The Unicorn, the Phoenix, and the Dragon

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sciborg2

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« on: February 14, 2020, 06:53:42 am »
The Unicorn, the Phoenix, and the Dragon

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The key to the magical dimension of historical cycles lies in a detail of history that Vico and Barfield both grasped firmly: the fact that human beings don’t think the same way at one stage in the historical process as they do at other stages. Barfield’s claim was that all of humanity passes through a single process of change in consciousness, starting with his hypothesized “original participation” and ending in his equally hypothetical “final participation.” Vico’s, far more troubling to the modern mind, was that each nation goes through predictable changes in consciousness, and that modern societies are repeating the same stages that can be traced in the classical world. It’s always possible to claim that Barfield is right on the largest scale, since it’s possible to claim anything at all about that without risk of disproof, but in terms of time frames that are subject to verification, the facts support Vico instead.

There are various ways to talk about “the course the nations run,” the cycle of consciousness through which each society passes over the course of its history, but I’m going to use a few of Vico’s own examples here. As mentioned earlier, the earliest law codes in any civilization are specific, concrete lists of crimes and their punishments.  The final law codes in any civilization you care to name are intricately crafted tissues of abstract reasoning. That movement from the concrete to the abstract, from the richly sensory image to the richly intellectual concept, is among the consistent features of the history of a civilization—and so is the collapse of abstraction in the final era of a civilization and its replacement by a newly concrete consciousness rooted, once again, in sensory images.

The movement from concrete to abstract consciousness that both Vico and Barfield understood in their own ways, and it’s one of the things that makes Barfield’s Saving the Appearances and his works on the history of language worth reading despite the Procrustean bed of linear time into which he forces his data. Take any word in modern English that has an abstract connotation—for example the word “abstract” itself. English got that word from Latin, and in Latin, its original sense is clear: ab- is a prefix meaning “from, away from, out of,” and traho is a verb meaning “to pull.” (A tractor, similarly, is something that pulls.)  An abstraction is thus a set of perceptions that have been pulled out of their original setting amid the other details of everyday life, and turned into a concept. Put another way—and this will be crucial for our further work—an abstraction is a model of experience, created by cherrypicking certain features of that experience and treating those as the things that matter, while dismissing every other feature as secondary or irrelevant.

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We can call the first kind concrete concepts, and the second abstract concepts. There’s a continuum connecting them, created by repeated abstraction—that is to say, repeated construction of categories that moves further away from the concrete experience at its root. “Sally,” “girl,” “human,” “primate,” “mammal,” “animal,” and “life” are all descriptions of the same child playing in a sandbox; each movement further into abstraction allows something to be said about wider and wider circles of other concrete phenomena, which is what gives abstract thinking its power; at the same time, it allows less and less to be said accurately about those phenomena, which is what gives abstract thinking its vulnerability to delusion.

Now it so happens, as already pointed out, that civilizations start out thinking in concrete concepts. That’s true of their law codes and their literature, their political institutions and their practical arts, and every other dimension of their lives. In the earliest stage, the stage Vico called the barbarism of sense, those concrete concepts aren’t related to one another in any compelling way, and the result is chaos—mental chaos, but also cultural, social, and political chaos, because people who can’t assemble a meaningful world in their heads aren’t going to be able to do so in any more concrete sense either.

What puts an end to the barbarism of sense is the emergence of a pattern that reduces the cognitive chaos to order: not an abstract pattern, as the capacity for abstraction is just beginning to develop within the newborn culture, but a set of concrete mental representations charged with emotional force. The social form that gives context of this emergent pattern is a religion—one could as well say that the religion is the emergent pattern. North of the Mediterranean, for example, the representations around which a new society crystallized in the wake of Rome were the core images of Christianity.  Images, not abstract concepts: what mattered in the post-Roman chaos was not abstract theology but the tremendous images of God born in a stable, wandering with his disciples in Galilee and Judea, dying a brutal death on the cross, emerging alive from the grave, and rising miraculously into the sky.

Thinking in the early stage of a civilization always centers on some such set of emotionally charged representations that bring order to the cognitive chaos of a fallen civilization. Such thinking differs in important ways from the sort of thinking that’s common nowadays, or more generally in the last centuries of any civilization. We think abstractly, analytically, sorting out our perceptions into one or another scheme of categories; people in dark ages think concretely, synthetically, relating their perceptions to one or another set of compelling images. Thus it never occurred to medieval authors to suggest that Christmas should be celebrated at the time of year when shepherds in Judea actually keep watch in the fields, as the Biblical narrative specifies.  To the medieval mind, the birth of Christ and the winter solstice, when the first slight northward movement of the sun’s apparent path in the sky announces the return of light and life to the world, belong so self-evidently to the same synthetic pattern of imagery that mere history had no power to separate them.

The transition from the numinous, emotionally charged images that surround a civilization’s cradle to the finely wrought but passionless abstractions that gather around its deathbed takes place, broadly speaking, in three stages. It so happens that very often, those three stages are assigned distinct names by historians, which makes the process easy to trace. In the modern Western world, those three stages are called the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Modern Era; in the history of ancient Greece, they were the Archaic period, the Classical period, and the Hellenistic period, and so on. I propose to give them more general names, and since this is a blog about occult philosophy, I don’t propose to limit myself to the sort of dry nomenclature historians think they have to use these days.  The names I’ll use for these periods are the time of the Unicorn, the time of the Phoenix, and the time of the Dragon.

Let’s take them one at a time....

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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2020, 01:49:41 pm »
Hmm, interesting.  As I go through:

First, the triadic structure is interesting.  Not just in-itself, but for the likeness, seemingly, to the sort of Hegelian triadic structures as well.  Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis, if you like, but the article itself actually uses something more like Hegel's own Abstract-Negative-Concrete formulation.

Oh, the article was a lot shorter than I thought.  Interesting though.  I see some of Lacan's sort of Borromean Knot in it too, the notion of the Symbolic order, Imaginary order and The Real all meeting up in ways.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira

sciborg2

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« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2020, 05:40:46 am »
Hmm, interesting.  As I go through:

First, the triadic structure is interesting.  Not just in-itself, but for the likeness, seemingly, to the sort of Hegelian triadic structures as well.  Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis, if you like, but the article itself actually uses something more like Hegel's own Abstract-Negative-Concrete formulation.

Oh, the article was a lot shorter than I thought.  Interesting though.  I see some of Lacan's sort of Borromean Knot in it too, the notion of the Symbolic order, Imaginary order and The Real all meeting up in ways.

Can you go into Boromir's Knot and Hegel's A-N-C?

I have to admit this is far beyond my philosophical knowledge, just have too many negative thetan particles I need Tom Cruise to cleanse me of before I can get into those depths you're swimming in...

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« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2020, 12:58:27 pm »
Can you go into Boromir's Knot and Hegel's A-N-C?

I have to admit this is far beyond my philosophical knowledge, just have too many negative thetan particles I need Tom Cruise to cleanse me of before I can get into those depths you're swimming in...

Well, I don't believe in coincidences so, the fact that the article presents a triadic structure to History is likely akin to why Hegel formulation of the procession of Geist (Spirit) is also triadic.  That is, that when self-consciousness turns inward to look at itself, the result tends to look triadic.

As for the exact formulation, we could likely "fit" the Abstract to something like the article's conception of the Unicorn time-period.  The idea here is that we start somewhere, somewhere not definitive and totally articulated.  In fact, the article does sort of say this explicitly, but labels it a concrete, which I'd disagree with, I think.  The abstraction is the formulation of language, to borrow Lacan's terms, it's the laying of a Symbolic and Imaginary (that is, an ordering built on symbolism, or representations, like language, and imaginary, not just in the sense of being of the mind, but also being of the image, that is, of appearance) onto and into The Real (we can say this is sort of just the material substrate of all things, or the pure facts of the matter).

So, here we start in the laying of the Symbolic and Imaginary orders, we are still in the phase of the Abstraction, we are looking not at what The Real is, in-itself, we are looking to abstract away from that, very specifically, to see what The Real could be.  In the next phase though, we introduce (to use Hegel's term) the Negative.  So, we recognize the disconnect between the abstraction (the Symbolic and or Imaginary) and The Real, so we start introducing the negation of that abstract thought.  What did we "lose" in abstraction?  The negation here doesn't really mean a strict mathematical negative, but rather, it's the move to take what we were doing in the Abstract and do the opposite.  So, where the Symbolic might have reigned, we look at the Imaginary and The Real.  Or however.  In the end, we get the "Concrete" from this, because we've gone from one extreme, to apply the other, and now we have met in the "mediated middle."

So, where (to me) the Unicorn stage is the Abstraction, the Phoenix stage is the tarring with the negative, that is, where you go directly against that which was the defining status of the Unicorn.  The Dragon is the mediated outcome, where the abstraction comes back in.  There isn't an "end" to this process though, no Fukayama-esque "End of History."  The structure goes on, where the "final" Concrete stage is actually just the new starting point for another triadic development.  Whatever is, will be mediated; the concrete output of that process is just the new starting point of the next mediation.

To apply this to actual historicity, consider something like mystical thinking, "negated" by the scientific revolution, to the concrete stage we are at now, where science is a ruling order, but people do still (likely rightly) still consider metaphysics.  Here we go back to abstracting again, considering how the "facts" of quantum mechanics are nearly unintelligible, so we abstract to math to "understand" them.  The dialectic starts again.

If you made it through this giant word salad, I apologize.  Hopefully it made some sense.
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira

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« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2020, 09:53:11 pm »
Hmmm - I don't see how Unicorn Time is abstraction, it seems the opposite by focusing on experience primarily. I mean we could say language as a tool of abstraction germinated in this time but I'm not sure language itself is fundamentally Abstraction so much as Reference/Intentionality.

Also Phoenix is getting back to the Real, and Dragon is balance? It seems very different to me - I guess if I had to pick between Greer's Unicorn/Phoenix/Dragon terms vs Hegel I'd go with the former.

I mean we might be reaching the end of the Dragon Time, which would explain why the dogma of Physicalism is seeing more & more challengers even in academia, to say nothing of the rise in witchcraft and UFO acceptance as shifting to a mainstream topic.

I'd be curious what ages of history you're thinking of that fit Hegel's A-N-C? I guess we'd could try to go with Greece as the place where Abstraction is born (Theoria), which then gets muddled with the varied traditions of the Roman Empire (hexing, varied cults, etc) & then the Dark Ages....

Perhaps the contention point is you see Physicalism as closer to the Real, whereas I see it as closer to Abstraction of the Real?

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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2020, 10:43:38 pm »
Well, I didn't really mean to make it seem as if there was a 1:1 correspondence.

More importantly was the triadic structure, where you have (thing)->(mediating factors)->(the thing mediated) which is immediately the new (thing) to be mediated.

I do tend to think that where the Symbolic order is "greater" that it is a more "Abstracted" time, but where the Imaginary is, would also be a highly abstracted time.  So, yeah, I mean, I don't know that we are necessarily in a non-abstracted time, in fact, I don't think we ever could be (mainly because we only ever could get The Real medially, never immediately).  I guess the question is just more the relative "balance" of that abstraction?

I don't think that Rome really mediates the Symbolic or Imaginary order of ancient Greece though.  They maybe formalize it more, but it is still abstract.  I'd think it is the "Enlightenment" where things get "less" abstract, but certainly never non-abstract.  So where they'd consider The Real absent the Symbolic or Imaginary order, I think that is where things get less abstract and more concrete.  No wonder then that post-Kant (to me) we were able to split atom and the like.  The thing is, there is still abstraction, of course, just at a new "base level."  Now, we are somewhere between.  We can't return to the old abstraction since we grasp more of The Real, we can't just rely on the Image (or Imaginary) since we know post-Kant this isn't an in-itself, but we also sort of "see" that the Real is not a sufficient in-itself, in-itself.

Or, maybe more clearly, that I don't really have a point?
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira

sciborg2

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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2020, 11:00:00 pm »
Well, I didn't really mean to make it seem as if there was a 1:1 correspondence.

More importantly was the triadic structure, where you have (thing)->(mediating factors)->(the thing mediated) which is immediately the new (thing) to be mediated.

I do tend to think that where the Symbolic order is "greater" that it is a more "Abstracted" time, but where the Imaginary is, would also be a highly abstracted time.  So, yeah, I mean, I don't know that we are necessarily in a non-abstracted time, in fact, I don't think we ever could be (mainly because we only ever could get The Real medially, never immediately).  I guess the question is just more the relative "balance" of that abstraction?

I don't think that Rome really mediates the Symbolic or Imaginary order of ancient Greece though.  They maybe formalize it more, but it is still abstract.  I'd think it is the "Enlightenment" where things get "less" abstract, but certainly never non-abstract.  So where they'd consider The Real absent the Symbolic or Imaginary order, I think that is where things get less abstract and more concrete.  No wonder then that post-Kant (to me) we were able to split atom and the like.  The thing is, there is still abstraction, of course, just at a new "base level."  Now, we are somewhere between.  We can't return to the old abstraction since we grasp more of The Real, we can't just rely on the Image (or Imaginary) since we know post-Kant this isn't an in-itself, but we also sort of "see" that the Real is not a sufficient in-itself, in-itself.

Or, maybe more clearly, that I don't really have a point?

I think you do have a point but I do think we are looking at this in reverse order. The Enlightenment I think is the beginning of Abstraction as per Galileo seeking to ignore that which is not quantitative + the tri-part conflict between the Church / Mechanistic Advocates / Esoteric where - at least according to David Ray Griffin - the Church and the Mechanistic Advocates ally against the last as both accept Nature as meaningless/valueless. [This Cartesian Split then squeezes out Mind as centuries pass.]

And this brings us to the modern era where we have people swallowing Abstraction with such vigor they think they can exist as Platonic programs running on mere Turing Machines...

OTOH I would concede you have a valid reading of history, as most would say we get closer to what is Real when we can manipulate reality. If Magic could manage a tenth of what the Tekne has done we'd be living in very different times...
« Last Edit: February 18, 2020, 11:12:08 pm by sciborg2 »

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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2020, 01:57:59 pm »
Come to think on it, I am using the word "abstracted," but as a sort of empty concept, I don't even know what I mean by it.

I guess I am just typifying a move toward or away from the "Noumenal."

And that's the sort of "pragmatic" key, right?  Magic doesn't (as far as I know) put or keep satellites in orbit, or get spacecraft to the moon, or deliver this message from me to you.  Technology does that, or at least, makes it so we can somewhat reliably do so.

But it's also not the Noumena in-itself and now really thinking about it, I'm not sure if we are abstracted closer to the Noumenal or further away.  I want to say closer, but based on what?  The practical use we squeeze out of it?  Maybe.  But I am getting lost again in my own jargon-world...
I am a warrior of ages, Anasurimbor. . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury. -Cet'ingira

sciborg2

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« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2020, 07:34:45 pm »
Come to think on it, I am using the word "abstracted," but as a sort of empty concept, I don't even know what I mean by it.

I guess I am just typifying a move toward or away from the "Noumenal."

And that's the sort of "pragmatic" key, right?  Magic doesn't (as far as I know) put or keep satellites in orbit, or get spacecraft to the moon, or deliver this message from me to you.  Technology does that, or at least, makes it so we can somewhat reliably do so.

But it's also not the Noumena in-itself and now really thinking about it, I'm not sure if we are abstracted closer to the Noumenal or further away.  I want to say closer, but based on what?  The practical use we squeeze out of it?  Maybe.  But I am getting lost again in my own jargon-world...

I think one reason we're seeing a "break down" of pure abstraction is also the same Science that gave us all the practical stuff gave us the mysterious, anti-"common sense", results from QM. So it seems the Real itself has challenged our thinking.

But a narrowing of focus can be incredibly useful - the person who learns to swing a sword will be better prepared for battle than the person who tries to understand the physics of sword play. Similarly the person who uses Observation of Change to discover and exploit the Patterns within the Real will create more technology than the person who tries to explain Observation, Change, and Pattern.

I'd also note the Atheist-Materialist-Mechanistic "Enlightenment" has hit a wall in its offering of solutions. We can only try to abstract so much on everything from Mental Health to the Economy...at some point Focus becomes Tunnel Vision...
« Last Edit: February 20, 2020, 07:37:26 pm by sciborg2 »