[In The Reenchantment of the World, Morris Berman addresses the hyper-rational, non-emotive mindset of Western civilization, and proposes a more visceral perspective of the world and of human experience. Enjoy. – MC]
… historically, our loss of meaning in an ultimate philosophical or religious sense, the split between fact and value which characterizes the modern age – is rooted in the Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Why should this be so? The view of nature which predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short, was a place of belonging.
Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merger with nature, but rather total separation from it.
Perhaps nothing is more symptomatic of this general malaise that the inability of the industrial economies to provide meaningful work.
… for most males in the industrial nations, the sex act itself has literally become a project, a matter of carrying out the proper techniques so as to achieve the prescribed goal and thus win the desired approval. Pleasure and intimacy are seen almost as a hindrance to the act.
For Plato sense data were at best a distraction from knowledge, which was the province of unaided reason. For Aristotle, knowledge consisted in generalizations, but these were derived in the first instance from information gathered from the outside world. These two models of thinking, termed rationalism and empiricism respectively, formed the major intellectual legacy of the West down to Descartes and Bacon, who represented, in the seventeenth century, the twin poles of epistemology.
It will be necessary, therefore, to look at science as a system of thought adequate to a certain historical epoch; to try to separate ourselves from the common impression that it is an absolute, transcultural truth.
In a society that was coming to regard the world as one big arithmetic problem, the notion that there existed a sacred relationship between the individual and the cosmos seemed increasingly dubious.
Much has been made of the refusal of the College of Cardinals to look through Galileo’s telescope, to see the moons of Jupiter and the craters of on the surface of the moon. In fact, this refusal cannot be ascribed to the simple obstinacy or fear of truth. In the context of the time, the use of a device crafted by artisans to solve a scientific (let alone theological) controversy was considered, especially in Italy, to be an incomprehensible scrambling of categories. These two activities, the pursuit of the truth and the manufacture of goods, were totally disparate, particularly in terms of the social class associated with each.
The hallmark of modern consciousness is that it recognizes no element of mind in the so-called inert objects that surround us. The whole materialist position, in fact, assumes the existence of a world “out there” independent of human thought, which is “in here” … According to modern science, the further back in time we go, the more erroneous are men’s conceptions of the world.
… in the course of their work alchemists practiced a number of techniques that can produce these altered psychic states: meditation, fasting, yogic or “embryonic” breathing, and sometimes the chanting of mantras. These techniques have been practiced for millennia, especially in Asia, for the express purpose (in our terms) of breaking down the divide between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the mind. They strip the person of mundane desires, enabling him to penetrate another dimension of reality; and as Western science is just beginning to discover, they are certainly efficacious in physiological terms, especially if we adopt the (to me, quite reasonable) position that soul is another name for what the body does. It is easy to assume that the psychic aspect is the reality, and the material aspect deluded or irrelevant.
When Christ said “I am the Way”, he meant, “you yourself must go through my ordeal.” No one else can confront your demons for you; no one else can give you your real Self.
… modern science, with the significant exception of quantum mechanics, does not regard the gestalt of matter/motion/experiment/quantification as a metaphor for reality; it regards it as the touchstone of reality.
As Gregory Bateson has rightly remarked, Newton did not discover gravity; he invented it … The centerpiece of the Newtonian system, gravitational attraction, was in fact the Hermetic principle of sympathetic forces, which Newton saw as a creative principle, a source of divine energy in the universe.
… what constitutes knowledge is therefore merely the findings of an agreed-up methodology, and the facts that science finds are merely that – facts that science finds; they possess no meaning in and of themselves. Science is generated from the tacit knowing and subsidiary awareness peculiar to Western culture, and it proceeds to construct the world in those particular terms. If it is true that we create our reality, it is nevertheless a creation that proceeds in accordance with very definite rules – rules that are largely hidden from conscious view.
The major philosophical implication of quantum mechanics is that there is no such thing as an independent observer.
That there is something material out there, existing independently of us, would be useless to deny; that we are in a systemic or ecological relationship with it, unknowingly permeate and alter it with our own unconscious, and thus find in it what we seek, should be equally useless to deny.
… a systemic or ecological approach to nature would have as its premise the inclusion of the knower in the known. It would entail an official rejection of the present nonparticipating ideology, and an acceptance of the notion that we investigate not a collection of discrete entities confronting our minds (Minds), but the relationship between what has up to now been called “subject” and “object.”
The quality of ego-strength, which modern society regards as a yardstick of mental health, is a mode of being-in-the-world which is fully “natural” only since the Renaissance. In reality, it is merely adaptive, a tool necessary for functioning in a manipulative and reifying (i.e., life-denying) society.
The rise of the nuclear family, with the man at the head, reached full expression in the seventeenth century, whereas the crucial unit had previously been the “line”, that is, the extended family of descendents from a single ancestor. With the evolution of the nuclear unit, the soft heterogeneity of communal life had to disappear.
When the Indian does a rain dance, for example, he is not assuming an automatic response. There is no failed technology here, rather, he is inviting the clouds to join him, to respond to the invocation. He is, in effect, asking to make love to them, and like any normal lover they may or may not be in the mood. This is the way nature works. By means of this approach, the native learns about the reality of the situation, the moods of the earth and the skies. He surrenders: mimesis, participation, orgastic gratification. Western technology, on the other hand, seeds the clouds by airplane. It takes nature by force, “masters” it, has no time for mood or subtlety, and thus, along with the rain, we get noise, pollution, and the potential disruption of the ozone layer.
… one biomedical researcher has suggested that the brain is not the source of thought but a thought amplifier; that knowledge originates not in the brain but in the body, and the brain simply magnifies and organizes it.
[Susanne Langer] … the crucial changes in philosophy are not changes in the answers to traditional questions, but changes in the questions that are asked. “It is the mode of handling problems, rather than what they are about, that assigns them to an age.” A new key in philosophy does not solve the old questions; it rejects them.
It is likely that auras are still commonly perceived in nonindustrial cultures, and probably that the yellow halos painted around the heads of various saints in medieval art were something actually seen, not (according to a modern formulation) a metaphor for holiness “tacked on” for religious effect.
The key scientific question must cease to be “What is light?”, “What is electricity?”, and become instead, “What is the human experience of light?” “What is the human experience of electricity?” … “What is the human experience of nature?” must become the rallying cry of a new subject/object-ivity.
If reality frightens you, Max Weber once remarked, the religion of your fathers is always there to welcome you back into its loving arms.
The significant message in any dream lies in the relationships between the things in the dream. The image employed in the expression of the relationship is less important than the relationships themselves.
A similar event occurs in the relationship between Zen master and student, in which the master poses an impossible problem, a double bind known as a “koan”. Some of these are famous: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”, or “Show me your face before your parents conceived you.” Bateson cites the one in which the master holds a stick over the pupil and cries, “If you say this stick is real, I’ll hit you. If you say it isn’t real, I’ll hit you. If you keep quiet, I’ll hit you” – a classic double bind. What constitutes the creative exit here is the nature of the metacommunication. The student can, for example, take the stick and break it in two, and the master might accept this response if he sees that the act reflects the student’s own conceptual/emotive breakthrough.
Getting drunk is a way of escaping from a set of cultural premises about the mind/body relationship which are in fact insane, but which society, in the form of husband, wife, friends, and employers, constantly reinforces. In a state of intoxication, however, the whole symmetrical contest drops to the ground, and the feelings that emerge are complementary. As the alcoholic begins to get drunk, he may feel close to his drinking buddies, to the world around him, and to his own self, which is no longer treating him in a punitive fashion. The abandonment of the struggle with himself and with the world around him comes as a welcome relief. Cartesian dualism exhorted him to be “above it all”, to be above being weak and human. Now, he seems more a part of the human scene.
Imperialism, whether economic, psychological, or personal (they tend to go together) seeks to wipe out native cultures, individual ways of life, and diverse ideas – eradicating them in order to substitute a global and homogeneous way of life. It sees variation as a threat. A holistic civilization, by contrast, would cherish variation, see it as a gift, a form of wealth or property.
… the intellect generates yearnings for a larger type of mental experience, a wider consciousness, but it can only take you to the edge of such an experience. The actual perception of subject/object merger, of the world as being totally alive and sensuous – in short, the “God-realization” - is a purely visceral event.