History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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A question about Bennett’s Dramatic Universe as a resource for the left

September 26th, 2012 · 5 Comments

Review of Bennett’s DU

I am being asked a question, from various sources, re: the status of Bennett’s systematics. and his sense late in life of the virtual future. This is a subject that should be discussed at The Gurdjieff Con, but I will do it here, to create a bridge between several discussions. My review of his book is misleading: I have frequently thought highly of Bennett’s book, which I first read in 1977 or so (about the time Star Wars came out, btw. That movie, again, btw, is about the hyparchic past, or virtual past: unusual among scifi myths in being about the past) and reading the first volume flipped into what can only be called a higher state of consciousness. I read VOL I almost stunned, with a sense of dimensionality of objects, very brief, and then began to ‘come down’ from a strange ‘high’, as the model in book ceased to seem as clear as before. So, we can only get to step two and a half in the twelve step series (which can go on and on beyond that). OK, now, his categories make sense because they aren’t serious, yet: they project a future logic.
I think the book covers too much ground to be clear, and, as the other sole reviewer noted, the first three volumes make no sense, while Vol 4 was a revelation about human evolution. Well, maybe. In fact, the other volumes are relatively clear, but they depend on a controversial move by Bennett, to construct a new set of categories to replace those of Kant. A risky move, that doesn’t work, with the result that his dodecad remains on shaky foundations. None of this has anything to do with Gurdjieff or Sufism, and its source in Bennett’s life is still enigmatic. He was influenced by Whitehead’s book Process and Reality which created a stir in the twenties in British intellectual culture.
There is more to say here, and we will continue at The Gurdjieff Con.
He never understood what Kant was up to, with his transcendental deduction. But the attempt to critique Kant here began with Hegel, and Bennett, who is no match for Kant, may be right in another way. In any case, the whole issue was swept away by Schopenhauer, who reduced all the categories to one set of issues, the one category of causality, in relation to representation and thing-in-itself. Much clearer, and actually a better approach to the spiritual without trying (Schopenhauer, usefully, did all this with something like an atheist’s scorn of religion, stumbling on the spiritual walking backwards without the word ‘spiritual’). You can simply take Bennett’s system as something else, and leave Kant alone.

But the battle between the Kantians and the realists and/or Hegelians is a stalemate. I just think it an accident of British intellectual culture that Bennett jumped on the Whitehead bandwagon in the thirties. His book is practically the ghost of Schopenhauer in a box, forced to live among the realists (those ‘stiff upper brits’, so stuck on Darwin, but brilliant in most other respects).

Anyway, what to do: Bennett’s immense corpus is built on these foundations, which are shaky, what is left? Most metaphysical systems crash, as indeed Kant pointed out. But here, in a way, it doesn’t matter, because his exercise works just as well as an exploration into something this is undiscovered country. His ‘categories’ are twelve in number, reflect numerical sequences, are called systems, and begin as wholeness, polarity, relatedness (three term), tetrads (four term), potentiality (five term), six-term, seven term, etc, to twelve term. The issue is simple: a problem is defined beautifully, without the solution. So we can proceed in piecemeal research up the scale he foresees. A simple defense against crackpot thinking here. I was confused for a long time by this exercise until I realized, that, as Bennett hints, you can’t go any further than step two unless you can transcend the pairs of opposites, and trancend contraditions in your head as thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, in one thought. Which means that almost noone could get past the second category, and therefore the whole remaining series is simply up in the air. So, the true comes out, we are in the foothills of a truly Himalayan question, nicely laid out by Bennett, and summarized with a toy model.
So it a good mirror of our thinking, stuck in polarity, trying to get beyond that, and using dialectic as a substitute that never quite reaches the third term system stage. Complete confuson reigns here, and many who claim to transcend duality are confusing us further.
Thus, if you take it that way it becomes very useful: as a toy model. If you take in on provision as a gedanken experiment, you can suddenly understand a lot of things. We have discussed one idea here many times, the three fold version of the hyponomic, autonomic, and hypernomic realms (falsely oversimplified and called the material, life aand spiritual realms): here we see that man’s confusion over consciousness and self-consciousness arises because he is on the boundary of the autonomic and hypernomic realms. Out of the blue a complete mystery of human consciousness pops out of Bennett’s system of categories. So we are left non-plussed in the end as to the status of his systematics.
This is getting long and we can adjourn to the other blog for more on this another time.

But this issue here is that Bennett’s systematics, given his sense of the hyparchic future shock of feeling the coming of communism, that his systematics, like Hegel’s book on logic, is too much to inflict on the left, but that it could make a useful source of a larger study, among other things showing the marxist left where it is getting stuck on the dialectic. In Bennett’s system the dialectic is a two term system trying to be three term system, and rarely succeeding. A good example of the power of Bennett’s system, even in its toy model version.
Once you see that the toy model is only that, the use made of the dodecad can be taken lightly as you breeze through the rest of Bennett’s remarkable book.
This is like science fiction, that a future science will find prophetic. Further research could improve this start, so, OK.

The left should keep an eye on this system, and take it the way some Marxists take Hegel’s Logic, as an exercise in research. And its use as some kind of theological propaganda on the Gurdjieff right can be exposed easily with a little study. Bennett’s history has a lot of problems, so the question of the overall argument as to evolution remains dubious, but of remaning interest.

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