Tag: William James

Secret Teachers at Reality Sandwich

My friends at the Reality Sandwich site have posted an excerpt from The Secret Teachers of the Western World. It’s the closing sections of the Introduction, where I present the main argument of the book, that the western esoteric tradition has been the victim of a “consciousness war” going on for the last four centuries, the protagonists of which are our two cerebral hemispheres.

This tradition – which we can also call the “western consciousness tradition”-  has never disappeared. It has only gone underground, and its work has been carried on by many individuals, the “secret teachers” of the book. These range from full-on esoteric figures like Madame Blavatsky and Gurdjieff, to more mainstream thinkers like William James, Henri Bergson, and Plato, the father of western philosophy. I chart the contributions these “secret teachers” and others have made to western consciousness, from the distant past of ancient Greece, to our contemporary “post-everything” world, and suggest that, although we are undoubtedly going through a time of crisis, there is no cause for despair. The very precipice we seem to be teetering on may trigger a profound and much needed shift in our consciousness and enable us, in the words of the poet W. B. Yeats, to “complete our partial mind.”

Consciousness Evolves at the CIIS

This fall I’ll be teaching an online course in the evolution of consciousness for the California Institute of Integral Studies, based on my book A Secret History of Consciousness. We will be looking at the work of William James, Henri Bergson, P.D. Ouspensky, Colin Wilson, Jean Gebser, Rudolf Steiner and other thinkers, in an attempt to trace the outline of what I call “participatory epistemology,” an overly abstract term for the fundamental insight that consciousness does not merely mirror the world, but actually participates in bringing it into being. I will be trying to link a phenomenological analysis of consciousness to some central esoteric themes. The class code is TDS 8225 and you can find it the CIIS course listings. The description of the course currently on view is different from what we’ll be looking at, and is from a previous class. Here’s an overview of what we’ll be doing:

TSD 8225 ‘Evolution of Consciousness’


For the last four centuries, science has tried to account for everything in terms of atoms and molecules and the physical laws they obey. In recent years, this effort has been extended to include the inner world of human beings, with debatable results. But throughout the period of science’s dominance, there has been another approach which sees consciousness not as a result of neurons and molecules, but as the creative force behind them. In this view of consciousness, ‘meaning’ is not something we passively absorb from the outer world, but is a product of consciousness’ interaction with reality. In this approach, consciousness is a living, evolving presence whose different stages can be charted through different historical periods.


This course will focus on how the idea of an evolution of consciousness is presented in the work of both esoteric thinkers such as Madame Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, P.D. Ouspensky and others, but also in the ideas of mainstream philosophers such as William James and Henri Bergson. It will also look at the important but little known work of contemporary thinkers such as Jean Gebser, Colin Wilson, Jurij Moskvitin and others. The central text is my book A Secret History of Consciousness with forays into the work of the different thinkers discussed in an attempt to uncover the secrets of this important current in the history of the human mind.


I’m not sure if you need to be a full-time CIIS student in order to take the course, or if it’s available to people outside the Institute, but I will be posting more information and links as they become available. In any case, it’s an honour to be doing the course and I’m thrilled about having an opportunity to share and discuss these ideas with others.