A Season of Consciousness

Here’s a round up of some upcoming talks for spring and summer. One hopes that sometime soon they can take place in real time, but until then, we must zoom – which, of course, doesn’t mean that I will lecture at a breakneck speed…

On 24 April I will be speaking about Owen Barfield, consciousness and language, for the Santa Cruz branch of the Anthroposophical Society. Barfield was the great friend of C.S. Lewis, one of the Inklings – along with Lewis and Tolkien – and a follower of Rudolf Steiner. But he was also a brilliant thinker in his own right, and I will be speaking about how in the history of language, Barfield discerned an evolution of consciousness. If you are interested in getting some background to the talk, I write about Barfield in A Secret History of Consciousness and Lost Knowledge of the Imagination

Starting 13 June, and continuing on 27 June and 11 July, I will be giving a three-part series of talks for the Theosophical Society in London based on my book A Secret History of Consciousness.

Part 1, The Search for Cosmic Consciousness, looks at the limits of the “nothing but” school of consciousness studies, and at the work of R.M. Bucke, William James, P.D. Ouspensky and others in their quest to expand the field of human consciousness so that it can encompass the cosmos.

Part 2, Esoteric Evolution, looks at the influence of Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophy on Rudolf Steiner, and how, by grafting elements from German Idealism and the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great poet and scientist, onto Blavatsky’s Theosophy, Steiner developed a suggestive philosophy of consciousness.

Part 3, The Presence or Origin, looks at the work of Jean Gebser, a little know philosopher and spiritual thinker whose ideas about the “structures of consciousness” and the “breakdown” of our current “mental-rational” structure can help shed some light on our turbulent times.

On 19 June, I will be giving a two hour presentation on “Beyond the Robot: Consciousness and Existentialism,” based on my book, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, for the Pari Center, in Tuscany, Italy. (And yes, I would very much have liked this one to have been in real time…) Some of my readers will know that Wilson was one of the most important and insightful philosophers of consciousness of the past two centuries. My talk will focus on his attempt to create a “new existentialism,” a positive one driven by optimism and meaning, to replace the grim, stoical vision of Heidegger, Sartre and Camus, which ended in a cul-de-sac. My presentation is part of a series, “What is Consciousness,” which includes presentations by Iain McGilchrist, Bernardo Kastrup, Roshi Richard Baker – whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, at the end of 2019, just on the cusp of Coronamania – and others.

On 26 June I will be the keynote speaker at the Annual Convention of the Swedenborg Church of North America. I will be speaking about my new book, Introducing Swedenborg: Correspondences, an essay on the influence Swedenborg’s ideas about “correspondences” between the natural and spiritual worlds had on modern culture. I’m not sure if this is open to the public. If it is, I will post the details forthwith.

On 18 July, my talk for the Last Tuesday Society, “A Dark Muse: Writers and the Occult,” based on my book The Dedalus Book of the Occult: A Dark Muse (published in the US as A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult), will look at how ideas about the occult and esoteric have influenced some of the greatest writers and poets of the past few centuries. August Strindberg, Fernando Pessoa, Arthur Rimbaud, J. K. Huysmans are some the recipients of this seductive muse’s inspiration.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the letting up of locking down, but remember to stay safe and well.

2 thoughts on “A Season of Consciousness

  1. Brilliant Gary – I look forward to your upcoming talks. Though attending in person is a prefered choice, without Covid, thus Zoom, I would not have been able to attend any so keep up the Zoom talks too, if you can, once Covid restrictions are lifted.

  2. Very excited about all of these opportunities to ‘tune in’ to hear all that you have to contribute to our understanding of a constructive approach to the deep understanding of human existence informed not by Cartesian Nominalism, or by Heidegerrian phenomenology, but by a constructive postmodernism that gives us a way forward out of the mess that we are in primarily due to Nominalism and is ‘progeny’ including materialism, individualism, sensationalism, and phenomenalism. We need to extract ourselves from a primarily Left-Hemispheric ‘Emissary’ perspective which emphasizes analysis and taking things apart, and achieve a constructive integrative balance with a Right-Hemispheric ‘Master’ perspective of wholeness and integration. The problem is that the Left Hemisphere has exclusive access to language and we have become so incredibly language- and text-dependent with the digitalization of our culture that it has caused an obfuscation of Master’s perspective and understanding which understands things in terms of affective experience rather than expressed language. This distinction runs very deep and it is at the heart of the problem that Walker Percy called ‘The Fateful Rift–The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind’ claiming that the modern view of the human condition shaped by science is fundamentally incoherent precisely because it is based on a foundation of substance only, rather than relation. Which leads inevitably to alienation, depersonalization, and violence against other because there is no foundation for moral sensibilities. As you have pointed out most eloquently, Nietzsche was warning us about the skeptical path to nihilism and moral depravity that modernity was on, and Schopenhauer before him. And it all can be traced back, I think, to the debate in the 17th century between Cartesianism and Scholastic Realism (particularly in the form of the triadic semiotics developed by John Poinsot–John of St Thomas–who was a contemporary of Descartes, a Portuguese Dominican friar who taught philosophy and theology in Spain and wrote a book called ‘Tractatus de Signis’ published in 1632 that put forward a semiotic theory through which the ‘fateful rift’ could be navigated and resolved). But the way this debate was resolved was fundamentally and purely political–NOT based on philosophical understanding and reasoning at all. It was simple: the human is split down the middle into mind/soul/consciousness on the one hand–ie. all that cannot be seen as fitting neatly into ‘res extensa’ (ie. all of which cannot be ‘seen’ per se)–which Descartes labelled ‘res cogitans’, and the body as res extensa, on the other hand. The former was given over to the Church and the latter was bequeathed to the ‘natural philosophers’ for scientific study. A political solution that gave each side what they ultimately wanted. Never mind the philosophical tractability. Never mind the metaphysical implications. Never mind the ultimate fallout with respect to morality and human conduct. And so we find ourselves on the modern path to self-destruction…

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