Emergence of Ego-Mentality
“Between 700-800 BCE another major transformation of consciousness began to take place, with its most explicit and most articulated expression in Athenian Greece. From a formal academic perspective, this is the beginning of classical history in the west when literate cultures began to record their own histories.
Contemporary philosopher and cultural historian Tarnas concurs with this perspective (Tarnas, 1991, pp. 16- 19). Historian of consciousness Jaynes (1976) also emphasized the significance of the Greek culture in enabling this movement of consciousness.
The Greek subjective conscious mind, quite apart from its pseudostructure of soul, has been born out of song and poetry. From here it moves out into its own history, into the narratizing introspections of a Socrates and the specialized classifications and analyses of an Aristotle, and from there into Hebrew, Alexandrian and Roman thought. And then into the history of a world, which, because of it, will never be the same again. (p. 292) Steiner, Gebser and Wilber identified the birth of western philosophy in ancient Greece as a turning point between mythical consciousness and mental-rational consciousness, as discussed. Steiner also referred to the period that began there as the fourth [post-glacial] cultural period—or the Greco-Roman period—beginning in Southern Europe and Western Asia approximately 750 BCE and developing over the next two millennia (Steiner, 1971a).
Although from a western perspective Greece is almost universally credited with the development of philosophy per se, this is a Eurocentric stance. Several perspectives need to be considered. Firstly, Steiner pointed out that, unlike the later time of Imperial Roman domination, early Greece was a very cosmopolitan region where “human beings of the most varied regions of the ancient world had gathered” and carried the ancient mystery wisdom on through Asia Minor, Greece and Italy, reshaping it into concepts and ideas through the emergence of western philosophy (Steiner, 1910/1939, p. 210). Secondly, in China and India, major philosophical developments indicating a shift in consciousness were also occurring during this period. Gebser(1949/1985) noted that, in China, the I Ching was revised from a book of oracles in use through the magic and mythical periods, into “mankind’s oldest book of wisdom” around 1,000 BCE, reflecting the beginnings of wakeful, mental consciousness” (p. 314). Also from at least the 6th century BCE—the time of Lao Tse (580-500 BCE) and Confucius (551-479 BCE) until 221 BCE when the first empire began, there was an era of great cultural and intellectual expansion, known as the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy. In India, as demonstrated previously, very advanced spiritual-philosophical systems of thought existed in earlier times which, by the 8th century BCE, were beginning to address such philosophical matters as the relationship between wealth and immortality—matters not examined by Aristotle until several centuries later in his Nicomachean Ethics (Sen, 1999, pp. 13-14). The Indian texts were not written down, however, until c. 300 BCE. Unfortunately, we still have little knowledge or understanding of the developments that may have been occurring in Meso- and South America. “
Summary and Relevance for Today
"Gebser (1949/1985) describes how the human ego “emerges and increases from mutation to mutation, culminating in the deficient mental phase with its overemphasis of ego and its pendulation between isolation and rigidification (egocentricity)” (p. 151). He comments: Wherever we are caught up in the labyrinthine network of mere concepts, or meet up with a one-sided emphasis on willful or voluntaristic manifestations of attempts at spasmodic synthesis . . . we may assuredly conclude the presence of a deficient mental, that is, an extremely rationalistic source. (Gebser, 1949/1985, p. 154)
Both Steiner (a century ago), and Gebser (fifty years ago), fore-sensed the looming planetary catastrophe if we do not wake up and change our thinking. If [we do] not vitalize [our] thoughts, if [we] persist in harboring merely intellectualistic thoughts, dead thoughts, [we] must destroy the earth. . . . The destruction begins with the most highly rarified element . . . ruining . . . the warmth-atmosphere of the Earth. . . . and if[our] thoughts were to remain purely intellectualistic, [we] would poison the air, ruining inthe first place, all vegetation. [Eventually, far in the future] it will be possible for [us] to contaminate the water. (Steiner, 1972b, pp. 90-91)It is somewhat horrific to realize that in the short space of a century, what Steiner predicted might happen over a long period of time—he was speaking of thousands of years—is well underway towards the catastrophe he foreshadowed—most notably “ruining . . . the warmth-atmosphere of the Earth” with global warming. Gebser (Gebser, 1949/1985) also fore-sensed the problems that are arising today. The crisis of our times and our world is in a process—at the moment autonomously — of complete transformation, and appears headed toward an event which, in our view can only be described as a “global catastrophe” . . . Either we will be disintegrated and dispersed, or we must resolve and effect integrality. (p. xxvii)Even two hundred years ago, Hegel’s message, as interpreted by Tarnas, seems to portend the impending crisis. As Hegel suggested, a civilization cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognize itsown significance until it is so mature that it is approaching its own death. (Tarnas, 1991, p.445)Many contemporary scholars also highlight the urgency for the type of change in consciousness that the next section foregrounds (Elgin, 1993; Gangadean, 2006a, 2006b; László,2006; Montuori, 1999; Morin & Kern, 1999)."
Key Features of Intellectual-Mental-Rational Consciousnes
“For the movement of consciousness that arose in that period, Steiner primarily used the term intellectual soul . Gebser (1949/1985) invoked the term mental for his parallel structure of consciousness with its semiotically diverse roots. He notes that the Greek menos, the Latin menis, the English man, and the German Mensch all derive from the Sanskrit root ma- with one of its secondary roots being man. “From the root man- comes the Sanskrit word manas, which can refer to “inner sense, spirit, soul, understanding, courage, anger . . . and Manu” (p. 76). He regards this as a richer characterization than the term rational , from ratio, which is related to calculation and division. He notes that rationality’s “directedness and perspectivity” is towards the notions “to reckon”, “to calculate,” “together with—unavoidably—sectorial partitioning” rather than the direction towards the ability to “think” and “understand” (p. 74). He used the term rationality primarily to characterize the deficient mental consciousness because of its partiality and tendency to quantification. Gebser appears to equate the term intellectual —though he rarely uses it—with the mental structure (p. 377) and intellectualism with its more deficient counterpart, rationality (p. 436). Wilber’s terminology for this stage appears to have undergone a transition: in his earlier works his usage was more aligned to Gebser’s, where he frequently used the term mental-egoic to refer to this stage and rationalism to refer to the “dehumanization of man” associated with the European Enlightenment (Wilber, 1996b, 1996c). In his later works he uses the term mental in a more general sense—as the adjective for mind—and favors the terms rationality or egoic-rational for the post-mythic stage (Wilber, 2000b, 2000d, 2006). He acknowledges that his later focus is more on the type of rationality that reached its fruition in sixteenth century Europe, whereas Steiner and Gebser spread their interpretive attention across the two millennia starting with Athenian Greece. Because Steiner favored the term intellectual , Gebser favored the term mental , and Wilber currently favors the term rational,\ for this mode of consciousness, I mostly use the hyphenated term intellectual-mental-rational for this movement of consciousness.
Because of the temporal and spatial convergence of various events, this new consciousness became hybridized with several other characteristics:
- The awakening of the independent ego, or individualism—the heroes;
- The birth of rational philosophy in Greece, through Thales, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle;
- The inner-directness towards self-knowledge;
- The beginnings of the Axial age with the birth of several major religions;
- The shift from picture-based writing to the more abstract writing using the Greek alphabet
- Beginnings of formal mathematics with Pythagoras;
- The development of the world’s first democratic city-state in Athens in 500 BCE, followed by the formalization of politics and legislation;
- The origins of formal education in the 4th century BCE with Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum sowing the first seeds of higher education.
Because the narrative is now dealing with the period of formal history, there is voluminous material that could be referred to for each of the points above, but it is beyond the scope of this narrative to cover this in detail. I will focus on the first four features, as these are significant in all three narratives. The abstraction of writing is indicated briefly in Appendix C. The mathematical, political and educational developments could be seen as broader contexts for the consciousness shift.
The Awakening of the Independent Ego
Wilber makes a significant contribution, which could not have been made in Steiner’s or Gebser’s work, both of which pre-dated much of contemporary psychology and critical social theory. In fact, this is one of the places where Wilber (1996c) seems to dive deeper than usual— in his elucidation of ego development in relation to consciousness. Perhaps this is because—as he correctly notes—the meaning of the term ego is wildly contentious today. He characterizes mental-egoic consciousness in the following way.
It marked a transcendence over the dimly conscious, still somewhat prepersonal, mythic, and diffuse structure of the membership stage. It opened up the possibility of truly rational and logical thought . . . the thought processes themselves start to become objects of awareness . . . which eventually results in “formal operational thinking,” or logic, as Piaget showed (p. 189).
He (Wilber, 2000d) draws attention to the many uses of the term ego in contemporary discourses, identifying the following perspectives:
- The “New Age” notion of ego as “separate self sense, isolated from others and from a spiritual Ground” (p. 236);
- The contemporary psychoanalytic notion—based on Freud—of the ego as being “the principle that gives unity to the mind . . . a fundamental organizing pattern” (p. 236);
- The philosophical distinction between “the empirical ego, which is the self insofar as it can be an object of awareness and introspection, and the Pure Ego or transcendental Ego (Kant, Fichte, Husserl), which is pure subjectivity (or the observing Self), which can never be seen as an object of any sort. . . . [whereby] according to such philosophers as Fichte, this pure Ego is one with absolute Spirit . . .” (p. 236);
- Somewhat paradoxically, Wilber contrasts the Piagetian sense of Egocentric —an early stage, before the ego as “self” or “subject” has differentiated itself from the world—with the mature ego stage, which enables formal operations (p. 237);
- The Habermasian “ego identity, a fully separated-individuated sense of self” (p. 238).
Wilber (2000d) then concludes that he most often uses the term ego similarly to Freud, Piaget and Habermas, “a rational individuated sense of self, differentiated from the external world, from its social roles (and the superego) and from its internal nature (id) (p. 238). Steiner’s usage of the terms Egoor I also appears to integrate aspects of the psychoanalytic organizing principle, the Piagetian mature ego , and the Habermasian ego-identity, but with the understanding that its intrinsic nature is divine in the FichteanPure Ego or Higher Self sense. Wilber’s New Age description would equate with Steiner’s term egotism. Gebser’s (1949/1985) usage of the terms ego or I bear some similarity to Wilber’s and Steiner’s characterizations. He certainly identifies the centrality of ego awareness as an organizing principle that gives direction to consciousness. “This effector, or agent, the bearer of consciousness, is the ego. With this we are fully in the mental structure, the anthropocentric structure where consciousness becomes centered” (p. 89). Gebser adds that the core or nucleus —“in all likelihood identical to the presence of origin . . . forms, shapes and directs each and every individual human being” (p. 134). For this core he prefers to use the term “the itself [which] “can become visible in the reflexivity of the ego without succumbing to the autism of a self” (p. 134). Gebser also appears to use the term egotism is a similar way to Steiner.
Finally, all three refer to the significance of the sun mythologeme in relation to the development of the ego during this period. Gebser (1949/1985) notes the sun mythologeme in both China and Greece (pp. 70, 79). Steiner writes extensively on the myths of the early culture periods leading up to—and including—the beginnings of Christianity which point to the relationship between a spiritual notion of the Sun and humanity. Wilber (1996c) discusses in substantial detail what he calls the solarization of the ego, in particular in relation to the hero myths (p. 227-251).
The Birth of Philosophy in Greece
Steiner (1971a) pointed to the significant relationship between the awakening individual ego and the new intellectual-mental-rational forms of thought in which mental knowledge came to special prominence—“the time began in which man mainly sought to grasp the world through understanding and this relationship to the world brought him thoughts” (p. 54).
Thinking gradually passed over to abstractions . . . in the work of Thales, with whom one generally begins the history of philosophy. (p. 25)
This had to come about since otherwise [humans] could not have attained freedom and a full consciousness of the ego. (p. 19)
Tarnas (1991) points to the significant contribution of particular individuals in this project: “The Greek sense of confidence in the power of human thought to comprehend the world rationally, a confidence begun with Thales, now found in Aristotle its fullest expression and climax” (p. 60). Gangadean (1998), concurs, regarding the significance of individual Greek
philosophers, while also pointing to the underlying
universal nature of what he calls, first philosophy. Although perhaps a contested notion in postmodern times, this is a theme that recurs today as we search for universals through the particularities of the diverse approaches to integral Thought.
And Plato and Aristotle broke new ground historically in inaugurating a formal science of the Universal Logos of natural reason, a birthing of first philosophy. (p. xvii) Wilber (1996c) refers to two particular aspects of Aristotle’s philosophy that reflect the refining of the social arena of the earlier myth-membership self. He summarizes the Greek Polis in its original idealistic sense, “as being a shared human community . . . based on unrestrained communication (via language).” Secondly he refers to praxis, which in its traditional Aristotelian sense is “purposeful, enlightened, moral behavior pursued in the company of polis” (p. 167).
Wilber notes current usages that have reduced and debased polis to “politics” and praxis to “moralism” or simply “practice” (p. 168).
Gebser points to the struggle of the Greek mind to overcome the vitality and dynamism of the soul. Even in Aristotle’s teachings, the soul, is still vital and determined by: “memory, perception, cognition and movement.” Gebser (1949/1985) notes “even at the mental inception of Western philosophy the original numinous and dynamic character of the concept of soul is still effective” (p. 197).
The Inner-Directedness Towards Self-Knowledge
In what I consider to be a peak of convergence in their writings, Steiner, Gebser and Wilber all point to the significance of the awakening ego in order for the individual to begin the process of self-development. Synchronously, they all identify the consummation of this event, in the famous inscription, “Know thyself,” on the temple of Apollo in Delphi. A detailed hermeneutic analysis of the similarities and uniqueness of their comments about this marker of inner-directed mental consciousness are discussed and evaluated in the final section. Gebser (1949/1985) also noted that although up to this point the process of writing had either been from top to bottom—as in Chinese—or from right to left, this inscription brought with it a reversal in the direction of writing. It was written from left to right. Gebser speculated that this was a key marker of the directedness of the individual ego (pp. 75-78).
An extensive hermeneutic examination of the original meaning of this term gnothi seauton, “Know thyself” has been undertaken by Foucault and delivered in some of his last lectures (Foucault, 2005). He argues, based on historical and archaeological evidence, that the original meaning and usage of the term by Socrates and many other philosophers of Antiquity, was much more rich and spiritually oriented than contemporary philosophy gives credit for. Foucault refers to the intimate relations between gnothi seauton (know yourself) and another significant term epimeleia heautou (care of the self) within which our interpretation needs to be contextualized. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss Foucault’s point in depth. However, of relevance to this research is the Greek notion of “care of the self,” which Foucault explained as “spirituality,” in the sense of disciplined practices of the soul, such as meditation, purification and other transformative practices to prepare oneself to have access to the truth. Foucault (2005) comments,
So, throughout Antiquity (in the Pythagoreans, Plato, the Stoics, Cynics, Epicureans, and the Neo-Platonists), the philosophical theme (how to have access to the truth?) and the question of spirituality (what transformations in the being of the subject are necessary for access to the truth?) were never separate. (p. 17)
Foucault (2005) added that this code of morality—care of the self—that arose out of Greek philosophy in the 5th century BCE, was further developed over the next thousand years, particularly through Christian spiritual disciplines associated with soul preparation for acquiring knowledge. He then raised the obvious question: “Why did Western thought and philosophy neglect the notion of epimeleia heautou (care of the self) in its reconstruction of its own history?” (p. 12) His explanation is that what he called the Cartesian moment functioned in two ways, “by philosophically requalifying the gnothi seauton (know yourself), and by discrediting theepimeleia heautou (care of the self)” (p. 14). He claimed that this was the point where “the history of truth enters its modern period” (p. 17). Based on Foucault’s insight, I want to ensure that my macrohistorical narrative does not overlook the separation of our philosophical history from our spirituality. The contemporary need for the reintegration of this split is discussed in the next major section on postformal-integral-planetary consciousness.
The Beginnings of the Axial Age
Another major cultural development was occurring during this period (c. 800 BCE-1,500 CE) throughout the major centers of civilization at the time—Ancient Greece, the Middle East, India and China. Perhaps somewhat paradoxically, in parallel with the development of intellectual- mental-rational consciousness—the most abstract structure of consciousness—several of the world’s major religions also began, including the some of the first monotheistic religions.
Although Hinduism and Judaism —which could be seen as parent religions to many of the others—had already developed in the previous millennium, there was a flourishing of new religions over the next thousand years. The beginning of this period has been called the Axial Age by Karl Jaspers (Erickson, 1999). Wilber (2000d) refers to this phenomenon as the rise ofthe “rational religions.” Gebser (1949/1985) also draws parallels between aspects of the mental structure and the origins of several religions, making the additional link between the emergence of mental thinking and patriarchy.
In China, Confucius introduces patriarchy only slightly later than Lycurgus in Greece [around 500 BCE]; and . . . in Persia, Zarathustra asserts dualism which . . . underlies Parminedes’ notion of a Being opposed to Non-Being. (p. 79-80)
A broader contextualization of the duration of Jasper’s Axial Age suggests a longer period of religious emergence that includes even more of the major world religions. In addition to the religions that arose during the six hundred year period that Jasper theorized (800-200 BCE), Hinduism and Judaism, founded in the 2nd millennium BCE, were still extant at that time. If we continue on into the 1st millennium CE, where, according to Steiner, Gebser and Wilber, the intellectual-mental-rational-consciousness continued to grow and spread, then Christianity, Shinto and Islam also arise.
- 2nd Millennium BCE
- Hinduism in India (2,000 BCE)
- Judaism in Near East (Moses c. 1,300-1,200 BCE)
- 1st millennium BCE
- Zoroastrianism in Persia (Zoroaster 628-527 BCE)
- Jainism in India (Mahavira 599-527 BCE)
- Taoism in China (Lao Tse 580-500 BCE)
- Buddhism in India (Buddha 563-483 BCE)
- Confucianism in China (Confucius 551-479 BCE)
- 1st Millennium CE
- Christianity in Near East (Jesus Christ BCE 1-33 CE)
- Shinto in Japan 100 CE
- Islam in Arabia (Mahammad 570-632 CE)
Clearly if we went back even further we would need to take into account Paganism and Animism—which are spiritual movements generally associated with the Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. While it is beyond the scope of this paper, further research could be undertaken on the relationship between the development of world religions and the evolution of consciousness (Benedikter, 2005; Bouma, 2006; Clayton, 2006, 2007; Clayton & Simpson, 2006; Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006; Tacey, 2003; Wilber, 2006). It is worth noting that the religions of India and China also began as integrated spiritual-philosophical systems, much as the Greek and early Christian spiritual-philosophical systems began, according to Foucault, as discussed above. This formative complementarity of philosophical knowledge and spiritual self- care only became a deformative split in Europe with the Cartesian moment as Foucault indicated. It might be fruitful to consider whether a similar split has also occurred between Indian philosophies and religions or those of Chinese origins.
It is also interesting to note that throughout this two thousand year period of development of ego-based thinking, the emergence of these religions provided several spiritual punctuations. I will briefly refer to three that have each introduced into the world in a unique way the teachings, power and message of Love and/or Compassion perhaps as a counter-weight to the increasing dominance of head-knowledge. I will attempt to interpret them according to their own traditions:
- the Buddha, according to a common reading of Buddhist philosophy, represented the highest development that a human being could reach—spiritual enlightenment, and in the last stages of His ascent he modeled and taught Wisdom and Compassion;
- the Christ, according to a common reading of Christian theology, represented an embodiment of the Divine, descended from Heaven/Cosmos/Sun, and in the last stages of his descent he modeled, taught and embodied Wisdom and Love;
- the Prophet Muhammad, according to a common reading of Islam, represented a messenger of God, “the paradigm of ethical and moral behavior” (Inayatullah & Boxwell, 2003, p. 178) taught and modeled Compassion and Mercy prior to his ascent .
These messages of love and compassion have become increasingly isolated from the egoic path of knowledge reaching a peak of separation in Kant’s differentiation of the knowledge spheres (Wilber, 2000d, p. 401). The emerging need for a reintegration of love-heart with wisdom/head is discussed in the next major section.
Steiner, Gebser and Wilber have all written on the missions of the various religions, and all\ point to the need for the re-integration of spirituality with the other knowledge domains, but it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss this topic further. Wilber’s most recent book proposes an integral approach to religion as a path to evolving consciousness (Wilber, 2006).