This is the third post in a series of posts titled, â€œWhat is Integralâ€, explaining the Integral theory and what prominent Integral theorists mean by the word, â€œIntegralâ€. Our previous posts in this series, dealt with â€œThe transition and acausal leap that is happening nowâ€ and â€œKen Wilber’s pivotal contribution to Integralismâ€. This post is about another exceptional Integral theorist â€“ Jean Gebser and his five structures of consciousness. Jean Gebser has been one of the least understood yet most popular of Integral theorists. His works, his theories and concepts have always been a puzzle to many. The reason behind this is, he was much ahead of his time and it took time for people to duly recognize him and his ideas.
Jean Gebser â€“ Life and Works: Jean Gebser is what one would call a â€œKulturphilosophâ€ (a cultural philosopher) in German. Born in Prussia for aristocratic parents, Gebser’s birth was at a significant time in history. He was born on August 20, 1905 â€“ the same year in which Albert Einstein formulated his theory of relativity; when Phenomenology was at its nascent stages with Max Planck and Edmund Husserl; and when it was just five years since Freud’s Interpretations of Dreams had become popular. All these people and works are important as Gebser analyzed them (in later life) and based his theories on them.Â Gebser grew up as a lonely child interested in philosophy and literature. He studied deeply and traveled far and wide, across France, Germany, Spain only to finally settle in Switzerland, where he produced his magnum opus â€“ The Ever-Present Origin. During his travel, he met and acquainted with many, including Pablo Picasso, Carl Jung, Andre Malraux, Paul Eduard and others. Though a European, Gebser had an exceptional and mature mind to analyze the unfolding of world consciousness, without much European influence. His primary work â€“ The Ever-Present Origin â€“ involves explanation on the development of human consciousness in five stages or four evolutionary surges of growth.
Gebser’s Five Structures of Consciousness: The Ever-Present Origin outlines five states or structures of consciousness development. Gebser states that the human mind/consciousness has seen four evolutionary surges. Sean A. Saiter in his essay â€œA General Introduction to Integral Theory and Comprehensive Mapmakingâ€ says â€œWhat makes Gebser’s work so impressive is the execution of his proposal and central thesis that humankind undergoes radical shifts or mutations in consciousness and that we are currently emerging into what he called the integral/aperspectival consciousness, an idea that remains quite novel for its time and place.â€ Though the development of consciousness can be attributed to every other field of study, Gebser particularly specifies the growth only as culture. He opines that human consciousness has gone through four states â€“ â€œ1. The Archaic, 2. The Magical, 3. The Mystical and 4. The Mental/Rationalâ€ and is going through or on the verge of â€œIntegral/Aperspectivalâ€ state.
The Archaic Structure: The Archaic is what one may call the primeval structure of consciousness. There is no past, yet a potential future. There is no sense of dimensionality and it is just â€œbeingâ€, a state of â€œdeep, dreamless sleepâ€. Zero-dimensional, non-perspectival and without any sense of separation, Gebser calls the Archaic â€œthe source from which all springs, but it is that which springs forth itself.â€ He opines that it is â€œessenceâ€ which is behind and which underlies consciousness. In this state, things just happened and there was no sense of direction, purpose or perspective. But, as mentioned earlier, the future is â€œcomplete potentialityâ€. Ed Mahood Jr. in his article, â€œAn Overview of the Work of Jean Gebserâ€ says, â€œThe Archaic structure of consciousness is perhaps the most difficult to understand, for it is the one most removed from our present-day way of thinking. Stated succinctly, it can be likened to zero dimensional mentation, a world devoid of any perspectivity at all. It is a stated in which the holder of consciousness is perhaps only minimally aware of himself or his relationship to the world around him.â€
The Magical Structure: The Magical Structure is one wherein man entered into the first phase of growth. According to Mahood, the structure is characterized by five stages, â€œ(1) its egolessness, (2) its spacelessness and timelessness, (3) its pointlike-unitary world, (4) its interweaving with nature, and (5) its magical reaction to the world.â€ Man started to develop a sense of self-image, a rudimentary image. Though he was growing up, he was still intimately related to nature. He never considered himself apart from it. Feuerstein opines that this structure should have persisted till 40,000 B.C. and till the advent of the Cro-Magnons. In this structure, language was the only thing that codified the activities of the day. The quest for survival was dominant and memory was â€œtribal, collective, with the ‘we’ being dominantâ€ (Mahood). In a sense, there was an â€œone-dimensional, pre-perspectivalâ€ growth and man started developing a recognition that he was different from things around. The Magic man lives as if he is in a magical, dream-like state. The notion of space, time etc. are illusive to the Magic man as he, like Magic, does things without knowing, motivated only by the survival instinct. The Survival stage of Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics can be compared to this stage.
The Mythical Structure: The Mythical Structure shows further growth. But this time, the growth is religious and rather, shamanistic. As Feuerstein points out in his Structures of Consciousness, the â€œCro-Magnons had developed a universe that presumed the existence of a fairly complex mythology. This structure is considered two-dimensional as it is characterized by fundamental polarities. Word was the reflector of inner silence, myth was a reflector of the soulâ€. Mythologies were developed to grotesque extent and language gains utmost prominence owing to its use in literature, chanting, praying etc. As Mahood opines, â€œThe mouth now becomes the spiritual organâ€. In a way, the mythical structure paved way for separation of man from nature â€“ the Fall of Man, the myth of Prometheus etc. are some of the examples. The understanding of the world is two-dimensional. â€œWhile the Magical structure is highly emotional, the Mythical one is imaginativeâ€ (Mahood). This is why the plethora of gods and goddesses cause confusion to the â€œrational mind in the Mental Structureâ€. As Mahood points out, though the â€œIâ€ of the man is not fully developed, we are â€œon way to selfhood.â€
The Mental Structure: The next leap in consciousness, the current one (the rational/mental mind), took place around 10,000 B.C.. According to Gebser, it was the time when man stepped out of â€œtwo-dimensional space into three-dimensional oneâ€. Man broke from the Mythical past and developed a highly individual, rational mind that refuses to adopt to anything without questioning or analysis. Mahood opines that the mental structure was â€œinauguratedâ€ by the â€œdiscovery of causalityâ€ and man uses his mind to â€œmaster over the world around himâ€. Philosopheme, according to Gebser, is the primary form of expression and â€œabstractionâ€ becomes a key term used in philosophy. During the Renaissance, man discovered something called â€œperspectiveâ€ (which Gebser terms as a â€œdeficientâ€ form of the Mental Structure) and starts conceiving things in terms of perspectives.
Commenting about this structure, Mahood says: â€œPerspective is the life blood of reasoning and the Rational structure of consciousness, which Gebser considers to be only a deficient form of the Mental structure. What we have is the full development of the ego and its related centeredness. We conceive things, events and phenomena in terms of our own perspectives, often at the expense of others. The eye, it will be seen (and the last of the openings in the head), becomes the spiritual organ representative of this structure. Our language, our entire imagery and dominant metaphor takes on visual, spatial character. Space is finally overcome, in the true sense of the word. With the supercession of space, man finally accomplishes his egoistic, individual separation from nature. In this concretization of the “I,” we become very aware of our existence, of our beingness, of our individuality. And so it should be. But in a deficient mode, the outcomes, of course, are loneliness, isolation, and alienation, which are so characteristic of our own American culture. In fact, our current materialistic approach to understanding reality is perhaps the final stage of this structure…â€
Another significantÂ thing about this structure is the magical structure is expanding widely â€“ initially it was man and his spirit which occupied man’s consciousness. Next, it was the element of â€œsoulâ€ (in the Mythical structure). Now, it is â€œspaceâ€ which is beginning to occupy man’s mental realm. According to Gebser and other theorists, it is this Mental/Rational stage is drawing toward an end, and we are moving toward the next significant leap in consciousness â€“ the Integral structure.
The Integral Structure: The Integral Structure, as opined by almost all theorists, is the best of all structures. It is above the three-dimensional mind, and encompasses all that has come before and will come after. However, it is only in its emergent stage. In Feurestein’s words, â€œIt is the irruption of qualitative time into our consciousnessâ€. There will be a â€œsupercession of timeâ€ in this structure and man will achieve â€œaperspectivalâ€ awareness. As Gebser points out, â€œArationality, aperspectivity and diaphaneityâ€ will be the hallmarks of this new age of consciousness. By arationality, he means thinking that is not rational as in the current structure; aperspectivity is without perspective, that is, â€œspatially determined mentation of the current structureâ€ and diaphaneity is recognition of everything as a whole, not in parts. Since everything will operate as a whole, there will be peaceful settlement of issues and integral worldview will dominate the world. Theorists have already chartered territories in this structure â€“ like Integral Art, Integral Politics, Integral Business etc. – yet, the general population is yet to achieve an Integral world view. Once Integral thought seeps into the minds of half the world population, it would be the start of the Integral era.
1. Ed Mahood Jr.’s â€œAn Overview of the Work of Jean Gebserâ€
2. Sean A. Saiter’s â€œA General Introduction to Integral Theory and Comprehensive Mapmakingâ€
3. All about Jean Gebser from the Jean Gebser Society