Coming Into Being

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* Book: Coming Into Being. William Irving Thompson.



From the Wikipedia:

"In his 1996 work Coming into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, Thompson applied an approach that was similar to his 1981 book to many other artifacts, cultures and historical periods. A notable difference, however, is that the 1996 work was influenced by the work of cultural phenomenologist Jean Gebser. Works and authors analyzed include the Enuma Elish, Homer, Hesiod, Sappho, the Book of Judges, the Rig Veda, Ramayana, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching. Thompson analyzed these works using the vocabulary of contemporary cognitive theory and chaos theory, as well as theories of history. An expanded paperback version was released in 1998. The phrase "Coming into being" is a translation of the Greek term gignesthai, from which the word genesis is derived."

(Wikipedia: William Irwin Thompson)


From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens, September 2021:

Chapter 1

Thompson starts off with the media phases as outlined by Marshall McLuhan.

“At each stage of the cultural evolution of humanity, a new medium of communication comes forth and that medium effects a shift to a new form of polity.” (p. 3)

Stages of Communication Media


“Oral culture was roughly from 200,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE (“or basically the glacial epoch”) (p.4)


“Script developed from the Old Europe of 6,000 BCE to the Sumer of 3,000 BCE. Priestcraft and writing reinforced one another to give us city-states.”



“With the rise of printed books .. and printed money, empires became replaced by industrial nation-states in a new global formation called the world economy.


Stages of World Culture

  • Culture (200,000 to 10,000 BCE)
  • Society (10,000 to 3,500 BCE)
  • Civilization (3500 BCE to 1500 CE)
  • Industrialization (1500 to 1945)
  • Planetization (1945 to present)

Forms of Polity

  • Band
  • Tribe
  • City-state or Empire
  • Nation-State
  • Noetic Polity

Stages of Cohesive Association


“The band was based on dominance.” (p. 5)


“The characteristic form .. is one of authority in the figure of the matriarch or the patriarch.”


“Literacy becomes critical, and a group of palace high priests works to create a canonical sared text that can hold the warring tribes together within a literate and urban civilization.” (p.5)


“An expanding trade class .. and literacy becomes democratized through printed books ..; Discourse becomes the political instrument.” (p. 5)


“Reasoned discourse could no longer hold together in the supersaturated solution of the global media.” (p. 5)

Gebser’s Five Structural Mutations of Consciousness and the role of Dark Ages

William Irwing Thompson:

“It is a paradox of complex dynamical systems that every shift to a higher level of organization, also energizes the lower level to return in compressed and novel variations of the older form. … (p. 6) … Thus the representational government of the traditional literate nation-state undergoes an electronic meltdown in which archaic forms surface in new formations.” (p. 7)

“In any transition to a new level of organization, there is loss … ‘Entities that were capable of independent replication before the transition can only replicate as parts of a larger unit after it.’ (John Maynard Smith , cited p. 12 … “Evolution is no longer taking place at the level of the singular organism.” (p. 12)

  • Archaic (Mesolithic Dark Age, 9500 BCE
  • Magical (Kurgan Invasions, 4500 BCE
  • Mythical (Aegean Dark Age, 1400-800 BCE)
  • Mental (European Dark Age, 476-800 BCE)
  • Integral (Contemporary Dark Age)

“A dark age is characteristic of the transition from one structure of consciousness to another.

  • “Before agriculture, there was a loss of culture in the Mesolithic; gone was the high culture of the Paleolithic Lascaux, but not yet come was the high culture of the Neolithic
  • Agricultural society stabilized itself from 9500 to 4500 BCE, and then came the Kurgan invasions and the destruction of the undefended agricultural villages of the great goddess
  • By 2500 BCE, civilization had stabilized .. in the new forms found along the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates
  • There is an Aegean dark age of 1400 to 800 BCE, which expresses Gebser’s mythical to mental epoch
  • Before Western European Civilization there was the dark age of 476 to 800 CE
  • And now, before the shift to integral, we seem be be experiencing our own dark age in which our civilization is disintegrating.” (p. 14-15)

“In our transition from industrialization to planetization, it is the accumulation of noise that is pulling our civilization apart. The new phase-space .. is the catastrophe that brings us together in a condition that now defines all our human transactions.”


Marshall McLuhan on the Current Predicament with Electronic Media

By William Irwin Thompson, excerpted from Coming Into Being:

"Now the wonderful thing about McLuhan was that he had not only a gift for capturing complex transformations in an aphoristic phrase, but also a general theory of the evolution of consciousness that he enlivened by pointing to fads and fetishes that only he could explain. When I was a young instructor at MIT in the 1960s, McLuhan spoke to a small faculty meeting. His manner of speech incensed the engineers. McLuhan said "The bomb is information." And the engineers went up in smoke. No doubt, because they had probably worked on building the cursed thing. But McLuhan was right. The bomb as information was the whole foundation for the Cold War world. McLuhan not only commented on fads and trends, he also made a prophesy on the future evolution of humanity. Ironically, good Catholic that he was, in his Playboy interview in the 1960s, McLuhan went back to Dante and prophesied a time when the broken fragments of a retribalized humanity would be gathered up into the mystical body of Christ.

What McLuhan recognized, but did not explicitly state, was that our new highly advanced electronic media if used by evolutionarily unadvanced mortals will lead to cultural annihilation. These new media that work with the speed of light require a new spiritual consciousness of Light. They are so fantastically efficient that they cannot work to the good unless we are good; they only can be safely used if we tell the truth and live in the Truth. If we try to check and control them for lesser purposes, such as power, gain, misrepresentation, and the accumulation of wealth for private property in cyberspace, then blockages in the flow will generate distortions, noise, and a generalized cultural entropy in which no human relationships are possible. We end up in caricatures of religion in the form of demonic states of possession or William Gibson's dystopian nightmares of corporate dis incarnation. Only now, thanks to cyberspace, these states of possession are not simply psychic states, they have become virtual states that are not restricted to virtual reality. Nothing less than truth, goodness, and a Buddhist universal compassion are going to get us through this transition from industrialization to planetization. Our level of consciousness has now be come the biggest obstruction to the continuity of human existence. We have made normalcy nonviable, so we have opted for an "up or out" scenario in cultural evolution. We either shift upward to a new culture of a higher spirituality to turn our electronic technologies into cathedrals of light, or we slide downward to darkness and entropy in a war of each against all."

On the difficult shift from industrialization to planetization

William Irwin Thompson:

The third transformation that is interlocking with the disintegration of the atmosphere and the disintegration of the territorial nation-state is the disintegration of the body, especially the immune system's ability to identify the body in the chaotic flux of blood and air. We live in an invisible ocean of electromagnetic and chemical noise. With industrial gases everywhere, television transmission towers, microwave ovens, electronic watches, and cellular phones, the old evolutionary body has become chunks of meat floating in a planetary Mulligan stew of radiation and noise. Allergies abound, autoimmune diseases proliferate, and plague viruses take red-eye rides on jumbo jets. Now, as these three systems of meltdown interact with one another, they have a bootstrapping effect that enables them to magnify their influence in a runaway or positive feedback fashion. No American president can simply go on television to give a speech to tell reality in no uncertain terms to stop and return to normal.

So now we can see why this shift from industrialization to planetization involves a meltdown and disintegration of the literate, civilized, middle-class culture of the past. In the shift from the territorial nation-state to the noetic polity, there is a breakdown of bourgeois society that results in a shift to a new variant of medievalism. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. The citizen-soldier is gone; replaced by SWAT antiterrorist professionals. Noetic polities are not territorial; they are nonlocal. So the increase in omnipresent environments of noise indicates a shift from mental solitude and reflection to gnostic lattices of network connectiveness. Inevitably, in any transition to a new level of organization, there is loss. Indeed, the fertility crisis within the populace of the technological world may signal just such a shift to larger forms of organization. As the biologist John Maynard Smith has pointed out about the major transitions of evolution: "Entities that were capable of independent replication before the transition can only replicate as parts of a larger unit after it.' The disintegration of the body is, therefore, one signal that evolution is no longer taking place at the level of the single organism. Evolution is now multiorganismic just as once it was multicellular. Once the cell enclosed molecules, then organisms enclosed cells, and now something else is enclosing us in distributive lattices of light. Christian mystics would call it the mystical body of Christ, Buddhists would call it the jeweled net of Indra, and fundamentalists would call it Satanic possession. Clearly, some new kind of religious knowledge and discrimination is called for, one not easily gained in our materialistic, techno logically focused society."

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