Thursday 30 November 2017

Understanding the implications of final participation

In the beginning Men were merely primordial selves immersed in the ocean of universal consciousness; and the history of everything has included the progressive and incremental separation of these selves from the universal primary reality.

We began as immersed in universal reality - joined with everything, and everything joined with us - with permeable selves... We end with a Self that is aware of its own separation from things, from other people, from memories - and even from its own thoughts...

Why? Because separation is necessary for freedom, for agency; we must first be separate in order to be free. And free in order, ultimately, to share the divine status of the Creator - because God is free.


This separation of the self can physically be be imagined as a process of precipitation - of solid bodies coming from gaseous spirits.

Or on a biological analogy; as development. A baby lives at first in the ocean of amniotic fluid, inside the mother; and only gradually, incrementally, does the baby's self become separate from the mother's self - first by birth, then by development and increasing independence... but only in adolescence does the child at some point become existentially separate - an agent.

And once reached, and attained, that cannot be undone - he can get stuck in adolescence, or move on to adulthood; but he cannot return to childhood. Consciousness, separation, can temporarily be obliterated by disease, or intoxication - or suspended during sleep - but is essentially permanent.

(Incarnation is an example. When we became embodied, we could not return to the spiritual state; the preceding spiritual being could not be restored - because our selves are in our bodies; and if the body is then subtracted, what remains is not what there was before. Therefore after death the only alternatives are resurrection - with a renewed body - or else a fundamental change of the spiritual self with loss and distortion.)


So we begin by participating in the whole of reality - that was given. But our selves were only feebly independent, and not sufficiently separate that we could be free agents. Then a process began in the history of the human race, which is recapitulated in individuals - we developed agency by separation of the self from everything else.

At some moment the self is cut-off from everything else - and therefore unfree, because isolated. So there is a step beyond, which is a return to participation with universal reality.

Universal reality is always there - that is, everywhere - we used to be in reality but the future, the destiny, is that we should think reality.

The self now needs to - voluntarily and by an effort - engage with universal reality in a free relationship; knowing that this is happening.

The task or destiny is to re-engage with universal reality - which is everywhere for everybody, as it always has been, in a deliberate, explicit, way. This is not a matter of 'thinking about' universal reality - it is a matter of thinking-universal-reality; in other words, by thinking to become part of it.


But universal reality is everything - does this mean we can know everything? Not exactly and not in practice.

It does mean that there are not ultimate limits to knowledge - excepting other selves, which lie outside the system. But in practice we must navigate through this unbounded and vast world of universal reality - and for our experience to lead to valid knowledge, we ourselves must be Good and the experience we encounter to be undeceptive.

In practice, we navigate universal reality with love. It is love which leads us to the people (and entities) we can learn from; it is love which leads us to the truth rather than the falsehoods and misleadings, the evil entities, which also lie within universal reality.

Love is the cohesion and structure of everything in God's creation. And love is our safe-guard against the possibilities that would emerge is we were motivated by power, or even merely by 'curiosity'.  

Imagine yourself as a self, guided by love, navigating the ocean of universal reality! That is the possibility. It is love which guides us to our Heavenly families and which guides them to us; it is love which guides the great composer to the beautiful music with universal meaning; it is love which guides the real scientist to the intuitive truths about reality...


So participation is given, knowledge is given... but what must be achieved is the autonomy of our-selves; and having been achieved the destiny is to return to participation; to take it up again but not to be inside it, but outside of it while yet part of it.

In a sense, with Final Participation, the vast world of universal reality is experienced as 'within us' - within our thinking. Instead us us being immersed in the ocean - the ocean is, somehow, in our own thoughts! And therefore we engage with the ocean from a place outside the ocean - and our relationship with the ocean is one of self-awareness, purpose and will.

And this is, of course, a godlike state; in the sense that a god is a cause not a consequence; outside the system and not contained-in the system; a creator not that which is created. And that is the whole point! For us to become adult, grown-up children of God, we must become like God in our nature, including our consciousness.

This moving towards divine consciousness can only happen by our choice, as an act from the agent-self.


Therefore, the task is to set-aside nostalgia for the original state of immersive participation: this is now impossible. It is to acknowledge the state of Modern Man as an error - a failure to move-on; a perpetual adolescence in which freedom has reached the absurd and self-refuting point of existential isolation - and got stuck.

Universal reality awlays was and still is there. We have cut-ourselves off from it. This was necessary as a phase - but is lethal as an end-point. We must re-engage with universal reality - and again participate in that universality; but from outside - in purposive thinking from our true selves.

Participation is given, knowledge is given, even love is given; but from where we are now, we need to make the choice and effort to acknowledge then create a new autonomous and free relationship with this reality.

Our task is to re-engage with universal reality in what eventually may become fully divine consciousness, but at first will be a partial, distorted and temporary kind of divine consciousness; which is thinking engaged with universal reality, and guided by love.

(The above is a development of the ideas of Owen Barfield, which were substaintially influenced by Rudolf Steiner.)

What is the Cosmic Christ?

I find it useful to think of a 'cosmic' aspect to Jesus - which ought to supplement the more usual aspect of 'revelation'.

By 'revelation' I mean that Jesus was an historical personage, who emerged from a lineage and a prophetic tradition of the 'Old Testament' who left record of his life teachings in The Gospels, and this is expanded and interpreted in the later parts of the New Testament...

But the incarnation, death and resurrection changed the structure of reality. The divine creator of earth became a man, died and was resurrected; and that changed reality. The universe before and after Jesus was a different universe.

That is the 'cosmic' Christ; and it does not depend on revelation. It happened: everywhere and to everybody and everything.

What happened? Well, should not look for a complete answer in a brief-statement form (when the universe is changed, a lot happens!) - but a part of it was that the cosmic Christ enabled Men to become fully divine eventually - and in this mortal life to experience - if we choose - the divine mode of consciousness.

The divine mode of consciousness is what I have termed Primary Thinking, what Rudolf Steiner sometimes calls the Imaginative Soul (coming after the Consciousness Soul), what Owen Barfield calls Final Participation and the highest level of consciousness described in William Arkle's A Geography of Consciousness.

This means thinking-from our real (which is divine) self; an activity that has direct knowledge of reality, and participates in God's work of creation (it is what Tolkien called 'subcreation).

That is (an aspect of) the Cosmic work of Christ.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Communications are experiences (not knowledge - knowledge is direct)

What we term communications, of all sensory sorts - the spoken or written word, images, sounds - including music, smells, tastes, touch - are not knowledge but are experiences.

Our mortal life is about experiences, and how we respond to them; so communications are very important. But we should not mistake them for knowledge.

Why not? Well, that is obvious - in the sense that we have many generations of philosophical reflection that emphasise how unreliable are communications, that they cannot be relied upon for knowledge (or 'certainty').

This for multiple reasons - to do with limitations of cognition, of biased and incomplete sampling, of the multi-step nature of communications and so on. Some have concluded that therefore there is no possibility of knowledge - e.g. that knowledge is entirely subjective, based on arbitrary information, a matter of opinion, contingent, labile, uncommunicable etc.

But the inference that there because communication is non-valid therefore there can be no knowledge includes a false assumption - which is that only the material world exists.

It is correct that since communications are all material, and they are indeed non-valid, communications are no basis for knowledge - but this leaves-out the non-material ('immaterial', 'spiritual') world, the world that cannot be (or is not, currently) detected by our senses - and is also undetected by the instruents of science.

We assume that this non-material world does not exist - but that is merely an assumption; furthermore a very modern and entirely Western assumption; an assumption restricted to a tiny temperospatial proportion of human reality...

If we instead assume that there is a further reality outwith the sensed and currently-detected material reality; then knowledge may be assumed to exist in this larger reality.

In other words, knowledge may be real (and vital) but not communicated.

This can be understood in terms of knowledge being directly-down, without any mediation; and if knowledge is to be more than delusion, the knowledge that is directly-known is one, single realm of knowledge - in principle, although not in every instance, all knowledge is universally knowable.

So here we have two very different things: one is the world of communications, which we ought to regard as experiences, or - in a sense as challenges to which we are called-upon to respond correctly... And on the other hand knowledge, which is only knowable by direct apprehension (which we could call intuition).

To know directly is possible, even if it is unusual - and this opens-up that line of metaphysical theory that I have been exploring as Primary Thinking.

One implication is that when we personally are communicating, we are providing experiences for others - but we are not transmitting knowledge. By contrast, when we are engaged in primary thinking we are engaged in direct knowing - and, because knowledge must potentially be universally accessible to be knowledge, others may also know directly what we know.

Thus knowledge is not communicated, and communications are not knowledge - this is useful to remember!

The problem of RUP

I was reflecting on Owen Barfield's shorthand term of RUP, meaning Residual Unresolved Positivism, by which he pointed out that those who accurately diagnose the spiritual malaise of modernity nonetheless continue to live-by positivistic, materialistic, reductionist, scientistic assumptions - and this comes-through again and again in the person's thinking, writing and actions.
One example Barfield gave was Jung, who said and wrote many contradictory things - Barfield diagnosed the root of this problem as partly the persistence of many positivistic features of which Jung seemed unaware; plus Jung's compromising wish to communicate-with and be-valued-by a positivistic world.

We need to be aware of such matters - because the thinking, writing and doing of most writers and philosophers of the modern condition is likewise compromised - and we need to avoid being misled by this. To avoid absorbing their confusion and errors, we need to distinguish the points where other-people are failing to live consistently by their most considered assumptions.

In a nutshell - with RUP there is a significant gap between the metaphysical assumptions we wish to hold; and the metaphysical assumptions that we have unconsciously absorbed from socialisation and propaganda. Our new and improved metaphysics may simply be an aspiration; our true belief (that which we live by )   

However, the mote in the eye of another is easier for us to acknowledge than the beam in our own eye; and all of us who are trying to move beyond alienation and materialism into Final Participation are only-partially successful (at best). Most of our thinking is not primary, but automatic; and our alienation is often relieved (temporarily) merely by lapsing into the passivity and unconsciousness of Original Participation rather than actively, consciously, thinkingly moving-forward.

The answer is not to aspire to eliminate 'positivism' - because that is not possible - but to learn from the RUP problems of others to diagnose, to notice and acknowledge, our own inevitable, frequent deficiencies.

In other words - we should probably not be aiming to attain perfection of Final Participation as a powerful and permanent state - since this is (at present, for us) impossible; as to recognise and repent our own failures to do this.

This is, indeed, the core Christian response to our own weakness and corruptibility.

A Man's mortal life is trial, error and repentance - with repentance the worst sins are washed away, without repentance the slightest lapse or deficiency may be enough to damn us by a pride-full insistence that we have not erred: thereby such error becomes built-into our self-understanding. 

The importance of music in Life, and the limitations of biography

In understanding a person from the past, or even someone still alive - we tend to study their works, their ideas, their personal experiences - we may look at their intellectual biography in terms of their reading, education, and groups in which they participated... But an aspect that is almost inevitably neglected, when it is an important factor, is music.

The importance of music can also be studied in terms of what kind of music a person most liked, perhaps their experiences of concerts and their own musical activities - singing, playing an instrument, choirs and orchestras...

But none of this gets close to understanding what music meant to that person.

This came to my mind recently in relation to Owen Barfield - because classical music was extremely important in his life. 

For example, OB told his biographer Simon Blaxland de-Lange that music was even more important for him than language - which is remarkable given that Barfield's reputation mostly rests on his studies and interpretations of language.

In a biographical note, Marjorie Lamp Mead wrote that: "throughout his life, Barfield’s love of music was a strong force.  For as much as he desired to be a poet, Barfield viewed music as the essential element in his life – even in preference to poetry."

Barfield's main modern editor, Jane Hipolito, wrote to me that Barfield had a deep love for, and considerable knowledge about, classical music - including most of the great composers and all of the major genres. She also said that when listening to music with Barfield she noticed that he paid total attention to the music with exclusion of all other activities - with an intensity that she has only seen matched by a few professional musicians. 

But the solid facts that Barfield experienced music with intensity, and that he himself regarded music as having primary importance in Life - are matters that we find it hard to make use of in understanding the man. 

Or, at least we find it impossible to use such information in any systematic biographical way - it is evidence, but evidence that we can weave-into our usual biographical accounts. We somehow cannot use musical appreciation as 'evidence' - and indeed even the word 'appreciation' trivialises what was actually a vital experience.

And this is an indicator of the limits of how we understand other lives by using biographical 'fact's. I am not saying that understanding of another person is impossible - in fact I am sure it is possible; but that this understanding does not and cannot emerge-from an assemblage of facts-about-them. 

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Implications of the evolution of consciousness

It was Owen Barfield's central theme, through most of his writings from Saving the Appearances (1957) onward, that humanity had undergone an 'evolution' of consciousness through recorded history (and presumably before recorded history).

NOTE: It is vital to understand that when he deployed the term 'evolution', Barfield was using the pre-Darwinian concept; which meant something much more like 'developmental-unfolding'. In other words, the evolution of consciousness is being conceptualised as closely-analogous to the maturation of a human being from childhood, through adolescence into adulthood - but occurring over a timescale of centuries, rather than years. This means that the evolution of human consciousness was intended, and has been built-into the 'species'; and implicitly the evolution of consciousness was built-in by God.

Barfield's special contribution was to trace this evolution through the changing use of language, especially the nature of changes in word meanings, which form an unfolding pattern (most clearly set-out in the early book: History in English Words, 1926).

(I find it best to regard Barfield's mass of linguistic evidence as an illustration of the evolution of consciousness, and consistent-with the theory that consciousness has evoloved; rather than 'proving' that consciousness has evolved; an assertion that is, strictly, a metaphysical assumption - therefore something that cannot be either proven or disproven.)

The implications of accepting the reality of the evolution of consciousness is that the nature of Men changes through history; therefore the nature of human societies will change. This is absolutely inevitable, because societies are made of Men, and when Men change, the same socio-political organisation (the same incentives and punishments, motivations and deterrents) will produce different outcomes.

Men can either accept these changes of consciousness, learn about them, and take them into account; or they can ignore, deny and try to oppose them - which is what we are currently doing.

Radicals (the great majority in The West) deny the idea of God, therefore deny that there could be a divinely-destined - necessary and Good - evolution of consciousness - and insofar as this is acknowledged it would be opposed.

Reactionaries (a shrinking minority in The West) regard human consciousness as fixed, regard past societies as preferable to the current, and therefore hope to try to restore some earlier and better version of society.

But if human consciousness is really developing, and if this is divinely destined; if - for example The West has been in an unfolding 'adolescence of consciousness' since about 1750; then both the present and the past are impossible. The present is impossible because adolescence is a transitional phase; the past is impossible because we have left-behind our spiritual childhood.

If the evolution of consciousness is real, in the way that Barfield explained it; then Man can only move forward, can only accept or reject maturity; and such a move will be into-the-unknown - because, as adolescents, we cannot know what it will be like to become adult until we actually get there.

What is myth? Comparing Tolkien, Lewis, Williams and Barfield

Edited by me from Romantic Religion: a study of Owen Barfield, CS Lewis, Charles Williams and JRR Tolkien. by RJ Reilly (1971) - republished version of 2006 from Lindisfarne Books, Great Barrington, MA, USA; pages 214-5. My editorial interjections are in [square brackets].

Barfield sees both myth and language itself as existing in the form of unconscious meaning before the existence of any individual thinker. Both myth and language point-back towards the pre-human time when all that existed was spirit, un-individuated meaning; the original phase of the cosmic evolution.

These myths (the Paradisal myths, for example) therefore suggest truth in a quite literal sense: they allude to the original 'way things were'.

[That is, myths allude to Original Participation.]

Both Lewis and Tolkien, by contrast, speak of the possibility of all myths being 'true' in some other existence than our own. Williams, too, feeling the call of myth, goes so far as to adapt the Arthurian Myth as a kind of objective correlative for his religious views.

But, quite plainly, Barfield has explained the origin and force of myth in a way that the others have not. They have used myth in various ways and with varying degrees of effectiveness, but they have not really said why. Or rather, Lewis, Tolkien and Williams have have used myth, or they have made-up new myths, as a means of avoiding conceptual argument, or as a means of speaking symbolically rather than rationally.  

There is nothing wrong with what Lewis, Tolkien and Williams do in using myths, so far as it works. But to the extent that it can be reduced to a set of rational propositions, it must strike the reader as making myth into something closer to allegory than to true myth. 

True myth - in Barfield's terms, and in reality - is nearly impenetrable; because there are no 'ideas' in myth for the reader to penetrate to.

For Barfield, myth is the closest thing in Man's mental life to pure pre-logical thought; meaning which the rational intellect has not yet ordered. Myth is more of an experience than a 'thought' at all.

Barfield argues that the function of the imagination in the future will be to discover 'clear and distinct ideas', but it may discover these in the forms of William Blakean 'beings' rather than as concepts - these beings being explicable in something analogous to the way that the beings of the old allegories like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are explicable.

[Examples of such 'beings' would, presumably, include Steiner's demonic influences Lucifer and Ahriman - which Barfield also describes in detail in Unancestral Voice.]

NOTE: The above passages strike me as a highly insightful analysis of a topic of vital importance.

In particular, I am impressed by Reilly's point that neither Tolkien nor Lewis (in particular) really justify the importance and specific value of myth in their writings; but Barfield does - assuming that one can accept, at some level, Barfield's point that, in some literal sense, myths refer to the nature of our experience during a previous state of spiritual reality.

For Barfield (and Steiner), this previous state would be modern people's earlier incarnations at an earlier point in the history of earth; for Mormon Christians and some others, myth could refer to our pre-mortal, pre-incarnated life as spirits.

Monday 27 November 2017

Why is Final Participation so difficult? Barriers to Primary Thinking

The answer is partly interference from modern culture - partly its unprecedented number and pervasiveness of distractions, but mainly its materialist, anti-spiritual, anti-religious metaphysics. This means that any inklings a person may have of the reality of primary thinking, or experiences of final participation, will typically be interpreted in subjective terms - and therefore as an ephemeral, unreal product of wishful thinking.

But another factor is that primary thinking requires consciousness; it is not merely a matter of 'instinct'; therefore we cannot 'relax' into it, but must attain it purposively and actively. The typical spiritual guidance tends to recommend a passive process along the lines of the sixties mantra of 'turn on, tune in, drop out'- or a meditation practice which is negative and aiming at assimilation with the divine, rather than a conscious participation.

On top of these, there is the near-totalitarian dominance of modern culture; especially, in recent decades, via the mass media and social media; on top of the shallowness and mutual exploitativeness of most social interaction in an age where public discourse is actively hedonic or crushingly bureaucratic.

The combination - in the wider context of generalised Christian apostasy - can be interpreted as a triumph of purposive evil; in other words, that demonic powers are largely in control of the world, especially via the most powerful and influential global (especially Western) institutions. And, once this spiritual fact is sensed (and perhaps especially when it is consciously recognised) it may create a variety of counter-productive reactions.

For example the response may be despair in face of such (apparently) overwhelming power. Despair is rightly described as a sin - because it is a denial of the hope (and promise) of Jesus, and a surrender to evil.

Or, a realisation of the scale and nature of evil may alternatively lead to the mistake of 'fighting' evil on its own ground, and with the enemies own weapons (such as mass media propaganda, or political organisation).

Whereas the proper response is to recognise the presence of evil in our own hearts, and to regard our own soul as the proper battle ground; and to 'fight' on the divine grounds of ultimate universal reality - in other words, by primary thinking to participate in God's work of creation.

This is exactly what the vast apparatus of evil is trying to prevent us from doing - for them, almost anything else is preferable to you or I doing this.

Even one single solitary individual person attaining final participation via primary thinking for any length of time; represents a colossal set-back to the agenda of evil. Furthermore is is an ongoing defeat of whose origin they are not aware, and cannot become aware - because it is intrinsically Good and its level of operations is invisible to, far above and beyond the possibility of demonic perception.

Owen Barfield in a nutshell...

Owen Barfield's nature and achievement is usually under-sold by a partial, and therefore misleading, summary; that states Barfield's goal was to prove by evidence that human consciousness had evolved; and that this evidence was provided mainly via 'philological' investigations into the changing meaning of words.

Of course Barfield did this - but he did so much more, and this achievement served a much bigger purpose than usually realised.

The problem is that the above description sounds like an essentially academic type of activity - and therefore of interest mainly to academics - presumably those concerned with the meanings of words.

But in fact; Barfield was writing for everybody and for all time - and his core concern was nothing less than the divine destiny of each individual person and of all people collectively.

Barfield's immediate relevance is profound; it is to solve the core problem of modern times - which is 'alienation': i.e. the deep sense of meaninglessness, purposelessness, and isolation from people and things.

The understanding which makes this possible is that history, the present and the future can be understood as aiming-at both consciousness and freedom (where consciousness means awareness of our thinking and our selves, and  freedom refers to free will, or human agency).

Barfield's scheme is that humans began as conscious-but-not-free; and we evolved - evolved in the sense of changing by unfolding according to a (divine) developmental plan - to become free but not conscious (which is where we are now, in modern times - unaware of meaning, purpose, relation) - and we ought-to-be aiming at the condition where we are both self-aware and fully-conscious - engaged with (and participating-in) reality as free agents.

Even more briefly, humanity began as conscious, became free; and is destined to become both - simultaneously.

So Barfield 'in a nutshell' is so much more than a scientist-philosopher of language and its change; he is a thinker about the most fundamental problems.

And Barfield is not merely an analyst of problems: he proposes real, coherent, and clear answers to these most fundamental problems.

Barfield's prophecies of 60 years ago

From Saving the Appearances: a study in idolatry by Owen Barfield, 1957.

Science, with the progressive disappearance of original participation, is losing its grip on any principle of unity pervading nature as a whole and the knowledge of nature. The hypothesis of chance has already crept from the theory of evolution into the theory of the physical foundation of the earth itself; but more serious perhaps than that is the rapidly increasing "fragmentation of science" . . . There is no "science of sciences"; no unity of knowledge. There is only an accelerating increase in that pigeon-holed knowledge by individuals of more and more about less and less, which, if persisted in indefinitely, can only lead mankind to a sort of "idiocy" . . . a state of affairs, in which fewer and fewer representations will be collective, and more and more will be private, with the result that there will in the end be no means of communication between one intelligence and another.

This has, indeed happened - with the added twist that people lack any explicit awareness of the fact; since they lack even the capacity to represent the problem to themselves. Furthermore, there has been a dual change: shrinking of interest into ever-more-micro specialisms combined with a narrowing of the criteria for evaluation. Not only do we lack a 'science of sciences' but we lack any overall evaluation by which we might judge whether science is progressing or regressing, making sense or degenerating into incoherence.

(See the chapter "Micro-specialization and the infinite perpetuation of error" in my book Not Even Trying.)

It may be objected that this is a very small matter, and that it will be a long time before the imagination of man substantially alters those appearances of nature with which his figuration supplies him. But then I am taking the long view. Even so, we need not be too confident. Even if the pace of change remained the same, one who is really sensitive to (for example) the difference between the medieval collective representations and our own will be aware that, without traveling any greater distance than we have come since the fourteenth century, we could very well move forward into a chaotically empty or fantastically hideous world. But the pace of change has not remained the same. It has accelerated and is accelerating. We should remember this, when appraising the aberrations of the formally representational arts. Of course, in so far as these are due to affectation, they are of no importance. But in so far as they are genuine, they are genuine because the artist has in some way or other experienced the world he represents. And in so far as they are appreciated, they are appreciated by those who are themselves willing to make a move towards seeing the world in that way, and, ultimately therefore, seeing that kind of world. We should remember this, when we see pictures of a dog with six legs emerging from a vegetable marrow or a woman with a motorbicycle substituted for her left breast. 

Barfield is here describing the capacity of imagination to make things worse rather than better - that a recognition of the power of imagination can be used to re-construct the world with dishonest purposes. As with the corruption of science, this works by changing both sides of the equation.

In the past sixty years; this has been the malign effect of the mass media. The mass media have grown and developed an addictive hold over The West; and thereby substantially gained control over the imagination - which it uses on one side to subvert and on the other to fill the mind with virtual realities; until the psychological effect is that the media have displaced reality as perceived by personal experience and reflection.  

A clear current example is in the realm of sex and sexuality. With respect to the sexes; on one side - the media (and its allies in professional academia) have incrementally reduced the understanding and distinction of male and female sexes into being regarded as nothing more than a mere social convention based on reactionary manipulations; and on the other hand claiming that surgical and pharmacological technology can change a man into a woman or vice versa. The resulting mixture of blatant falsehood and aggressive assertion (backed by state power) has (deliberately, strategically) thrust a profound confusion into societal discourse with an already massive and still growing destructive potential that affects both individuals and communities.

As for the domain of human sexuality; what would have been regarded (at the time Barfield was writing) as a chaotically empty and fantastically hideous world has come to pass. Many features of our contemporary world - a world actively endorsed and increasingly enforced by modern ruling elites - was depicted by Barfield in his 1984 novella Night Operation.

The appearances will be ‘saved’ only if, as men approach nearer and nearer to conscious figuration and realize that it is something which may be affected by their choices, the final participation which is thus being thrust upon them is exercised with the profoundest sense of responsibility, with the deepest thankfulness and piety towards the world as it was originally given to them in original participation, and with a full understanding of the momentous process of history, as it brings about the emergence of the one from the other.

Barfield was a Christian; who understood the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ as an event of cosmic significance - the inflexion point of human (and divine) history. He saw history as centred upon the divine destiny of enabling the increasingly divine nature of each person and of humankind in general - of both Men and Man.

And the centre of this divine destiny is the evolution of consciousness towards the god-like state of Final Participation - that is full consciousness of everything; which is a necessary prerequisite for becoming full Sons and Daughters of God.

Yet our divine destiny of Final Participation has been ignored, then rejected, by nearly all individuals and all the Western societies; and this is the cause of Barfield's negative prophecies coming true - indeed leading to a spiritual situation even worse than he articulated.

On the other hand; it is not too late. As individuals we may - by our irresistible free agency - choose to return to the path of destiny; and if enough individuals do this - then so will society at large. 

Sunday 26 November 2017

From East to West - from Romanticism Comes of Age

The first essay in Owen Barfield's 1944 collection Romanticism Come of Age is named From East to West - and it is one of the clearest, and most exciting, statement's of Barfield's basic field of concern: that is, the imagination. Here I will summarise the argument of the first four-and-a-half pages.

Barfield's thesis, and this is something of which he has convinced me, is that The Romantic movement was the start of something that was intended (by divine destiny) to be the next - and indeed final - qualitative stage in the evolution of human consciousness towards the divine mode of thinking.

Romantic artists such as Shelley, Beethoven, Byron and Wordsworth felt a creative-power in themselves in a way, and to a degree, that was new in human experience. However, this powerful feeling was never explicitly articulated - and because of this, the Romantic impulse was thwarted.

More exactly, the Romantics were clear that their sense of creative-power implied a new freedom - which appeared in a distorted, perverted, materialistic form to drive the French Revolution - and also a new emphasis of Beauty. Shelley stated that truth must be poetic - and not, therefore, abstract and dry, like the typical 'science'; Keats equated Truth with Beauty, and stated that he was certain only of the heart's affections and the truth of imagination.

Yet, for all their (correct, according to Barfield - and I agree) emphasis on the new possibilities of Freedom (more exactly human agency) and Beauty; the Romantics lacked an ultimate, metaphysical explanation of the basis of these assertions. In other words, although The Imagination was hailed as vital; it never was explained in what sense Imagination was True - in what sense imagination was a form of actual knowledge.

The Romantics should have explained why imagination was indeed a kind of knowing. That they did not, was what Barfield termed the tragedy of Romanticism; the lack of which led to the collapse of Romanticism into its present status as merely a kind of diversion, a superior form of 'Rest and Recuperation' (R&R) whose pragmatic role is now merely to keep-us-going in an increasingly materialist, reductionist modern world typified by globally-linked bureaucracy and the mass media.

In essence, Romanticism gave us Freedom and Beauty - but left Truth to unreformed, materialistic 'science' - where it throve for a while, but has by now died for lack of broader context - as professional science has become nothing-more-than a vast generic, careerist bureaucracy, that is not even trying to attain Truth.

For Barfield, the crux of this tragedy was specifically-located in chapter thirteen of ST Coleridge's Biographia Literaria (1817), at the point where the author postponed (and, as it turned-out, abandoned) his incipient attempt to do exactly what was needed - in a concise and explicit form. This crux has been subjected to deep analysis in Barfield's later work - especially the book What Coleridge Thought (1971) - in the course of which Barfield recovers the scattered fragments of Coleridge's 'lost' solution to the problem of imagination from the corpus of his writings.

However, Barfield is able to announce that Romanticism has, indeed, come of age, and has achieved its philosophical completion, in the work of Rudolf Steiner. This happened via Goethe - who did not articulate philosophically but instead lived the fullness of Romanticism - the answer being made explicit and public in the years between Steiner's Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception of 1886 and The Philosophy of Freedom of 1894. Steiner made Goethe's implicit-lived-answer into exactly the concise, focused and explicit philosophical account that the original Romantics failed to provide.

However, for various reasons (mostly bad, some understandable) Steiner's answer has been ignored by the mainstream - and Western Society continued as if it never had happened. In one sense, Barfield's life was spent in trying to revisit this lost-moment when Romanticism failed to ask and answer the necessary question. Barfield compares this with Sir Percival/ Parsifal's failure to ask the right question at the right time in the Quest for the Holy Grail - it took a long time and a lot of suffering before the question could again be asked, and this time answered.

For Barfield, the period of suffering would include the terrible 20th century he lived-through (with its materialism, atheism, totalitarianism, world wars and international mass exterminations) and - no doubt - the current 21st century with its pervasive nihilistic despair and mandatory insanity in all Western societies.

But now we have Barfield to add to Steiner; and the answer is there for anybody prepared to make the effort first to understand it; and then to begin to practise it. The destiny of Romanticism can now be completed, imagination and science can be synthesised - and can become our way of life.

Owen Barfield's metaphysics

Owen Barfield, much like Rudolf Steiner before him, regarded himself as doing a mixture of 'scientific/ empirical' and epistemological research - but to understand him I believe we need also to know (or infer) the fundamental, metaphysical assumptions which underpin and make sense of the rest.

By scientific/ empirical I mean especially Barfield's work on 'philology - the history of word meanings and their transformations; and what that history implies about the societies using the languages. And by epistemological I mean the philosophy of how we know, the basis or justification for understanding.

But underneath both of these are the metaphysical assumptions about the way that reality is 'set-up' - its structure, meaning, purpose etc; including what is our own personal stake in reality: e.g. Why we should care about this stuff! Why it is important to us individually and in what way?


So Barfield describes the evolution of consciousness - how it began with disembodied, spirits in Original Participation - a diffuse, interpenetrating consciousness in which we were mostly unaware of our-selves as distinct and free.

Then the middling state (which we are still inside) during which our selves became separate, agent, and free - but at the cost of losing the awareness of other selves and everything else - until we are selves cut-off fro reality, without participation...

And the future state of Final (final because fully-divine) Participation in which we are both aware of ourselves as autonomous, agent and free - and also participating in the creation and knowledge of all other reality, including other selves and beings.

But what is missing from the above is an explanation of Why all this happens; what is it all For? Who (or what) was it that set up this vast evolutionary scheme - and what is it all intended to achieve?

If we are indeed aiming at Original Participation - then what then? What is Original Participation needed for, in terms of the basic general set-up of reality?


I think the answers to all of these are implicit, and in some brief passages explicit, in Barfield's work - but these aspects are easy to miss in the books and essays; they are not given great prominence - nor are they set out plainly as the basis of further argument. Exactly this is what I hope to do.

In this task I have been greatly helped by the work of William Arkle, a little-known spiritual philosopher of the generation after Barfield, whose work I know about due to having lived in the same Somerset village as a child.

Arkle's great importance was in recognising the need to be absolutely clear about these ultimate, underpinning Why?, Who? and What for? kinds of question for the modern Man. Such things used to be able to be taken from granted - as I suspect they were, pretty much, by Owen Barfield; but no longer.

Arkle saw that this deep level of explanation is in fact the single most important thing to get clear and explicit - such that we can grasp and understand it intuitively and personally; and indeed so that we can decide whether or not this is something we which to live-by, cooperate-in and work-for.

If we are not clear about this, then we will always feel a deep sense of confusion about our destiny and how it fits with the ultimate scheme of things.

Naturally there will always be a sense of mystery about the human condition and Man's place in it; but lack of any reasonable clarity - even thought necessarily simplified - seems to be proving lethal to many people (who have apparently just-about 'given-up' on anything more than merely getting-through to death as comfortably, or at least painlessly, as possible).

Therefore, I think there is a story to be told about the underpinning assumptions of Owen Barfield's main work.


I will try to explain this in more detail elsewhere; but in a nutshell I believe Barfield assumed that God, creator of reality, had the goal of raising Men up to the same kind of fully-divine consciousness that He possesses.

The reason that God would have such a goal is something I have not found in Barfield; but Arkle's insight is that it was a deep longing of God for friends; that his human children should (eventually) grow up and mature to become the fullest and highest possible friends on the same level (rather as a Father's ultimate and ideal goal might be for his children to become adults who, voluntarily and with the highest possible assent, become his loving friends and co-helpers in the unending work of creative endeavour).

Creation was made with this as its major purpose; and the way that it was to be achieved was by a very extended scheme of evolutionary unfolding, akin to the growth and development of living things; but with the added complexity that each Man must consent to every step on the way.

In a nutshell, the world is a place for experiencing and learning - and including experiencing and learning to love (this view is more explicit in Steiner, but I think Barfield would have endorsed it). 

This process has several related but not identical aspects - the evolution of the earth and surrounding regions, evolution of human society, and evolution of each individual human self; all of which are extended across a very long timescale (probably many thousands of years).

Because this is a plan, some aspects of the future can be prophetically known - but because of the increasing autonomy and agency of individual human selves, the results are not precisely predictable, and there is potential for greater or lesser delays and departures from the plan.

Because God is creator, and we are his children; we have the possibility of a direct, inner, intuitive understanding of what-is-going-on: Which is how Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield were able to know about it. 

Something of this kind (in approximate outline) is, I think, helpful - and for some people, such as myself, essential - in getting the full picture of Barfield's work.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Peak experiences and Final Participation

We tend to think of consciousness or thinking as a state of being; and notice that we fail to attain and sustain this state of being. For example that our peak experiences are infrequent and brief - normal life is lived at a lower level...

However, this is an incorrect inference based on a false assumption based on a misunderstanding of the nature of life, and what we are supposed to be gaining from it. The (divinely) desired purpose of life is not to achieve a state but to experience a process of learning.

Life should be a process of learning, of transformative learning. What ought to happen in a peak experience is that we are having an experience during which we are learning about life; being transformed by life in a positive way (in the kind of way that our creator intends; tending to cause theosis or making us become more-divine, more god-like).

And, in this age of Man, we should be aware of this process and its consequences. It is good if we know-about peak experiences, when they are happening, that we are learning-from them and what we have learnt...

The perspective is that this kind of aware experiencing of our selves in the moment - the state of being as instead a dynamic thing - this is the vision of life as experience, learning, 'education' towards divinity which is primarily aimed-at fulfilment after mortality (i.e. in our resurrected life that comes after mortal death).

In this era of Man, the aim is especially of greater consciousness; therefore we should strive to be explicitly aware of the process of incremental, developmental change of our consciousness that comes from serial experiences, expanded learning, awareness, reflection.

Life brings us the necessary experiences; or role is mainly to be aware of them and make the best of them. And repentance  (always vital for Christians) can be understood as explicit knowledge of when our response to experience has been beneficial - and when not.


A concise definition of Final Participation

The state of consciousness of young children and tribal hunter gatherers is termed Original Participation, in Owen Barfield's nomenclature.

Original Participation entails perceiving the outside-world as intrinsically alive and conscious - including things that modern adults regard as 'dead' such as trees, rivers, hills, caves - and toys, books, buildings, cars... The world is seen and felt to be full of beings.

Actually, the child participates in creating this world - in recognising and evaluating the aliveness and consciousness; but the child is unaware of the fact and sees reality as out-side himself; himself as passively a component of that external reality.

The child understands himself simply to see, hear, touch smell and taste reality - he assumes that reality is out-there and that his senses merely give an objective picture of objective reality.

The child is immersed-in an animated world, hardly aware of himself; hence unfree. 

(In those cultures which followed hunter-gatherers, the older child or adolescent comes to recognise that his senses are not necessarily reliable, and that different people perceive the world differently. He knows himself as separate from that outside world; and because separate he knows himself as free: free but cut-off, alienated, no longer participating... For Barfield this situation of alienated freedom is seen as a developmental phase in the gradual, incremental evolutionary-unfolding of Man's consciousness towards Final Participation - in which he is both free and also participating.)  

To attain Final Participation is simply to return to exactly this child's basic understanding of the world as really full of alive and conscious beings - but this time in full awareness that we ourselves, by our thinking, are participating in the knowing of reality.

In Original Participation the child perceives (sees, hears, feels) the world to be really alive and conscious; in Final Participation we think and we know that the world really is alive and conscious; and that we have participated in making it so.

This Participation is indeed Final because it is the truth; it is the divine way of being.    

How to be a visionary of Final Participation

Most recorded visionary experiences are expansions of perception – seeing or hearing things that other people cannot. For example William Blake saw angels and conversed with his deceased brother. Often these visions occur in altered states of consciousness – trances, lucid dreams, delirium or intoxication.

These are aspects of what Rudolf Steiner termed Atavistic Clairvoyance implying a throw-back or regression to an early type of consciousness more typical of childhood and tribal societies; and Owen Barfield classified as Original Participation. And in the scheme of evolution of human consciousness the aim is not to go back, but forward to a new state of consciousness that Steiner called the Spiritual Soul and Barfield termed Final Participation.

A visionary of Final Participation would not experience ‘visions’ in the sense of hallucination-like, quasi-sensory, perceptual experiences; but would instead experience imaginative thinking, or direct knowing. To put it simply: the visionary of Original Participation would experience things appearing in one or more of his senses; while the visionary of Final Participation would experience things appearing in his stream of thoughts.

It might be asked why this counts as an evolutionary development in consciousness? The answer would be that the imagination is a direct and unmediated form of knowing truth and reality; whereas perceptual experiences are prone to sensory distortions and require to be interpreted. Furthermore, the visionary experiences of Original Participation often occur in states of altered consciousness when attention, concentration, purposive thinking and memory may all be distorted or impaired; whereas in Final Participation the state of consciousness can be alert, clear and focused.

Finally, thinking is intrinsically capable of complete integration of any and all phenomena. Anything which can be thought about is included in the stream of thoughts, and can be subject to any or all of the analyses and manipulations of thinking.

This is straightforward enough; but of course very few people are aware of, or would endorse, the idea of thinking as a primary way of knowing truth and reality. And one reason for this is that typically thinking is much less powerful and compelling than perception. For example, people say things like ‘seeing is believing’ or ‘I’ll believe that when I see it’ – indicating that perceptual experience seems to overwhelm and impose itself in a way that thinking apparently does not. For instance, most people would be more likely to believe in the reality of ghosts or angels if they saw one than if they thought one (even though they are aware of the distortions and hallucinations to which perception is prone – and they would not necessarily believe in them even if they did see one).

Alternatively, people may only believe things for which they have what they regard as ‘evidence’ – and they will believe such things even when they think or perceive differently, and even when they cannot think it or have never had any confirmatory sensory experience; even when experience and common sense refute it.

In practice, ‘evidence’ is so vaguely defined as to be impossible to define or pin down – for some evidence comes from some trusted or authoritative source; but often enough people don’t know from where they got the ‘evidence’, and it could have been from sources which they do not trust or in fact disbelieve (such as the mass media, novels or fictional movies) but despite not knowing the provenance of their beliefs they nonetheless find themselves compelled to believe. Indeed, it is typical that a great deal of modern mainstream beliefs are false or have zero evidence, but are almost universally and indeed fanatically enforced on a global scale - for example the officially imposed assertions that people can change sex by means of drugs and surgery, or that political policies can control the earth’s climate.

Either way, it is clear that thinking is, in practice, low-rated as a human activity. People regard thinking as less important than action, or doing; less important than perceiving (feeling, seeing or hearing, especially); and less important than whatever is culturally-defined and propagandised. Consequently, people do not think very often, very diligently, very sustainedly about things; and they do not take much notice of the consequences of their own thinking.

It is perhaps regarded as little more than a waste of time, a joke or an excuse for idleness when someone claims to have been thinking. This applies even or especially, in academia; where to be caught thinking ‘in office hours’ would be even more shameful than to be caught reading a book! Thinking does not count as ‘work’.

It could therefore justly be said that – in the mainstream modern world - thinking is a low status activity.

Yet, for those who are – like me – convinced by the philosophical arguments of Owen Barfield (and of his acknowledged master Rudolf Steiner); thinking is the most important human activity and a necessity for the future evolutionary-development of our consciousness. Thinking ought to be our number one priority in life (number one, that is, within the prior, essential frame and context of Christianity).

What seems to be needed is that thinking, including imaginative thinking, become at least as powerful - indeed as overwhelming, as potentially motivating and life-changing - as actions, perceptions, and official/ media propaganda. We need both to know, and to feel, that thinking is real and true knowing.

Barfield therefore referred to the need for ‘strengthening’ thinking, and regarded Steiner as the most successful and advanced exponent of the necessary type of strengthened thinking. But how to do this? Steiner left behind various suggestions, instructions and exercises in how to strengthen thinking. For example to focus attention on some-thing, such as a plant, and try to experience its life as a dynamic historical and unfolding reality. However, my impression is that these exercises seem either not to work very well, perhaps only partially and very slowly; at any rate, extremely few people have apparently got anywhere near Steiner in terms of their ability to think in that visionary fashion which is destined for Final Participation.

So, something stronger and faster than Steiner’s exercises seem to be required. The weakness of Steiner’s exercises is, I think, a consequence of people lacking genuine, internal motivation to do them; which is itself a consequence of the subject matter being arbitrary. While Steiner himself, or Goethe before him, would be passionately interested in a plant, and in understanding a plant – this does not apply to most people. Genuinely motivated interest of the kind that will generate and sustain someone’s best efforts is something that cannot be manufactured to order; it is not arbitrary but is idiosyncratic. Indeed, such motivated interest may be unique and specific to each person; furthermore, many people do not even know what it is that most interests and motivates them in this way – since they have neither reflected nor developed their spontaneous, intrinsic nature (for example; they are instead dominated by the pressures of the social environment, expediency, the wish for immediate distractions and proximate pleasures, status, wealth; and things like envy, revenge, spite etc.).

Yet nothing else is likely to suffice in developing the intensity of thinking than that each person be pursuing his or her own deepest, most naturally arising fascination or perplexity.

So – we need to think in such a way as to strengthen and intensify the act of thinking – to increase its power to change us. But for this to happen we also need to take a step back – indeed the ultimate step back into the most fundamental of all considerations: metaphysics – our most basic assumptions concerning the ultimate nature of reality.

For thinking to be strengthened, our metaphysical framework needs to be one in which thinking (of the right kind) is real and true, and universally valid. If our metaphysical assumptions tell us that thinking is primary then our experience of thinking will be one of greater importance, seriousness and attention. It is the fact that the normal mainstream metaphysics of the modern West regards thinking as secondary, indeed trivial, that we find thinking so feebly impactful, so weakly effective in motivating us, as compared with other phenomena such as perceptions, actions and social conventions.

That thinking is indeed primary to human experience is the core argument of Rudolf Steiner’s early work culminating in the Philosophy of Freedom (1894); and Barfield’s Saving the Appearances (1957) – I refer readers to these books for a careful and compelling justification. However, in the end, metaphysics must be endorsed by our direct intuitions – which requires first that we acknowledge we indeed have primary metaphysical assumptions, then to make these explicit to ourselves. Only then can we evaluate whether or not we really endorse and believe our own assumptions – and if not, we may (indeed should) seek to replace them.

For thinking to take its proper place at the heart of Life; it must be of the greatest possible power, intensity and strength. Thinking should be experience – it should be experienced as much, in fact more-than ‘things that happen to us’. We need to know why and how that thinking which we make happen from our freedom and agency, from our real self (our soul) is not arbitrary nor wish-fulfilment, but on the contrary it is intrinsically and necessarily real, true and universal.

Thus prepared and equipped we can each commence work on the Life Task of intensification and strengthening of our own thinking! What does this entail? If you are already engaged in some spontaneously-arising creative endeavour then this may be straightforward – if you are a real scientist, artist or writer; then what you think about is already-decided – and the main difference is to take seriously, attend to, the actual process of thinking.

For me, a good example is what I have termed The Golden Thread. When I think back through my life, and what is important, there are relatively few things among the mass of dullness and duties – and these things seem to link-up to make a golden thread connecting childhood past with the present. It was taking this seriously, as a reality and truth rather than regarding it as some arbitrary fantasy; which helped me to become a Christian and of the mystical type. It also caused me to revise my subjective autobiography, to reshape my understanding of how my life had developed – including wrong turns, blind alleys, and descents into the pit.

Whatever it is that is your deepest motivation then forms the basis of strengthening your thinking. You will need to recognise (at a fundamental level) that you are dealing with something true, real - and in principle universally so, its truths and realities accessible to anyone competent; not merely a private delusion or day dream.

You may then learn from your experiences of thinking how best to intensify it. For instance you may learn that certain times of day are better for thinking; you may identify supportive attitudes, places or positions; helpful activities (such as reading, writing, doodling, walking, music…).

You will need to develop a habit of seriousness about thinking – so that you talk about thinking respectfully, lay stress on its primacy, refrain from casual denigration and invidious comparisons. It may be helpful to take notes, and to rehearse memories of thinking. A strategic devotion to thinking is the requisite.

You will find that creativity is nothing more or other than a consequence of primary thinking; it is a natural consequence of thinking from your unique and real self. While your true thoughts are in a universal realm, nobody thinks them quite like you do; and you will make discoveries in this realm (probably small discoveries, but personally valuable nonetheless).

You will quite spontaneously think about things beyond your past experience, beyond your senses, outside of this world and your times. This is the ‘visionary’ aspect; because the future visionary is a thinker, nor a see-er.

And with endeavour, and rapidly; your thinking will incrementally become strengthened; increased in power, motivating; rooting-you in the world and enhancing your awareness of everything true; curing the typical modern malaise of feeling cut-off, alienated because everything real and valid will come together and be related and integrated in your thoughts.

Friday 24 November 2017

Owen Barfield 'in reverse'

Owen Barfield typically explained himself by starting with evidence (for example the evidence for evolution of language, or for understanding human evolution as beginning with consciousness) and leading up to his conclusions.

However, I suspect it may be easier to understand Barfield if we begin with his conclusions, and then describe how these conclusions can be used to interpret the evidence.

This may be easier to understand; and it is also more correct - because evidence is always capable of multiple interpretations and therefore many people will get 'stuck' in the evidential stage of Barfield's arguments and never arrive at the point of understanding where the arguments were leading, or why.

For example, Barfield vastly documented the evidence for the evolution of meanings of words, and interpreted this as evidence of changing human consciousness. However, the fact is that there are other, especially cultural, ways of explaining the pattern of changes in meanings of words without invoking an evolution of human consciousness. (Indeed, Barfield's ideas are quite often misinterpreted as being  a type of 'pot-modern' cultural relativism.) The same applies to all other sources of evidence.

As so often, it is a matter of metaphysical assumptions. Normal mainstream modern people have (largely unconscious and unacknowledged) assumptions such as that bodies evolved before minds, and that minds evolved before consciousness; and that human consciousness is the same in all cultures and at all points in history. All evidence is interpreted in light of these assumptions - and therefore evidence cannot challenge these assumptions.

Therefore it may be helpful to start with the destination; to start with Barfield's assumptions. For example that There is a God, Christianity is true, God has a plan for the evolution of human consciousness, that this plan aims at making Men into Gods, and that the whole of creation is organised around this.

But the divine destiny entails Men becoming more and more free, as their selves become more distinct from the rest of creation - so that, individually or collectively, Men can and do refuse to go-along-with God's hopes and plans for our evolution.

Once this is understood, it may be easier to grasp what Barfield is saying.

Owen Barfield and Rudolf Steiner - the nature of the relationship

Owen Barfield regarded Rudolf Steiner as his master, as indeed one of the great thinkers of human history (of a stature comparable to Aristotle); and devoted much of his life to working for the Steiner's cause.

Nonetheless, in terms of Steiner's own writings for the public, Barfield's direct advocacy of Steiner was selective:

1. Christian Framework

Barfield shared Steiner's Christian Framework - although he wrote about it less often than did Steiner. Barfield regarded the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ as the central and dividing event in cosmic history.

(Barfield, also shared Steiner's unorthodox - but Gospel-based - explanation of the dual God-Man nature of Jesus Christ as having been some kind of combination of two persons.)

2. Steiner's Philosophy.

My impression is that Barfield especially valued Steiner's philosophical works: that is his three early books - the first one sometimes translated as the Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe's World Conception (1886) was one that Barfield sometimes described as Steiner's least read but most important book; the other two are Steiner's PhD thesis Truth and Knowledge (1892) and the Philosophy of Freedom/ Spiritual Activity (1896).

Steiner's ideas are usually described as setting-out an Epistemology (that is, a theory of knowing and valid knowledge) but I personally regard them as being more fundamental than that, and instead describing a metaphysics (that is setting-out the fundamental nature of reality).

For example; Steiner regarded the activity of Thinking as a the primary reality, and attempted to argue and prove this 'epistemologically' by evidence and reason and without discussion first assumptions. However, I would suggest that this is actually a metaphysical assumption, not an obvious conclusion - especially since this view about the primacy of Thinking seems to have been unique to Steiner at the time it was made.

(I should point-out that I personally accept this assumption of the primacy of thinking - which I regard as a major and essential breakthrough in human self-understanding; but I accept it on intuitive grounds, and not because of the 'evidence' for it.) 

3. What Barfield does not mention (much)

Beyond Steiner's basic philosophy; Barfield accepted and advocated Steiner's vision of world history as an evolution of consciousness - through different stages, starting with an un-free, disembodied state of total consciousness with no discrete 'self'; and incrementally moving through incarnation towards modern Man's state of alienated freedom, without consciousness of anything outside The Self.

Barfield's future destination of Final Participation corresponds to Steiner's Spiritual Soul - as being a state which combines freedom and consciousness for the first time. However, Steiner mapped-out a timetable for the evolution of consciousness, projected hundreds, even thousands, of years into the future; and Barfield did not seem to endorse this in his writings.

Nor did Barfield say much about the vast body of highly detailed and specific Spiritual Science (in agriculture, education, medicine, politics etc. etc.) which Steiner gave in the lectures of his last couple of decades. My impression is that Barfield was broadly in agreement with Steiner on these matters (eg in education Barfield supported Waldorf schools, and in politics the 'threefold' analysis ad recommendations); but Barfield could not confirm all of the many specifics of Steiner's output from his personal knowledge, and so said little about is.

The reason for this differential emphasis is probably that Barfield distinguished between those aspects of Steiner which he had personally validated and those aspects which he had not. Indeed, since Steiner was astonishingly productive of ideas and assertions (having given some hundreds of transcribed lectures per annum in his later years); so it would probably not be possible (even in principle, and even in so long as life as Barfield enjoyed) to check and validate everything that Steiner said.

On top of this; Steiner said at times (although he rather contradicted by his practice) that his intuitive and meditational methods of deriving Spiritual Science data were prone to error, and that therefore not everything he stated was expected to be correct; but that all should be testable by all properly-motivated people who were able to practice the Anthroposophical method, and who made the effort.

(Not many seem to have done this - Valentin Tomberg was an example of someone who, after Steiner's death, extended and re-worked Steiner's statements in a Platonic direction; and he was made to resign from the Anthroposophical Society as a result!)

In sum, I think that Barfield wholly endorsed Steiner's philosophy and his method ie. his Anthroposophy; however, while not explicitly rejecting it, he was somewhat partial in his endorsement of the many details of Steiner's findings ie. his Spiritual Science.

I would indeed put it more strongly: Steiner's basic analysis and the method of Anthroposophy is of vital importance to everybody; but the many thousands of stated findings of specific assertions of Spiritual Science are not essential, and indeed are mostly wrong.

In a nutshell: Barfield contains the necessary essence of Steiner. Most people will therefore want to approach Steiner via Barfield; turning to Steiner himself mainly for another perspective, and a different mode of explanation.

Note: I personally believe that the above is the best way for most people to approach the work of Rudolf Steiner; certainly it is what I do. Most of the vast body of purported fact that Steiner generated I ignore - furthermore I do not believe that human destiny unrolls according to a calendar projected millenia into the future. 

For this reason, for most people, it is probably best to approach Steiner via Barfield; since Barfield includes the best of Steiner and leaves-out the parts that are generally regarded (or at least I regard!) as unacceptable. 

Nonetheless, it is well worth reading the three early books of Steiner's at least - because these are potentially life-changing works of genius; and reading Steiner more widely but more selectively for the many insights scattered elsewhere. For example, my favourite thing of his is the 1918 lecture The work of the angel/ in Man's Astral Body. With Steiner - starting from the 1886 book on Goethe, by and large - the earlier the work, the better it is, and the later the more compromised.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Coleridge's Polarity, as explicated by Barfield

Ingwaz: The metaphysics of '-ing'
Yesterday I made a conceptual breakthrough in understanding the concept which is at the heart of that alternative metaphysics which seems to have emerged in the Romantic era - in the life of Goethe and the philosophy of Coleridge, but to have been rejected by the Zeitgeist and to have since led an underground and marginal or unarticulated existence in the likes of Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield (from whom I mostly got it).

Barfield focuses on the term polarity, derived from Coleridge - but I have found that this term - with its inner picture of a solid, rectangular bar magnet - is making it harder for me to grasp and use. The essence of the concept is not its having poles but that it is a dynamic process, an active thing: an -ing, as in think-ing, reason-ing, understand-ing, and imagin-ing.For me this philosophy only makes sense if I regard reality as happen-ing.

So I have decided to replace polarity with '-ing' which is the name and sound of a rune - more often called Ingwaz (and of a Norse god, also called Freyr - not the same as Freya). So the rune Ingwaz can serve me as a symbol of 'polarity', in my notetaking.

Like most good metaphysics, Ingwaz comes from the solid, primary, necessary intuition that we are thinking. From this comes the inference that whatever we think, do, know or whatever - thinking is involved. There is no way of getting-at any objective reality that does not involve thinking - it is nonsense (makes no sense) to be thinking there is an objective realm of 'facts' that are autonomous from thinking.

However, this is NOT the 'idealism' of stating that there is only mind, and 'reality' is an illusion; what is being stated is that thinking is involved in everything - therefore, everything includes thinking. The thinking cannot be detached from anything, thinking is always involved in everything.

So the division of inner mind and outer reality/ nature is nonsense; we are always and inevitably involved in everything we ever consider by thinking.

However, this thinking can be (usually is) something of which we are unaware. We therefore tend (unthinkingly) to regard the 'outside' world as if it was independent of our thinking. We tend to suppose that the outside world is real and solid, while our thinking (which is reality is involved in everything we know or imagine about that outside world) is merely ephemeral and pointless.

This is because if we divide thinking from the outside world, thinking dies - it becomes static, inert, it stops '-ing' and is a mere dead specimen ('thought'). What is really happening is that we have started thinking about a situation where there is no thinking, and are unaware that in thinking this we have not actually imagined a situation where there is no thinking - we are merely unaware of the thinking that is engaged in imagining it!

This is the modern condition. Modern analysis is unaware of - and denies - the pervasiveness of thinking at all times and in all situations. This state of unthinking doubt about thinking can be called cynicism.

So, the first move is to become aware of our own thinking in any and every situation - to recognize that everything involves thinking - we are therefore always engaged with everything, involved with everything: there is no objective alienation.

But is thinking valid? That is the fear that haunts cynical, nihilistic modern man. The fear is that - even though it makes no sense and cannot be done to use thinking to doubt the validity of thinking; maybe thinking is not valid anyway - maybe we just live in an un-avoidable delusion? The idea accepts that it makes no sense to be thinking about thinking being 'unreliable' - but maybe that is true anyway!

This cynicism, I believe, is the modern condition; it is a fear rather than a philosophy, it is a cynical suspicion that there is really no purpose, meaning or reality - and this state was facilitated by Natural Selection which seems to have 'discovered' that that is how nature works. This is untrue, and makes no sense; but the effect is rather to implant a fear, a suspicion that it might all be a delusion than to make any kind of logical point.

That has been the point at which Western thought has been stuck for more than 200 years - the fear that everything we think we know about everything comes from thinking, and that thinking - the very basis of knowing itself - might be a circular system of unavoidable but nonetheless false assumptions.

This places Man into an existential state where he does not know where to start in escaping. Once he has come to doubt thinking, then he cannot get out. All he can do is try to manipulate his emotions so as to feel better, here and now.

Thought and Think-ing We create the world (more specifically, we participate in creating the world - in interaction-with the real phenomena of the world) through our thinking ; and the -ing of thinking is what requires special attention. Thinking it is not the abstract category of 'thought' but the active process of think-ing, by which we co-create the world.

The world is real, but its reality is inextricably bound up with our thinking - it is the active process of thinking that is primary (and we must not kill it in our attempt to comprehend it).

We change our thinking, and it is-changed by the experiences of our lives (and often for the worse - often in ways which sabotage our lives, and prevent their spiritual progression - induce spiritual corruption instead. Look around!). So, thinking can be changed and is changed - and we ourselves might want to take-over this process rather than being passive recipients of changes imposed by our environment... what do we do?

The answer is: Thinking-about-Thinking - that is, we need to think about, become aware of, our own Thinking and its assumptions and characteristic (habitual) processes. Another word for this activity is Metaphysics.

Why is Metaphysics so difficult? Why is it blocked by external distractions and internal incapacities and obstacles? These seem legion - and the worst is that, to some degree and sometimes very completely - our selves (who are trying to do the Thinking about Thinking) are actually false selves; mere personae that have developed to do automatically the business of interacting with the world in ways that are short-term expedient.

There is a tendency (at times almost irresistible - because habitual) to make the seeking of understanding into a static and deadly analysis - we distinguish, divide, organise and kill the concepts we need. Like subjective and objective - we distinguish them, divide them and separate them - and then they both die.

What is needed is to be able to analyse without killing - which means that instead of laying-out reality before us, inert, on a dissecting slab - reality must have at its heart and as its prime term, a thing which is dynamic, alive and existing through time (with a past and future - not seen as a timeless 'present').

Analysis must not be allowed to kill the livingness of the central phenomenon. Rather, analysis must go-on around the livingness of the central phenomenon. In other words, the central pheonomenon can be delineated - but cannot itself be analysed (or else it will be killed). If the central phenomenon is Consciousness, or Quality, or Reality - then it cannot be dissected without killing it and thereby making it no longer the central phenomenon.  


When think-ing changes, the world changes - and not just 'my' world: but the actual world. There is, indeed, no division between 'my'-world, and the-world (if there was, the world would not be my world). To change the world requires changing our think-ing (it is a fallacy to talk about the outer-realities as if they could be divided from our think-ing); and the difficulty of changing our think-ing is a measure of the difficulty in changing the world.

(As usual, it is far easier to change things for the worse: to destroy --- than it is to change things for the better: to create.)

On the other hand, if - by thinking about thinking - we can gain metaphysical understanding and can cure/ improve the mainstream metaphysical corruptions as they operate in our minds - can improve our habits-of-think-ing to make the process more Christian, loving, creative... then by this we have improved the world (not just for ourselves, but for everyone).

Metaphysics is therefore a prime task for everybody now, not just intelectuals (although they need it more than most). And since metaphysics is intrinsically difficult, and being made ever more difficult by modern culture, and deliberately so - we need to enable it in our lives by ceasing to crave distraction, intoxication, and passive absorption: by seeking to make our thinking active, awake, aware and concentrated on what needs to be done.


And what is it that does the thinking about thinking? And how is it able to do it?

Ah - there's the crux of the matter! It is our eternal and (embryonically) divine selves that are what does real metaphysics. And it is its eternal position and and divine nature which makes possible the detachment required for thinking about thinking.

Metaphysics is our eternal self contemplating our mortal self - but actively: that is eternal think-ing contemplating the mortal personae which have been built by experience and expediency, and which now do so much of our thinking and being, that we have often lost or encapsulated the eternal self...

In his masterful book What Coleridge Thought (1971), Owen Barfield identified Polarity - or Polar Logic - as ST Coleridge's core philosophical concept; and the key to understanding his completion of Romanticism.

I read this book twice, with deep attention, and was convinced by it; however, when I came to try and use the concept of polarity in my everyday life, with the aim of transforming my life for the better - I couldn't. Polarity was just too abstract.

This is probably unsurprising - after all a system of logic is not really the kind of thing which is fundamental; it is more of a tool than a basis for existence. The cognitive domain 'logic' is, indeed of interest to only a tiny minority of very specialised people who have had systematic training.

Furthermore, my experience has been that Christianity ought not to be based upon abstractions, but upon the core analogy of Loving Family Relationships - this is both the reality and the master metaphor (or symbolism) of the Christian religion.

Therefore I need to re-express, re-explain, Polarity in anthropomorphic terms - to make it a matter of human and divine relationships.

Polarity is a way of conceptualising necessary and inseparable opposites: the core physical example (cited by Coleridge) is of a force that coheres and a force that disperses; centripetal (centre-seeking) and centrifugal (centre-fleeing) - the varied combinations of such polar forces then accounts of the dynamic nature of the world, and life.

I then saw that Love - which is the heart of Christianity - is of precisely this nature; because love is a cohesion, a holding together, as with marriage and family relationships; and love is an open-ended creative force, as with children being born, developing, and forging new relationships.

Love is dynamic: it cannot be just cohesion or it will die, it cannot be just expansion or it will die - it must be the polarity of both, which is infinite in its capacity for self-renewal and strength.

Love comes from the dyadic relationship of man and woman, husband and wife, in cohesive relation for eternity and also open-endedly reproducing, having children who have children. The relationships cohere forever, but in a state of continual change and interaction forever.

Love depends on distinction: one person from another, man from woman, parent from child, each sibling from another, each friend unique; and Love also depends on the constancy of the fact of relationship. Many loving relationships changing by an organic, unfolding development. But each relationship sustained in its core nature - husband and wife, father and son, mother and son, brother and brother and so forth.

There are all, in Coleridge's or Barfield's abstract sense, polarities: the insight is true and it is deep. Yet when expressed in terms of relationships it is simple common sense and everyday observation... all we need to do is recognise the ideal for which our earthly family relationships are striving; and then we can know the actuality which will (if we choose it) be the reality in Heaven.

The phrase Opposition in all Things from the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 2:11) is generally taken to apply to moral development – and the necessity for opposition from Life if people are to experience, learn and progress spiritually. But I think it is linked also with the underlying metaphysical basis of Mormonism, which is ‘evolutionary’ in contrast with the world view of Classical Theology; and in particular with the unique doctrine that the highest form of spiritual progression – full deity – is only possible for the ‘dyad’ of a man and a woman joined (complementary but not fused – united but separate selves) in celestial marriage. (A single and separate man or woman can be saved, and may progress a long way towards divinity; but not all of the way to becoming the same in nature as our Heavenly Father and Mother.) In particular, the celestially-married dyad is the only level at which Man can participate in the ultimate divine attribute of giving birth to spirit children. At an ultimate level, opposition in all things can be taken as a phrase describing the fundamental metaphysical principle that creativity (taken here to be identical with progression in the harmony with God’s Plan of Salvation) must be a product of two distinct and in-a-sense ‘opposed’ principles. As the ultimate creative act of having a child comes from the interaction of two persons of the two sexes, so spiritual progression comes from the interaction of ‘opposites’; and what these and other creative situations have in common is that there is a ‘polarity’ (to use Coleridge’s term) in which the two sides are distinguishable but not divisible. There are many similarities between men and women; but there is also a complementarity of nature which goes beyond the specifics of parturition – the feminine has always been recognised as a ‘centripetal’, gathering, unifying principle; and the masculine as a ‘centrifugal’, exploratory and differentiating principle – both of which are required to make that ‘vortex’ of new life and potential that is a child. At its very deepest possible level of analysis; Mormonism thus regards life (and love, as its basis) as dynamic, active, creative – and this is because fundamental reality is always a polarity.

Awake in the world of dreams - A taste of Final Participation

To get a taste of Final Participation try the following:

First see the world as a dream... Then

Wake-up, and engage in

Thinking (staying inside the dream).

Joseph Campbell and RUP (Residual Unresolved Positivism)

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever have the sense of… being helped by hidden hands? 

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as a result of invisible hands coming all the time – namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. 
From The Power of Myth - interviews with Jospeh Campbell by Bill Moyers - book and PBS documentary, 1988.

Owen Barfield described a common phenomenon among spiritual people he named  RUP - Residual Unresolved Positivism. In essence, he meant that such people suppose that they have transcended materialism and become spiritual, but have not really done so. It is the difference between theory and practice, or between explicit belief and implicit habits - in theory they believe that spirit is primary but in practice they continue habitually to depend on materialist metaphysical explanations.

In the passage quoted above, Joseph Campbell reveals a failure to follow-through his beliefs to their conclusions. (I can confirm that this is true of the whole span of his writings, not just this particular passage). He describes how, when a person follows his Bliss (by which he means his deepest inner convictions - get translates the term from a Hindu doctrine of five 'sheaths' of the person - Bliss is the most fundamental sheath)... then Life will arrange-itself around the fulfilment of this need.

Campbell was known as a spiritual writer on the subject of mythology; but his bottom line explanations were derived and adapted from Carl Gustav Jung (e.g Campbell edited a popular anthology The Portable Jung, he attended conferences and met Jung and some of his early books were issued by Jung's publishing house).

For Jung, and for Campbell, spirituality and myth were ultimately a matter of psychology, and psychology was ultimately about human gratification during mortal life. The difference between Jung and other psychologists and psychiatrists is that the mainstream were aimed at therapy (alleviation of pathology) while Jung aimed at positive enhancement of a person's sense of meaning and purpose in Life... however, in the end this meaning-purpose were simply feelings.

For whatever reason, Jung and Campbell both stopped short of a religious metaphysical basis for their beliefs. So, in the passage quoted above, Campbell defensively refers to his belief as a 'superstition' even though he believed it and based his life upon it. He regarded living for Bliss as better than living for money or status, but could not justify this except in terms of making people feel better (overall and in the long term).

Campbell felt that a person living for and from their Bliss would experience meeting important people and having doors-open for their destiny - but presented this as an empirical observation, merely; and did not explain why or how this should happen - why, specifically, 'the world' should arrange-itself (in multiple extremely complex and interacting ways ) to enable a person to follow their Bliss, or destined 'track'...

One of Campbell's problems was a deeply rooted anti-Christianity, in reaction to his upbringing in a very literalistic, exclusive and hard-line (all-or-nothing) Irish Roman Catholicism. Yet if Campbell had responded to Christianity with the depth and flexibility he allowed for other religions, he might have seen that Bliss could coherently be regarded as God-within-us (God immanent). And Campbell might have seen that if indeed Life does arrange itself around the true destiny of an individual human being, then this implies a personal God of great power, who loves each person as an individual and intervenes in the world to help them follow their proper 'track'.

Much the same applies to Jung's concept of synchronicity - which is what Campbell is rephrasing here. If indeed reality arranges for individual people to have 'meaningful coincidences', then it also implies a personal God who is doing the immense job of arranging multiple factors, for the good of specific persons.

In the case of Jung and Campbell, I think we can see that their unresolved positivism is quite extreme - since they lack even a spiritual metaphysics; hence they both end-up making thoroughly materialist and this-worldly analyses and recommendations.

But for those of us who try-to live by a genuinely spiritual and Christian metaphysics, there is still a major problem of RUP - since we live in a world with a materialist and this-worldly metaphysics; and it is this modern world that socialises, trains, educates and entrains our habits of thinking.

In the end and under such circumstances; we all find that a thorough-going, 100-percent spiritual Christianity is impossible; and we can only manage a partial and intermittent consistency between our metaphysics and our habitual thinking.

Our need, then, is to repent our failures; and to take seriously, learn from, and try to amplify our successes at transcending positivism and fully-living-by what we theoretically believe.