Dissertation: Excerpt on The Evolution of Consciousness

by Sep 9, 2020Consciousness

Erich Neumann (1954), in his Origins and History of Consciousness, describes the transcendental process whereby the highest level of creative potential of ego consciousness occurs through individuation within Western culture. Most important is that through this individuation, as the ego aspect of consciousness pulls away from the underlying wholeness, or underlying matrix of unity, it must integrate much of the underlying transpersonal realm into the diffuse nature of itself. In this way, one holds a potential to remember what one forgot one knew, deeply, through an evolutionary bank of collective symbolized knowledge.

As an example of this phenomena of seeming to remember something one did not know one knew, is something fascinating that rippled through a set of teachings within the Emergence Courses. It occurred with myself initially, then with my participants when we began discussing female body image and sexuality through the research about ancient feminine anthropology and goddess religions (Eisler, 1987; Gimbutas, 1989). I cannot begin to describe the sense of wonder and the full body–soul response in the room as I and my coleaders began teaching myths, showing ancient symbols of the mother goddess, and leading guided visualizations to take female participants back through time, to the periods when the feminine was revered as creatrix instead of objectified as a sex object. It was, and still is, my view that current day lack of knowledge and embodied understanding of the sacred feminine throughout time places a deep psychic and cultural strain on all genders. It is my belief that the true etiological seed of eating disorders lies within the lost eras of goddess honoring, where, as Eisler, (1987) describes in her The Chalice and the Blade, Our History, Our Future, a balance in power shifted toward male dominance and, with it, a loss of cooperative creativity. I teach that what also shifted was the honoring and deep regard for women’s sexuality (Beak, 2015), and the natural fat that is a part of the female form. Fat became demeaned, holding the projection of weakness, inferiority, and perversion (Estes, 1992; Rowland, 2002; Woodman, 1980, 1982, 1993).

Within my professional trainings for eating disorders, I witnessed an overwhelming resonance of recognition emerging through the circle of dietitians and psychologists learning about ancient goddess worship, alongside the archetypes of the faces of the feminine, such as maiden, mother, and crone, through myths, legends, and faery tales (von Franz, 1972; Johnston, 1996). This dawning of remembering occurred in my participants back in the 1990s, predating the now popular topic of goddesses in feminist circles. Again, the response within those workshops was similar to experiencing a collective psychic earthquake, symbolizing what I would describe as deep bone level memories of what participants forgot they somehow, somewhere, already knew. The evolution of the feminine psyche appeared to be a collective phenomenon, as Jung would describe as a part of the collective unconscious which remains accessible to each of us, when tapped into (Jung, 1983, 1997).

Other Evolution of Consciousness Theorists

The number and breadth of theorists and theories on evolution of consciousness exceed the scope of this paper, so I am reviewing only those that I bring into the Emergence coursework. I admit to having a bias toward those philosophers that allude to a meaningful intelligence that, in some noetic way, influences the destiny of consciousness evolution. One of my favorites is Teilhard de Chardin (1955), who intuited a systems theory type of attractor throughout the cosmos, which de Chardin (1955) named the omega point. Systems theory illuminates many aspects of what has seemed to scientists to be simply chaos, only to discover an astonishing order hidden beneath the limits of what we can perceive. One of the many dynamics discovered through systems theories, is that of the attractor, described by Gleick (2008), Combs, (1995), as a powerful energetic centralizing and organizing point of high order within chaos. Teilhard de Chardin’s theories that a personal and evolutionary omega point influences the human psyche, could be thought of, in my opinion as such an omega point. In other words, I think of this omega point attractor, as an archetype or blueprint eliciting a gravitational beckoning of consciousness evolution across time, towards a divine higher soul level destiny for humanity. The relevance of the omega point, is the sense of purpose and individual destiny that is aroused in my Emergence participants. I share my own optimism about such a gravitational pull, through the calling that beckoned me through an anxiety disorder and into a career in the nutrition and psychology field where entire new theories emerged and took form, drawing me forward into this new body of work in physics, consciousness, and cosmology.

My Emergence participants are awestruck at the idea that their eating disorders might host such eventual meaning and destiny, from their suffering. Like James Hillman’s (1996) The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, there is a way that he and Gebser (1949) join with Chardin to imply a deep evolutionary calling imbedded within the consciousness of humanity. This evolution of consciousness appears in individual callings as Hillman describes the sort of affinities and traits that we are born with as codes that direct our future potential destiny (Hillman, 1996). Richard Tarnas (2006) describes this very human destiny in Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, through the archetypal astrology lens that deeply penetrates through consciousness on a historical, cultural, and astoundingly individual level. It was Richard Tarnas who, after looking at my astrology chart, saw a trine in Mercury, Saturn, and Uranus that he felt pointed toward my destiny in getting a PhD from the California Institute of Integral Studies, and he then wrote the letter of recommendation that resulted in my acceptance.

Jean Gebser

Jean Gebser (1949) is an evolution of consciousness philosopher who wrote a magnum opus, Ever Present Origin, a work of unimaginable genius and perspective on the seed, or dawning, of human consciousness and its cosmic course throughout human history. His work is central to my Emergence Courses for reasons that I make clear throughout this paper. Wrestling his abstract brilliance down into bite size, enticing concepts for professionals treating eating disorders and clients was and is well worth the effort, as he gives a whole new dimensionality to our past and present lived experience as psychological entities struggling with mental health.

I refer to Gebser’s (1949) theories from his magnum opus, Ever Present Origin, throughout my Emergence Courses for the mental health field for the following reason: He describes the variances in the human experience of the nature of reality through overlapping phases of evolution of consciousness, where each phase, or structure of consciousness, parallels a different felt quality of reality and meaning. According to Gebser, our experience of reality shifts with each structural change of consciousness. These shifts, to name a few, include that of perception of space; perception of time; a sense of separation or alienation versus a grounded feeling of connectedness; and, finally, our intellectual prowess versus a sense of embodiment and immersion within nature.

Since epistemology of science and one’s perception of reality directly infuse one’s day-to-day felt sense of meaning, Gebser’s (1949) philosophies could fill in an enormous void in psychological treatment by giving an epistemological look at how and why we as a culture feel “locked in” to the trap within our racing minds, scrambling for the next technology, technique, or purchase to quell what, I believe, is an ongoing longing for more from our souls. Gebser’s theories are central to the field of psychology because, in my opinion, his theories about consciousness evolution explain many of the problematic syndromes within current culture, such as how his described mental structure of consciousness results in todays’ highly externalized focus of attention, our hyperindividualized ground of being, as well our tendency to feel cut off from ourselves or from nature. These ways we orient our perception can be removed from a psychologically pathologizing one, toward a better understanding of the state of our consciousness. I describe how I go about explaining this to participants in later sections.

Through teaching Gebser’s (1949) structures of consciousness, I have noticed a refreshing freeing up in participants as one can unburden self -blame for many of the miserable patterns in perception, and just view these patterns as part of a passing phase in evolution. Also I observe that his theories about the incoming new eras of consciousness, the integral structure, fosters hope and encouragement in participants, for reasons I hope to make clear.

I would argue that his theories deserve a philosophical home next to Carl Jung’s (1983, 1997) in the way they both created ingenious metavistas of the terrain of human consciousness and psychology. In fact, as of the writing of this paper, on the home page of the Jean Gebser Society, there is displayed a looming title for a conference that occurred in 2019. It is still there, with the following phrase written in a large banner: “Gebser + Jung Here and Now” (Jean Gebser Society, n.d., par. 1).

The problem, as William Thompson (1996) also writes about Gebser is the following:

But his high cultural European approach to the evolution of consciousness makes it difficult for Americans to appreciate his work. We have so replaced culture with psychology, psychotherapy, and simplistic workshops on how to fix the depressive flats of our lives that we prefer the compulsive mappings and textbook categorizations of Ken Wilber to the poetic insights of Jean Gebser. (p. 12)

Perhaps Thompson would be happy to know that someone is changing the course of psychotherapy, beginning with all those involved in eating disorder treatment, by bringing Jean Gebser’s (1949) ideas straight into clinical teachings.

Gebser (1949) describes five structures of consciousness that humanity has or will pass through. These structures and their cultural importance are also described by Combs (2003), Feuerstein (1987, 1992), Kavolis (1974), and Kramer (1992), along with W. Thompson, (1996). These and many other authors describing Gebser’s abstract and complex yet epic panoramic view of human consciousness evolution are summarized here in my extremely simplified way.

A Brief Summary of Gebser’s Structures of Consciousness

Beginning with our ever present origin (Gebser, 1949), the seed of all potential structures of consciousness are unfolding throughout time while maintaining the sacred original blueprint (within every seed) for humankind’s awakening. Beginning first with the archaic; then magical; mythic; mental; and, finally, integral structure, each so called structure of consciousness creates deep shifts in the lived experience of reality of each given epoch of evolutionary history (Combs, 1993; Feuerstein, 1987).

Here is a description of each of his structures of consciousness, which are named in order from the beginning of humankind through the present day to the future structure that is currently activated: archaic, magical, mythic, mental and integral. First, going back to the origin of humanity, the archaic structure of consciousness could be described as similar to the awareness experience of a human in utero or as a neonate in a dreamlike, highly diffused state where space and time are merged into one ongoing present moment and no sense of a separate self dominates the felt experience of being alive (Gebser, 1972, 1993, 1996; Feuerstein, 1987).

Next, the magical structure of consciousness emerged, which is described as a mirror to the inner experience of being a young toddler (Kegan, 1982). Through this structure of consciousness, according to Gebser (1949), Kavolis, (1974), Feuerstein (1987), and Kramer, (1992), an emerging sense of self arose, meaning that a very undeveloped differentiation between a more primitive self and others begins. This early stage of self is described by Kegan (1982) in her book, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development.

Throughout this magical structure stage, Gebser (1949) and Feuerstein (1987, 1992) describe the beginnings of differentiation between the subject (person) toward projection onto the object (nature and other humans). This differentiation of subjective experience and objectified perspective takes off and advances with each upcoming structure. Humans within the magical and eventual future structures of consciousness will begin to externally project more and more internal psychic content toward the outer world (Castoriadis, 1993; Combs, 2003; Feuerstein, 1987; Kavolis, 1974). Through the magical structure, time continues to be experienced as a present sense of ongoing “now,” as exists within the archaic structure, but begins to coalesce into a more discrete sense of time, alongside a slowly growing individual identity within the tribe. The dream state of the archaic structure transforms into the initial individuation within the magical structure, forming the beginnings of individuation. Through the magical structure of consciousness, projection onto external objects intensifies, creating a voodoo like objectification of meaning and power onto distant objects (Gebser, 1949). Here is where the seeds of disordered eating begin. I believe that the importance of a number on a scale, a nutrition label, or a google article about health would not even become a blip on our radar until we had evolved toward a capacity for intrapsychic focus toward an objective point of reference of worth and value. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The next phase of evolution of consciousness according to Gebser (1949) is the mythic structure, and it is here that personal ego identity takes on more formation, building an individual sense of personal importance and power (Kavolis, 1974; Kramer, 1992; Wilber, 2000), yet still embedded within an enormously powerful Eros of the culture and cosmos (Gebser, 1949; W. Thompson, 1981, 1996). With any given stage of gathering individuation, there comes with it an alienation. Nonetheless, this structure maintains an enormous root within the embedded culture in which there is still a significant amount of diffused identity into a holistic sense of a larger mythical Eros (Campbell, 2008; Gebser, 1949; Jung & Camptell, 1971). In this mythic structure of consciousness, the ego and intellect emerge from the primal soup of the archaic and magical structures toward a perceived reality where time becomes cyclical, be it moon phases or seasons that circle through life. Time is not linear yet. Space is perceived in more of a two dimensional fresco realm, with much less of a degree of the three dimensional perspective than today. The objectifying power of this phase was more limited, as the ego was still more immersed within a soulful, rich relationship within itself, within nature, and in relatedness to others (Gebser, 1949; Feuerstein, 1987, 1992; Combs, 2003).

As Gebser (1949) goes on to describe, from here the rational mental structure emerged, near 500 B.C., and took full bloom near the Renaissance period. In this current structure, the intellect and ego arose from the soul of the cosmos and our inner world to dominate over nature, just as the mind is physically perched over the body. Perception of space took on a high degree of three dimensionality, with a tendency to objectify anything outside of the mind itself, experiencing a great degree of separateness between oneself, nature, and others. In this way, I notice within my psychological practice and my own inner life that there is more fear of the abysmal nature of aloneness, especially in the Newtonian construct of cosmology where the dark void of space is introjected psychologically (Swimme, 1996). Time in the mental structure is perceived as linear, and the ego identity becomes highly competitive, seeking power in its separateness to pack much accomplishment into time segments (Gebser, 1949; Kavolis, 1974; Kramer, 1992; H. Steiner & Gebser, 1962).

In short, the advanced intellect with its objectifying power of the mental structure of consciousness gave birth to the science and technology advances of today, an insurmountable feat although we are suffering devastating consequences (XinRong & Dincer, 2017). It is difficult to evaluate the exponential advantages of today’s industrial inventions, of which I remain deeply grateful. The point of this paper is to awaken individuals to theories about consciousness, and consciousness evolution, which add an entirely additional and I believe useful perspective about our situation, here, as humans on planet earth. My hope is to add an inspiring element of science, rooted in a new epistemology of consciousness, toward understanding the mysteries of life, at least as we experience life as human beings.

The idea that one’s experience of space and time can drastically shift is a point that I discuss from science epistemology, cosmology, and physics sections of the Emergence Courses. Looking through the lens of Gebser’s (1949) structures of consciousness, our current mental structure places one’s experience of reality at face value and I hope to demonstrate that the way in which we perceive the reality of space, time and connectedness is driving some aspects of our crisis in meaning. This is era of evidence based science (which I also value), we are not encouraged to question the nature of reality. It happens that Gebser (1949, 1972, 1992) not only describes psychologically relevant shifts in our perception, but also that our culture is currently in a decline phase of the mental structure of consciousness. What this decline or shadow aspect means is that the more negative aspects of any given consciousness structure becomes dominant.

An example of this decline phase or shadow aspect of the mental structure of consciousness in today’s world, is one’s sense of reality as being stagnant, imprisoning, and alienating, (Feuerstein, 1987; W. Thompson, 1996). In the mental health field, one spends much time evaluating belief systems and learning new coping skills while never suspecting that consciousness evolution may be contributing deeply to a perception of fundamental reality as being confining versus connected and freeing. Gebser (1949) described the incoming integral structure of consciousness as one that will add a qualitative dimensionality, a more intense, and richer potential for experience.

I believe that eating disorders are rooted in the current mental structure, as are many other devastating mental health states, such as depression, suicide, mass killings, and addiction, especially in adolescents, as Needleman (1982) laments about the soulless nature of our classical science epistemology. Like H. Steiner and Gebser (1962) describe in Anxiety: A Condition of Modern Man, some degree of humanity’s anxiety driven despair emerges as a part of the manner in which brains construct and perceive time alongside the idea that we can own time by filling it with so called productivity.

Gebser (1949, 1972, 1993), describes the egoic hyperindividualism within the current decline phase of the mental structure of consciousness, which can be seen in combination with a perspective of linear time, fueling human competition toward status, consumerism and unexamined efforts toward productivity. Combs (1992) furthers the encouragement to reconsider the modern day, mental structure perspective, evident through the title of his book, Cooperation: Beyond the Age of Competition. Laing (1983), a revolutionary author and highly influential psychiatrist, normalized the madness that results from such a fragmented, driven way of living, in modern day life, through his book, The Politics of Experience. He points toward the creative potential within every human being that becomes wasted through the hidden competition at the root of our culture, of which I will add, eating disorders are a part of. In fact, at the risk of repeating myself, disordered eating, in my opinion is a collective expression of the insanity that occurs when linear time is filled with externalized goals, in what can seem like a parody championship for a body type, a perfect diet or fitness workout, and the secret pride for a willpower of restraint. As the symptoms worsen with obsessive, intrusive thoughts about food or body image, the creative potential of that human being is temporarily hijacked. As described by Woodman (1980, 1982), Moore (1992) and Johnston, (1996), the soul knows what it is doing. The soul has a hidden agenda, as psychological symptoms become overwhelming, misery ensues and functionality becomes impaired. The crippling effect of escalating symptoms, such as gorging on so much food that one dissociates and sleeps for hours or running 17 miles in the dark with injuries mounting, grow to demand the psyche’s attention.

In Edinger’s (1972), Ego and Archetype, he describes the psychological collapse that can occur with eating disorders, as the result of an individual ego identity getting too far from the core soul self. These psychological theories beautiful align with Gebser’s mental structural downfall. As the individual devotes more and more attention to the details of body weight, food ingredients, clothes sizes, or the imagined projection of other’s judgments, alongside the co-existing litany of self-loathing, true self care is abandoned. The ego self axis is a term described by Edinger as the distance between the core true self that is hosted in part through the unconscious versus the ego or personal identity striving for social approval. It is that ego identity that most often drives an eating disorder on the surface by forming a separate seeming eating disorder self (Costin, 2007). This eating disorder self, drives left brain focus and attention to achieving the diet, exercise, and body image goals that a given individual cognitively downloaded from the media or culture (McGilchrist, 2019; Stapp, 2009). As this gap between the soul self and surface ego (driven by the determined eating disorder self) grows, it lengthens the ego-self axis according to Edinger’s (1972) model. As a result, the ego identity aspect of the self gets so far away from its own deeper source, named here according to Jung (1983) as the true self, that the ego self weakens and eventually collapses. As a result, the ego identity does a sort of face plant into the unconscious, with an emotional breakdown level of depression or anxiety that can feel insurmountable. I teach that our capacity for the deep separation from ourselves is particularly magnified by our underlying structure of consciousness.

My own anxiety disorder was such a collapse. I could no longer frantically work to win the imagined life race that I had created, and through a total emotional breakdown, I had to come face to face with my own depths. Little did I know that within my own interiority, were brilliant threads of a type of spiritual, ingenious coded enlightenment that would unfold and reveal itself to me as I learned to attend to my inner life. Even today, I still need to remember that if I devote my attention to a perception of a societal productivity race, my symptoms will return to warn me to deepen my attention toward my own inner resources.

Returning to Jean Gebser (1949), I interpret his theories about the current declining mental structure of consciousness, and his prediction that we are in a crisis in felt meaning, as a warning about the leveling effect of what Edinger (1972) might have named a collective ego-self axis collapse. In other words, our current cultural decline of mental health in the last half century is reflected through the rise in suicides (NIMH, 2019d), depression (NIMH, 2019a, 2019b, 2019c) and anxiety (NIMH, 2017a), alongside the rise in overall mental health problems (Rosenbert, 2013; Weir, 2019), not to mention the rise in eating disorders (NIMH, 2017b, 2017c, 2017d).

I will mention some of the other aspects of the downfall of the mental structure, besides the growing mental health crisis (Kramer, 1992; W. Thompson, 1996). It is beyond the scope of this paper to summarize the socio economic, cultural, and planetary destruction of our world, as was forewarned by Gebser(1949). I will mention a few avenues of devastation, of which most of humanity remains aware. We can view international corporations and industries’ persistence in ecological destruction (Bateson, 2002; Lustig, 2018; Swimme, 1996; Swimme & Berry, 1992; Tarnas, 2006; Tauber, 2009; W. Thompson, 1981; Woodman, 1993), alongside global warming One other feature within the psychology of the mental structure is the aiming of our attention toward egoic power over the phenomena of cooperation (Combs, 1992; Eliade, 1979).

Besides the problems of personal self-warfare, gender power dominance versus cooperation values, embedded in the mental structure of consciousness may contribute to the many thousands of years of conflict and full blown war, as is summarized in the anthropologic perspective of Eisler (1987). The egoic hunger for power can be seen sociologically, economically, politically, nationally and internationally as devastating and annihilating forces against the intelligent human heart, seeking meaning in life (Combs, 1992, 2003; Gebser, 1949; Gendlin, 1962; Nicolescu, 2008; W. Thompson, 1981, 1996).

Through the evolution of consciousness, in addition to human responsibility, we are hopefully beginning a breakthrough toward the integral structure of consciousness, from which an entirely new, expansive and holistic perception of reality may emerge. Because of Gebser’s (1949) obscurity within the academic and psychological field (W. Thompson, 1996), the influences of the evolution of consciousness are unrecognized, which can burden the field of psychology and sociology with the heavy lifting of figuring our way out of this mess. The incoming integral structure of consciousness (Feuerstein, 1987, 1992), is also expected to facilitate the psyche’s ability to perceive a new transparency toward an extraordinary sense of interrelatedness and an imaginative creative faculty toward a win-win, versus win lose power struggle. The integral structure of consciousness can be encouraged through the Emergence Courses, as individuals and group recognize the signs of their own powerful internal shifts that may begin as glimmers and sparks.

Other Evolution of Consciousness Theorists

The number and breadth of theorists and theories on evolution of consciousness exceed the scope of this paper, so I am reviewing only those that I bring into the Emergence coursework. I admit to having a bias toward those philosophers that allude to a meaningful intelligence that, in some noetic way, influences the destiny of consciousness evolution. One of my favorites is Teilhard de Chardin (1955), who intuited a systems theory type of attractor throughout the cosmos, which de Chardin (1955) named the omega point. Systems theory illuminates many aspects of what has seemed to scientists to be simply chaos, only to discover an astonishing order hidden beneath the limits of what we can perceive. One of the many dynamics discovered through systems theories, is that of the attractor, described by Gleick (2008), Combs, (1995), as a powerful energetic centralizing and organizing point of high order within chaos. Teilhard de Chardin’s theories that a personal and evolutionary omega point influences the human psyche, could be thought of, in my opinion as such an omega point. In other words, I think of this omega point attractor, as an archetype or blueprint eliciting a gravitational beckoning of consciousness evolution across time, towards a divine higher soul level destiny for humanity. The relevance of the omega point, is the sense of purpose and individual destiny that is aroused in my Emergence participants. I share my own optimism about such a gravitational pull, through the calling that beckoned me through an anxiety disorder and into a career in the nutrition and psychology field where entire new theories emerged and took form, drawing me forward into this new body of work in physics, consciousness, and cosmology.

My Emergence participants are awestruck at the idea that their eating disorders might host such eventual meaning and destiny, from their suffering. Like James Hillman’s (1996) The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, there is a way that he and Gebser (1949) join with Chardin to imply a deep evolutionary calling imbedded within the consciousness of humanity. This evolution of consciousness appears in individual callings as Hillman describes the sort of affinities and traits that we are born with as codes that direct our future potential destiny (Hillman, 1996). Richard Tarnas (2006) describes this very human destiny in Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View, through the archetypal astrology lens that deeply penetrates through consciousness on a historical, cultural, and astoundingly individual level. It was Richard Tarnas who, after looking at my astrology chart, saw a trine in Mercury, Saturn, and Uranus that he felt pointed toward my destiny in getting a PhD from the California Institute of Integral Studies, and he then wrote the letter of recommendation that resulted in my acceptance.

Jean Gebser

Jean Gebser (1949) is an evolution of consciousness philosopher who wrote a magnum opus, Ever Present Origin, a work of unimaginable genius and perspective on the seed, or dawning, of human consciousness and its cosmic course throughout human history. His work is central to my Emergence Courses for reasons that I make clear throughout this paper. Wrestling his abstract brilliance down into bite size, enticing concepts for professionals treating eating disorders and clients was and is well worth the effort, as he gives a whole new dimensionality to our past and present lived experience as psychological entities struggling with mental health.

I refer to Gebser’s (1949) theories from his magnum opus, Ever Present Origin, throughout my Emergence Courses for the mental health field for the following reason: He describes the variances in the human experience of the nature of reality through overlapping phases of evolution of consciousness, where each phase, or structure of consciousness, parallels a different felt quality of reality and meaning. According to Gebser, our experience of reality shifts with each structural change of consciousness. These shifts, to name a few, include that of perception of space; perception of time; a sense of separation or alienation versus a grounded feeling of connectedness; and, finally, our intellectual prowess versus a sense of embodiment and immersion within nature.

Since epistemology of science and one’s perception of reality directly infuse one’s day-to-day felt sense of meaning, Gebser’s (1949) philosophies could fill in an enormous void in psychological treatment by giving an epistemological look at how and why we as a culture feel “locked in” to the trap within our racing minds, scrambling for the next technology, technique, or purchase to quell what, I believe, is an ongoing longing for more from our souls. Gebser’s theories are central to the field of psychology because, in my opinion, his theories about consciousness evolution explain many of the problematic syndromes within current culture, such as how his described mental structure of consciousness results in todays’ highly externalized focus of attention, our hyperindividualized ground of being, as well our tendency to feel cut off from ourselves or from nature. These ways we orient our perception can be removed from a psychologically pathologizing one, toward a better understanding of the state of our consciousness. I describe how I go about explaining this to participants in later sections.

Through teaching Gebser’s (1949) structures of consciousness, I have noticed a refreshing freeing up in participants as one can unburden self -blame for many of the miserable patterns in perception, and just view these patterns as part of a passing phase in evolution. Also I observe that his theories about the incoming new eras of consciousness, the integral structure, fosters hope and encouragement in participants, for reasons I hope to make clear.

I would argue that his theories deserve a philosophical home next to Carl Jung’s (1983, 1997) in the way they both created ingenious metavistas of the terrain of human consciousness and psychology. In fact, as of the writing of this paper, on the home page of the Jean Gebser Society, there is displayed a looming title for a conference that occurred in 2019. It is still there, with the following phrase written in a large banner: “Gebser + Jung Here and Now” (Jean Gebser Society, n.d., par. 1).

The problem, as William Thompson (1996) also writes about Gebser is the following:

But his high cultural European approach to the evolution of consciousness makes it difficult for Americans to appreciate his work. We have so replaced culture with psychology, psychotherapy, and simplistic workshops on how to fix the depressive flats of our lives that we prefer the compulsive mappings and textbook categorizations of Ken Wilber to the poetic insights of Jean Gebser. (p. 12)

Perhaps Thompson would be happy to know that someone is changing the course of psychotherapy, beginning with all those involved in eating disorder treatment, by bringing Jean Gebser’s (1949) ideas straight into clinical teachings.

Gebser (1949) describes five structures of consciousness that humanity has or will pass through. These structures and their cultural importance are also described by Combs (2003), Feuerstein (1987, 1992), Kavolis (1974), and Kramer (1992), along with W. Thompson, (1996). These and many other authors describing Gebser’s abstract and complex yet epic panoramic view of human consciousness evolution are summarized here in my extremely simplified way.

A Brief Summary of Gebser’s Structures of Consciousness

Beginning with our ever present origin (Gebser, 1949), the seed of all potential structures of consciousness are unfolding throughout time while maintaining the sacred original blueprint (within every seed) for humankinds awakening. Beginning first with the archaic; then magical; mythic; mental; and, finally, integral structure, each so called structure of consciousness creates deep shifts in the lived experience of reality of each given epoch of evolutionary history (Combs, 1993; Feuerstein, 1987).

Here is a description of each of his structures of consciousness, which are named in order from the beginning of humankind through the present day to the future structure that is currently activated: archaic, magical, mythic, mental and integral. First, going back to the origin of humanity, the archaic structure of consciousness could be described as similar to the awareness experience of a human in utero or as a neonate in a dreamlike, highly diffused state where space and time are merged into one ongoing present moment and no sense of a separate self dominates the felt experience of being alive (Gebser, 1972, 1993, 1996; Feuerstein, 1987).

Next, the magical structure of consciousness emerged, which is described as a mirror to the inner experience of being a young toddler (Kegan, 1982). Through this structure of consciousness, according to Gebser (1949), Kavolis, (1974), Feuerstein (1987), and Kramer, (1992), an emerging sense of self arose, meaning that a very undeveloped differentiation between a more primitive self and others begins. This early stage of self is described by Kegan (1982) in her book, The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development.

Throughout this magical structure stage, Gebser (1949) and Feuerstein (1987, 1992) describe the beginnings of differentiation between the subject (person) toward projection onto the object (nature and other humans). This differentiation of subjective experience and objectified perspective takes off and advances with each upcoming structure. Humans within the magical and eventual future structures of consciousness will begin to externally project more and more internal psychic content toward the outer world (Castoriadis, 1993; Combs, 2003; Feuerstein, 1987; Kavolis, 1974). Through the magical structure, time continues to be experienced as a present sense of ongoing “now,” as exists within the archaic structure, but begins to coalesce into a more discrete sense of time, alongside a slowly growing individual identity within the tribe. The dream state of the archaic structure transforms into the initial individuation within the magical structure, forming the beginnings of individuation. Through the magical structure of consciousness, projection onto external objects intensifies, creating a voodoo like objectification of meaning and power onto distant objects (Gebser, 1949). Here is where the seeds of disordered eating begin. I believe that the importance of a number on a scale, a nutrition label, or a google article about health would not even become a blip on our radar until we had evolved toward a capacity for intrapsychic focus toward an objective point of reference of worth and value. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The next phase of evolution of consciousness according to Gebser (1949) is the mythic structure, and it is here that personal ego identity takes on more formation, building an individual sense of personal importance and power (Kavolis, 1974; Kramer, 1992; Wilber, 2000), yet still embedded within an enormously powerful Eros of the culture and cosmos (Gebser, 1949; W. Thompson, 1981, 1996). With any given stage of gathering individuation, there comes with it an alienation. Nonetheless, this structure maintains an enormous root within the embedded culture in which there is still a significant amount of diffused identity into a holistic sense of a larger mythical Eros (Campbell, 2008; Gebser, 1949; Jung & Camptell, 1971). In this mythic structure of consciousness, the ego and intellect emerge from the primal soup of the archaic and magical structures toward a perceived reality where time becomes cyclical, be it moon phases or seasons that circle through life. Time is not linear yet. Space is perceived in more of a two dimensional fresco realm, with much less of a degree of the three dimensional perspective than today. The objectifying power of this phase was more limited, as the ego was still more immersed within a soulful, rich relationship within itself, within nature, and in relatedness to others (Gebser, 1949; Feuerstein, 1987, 1992; Combs, 2003).

As Gebser (1949) goes on to describe, from here the rational mental structure emerged, near 500 B.C., and took full bloom near the Renaissance period. In this current structure, the intellect and ego arose from the soul of the cosmos and our inner world to dominate over nature, just as the mind is physically perched over the body. Perception of space took on a high degree of three dimensionality, with a tendency to objectify anything outside of the mind itself, experiencing a great degree of separateness between oneself, nature, and others. In this way, I notice within my psychological practice and my own inner life that there is more fear of the abysmal nature of aloneness, especially in the Newtonian construct of cosmology where the dark void of space is introjected psychologically (Swimme, 1996). Time in the mental structure is perceived as linear, and the ego identity becomes highly competitive, seeking power in its separateness to pack much accomplishment into time segments (Gebser, 1949; Kavolis, 1974; Kramer, 1992; H. Steiner & Gebser, 1962).

In short, the advanced intellect with its objectifying power of the mental structure of consciousness gave birth to the science and technology advances of today, an insurmountable feat although we are suffering devastating consequences (XinRong & Dincer, 2017). It is difficult to evaluate the exponential advantages of today’s industrial inventions, of which I remain deeply grateful. The point of this paper is to awaken individuals to theories about consciousness, and consciousness evolution, which add an entirely additional and I believe useful perspective about our situation, here, as humans on planet earth. My hope is to add an inspiring element of science, rooted in a new epistemology of consciousness, toward understanding the mysteries of life, at least as we experience life as human beings.

The idea that one’s experience of space and time can drastically shift is a point that I discuss from science epistemology, cosmology, and physics sections of the Emergence Courses. Looking through the lens of Gebser’s (1949) structures of consciousness, our current mental structure places one’s experience of reality at face value and I hope to demonstrate that the way in which we perceive the reality of space, time and connectedness is driving some aspects of our crisis in meaning. This is era of evidence based science (which I also value), we are not encouraged to question the nature of reality. It happens that Gebser (1949, 1972, 1992) not only describes psychologically relevant shifts in our perception, but also that our culture is currently in a decline phase of the mental structure of consciousness. What this decline or shadow aspect means is that the more negative aspects of any given consciousness structure becomes dominant.

An example of this decline phase or shadow aspect of the mental structure of consciousness in today’s world, is one’s sense of reality as being stagnant, imprisoning, and alienating, (Feuerstein, 1987; W. Thompson, 1996). In the mental health field, one spends much time evaluating belief systems and learning new coping skills while never suspecting that consciousness evolution may be contributing deeply to a perception of fundamental reality as being confining versus connected and freeing. Gebser (1949) described the incoming integral structure of consciousness as one that will add a qualitative dimensionality, a more intense, and richer potential for experience.

I believe that eating disorders are rooted in the current mental structure, as are many other devastating mental health states, such as depression, suicide, mass killings, and addiction, especially in adolescents, as Needleman (1982) laments about the soulless nature of our classical science epistemology. Like H. Steiner and Gebser (1962) describe in Anxiety: A Condition of Modern Man, some degree of humanity’s anxiety driven despair emerges as a part of the manner in which brains construct and perceive time alongside the idea that we can own time by filling it with so called productivity.

Gebser (1949, 1972, 1993), describes the egoic hyperindividualism within the current decline phase of the mental structure of consciousness, which can be seen in combination with a perspective of linear time, fueling human competition toward status, consumerism and unexamined efforts toward productivity. Combs (1992) furthers the encouragement to reconsider the modern day, mental structure perspective, evident through the title of his book, Cooperation: Beyond the Age of Competition. Laing (1983), a revolutionary author and highly influential psychiatrist, normalized the madness that results from such a fragmented, driven way of living, in modern day life, through his book, The Politics of Experience. He points toward the creative potential within every human being that becomes wasted through the hidden competition at the root of our culture, of which I will add, eating disorders are a part of. In fact, at the risk of repeating myself, disordered eating, in my opinion is a collective expression of the insanity that occurs when linear time is filled with externalized goals, in what can seem like a parody championship for a body type, a perfect diet or fitness workout, and the secret pride for a willpower of restraint. As the symptoms worsen with obsessive, intrusive thoughts about food or body image, the creative potential of that human being is temporarily hijacked. As described by Woodman (1980, 1982), Moore (1992) and Johnston, (1996), the soul knows what it is doing. The soul has a hidden agenda, as psychological symptoms become overwhelming, misery ensues and functionality becomes impaired. The crippling effect of escalating symptoms, such as gorging on so much food that one dissociates and sleeps for hours or running 17 miles in the dark with injuries mounting, grow to demand the psyche’s attention.

In Edinger’s (1972), Ego and Archetype, he describes the psychological collapse that can occur with eating disorders, as the result of an individual ego identity getting too far from the core soul self. These psychological theories beautiful align with Gebser’s mental structural downfall. As the individual devotes more and more attention to the details of body weight, food ingredients, clothes sizes, or the imagined projection of other’s judgments, alongside the co-existing litany of self-loathing, true self care is abandoned. The ego self axis is a term described by Edinger as the distance between the core true self that is hosted in part through the unconscious versus the ego or personal identity striving for social approval. It is that ego identity that most often drives an eating disorder on the surface by forming a separate seeming eating disorder self (Costin, 2007). This eating disorder self, drives left brain focus and attention to achieving the diet, exercise, and body image goals that a given individual cognitively downloaded from the media or culture (McGilchrist, 2019; Stapp, 2009). As this gap between the soul self and surface ego (driven by the determined eating disorder self) grows, it lengthens the ego-self axis according to Edinger’s (1972) model. As a result, the ego identity aspect of the self gets so far away from its own deeper source, named here according to Jung (1983) as the true self, that the ego self weakens and eventually collapses. As a result, the ego identity does a sort of face plant into the unconscious, with an emotional breakdown level of depression or anxiety that can feel insurmountable. I teach that our capacity for the deep separation from ourselves is particularly magnified by our underlying structure of consciousness.

My own anxiety disorder was such a collapse. I could no longer frantically work to win the imagined life race that I had created, and through a total emotional breakdown, I had to come face to face with my own depths. Little did I know that within my own interiority, were brilliant threads of a type of spiritual, ingenious coded enlightenment that would unfold and reveal itself to me as I learned to attend to my inner life. Even today, I still need to remember that if I devote my attention to a perception of a societal productivity race, my symptoms will return to warn me to deepen my attention toward my own inner resources.

Returning to Jean Gebser (1949), I interpret his theories about the current declining mental structure of consciousness, and his prediction that we are in a crisis in felt meaning, as a warning about the leveling effect of what Edinger (1972) might have named a collective ego-self axis collapse. In other words, our current cultural decline of mental health in the last half century is reflected through the rise in suicides (NIMH, 2019d), depression (NIMH, 2019a, 2019b, 2019c) and anxiety (NIMH, 2017a), alongside the rise in overall mental health problems (Rosenbert, 2013; Weir, 2019), not to mention the rise in eating disorders (NIMH, 2017b, 2017c, 2017d).

I will mention some of the other aspects of the downfall of the mental structure, besides the growing mental health crisis (Kramer, 1992; W. Thompson, 1996). It is beyond the scope of this paper to summarize the socio economic, cultural, and planetary destruction of our world, as was forewarned by Gebser(1949). I will mention a few avenues of devastation, of which most of humanity remains aware. We can view international corporations and industries’ persistence in ecological destruction (Bateson, 2002; Lustig, 2018; Swimme, 1996; Swimme & Berry, 1992; Tarnas, 2006; Tauber, 2009; W. Thompson, 1981; Woodman, 1993), alongside global warming One other feature within the psychology of the mental structure is the aiming of our attention toward egoic power over the phenomena of cooperation (Combs, 1992; Eliade, 1979).

Besides the problems of personal self-warfare, gender power dominance versus cooperation values, embedded in the mental structure of consciousness may contribute to the many thousands of years of conflict and full blown war, as is summarized in the anthropologic perspective of Eisler (1987). The egoic hunger for power can be seen sociologically, economically, politically, nationally and internationally as devastating and annihilating forces against the intelligent human heart, seeking meaning in life (Combs, 1992, 2003; Gebser, 1949; Gendlin, 1962; Nicolescu, 2008; W. Thompson, 1981, 1996).

Through the evolution of consciousness, in addition to human responsibility, we are hopefully beginning a breakthrough toward the integral structure of consciousness, from which an entirely new, expansive and holistic perception of reality may emerge. Because of Gebser’s (1949) obscurity within the academic and psychological field (W. Thompson, 1996), the influences of the evolution of consciousness are unrecognized, which can burden the field of psychology and sociology with the heavy lifting of figuring our way out of this mess. The incoming integral structure of consciousness (Feuerstein, 1987, 1992), is also expected to facilitate the psyche’s ability to perceive a new transparency toward an extraordinary sense of interrelatedness and an imaginative creative faculty toward a win-win, versus win lose power struggle. The integral structure of consciousness can be encouraged through the Emergence Courses, as individuals and group recognize the signs of their own powerful internal shifts that may begin as glimmers and sparks.

About the Author

Francie White

MS RD, PHD CANDIDATE IN CONSCIOUSNESS & TRANSFORMATIVE STUDIES

Francie White is a theorist and practitioner in the science and art of nutritional psychology as well as a creative force investigating and teaching about philosophies of consciousness. She has a 35 year history at the forefront of treatment for all types of disordered eating, which parallels her abounding interest in the deeper questions about the nature of reality, and the importance of resurrecting wonder within the journey of human life.

 

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