Catastrophe Bifurcation

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William Irwin Thompson:

"Throughout this study of literature and the evolution of consciousness, I have used the metaphor of the catastrophe of bifurcation and said that humanity is experiencing a catastrophe bifurcation in the emergence of the new global civilization. “Catastrophe” is a word that English has taken from Greek; it means, “to turn over.” When we turn over material in a compost heap, we create a catastrophe for the anaerobic bacteria in the rotting garbage as we suddenly flood them with oxygen and sunlight. The chaos dynamists say that there are three kinds of catastrophes: subtle, explosive, and “out of the blue.” The mathematicians’ use of these poetic metaphors makes me feel as if it is quite all right for me to return the favor and use their idea of a catastrophe bifurcation as a poetic metaphor for a cultural transformation of history. Since I have been arguing all along that literature and mathematics have been inseparably linked throughout history in the arithmetic, geometric, dynamical, and now chaos dynamic mentalities, this collaboration between metaphor and math is quite appropriate. Since I am a cultural historian and not a prophet, I have no idea whether this catastrophe will be subtle, explosive or out of the blue. I tend to think that our process of global cultural transformation is so complex a dynamic that it will be all three at once. The economic shift is subtle, the cultural shift is explosive, and the spiritual one is out of the blue.


All the ancient texts that I have used to explore our modern world are once and future poems of possibility. Once they are seen all together in the imagination of the reader, then they can become a hypertext description of our contemporary evolution of consciousness…The new culture involves the recovery of the feminine; the deconstruction of the patriarchy; and the deconstruction of the capital-intensive economies of scale run by the military-athletic-entertainment-industrial complexes with their shadow economies of drugs, arms, traffic, and crime…Over two thousand years ago, humanity chose the militaristic and hierarchical path at the fork in the road. Now here we are again, and I, of course, hope that the road not taken 2,000 years ago will be the road we take this time for the axial shift of the year 2000."


Excerpted from Coming Into Being