the publishing of The Ever-Present Origin,
his most profound statement regarding the unfoldment of consciousness in
man. Throughout all of Gebser's writings we find him wrestling with this
subject, trying to find real answers to the important questions in life,
such as "Who am I?," "Where do I come from?" and "Where
am I going?" This work is an answer to all these questions on behalf
of us all. During the remainder of his life, Gebser taught, traveled, wrote
and lectured. Each subsequent publication elucidated and illuminated various
aspects of his most fundamental theme, the evolution of consciousness. He
had come into his own and enjoyed a certain, yet modest, renown for his
work. On May 14, 1973, Jean Gebser passed through transition, as Feuerstein
describes it, "as his death mask bears witness, with a soft and knowing
Ancient mythology informs us that the destruction of worlds is accompanied
by catastrophic circumstances. Wherever we look today we see evidence of
impending catastrophe. Would it be wise to deduce quickly then that our
world is coming to an end? Maybe, maybe not. We definitely know that something
significant is impending. Many of us feel it, we intuit it; and we are seeking
confirmation for this working hypothesis. But where can we find it?
Certain support for this notion of earth-shattering change can be found
in the works of Jean Gebser, so it is here that I should like to devote
our attention in this presentation. Gebser is not a psychologist, economist,
or scientist, in a more narrow sense, but is perhaps best characterized
by the concept of Kulturphilosoph, a German term that literally means
"cultural philosopher." A student of literature, poetry, psychology
and science, Gebser brings a unique combination of talents to bear upon
the subject of his investigation: the unfoldment of consciousness. By better
understanding the forces that are at work and our own role in this process,
we can better hope to rise to the challenges that confront us so that our
world truly becomes "the best of all possible worlds." The fundamental
premise of Gebser's work is that we are on the threshold of a new structure
of consciousness. Overall, Gebser describes four mutations, or evolutional
surges, of consciousness that have occurred in the history of man. These
mutations are not just changes of perspective, they are not simple paradigm
shifts (although the word simple may seem inappropriate at this point);
rather they are fundamentally different ways of experiencing reality. These
four mutations reflect five separate eras of development that are not distinct
and isolated from one another but are, instead, interconnected such that
all previous stages are found in subsequent ones. Each of these stages is
associated with a dimensionality, beginning with the geometric origin of
zero and progressing to the fourth, the transition which we are experiencing
at this time. Gebser identifies these five phases as the Archaic, Magical,
Mythical, Mental, and Integral stages respectively.
Another key element of Gebser's theory encompasses two fundamental concepts:
latency and transparency. The former deals with what is concealed; as Gebser
describes it, latency is the demonstrable presence of the future. In
this manner the seeds of all subsequent phases of evolution are contained
in the current one. It is on the basis of this aspect that integration takes
place. The second term transparency deals with what is revealed. According
to Gebser, transparency (diaphaneity) is the form of manifestation (epiphany)
of the spiritual. This is perhaps the most important statement he makes.
The origin, the source from which all springs, is a spiritual one, and all
phases of consciousness evolution are a testimony to the ever less latent
and ever more transparent spirituality that is inherent in all that is.
Without a recognition of this fundamental and pivotal idea, Gebser cannot
be understood and we will not be able to understand ourselves. It is not
just an intellectual development that is being described in his theory,
rather it is the ever more apparent manifestation of the spiritual that
underlies and supports the concept of evolution itself. And finally, one
further element must be mentioned. The manifestation of these structures
occurs in a quantum-like, discontinuous leap, not in a slowly developing
and changing framework as is postulated for Darwinian evolutionary theory,
for example. There are overlaps in these structures in as far as different
peoples and cultures may be manifesting different structures at the same
time, but a clear development can be recognized and it is to be expected
that all cultures will eventually go through the same process.
It would seem, then, that we are dealing with a kind of historical description
of a linearly unfolding schema, but this would be a grave misinterpretation
of his thesis and it does injustice to his approach. At first blush it would
appear that Gebser is approaching his subject as we would expect any historian
to proceed, but it must be emphasized that Gebser's approach is quite deductive.
We are presented at the very beginning with the model; later we are taken
step-by-step through the 'evidence' which he believes supports the claim.
Consequently, we find a number of historical, archaeological, and philological
arguments presented that are not necessarily in keeping with generally agreed-upon
theories in these disciplines. At times, these appear quite creative but
this is most often a result of reading Gebser in a strictly intellectual
and analytical manner. This is not to say that he should be approached uncritically,
for he should be, yet the text itself is not a logical argumentation as
one would expect to find, let us say, in a philosophical treatise. In accordance
with his own model, he attempts to make of his book an example of the type
of thinking one would encounter in the Integral structure of consciousness.
It is not reasoned in a linear manner; in fact, the book would probably
have been better suited to a hypertextual presentation. It would be some
years, however, before this form of document would be developed so we are
forced to deal with a non-traditional approach to a broader than usual subject
that has been forced into a well-known and familiar medium: the book. Failure
to recognize this idiosyncrasy can cause the reader untold difficulties
from the beginning.
The consequences: A closer look
We should refine this general presentation, of course, and take a closer
look, now at each of these structures, in turn. In this way we can perhaps
come closer to an understanding of consciousness in general, but of Gebser's
approach in particular.
The Archaic structure of consciousness
The Archaic structure of consciousness is perhaps the most difficult to
understand, for it is the one most removed from our present-day way of thinking.
Stated succinctly, it can be likened to zero dimensional mentation, a world
devoid of any perspectivity at all. It is a stated in which the holder of
consciousness is perhaps only minimally aware of himself or his relationship
to the world around him. According to Feuerstein, this structure denotes
"a consciousness of maximum latency and minimum transparency."
The term "archaic" as used here is derived from the Greek arce,
meaning inception, or origin. Origin (or Ursprung, in the original
German) is the source from which all springs, but it is that which springs
forth itself. It is the essence which is behind and which underlies consciousness.
As Gebser understands the term, "conscious is neither knowledge nor
conscience but must be understood for the time being in the broadest sense
as wakeful presence." This presence, or being present, excludes
two further overpowering by the past (past-orientation) or any future-oriented
finality. He writes:
<Q>It is our task to presentiate the past in ourselves, not to lose
the present to the transient power of the past. This we can achieve by recognizing
the balancing power of the latent "future" with its character
of the present, which is to say, its potentiality for consciousness.
At the origin, there is not past to overwhelm and the future is complete
potentiality. Consequently, that which we understand to intuit consciousness
to be is qualitatively different from this original structure. What hampers
any investigation into it is the fact that we have no records, no written
testimony, regarding it. It is a state that is swallowed by the primal shadows
of a far-distant past. It is referred to in myths and legends, but these
references are of a much later time. About all we can say in this regard
is that within the Archaic structure the consciousness is quite undifferentiated;
it is just there, and things just happen. Man is still unquestionably part
of the whole of the universe in which he finds himself. The process of individuation
of consciousness, in any sense of the word, has not taken place. This type
of consciousness "can be likened to a dimly lit mist devoid of shadows."
This is not consciousness in any sense that we understand it today. Instead,
it can be likened to a state of deep sleep; one that eludes the specification
of particularity or uniqueness.
The Magic structure of consciousness
Around some unspecified time far back in our past, a change took place.
Man entered into a second phase of development and gained a new structure
of consciousness, the Magical structure. This structure is characterized
by five primary characteristics: (1) its egolessness, (2) its spacelessness
and timelessness, (3) its pointlike-unitary world, (4) its interweaving
with nature, and (5) its magical reaction to the world. A rudimentary
self- sense was emerging and language is the real product of this change.
Words as vehicles of power are typical of this time and structure; incantations
as precursors to prayer emerged. Consciousness, in this phase, is characterized
by man's intimate association with nature.
This is perhaps the most notable characteristic regarding this structure.
Man, at this time, does not really distinguish himself apart from nature.
He is a part of all that surrounds him; in the earliest stages it is hard
to conceive that he views himself apart from his environment. The plants,
animals and other elements of his surroundings share the same fate as he
does; they experience in a similar manner. Latency is still dominant; little
is transparent. Magic we can define in agreement with Gustav Meyrink as
doing without knowing, and it is magic man who is engaged in this activity
in all aspects of his existence. The hunting and gathering, the quest for
survival are all activities that consume most of his waking hours. But in
the quiet of the evening around the fire; there is time for reflection of
sorts. The activities of the day were codified (in speech) and recounted.
Memory was collective, tribal, and all things were shared and experienced
by all. The "I" is not a factor; the "we" is dominant.
This is a one-dimensional, pre-perspectival, point-like existence that occurs
in a dream- like state. Unlike the dreamlessness of the previous structure,
a recognition is developing in man that he is something different from that
around him. Not fully awake to who he is or what his role in the world is,
man is recognizing his self as an entity. The forms of expression for this
structure can be found in the art and other artifacts that have been recovered
from this time. Graven images and idols are what first come to mind. However,
ritual should also be considered here, for it is in the specific and directed
execution of certain actions and gestures that conveys much about this consciousness
structure. Feuerstein feels that this structure persisted till around 40,000
BC and the advent of the Cro-Magnons.
Another feature of this structure that we should bring to mind is its spacelessness
and timelessness. The idea that space and time are illusions derives from
this stage in our development as human beings. The fact that this is one
of the first lessons one learns when embarking upon the esoteric path is
further evidence of this idea. To Magic Man, closely linked as he is with
others of like mind, space and time need not concern him. In fact, I am
not convinced that he would understand them anyway, for there is no need
that he do so. Magic, however, is very much alive today, and it comes as
no surprise (nor should it be) that there is such a strong interest in magic
today. It seems that the fast growing branches of occult study seem to be
Wicca (overlayed as it is with feminism) and similar earth magic(k) studies.
What is more, it is the most vital and emotional of all structures. We live
in very decisive times, potentially catastrophic times. This is a time when
emotion rises near the surface of our consciousness and it is here that
magic manifests itself. The proliferation of stories and films dealing with
Voodoo and similar matters (e.g. The Serpent and the Rainbow) further
substantiate our claim. Yet, this is not the only structure that seems to
be making a comeback these days.
The Mythical structure of consciousness
With the advent of the Cro-Magnons, man became a tool-making individual,
also one who formed into larger social structures. As Feuerstein points
out, it is clear from the archaeological finds that the Cro-Magnons had
evolved a symbolic universe that was religious and shamanistic. Part of
this appears to have been a keen interest in calendric reckoning, and with
it we may presume the existence of a fairly complex mythology. This
structure can be considered two-dimensional since it is characterized by
fundamental polarities. Word was the reflector of inner silence; myth was
the reflector of the soul. Religion appears as the interaction between
memory and feeling. Man is beginning to recognize himself as opposed
to others. The next 30,000 odd years or so spent developing these various
mythologies. Language is becoming ever more important, it will be noted,
and not only receptive, but active, language at that. Not the ear, but the
mouth is important in making transparent what is involved in being and life.
The mouth now becomes the spiritual organ. We witness, as well, the initial
concretization of the "I" of man.
Many myths deal explicitly with man's (unperspectival) separation from nature.
Witness the story of the Fall in Genesis (and its admonition to go forth
and dominate nature); and the myth of Prometheus and the giving of fire
to man. These both indicate a strong awareness of man's differentness from
nature. Man is coming into his own, although he is anything but independent
of it. One could characterize this as a two-dimensional understanding of
the world. Within the circle of believers is where the important acts of
life take place. The mere forces of nature have a beingness, often anthropomorphized,
but a beingness nevertheless. Myth, then, or the mythologeme is the primary
form of expression of this period. Subsets of this basic form would be the
gods, symbols and mysteries. These figures provide the emerging consciousness
with imaginative images around which to center man's knowledge and understanding
of the world. If the Magic structure of consciousness is the emotional aspect,
then the Mythical structure is the imaginative one. It is this fact that
makes mythology so difficult for us as moderns to deal with. The plethora
of images (gods) and the seeming inconsistent pantheons of deities brings
the rational mind quickly to confusion. Who can keep track of all these
figures, their meanings, their correspondences and their associations. This
is the time of the dream.
Up until this time, that is in the magical structure of consciousness, souls
and afterlives were not of great importance (at least we do not find a lot
of evidence thereof). Yet in the fully developed mythical consciousness,
this is important. The entire civilization of Egypt, as we know it, revolved
around this very issue. When we are told, then, in certain rosicrucian documents
that we must descend into Egypt, we are being told that we must regain,
not revert to, our mythical heritage.
Mouths begin to play a more important role. Not only is the shaman and wise
person of the tribe a repository of wisdom, others, the poets, such as Homer,
begin to play a more important role in the culture. This does not really
begin to happen until the mythical structure of consciousness, however.
The "I" of man is not yet fully developed, to be sure, but it
has developed to that point that it recognizes and demands a separation
from nature, from its environment. We can take this as evidence of an increasing
crystallization of the ego. We are on the way to selfhood.
Of course, mythology is very much alive today. This explains the popularity
of Joseph Campbell and his work on myth. It explains the appeal that Robert
Bly and his "Gathering of Men" workshops have. What both Campbell
and Bly do is tell stories: imaginative, intuitively understood stories
that reveal to us things that our current rational mode of thinking prohibits
us from knowing. We have much to learn from myth, however, and should be
ever aware of its influences.
The Mental structure of consciousness
The next shift in consciousness took place between 10,000 B.C. and 500 B.C.
This was the transition to the Mental structure of consciousness. It was
at this time that man, to use Gebser's image, stepped out of the mythical
circle (two-dimensional) into three- dimensional space. Mythology had become
so deficient (and it should be noted that each structure has its "efficient"
as well as "deficient" form), that man needed a clean break with
the past. The plethora of gods and contradictory stories of creation, formation
of institutions, and so on threatened to overwhelm the consciousness of
man; he practi- cally stood on the verge of drowning in a deluge of mythological
mentation. In reaction to this, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and of course,
Pythagoras stepped forth to counteract this trend. The mental structure
was inaugurated and this coincides with the "discovery" of "causality,"
Abstraction becomes a key word to describe mental activity and we find man
using his mind to overcome and "master" the world around him.
With abstraction comes philosophizing, hence the philosopheme is the primary
form of expression. Monotheism almost universally replaces the plethora
of gods of bygone days; dogma, in both allegory and creed, replaces the
symbols of previous times; method replaces the mysteries as man develops
an ever-increasing desire to penetrate, and, of course, master nature. This
has given rise to the idea of science as the dominant religion of today.
Also at this time, time itself was conceptualized (spatialized) as an "arrow"
that points from the past to the future by way of the present.
About the time of the Renaissance, man came into his own and really mastered
space. It was at this time that perspective was actually introduced into
art. Since that time, perspective has come to be a major part and aspect
of our mental functioning. Perspective is the life blood of reasoning and
the Rational structure of consciousness, which Gebser considers to be only
a deficient form of the Mental structure. What we have is the full development
of the ego and its related centeredness. We conceive things, events and
phenomena in terms of our own perspectives, often at the expense of others.
The eye, it will be seen (and the last of the openings in the head), becomes
the spiritual organ representative of this structure. Our language, our
entire imagery and dominant metaphor takes on visual, spatial character.
Space is finally overcome, in the true sense of the word. With the supercession
of space, man finally accomplishes his egoistic, individual separation from
nature. In this concretization of the "I," we become very aware
of our existence, of our beingness, of our individuality. And so it should
be. But in a deficient mode, the outcomes, of course, are loneliness, isolation,
and alienation, which are so characteristic of our own American culture.
In fact, our current materialistic approach to understanding reality is
perhaps the final stage of this structure. There is also much everyday evidence
to indicate that we are moving through a great change at this time.
We should remember, however, that this is also the time of philosophy. The
mental ordering and systematization of thought becomes the real dominant
mode of expression. The myths have lost their vibrancy and existential connection
to reality. Greek thought followed later by the Scholastics and finally
the Enlightenment are all periods in which this particular structure of
consciousness flourishes and strongly manifests. It is not without its opposition,
of course, since any change will bring about the requisite opposition to
its own development. By the time of the Renaissance, though, this structure
had firmly established itself and was prepared to move into the next phase
of its development. At this time, as was pointed out earlier, a very profound
and significant event occurred: man incorporated space into his thought.
We cannot underestimate, or overstate, the importance of this development.
It is literally at this time that the world begins to shrink. The seeds
of our one world community are planted at this time. The ripples begun during
the magical structure are widening significantly: first spirit, then soul,
now space have become constituents of man's consciousness. Three dimensions
have been established and we are prepared for the next significant step
we are taking now.
The Integral Structure of Consciousness
As can be guessed, then, Gebser feels that we are on the threshold of a
new structure of consciousness, namely the Integral. For Gebser, this structure
integrates those which have come before and enable the human mind to transcend
the limitations of three- dimensionality. A fourth dimension, time, if you
will, is added. This integration is not simply a union of seemingly disparate
opposites, rather it is the "irruption of qualitative time into our
consciousness." The supercession of time is a theme that will play
an extremely important role in this structure. In fact, the ideas of arationality
(as opposed to the rationality of the current structure), aperspectivity
(as opposed to the perspective, spatially determined mentation of the current
structure), and diaphaneity (the transparent recognition of the whole, not
just parts) are significant characteristics of this new structure. Stated
differently, the tensions and relations between things are more important,
at times, than the things themselves; how the relationships develop over
time takes precedence to the mere fact that a relationship exists. It will
be this structure of consciousness that will enable us to overcome the dualism
of the mental structure and actually participate in the transparency of
self and life. This fourth structure toward which we are moving is one of
minimum latency and maximum transparency; diaphaneity is one of its hallmarks.
Transparency is not a "not seeing" as one does not see the pane
of glass though which one looks out a window, rather one sees through things
and perceives their true nature. Statements about truth are superseded by
statements as truth. Verition not description is what we experience and
know. Philosophy is replaced by eteology; that is, the eteon, or
This structure is difficult to describe since it depends to a great deal
on experience, not just that we have them, but on how intense they are and
what we glean from them for now and the future. Intensity is a key characteristic
of this mode of consciousness. By intensity, I do not mean simply an emotional
relationship to experience or the feeling or deepening of emotion itself.
This would be a magical response not an integral one. Perhaps it would be
best to review a few examples of what is meant by fourth dimensionality,
arationality and aperspectivity.
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.
Each structure has had its "method" even if it was not characterized
as such. Magic and the ritualistic invocation of other powers is a method,
whether we recognize it as such or not. Visualization and mystical contemplation
is also a method of knowledge acquisition and it served a useful and valuable
purpose at one point in our development. In the transition from Mythical
to Mental, however, a rejection of previous method arose, particularly in
our now deficient, Rational structure. This was part of a natural process,
I believe, for the rational cannot tolerate anything other than itself.
This in no way negates the value of the mental approach for the scientific
method has proven to be a very useful, albeit limited, way to garner knowledge.
But, just as the scientific method became the predominant means of acquiring
and evaluating knowledge in the Mental structure of consciousness, a new
structure demands a new method. This is the dynamic aspect, then, of Gebser's
approach. Two notions characterize this methodology and both are newly coined
terms: systasis and synairesis, and it is upon these that we will focus
our attention in this section.
Systasis and Synairesis
It is difficult to separate these concepts for they are intimately related
to one another. What is more, such an artificial separation is indicative
of a mental-rational approach, to which we are trying not to fall prey.
It should be remembered that the analytical separation demanded of this
approach ultimately ends in death, and it is life, the birth of a new method,
that we seek. The method which Gebser describes is predicated on the idea
of the eteologeme which was introduced earlier. It is this "being-in-truth"
which lies at the heart of his approach. Up until now, particularly within
the scientific community, the necessary, sometimes forceful, separation
of subject and object has been required. It is this dualism that must be
transcended if we are to arrive at a more comprehensive, intensive understanding
of the world around us and ourselves. Consequently, Gebser's approach should
not be considered the building of a system in our current understanding
of the term, for such would also be a product of a three-dimensional mentality.
But, the question arises, "What lies beyond system?" And to answer
this particular question, Gebser coins a neologism to describe his approach,
namely systasis, which he defines as, if you will, "the conjoining
or fitting together of parts into integrality," "a process
whereby partials merge or are merged with the whole." This is a
subtle and difficult concept to understand completely and in all its ramifications.
It has in common with system building that the end result is a greater or
better comprehension than at the outset of the process. System, however,
deals always with parts, not with the whole. Also, system deals primarily
with the product rather than the process. Gebser goes on:
[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,
Or as Feuerstein phrases it, "Systasis, in contrast to systematization,
deals with the proper 'arrangement' of intensities (rather than quantified
What, then (to express it in mental rational terms), is the aim of this
method. We have spoken of increased understanding, of more complete comprehension,
but these are only approximations. It is here that Gebser introduces the
second of this important pair of notions, namely synairesis "which
is an integral understanding, or perception, of reality." More
specifically, Gebser notes,
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." 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.
The synairesis which systasis makes possible integrates phenomena,
freeing us in the
diaphany of "a-waring" or perceiving truth from space and time.
This freedom from space and time is an important notion in Gebser's entire
approach, not just in his method. It will be remembered that one of the
key features of this approach is its incorporation of the notions of latency
and transparency. What has passed is not dropped and forgotten (although
this is what the mental-rational structure of consciousness tempts us to
do), rather it is incorporated into our mentation as effective elements
thereof. As Feuerstein has pointed out, "it is this insight into the
continuing presence and efficacy of the past that distinguishes Gebser's
model of the unfolding of human consciousness from other similar attempts."
I would hasten to add that it is the equal efficacy of the future that rounds
out and completes Gebser's poignant insight. Feuerstein writes,
And that [synairetic] perception, or "verition," occurs
on the basis of the integration of archaic presentiment, magical attunement
(or what Gebser calls "symbiosis"), mythical symbolization, and
mental-rational systematization in the integrative act of arational systasis.
Here it is important to remember that all structures are co-present (and
co- active) in us and hence need not be invoked through historical imagination.
Not being bound by merely past or future is a theme that has permeated
much of our discussion of Gebser thus far. This time- and space-free approach
introduces a further dimension to our ability to perceive and state:
By introducing systasis into simple methodology, we are able to evince
a new "method" which is not longer three-dimensional. This new
method is four-dimensional diaphany; in this what is merely conceivable
and comprehensible becomes transparent. Diaphany is based on synairesis,
on the eteological completion of systasis and system to an integral whole,
for integrality is only possible where "temporal" elements and
spatial magnitudes are brought together synairetically. The concept which
makes possible the "comprehension" or, more exactly, the perception
of the "temporal elements" is that of systasis. If we also take
into account the systatic concepts, the mere methodology of systems is intensified
to synairetic diaphany; and this must be achieved unless we are to remain
caught in the three-dimensional scheme of thought.
In its supercession of three-dimensionality, Gebser's method firmly
entrenches the observer in the process of perception and "waring."
This grounding, if you will, is described by Gebser through the term "concretion,"
"the integrative act by which otherwise merely abstract proposition
are anchored in actual life." Consequently, this approach is immanently
practical, yet does not fall prey to the weaknesses of pragmatism, namely
its relativism and short-term expediency. It demands that the observer be
as aware of his own role in the process as being aware of the process, and
its results themselves.
The integrator, then, is compelled to have not only concretized the appearances,
be they material or mental, but also to have been able to concretize his
own structure. This means that the various structures that constitute him
must have become transparent and conscious to him; it also means that he
has perceived their effect on his life and destiny, and mastered the deficient
components by his insight so that they acquire the degree of maturity and
equilibrium necessary for any concretion. Only those components that are
in this way themselves balanced, matured, and mastered concretions can effect
The means of knowing and knowledge itself become integral aspects of Gebser's
methodological approach. The mere illumination of what was not previously
known and understood, that is philosophy, must then yield to eteology, or
being-in-truth. "The Greek word eteos means 'true, real'; as an adverb,
eteon means 'in accord with truth, truly, really' and comes from the root
se:es, meaning "to be."
It is the comprehensiveness of this term that has brought us to choose it
as the prime means of describing Gebser's approach. The new structure of
consciousness to which we are transitioning demands new means, new processes,
and new methods. It should be repeated that this ushering in of the new
in no way indicates or dictates a discarding of what has come before, far
from it. We must keep in mind that it is the activity and presence of the
past that distinguishes Gebser's approach from others. Supercession does
not mean invalidating; replacement in this context intimates an intensification
rather than a nullification. Nevertheless, the inevitability of this transition
should be recognized as well. This particular term best illustrates this
new way of understanding. Eteology is then a new form of statement. But
it should be noted:
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."
We can see, then, that this approach places great demands upon us all. It
is not sufficient to merely describe or approximate, rather we are required
to show what is in its fullest essence. This has, I believe, far-reaching
ramifications for science and its allocation of recognition and funding.
The actual contribution of knowledge, its freedom from the constraints imposed
upon the researcher due to fiscal, economic, academic or political reasons
must all be let go in favor of a direct, revelation of truth. This will
not be an easy task for many, especially those who are bound to what is
"right" as opposed to what is "true." We see this reflected
in all aspects of our societal lives. Eteology is an approach of liberation.
It will be noted that we have not attempted a systematization of criteria
and measures that are to be used in our subsequent evaluations. This would
be out of step with the free-form nature of the approach described thus
far. Yet Gebser does not leave us without assistance in this regard. He
provides a list of key terms that will assist in identifying the themes
and motifs of the aperspectival world, and these are:
the spiritual (the diaphainon),
the supercession of the ego,
the realization of timelessness,
the realization of temporicity,
the realization of the concept of time,
the realization of time-freedom (the achronon),
the disruption of the merely systematic,
the incursion of dynamics,
the recognition of energy,
the mastery of movement,
the fourth dimension,
the supercession of patriarchy,
the renunciation of dominance and power,
the acquisition of intensity,
clarity (instead of mere wakefulness),
and the transformation of the creative inceptual basis.
The focus here has been Gebser's approach to understanding the unfoldment
of human consciousness. The first part dealt exclusively with the model
examining each of Gebser's structures of consciousness in turn: the Archaic,
Magical, Mythical, Mental, and Integral. We saw the Archaic structure could
best be described as a zero- dimensional, non-perspectival world which could
be likened to a state of deep sleep. It was characterized by non-differentiation
and the total absence of any sense of separation from the environment. This
was a world of identity between self and surroundings; not a world in which
we could speak of consciousness in any terms that would be meaningful to
our modern understanding of the term. By contrast, the Magical structure
was characterized by a certain separateness, but not a total separation
by any means. Dimensionally this could be described as one-dimensional;
a pre-perspectival state of timelessness and spacelessness. It was likened
to a state of sleep. Magic man was much a part of his environment, to be
sure, and felt secure only within his group, his tribe or clan. It was the
transition from the Archaic to Magic structure of consciousness that has
probably been mythologically captured in the story of the "Fall of
Man." The clothing of knowledge in myth is what characterized the transition
to the Mythical structure of consciousness, the two-dimensional, unperspectival
state of consciousness that can best be likened to a dream. Imagination
and attunement with natural rhythms became important factors in man's life.
The separation begun in the Magic structure reaches a tensional climax in
the Mythical. This structure is superseded by the Mental structure, whose
appearance coincides with the rise of Greek civilization. In this regard,
it can be seen that modern thought disregards a good deal of mankind's history,
for it is to the Greeks that we most often trace our intellectual roots.
By comparison, the Mental structure of consciousness is a three-dimensional,
perspectival world that we described with the term wakefulness. The polar
tensions of mythology are replaced by the analytical separation of duality
and opposition. Thinking is primary, and in its latter phase rational thinking
is primary. But this structure, too, is yielding to a final mutation which
Gebser identifies as the Integral structure of consciousness. This is described
as a four-dimensional, aperspectival world of transparency. This is a time-free,
space-free, subject- and object-free world of verition.
Finally, we examined the methodological aspects of Gebser's approach. Here,
three fundamental notions were involved: systasis, synairesis, and eteology.
The first term, systasis, best describes Gebser's approach. It was seen
that systasis goes beyond mere synthesis, which is a mental-rational concept,
to achieve a total integration of all parts simultaneously. Synairesis was
the means of achieving the end just described. It emphasized the how of
such total grasping, namely by the mind or spirit. It is synairesis that
enables us to achieve the transparency that is indicative of the Integral
structure of consciousness. Finally, eteology replaces philosophy as the
way of knowing and acquiring knowledge. Eteology becomes the statement of
truth in lieu of the philosophical statement about truth. We saw that this
approach goes beyond the limitations of space- and time-perception to a
complete and liberating understanding of the whole. It should be noted that
this transition is in process; it is not yet a completed act.
 Jean Gebser, The Ever-present origin (Authorized translation
by Noel Barstad with Algis Mikunas. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1986).
 Georg Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness: The genius of Jean
Gebser ­p; An introduction and critique. (Lower Lake, CA: Integral
Publishing, 1987), p. 32.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 6.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 6.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 51.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 42.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 43.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 57.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 61.
 Gustav Meyrink, Der Engel vom westlichen Fenster(Bremen: Schuenemann,
p. 426, as quoted in Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 60.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 75.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 79.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, pp. 87f.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 98.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 130.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 309.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 310.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 292, Note 4; see also Feuerstein,
Consciousness, p. 194.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 310.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 194.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, pp. 194-195.
 Menge-Güthling, Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch(Berlin:
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 312, Note 5.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 311.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 192.
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 195.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 334. It is also interesting
to note that Arthur Young
develops his Geometry of meaning (Mill Valley, CA: Richard Briggs,
1976) on an increase of dimensionality as well. Although approaching the
matter from quite
different perspectives, their conclusions are remarkably similary in many
notion of dimensionality, therefore, may be more fundamental than we generally
 Feuerstein, Structures of consciousness, p. 198.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 99.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 312, Note 4.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, p. 309.
 Gebser, Ever-present origin, pp. 361-362.
Copyright © 1996 by Ed Mahood, jr. All rights reserved.
Ed Mahood, jr., PhD, MBA
PO Box 111504
Campbell, CA 95011-1504