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The Dynamics of Transformation: Tracing an Emerging World View Paperback – January 2, 2017
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The ingression or invasion of consciousness and novelty into our time and space is big medicine and may even be cause for a little math-based hopefulness. Evolving or changing has four causes according to Aristotle - material, efficient, formal and final. What a thing’s made of, its precedent, the nature of change (eg. octave is 2:1) and the ultimate purpose respectively.
This is just the beginning of what I learned from Grant Maxwell’s The Dynamics of Transformation. Clearly smarter now, and with a totally expanded perspective on my life and my own desperate philosophical exercises, I’m glad I barreled through the intellectual obstacle course that composed the introduction.
Abstract concept after abstract concept, vividly elucidated by a world-class wordsmith though it is, the feeling is of a precarious acid trip with Lord Alfred North Whitehead. However, once the intro’s behind you (escape velocity) and when more time is taken, though time itself takes a beating in this thing as well, the author is able to bring the intellectual level down to a comfortable sprint and it becomes a lot more fun. Whereas Rick Tarnas illustrates the ingression of archetype into our world through countless cultural and historical examples, Maxwell has a far more ambitious philosophical agenda.
Whitehead, Nietzsche, Plato, Aristotle, Heidegger and the late teleoligist Terrence McKenna, heavyweights all, forge the bedrock of Dr. Maxwell’s explorations and intimations for a new mode. A shift is suggested, like the big bang perhaps, or life on earth, or smart monkeys or whatever it is we have become since, perhaps with a formal cause of reverse bifurcation and unification between subject and object – the fundamental goal of yoga. Something new, moving at last through the archaic, magic, mythological and mental mode of scientific rationalism into an ontology, an epistemology that integrates and expands on its precedents.
If post-modernism can be summed up as the collapsing of the meta-narrative of scientific rationalism evolving into utopia into a fragmented mosaic where people are simply the product of social and economic forces, and, like me, you find this depressing – here’s a way forward, plausible and elegantly reasoned.
English professor Harold Bloom defines sublime as “sacrificing easy pleasures for more difficult ones.” The Dynamics of Transformation is no easy pleasure, but once your brain bootstraps itself into the necessary frequency it is a unique and groundbreaking philosophical roller coaster.
Grant Maxwell follows a number of other thinkers in suggesting that human consciousness has passed through a number of distinct frameworks for making sense of the world, and that many of our basic disagreements about how to live can be traced to the fact that many people still inhabit fundamentally different frameworks. They have different worldviews and so experience the world differently. The dominant frameworks now are the mythical and the rational, and this accounts for the idea that some see the world primarily in terms of their religious views and others primarily in terms of scientific and utilitarian thinking. What is more important though is that he considers we are on the brink of the emergence of a new worldview that encompasses what is right about both of these (and other more basic frameworks) but overcomes their limitations. His aim in this book is to highlight some of the features of this new emerging worldview and to help motivate its adoption. Some thinkers (like Jean Gebser and, following him, Ken Wilber) have described this new worldview as the “integral” worldview.
In each of the chapters of the book he examines one of twelve insights into reality that will only be fully apparent from the perspective of this new worldview. Some of these insights will be familiar to anyone who has worked through some of the insights of the post-Kantian philosophical tradition. One of these is that “worldviews create worlds,” which is the idea that reality only appears to us in ways that we are capable of understanding, and that how we understand the world reshapes the world by affecting how we interact with it. Another is the idea of the “reconciling third” which is that apparently opposed or polarizing views usually have some truth in them but can’t be the ultimate truth. They should push us towards a synthesis, a more comprehensive way of thinking that makes sense of both. Other ideas that he associates with this new emerging worldview are more novel, at least to this reader. Examples would include his suggestion that reality operates according to a logic of archetypes and that these should be understood as akin to fractals, simple patterns that through repetition and recursion create complex patterns that turn out to be variations of the simpler patterns.
I did sometimes wonder who Maxwell saw as the audience for this book. Sometimes he writes as if he wants to motivate people who are operating at the mythical or rational levels to take the leap towards a more integral way of thinking. More often though, he seems to be preaching to the converted, because he often employs vocabulary that he hasn’t fully explained but that might be familiar to a group of people who are working on these ideas. It’s a fascinating and provocative read, and while I found a lot to disagree with it was always interesting. Part of the challenge in arguing with what he writes is that he isn’t specifically arguing for the positions he outlines but, rather, attempting to describe them and to explain how the insights he examines relate to and support one another. Philosophical writing tends to work in one of two modes. One is to argue for positions. Another is to inhabit those positions, to try to illuminate their features and motivate their adoption by showing how they work and showing the insights available to one who adopts them. Hegel, for example, who Maxwell cites approvingly, tends to do both. Nietzsche, by way of contrast, tends to do more of the latter. Maxwell seems here to be working closer to the approach of Nietzsche — not in employing aphorisms but in his effort to motivate the adoption of the new worldview he describes by describing it rather than specifically arguing for it. That approach makes sense in part because the premises one might rely upon in arguing for the adoption of a worldview would depend upon that worldview. On the other hand, though, it sometimes means that he uses the fact that two ideas are similar in some respects to suggest that the one counts as evidence for the other. He’ll leap from talking about transitions at the subatomic level, say, to talking about things like conversion experiences, suggesting they exhibit similar structures. Hegel criticized Shelling for making this kind of move in his so-called “identity” philosophy. Hegel thought that Schelling saw the same kinds of developments everywhere without paying close attention to their differences, so that all of his insights tended to blend together creating what he described as “the night in which all cows are black.” Sometimes (as in the conclusion) Maxwell offers not so much an argument as an account that reads more or less like a conversion story, where he went from studying deconstruction in New York city to adopting a view he describes as "archetypal cosmology."
I was a bit confused by his account of how time would appear from the perspective of the new emerging worldview. He argues that we already have freedom in three dimensions (we can move about in space) but that we are only partially free in the temporal dimension presumably because we are stuck in the now and moving inexorably forward, unable to move backward. He considers that the emerging worldview might give us a new way of experiencing time that would offer us a new kind of freedom with respect to time. Sometimes he suggests that we have no way of even anticipating what that might look like. At other times he describes it in ways that sound like science fiction. In the movie Inception, for example, the people from the future manage to communicate with the people of the past in order to guarantee their own survival, and they can do this because in some sense they experience the past, present and future all at once. Or in the movie Arrival a woman learns an alien language and begins to think in this language, and this means she experiences time like the aliens, for whom the future and the past all part one long now. At one point the author suggests that opening ourselves up to a new dimension of temporal freedom might be accomplished through virtual reality technology (that might allow us to re-experience the past, for example). At other times he suggests, more plausibly, that the new view of time would incorporate features of a mythical qualitative and cyclical view of time with features of the rational linear and quantitative view of time. It seems to me that, as Hegel notes, we already have that when we view history philosophically. History is the experience of time as a dimension of freedom when we can trace its development. When we see the past not merely as dead but as that which gave rise to and made possible the life and understanding we are capable of in the now, we experience ourselves as the agents of that development.
Definitely worth reading for those who are interested in Whitehead, Jung, David Bohm, James Hillman, Stanislav Grof, Rupert Sheldrake, Terrence McKenna, Richard Tarnas, Ken Wilber, or in various accounts of something like a new emerging integral worldview.
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I feel that Dr. Maxwell's attempt to synthesize so many disparate philosophical stances is, if nothing else, daring and to be applauded in its ambition and...Read more