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Re: [mythsoc] Owen Barfield

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  • dale nelson
    About the participatory universe -- see Tim Folger s Does the Universe Exist If We re Not Looking? , a profile of physicist John Wheeler, in Discover June
    Message 1 of 38 , May 25, 2011
      About the participatory universe -- see Tim Folger's "Does the Universe Exist If We're Not Looking?", a profile of physicist John Wheeler, in Discover June 2002, and Lanza and Bowman's "The Biocentric Universe" in the same magazine, May 2009.  If interested in a book-length version of the latter, see Biocentrism:

      Readers of Owen Barfield's SAVING THE APPEARANCES will be reminded of its opening pages when they read Biocentrism. Barfield has much more to offer those who are interested in the correlative relationship between consciousness and nature. Lanza argues that science shows there was never a time when an external, dumb, physical universe existed, or that life sprang from it at a later date; any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a state of probability waves. His arguments usefully challenge our habits of thought, but he's probably afflicted by what Barfield calls a residue of unresolved positivism (shown, e.g., in his use of "brain" and "mind" as interchangeables). I think the best use of this book could be to prepare readers for the challenge of reading Saving the Appearances. There, Barfield deals with implications that Lanza doesn't seem to be aware of, e.g. with regard to the "prehistory" of the earth. Barfield explores language as a way to search into the evolution of consciousness in this book and other writings.


      From: John Rateliff <sacnoth@...>
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Wed, May 25, 2011 12:00:25 AM
      Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Owen Barfield


      On May 24, 2011, at 9:16 PM, dale nelson wrote:
      No, please keep the Barfield discussion ON-list!

      Okay; then here's another piece of the puzzle.

      Barfield believed that poets create meaning through the way they used words. Thus some of the fragmentation of language cd be undone by modern poets.* This I think ties in with his belief in what's since come to be called 'intelligent design': he felt that evolution had been guided by external (spirtual) forces** but that these forces had gradually withdrawn so that we cd (must) carry on on our own. This is paralleled by his belief that humankind had shifted from a shared consciousness to isolated individual consciousnesses; he thought we were 'self-conscious' today in a way that had not been true in the past. As he saw it, it was up to us to re-integrate them, now that we had 'come of age'. Thus in the end we wd deliberately and self-consciously do what we had once done, or had done for us, unconsciously.

      But one of the most valuable things I learned from Barfield was his concept of 'chronological snobbery': the assumption that people who lived a long time ago were, for that reason, not as smart or capable as ourselves. We don't so much realize we think this way, but it underlies a lot of what we say about the past and think about our ancestors.*** Thus some can't conceive that humans built the Great Pyramid, or laid out Stonehenge, or set up the moai on Easter Island -- they're rather believe it was space aliens that admit people who lived a long time ago were really and truly people just like us. Lewis particularly praises this idea as setting him straight and preventing him from committing a lot of errors, and I rather wonder if this isn't the idea of Barfield that Tolkien was talking about in that 1928 conversation Lewis reports back to Barfield.

      Also, I'm not sure if it's relevant to the Bilbo passage or not, but Barfield believed in a participatory reality. For example, he objected to Chesley Bonestell style pictures of what it looked like on other planets because he felt that, if a human mind was not there to see it, that image simply wasn't there. Or, to put it another way, if a tree falls in the forest, it doesn't really make a sound: just pressure waves. The crash a falling tree makes is partly a construction of our brains processing what the ears bring them: if the brain's not present, the synthesis doesn't take place.  

      I might add that this is one of the many points where I'm in disagreement with him; I read Barfield because he makes me think, not because I always agree with him.

      Finally, I'd just add that the draft of the Bilbo passage is somewhat different, and even brings in a mention of the language of Pithecanthropus by way of contrast.

      Does any of this help?

      --John R.

      *had they not gone off in what he wd have considered the wrong direction (Modernism) and explored and exploited and furthered that fragmentation. I think that, like Lewis, Barfield believed that Eliot had done real harm to the language.

      **the main character in his wonderful book UNANCESTRAL VOICE meets one.

      ***just to take one simple example: our taking books written for adults, like ROBINSON CRUSOE, and moving them to the children's sections of our libraries.
    • John Rateliff
      Very sorry to hear it. I never met Edward Carlos Plunkett, though I did meet his father (the famous Lord Dunsany s son). Thanks for posting the news, Dale. We
      Message 38 of 38 , May 26, 2011
        Very sorry to hear it. I never met Edward Carlos Plunkett, though I did meet his father (the famous Lord Dunsany's son). Thanks for posting the news, Dale.
           We can be grateful to this Lord Dunsany for one thing: he allowed the publication of a number of his grandfather's works that had lain neglected in a bank vault for decades -- a novel, a play, a volume of short stories, and various odds & ends. None of them had the stuff of greatness that makes me rank Dunsany as the best fantasy short story writer ever, but it's good to have even the lesser works of a great writer.
           --John R.

        current reading: THE BOOK OF WONDER [1912]

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