At Wit’s End: David Bohm and Metamind

by Scott Preston edited by O Society September 20, 2019

Let’s review the essential problem of the Modern Mind with which Bohm wrestled, because we cannot get far in understanding Bohm’s new mode of thinking without understanding the context — the modern mode of thinking and consciousness now at its wit’s end and in the throes of its own dissolution.

This problem also was noted earlier by H.G. Wells, who published a book in 1945 entitled Mind At the End of Its Tether. This is coincident with the publication of a whole series of articles published then in Commentary Magazine under the theme “The Crisis of the Individual“. One of the most interesting articles in this series is Waldo Frank’s “The Central Problem of Modern Man.”

At the same time, cultural philosopher and historian Jean Gebser prepared to publish his great book The Ever-Present Origin (1949 as Ursprung und Gegenwart in German) which also describes, in some detail, how the “mental-rational” (or “perspectival”) structure of consciousness is entering its “deficient mode of functioning” otherwise called “disintegration” or “decadence” or “dissolution.” This is what Bohm refers to as “fragmentation.” The so-called “New Normal” is an intensification of this process which we might call “Wit’s End”.

Simultaneous with Gebser’s diagnosis of the modern malaise, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote about the disintegration of the personality and character structure of modern man (that is, the mind or ego-consciousness). In 1979, Christopher Lasch came out with his important work on the problem entitled The Culture of Narcissism, where he largely put his finger on the essential problem, and this was while David Bohm was putting the finishing touches on his own masterwork Wholeness and the Implicate Order as his own response to this dissolution and malaise.

In those terms, then, Lasch’s book and Bohm’s book should be read together as exemplifying the two poles of what Gebser calls “the double-movement,” one a description of fragmentation and atomisation and the other leaning towards wholeness and integration. For this reason, I’ve designated the state of mind Bohm describes as “fragmentation” as “the narcissistic mode of consciousness.” Again, I refer you to Max Leyf’s very fine article on this narcissistic mode of consciousness “Narcissism, Idolatry, & Self-Knowledge” as one of the best short statements I have read on the issue.

I might also mention in this respect “Buddhist sociologist” David Loy’s writing on Egoism and Wegoism as also a good source for understanding the essential problem of fragmentation and “the New Normal” as this finds polarisation today in the menacing and destructive antithesis of individualism and nationalism. This destructive antithesis is evidence of the contemporary mind’s unraveling through the corrosive effects of its own self-contradictions that we all recognise (or should recognise) by the term “cognitive dissonance” which, for Bohm, is his concern for the lack of any “inner harmony” in the individual and society.

We simply cannot understand the concerns of a Bohm, or a Gebser, or a Blake, or a Nietzsche, or a Rosenstock-Huessy (names I frequently invoke in The Chrysalis) without insight into this narcissistic mode of consciousness and thinking, which insight can only be obtained by invoking the mode of consciousness and perception I here call “Metamind” (or “Metanoia” in Rosenstock-Huessy’s terms) and which Bohm begins to describe as the “rheomode” (or fluid mode) of thought, consciousness and perception.

This is what impressed me about Charles Foster’s essay in Emergence, “On the Language of the Deep Blue” where he writes about his seeming regret about his inability to overcome the narcissistic mode of thinking and consciousness, and in a way that precisely describes Bohm’s own concerns about this mode (which McGilchrist calls “Emmisary” mode of attention).

This is a shame. I expect that a real deer is fantastically more interesting, complex, and charismatic than my thoughts about deer. But I wouldn’t know. I’ve never seen a deer, although on that cold morning, there were hundreds at the trackside. I doubt I ever will. I’m incurably self-referential and, hence, self-reverential. I live in a world of narcissistic abstraction. It’s the fault of my cognition, which is in a demonic conspiracy with language to prevent me escaping from my own skull.

Yes, that is Blake’s own “mind-forg’d manacles” and the meaning of his remark:

“For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern”

That is, perhaps, the best single statement on narcissistic mode I know of. And yet, the fact the Foster actually perceives it and has insight into it as it functions in himself indicates he’s beginning to function from a different mode of consciousness already, because the chiefest feature of the narcissistic mode is it never gains insight into itself. So Foster already begins to perceive from a “space” or a “time” already outside the narcissistic mode itself and already ceases to identify with that mode. This is what I call here “Metamind,”, although this isn’t really too much different from what Buddhists describe as “Mindfulness.”

This characterises Bohm’s “rheomode” of consciousness. It could well be described as the attempt to bring “Mindfulness” practice into the practice of science itself by emphasising the process over the content of thinking, thus drawing our attention to how the thinking process and the actual function of language structure (grammar that is) shapes our construction and perception of reality and of ourselves also. Since this cannot be done within the boundaries of the narcissistic mode itself, it is necessary to assume a different “stance” (as it were) in relation to thought and speech processes, and to make the processes of mind explicit rather than latently assumed, taken-for-granted, presupposed or tacit. That is to say, to make these unconscious or hidden processes completely transparent and lift them out of present opacity.

The rheomode, then, can be thought of as the practice of what Gebser calls “diaphaneity” or “transparency” through which what is only latent or hid within the experience of everyday life is made explicit and manifest. This implies the invocation of a different mode of attention than that of “normal” practice, and this mode of attention (a term I prefer to “level”) is what we find described by Aurobindo as “supramental consciousness”, or Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia,” or what Gebser calls “diaphanous” (or “the Itself”), what McGilchrist describes as “the Master” mode of attention, or what we can just call “Metamind.” What’s involved in this is a “leap”.

This “leap” is somewhat akin to a quote from the philosopher R.G. Collingwood that I just read (and which recalls also “the Overview Effect:”

“All great philosophers have this calmness of mind, all passion spent by the time their vision is clear, and they write as if they saw things from a mountain-top.”

In the rheomode, logic and language structure are perceived to be intimately related, and insight into this permits some degree of emancipation and freedom from mere conditioned responses and routine patterns of thought and behaviour (that is to say, what Blake calls “the dark Satanic Mill”) that we also call “mental-merry-go-round” or “the mill o’ the gods”.

The rheomode (fluent or fluid mode) requires the same degree of non-identification and non-attachment as the Buddhist practice of “mindfulness.” In this sense, it is also a method of self-discovery inasmuch as it inquires into those hidden processes that condition our experience, our perception, our responses, our thinking and our behaviour and which prevent us from perceiving reality as it is — whole and undivided.

In consequence of practicing the rheomode, what we currently hold to be “reality” and “knowledge” are now perceived to be largely illusory or merely descriptions of reality. It is our mode of thinking that induces fragmentation within the flow of undivided wholeness and this mode of thinking is not harmonised with “reality as a whole”. And it is this insight into the fundamental reality-as-a-whole that also underscores the Buddha’s exclamation upon his enlightenment: “O Wonderul! Wonderful! Everything is perfect just as it is”. This is what Buddhists call “suchness”.

Which means, of course, that there is an “objective reality” as such. It’s just not what we merely think it is given that our current mode of thinking and consciousness is not aligned or harmonised with that fundamental reality but has even assumed a posture of antagonism towards it (which is pretty much the theme of this article in The Conversation on “humanity and nature”). The rheomode is also an attempt to overcome this dualism or antagonism between humanity and nature, or mind and matter as it were.

Bohm therefore rightly concludes that we can hardly expect to overcome the proliferating crises and fragmentation of reality without overcoming this in ourselves, since all we would do is reconstruct the conditions for the persistence of this fragmentation. Both Bohm and Gebser are in absolute agreement on this point. We must gain insight into our own narcissistic modes of thinking and behaviour before we can free ourselves from them, for even as Nietzsche knew, understanding freezes action or, which is equivalent to that, stops the wheel of karma.

Now, because the rheomode is an attempt to gain insight and understanding into the very roots of logic and language, this begins to approach that condition described as “enlightenment,” for as you might recall Yogananda once described enlightenment as coming to awareness of the roots or origins of speech and language which means, essentially, that from which mind itself arises or precipitates also called “the unoriginated origin.”

So, with Wholeness and the Implicate Order and the rheomode of thinking (which we have called “articulating” mode) Bohm has shown himself to be among that contemporary cohort described, usefully, as “the Emergentsia,” which we may describe as post-Cartesian thinkers. This is what I find exemplary, also, of Charles Foster’s statement cited above. Emergence begins with that insight into the narcissistic mode of the Ego consciousness or what McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” mode, so the rheomode may be thought of as “surfacing” (from samsara or Maya, or what Blake called “Ulro” or “the dark Satanic Mill” of “Single Vision”).

This is happening in our time, too, even if there are many who fail to understand it, or even take up a hostile and reactionary stance against it. The rheomode is just a special instance of a much larger mutation in consciousness and perception associated with “the return of the repressed” for which Bohm provides some needed guidance. As we have seen, too, that guidance takes the form of a mandala-like process which is also very similar to Jung, Rosenstock-Huessy, Gebser, Blake and others among the new “Emergentsia” or post-Cartesian integral thinkers and which is also exemplary among those we might describe as “ecological thinkers”. For, like the rheomode itself, ecology is likewise a description of a phasic articulationof one dynamic flow of energy which happens also to be fourfold or quadrilateral, as exemplifed by the “Holling Adaptive Cycle” which could just as easily describe Bohm’s rheomode as well

Holling’s Adaptive Cycle

It is best, then, to think of these phase states of the singular flow as conjoining “articulations” of that one flow. This particular structure, which is also mandala-like, also suggests the meaning of what Bohm describes as “the implicate order” within the “holomovement” or “undivided whole in flowing movement.”

We see this same emerging quadrilateral pattern in widely different fields of endeavour that I’ve described as “the tetramorph” — the fourfold and which is also completely in sync with indigenous Sacred Hoop teachings in respect of that pattern. This pattern also informs what Gebser calls “the pre-existing pattern” he detected in his history of civilisations as consciousness structures, and we find this same pattern in Blake’s “fourfold vision” and in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” and “cross of reality” approach.

This pattern is in the Buddhist mandala, and in the relation of the Buddha to the “Four Heavenly Kings” (or “Four Lords of Dharma”). This same pattern is, of course, emerging in the contemporary cosmic picture of a four-dimensional spacetime and four fundamental formative forces as well as Carl Jung’s four psychological types which, quite evidently, have some affinity with Jean Gebser’s four consciousness structures.

This is also the implicit pattern of what we call “The Anthropocene” which is, ironically, also the imminent form of the birth of what we might call “the Global Soul,” because it prepares the way for world revolution and the birth of what Blake calls “the Universal Humanity.” (Blake actually anticipated World Revolution before Marx did). Today’s first “global climate strike” may well prove to be, also, the first shot fired across the bow of the Old Order by the New Age, for I know of no precedent as yet for a global general strike.

We’ll see, in time, how Bohm’s ideas about wholeness, the implicate order, and the rheomode contribute to this manifestation of “the Global Soul” also represented in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “Universal History.”

(header image: Kalachakra mandala)

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