The Presence of the Future [Daily Evolver] - Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness

Hey integral friends,

Just sharing this here in the interest of engaging with more Integral Theory folks on Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness. I had a great discussion with Jeff Salzman about Gebser’s approach to integrality; significantly different from Wilber’s, but I think enticing enough to draw the interest and engage the Integral Theory practitioner. Of special interest is Gebser’s insights on the nature of time and consciousness, for which the integral/a-perspectival has a unique expression with (the integral is marked by a characteristic time-freedom).

This discussion is part of what’s included in upcoming introductory volume on Gebser, Seeing Through the World, via Revelore Press.

A brief chart overview since we do like charts around here… :wink:

At any rate, I’m happy to go into it more here and answer any questions / point folks in the right direction if they’re curious to read more.

Thanks and looking forward to engaging with you all more in the coming months.


~ JJ

Hi Jeremy,

Great conversation! Let me lead off here with a few questions.
The graphic on the screen here–your choice or Jeff’s?
Was Gebser’s “the origin” the same as his archaic structure of consciousness?
Given that there are geometric symbols for each of the stages, did Gebser have a symbol to represent all of the structures of consciousness in their wholeness?
I take it that Gebser did not delve deeply into states of consciousness, other than perhaps his interest in his later years in what Aurobindo had to say about some of that; is this correct?

Thanks, and I’ll be back!

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Hey @LaWanna! Thanks for the questions/engagement. Great line of thought.

The graphic for the interview with Jeff was his choice; the central image is a mechanical/clock time, which I thought was ironic, but it’s OK. Also have the stars in that image. :slight_smile:

The archaic is a total latent identification with the whole, so a kind of latent integral. I’ve heard it described as a “maximum latency.”

The integral structure’s symbol of the sphere could be understood as a symbol to represent all the structures since it denotes diaphaneity, transparency, and waring of all time forms and all structural realities. Sphericity is clarity without synthesis, assimilation, fusing, or doing anything that would not otherwise allow the diverse structures to be.

Gebser was writing before the common usage of this distinction (‘states’ of consciousness), so you won’t find commentary on them too explicitly in his work but you do find how some of them relate to the structures (especially the magical/mythical). Also, he did relate the structures to the different states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep in EPO. And, while he was at first skeptical and uninformed about eastern practices (in EPO he dismisses them summarily as a retreat/backwards looking practice), he changed his tune later in life with a deep investigation and even a physical journeying through Asia to correspond with scholars like Govinda and D.T. Suzuki. He wrote a book still untranslated called Asia Primer, written for the German speaking world, and later Asia Smiles Differently, which reflects on his research. Biggest insights of the latter work was the states of consciousness explored in Buddhism did actually correlate with his insights on the integral structure of consciousness. He also had a profound satori experience while visiting Sarnath, India, and which D.T. Suzuki would later confirm in his visit to Japan as a satori.

Gebser thought that Aurobindo’s writings in The Life Divine were indeed talking about the same new consciousness; he thought Teilhard was doing this, as well, from a Catholic/theological perspective and D.T. Suzuki’s writings on the a-rational states of consciousness in Zen and its interest in the Western world as further corroboration with the integral structure, which he qualitatively described as “time free”, “space free” and “ego free.”

You might enjoy this talk Gebser wrote shortly before his passing, which he mentions these subjects:

Hope this answered your questions!


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One more quick note, turiya has been corroborated with Gebser’s origin / unsprung.

Hi again Jeremy. Thanks for your lucid answers and thorough explanations.

I asked about the graphic, not because I recognized it as a mechanical clock (I didn’t) and saw the irony in that, but because it was suggestive to me of the symbol for Venus/female/the feminine. Listening to your Daily Evolver discussion, I was getting the sense that Gebser’s approach to the structures of consciousness was that they were parallel and perhaps linked to one another, rather than their being ranked; heterarchical rather than hierarchical. So the two things together, my sense of the graphic and what I was hearing from you and Jeff, gave me a sense of Gebser having a more what is typically called “feminine” approach to his integralism. I was getting a sense of immanence penetrating his work, which sort of fits given he didn’t support a “transcend-and-include” evolutionary view.

As I listened, I did hear you say that there was at least some sequentiality to the structures, by virtue of the dimensionality assigned them. The chart you provided here does seem to have the structures listed in order of their “irruption” in the “active process of history.” But I wondered: if they were listed in another way on a chart–say Magical at the top and moving downward to Mental, Archaic, Integral, Mythic, without concern for their order of appearance in time and culture–would that accurately illustrate Gebser’s approach as well?

And I did hear you say that Gebser’s approach requires holding unfoldment and emergence (or “leaping/springing forth”) at once, as well as an appreciation for discontinuity and non-linearity.

What I especially liked about Gebser’s approach, hearing you talk with Jeff about it, was the use of symbolic motifs from art and literature to elucidate aspects of the structures. And I also appreciated hearing examples of the Mythical structure taken from ancient (Meso- and Neolithic) earth-and-sky-based cultures. Did he also look at Axial Age religion/philosophy to illuminate the Mythical? You said that his Mythical structure needs “updated;” can you possibly say a little more about that?

I did read the Gebser “Integral Consciousness” article you provided a link to, and also the piece on turiya (which I was already familiar with). And I also read the Wikipedia page on Gebser, a brief synopsis which, if accurate (and it sounds like it from what you spoke of during the Evolver episode), brings more clarity on his approach, at least for me.

One of the statements in the Wikipedia article, about the Magical structure—"…symbols or statues do not just represent events, objects, persons, but are those same objects and persons" (paraphrased)—is so totally shamanic. Tuvan shamans, for instance, don’t think of their drums as symbols of the horse; the shaman’s drum is a horse that transports them, that they “ride” into nonordinary realities/“worlds”/states of consciousness. Another statement, that the distinguishing characteristic of the Magical structure is “an awareness that nature must be listened to,” also exemplifies the shamanic worldview. The “secret language” that Eskimo shamans were/are known to sing during rituals and ceremonies is considered by researchers to be at least in part (and only in part) based on onomatopoeia, or the imitation of animal sounds and other aspects of nature (wind, water, etc.).

So anyone who is desiring to bring more magic into their lives or the world, listen up :slightly_smiling_face: here are some hints! I’ve heard people lament about this a lot, the lack of magic in the world/their lives, and it occurs to me that it is coinciding with a time in culture in which people are not listening even to one another of their fellow human beings. So listening should definitely be at the top of many agendas, and I personally advocate listening to nature; there’s a lot of stillness and silence there in that sound :owl:.

All in all, I found your talk and what I’ve read useful and Gebser’s approach totally delightful in terms of its simplicity and emphasis on artistic motifs and symbols, and its emphasis on how time is perceived/lived in/enacted with the different structures of consciousness. The definition you gave (above) for sphericity is meditation-worthy. I’m glad you’ve brought this to us, and in a really exciting way, as Jeff said. Thank you. I too once was really into Rilke, so that seems another connection for me to the essence of Gebser.

I do find Gebser’s structures of consciousness complementary to the study of Wilber’s integralism, but also, less sophisticated. One wonders if Gebser had been born at a later time, or lived longer, how his work might have developed. Would he have identified a postmodern structure? Would he have delved into the developmental theories of psychology? Would his views have changed regarding evolution, progress, development? Time, time, time–so influential and not at all, huh?

More that I could say, ask about, but I’ll stop now. Whatever here you have “time” and opportunity to respond to, much appreciated! I hope you’re having a nice day.

Looks like LaWanna is the only one who knows what Jeremy is talking about. No doubt, it’s thought provoking and it’s great to have a love for ideas but where do we go from here? How much more must we talk about these transcendent ideas and instead find the direct means to become transcendent?

Maybe I’m the only one, but the topic that Jeremy is talking about is highly philosophical and conceptual and it’s all too easy to lose track of the meaning of what he is saying. For me, it requires undivided attention and even with that it’s hard to pay attention. Listening to what he is saying is like meditating- it’s not easy. My mind wonders off and I can’t help but hear the sound of his voice rather than the meaning of what he is saying because his ideas are quite dense and he has a lot to say. I suppose if I read his book I could gain much from it. But really? Do we need another book on Integral ideas? It seems we got plenty of books, talks, and lectures on all manner of waking up but for Christ sake what about growing up!? For without growing up, doesn’t it make it harder to wake up? Wouldn’t it be easier to get people to grow up so as to allow them to get at least a glimpse understanding of what Integral ideas are all about? But how can we if there are so many people who are neurotic and don’t know it?

In this, I fear that someone very dear to me will do the unthinkable that she will take her own life; there are millions of people like her. Being neurotic is a matter of degree, and in varying ways and degrees it affects the masses like a plague. And so I ask: isn’t this the greatest of urgency? How can we possibly get through to so many people who, as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said are “very inert in the face of the sufferings to which they are being subjected”? (in other words, neurotic)

Ok, so I guess I’m making the same mistake as before with Dr. Witt; that my concerns here are not relevant to Jeremy’s topic. Ok, fine. But if you know someone who has addressed my concerns about the direct means of growing up, I’d appreciate the link. I really hope Dr. Greuter will address my concerns in her upcoming book.

Hi LaWanna!

Thanks for your patience.

First of all, great observation that the clock resembles the figure of Venus. Wow, yes. I hadn’t noticed that before!

You are definitely right that Gebser’s approach is not hierarchical and is, indeed, a more yin vs. a yang approach. At conferences, Taoism comes up fairly frequently as a point of comparison with Gebser. I have always really enjoyed Ursula K Le Guin’s Tao Te Ching translation, for instance, and her insights on Taoism as they appear in her novels such as Lathe of Heaven or The Dispossessed. In my book I draw further comparisons, and implicitly I think William Irwin Thompson does the same in Coming into Being towards the end of his book (“The Road Less Traveled”).

All that being said, I would definitely say that Gebser’s approach is not less or more sophisticated than Wilber’s; it’s very different, for sure, but if you read Gebser it’s hard to say he’s expressing a less complex view. I also sincerely doubt he would have ever fully embraced a developmental view as he was, IMO, looking at something entirely new when it comes to his methodology (systasis, non-linear emergence, multi-dimensional temporics). Something that hasn’t been picked up on (too much) by future scholars. In much of his writing he intuits the coming of postmodernism as a late expression of the mental-rational with its propensity for deconstruction (ratio), and the ecological-oriented thinking that would come in later decades (networks, relations between things, interdependency of complex streams of forces). It’s all there in 1949/52 fairly clearly.

My current and future research is connecting some of his insights on the a-perspectival with Deleuze’s philosophical concept of the “plane of immanence.” :nerd_face:

All of this is, as you say, totally complementary and taking integral philosophy in an alternative direction. I’m excited to talk about it further! Perhaps in the coming months.

Otherwise, fantastic examples you’ve shared re: the other structures (magic and silence/listening, Eskimo practices/teachings). That’s really great.

Lastly… Gebser’s mythical structure, well, there’s just been decades of archeological/anthropological discoveries. So much to write about and research, like Gobekli Tepe for instance and pushing the Mythic/Magical dynamism further back to the Upper Paleolithic.

Hope this was all helpful and at least interesting!



Hi @gnosisman, well, I’m sorry if this interview didn’t reach you. It’s all good!

I think I would say that the whole intention of my interview was to do exactly as you state: to becoming what we are discussing. To move from the abstract to the concrete. To the present. To be present.

To the degree that we can become present to the structures as they make up our reality is the degree we can fully embody wholeness. That we can be fully human.

It all comes down to presence.

As Gebser says, “in the end, everything is simple.”

I’m sorry to hear about your friend who is dear to you. I do think that practices of presence, especially presence in the act of therapeutic and creative techniques, is immensely important. I wish them and I wish you well.


PS: Love Dr Greuter’s work and feel she is intuiting many of the same nuances as Gebser.

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Hi Jdj,

I just want to let you know that greatly appreciate your work on Gebser’s theories.I don’t mean to say that your interest in them are of little or no significance to the world, rather, I’m just frustrated -even depressed at times- at what’s going in the world today, especially in the US. I feel that the problems we have are so far removed from Gebser’s profound insights that it feels discouraging -sometimes hopeless- we will ever get close to it in the near future.

Your publisher Revelore states that it is “interested in books that open up the future, that take challenging directions and seek to re-con textualize the present for new possibilities”

I have something to say about this challenge but I need to express it at some length and forethought based on my life experiences and studies in humanistic psychology. I’ll be posting it here in this community as a new topic and -if I may- I’d like your opinion as well as LaWanna’s, Corey’s, or anyone else who might see this as the means by which people can gain insight into that that which they never thought possible.

Thanks for the work you are doing, Jeremy.

Yes, interesting Jeremy. Your reference to the Tao Te Ching made me get out my copy and read my favorite poem/chapter in it, #25. “Something there is whose veiled creation was // Before the earth or sky began to be; // So silent, so aloof and so alone, // It changes not, nor fails, but touches all: // Conceive it as the mother of the world.” I won’t continue with the other stanzas as I’m sure you know them, but this is so beautiful, and those other stanzas put the human’s (humble) place in the universe in perspective. I’m not familiar with Le Guin’s work, although I’ve heard of it, and am inspired to read the novels you listed.

I also read a little about Deleuze and his 14 plateaus (planes of immanence) and his rhizome philosophy. During your talk on the Daily Evolver describing Gebser’s “leaping/springing forth” from the Origin, I kept having mental images of the underground structure of irises, which are of course grown from a rhizome. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Deleuze as I got sidetracked into reading how David Byrne’s music (of the Talking Heads, you of course know) was demonstrative of Deleuze’s theories. “Stop Making Sense” takes on a whole new meaning.

Gobekli Tepe is so interesting, and hopefully there won’t be too many false assumptions about what’s found there over the next 150 years of excavation (did it take that long to build it?). Everything I’ve read, for instance, is saying the vats, in which evidence of fermentation was found, were used for beer-making and that the beer was used recreationally or for communal meals. Now how could they know that for sure, how the beer was used? Given that the vats are in the structure some are calling the religion house or ‘temple,’ it seems a possibility, to me anyway, that the beer was used for altering consciousness.

Anyway, lots of cosmological stuff there for you to investigate, theorize about, the comet/asteroid maybe, and Sirius. The debate rages on around that star and its significance to the Dogon of West Africa, or maybe it doesn’t “rage” so much anymore as just rattle. Given that the Dogon settled where they did as a means of escaping from Islamic enslavement (or so I think is how the story goes), one wonders about the connection, if any, between them and other people, perhaps even those at Gobekli Tepe, who maybe worshipped the dogstar.

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm and perspective!