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Jean Gebser. THE EVER-PRESENT ORIGIN. Power Point Presentation for the Seminar on Psychology of Social Development organized by the University of Human Unity, Auroville. Structures of consciousness.

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Jean Gebser

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jean gebser

Jean Gebser



Power Point Presentation

for the Seminar on Psychology of Social Development

organized by the University of Human Unity, Auroville

structures of consciousness
Structures of consciousness
  • Archaic( Primal man, Protanthropos, Purusha of the Rig Veda, Adam Kadmon of the Cabbala, Osiris of the Egyptian-Gnostics)
  • Magic (‘here the primal man becomes the maker’, vital impulse and instinct thus unfold and develop a consciousness in dealing with Nature; witchcraft and sorcery, totem and taboo are the natural means of freeing himself from Nature) (appr. before 10 000 BC)
  • Mythical(brings the awareness of the inner life of the soul, its history and its origin, the primal Myth) (appr. before 2500 BC)
  • Mental (‘It individualizes man from his previously valid world, emphasizing his singularity and making his ego possible.’(p.76) It introduces a perspectival perception of the world (1250-1500 AD) by spatializing time perception; it represents life by conceptualizing it, distancing man from his own nature.)
  • Integral (freedom from all the structures by their transparent rearrangement into one integral oneness of being)
the structures of consciousness in the mandukya upanishad
The structures of consciousness in the Mandukya Upanishad
  • Turiya, the original state of identity of the pure transcendental consciousness and being, which somehow embodies all the three following stages and at the same time transcends them all.
  • Prajñā, a dream without dreaming, pure perception, not marred by the dreams coming from the interaction with the outer or inner world.
  • Svapna, a dream like state with dreams being dreamed.
  • Jāgrata , a wakeful state in the outer consciousness.
The transition from the Magic to the Mythical and Mental structures with respect to the faculties of consciousness
  • Feeling/Hearing
  • Speaking/Imagining
  • Thinking/Seeing

or we can paraphrase it as:

  • perceiving inwardly the nature as part of oneself through feelings and emotions;
  • expressing oneself as the inner soul by speech and imagination, already different from nature (from within to without) ;
  • perceiving outwardly oneself as a distinct part of nature by seeing objectively oneself and others and thinking about it.
transition from mythical to mental thinking
Transition from Mythical to Mental “thinking”
  • The Greek word menis, meaning ‘wrath’ and ‘courage’, comes from the same stem as the word menos, which means ‘resolve’, ‘anger’, ‘courage’ and ‘power’; it is related also to the Latin word mens, which has an unusually complex set of meanings: “intent, anger, thinking, thought, understanding, deliberation, disposition, mentality, imagination”.
  • “What is fundamental here is already evident in the substance of these words: it is the first intimation of the emergence of directed or discursive thought. Whereas mythical thinking, to the extent that it could be called ‘thinking’, was a shaping or designing of images in the imagination which took place within the confines of the polar cycle, discursive thought is fundamentally different. It is no longer polar related, enclosed in and reflecting polarity from which it gains its energy, but rather directed toward objects and duality, creating and directing this duality, and drawing its energy from the individual ego.” (p.75)
some sanskrit derivations
Some Sanskrit derivations
  • mā, ‘to measure, create, make’ from here we have derivations like: mā-tṛ, ‘mother’, ‘creatrix’, mā-yā, ‘creative force of knowledge’, ‘power of illusion’, etc.
  • man, ‘to think, will, wish, understand’, with derivations of manas, ‘mind’, ‘intellect’, ‘will’, etc., manu, ‘thinking creature, man, the first Man’; manuṣya, mānava, ‘man’ etc., mati, ‘thought, opinion’ etc.
  • manyu, ‘high spirit or temper, ardour, zeal, passion; rage, fury, wrath, anger, etc.’
man is the measure of all things
“Man is the measure of all things.”
  • “The root (man), then, on which ‘mental’ is based carries within itself the germ of an entire world which takes on form and shape, and becomes effective reality in the mental structuration… it is the world of man, that is, a predominantly human world where ‘man is the measure of all things’ (Protagoras), where man himself thinks and directs this thought.And the world which he measures, to which he aspires, is a material world – a world of objects outside himself, with which he is confronted. Here lie the rudiments of the great formative concepts, the mental abstraction which take the place of the mythical images and are, in certain sense, formulae or patterns of gods, i.e., idols: anthropomorphism, dualism, rationalism, finalism, utilitarianism, materialism – in other words, the rational components of the perspectival world.”
  • “When compared to the mythical structure, with its temporal-psychic emphasis, the transition to the mental structure suggests a fall from time into space. Man steps out of the sheltering, two-dimensional circle and its confines into three-dimensional space. Here he no longer exists within polar complementarity; here he is in confrontation with an alien world – a dualism that must be bridged by a synthesis in thought, a mental form of trinity.Here we can no longer speak of unity, correspondence, or complementarity, not to mention integrity.”
  • (p. 77)
three distinct features of the mental structure in art and sculpture
Three distinct features of the Mental structure in Art and Sculpture
  • First, there is an awakening sense of the human body expressed in this sculpture, which forms a precondition of the later conscious realisation of space.
  • Second, there is the so-called archaic smile, a mysterious smile remote from pain and joy, but reflecting the awakening and dawn of the emergent radiant human countenance.
  • And third, there is a gradual appearance of the free and clear forehead, which, in the earliest sculpture, is covered by artfully plaited hair almost downward to the eyebrows – a protection, as it were, of the still dreaming forehead. Even today, this forehead, unawakened from dream with hair loosely combed over it, can be seen among male peasants…”
the emergence of the mental structure in drama
The emergence of the Mental structure in Drama
  • In Greek Drama (based on the ritual presentation to Dionysus) “the chorus stood in opposition, as it were, to the individual performers, critisizing or explaining their actions…. We have an individual who acts in contrast to ‘common psyche’ and distinct from it, even if he acts in the name of the god; … the Etruscan word persona was most likely etymologically related to Greek prosopon, ‘mask’. … the performer wearing the mask is placed in opposition to the chorus. The performer was called a Hypokrites, which meant essentially ‘the responder’; and in the early Greek period he co-responds mythically, as the individual soul, to the common soul and forms its reciprocal pole. He re-sponds or reciprocates the words of the chorus, subsuming it and establishing the polar equilibrium and polar complement.” Later “ in tragedy this process undergoes a change. The performer is no longer a ‘responder’ in the mythical sense; rather, as an individual (one becoming conscious), he represents the opposite or antithesis of the chorus (the “unconscious”).The mask as an expression of magic egolessness gives a way to the mask in our modern sense which depersonalizes or obstructs the true ego: the ego concealed “behind” it in the newly acquired dimension of depth, which is as inaccessible to the magic structure as a spatial “behind”.
the emergence of the mental structure in the terms of social law
The emergence of the Mental structure in the terms of social law
  • Indian Primal Man, the law-giver Manu;
  • Cretan King Minos (son of Zeus and Europa);
  • The first ‘historical’ Egyptian King Menes (3100 BC), or the first human pharaoh, who inherited Egypt directly from God Horus.

“Wherever the lawgiver appears, he upsets the old equilibrium (mythical polarity), and in order to re-establish it, laws must be fixed and established. Only a mental world requires laws; the mythical world, secure in the polarity, neither knows nor needs them.” (p.76)

monotheistic religions and the transition to the mental structure
Monotheistic Religions and the transition to the Mental Structure
  • Moses introduces Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, who before only worshipped the powers of Nature in its magic structure. He gives them the Word, the Language, and the Mythical history, and the Law to obey and follow. (It is still based on the Matriarchic domination).
  • Jesus spoke of the realisation of the individual soul and its relation to the Universal Soul. Jesus was often called the Son of Man. Jesus is in the heart of every man, and it is through him only that one can come to His Father. (Equality of men and women).
  • Mahomet even stronger insists on the religious dogma, which is to be followed, legalizing the fear of punishment for the disobedience to the Social and Religious Law. (Patriarchal domination).
transition to the natural philosophy
Transition to the natural philosophy
  • Philosophy itself is a prerequisite of Mental Structure. Parmenides and especially his pupil Zeno (450 BC) defines the comprehension of being as ‘spatially extended being’. But the decisive fact is that space assumes form in conceptual thought and philosophical statement and formulation. ... Which in turn lead via Socrates to logic just one generation later; and with logic, we step out into the clarity of thought where we can breath freely after having been only too long devoted to magic darkness and mythical twilight.” (p. 83)
  • Clarity is where there is not further search (according to Plato);yet it is precisely this search for truth which supplants truth itself that was characteristic of Socrates and even of Pythagoras.
  • Parmenides first made an “attempt to place the new element, thought, and Being – because it is identified with thought – into opposition with Non-Being. And this Non-Being is definitely a reference to the mythical context whose spacelessness is henceforth mentally defined as Non-Being.” (p.84)
the word and the emergence of mental language
The Word and the emergence of mental language
  • ‘The difficulties against which conceptualization struggled are more intelligible if we recall the psychic and vital profusion inherent in every word at that time; each word was the flaring up of an aspect of the psyche and the visible psychic reality which, undifferentiated, includes the one or the other aspect of the same word as a kind of sympathetic vibration. This wealth of connotation in each word, which to us appears like an irritating hyper-fertility where even the unspoken aspect is conveyed, posed nearly insurmountable difficulties of expression to early philosophical attempts.
  • The Parmenides’ theory of Being is an eloquent example [of these difficulties]. It required centuries to sufficiently devitalize and demythologize the word so that it was able to express distinct concepts freed from the wealth of imagery, as well as to reach the rationalistic extreme where the word, once a power and later an image, was degraded to a mere formula.” (p.83)
polarity and duality of the word
Polarity and Duality of the Word
  • The duality of a mental structure differs in one essential aspect from the polarity of the mythical structure. “In polarity correspondences are valid. Every correspondence is a complement, a completion of the whole. Whatever is spoken is corroborated by the invisible and latent unspoken to which it co-responds; it the polar, unperspectival world of the mythical structure, both the voice and the muteness, appropriate to myth – what is spoken and what is left unsaid – are correspondences and complements to each other. They suspend and supersede the polarity, returning it to near-integrality, to an identity that nonetheless diminished, since its archaic authenticity seemed to be irrecoverable: it is a re-completed, not a completed identity.
  • But with respect to duality we cannot speak of correspondence or complementarity as we could in the case of polarity: in the mental realm we can never ‘speak of something’, but only determine something or conceive of it.” (p. 86)
the directional character of time in the mental structure
The directional character of ‘time’ in the Mental Structure
  • “The temporicity of myth differs from the temporality of the mind. The temporistic movement of nature and the cosmos is unaware of the temporal phases of past, present and future; it knows only the polar self-complementarity of coming and going which completely pervades it all the times. It is devoid of directionality, whereas the past and the future, viewed from the present of any given person, are temporal directions. It is this directional character of ‘time’ which underscores its mental nature and therefore its constitutional difference from natural-cosmic temporistic movement which is mythical in nature. Or, we might say that time differs from temporicity because of its directness, and hence a retrogression into mythical movement can neither answer nor resolve the question as to the nature of our mental time.” (p. 173)
transition from mythical to mental thinking1
Transition from Mythical to Mental thinking
  • Oceanic thinking could be described as oceanic circling, reminiscent of mythical image; it is a form of thought closely tied to the mythical structure.
  • Pyramidal(logical) thinking is the efficient form of Mental-rational (conceptual) thinking of which the Perspectival (spatial) thinking is the deficient form.
  • Paradoxical thinking is like a residue of the Mythical and Magic in the Mental structure.
oceanic thinking
Oceanic thinking
  • “In the beginning (A) was the Word (B) and the Word (B) was with God (C) and God (C) was the Word (B). The same [Word] (B) was in the beginning (A) with God…”
  • It is a process of self-contemplation, and the central concept - here circumscribed rather than described – is “God”. (p.253)


“The fact that oceanic thinking circumscribes something is a vivid demonstration that the mythical circular world has a content. By destroying the circle with directed thinking, man, to the extent that he is mental man, has lost this content; for space is without content. The lack of content, which initially appears as openness, became obvious in the deficient rational phase (of the mental structure). This openness has been described as emptiness, and indeed since then it is emptiness. For that reason any mere description is today empty and noncommittal. In this sense, descriptions are rational, flattened, and quantified attributions that initially had a mental value and made our conceptual world possible."


Heraclites says: “For souls it is death to become water; for water it is death to become earth. But from the earth comes water and from water soul.” (p. 252)

Soul A

A Soul


B Water

Water B

Water B

B Water

Earth C

C Earth

pyramidal thinking
Pyramidal Thinking
  • First premise: ‘All men are mortal.’ A=B
  • Second premise: ‘Socrates is a man.’ C=A
  • Conclusion: ‘Therefore, Socrates is mortal’. C=B









deficiency of pyramidal logic
Deficiency of pyramidal logic

Reduced validity of perspectival thinking can be found in the logic from a particular to general, for instance:

  • A man fell into the water.
  • We are all men.
  • Consequently, we will all fall into the water.
  • If Pyramidal logic of Plato made us “visualize a vertically constructed world image and philosophical system. Kant’s dualism on the other hand, where appearances confront cognition and reason as their object and the thing in itself is to be sought behind the appearances, presupposes a horizontal arrangement of basic concepts and their content. There is surely a basic distinction between Platonic and Kantian philosophy inasmuch as Kant’s ideas no longer reside above man, but are points of orientation lying in the same plane with man.”
  • “But this has made thinking itself spatial and static, permitting the materialisation of “spirit” and even the spatialization of time…” (p. 259)
paradoxical thinking
Paradoxical Thinking
  • The bond which diaresis has severed – a bond which man dispenses with only at the peril of denying a part of himself (the irrational) – cannot be restored either by pyramidal or, even less, by perspectival thought.
  • Yet it is possible to propose a previously unrecognized form of thought that reveals the co-validity of the irrational in a form reminiscent of a rational mode of formation. We have called this thought form paradoxical and described paradoxical statement as the pre-eminent form of religious utterance.
  • From the mental point of view, paradoxical thinking actually establishes the bond or religio to the irrationality and pre-rationality of the mythical and magic structures. It is a form that mediates between the oceanic and perspectival thinking and contains both rational and irrational elements. A good example of paradoxical expression is the well-known statement of Pascal: “You would not seek me if you had not found me”. (p. 259)
mirroring image in paradoxical thinking
Mirroring image in Paradoxical thinking

You would not find meB

Aif you had not sought me.

“Whatever lies ‘beyond’ the spatial-perspectival point in ‘infinity’ – that is, in the immeasurable – verifies in its image what is posited in rational terms as a result. In other words, a statement of irrational character in the rational sphere has in the irrational structure a rational character, that is, ‘beyond’ and ‘on the other side’ of the point ‘behind’ the spatialising horison. This re-establishes in an anusually clever and effective manner the bond or religio to the past.” (p. 260)

“You would not seek me,A

Bif you had not found me.”

three most familiar statements on thought and thinking
Three most familiar statements on thought and thinking
  • “Thinking and being is one and the same.” (Parmenides) This statement equates, giving moderation and balance.
  • “Thinking is calculation in words”. (Hobbes) The measuring aspect of thinking, its quality, has been changed to a quantity via the pluralizing inherent in the statement as well as by the numerical “calculation”.
  • “I think, therefore I am.” (Descartes) Here the isolated thinking by an individual is alone valid, and the spatial Being of Parmenides comes to be identified, as a consequence of thinking, with the being of a person.
the formation of the ego in the mental structure
The formation of the Ego in the mental structure
  • Descartes with his cogito (I think),transposes the action or movement confirming or substantiating the existence of the ego essentially from the psychic-vital realm into the psychic-mental; and this is merely a kind of hyper-gradation that does not eliminate ergo (therefore) [sum, I am].
  • The fact that such varied interpretations are possible at all and remain at variance even if we take into account the particular definitions of each individual philosopher, can be explained if we remember that all such axioms are in part determined by the psyche.In the rarified air of abstraction, they regain a certain ambiguity and equivocation inherent in the psyche. How could this not be true also of Descartes who limits his inquiry in Discourse de la Methode to the rationalistic calculation of the “verities”, the truths alone? (p.97)
deficient formations of the mental structure
Deficient formations of the mental structure
  • Here we can discern the tragic aspect of the deficient mental structure: Reason, reversing itself metabolistically to an exaggerated rationalism, becomes a kind of inferior plaything of the psyche, neither noticing nor even suspecting the connection. Although the convinced rationalist will be unwilling to admit it, there is after all the rational distorted image of the speculatio animae: the speculatio rationis, a kind of shadow-boxing before a mirror whose reflection occurs against the blind surface. This negative link to the psyche, usurping the place of the genuine mental relation, destroys the very thing achieved by the authentic relation: the ability to gain insight into the psyche.
  • In every extreme rationalisation there is not just a violation of the psyche by the ratio, that is, a negatively magic element, but also the graver danger, graver because of its avenging and incalculable nature: the violation of the ratio by the psyche, where both become deficient. The authentic relation to the psyche, the mental, is perverted into its opposite, to the disadvantage of the ego that has become blind through isolation. (p. 97)