A Husserlian Quest for the Philosopher’s Stone – a review of Lurker at the Indifference Threshold by Philip Coulthard (2019: Paupers’ Press)

Over the Easter holiday, I visited a couple of fine Cornish coves, Sennon and Lamorna, and while at the latter, I thought of one of its past residents, the surrealist artist and occultist Ithel Colquhoun. I recalled that she had once reviewed Colin Wilson’s classic book The Occult (1971) and recommended the encyclopaedic Wilson to focus, perhaps, on just one or two occult disciplines – the Kabbalah and the tarot being her particular favourites.

Now, it would have been a great pity if Wilson had so narrowed his interests, for as many of his readers know, he covers a vast array of subject matter; from criminal psychology to wine and esotericism. But, on further reflection, I realised that what Colquhoun said was true for many of us. I had recently said much the same to my friend, the author Jason Heppenstall, who replied, “Yes, we can sometimes have incredibly greedy minds…”

And so, I thought about Wilson’s work (and Colquhoun’s recommendation) as to understand his trajectory as a philosopher; and why, moreover, he ranged so far and so wide, so near and yet so far in search of the evolutionary Faculty X – a vivid sense of the reality of “other times and places”.  

Wilson was never greedy; in fact, he was generous, voracious and a master synthesiser of great swathes of inter-related topics. Indeed, his biographer Gary Lachman has said that in reading Wilson you gain the equivalent of a liberal arts education. He was, in my opinion, a philosophic tour-de-force who, from the outside, may appear as sometimes random and digressive. However, once you acquaint yourself more deeply with his work, you soon come to realise that it forms a part of his earlier philosophical methodology, which he called the ‘new existentialism’.

This, I think, is what Colquhoun had overlooked. Wilson had indeed, throughout all his work, essentially focused upon this extra-dimension of human consciousness; of sudden flashes of meaning and insight, of other times and places which, of course, forms the basic recognition of almost all of occultism.

Now, Philip Coulthard in Lurker on the Indifference Threshold: Feral Phenomenology for the 21st Century, presents an extended essay on the many threads of Wilson’s work. Coulthard takes us on a stimulating tour, stopping by at postmodernism and the challenging esoteric work of Kenneth Grant to the horror writer H.P Lovecraft’s gloomy cosmology, all the while providing a unique backdrop for the essential integration of Wilson’s formidable oeuvre – he wrote, after all, over 180 books – into the more contemporary frame of the 21st Century.

Coulthard lifts the new existentialism into new light and provides a beacon towards a more intentional – and far less nihilistic – vision of the future. And what is so remarkable about Lurker is its original insights into Wilson’s work, and, in doing so, is an example of Wilson’s own method of unifying both intuition and the intellect. Lurker is a sort of prism of the new existentialism, refracting a new light into a philosophy with a future that is imminent and a much-needed antidote to the bureaucratic academy, and more importantly, the neurosis of contemporary culture.

The new existentialism, here, becomes a remedy to our cultural malaise; the lurker of the title becomes our immense potential, and the threshold: our culture’s blind spot.

Today, it seems, philosophical trends such as postmodernism and Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, are finally losing favour, and as Coulthard convincingly argues throughout Lurker, Wilson’s philosophy, by comparison, “remains diametrically opposed to such trends, even when it anticipates aspects of them” concluding that his work “is more relevant than ever.” (23). He also makes the interesting point that many who are attracted to Wilson’s philosophical works are individualists who – temperamentally or intellectually – resist the essentially passive and helpless “postmodernist legacy”, which, as Coulthard argues, places “the human subject at the mercy of external factors and [condemns us] not to freedom or meaning… but to strict identity, language, history, and cultural determinisms, [where we are] forever stuck in a grim Darwinian power struggle.” (20).

In fact, this is why I was first attracted to Wilson. He seemed to not only provide an accessible overview of history and philosophy, but also posited something radically more active, and as a result, practically more engaging.

Instead, Wilson wrote with an infectious intensity which, around every corner, opened up a new shift in perspective that enabled curious glimpses into another way of seeing. In fact, what he was effectively doing was writing from the standpoint of a more open-ended – even open-system – form of psychology that valued heightened states of consciousness as essential to grasping reality.

Of course, this was partly as a result of Wilson’s familiarity with the psychologist Abraham Maslow, who broke the psychiatric mould and sought to define the pinnacle of human psychological health. But, before being acquainted with Maslow’s positive psychology, he had clearly already developed a deep analysis of our culture’s dis-ease in his 1956 debut, The Outsider.

Reading Wilson is so refreshing because he effectively opens the door, allowing more ideas, as a direct result of his optimistic approach, to enter in; rather, that is, than sealing them off into the dry Siberia of academic obscurantism or focusing on tedious minutiae. A true existentialist, he sought for the essential meaning of existence, thus transcending the dullness of spirit, and denigration of intuition, so esteemed by our trivial-minded age, where political journalism reigns supreme.

Coulthard quotes from Wilson’s Beyond the Outsider, which encapsulates Wilson’s essential urgency and visionary spirit for a new approach:

“Western man has become so accustomed to the idea of passivity and insignificance that it is difficult to imagine what sort of creature he would be if phenomenology could uncover his intentional evolutionary structure and make it part of his consciousness.”

Lurker takes this search for the ‘evolutionary structures’ further, with the chapter titles providing a context as well as a general atmosphere of vast and impersonal forces at work: ‘Far Out, But Near’; ‘Cyclopean Architects’ and ‘Goad of the Powers’. They evoke an almost daemonic Beethoven symphony; pounding and triumphant, yet impersonal and strangely savage – rather like a splash of cold water up your back: invigorating as with a sense of electric control. This, after all, is essentially the motive underlying – often unconsciously – the great works from Lovecraft’s Mythos, to the passionate call for a revaluation of all values as found in Nietzsche’s works from The Birth of Tragedy to his masterpiece, and poetic evocation – or invocation – of the Superman, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

As Wilson said in Beyond the Outsider, the point of these Dionysian and deep subterranean energies is not to be washed away with them in frenzy and chaos, but to canalize them into consciousness; to allow them to creatively charge our lives and our art. To lose this vision – which is the reason for the general malaise of the 21st Century – is to fall into a passive state, and to dwindle our psychic resources at such imaginative distortions of this Life Force. Coulthard argues, “Art and culture not receiving these currents can only lead to banal sterility… and an acceptance of the morbid undercurrent [of defeat and pessimism].”

Now, someone who instinctively understood this subterranean force and the possibilities of super-consciousness was the great dowser and archaeologist, T.C. Lethbridge.

In his posthumous work, The Power of the Pendulum, Lethbridge crystallises the essence of Wilson’s work – who wrote at length about Lethbridge in his 1978 book, Mysteries – and his most fundamental insight. The two writers had much in common.

Lethbridge, in a similar spirit to Wilson, says:

“Man exists on many mental levels, of which the earth life appears to be the lowest… He is entirely independent, and his method of development is peculiar to himself… Only when he can realise this will he rise at all in the scale of evolution.” (44).

He continues:

“If you find out anything, I feel it is your duty to pass it on to your fellows… The power is yours on the higher level … but to make use of it here, it is necessary to learn how it can be brought down to a lower level. The transformer is something which you forge mentally between one level and the next… [my italics]”

Lethbridge, like Wilson, are impressive examples of this anti-bureaucratic attitude to truth and intelligence, working with their minds in an open and vibrant way; sending off sparks of insight in a manner that is both generous and – according to Nietzsche’s analysis of what constitutes a good writer – with a fundamental willingness to be understood rather than merely to impress.

Further still, there is this recognition at the heart of their work of something lurking at the threshold of everyday consciousness, and that is that there is a higher ‘you’ – a superordinate identity, or, in more esoteric language, your daemon. This is a super-charged Self that is experienced in moments of what Maslow called ‘peak experiences’, flashes of sometimes overwhelming joy that imports feelings of immortality and a tremendous zest for living.

One of Coulthard most fascinating insights is that these “subterranean” forces, as he calls them, are in some sense repressed, and as a result, they are often misrepresented in such artistic expressions as in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. That is, as gigantic, impersonal and essentially malevolent forces. Wilson had always argued that Lovecraft’s attitude was that of “curdled Romanticism”, an essentially self-devouring, self-harming Will to Power that had backfired into destruction and nihilism.

Coulthard argues that these subterranean forces are instead “wellsprings of creativity” which are too often misunderstood and channelled into “distortions” where “no amount of rationality can supress their chthonic rumblings”. Wilson’s phenomenology navigates these negative biases towards the hidden ‘I’ of the transpersonal ego, that self that provides the very perceptual energy that fires our zest and sense of meaning. If this arrow of intentionality backfires, rather, it works as Lovecraft’s curdled romanticism – towards crime and destruction, rather like some disastrous machine that becomes recklessly out of control and destroys an entire city. Or, as Wilson would have perhaps put it, poisoned an entire culture.

The new existentialism is a form of self-analysis that attempts to rid our collective unconsciousness of these very real dangers of a negative bias, and instead provide techniques and a ‘conceptology’ that we can use to steer ourselves away from such immensely wasteful disasters.

What makes Lurker such an important book in Wilson Studies is that it presents an exceptionally wide area of analysis, pulling in Lovecraft, whose popularity is becoming ever larger – perhaps symptomatically – and providing a robust counterargument against the fundamental nihilism of postmodernism. It is, I think, something Wilson would be doing if he were still alive today. In fact, with our culture becoming evermore saturated with signs of this precise implosion, as it were, of an inadequate cosmology and sense of psychological health, Outsiders – those who feel alienated by their civilisation, yearning for more intense and serious states of consciousness – are likely to grow as a result.

Coulthard provides a precis and condensation of Wilson’s’ vast output, producing a sort of visionary manual on how to survive as well as to identify the key symptoms, culturally and phenomenologically, of an essential wrong-headedness that saps our vitalities. Furthermore, intuition is once again provided its rightful place as an arrow towards conceptual widening, and, when aided by the intellect, actualities and creativity expands exponentially, as it is only our intuitively-driven insights – usually seeping in from the transcendental ego, or hidden ‘I’ – that equips us with the key to that secret of Being, or, as Coulthard puts it, as a part of our “intentional quest for the philosopher’s stone”.

L'Ascension

An ‘Other-Valued Reality’: Some Thoughts on Synchronicity

Synchronicity is a word coined by the renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Gustav Jung, for the phenomenon of a uniquely meaningful coincidence. It is, in short, when the outer-world quite remarkably mirrors the inner-world of the individual. Jung defined synchronicity as a “psychically conditioned relativity of space and time.” He also described it as an ‘acausal connecting principal’ which is an event with no apparent – or, at least, something unknown to contemporary physics – form of ‘transmission’ that makes any logical, or causal – through cause and effect – explanation almost impossible.

Often in these experiences the mind seems to have a far more direct and active relationship with the outer-world – a world we too often assume is subject to the law of accident, entropy and a uni-directional flow of time. In this article it is not so much my intention to use just so many examples of personal and other’s reports of synchronicities, but simply to unpack a series of reflections on the implications of undergoing a synchronistic experience.

The experience of synchronicity ranges, like any such experience, from something merely curious to something far more numinous and potentially life-changing. It is also, naturally, something too slippery and mercurial for the logical, rational and time-linear mind to grasp. Indeed, it has, in many instances, a profoundly symbolic nature which seems geared towards intuition rather than rationality. 

Now, the English existentialist philosopher, Colin Wilson, remarked that synchronicity may be one of the most important powers of the human mind. Reflecting upon his own experiences, Wilson noted that they tended to happen more frequently when he was feeling “cheerful and purposive” in which, he says, “convenient synchronicities begin to occur and inconveniences that might happen somehow don’t happen.” More importantly, Wilson observed that it was “as if my high inner-pressure somehow influences the world around me.”

Wilson’s phenomenological insights into the synchronicity experience helps us us in our quest to understand the essential ‘cause’ of the synchronicity – an important key, as it were, to untangling the ‘acausal’ mystery behind Jung’s ‘connecting principal’.

In a recent interview for the YouTube channel, Rebel Wisdom, the author and esoteric scholar, Gary Lachman, made the important link between intentionality – or will – and its ability to ‘nudge’ reality into its desired form. In other words, the ability to perform – in accordance with one’s will – magic. Lachman goes on to say that magic is essentially causing synchronicities to happen. Another scholar of the occult, Jeffrey K. Kripal, a Professor of Religious Thought at Rice University, has also called synchronicity “essentially a shiny new word for what we would have earlier called magic.”

So, it seems as if a crucial part of the synchronicity is indelibly a function of the mind, and that, in some magical way, this can cause meaningful events to unfold in one’s life. According to Wilson these magical events tend to cluster when the mind, the psyche, is functioning at optimum performance. We may venture to say, then, that synchronicity is the magic of a highly-charged mind, and when the vital energies are working in tandem with the individual’s will.

However, another aspect of the synchronicity we have not so far mentioned is what I have decided to call its ‘moment of interjection’. That is, it tends to ‘shock’ us by its seeming non-conformity with our usual everyday sense of time and space, while also inter-jecting itself in unexpected and unpremeditated moments. In other words, the synchronicity experience seems to be the result of another mind, as it were, that acts – sometimes ‘plays’, in a trickster-like fashion – both outside and inside one’s mind in a manner simultaneously ‘within’ time and outside of it; free from the laws of both the linear mind and the world ‘outside’ of linear causality.

We might here, then, say that Wilson’s state of healthy-mindedness provided some essential source of vital energy for this ‘other mind’ – or force – which inter-jects within our lives with curious ‘symbols’ which infer a meaning that somehow lies outside of the frame of ordinary causation. Instead the synchronistic moment acts as a ‘real life’ signifier of a deeper substrate of reality which is in direct contrast to how we normally experience it in our everyday consciousness.

Now, if we were to place the synchronicity phenomena into an evolutionary context, then one could say that evolution – or the gleaning of any new knowledge – tends to occur in moments of inter-jection, as it were, and these inter-jections into our existence are often the hall marks of both humour and the synchronicity experiences. This may at first seem like a leap too far if synchronicity is treated as a curious, and admittedly difficult phenomena, but nevertheless as fundamentally trivial. Of course, a synchronicity can be quite easily shrugged off with the pressing needs of everyday life demanding more of our attention. They can also be seen as ‘mere coincidence’ or simply a ‘minor mystery’ that affords little existential content.

However, this is all a matter of degree rather than kind, for if synchronicities come in thick and fast, then the observer will be forced to ask him/herself a number of questions, not only about him/herself, but also about the nature of reality. (And then, just to be safe that he or she isn’t going mad, to then ask questions about him/herself!)

This is where, I think, a phenomenological and psychological approach becomes an important tool for analysing the relationship between the mind – most crucially – and the world ‘out there’. Note that Wilson also commented essentially on the experience of luck and the distinct lack of accident-proneness he experienced when he was in a “purposive” state of mind. Indeed, Jung also importantly said in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), that the synchronicity experience may force us to notice the “other-valued reality” that lies outside the “phenomenal world . . . and we must face the fact that our world, with its time, space and causality, relates to another order of things lying behind or beneath it.”

What seems to be of most important is just how we can find this crucial correlation between ‘purposive consciousness’ and this “other-valued reality”. Once this is found one ought to be able to find not only the key to psychological health, but also an orientation in life that coheres to a profoundly powerful evolutionary drive that somehow exists
“behind or beneath” reality.   

Another important clue can be found in the work of the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof M.D., who has explored the realms of non-ordinary states of consciousness in his book The Cosmic Game (1990). Grof observed that synchronistic phenomena tended to increase in people’s lives “when they become involved in a project inspired from the transpersonal realms of the psyche.” He continues with the important detail that “remarkable synchronicities tend to occur and make their work surprisingly easy.” In other words, their work is somehow in accordance with Jung’s ‘other-valued reality’ which, it seems, is also the domain of Grof’s transpersonal self.

The author, Anthony Peake, in his excellent book The Daemon (2008), calls this other self the Daemon, which he describes as “the part of us that knows that we have lived this life before”, and that in moments of deja-vu, for example, is when the Daemon recognises significant moments in our lives. The ordinary-self Peake calls the Eidolon, which experiences our life in a linear fashion for, of course, this life will always seem as a surprise, a completely new experience, except in cases of deja-vu phenomena, that is. Peake also says that this other-self, the Daemon, “finds its home in the non-dominant hemisphere [of the brain] and from there acts as an ‘all knowing’ passenger.”

The Daemon is a fascinating book full of accounts of deja-vu and near-death experiences, however, in our discussion it might be said that the synchronicity is the Daemon’s tool – or method – for indicating an evolutionary turn, as it were, in the ascending spiral of self-actualisation, that is in moments when we begin to actualise these realms of the transpersonal psyche into this world of physical matter and linear time. We are, as it were, fulfilling a type of evolutionary destiny.

Rather, it seems, like a convergence of two worlds in which the laws of the other are sympathetic to a world which is becoming in a process. The purpose of existence, then, may be to converge, to unify, two ‘values’ which lie in curious cross-sections of time – and once these evolutionary ‘values’ are acted upon from ‘our side’ then two realities converge in a satisfying ‘click’ which unfolds in our lives as a synchronicity experience.

Although using the ‘convergence of worlds’ metaphor implies two or more worlds, in reality it seems more likely to function along what Jung and the physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, came to understand as the unus mundas – or ‘one world – under which two principals unfold: mind and matter.

However, it is at this point important to remember that the actualisation of wholeness – as in Jung’s individuation, or Abraham Maslow’s self-actualisation – is effectively the unification of psychological factors within the individual in order for them to work most efficiently together. And that these are precisely the components of the whole individual that work towards what the Italian psychologist, Roberto Assagioli, called ‘psycho-synthesis’.

Indeed this attempt to activate the bridge between one’s purpose in accordance with what Grof calls the ‘transpersonal self’ is the goal of Psychosynthesis therapy. The psychotherapist and author of The Way of Psychosynthesis (2017), Petra Guggisberg Nocelli says that “to promote transpersonal synthesis, Psychosynthesis indicates methods to awaken the energies of the higher unconscious” in order to “facilitate contact with its contents”. To do this the therapy includes: “the use of anagogic symbols . . . evocation of superior qualities and techniques for the development and use of intuition.”

We may now see Wilson’s comments about purposiveness as the driving force for increasing synchronicities in the context of Nocelli’s awakening of “the energies of the higher unconscious” mind, or Peake’s Daemon, which seems to awaken – or increasingly integrates – with our ‘lived reality’ once we begin making an effort to fully achieve some dimension of our potential. And, as Peake underlined, ifthe Daemon finds its temporary residence in the non-dominant right hemisphere of the brain, then it makes sense that this creative part of our selves is both buoyed by symbols and efforts to explicate, in some creative and developmental form, some of its contents. It is, rather, as if it has been heard for the first time – and the most effective way to encourage this participation is to ensure that the linear mind learns to accept its existence, and particularly, of a mode of ‘other values’, which is essentially less passive.

One of my own observations has come both through personal experience and through reading many books on the UFO and abduction phenomenon while writing my first book, Evolutionary Metaphors (2019). Throughout my research I noticed that it was commonly mentioned that people involved with this subject – including Wilson himself – were often beset with unusual and sometimes transformative synchronicities. Indeed, one of the most interesting examples is Raymond E Fowler who wrote an investigation into an abduction case called The Andreasson Affair in 1979, and then, following that book was inundated with an uncanny number of synchronicities afterwards. He records some of these in his 2004 book SynchroFile.

Now it seems to me that these may have had less to do with the UFO phenomena itself – at least directly – but with the fact that interest in such liminal and evolutionary ideas in themselves were acting as anagogic symbols and awakening layers of their higher conscious mind!

Of course, it would be absurd to deliberately set out to write books on UFOs in order to actualise unconscious forces latent within the psyche, and it is, furthermore, likely to fail more often than succeed. However, in some typically Alice in Wonderland topsy-turvy and upside-down way, considering creativity itself may aid us in peeling away some of the absurdities and mysteries of both consciousness itself and the anomalies we face in such experiences, whether mystical or in moments of synchronicity.

The curious idea is this: by looking into liminal and anomalous phenomenon we may be finding, in synchronistic moments, the very cause for these strange events we have been looking for; or, in a twist of irony, they may be the evolutionary by-product of that very search for the ‘deep reality’ in the first place.

Or, more importantly, both!

An Essay on Gary Lachman’s Lost Knowledge of the Imagination (2017)

(The book is available to buy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Knowledge-Imagination-Gary-Lachman/dp/1782504451)

In Lost Knowledge of the Imagination, Gary Lachman has crystalised his essential philosophical ideas. A short book, at 139 pages, it is nevertheless a highly concentrated and no less comprehensive survey, and like his earlier books it serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it serves as a general overview of various philosophers, authors, psychologists, occultists and mystics, many of whom have been unduly neglected, or have come to represent systems of ‘rejected knowledge’. In each case, Lachman elucidates and clarifies these unique systems of knowledge and their respective originators, allowing both to speak for themselves. Secondly, by placing these various systems and ideas side-by-side, Lachman shows that they are not as unrelated as one might think, and taken collectively they are seen to have a remarkable inner-consistency, and have also been adhered to by some of mankind’s greatest thinkers and artists. It is for this reason that an open-minded reader will perceive a vision of the world that is unduly ignored, but is nevertheless profound and enriching.

In a world increasingly orientated towards the outer at the expense of the inner, Lachman sees the value of esotericism precisely for its emphasis on this inner world of meaning, purpose and, in short, our sense of values. The occult and esoteric has become, in a sense, the culture’s repressed unconscious, which occasionally bursts forth in fin-de-siecle counter-cultures, as it did with the 1960s ‘occult revival’ and again in the 1990s, with its obsession with shamanic hallucinogens and tribal rave culture. Indeed, Lachman writes about these subjects – sometimes obscure and arcane – in a style that is accessible, intelligent and level-headed; traits often sadly lacking in the genre. There is, in his increasing oeuvre, a manifest degree of discernment and – where deserved – sympathy that is strengthened by what his fellow historian of the occult, Mitch Horowitz, called a ‘gentle but assertive purpose’.

Now, if one were to classify the true philosopher as someone concerned with ‘truth, beauty and justice’, then this new book is Lachman’s pursuit of the importance and essential dynamism at the heart of beauty, with its immense role in the revival of a culture that has placed it dangerously low on its hierarchy of values. One could say that Caretakers of the Cosmos (2013) was a call for a creative actualisation of these values, and more importantly putting them into practice, ‘doing the good that you know’. And, his forthcoming book, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (2018) looks to be a direct address on the state of world justice; an attempt to understand the streams and convergences of magical and esoteric streams in recent times and their role in a world of ‘post-truth’, and . . . well, post-everything hysteria.

Nothing in Lachman’s oeuvre is unrelated; it is all part of a deeper realisation that was already present in his earlier work. Each work is essentially informed by this vision and recognition of the importance of esoteric knowledge, particularly its psychological dimensions and its acknowledgement of an ultimately meaningful cosmos. Indeed, one of his central influences is the late encyclopedic writer and optimistic ‘new existentialist’, Colin Wilson, on whom Lachman has written the definitive biography, Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson (2016). Lachman, in the spirit of Wilson, is also addressing the essentially pessimistic premise on which contemporary culture has dangerously rooted itself. And with a world bereft of the very values found in this ‘rejected’ knowledge, we are left with a fragmentary and deconstructed world of matter without any larger meaningful context. Humanity also increasingly sees itself as a part of this context-free void, therefore denying the very value of meaning (merely subjective), and therefore diminishing its own stature in a materialistic cosmology that rejects, ultimately, all values. Again, driving both philosophers is a recognition that we live in world of deteriorating values, with an ‘anything goes’ attitude that effectively strips us of any real motive for freedom – or even an inspiring concept of freedom itself. The question is now: freedom for what? Lachman, in surveying many systems that recognise that freedom is something earned, and is moreover, is an urgent reminder of the value of being, offers a new orientation that includes both value and purpose. One gets from reading both writers, Wilson and Lachman, a sense that this is a crucial and important corrective for our postmodern age – an active recognition and renewal of our ability for discernment in a world dislocating itself from any centre.

Postmodernism and post-structuralism, caught in the trap of ‘object-relations’, cannot wrench itself out of its own swirling, linguistic orbit, in which, for philosophers like Jacques Lacan, we merely ‘ex-ist’ rather than exist. The philosopher Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (1991), described the outcome of these philosophical developments, which in turn led to a general belief that the ‘nature of truth and reality, in science no less than in philosophy, religion, or art’ became ‘radically ambiguous’ – or radically subjectivised. He continues by saying that man, unable to ‘transcend the manifold predispositions of his or her subjectivity’ becomes trapped in a ‘fusion of horizons’, which leads to a form of nihilistic solipsism – or, in other strains, it becomes too unbounded, leading to a paradoxically flattening form of relativism. This loss of centre, as it were, results in an atmosphere that permeates our culture – affecting the arts and their previous attempts to reflect values beyond themselves – in which our individual and existential sovereignty is so abstracted that it is often reduced to algorithmic, or even algebraic, formulations in much of postmodernism and – chillingly – in the world of social media and even, more dangerously, politics.

The great esoteric scholar, Manly P. Hall called this our problem of ‘orientation disorientation’ – we have lost our way, so to speak. And not only in ourselves, for this clearly reflects in our culture, flattening it to a husk of hyper-politicisation and is reflected in our crisis of identity. Timeless, objective, reliable value systems have been replaced with a liquid, amorphous mass uprooted from any healthy, cosmological and psychological reality; our choice, effectively, is to face our arbitrary existence in a universe indifferent to the strivings of our very being, or merely improvise with the equivalent of flimsy props in a theatre of unreality.

           We are, as Lachman argues, fundamentally adrift from the origin of meaning itself. And it is this loss of origin that led to the forgetfulness of the imagination’s essential role in grasping both meaning and reality – both culturally and individually. Indeed, is it any wonder why we have lost our ability to discern our values? Freedom, in this relativistic atmosphere, becomes an ironic freedom – and irony, moreover, becomes the only cosmological constant that informs the world of contemporary art. An atmosphere of self-referential pointlessness permeates our culture, and the only way to temporarily satiate its bitter flavor is through often stark and ill-contrasting brutality; visceral ‘shocks’ aimed solely at our baser, more automatic instincts.

Addressing this universal crisis of meaning, Lachman’s book stands in the tradition of classics like Maurice Nicoll’s Living Time (1952) and E.F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed (1977). These two genre-defying books proposed radically new cosmologies, incorporating in their brilliant synthesis both the unification of rationality and intuition, in an attempt to resolve the modern psyche’s widening chasm between meaning and matter. Lachman’s book, alongside these, place their emphasis on the verticality of meaning, that is, their evolutionary and convergent purposes towards higher degrees of spiritual and psychological integration. It is in direct contrast to the pervasive atmosphere of value relativism and materialistic reductionism, and instead offers a logical alternative to the manifestly problematic arrangement of our priorities.

In approaching the difficult subject of the imagination, plagued as it is by its very evanescence and vague character, Lachman nevertheless proceeds with great authority, firmness of purpose, and with many insights that transmutes knowledge of the imagination into something palpably and urgently real. He shows us that the imagination is not a mere ‘flight of fancy’, but has its own epistemology, its own disciplines and masterful practitioners.

The Lost Knowledge of the Imagination explores various thinker’s, artist’s and poet’s excursions into this important other ‘half’ of our existence – precisely the half that needs to be integrated in a world fraught with increasing polarization and dis-integration. And importantly, he unearths the knowledge they bought back with them. The imaginative source, that ‘intuitive glue’ which binds together our view of the cosmos, is called upon as a means to repair the rift between two worlds that were once complimentary; it is a call, moreover, towards an active phenomenological understanding of the true origin of meaning. Being one of the true practitioners and teachers of the imagination, the poet Samuel Coleridge is an important figure in Lachman’s book. For this poet, who contemplated the ‘objects of Nature’, was able to entwine two worlds, both inner and outer, into a state which allowed him visions of the eternal dynamism between meaning, consciousness and matter. Colerdige, in his own words, entered a new world redolent with ‘symbolic language . . . that already and forever exists’ – a world, in short, where the knowledge of the imagination reigns supreme – presaging, for the poet, a ‘dim Awakening of a forgotten or hidden Truth of my inner Nature’, which Coleridge referred to as both the Creator and, importantly in light of this essay, ‘the Evolver!’.

*

Lachman, much like Wilson, sees our future evolution as being a result of cooperation between two fundamental modes of perception, and each with its own unique and complimentary type of knowledge. And while imagination ‘can be used for fantasy, illusion, make-believe, and escapism’ its most more important role is, Lachman argues, ‘to make contact with the strange world in which we live’ presenting us with the ‘possible, potential realities that it is our job to actualise.’ The imagination becomes our means, if consciously and effectively employed, to search out the possible direction of our own inner and outer evolution; it offers, in its visionary glimpses, a foretaste of our future; metaphors, in this side of the mind, become malleable essences which can be transmuted into the very thing that they once merely referred to, and vice-versa. However, as Lachman makes clear, we can still evolve the realm of quantity, but only so much as this is not at the expense of quality; that is, to broaden our focus on the outer-world at expense of the inner worlds of meaning, that motive force behind the evolution of consciousness, and the glue that binds the two worlds together. This understanding of evolution precedes Darwin, and instead refers to an inner-evolution, a more self-willed development as a product of the vision that propels the will into the future.

The crucial message at the heart of Lachman’s work is how this type of knowledge, and this modality of being, is effectively incorporated into how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. It is, as we shall see, a matter for the evolution of our perspective, and, as a result, how this transfers to our cultural cosmology and cosmogony. Fundamentally, it is the anti-entropic life-force that orders and complexifies apparently dead matter into higher, more autonomous forms. In the first chapter, ‘A Different Kind of Knowing’, Lachman discusses and outlines the various historical and cultural developments which have shaped the mental evolution of humanity, and particularly their emergent zeitgeists which reflected these different orientations, priorities and cosmologies. Of course, with the ascendancy of the Enlightenment in the 17th century, the older type of knowledge was radically replaced by the scientific spirit. This was not an isolated and sudden leap, but the product of man’s new and more urgent concerns. Philosophers, these most ‘impersonal men’, had already presaged the type of detachment necessary for the scientific spirit, and for many the creation myths of Homer and the great dramatists and poets, were losing their ‘charge’. Instead, the scientific spirit emerged in many of the early philosopher’s attempts to find the element which constitutes the world – usually reduced to, for example, simple elements such as air, water, fire, spirit, etc. We began, according to Lachman, to ‘abstract’ our knowledge, to extract it from its larger context, in a spirit of mastery and domination over the laws of the natural world. It was a far more active mind than what went before it, but it sowed the seeds of a new development that was equally fraught with its own problems.

The major problem as Lachman sees it, is precisely this trade-off in which, although producing an enormous technological upsurge that benefits mankind tremendously, nevertheless leaves us with a culture prone to forget that the abstracted world is just that, an extracted aspect of a world usually ‘thick, luxuriant, rich’. As a result, he continues, we begin to see the world ‘we encounter and love and struggle with as a kind of subjective illusion, housed without our individual island consciousness’. This is the potentially fatal consequence of a mind too one-sided and dominated by its own capacity to remove itself from the world of direct, integral and intuitive experience. And yet, for this type of thinking the imaginative world of qualities is perceived as dramatically unsubstantial and vague, this is precisely because it cannot present itself as an object, and it is a priori rejected due to its non-quantifiable essence. Instead, this type of mind attends to a different resolution of reality, which, according to Lachman, ‘does not operate with fixed, exact definitions and unchanging, sequential orders or algorithms, but with patterns, relationships, sympathies, analogies, intuitions, insights and a synoptic grasp of experience – that is, it takes it in ‘at a glance”.

Indeed, another teacher of the imagination, Stan Gooch, called this ‘the knowledge that is not science’ in his book The Paranormal (1978). He goes on to cite fairy stories and their common concern with the ‘breaking of the spell’, which he sees as the objective mind’s ‘intrusion’ into a world that obeys radically different laws of the subjective realities. This, he believes, was the problem when two realities cancel each other out, that is, if they are not carefully equilibrated, in their place and working in a dynamic sort of way. In the visionary state, as in the fairy stories, the vision vanishes leaving no trace and is over taken by the linear, abstract logic that ‘cannot compute’ this baffling, vague and wide-angle of meaningful analogies and connections. Indeed, this is essentially the bane of such research into parapsychology, with such experiences as synchronicities and other phenomenon unamenable to easy repeatability due to their subjective nature. A bridge, as we shall see, that Germany’s greatest literary figure, Goethe, attempted to construct between his scientific works and his more visionary and poetical achievements. For him, as for Gooch, Lachman, Wilson and many others, these two types of knowing ought not contradict each other, or cancel each other out, in fact, they are fundamental to seeing the whole picture, so to speak.

Lachman draws upon a large variety sources, ranging from the British philosopher, Owen Barfield, the ‘first and last Inkling’ and friend with none other than C.S. Lewis, to Goethe, the poet and William Blake scholar, Kathleen Raine, along with the French‑American historian Jacques Barzun and author Ernst Jünger among many others. Between them, Lachman shows, they shared either direct access to, or sympathetic understanding of, the subjective mind and its essential role in our individual as well as the collective psychological balance. Indeed, in the third chapter ‘The Knower and the Known’ Lachman describes an interesting early case of psychometry, in which Germany’s greatest literary figure, Goethe, is involved in a type of ‘psychic archeology’ along with an exploration into the archetypal ‘primal plant’, the ‘Urpflanze’. Lachman describes Goethe’s meaning of what he called the ‘inner necessity and truth’ in which the German author understood the imagination to harbor its own type of truth, and not, as Lachman says, ‘merely a loosening of reason and a setting free of uncontrolled fantasy. . . but a cognitive power that obeyed its own rules and disciplines’. When these ‘rules and disciplines’ are applied, the external world opens up its inner content, a whole new dimension which is laden with implicitness and knowledge beyond the reach of linear rationality. It is an intuitive knowledge, capable to effectively bypass the limits of ordinary time and space, providing a glimpse into Plato’s world of Forms, the very origin from which all corporeal forms are reflections.

This active vision into the underlying structures of reality, through what Jung called ‘active imagination’ and Goethe, before him, called ‘active seeing’, was also discovered by another German, the philosopher Edmund Husserl who established the school of phenomenology. He described this type of active perception as the underlying force behind perception, which he called ‘intentionality’, and explored its implications through the discipline of phenomenology, an attempt to understand the mechanisms of consciousness. In doing so, we would find the ‘keepers of the key to the ultimate sources of being’, which would in turn reveal the ‘hidden achievements of the transcendental ego’ , that fundamental part of us that shapes our perceptions, providing, if you will the categorical ‘grid’ through which we grasp and understand the world. To elucidate the difficult language of phenomenology, Lachman refers to the work of Paul Ricouer’s analysis, in which he summarises the mechanism of ‘intentionality’ as that which ‘culminates in seeing’ – it is a recognition that perception is double-sided; seer and seen or, as hinted at in the title of Lachman’s title for the chapter, ‘the knower and the known’. Indeed, it is this part of our selves which provides the ‘intentional glue’ which Gestalts meaning, and that which provides what Jünger called ‘the master key’ to a vast and holistic consciousness.

Access to this ‘introcosom’, as the psychologist Julian Jaynes called it, is one of the true tools of Lachman’s cosmic caretaker, for its emergent presence in the past – in those Goldilocks moments of precisely the perfect balance – resulted in a bursting forth of creative and evolutionary visions of man, recharging the vision of man and his role in the cosmos. In this surcease of the conflict between the two minds, there is a unification between analytical consciousness and visionary consciousness, in which both complement each other and provide what Wilson called a ‘background of values’ in which society, individuals and culture are reinvigorated with an evolutionary purpose. There is, of course, with this sort of vision a great responsibility which, upon initial reflection, seems more daunting than it does liberating; that is, we may be ultimately discouraged by the sheer enormity of the task. . .

Lost Knowledge of the Imagination acknowledges this difficulty, but concludes that with the right balance of mind, this task may not appear so daunting after all, and that the responsibility is enormously reciprocated. Along the way, Lachman provides an enormous range of approaches to the problem, some of them recognised by the greatest minds in history, such as Albert Einstein and Bernard Shaw, for example. In the final chapter, Lachman quotes from Einstein’s Cosmic Religion: ‘Imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to our evolution’. Again, it is an understatement to say that the job of evolution is an easy one, but, curiously enough, when it is recognised with the aid of the right mind, the process becomes self-evidently worthwhile. If, as Einstein says, the imagination embraces the world, it is in the position to perceive wholes, even, perhaps, ultimate evolutionary potentialities.

Lachman’s book is as much a survey of the knowledge of the imagination as it is an overview of the essential archetypal forces from which the human story unfolds. It is fundamentally a book about the evolutionary impetus; an attempt to ‘unveil the secrets of the transcendental ego’. As for Goethe, who saw the ‘revelation’ of evolutionary knowledge ‘emerging at the point where the inner world of man meets external reality’, it is this ‘synthesis of world and mind’ that produces the ultimate dynamism which will propel us up the spiral, in direct contrast to the nihilistic value relativism that draws us into a tighter whorl towards self-negation. Currently this schism of meanings is being played on the battlefield of politics, and whether Left or Right, in which – rather like the two hemispheres of the mind, as explored in Iain McGilchrist’s masterwork, The Master and his Emissary (2009) – the increasing polarisation causes a spectacle depressingly divided. We can see, at present, that we are in a world that Lachman describes as being in ‘a state of flux, with old boundaries breaking down without new contours being established’. It is our imperative, Lachman urgently reminds us, to reconnect with the origin of meaning, and to recognise as well as intuitively recalibrate our values towards a more vital recognition of the evolutionary imperative. He offers a way forward in which the tensions are creative rather than corrosive, providing a philosophy which elevates the imagination as the key ingredient in repairing the rifts and disconnections within our present situation. The imagination, for Lachman and the authors, philosophers, poets, artists and occultists that he explores, may provide exactly the ‘master key’ to this necessary ballast in our turbulent times.

To conclude, we may turn to the story of Goethe’s increasing familiarity with the architecture of Strasbourg Cathedral, in which, he claimed, he was able to acquire information in an apparently miraculous flash of insight. Indeed, Goethe found himself in possession of the knowledge that one of the towers was not how it was originally intended. In using this case, Lachman presents us with a crucial understanding of something even more extravagant than Strasbourg’s Cathedral’s Romanesque architecture. Now, Goethe was able to see the original intention behind the finished architecture as it stood there before him – as well as, we might recall, his claim to be able to perceive the ‘primal plant’, that ur-plant from which all other plants (plural) emerge. In doing so, is it not unreasonable to extend this vision further, and perhaps suggest that this sort of visionary consciousness may be the key to the evolutionary plan itself? That is, this may be what provides us that crucial insight into our own potentialities that are latent in our very being, the ‘primal mankind’, as it were. Indeed, if this visionary quality was directed at the foundations of our culture, society and own psyche, we might too be able to see our way through to the evolutionary directive, that very substratum from which the impulse of life flows into material becoming. And in doing so, we may bypass these confusions of the intellect too abstracted from the primal reality from which it has extracted itself, and instead survey the landscape of the inner-world. Furthermore, by turning this imagination towards the outer-world, we may create a more meaning-filled sense of being, in concordance with the evolutionary intentionality present in nature itself.

In reading Lost Knowledge of the Imagination one can acquire a foretaste of precisely the kind of revelatory consciousness that Lachman describes, and, like all great books, it will benefit re-readings for years to come, for its implications are implicit and many. I have, in this essay, only scratched the surface, even if that, of this tightly argued and equally wide-reaching book. It is a book of learning and remembering; it is, in a sense, a call for what Gurdjieff and Ouspensky called ‘self-remembering’. Indeed, revelation – that remembrance of lost knowledge – is what happens when the two-minds cooperate, each side creatively comprehending the other and its role. Instead, there is a perceptible synthesis manifest in states of inspiration or peak experiences in which two streams of knowledge converge – a sort of gnosis, a true understanding, is reached, and challenges that once seemed insurmountable seem almost trivial. Lachman has here provided a glimpse into the architectural plans of what the poet Martha Heyneman called a ‘breathing cathedral’, and with each actualization of those plans we contribute towards the repair work of the cosmos, integrating each piece into the human mind again.

 

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