Mutating Consciousness in the Anthropocene [Emerge Podcast]


I had the honor of being interviewed by Daniel Thorson, of Emerge Podcast, about Gebser, my book, and “mutation consciousness in the Anthropocene.” We had a great conversation, which finds itself threaded amidst a number of great thinkers who have been featured on Emerge. Each of these thinkers explore how we might respond to the planetary crisis and collapse (Jeremy Lent, to Nora Bateson, John Vervaeke, Jem Bendell, and Ria Baeck to name a few).

I was grateful for Daniel’s appreciative comments on my book, as well as Gebser’s thinking as an alternative other writing in the integral movement, when he says at the outset,

“What I think I enjoyed most reading your book is that even though these ideas are framed as integral, they kind of deny us the easy answers that contemporary integral theory often seems inclined to offer. It’s more of an approach that opens, fertilizes, and evokes new ways of seeing the world.

“[Gebser] Being ‘ahead of his time’ is almost an understatement… it’s striking to me how clearly he saw what, even now, seems to be at the very edge of our collective consciousness.”

Thanks again, Daniel.

We covered a lot of ground in the podcast, but the above quote from Daniel represents the theme of the chat nicely.

I’m glad to be in the mix, after Jem Bendell and Vinay Gupta exploring the very real possibility (in Dr Bendell’s work, the very likelihood) of ecological and social collapse—because of the Emerge listenership’s reactions to those conversations. Dr. Bendell’s response has been a constructive, rather than nihilistic one: “deep adaptation.” A truly discontinuous leap enacting a new relationship with the planet by sizing down civilization radically or even discarding it altogether, as the Dark Mountain Project contemplates (Emerson wrote: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilisation”)— this is tantamount to deflating what Gebser described as the over-emphasized, and deficient, mental-rational consciousness. More than ever a leap is needed. The intensity of a crisis can become equally, intensely, clarifying.

We’ve also seen a larger cultural response to ecological catastrophe in mainstream media, with everything from Extinction Rebellion to Greta Thunberg making the headlines.

The intensity anxiety and consciousness (that is, awareness of) our role and agency in the Anthropocene is reaching a new pitch.

This is precisely the moment where the question of crisis and mutation, and Gebser’s lifelong study, becomes critical: what is collapsing? What part of us have we enacted and employed in the world and now must retract—must suffer a loss? “Deep adaptation,” like Gebser’s integral aperspectivity, is a call to clarify our own relationship to the world through a kind of radical presence. Through that presence, we work to realize a new way of being in the world—existential, phenomenological, spiritual.

How do we respond to the crisis with mutation? As Gebser says, it’s the “dissolution solution.” What kind of consciousness and culture can thrive—or yes, emerge— in the Anthropocene? How do we listen to tomorrow’s culture, planetary culture? Because yesterday’s culture has already outlived itself.

Show notes

Check out the Circling Retreat hosted at the Monastic Academy in VT

Integral Consciousness on Lateral Conversations [Podcast]

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Dear friends,

I am pleased to let you know about another podcast appearance: this one with Tom Amarque of Lateral Conversations.

Tom’s audience is at least familiar with the “integral movement,” and has situated itself as a locus of discussion on culture, consciousness, politics, and integral thinking—I was glad to be on to discuss my book (STTW) with Tom, explore the differences between Gebser’s concepts and that of the contemporary integral philosopher, Ken Wilber’s, and how important it is that our models of emergence be expressed with more clarity in new “integral aperspectival” styles of thinking.

Two Glasses, a Metaphor

Bonnitta Roy’s previous interview with Tom is a great companion to this conversation. In my interview, I drew from Bonnitta’s metaphor about two “existential” orientations towards consciousness emergence: one, the structuralist, perceives emergence happening as discrete and “perspectivally” segmented stages that need to be distinguished in succession or discrete in kind, while the second orientation perceives said “stages” immersed in the fluidic dynamics of the whole and don’t get tripped up with statements about “discontinuous leaps.”

In the first, there are two distinct glasses of water on the table while in the second, the two glasses are already immersed in a tank of water. It’s a twist on the “glass half-full” metaphor. Yet, the new existential—integral—orientation is not so much the mythical “flux” of Oceanus (via Heraclitus) but the complex-dynamic realities of the intensified temporics.

If we’re trying to articulate new reality, do we need to keep using the styles of thinking that are still statically, and spatially, fixed? What happens if the models that claim to be articulating a new consciousness are still using styles of thinking and language that are no longer appropriate to describe the very subject that they address: emergence? How much does spatializing consciousness into layers and fixed striations really help you to become intimate with the so-called lower, past, or earlier “stages” of human emergence? What if you need to draw it out in yourself in order to understand it in another? (i.e. “I can perceive where this person is coming from because I can recognize it in myself”) Not just intimate, but integral. What if we started from integrality and the co-presence and co-efficacy of all the mutations of consciousness?

How do we talk about a new consciousness without clarifying just how much we’re still enacting the old?

Thanks for listening! Until the next conversation.