A Thought From Steve Mcintosh, The Internal Universe
Posted by madcap on March 15, 2008
“When we think about the idea of an internal and external universe, there seems to be a mismatch. The external universe is vast, it stretches to unknown frontiers of space and time. The objective world “out there” seems so much larger and significant than the subjective world “in my head.” And when viewed from this perspective it is no wonder that the scientists who focus on the objective universe often dismiss the nonphysical, internal phenomenon of consciousness as “merely subjective.”
In the modernist worldview much greater degrees of reality and significance are attributed to objective entities than to subjective entities. However, when we enlarge our conception of the internal universe to include not only the subjective domain of individual consciousness, but also the intersubjective domain of relationships and human culture as a whole, the internal universe begins to look more substantial. It is important to have some idea of “where” the internal structures of cultural evolution actually exist. These systems of human relationships are not “in the air,” nor are they merely in our minds. They exist in the intersubjective domain of the internal universe.
The idea of the intersubjective domain of evolution can sometimes be difficult to grasp, but one way to see its significance is to ask: what is real? Well, objects are real, consciousness is real, and relationships are real. Indeed, when faced with death, humans fear the loss of their relationships—separation from their loved ones—as that which they dread the most. Relationships have a definite ontological status—their being is as real as anything else.
The difference between a real intersubjective relationship and an imagined (and thus merely subjective) relationship is that real relationships impact us in ways we can’t always anticipate or control. Real relationships move us. And the relationships found in the intersubjective domain encompass more than our personal relations with family, friends and colleagues, they also include what we might call “indirect” relationships—relationships with our favorite authors, artists, musicians, and public figures, living and dead. Indirect relationships can be remote in space or time—they do not require direct contact or real-time communication—yet such relationships can be very significant to our consciousness.
Meaningful relationships need not be directly personal to move us; we can engage in meaningful relationships with our heroes by simply allowing their words, deeds, or art to communicate with us in the present. As long as there is communication (even one-way communication), there is a relationship.
A recent example of the evolution of culture produced through the development of indirect intersubjective relationships is found in the significant impact made by the music of Bob Dylan in the 1960s. When Dylan sang The Times They Are a Changin’ he “sat behind a million eyes and told them what they saw.” His music caused people to agree with him at a deep level of feeling, and those who together formed Dylan’s audience found themselves to be in a kind of indirect relationship with each other to the extent that they were all deeply moved.
The beauty and truth communicated by the music of Dylan and his contemporaries in the sixties produced a solidarity of understanding that helped a new type of culture to be born. We can see the importance of these indirect relationships in the evolution of culture when we realize that all culturally significant works are forms of communication, and that the receipt of this communication always creates an intersubjective relationship between the receiver and the person or group that created it.
When we begin to see the evolving reality of not only the objective external universe and the subjective interior of consciousness, but also the intersubjective realm of relationships, this constitutes a significant new way of seeing things. Just as Descartes’ vision of the objectivity of external reality resulted in the opening of a new frontier of human progress, so too does integral philosophy provide a new way of seeing things by revealing how intersubjectivity (in concert with subjectivity) comprises the internal universe. This idea of intersubjective evolution emerges out of murky abstraction when we begin to see the presence of living systems within the intersubjective realm exhibited in the reality of human relationships. That is, relationships are the real, evolving, living systems of human culture. And, as we will examine below, this vision of relationship systems is fortified by the integral worldview’s recognition and incorporation of the recent discoveries of systems science. As we will see, it is this new understanding of the systems of cultural evolution that endows integral philosophy with the ability to positively impact the condition of human society everywhere.”