[Paleopsych] Upstream: The Human Trinity
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The Human Trinity
"....at least one mental character of the highest 'civic worth',
namely intelligence, can be reliably measured and appears to be
Reported (as a finding of McDougall, Burt and Flugel, 1907, from
a study conducted at the Dragon School, Oxford) by Cyril BURT,
1952, Intelligence and Fertility
"One of the few impressive achievements of the mental tester is to
have succeeded in talking the general public into believing that it is
possible to "measure intelligence" without being able to define it."
P.H.SCHONEMANN, 1987, in S. & Celia Modgil,
Arthur Jensen: Consensus and Controversy. Brighton : Falmer.
"I care not whether a man is Good or Evil; all that I care is whether
he is a Wise Man or a Fool."
William BLAKE, Jerusalem.
"I now think that there is some correlation between the most effective
clever people and eventual spirituality.... Both Neumann [(1903-1957)
who invented the modern computer and prevented Stalin being succeeded
by Beria] and my daughter [by far the cleverest and best person in my
immediate circle of family and friends] chuckled in the last stages of
their cancer as they surprised their families by turning deeply
Norman MACRAE, 1989, Sunday Times, 24 xii
The human trinity: The three consciousnesses of man.
By Richard Atnally, William Paterson College of New Jersey
Vol. 34, Mankind Quarterly, 01-01-1993, pp 3.
Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it,
is but one special type of consciousness whilst all about it, parted
from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of
consciousness entirely different.
William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience 388
. . . we see in all these instances most undoubted trinities, because
they are wrought in ourselves, or are in ourselves, when we remember,
look at or desire these things. . . .
St. Augustine, On the Trinity 838
A pervasive idea in intellectual history has been the notion of
threeness as a framework for understanding the world. Georges Dumezil
held that the tripartite division was "an ancient habit of language
and thought particular to Indo-European peoples" (Davis 33), and Duby
followed in showing that "the tripartite conception" was one of " . .
. those structural (or systemic) articulations of human experience,
with their continuities and interruptions, which inform a cultural
history running, in this case, from Indo-European antiquity to the
French Revolution" (Bisson vii). The Indo-European influence no doubt
affected Christianity profoundly. Commenting on the major human
faculties, Augustine observed: "I would that men would consider these
three, that are in themselves" (Confessions 113). The Greeks also felt
early the force of threeness in history. "For, as the Pythagoreans
say", noted Aristotle with approval, "the world and all that is in it
is determined by the number three . . . (359)." Finally, as we shall
see, the Renaissance was perhaps even more lavish in finding
triplicities in things, and the tripartite concept was very much
central to the Enlightenment and the modern period.
Whence all this threeness? This essay will attempt a new perspective
on this deep-rooted, universal concept, arguing that the multi-faceted
implications of these usages reflect, indeed, a master three-fold
structuring in the human mind and history, which I call the human
trinity. In so doing I will sketch in broad outline a developmental
theory of historical knowledge, related and indebted to the psychology
of Jean Piaget. I begin at the location of a famous twentieth-century
"trinity", the Los Alamos testing site.
On the modern horizon, filling it totally, is an image -- if ever an
image dominated an age it is this one, more piercingly than even the
cathedrals or the Virgin dominated the Middle Ages -- pressing our
eyelids and sinking into our minds and hearts the terror of all the
ages: the image of the nuclear cloud. Among the first and most famous
responses to this image came from the man who more than anyone else
helped to create it, J. Robert Oppenheimer, who, on seeing the
fireball, was reminded of these lines from the Bhagavad Gita, when
Vishnu informs the hero of his power: If the radiance of a thousand
suns Were to burst at once into the sky, That would be like the
splendor of the Mighty One . . . I am become Death, The shatterer of
worlds. (qtd. in Lamont 3)
This emotive response of mythic images from the architect of the
atomic age, who in less than twenty-seven months at Los Alamos brought
man over the edge of history, seems a startling paradox. The paradox
goes deeper than the complexity of a scientist who was also a reader
of Sanskrit religious epic.
It is clear that Oppenheimer also joined in the general exclamation
uttered at the time of the explosion: "It worked, my God, the damn
thing worked!" (238). Indeed, Oppenheimer was more responsible than
any other man for the identification the Los Alamos scientists made
with the technological task of creating the bomb. "We were so
intimately bound to it," said one of them, "in a technical sense that
we felt it as a special triumph" (296). This pride in scientific
achievement was summarized by General Groves, the military leader, who
said, " Those of us who saw the dawn of the Atomic Age . . . know that
when man is willing to make the effort, he is capable of accomplishing
virtually anything" (308).
With similar bravado, Oppenheimer noted: "A scientist cannot hold back
progress because of fears of what the world will do with his
discoveries" (267). But in his last talk before he left Los Alamos he
expressed another mood: "Our pride must be tempered with a profound
concern" (311). At this point both the mythic and technical attitudes
gave way to a kind of third response, what might be called a moral and
metaphoric one. "In some crude sense," Oppenheimer insisted, " which
no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the
physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot
lose" (297). Similarly, at a meeting in President Truman's office,
Oppenheimer explained, to the President's chagrin, "We have blood on
our hands" (qtd. in Joravsky 7).
Oppenheimer's multi-levelled reactions--mythic story, technical
control, moral-metaphoric drama -- were by no means unique to him,
although he voiced them with a striking eloquence. William L.
Laurence, the science journalist, described the test in the terms of a
"mighty thunder, " and with such Biblical language as "if the first
man could have been present at the moment of Creation when God said,
'Let there be light,' he might have seen something very similar to
what we have seen" (qtd. in Lifton 66). Indeed in a recent article on
the effect of the atom bomb's "imagery of extinction," Robert J.
Lifton argues that its association with religious imagery of
Armageddon is "a central factor in the growth of fundamentalism" (64)
throughout the world today.
Truman himself was spellbound by the explosive force of the bomb and
boasted technologically, "What has been done is the greatest
achievement of organized science in history" (qtd. in Lamont 267). But
in announcing the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he cited theological
guidance, pledging that the weapon would be used "in His ways and to
His purposes" (qtd. in Canby C16). And much later in 1958, he
described the bomb in terms of a Biblical drama: "The old Hebrew
prophets presented the idea of the destruction of the world by fire
after their presentation of a destruction by water. Well, that
destruction is at hand unless the great leaders of the world prevent
it" (A9). Churchill also received the news of the weapon with multiple
levels of reference. "What was gunpowder'?. Trivial. What was
electricity? Meaningless. This atomic bomb is the Second Coming in
Wrath" (qtd. in Lamont 261).
Oppenheimer's ambivalence, however, came to epitomize in a special way
the dilemma of modern man. This dilemma, an ageless one, but
particularly exacerbated by modern prowess, is that there are within
man forces -- emotional and moral -- representing fears of
ever-increasing human knowledge while at the same time there are
contradictory, technical forces so world-converting that man cannot
turn his back on them.
Oppenheimer's responses to the dawn of the atomic world mirrors, I
think, a trinity of self by which man, individually and historically,
constructs his responses to the world. This trinity consists of three
layers of consciousness, the major elements of which are expressed
through mythic story, metaphoric thinking and lastly, scientific
The idea of multi-leveled states in man and in history is cogently set
forth by the art critic, E. H. Gombrich:
No lesson of psychology is perhaps more important for the historian to
absorb than this multiplicity of layers, the peaceful coexistence in
man of incompatible attitudes. There never was a primitive stage of
man when all was magic; there never happened an evolution which wiped
out the earlier phase. What happens is rather that different
institutions and different situations favor and bring out a different
approach to which both the artist and his public learn to respond. But
beneath these new attitudes, or mental sets, the old ones survive and
come to the surface in play or earnest. (113-4)
There is, I will argue, a kind of triple "mental set" socialized
within us throughout our evolutionary history on the planet. This
results in a trifocal vision -- whether we are conscious of it or not
-not only in the signal efforts of human history such as in the great
climax of scientific explorations, but also in our everyday
dispositions and attitudes.
Another critic of social transformations, Alvin Toffler, argues, in
his The Third Wave, that every civilization "must explain -- whether
through myth, metaphor or scientific theory -- how nature works (118).
Essentially we possess three master mental sets, a mythic, metaphoric
and measuring one. Since the scientific revolution in sixteenth and
seventeenth-century Europe, our "older" mythic and metaphoric minds
have been relegated to what are now generally valued as less relevant
areas of modern thought, namely religion, myth, and poetry. But, as we
have grown to understand more and more in this century, unless we
integrate these earlier modes of apprehending the world with our new
technological ones, "the center cannot hold" (Yeats 3). In his The
Invisible Pyramid Loren Eiseley best expressed this need for the
modern mind to return not only to the ethical visions of "axial"
thinkers of the first millennium B.C. like Buddha, Christ and
Confucius, but to a primal "green world":
Today man's mounting numbers and his technological power to pollute
his environment reveal a single demanding necessity. . . . He must now
incorporate from the wisdom of the axial thinkers an ethic not alone
directed towards his fellows, but extended to the living world around
If there is a triple sense of reality evolved and operating in man
from the beginning to the present, evidence of a tripleness sensibilty
should be found deeply and universally in his thoughts and works. Such
is the case, as we proceed from the twentieth century scientist, back
through the recesses of time and myth.
On the cover of Joseph Campbell's magnificent collection of The Mythic
Image appears a central representation -- what he calls a "sublime
triadic image"-- of the three-headed Hindu god, Shiva (12). Three
faces of the god appear on this larger-than-life statue: the profile
on the left represents the male principle, on the right the female
principle, and in the middle the union of these, and all other
opposites of creation. Not only in Hindu statuary does this tripleness
appear; in the Bhagavad Gita the face of the god, Vishnu, is presented
as a flaming fire before which the "triple world trembles" (Edgerton
111). In Buddhist art, too, at the Horyu-ji temple in Naira, Japan,
there is a triple presentation (the "Shaka triad") of deities -- three
seated Buddhas dominate the inner, quiet sanctuary of the Kondo
(Bunsaku 20-6). Surrounding this central shrine are numerous other
triple figures flanked by accompanying standing or sitting
Bodhisattvas. According to ancient accounts, similar triadic godships
existed in Egypt, where Osiris supposedly had three sons - Anubis,
Macedon, Hercules, Aegyptius (qtd. in Wind 250); and in nearby Persia,
where Plutarch reported a Chaldean trinity consisting of
If tripleness is a major theme in Egypt and the Indo-European East its
presence in the Indo-European West is even more profound. The
Christian Trinity became the traditional centerpiece of Western
religion, but earlier in time, there were, according to Edgar Wind, no
less than "120 triadic groups in Greek myth and ritual" (248). Major
among these were the Three Fates, the Three Graces, the Three
Goddesses (Aphrodite, Hera, Athena) who appealed to Paris's
"judgement" and thereby instigated the Trojan War, the triple-faced
goddesses Diane and Hecate (249-51), and moving back into archaic
times, the threefold Moon Goddess described by Robert Graves in The
White Goddess as the source of popular religious ceremonies throughout
the prehistoric Mediterranean world (70).
Not only is the trinity notion pervasive throughout religious belief
systems; it is at the heart of major philosophical, psychological and
social structurings. In the Western philosophical tradition we see
this in the pivotal figures of Plato, and Aristotle, as well as in the
earlier, more Eastern thought of Pythagoras.
In Plato's Dialogues the idea of a tripartite division of the soul
plays a key role, particularly in the Republic, where the rational
principle rules over the passionate, making it its ally, and both
principles in turn rule the "concupiscent" (353-4). For Plato, the
order of the state and the individual demand these three principles be
harmoniously integrated by the just man:
. . . he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and
his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together
the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher,
lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals-
-when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has
become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he
proceeds to act. (355)
This "three-souls" moral doctrine is also essential to Plato's vision
of reason's sovereignty and the soul's ascent to the heavens which
appears in the Timaeus (476) and the Phaedrus (the "noble
rider-chariot" metaphor) (124).
The concept of three-souls itself harks back, according to John
Burnet, to a "primitive psychology . . . doubtless older than
Socrates; for it stands in close relation to the Pythagorean doctrine
of the 'Three Lives'" (40). The latter emphasized the soul's progress
through "lower, " more sensual states of existence by means of
philosophy, and in an influential commentary on this notion, Cicero
compared these three stages to three kinds of people who come to a
festival. First there are those who come to sell goods (sensual life),
then there are those who come to engage in the games (active life),
and finally those who come as spectators (philosophical life) (433).
The concept of threeness, and its connections of Pythagorean thought,
is alluded to by Aristotle in a discussion of three dimensionality in
his De Caelo, and then profoundly extended to include the logical
temporal triad of "beginning-middle-end":
A magnitude if divisible one way is a line, if two ways a surface, and
if three a body. Beyond these there is no other magnitude, because the
three dimensions are all that there are, and that which is divisible
in three directions is divisible in all. For, as the Pythagoreans say,
the world and all that is in it is determined by the number three,
since beginning and middle and end give the number of an 'all,' and
the number they give is the triad. (359)
In his rational conceptualization of art, Aristotle also highlighted
the idea of a threefold temporal division: the heart of drama (the
greatest of all art) is its "plot," which must follow laws of
necessity and unity by means of logical sequences of "beginning,"
"middle," and "end." That Nature itself had a threeness in it
discoverable by religious, moral, and logical processes of the mind is
basic to Pythagorean- Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy and art --
for each, it is not too strong to say, "the world and all that is in
it is determined by the number three."
Triune patterns go deeper, however, than these religious and
philosophical perspectives. A tripleness is in fact discernible in the
basic structuring of all primitive social action, i.e., in the "rites
of passage," which is set forth in a triadic sequence of separation,
initiation, and return.
This triad, according to Campbell, is at the exact center of myth:
"The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a
magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage:
separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit of
the monomyth" (Hero 30). As a consequence, this triadic myth pattern
informs all folk tales, fairy tales, and primitive narratives.
Campbell describes this movement thus:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of
supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a
decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious
adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (30)
Myth-structuring itself may be seen as an elaboration of primitive
puberty rituals, involving a fundamental quest for identity: first,
separation from symbiotic union with the family, tribe, society;
secondly, initiation into a new state of manhood or womanhood; and
thirdly, return or reunion as a fully mature member of the group. The
"monomyth" expresses itself thus in a kind of triple "plot" (involving
not only art but life), structuring man's journey through three key
stages of life: infancy, manhood, maturity.
As "the civilization of antiquity emerged out of primitivity" the
ritual sequence, as John W. Perry notes, became spiritualized to
signify first the soul's separation from a fallen world, secondly its
spiritual initiation and rebirth and lastly, its return to God
(117-8). Such a triadic pattern is at the core of the mystery cults of
the ancient world, particularly Orphism and Eleusianism (117-8). The
latter, in turn, were connected with the Pythagorean mystery cults,
eventually influencing Plato and later Orphic thinking, such as
Virgil's vision of Aeneas's descent into the underworld (paralleled
later in Dante' s separation, rebirth and return to godhead in the
Divine Comedy) (126).
Neo-Platonic and Christian fusions of primitive myths and
PythagoreanPlatonic mysticism inevitably stressed the idea of
tripleness. Plotinus, for example, pictured the soul's ascent through
a trinity of "soul, Nous and the One" (Rist 70). Proclus, in his
Elements of Theology, Prop. 35, declared divine order to have a
"threefold nature" and, along with other Neo-Platonics, he emphasized
a triple-world rhythm of "inherence," "procession" and "reversion"
(qtd. in Wind 38). The sense of triple cycles was so widespread among
these thinkers that the fifth century philosopher, Fulgentius, in his
Mythologiae, II, i, summarized Platonic thinking by saying, "The
philosophers have decided that the life of humanity consists of three
parts, of which the first is called theoretical, the second practical,
the third pleasurable: which in Latin are named contemplativa, activa,
In the early Renaissance in Florence, Neo-Platonists combined
Classical- Orphic mythology with Platonic-Christian dogmas into even
more elaborate trinities. Thus Pico della Mirandola, in his
Conclusiones . . . de modo intelligendi hymnos Orphei, no. 8, could
He that understands profoundly and clearly how the unity of Venus is
unfolded in the trinity of the Graces, and the unity of Necessity in
the trinity of the Fates, and the unity of Saturn in the trinity of
Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, knows the proper way of proceeding in
Orphic Theology. (qtd. in Wind 36)
And Marsilio Ficino, in De Amore, II, I went so far as to argue that
the Trinity "was regarded by the Pythagorean philosophers as the
measure of all things; the reason being, I surmise, that God governs
things by threes, and that the things themselves also are determined
by threes" (42).
To be sure, the most influential expressions of trinities in Western
thought came from St. Augustine -- triplicities of philosophy
(natural, supernatural, and moral), of science (physical, logical,
ethical), of human nature (being, knowing, loving) and other analogies
of the divine trinity are widespread throughout his works. But what
became of great significance was Augustine's new linear emphasis on
man's religious education in time through analogy to the triple states
of infancy, youth and maturity (Letters 37). In so doing, Augustine
seized upon the idea explored earlier by St. Paul and succeeding
theologians that humankind moved forward towards a more perfect
spiritual state just as an individual man grew to maturity.
Tertullian, for example, in De virginibus velandis, had argued that
righteousness advanced from a rudimentary state of natural fear of God
"through the Law and the Prophets to infancy; from that stage it
passed, through the Gospel, to the fervour of youth: now, through the
Paraclete, it is settling into maturity" (qtd. in Crane 275).
After St. Augustine, the Christian drama was increasingly constructed
in linear terms of a beginning, middle and final state; and that
triple drama was frequently described in such analogous terms as
"glory, sin, redemption," or "glory, ruin and restoration"
(fundamental patterns appearing in Milton and Christian humanists up
through the nineteenth century) (Mack l-li). Such temporal triads,
with their parallels to human developmental stages, recall the
Aristotelian concept of "plot. " However, these triads also relate to
the triadic structuring of primitive myths. For in formulating the
mythic "separation-initiation- return" trilogy (and its spiritualized
Pythagorean-Platonicversions) Christianity projected it into
historical reality, presenting a three- act Providential history drama
consisting of a glorious past (Eden), a present ruined (but
redeemable) state, and a final, restored state.
The universal drama was, like the human drama, of a triple nature.
Carl Becker underscores the power of this formula:
To be aware of present trials and misfortunes, to look back with fond
memories to the happier times (imagined so at least) of youth, to look
forward with hope to a more serene and secure old age -what could more
adequately sum up the experience of the great majority? And what was
the Christian story if not an application of this familiar individual
experience to the life of mankind? Mankind had its youth, its happier
time in the Garden of Eden, to look back upon, its present middle
period of misfortunes to endure, its future security to hope for.
A key distinction between earlier mythic sequences and the Christian
drama lay, then, in the latter's emphasis on the value of forward
movement in time. Of course, the Christian pattern was still (as were
all ancient time notions) predominantly cyclical (from Eden to
Paradise), and eternalist, but the introduction of linear movement and
historical progress was clear. The valorization of time, of course,
was implicit in earlier Old Testament narrations of the Jews as the
chief actors in a plotted drama culminating in a Messianic realm. But
temporal consciousness was reinforced in Christianity by a
historically incarnated deity and the promise of a Second Coming which
often led to earthly millennial thinking. Tertullian's vision of the
Paraclete opened itself to such an interpretation, and a more
radically historical picture of the threefold drama was provided by
the twelfth-century Calabrian monk, Joachim De Fiore.
Joachim argued that the first great stage in human history was under
the "ascendency of the flesh," which transformed into a second stage
under Christ, in which man was left between "the flesh and the spirit,
" until a final, third stage -- that of pure spirit -- would usher in
an age of Contemplatives (whose lives would be led entirely through
the mind) (qtd. in Nisbet 95). Joachim's triadic division of history,
as Robert Nisbet shows, was an effort to "temporalize" the Christian
trinity, although its final state was clearly a spiritualized one.
The concept of a triple structuring of reality in medieval France has
been underscored in recent studies from the French Annales School.
Georges Duby, Georges Dumezil and Jacques LeGoff have all highlighted
tripleness as a master mentalite. Duby traces it running from
ProtoIndo -European triads of social classes and divine beings up
through the three orders or "estates" of medieval society (priests,
warriors, workers) (Duby 1). In a similar fashion, LeGoff, looking for
the "historical and logical conditions" for the origin of the idea of
Purgatory, finds it in medieval Christianity's "thinking in threes, "
and its growing sense of time as "linear" (Davis 32).
In seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England the notion of a
progressivist three-staged maturation drama by which God educated man
in time through infancy, youth and maturity began to be used
increasingly by Christian Anglicans as a tool against Deism's claim of
an eternalist order (Crane 349-82). Towards the end of the eighteenth
century in Germany, Gotthold Lessing, in his The Education of the
Human Race offered a closely related triple scheme, arguing for the
historic education of the human race in three stages (qtd. in Baumer
200). And one of the "most important formulations" of a "trinitarian
structure of history," according to Mark Taylor, "was developed in the
systematic philosophy of the nineteenth- century philosopher G. W. F.
Hegel. For Hegel, the doctrine of the Trinity revealed not only the
structure of history but of all reality" (3). It was Auguste Comte,
however, who played a signal role in secularizing the triadic human
drama. The founder of positivism, and a preeminent exponent of the
idea of progress, Comte envisioned history in terms of a preliminary
theological stage, followed by a second metaphysical stage, and a
final "mature" stage of scientific reason -- all governed by
inevitable laws of secular progress towards an earthly Paradise
(Russell 275). Thus the original, essentially cyclical human drama
gradually became replaced by straightforward linear advance through
Our inventory of triadic interpretations of reality moves in the
twentieth century inward from the realm of history to psychology.
Freud, for example, projected an internal drama with three
protagonists, the primal instinctual "id," the reality-making "ego,"
and the controlling "super-ego." The concept of an evolved
psychological construction is also central to Jean Piaget's genetic
psychology. In the latter, the child grows cognitively as the result
of a progressive, and essentially triple organization of intelligence.
The first stage of sensorimotor coordination is followed by a second
stage, involving "concrete operations" (organization according to
number, class, and quantity) and a third "formal operations stage"
(systematically, abstractly coordinating earlier principles of
classification) (Furth 217-8). According to Piaget, every child
undergoes a history of these self-regulating operations, resulting in
continually more sophisticated logical reasoning.
These structuring activities can be broken down into the following
major modes. The first, linear or analytical mode, involves the
logical dividing of the continuum of existence into linear patterns
equal to temporal consciousness itself: past, present and future, with
its incumbent logical causality -- "then" is followed by (or causes) "
now," which is followed by (or causes) "next" (Baker 23). The triad,
as Aristotle says, is an expression of temporality. The human
development of hindsight and foresight, which provides us with a sense
of past (memory), present, and future (anticipation), is essential to
this linear logic. Historical consciousness is the hallmark of the
analytical; the logical temporal triads of Aristotle, Augustine and
especially later eighteenth- and nineteenth-century historicists are
reflected in this mode.
A second, organic or mythic mode, reflects the fundamental act of
human identity-making through the self's necessary transactions with
"other" (family, society, tribe) to form a third fused entity. Unlike
linear logic which cuts up reality, dividing and reintegrating it into
causal sequences, this mode gathers opposites together into new
wholes. Mythic atemporality is the hallmark of this activity, and
instead of linear motion, cyclical movement dominates (as in
separation- initiation-return). Mythic unions, such as in Shiva, and
the rites of passage pattern, are reflected in this mode.
The organic and analytical modes are part, I believe, of a larger,
three-staged mental framework. This "evolutionary" one, is rooted in
the development of three internal stages within human consciousness
itself. We see it reflected in tile primitive "three-souls" concept,
in the traditional three-levelled moral Pythagorean/Platonic systems,
in the "three estates" concept, in recent psychological and cognitive
theories, and, of course in Oppenheimer's mystical-moral-technological
In the first myth state of human thought ritualized actions, emotions,
dream-like imagining dominate. Myth story ("Vishnu") epitomizes such a
state. In the epistemological-social transformations leading to a
second, more historical rational state, metaphoric language and moral
drama dominate. This cognition operates both organically and
analytically, combining mythic thinking with linear processing.
Metaphoric drama ("knowing sin") epitomizes this state. A third and
final, rational- technical consciousness results in the dominance of
abstract numerical- linguistic language, and a scientific ethos.
Measurement (A-bomb technology) epitomizes this state.
The development of linear thinking in the progression of the three
consciousness states is essential. In an article recently published in
Mankind Quarterly (1992) I traced how symbolic clues to human culture
could be found found in the merger of "line" and "labyrinth" (337-
58). The major story of the Greek world which dramatized the
beginnings of this merger was the "thread" or "line" Theseus used to
wind his way through the Minoan labyrinth. This line represented
"linear logic" (the step-by-step sequential causality developed in
Western rationalism and science) interpenetrating previous mythic
thoughtways. Linear logic develops through such interpenetration in
three stages. First there is "prima-consciousness," an organic mode,
made up of concrete, dreamlike, magical thinking in which there is
little linear, logically analytical processing. In this myth state,
mankind operates in a largely undifferentiated matrix of self and
other. Secondly, there is "metaconsciousness, " in which the mythic
and rational merge in a way that Werner Jaeger saw happening in Homer:
" . . . Yet it is hardly possible to separate 'mythical thinking' in
the epic from the rational ideas with which it is interpenetrated"
(Jaeger 151). Lastly, there is "techniconsciousness, " in which
analytical, differentiating linear logic ushered in our Western
This third stage not only replaced mythic atemporality (Shiva) but
also metaphoric temporality (St. Augustine's drama) with the secular
progressivists' belief in the linear march of history through
scientific rationalism (Comte). In fact, the three consciousness
states are never simply divisible into clear-cut, autonomous entities;
rather they tend to be merged in interdependent systems of reactions,
with a dominating element. Within the complex evolutionary
progressions of states can be found an explanatory pattern of human
symbol-making: a) techniconsciousness, dominated by measure, sign and
machine, is elaborated out of b) metaconsciousness, and metaphor,
symbol and drama, which earlier arose out of c) primaconsciousness,
and myth, concrete symbol and magic. A growing differentiation of the
self from mediated presentations occurs so that the latter become less
engaged by earlier levels of human consciousness, and turn into
systems of abstract signs and concepts. In any society or individual
the three levels coexist with symbolic mediation systems built up from
earlier coordinations. Logical configurations are accordingly mixed,
with a particular historical organization of knowledge mentally "set"
according to newly developed configurations.
The human trinity concept offers, I would argue, new insight into such
fundmental questions as the nature of knowledge, myth and cultural
evolution. My basic premise is that consciousness is constructed
developmentally, in the individual, and historically -- in a three
tiered structuring. In these last sections I will focus on the idea of
knowledge as construction, and on the first primaconscious world of
Alexander Luria, a Russian psychologist who pioneered studies of
cultural differences in consciousness, posited two essential concepts:
first, that psychological shifts occured in consciousness as the
result of social-historical activities (10), and secondly that:
Consciousness -- the highest form of the reflection of reality is not
given in advance, unchanging and passive, but shaped by activity and
used by human beings to orient themselves to their environment, not
only in adapting to cultures but in restructuring them. (qtd. in
In The Brain: The Last Frontier, Richard Restak quotes Luria's ideas
with approval, and makes a general connection between Luria's
historical developmentalism and the Piagetian vision of the child's
developmental constructions (238-9).
Is it possible that just as the child in Piagetian constructions moves
from an undifferentiated matrix through early sensorimotor concrete
representations to more formal analytical operations, mankind also
developed from an initially less differentiated world of knower and
object? I believe this to be the case. The Piagetian notion of
individual cognitive evolution contains many sugestive analogies to
our idea of the evolving dominance of linear differentiated thinking,
and also, I think, clarifies myth's position in the spectrum of human
Myth, in my view, should be seen as the first of three stages of
mankind' s constructed cognitive-social transactions with the world of
objects. The philospher Suzanne Langer and the anthropologist Clifford
Geertz have shown how dream-like imaging and acting out qualities in
primitive ceremonies are at the core of myth-making (Dinnage 37). But
how cognitively do these elements fit into the cultural evolution of
thought? We approach this question first through the representative
example of an American Indian tribe's ceremonial transaction with the
sun -- the Zuni's famous Shalako initiation rituals which coincide
with the winter solstice. Anna Dooling describes how these are
designed to entice the sun to return through a set of miming
performances, centered on a bird-like figure:
Towering over them all is the magnificient figure of the Shalako, a
10-foot-high bird creature incorporating a snapping beak, layers of
colorful blankets, a tail of streaming horse hair, dangling rabbit
skins and a crest of eagle feathers. . . .
At an unseen signal, the Shalako dancer arises, assumes the giant
mask, and begins to execute a simple repetitive patter up and down the
dirt floor. Two men alternate the task of dancing beneath the mask,
clacking with concealed strings the long beak of the birdlike Shalako,
and rolling its terrifying eyes. The effect is hypnotic. (51)
Things in this graphic world clearly are not presented as objects of
observation, but as symbolic models of transaction. The ceremony is
meant not for spectatorship but for an active "re-presentation" of the
primal forces of nature, which are dramatized in vivid networks of
associations and analogies. Just as the child, as we shall see, relies
initially on sensorimotor-concrete representations ("symbols" ) to
build up a world of knowledge, the primitive mind relies on
visualkinesthetic action, and memorable imitative patterns.
At the end of the dance, more symbolic impersonating takes place:
Dancing continues in the houses until almost dawn, and as daylight
breaks over the pueblo, the rain priest of the north climbs to the
roof of one of the dwellings and greets the new day with an litany of
chants. At noon the Shalako reassemble near the river and run a series
of races to plant prayer sticks in the ground -- a symbolic
reenactment of their role as couriers of the gods. (51)
To know in this world is to recreate ancestral animal-human actions.
Impersonation is key, and "katchinas" ("sacred personage") dolls as
well as masks are employed to aid the process. Furthermore, the
diversity of the story's events are made coherent by the ritualistic
use of a script. If the exact actions are not carried out, there is
disaster, for such scripts offer, as Daniel O'Keefe explains, "a core
of certainty to collective experience" (75).
Mythic knowing, then, involves ritualized sensorimotor modelling,
i.e., thought is realized by a "re-doing," a play-imitation
construction in a web of life-giving communal identity. Major motifs
in the Zuni rite are basic to all mythic activity: presentation of the
storied actions of supernatural spirits, graphic presentations of
sacred objects and events, all embedded in an initiation situation.
What are the cognitive-social forces that explain such primitive
symbol-making? Why is it always made of the stuff of images, imitative
gestures, play-like ritual representations and actions? Why is it
grounded in human intention and wishes, and devoted to educating the
young mind? Solon Kimball notes how "study of initation ceremonies
holds implication for learning theory, that have yet to be explored"
(x). Our exploration takes us to the child's world of thinking as set
forth by Piaget.
For Piaget human intelligence evolves by constructing schemas of
knowledge derived from adaptive functioning. This involves a complex
balancing between play-like "assimilation" and imitation-like
"accommodation. " The organism assimilates to its schemas the
particular things it encounters and conversely accomodates the schemas
to external data. In this process, reality itself is constructed from
an undifferentiated organism-in-environment state. It is constructed
by the child in its first play-imitation actions, which help
distinquish its inner world of self from the external world of
objects. The three main stages of intellectual development in Piaget
consists of first, the sensorimotor stage, secondly, the concrete
operations stage when the child begins to objectify reality, and uses
such logical functions as numbering, seriation and classifications,
and thirdly, the formal operations stage. In the second stage,
operations are still focused on concrete representations ("motivated"
signifiers or "symbols") rather than on abstract formal operations
(arbitary signifiers or "signs"). One of the hallmarks of childhood is
the world of play,which in Piaget becomes not simply the medium of
fantasies, but the exercising of inward schemas for "acquiring thereby
a feeling of virtuosity or power" (Play, 89).Play progresses in stages
to become a "ludic" symbol, thatis, a conscious symbolic activity done
for the sake of knowing (93-7). An example is the child's pretending
to sleep (putting his head momentarily on a pillow), instead of, as in
earlier sensorimotor activities, i.e., actually sleeping. Such
"pretending" activity leads to the testing out of schemas, and the
ritualized re-enactment of them. A final aspect of the child's
symbolic play is the use of "substitutes" that figurally or
analogically represent the original model in some way (e.g. cloth for
Equally essential to Piagetian thought is the idea of imitation and
its close relation to sensorimotor activity. Here imitation is
actually seen as the agency of all image-making: "the mental image or
symbolic representation thus comes into being as the product of the
function of more or less exact imitation" (84). The image for Piaget
is not a continuation of perception but is derived from an
internalizing of imitation. Physical reenactment through visible
gestures leads to what Piaget calls "interiorized imitation" and to
the increasingly internal constructions of images. Thus motorimitative
actions, transforming themselves from "representations in action" to
deferred, interior images constitute the source of all theoretical
knowing, ritual and art. The image only becomes separated from action
in later, developed interiorizations; during the latter stages, the
child no longer depends on the actual presence of a model, and instead
becomes capable of internally reenacting absent models.
The tribal actions of the Zuni function, I think, as "representations
in action" meant to trigger already internalized schemas. In myth the
mental schema are still tied closely to sensorimotor imitation. These
schemas are assured of strong internal reenactment and storage by the
hypnotic rhythms and riveting masks which provide sensorimotor cues.
The masks are not mere wishful magic; they are figurative learning
devices (just as dolls, puppets, toys, etc. are to the child),
prompting the construction of appropriate maturation strategies
(acting as the ancestor successfully did.) Gestures, images and words
set up a "script" agreed upon by all participants to recreate these
"saving" concrete symbolic messages. Such imaginative projectings,
mixing inner psychological needs with the beginnings of objectified
representation, become in the course of historical development tested
in more abstract linguisticnumerical networks of meaning, as the inner
imaginary pole is continually separated from the external objective
pole. In time mythic schema are transformed into metaphoric-rational
representations where symbols are still tied to the sensory but also
partake of the analytical processes of "sign" thinking. This "second
act" in the differentiation drama, in which humans construct reality
combines symbols and signs, gradually yields to a "third act" in which
these combined symbol-sign representations become "reprogrammed" into
a numerically-dominated sign world of operations. From Lascaux Cave to
modern "Computersville" can be traced a compelling mental voyage from
global sensorimotor-symbolic representations to increasingly
differentiated signs. It must be pointed out that in Piaget's system
of knowing, symbols tend to be necessary only in so far as they lead
to logical operations, and thus "mature" knowing by implication
requires moving away from symbol-dominated, emotional knowledge. Image
and symbol, in other words, comprise a "motivated" cognition which is
designed to be transformed into a kind of algebra of knowledge and
behavior. Myth, art and all the domains of religious, aesthetic man
tend in a real sense to be left behind in Piaget's logicism. While I
believe the play-imitation modeling theory of Piaget is a key to
understanding mythic thought, the persistence of early symbolic
processing seems to me vital to the functioning of human culture. That
functioning demands figurative thinking, ritual action and personalist
sense of language as much as measurement and logical reasoning. In
concluding, we turn to a final and earliest historical example of the
first constructed stage of consciousnesses.
In The Roots of Civilization, Alexander Marshack parallels the mental
development of Upper Paleolithic man to Neolithic Man to the
development of the child as envisioned by Piaget:
Time and space had begun to be divided and extended in increasingly
complex human terms, and interrelations among men were involved with
these time-space structures and mythologies. . As we saw in connection
with Piaget's research, there are stages in cognitive development and
in the development of the capacity for logical and symbolic thinking.
The individual gradually enlarged his "rational" capacity to see
process within an object or symbol, to process in the end product, to
recognize a sequence of steps or transformations, and finally to
communicate these through the use of stories and symbols. (374- 5)
What happened to create this enlarged "rational capacity" was, I
believe, that linear thinking -- "process" . . . sequence of
steps"--was called out by new cultural challenges to the
primaconscious mental set. In the latter, a type of linear logic
assuredly existed, as Marshack shows through innumerable examples of
calendric linear notations found on Ice Age bones, but abstract
conceptual thought was still largely minor in the "motivated
cognition" of cave art symbols. The latter were built around a
primaconscious "script", typically embroidered with multisensory
images of animals, bird-like masks, fertility goddesses, male and
female markings or signals. (Campbell, Atlas 64-5) The cave chambers
in which the paintings were found were, as John Pfeiffer points out,
"sanctuaries," and the images in them part of a "initiatory trial in
the terrifying and remote depths of the underground world, . . " (qtd.
in Zweig 18).
I believe Ice-Age man, like the Zuni, constructed a first world of
knowledge by internalizing powerful images of sensorimotor action. The
artists's drawings were "representations in action," fostering
"deferred, interior images" of fertility and communal identity.
Cognitive "assimilation" through figurative and analogical
associations is suggested by Leroi-Gourhan who, in commenting on a
barbed stick and falling entrails in the Lascaux "Shaft" iconography,
wonders if the female marking may be "a variant of the assimilation of
phallus-to-spear and vulva-to wound," and the male marking might
"imply an assimilation of phallus-to-spear-thrower" (316). Such
primaconscious image-making, as I have argued previously (337-58),
became transmitted throughout Old European cult objects directly into
Minoan culture, acting as a persistent scenario of memory cues for
primaconscious cognitive responses.
New "time-space structures and mythologies" arose in Mesopotamia,
Egypt, and Greece when primaconsciousness awoke to more linear
articulation. A subtle cognitive shift to more formal conceptual sign
operations is in evidence in a new time and numbering sensibility in
an epic like Gilgamesh. There the hero says to Enkidu: Only the gods
d(well) forever with Shamash. But for mankind, their days are
numbered" (McNeill 5.4. 141-2).
This temporal reflectiveness on man's linear existence mirrors
something novel in the atemporal world of myth. With it,
self-consciousness, individuation and the beginnings of analytical
thought begin to seep into the organic realm of primaconsciousness.
The emphasis on ethical choice and rationalism insucceeding cultures,
especially in the Greek world accelerated new metaconscious
constructions. The metaphor oflife as an onward spiritual drama
(fusing concrete representations with linear conceptual ones)
epitomized such thinking throughout the early and middle ages of
Christianity up through the late Renaissance. But how, then,did the
emergence of a new mathematical vision of nature -- epitomized in the
image of the clock world -- become so all-encompassing in
post-Renaissance Europe? It was the result of new cognitive urges to
restructure the world in terms of an abstract linear logic, a logic
which had already long been embedded in the three-tiered mind. This
was accomplished in large part through an intricate "representation"
of time and process, stimulating man to see natureless in terms as a
world drama animated by human and divinepurposes (the "motivated
cognition" of symbols), and more as linear mathematical chain of
causes. Such a shift can be glimpsed in Descartes's "Method:" "Those
long chaines of reasoning," Descartes muses, "so simple and easy,
which enabled the geometricians to reach the most difficult
demonstrations, has made me wonder whether all things knowable to men
might not fall into a similar logical sequence" (33). The nineteenth
and twentieth centuries brought in a radical new activation of
techni-conscious capabilities, one which was increasingly favored in
political and social transactions. The later tended to extend out into
a technological collective brain embodied in twentieth- century
multinational communication networks. Modern society has successfully
bound man to man in continents of automated information systems not
only in the multi-national commercial and political worlds but in the
realm of human communication. Mankind, in my view, ideally belongs
neither to the techniconscious collective machine world, nor to a
mythicethnic-tribal world, but to one where the three consciousnesses
can be integrated in a responsible, free, and caring personality.
To sum up: mental life is a part of mankind's on-going triple
constructing of reality, involving societal and psychological
pressures towards more cognitive formalization and in the last
three-hundred years towards an inexorable technological vision of
reality. The search for a full human response requires that we chart
the points at which new mental sets infiltrate the symbolic world of
valued perception, for both good and bad. It is our freedom to choose
to or not to abide with the techniconscious world, but in any further
adaptation we will have to be aware of where we are and how we have
moved through these three master cognitive-cultural patterns.
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