A quick note about my essay 'On Vision and Being Human', discussing the lack of bibliographies in each post, the upcoming book of the essay and a couple of other points...
At this point in the serialization of my essay ‘On Vision and Being Human’ I’d just like to say a few brief things. First I’d like to apologize for the lack of bibliography for each individual chapter. In the short stand-alone essays on various subjects, I’m always careful to make sure there’s a full bibliography so people can check the original sources for what I’m saying about, for example, the Mayan concept of itz as cosmic sap. With ‘On Vision and Being Human’ however, I’ve written the whole thing – 25 chapters in total – all together and as such, the bibliography runs to some 20-odd pages. The task of dividing this up into individual chapter reference lists would be too long, and so I spare myself this task. The full Bibliography will be published as part of the book I am planning for this essay.
One of the favoured philosophical concepts among visionaries and seekers of the past century or so has been Kant's idea of the noumenon, which implicitly or explicitly rests in the worldviews of a variety of thinkers on the subjects of spirituality, mythology and visionary art and experience. I think particularly of Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade in this regard. In this chapter, however, we find that a quantum mechanical view renders the noumenon as meaningless, suggesting it reflects a fundamental human instinct or expectation, rather than an insight into the true nature of reality.
What are we to do with this quantum worldview which strikes at the heart of the human experience of a cosmos driven by forms, essences and a perceived objectivity and eternity, rendering them meaningless and indeterminate? We can perhaps agree on an 'objective' reality on the human scale, with human perception and instruments of enquiry offering windows into that external realm, but a key issue is what our conceptions of that realm should be founded upon. Scientists often concur that we can be sure of an 'objective' external reality (and to my mind, these two attributes are not the same) because of the consistency this reality offers to experimental observation.
It might seem a little strange for a blog about prehistoric artforms and cultural realities to engage in a discussion about quantum mechanics, but as outlined in the Introduction, a sojourn around some relevant scientific theories will eventually - at length! - bring us to a radically new image of the visionary human being. This overview of quantum mechanics is the first step in this journey, which will take in pertinent aspects of human neurology, Darwinism, linguistics and signal theory, and while patience is required to move through each aspect, the destination will be - I hope! - one of profound quality and insight for the 21st century.
I should also remark that I don't consider quantum mechanics to be a difficult discipline as such - strange for sure and profoundly absurd from a human perspective, but not difficult - though I am aware that some will find it challenging or disconcerting to engage with. Another point to note is that those expecting to see a validation of 'quantum mysticism' ideas of 'universal consciousness' will be here sorely disappointed!
Most modern students of a scientific field will be familiar in some way with the quantum phenomenon of wave-particle duality in which elementary particles such as electrons and photons exhibit properties that are particle-like in some situations and wave-like in others, and this example of complementarity is a fundamental property of the universe. Let us look at this duality in some detail, and the manner of its discovery, so that we can understand its import.
After a short hiatus, we continue with my serialisation of 'On Vision and Being Human', in which we review a broadly-painted image of the ubiquitous human experience of hidden realms and visionary worlds held to exist beyond mundane reality. Upcoming chapters from 'On Vision and Being Human' will turn the path onto challenging insights from quantum mechanics and neurology which, although not particularly archaic in their outlook, will eventually open us into a powerful new image of human visionary experience.
In addition, future serialisations will be interspersed with stand-alone essays of the type with which this blog was begun: coming in the next few months, a look at mythical images of emergence, the Bird Man of Lascaux and the complex beliefs behind Wandjina rock art figures in Australia
From the foregoing [previous chapters of this treatise are visible here and here] it is easy to see that a reification of visionary experience might result in a literal understanding of sacred worlds beyond our mundane reality, and it appears that for as long as humans have been recording their visions as art, this World-Beyond-Worlds or ultimate reality has been central to our perceptual and ritual lives, informing profoundly not only the elementary ideas of human experience but also the vast majority of particular cultural forms. Campbell, following Bastien, outlines several of these elementary experiences that he considers to be, in his words, conterminous with the human species, including ideas of:
“...survival after death... of the sacred area (sanctuary)... of the efficacy of ritual, of ceremonial decorations, sacrifice and of magic... of supernal agencies...of a transcendent immanent power (mana, wakonda, śakti, etc)... [and] of a relationship between dream and the mythological realm...”
Continuing the serialisation of my lengthy essay 'On Vision and Being Human', I present here the first three sections of the essay, which highlights some of the general nature of visionary experiences, and the problems and ambiguities they raise for the modern 21st century mind. Enjoy!
1. On Vision as Sacred Other
The question has often been asked: What is Visionary Art? On the surface, the answer would seem to be an easy one: Visionary Art is simply what it says, the art of visions, by which is meant the beholding of mythical worlds and realities beyond the mundane daylight world, of dreams, hallucinations, sacred journeys, inwardly-focussed and meditative experiences, flights of fancy and imaginal and ancestral flights. Complexity emerges, however, when we come to the realisation that each human, artist or not, will hold wholly different perceptions of what these words (or indeed, worlds) mean. We quickly come to further questions: what constitutes a dream, how does a journey become sacred, what do we mean by a world beyond this one, and how does the experience of an imaginal flight become 'visionary'?
In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned that one of my writing projects, entitled 'On Vision', would eventually be featured here on 'Archaic Visions'. In the ensuing period, the remit of this writing project has rather expanded, and thus is now called 'On Vision and Being Human' to reflect the wider purview - Darwinist, neurological, cognitive - that I am taking in my quest to come to a new understanding of the nature of visionary experience. As I write, this essay stands at some 45,000 words with a few more sections still to write, and as such, the serialisation here will likely last a long time! Eventually, an illustrated book is planned... For now, however, here is the introduction to the thesis, which I hope will whet your appetite for further reading!
As an artist whose work deals with vision and the experience of myth, the nature of these perennial themes in human culture is of principal importance to me, as is the nature of the art that I do: Visionary Art, a complex and multi-faceted artform. At heart, for me, it is the inner and outer quest to uncover ancient and future sacred images that reveal the deepest wordless essences of what it means to be alive in this cosmos as a human being. The visionary image is transpersonal, and transcultural, unhinged from the personal and from local time, place or culture into realms of myth, of sacred journeys, of dreams and imaginal flights of fancy, shamanic and entheogenic visions, and of half-forgotten sacred vistas shimmering within the Underworlds of our Human Souls. And for all of this to be rendered using techniques that speak of craft, lineage and ancestral lifeways.